updates: should I tell my employer I might have brought COVID to work, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Should I tell my employer I may have brought COVID-19 to work in January?

Thanks for answering my question about whether I should tell my employer that I may have brought COVID-19 to the office in January. There really wasn’t any information available on what people in my situation should do, and I didn’t want to bother my local public health agency unless I really needed to. I appreciated the public health professionals who weighed in, and I didn’t end up saying anything to my employer. After the letter was published (two months after I was sick), we received word that two confirmed cases of COVID had been in the office before we started working from home, but as far as I know, it did not spread further in the office than that.

I actually just left that job last week as I was offered a huge promotion doing something more in line with my interests and experience, that’s really needed right now. It feels weird to have something good happen during this time, but I’m really excited!

2. My coworker made up stories about my medical condition, HR is investigating, and my coworkers are upset

HR never officially talked to me or anyone except the woman who was obsessed with my surgery. A few weeks later, my surgeon chose to move up my reconstruction date, and I went right back on medical leave and didn’t see her again for 6 weeks. I had implants put in (because I wanted to look like my “normal”) so I don’t think I look too different, but word about my mastectomy got out anyway and I had a different coworker come up and talk to me out of curiosity about what bras I had to wear. I’m not sure how it got out but at that point I didn’t feel like anything was going to get done by complaining. Then COVID-19 happened and I had to leave the office due to being immunocompromised. I’m working from home now, which is hopefully going to make my mastectomy old news to any of the office gossips. The co-workers are still talking to me, but are careful not to mention anything the crazy obsessive coworker is currently gossiping about. One even said that if I wanted to have good working relationships, I needed to learn how to let things go. Which, let’s be honest, is bullshit in this situation because I have a right to not have coworkers asking me what bras I have to wear in recovery.

Currently the woman who spent way too much energy trying to figure out my life has moved on to obsessing over the coronavirus and is sending out entire office emails of “tips” that include “stocking up on gas” because she predicts there will be a shortage (there isn’t and won’t be). Another email was full of questionable medical advice for staying healthy. I’m not sure if anyone asked her to stop, but the I haven’t gotten one of those emails this week so I hope that was addressed.

One positive note is that while I was on leave, a survey went out. They got a lot of negative replies, so management has had a few company wide meetings on “improving the culture” but I won’t be able to tell how serious this is, or what they plan to do about it, until they finally open the office back up.

3. Is it inappropriate to hire an employee to pet-sit at my house?

I wrote to you in 2015 as a new manager asking if it was appropriate to ask an employee who pet sits on the side to pet sit for me when I went on a vacation and didn’t have anybody else to watch him. After your response and those of the commenters, I chose not to ask her to pet sit.

4. Should you be honest in an exit interview? (from 2008)

I did take your advice and decided that my then employer was a reasonable one, and was diplomatic (I hope) but straightforward that at the very longest weeks I was missing nights of sleep and it was too much. For whatever it’s worth, I look back fondly on that job after all. It was a great first job that introduced me to the professional world, paid well enough for me to build up some savings, and I recognize now that much of my unhappiness there was due to health issues that I’ve since gotten under control.

Shortly after you answered my letter, I resigned, applied to graduate school, and went back to school in 2009. I got my Ph.D. in 2016, and am happily teaching/researching at a 4 year college. I frequently point people to your blog when they have work conundrums and read it myself religiously these 12 years later.

{ 123 comments… read them below }

  1. Thank you pet sitter OP*

    Thank you to the OP who sent an update about the pet sitter. It is really awesome to hear how someone decided to take the Allison’s advice!

    1. NYWeasel*

      One of my team members loves animals but can’t have pets and it always crosses my mind that she would enjoy staying with my critters when I travel, but then I think immediately of this letter and make alternative arrangements.

    2. A*

      True!! I pet sit on the side, and when I moved employers recently I – for the first time ever – didn’t mention it or offer to any colleagues mentioning that they are in need. After reading the comments on that letter, that’ll be a hard no for me!

  2. Bookworm*

    Thanks to all the LWs for sending updates. Even if I didn’t read the original messages I like being able to read the whole story and know how they end. :)

  3. Susie Q*

    OMG #2. Who asks what kind of bra their coworker wears? I’m really sorry you work with people who have absolutely no sort of boundaries.

    1. Mama Bear*

      That was entirely inappropriate on its own, plus having the added layer of being intrusive about someone’s health. OP, I hope management really does take this kind of thing more seriously, as that is ridiculous. It is one thing to let go of a minor slight. It is another to be told to be quiet about something more egregious.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Is OP the only woman on a team full of men, a POC on a team full of white people, and/or junior to the rest of the team? Those factors could be at play here.

    2. Heidi*

      Seriously! You’d think that people would not need to be told that it’s inappropriate to ask coworkers questions about their underwear, but apparently that is not a given.

      1. Julia*

        I think a lot of people do know how inappropriate that question is, but to some of them, if you’re sick, your body somehow becomes public property. Privacy is for healthy people. (I notice this every time I have to take my meds in front of someone – SO many comments.)

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          The only thing I’d say to someone taking meds is “Do you need something to eat? Would you like a glass of water?” I am aware some meds need to be taken with food and/or a full glass of water.

          1. Julia*

            That’s kind of you! Sometimes I just want to take them unnoticed, sometimes I would appreciate water.

            A lot of people make comments like, “what are those for??” or “taking drugs already??” or “you’re too young to be sick”, so…

              1. Julia*

                Thank you. Depending on who it is, I am fed up to tell them to f*** off these days.

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

        It’s a matter of how close you are to that person. There’s no problem if I’m talking to my work bestie (we’re both female) but I wouldn’t talk about it with my grandboss, even if she’s a mother of two who would love to talk about something that’s not children related!

    3. Dust Bunny*

      RIGHT? I might ask this of a friend *if I were facing a similar surgery myself*, but a coworker?? Augh, dying of mortification.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        You might even be able to ask the right coworker, but the way that goes is:
        “Hey, I’m sorry about this- but I’m actually about to go through a _____ procedure for _____. I was wondering if you’d be willing to talk to me about a few things I can do to prepare? I understand if you’re busy though!”

        You make yourself vulnerable first!

    4. MissDisplaced*

      I know it’s inappropriate, but I wonder if they were asking because they themselves were concerned about it, or about to face it? Sometimes people are weird that way.

      1. Iron Chef Boyardee*

        If that’s the case, they should explain that before they ask the question.

        1. RecentAAMfan*

          Agreed. At least then you’re leveling the playing filed somewhat by making yourself equally vulnerable. (Although there are still better places than work to go about getting that information!)

        2. Amy Sly*


          To be perfectly honest, I’m curious if there are any complications in trying to find bras after reconstructive surgery. (I worked in a comfort bra boutique for a while and don’t remember learning much about those needs.) At the same time, I wouldn’t ask coworkers unless we’d established a strong rapport and would totally understand being told it’s not my business.

          1. KayDeeAye*

            There are quite often complications . My breast cancer was caught at a very early stage (stage 0, a thing I’d never even heard of before that), and all I had to have was a lumpectomy and radiation – no chemo, no mastectomy, no major change in cup size. The surgery was in October and my last radiation treatment was in late December, and I am *still* struggling with this because wearing bras isn’t really comfortable, but neither is going without a bra. I have managed to find bras that are sort of comfortable, and that’s the best I can seem to do so far.

            But nobody at work asks me about these things, of course. The coworker has plenty of options if this is her concern, including hospital support groups, breast cancer patient groups on Reddit, whomever handles breast cancer survivor care at her doctor’s office – lots of options.

          2. Airy*

            Based on the experience of a family friend who had a double mastectomy and a sister who had keyhole surgery in the area just under her breasts where the band of a bra would rest, I think the answer is “Yes, definitely!” and if you ever went back to working in lingerie sales it would be a smart career move to learn more about it. Their relief at finding a bra fitter who understood what they needed to be comfortable and had the experience to offer suggestions they couldn’t have known to ask for was huge and they were very loyal customers. Plus it’s just nice to learn something that enables you to help people having a hard time.

            1. Amy Sly*

              I sincerely hope I never have to go back to lingerie sales — it doesn’t pay enough for my law school loans. :)

              I sold comfort shoes for a long time though, so I’m very familiar with how a competent and knowledgeable salesperson makes all the difference. There are few work experiences as delightful as a customer walking in nearly in tears because of the pain and walking out with a huge smile because they never knew their feet could be so comfortable.

          3. No Titty Committee (LW2)*

            There are a lot of things to think about regarding bras now. I wear a lot of front clasp, no underwire bras because I couldn’t reach behind my back or over my head after the mastectomy. Not having underwire is a major concern too because they rub against my scars and can also affect the final placement of my implants after they settle. Maternity sports bras have been a lifesaver, honestly.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              It was a real eye-opener for me. My surgery and treatment was much less invasive than average, and yet I’ve still had SO much trouble with this. I am anywhere from slightly uncomfortable to really uncomfortable almost all the time. I can’t even imagine how women with more extensive surgery manage.

              There is a “boutique” in the hospital where I had my surgery, and besides T-shirts and coffee mugs and so on, they also have surgical and post-surgical bras AND they have fitters trained to work with people after breast surgery. It’s closed down now due to COVID-19, but when it reopens, I might see what they can suggest.

          4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            There are firms specialising in such bras, so I imagine there must be design features that help.

        3. Observer*

          Exactly! Not “I’m curious” but “I’m facing this right now. Would you mind sharing with me?”

      2. PollyQ*

        Still not appropriate for a workplace. Breast cancer is sadly common enough that there’s no shortage of other resources for that kind of information.

      3. No Titty Committee (LW2)*

        They came back a while after I wrote the letter to tell me that their mother in law was going through it and her husband wouldn’t let her talk about it at home. I kinda get that she’s looking for someone to talk to about it, but it was such a weird thing to ask.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          weird to ask, and seemingly out of the blue which is even weirder. Kinda like they forgot you have to be human to be a patient.

    5. Princess Zelda*

      Right?! I cringed so hard my heart collided with my lungs. I might have expired out of pure embarrassment in OP’s shoes. She’s certainly handling the situation with grace, and it’s terrible that she has to.

    6. Valegro*

      My dad would be the type if he was a woman. As it is he asks men who have had prostate cancer about how their genitals are functioning because there’s a family history and he has become obsessed. I’m pretty sure he’s smart enough not to ask at work, but casual acquaintances are fair game to him.

    7. RecentAAMfan*

      This is seriously so horrible and I am angry to think that terrible hurtful coworkers are getting away with it just because there’s a newer/bigger thing to gossip about and they’ve moved on.
      I hope you stay well!

    8. JSPA*

      This suggests to me that the office has been informed of the type of surgery, and they don’t know that they’re not supposed to know, and in fact think that OP is intending to be open / approachable on the topic. Which would be a problem of its own.

      With smaller families, fewer people spending adult life in the community where they grew up, the decrease in formal religious practice, and a lot of age-stratification in friend groups, the pollution of internet advice with paid influencers, and fewer people making friends with all the neighbors, it may well be that a coworker is the only person that someone knows they know, who fits the description, and whom they feel they can trust. I see how someone in that circumstance might feel that their “want” is very nearly a “need.”

      All the same, you have to check that someone is open to any sort of health-issue conversation, before broaching the topic. Next, if you’re asking for yourself, your mother, your sister, or your daughter because your/their surgery is imminent, you preface by disclosing that. And you separately ask if you can ask “a personal question about garments.” Only if those are all green lighted, do you ask if they have formulated any opinions on post-surgical undergarments. And for pete’s sake, you don’t ask after the state of their own undergarments, or their own needs.

      1. Observer*

        I don’t care how much you “trust” someone. You do NOT ask something like this “out of curiosity”.

        This has nothing to do with generational issues. My kids know better. On the other hand, I recently had a friend my age ask me a highly personal question.

        When I called her on it she asked me “well how am I supposed to find out if I can’t ask you?” to which I said “And who said you need to know?”

        1. JSPA*

          I didn’t say that behavior was generational! Having peers who’ve had breast cancer, however, is.

          Someone dealing with it at 35 likely doesn’t have anywhere near the resources in their friend group that someone who’s 50, does.

          I completely agree with you that this is not a “curiosity” topic.

          That’s why I explicitly discussed how even the most tentative questioning would only be potentially excusable in cases where someone’s desperate for the knowledge, and failing to find it.

          Getting a sense of power from being in a position to extend knowledge to those earlier in the process, and taking support from those further along in the process, is something that a lot of people do, but clearly, it’s not universal. One doesn’t have to see oneself as part of a cancer community, a survivor community, a “sisterhood-plus-a-few-brothers” community, if that’s not how you deal with breast cancer!

    9. LifeBeforeCorona*

      It would be very tempting to loudly ask the nosy co-worker about her anal fissures. “Oh, sorry but since you’ve been speculating about my health I just assumed I could do the same to you.”

    10. BethDH*

      It’s like wrongness bingo: prying about health, referencing underwear, and talking about gossip.

  4. The IT Plebe*

    *One even said that if I wanted to have good working relationships, I needed to learn how to let things go.*

    Your coworkers suck and it sounds like so does your entire company if they’ve been getting negative responses to their survey. I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to stick it out to see if things improve once your office reopens, but I can’t say I wouldn’t be dusting off my resume right now, pandemic job market or not. Who needs that?

    1. Dust Bunny*

      What the actual Hell, right. The coworkers were the ones who needed to let it go.

    2. Uldi*

      I’d say the co-workers ‘letting things go’ is a big part of why things are as bad as they are now. By letting the gossip slide instead of firmly establishing and maintaining boundaries, the gossip has been able to warp the office culture.

    3. Observer*

      Yeah, that line just jumped out at me. I mean, seriously!?

      OP, *you* are not the one who needs to repair relationships, but the people who thought it’s ok to go on and on AND ON about your personal situation and ask highly intrusive questions.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah that line jumped at me also.

        “Okay, co-irker, demo this for me. How do I stop talking about it if people keep bringing it up to me? How does this work? Do I just turn and walk away from people, what do you think is the ideal response here?”

        Sometimes when I know there is NO ideal response or that “ideal” is subjective, I will ask people what they think SHOULD happen. I do it just to watch them actually apply themselves to the situation and think about what they are saying. This does not work with everyone and it does not work all the time. We have to be strategic about how we use it.

        OP, it’s probably not worth 2 cents but I am really ticked on your behalf.

    4. It's All Elementary*

      I had this same reaction to this update. It sounds like the whole office is toxic. When your “work friends” BLAME YOU for not letting it go, it’s not a good place to be.

      I agree, you should dust off your resume.

    5. Julia*

      That line made me so angry.

      “OP, we have more people who are gossiping, boundary-ignoring jerks here than normal people, so please just adjust and STFU, thank you.” UGH!

    6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes this. OP is not the one who needs to know when to let go in a working relationship.

  5. Delta Delta*

    #2 – How does one even “stock up on gas”? That reminds me of the episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia where the gang hatched a plot to sell gas door to door out of a van.

    1. KayEss*

      I remember a “Dick Tracy” newspaper comic storyline from the early 2000s or so where the villain’s plot was to cause a gas shortage by having underlings drive around in huge SUVs constantly filling up the tanks.

      Pretty sure that’s not how it works.

      1. PhyllisB*

        That was exactly where my mind went, but unfortunately, John is no longer with us to ask.

    2. Venus*

      Places with large tanks (airfields, large naval ships, gas companies) can stock up, but the average person… well, I think I would love to ask her this question, just to see how she responds, except for the fact that I never want to initiate a conversation with anyone who has such a loose grasp on reality as they seem to take it as an invitation to contact you all the time about every topic.

    3. boop*

      I mean, the gang did end up selling some amount of gas…until Charlie went all Wild Card

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I filled up two five-gallon cans of gas, but…. I keep 2 cans of gas all the time because in winter we snowblow our own driveway, in the summer we mow our own lawn, and a long commute from a semi-rural area where the stations don’t open until after I need to be on the road.

    5. Amy Sly*

      Topping off your car’s gas tank is pretty standard disaster prep advice … for snowstorms, hurricanes, and the like. I also remember filling up far more frequently during the gas spikes a few years ago, where the prices were going up $.05/gal every other day for weeks.

      But a) gas stations aren’t shut down or in danger of doing so; b) gas prices are stable or falling, not rising; and c) Covid is not a problem that can be dealt with by driving somewhere not affected or by using one’s car for heat or electricity.

      1. JSPA*

        Eh, when oil prices went negative (for market-timing /structural reasons) there were some (possibly legit) concerns that small players in the markets could be caught out and go under. Or that there would be a temporary over-correction in production that would lead to a dip in the supply, a few weeks from now (or rather, oscillating under- and over- production that could cause an occasional squeeze over coming months).

        It’s highly unlikely that there would be a long-term shortage. But (as for all the other things that are sporadically selling out despite what we think of as robust supply lines, like flour, eggs and yeast) it’s not crazy to think that a particular station might go under. Or even that a region could find itself underserved for a brief period, e.g. if a major gas station chain goes into reorg/bankruptcy.

        If I had a car with a gas tank, I’d probably make sure to fill up before it dipped below the amount I’d use in two or three days, driving conservatively. If your daily drive is 250 miles, I can imagine wanting a spare 5 gallons at home (in an approved container, of course).

        But then, I’ve seen gas shortages in action, and what a pain it is, to wait for hours, burning through the last quarter of a gallon, hoping you’ll make it to the pump before you need a push, and before the station runs dry. (No, society didn’t end.)

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I remember gas rationing and even/odd days. There always seemed to be plenty of gas, I never really understood that one.

      2. Phony Genius*

        Actually, several gas stations in my area chose to shut down with everything else. Others seriously reduced their hours. They were under no obligation to do so. I think they were making so little money, it wasn’t worth it to stay open. If you need gas late at night around here, you’ll have trouble finding it. And this is a major city.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Certainly true. I was thinking “shut down” more in terms of lack of power or the pumps themselves being non-functional, the way they are after a hurricane.

          And I learned my lesson about trusting in late night gas stations a couple years ago when I discovered the only gas stations in DC open at 11:00 PM on Thanksgiving were in Anacostia. This middle class white woman definitely got some stares.

    6. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Delta Delta, that’s what I was always think of when people say you should stockpile gas! Just a bunch of morons running around with a trash can full of gasoline.

      Anyone else remember the lead up to Y2K, and how Bill Richardson (gov of NM at the time) had to ask people NOT to stockpile gas because it is a huge hazard for individuals and communities…she has found a way to create a more dangerous immediate situation for her neighbors than the pandemic. It’s not unreasonable to ask this employee to knock it off re: gas advice, or let her know you’ll be informing local authorities of unsafe conditions on her property. It’s not a hurricane, gas is super available and there’s a reason it takes super specific engineers to set up, maintain, inspect or decommission gas stations. If she is using company email that is a LIABILITY.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Better yet, inform the local authorities without letting her know. Why should she get a chance to mie her stockpile somewhere else before somebody shows up to check?

    7. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      You either get a 5 gal gas can or 2 and fill it up, or you go overboard and get a giant gas container and a pumping system. Looks like they are available 50-1000 gal sizes, I believe so farmers and other people with heavy equipment etc. can fill up on site instead of having to drive the tractors to the gas station. There are also auxiliary fuel tanks you can keep in the bed of your pickup so you don’t have to fuel up so often, which I guess makes sense if you are driving a lot in areas with very few gas stations.

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

      Stock on gas? With summer nearby? Insurance companies will have a feast with that.

  6. It's mce w*

    I’m sorry, OP 2. HR and your manager really need to look at ways to shut down talk about your surgery and your health.

    1. WellRed*

      here’s a suggestion for HR and the manager: Tell the coworkers to knock it off. Immediately and completely.

    2. Poppy the Flower*

      I believe this is something that could be a legitimate hostile workplace complaint to the EEOC if it continues. I understand that feels like a nuclear option; however, OP has the right to privacy and to stand up for herself. Perhaps bringing this up with HR could be enough.

  7. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    Re: update 4

    Considering the increased sales of dried and canned beans, I think people are definitely doing their parts to “stock up on gas.” Seems like my spouse is anyway but isn’t that part of the joy of 24/7 togetherness?

    1. allathian*

      This is something I’m definitely going to have to keep in check when I go back to the office, whenever that is. The greatest thing about sheltering in place is being able to fart whenever I feel like it. Well, not during meetings, but otherwise…

  8. Princess Deviant*

    1. I feel disappointed that you didn’t say anything to your employer! But it is done now, and hopefully those 2 people affected are on the mend.

    1. Observer*

      What would the OP have accomplished? By the time they realized it was waaaay to late to do anything.

  9. Jojo*

    As inappropriate as the question was (and it was very inappropriate) its not wrong to say that tactfully shutting it down or laughing it off would be a good option. “That’s too personal right now but I can point you to some good online forums.” Or “Sorry, the girls are not a subject I want to discuss at work.”

  10. Writer Who Writes*

    I’m so sorry OP 2, it sounds like your office culture definitely needs a reset. If I heard a coworker was out for medical reasons I wouldn’t assume and make up things about why they are out on leave. And it sounds like some of your other coworkers don’t see the issue with her spreading stories about your medical conditions. I hope for your sake the survey and meetings bring some positive changes to the office so by the time you go back you won’t have to fend off “curious” coworkers. If they persist, I wouldn’t blame you at all if you decided to start looking for another job. What is it about reconstructive surgery that brings out the worst in people??

    1. Juneybug*

      I know, right?! I had mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries and most of my co-workers were kind and not intrusive (Did you surgery go well? How are you feeling? I am glad you are doing better. Let me know if you need anything.) But there was one that always had an opinion about my decisions (my common reply was “myself and my team of doctors got this but thank you for your concern.”).

  11. Seeking Second Childhood*

    LW1 Please *STILL* tell your public health officials. Contact-tracing is critical to control. A February death in California just got identified as a weeks-earlier-than-previously-known first case. Given how many people are asymptomatic, and that tests are finally coming available, your information could be a key link that helps them trace who should be tested.

    1. fposte*

      If there were two confirmed COVID cases in the office, public health already has had the information about the OP’s office for some time.

        1. Anon for this*

          Exactly. LW1 is irresponsible for not sharing this info, which would have absolutely no negative impact on her whatsoever.

          1. Observer*

            Nonsense. Contact tracing is important, but that’s for going forward. Knowing some of the origins could be useful in a big picture way, but it will have no impact on keeping people safe now.

            And that’s aside from the fact that right now, there is NO public health department in the US that has sufficient capacity to manage the day to day tracing, much less going so far back and then tracing forward.

          2. Eukomos*

            Calling someone “irresponsible” in this situation seems extremely harsh to me. They didn’t realize the problem in time, and by the time they did it was too late to matter. Getting information about a link to Italy in the local cases two months earlier would by late March have been of passing interest to scientists studying the local spread of the virus, but I can’t imagine what impact you think it would have on public health.

        2. fposte*

          It’s likely there wasn’t, and that’s why they didn’t reach out to the OP; if there were two cases in her workplace and they didn’t talk to her, it’s likely they knew the source.

          Much as we’d all love to have more information about when the virus arrived in different places, it’s not something public health departments are focusing now on anyway, and they don’t have anything yet that could even test the OP to identify her as having had coronavirus, let alone having gotten it in Italy in January. She’d just be one of thousands of people in her state saying “Hey, I had a respiratory illness in January and I wonder if I had COVID.”

    2. JSPA*

      Not at this remove…no, it isn’t.

      For studies, the information is in the genome of the virus itself.

      For infection control, there is literally no useful information to be had.

      Italy has over 50 million tourists a year. Respiratory illness in travelers is common, and Dec-Feb is peak influenza season in the N. Hemisphere.

      The number of people who were in Italy in January and who had some sort of other respiratory illness afterwards entirely dwarfs the number of people who might potentially have had Covid-19.


  12. Dragon_Dreamer*

    I’d like to see an update on the stolen work history letter. Number 3 on the Nosy Coworker link.

    Also, if a coworker asked ME about my underwear, HR would be hearing about it immediately!

  13. Golden*

    LW3/OP3: I pet-sat overnight for my supervisor as a sophomore in undergrad, and whew, that was an *experience*. Multiple boundaries were crossed (she told me to look through her diary for the wifi password so I could do homework, and there was some STUFF in there) and she had a very eclectic decoration style. I remember taping a piece of printer paper over one piece of art because it made me so uncomfortable; I think it was a painting of a naked woman in very obvious distress with her eyes blacked out and mouth frozen in a wail.

    I wish I had known about Ask A Manager back then so I could have been empowered to decline (and otherwise interact with my supervisor in the workplace, she was a piece of work). Thanks for the update and fwiw I think you made the right choice about not hiring your employee to pet-sit.

  14. Jaid*

    Man, I was pretty open about my hysterectomy and even shared pictures from the surgery (no blood, just the organs and crud from the endometriosis).

    But if I hadn’t meant to share in the first place, I would have been ice cold and told her that whoever spread personal medical information was unprofessional and you had no plans on answering subsequent inquiries. Maybe it’s not tactful, but meh.

    My sympathies LW2. I wish you well.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      My surgeon wouldn’t give me the pictures from my laparoscopy, and I’m still super disappointed about that. Endometriosis is wild (and I could have framed the pictures as a warning to the rest of my body).

      1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

        What! That is totally unfair. I can understand why they might not want to let you take diseased body parts home, but they can just give you a copy of the photo.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          They didn’t let me have my gallbladder photo either, although in their defense that time I was on morphine and apparently actually voiced my intent to frame it as a warning.

          (the nurse thought it was funny, at least…)

          1. No Titty Committee (LW2)*

            If it makes you feel better, they gave me fentanyl and the first thing I asked the nurse was if she’d call me “Mrs Frankentitties”. Apparently I had woken up way before they expected me to do so and scared her pretty badly too.
            The second surgery, I don’t know what they gave me but it made me decide to sing to my surgery team in German. I don’t speak German. But one of them “took German in college” and was impressed.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Not only does that make me feel better, but your name delights me more than I can explain.

            2. Quill*

              I wake up during every surgery too! Thankfully I haven’t had one since childhood but the tonsils came out and I woke up RIGHT before they were ready to wheel me out of the OR, I woke up twice during wisdom teeth, and when I had a cavity filled the dentist left to get a different size drill and the novocain wore off during the time he was gone.

          2. Blueberry*

            That’s so unfair of them. At my previous job one of my more pleasant duties was arranging for people to get copies of their surgery photos.

          3. Quill*

            The oral surgeon didn’t let me have my wisdom tooth dust even though I cried about it.

            Granted my information that you could take your teeth home was 1) based on relatives who’d had them out a quarter of a century ago 2) motivated by the desire to show them off, whole, in a little jar once clean.

            Pretty sure they’ve had worse, but sorry doctor! If it helps I was on SOOO much anastheisia that between that and the painkillers I wasn’t technically sober when I went to school the following monday, insisted repeatedly that people ask how my *lack* of wisdom teeth were because the teeth themselves were in a biohazard bag and furthermore had no nerves, turned in some extremely weird essays for AP comp, and fell asleep on a table during my library assistant job during study hall.

      2. Jaid*

        That sucks! LOL, I’d mail you the pics from my surgery and you could pretend… ;-)

  15. Uldi*

    LW #1:
    You really needed to contact both your public health agency and your employer. It’s not “bothering” the agency, it’s literally part of their job to monitor things like this. And those two other cases *at the office* likely led to many more outside of it, right?

    1. Observer*

      No, they literally need to NOT contact them. There is absolutely no actionable information for them at this point.

        1. Observer*

          Most localities say they are doing contract tracing, but none have adequate resources to trace all active confirmed cases right now.

          The OP does not even know for sure they had covid19, and their exposure was so long ago that they are not in a position to infect anyone, which is the only thing the tracers care about.

            1. EvilQueenRegina*

              There were public health people replying to the original post who said that the trip to Italy was long enough ago that there wasn’t really anything they could do with the information at that point and they didn’t need to be contacted about it.

        2. wittyrepartee*

          Not for something that happened months ago, and wasn’t a confirmed case. Also, a lot of places aren’t doing contact tracing because they don’t have the ability to trace that many people.

    2. Lynn*


      Like, let them decide for themselves if it is a bother or not, that’s literally their jobs

  16. Ruthie*

    The pet sitting update reminds me of my husband’s coworker. My husband works for a national media company and when he was very junior, a well-known media personality asked him to pet and house sit. He never paid my husband, who is not the assertive type. I still tease him about it whenever the coworker’s name comes up, which is pretty often given his fame. You never forget these kinds of thing about people!

  17. tinyhipsterboy*

    I’d managed to miss the letter about the mastectomy, but I almost wonder if the “woman surgery” comment from the awful coworker was a dig about gender-reaffirming surgery. How gross. I’m sorry your coworkers are being ridiculous about things, too: you have the right to not have someone continually invade your privacy.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      Oh, probably not. She was probably hinting at a mastectomy or a hysterectomy or some other “woman troubles”-oriented surgery. But it’s definitely still gross!

  18. Rex Jacobus*

    LW#1 “I didn’t want to bother my local public health agency unless I really needed to.”

    This sort of thing drives me nuts. I know that I am a blunt sort of person but I completely despair when people do the exact wrong thing because they are trying to be nice and not bother anyone. Health agencies are desperate for this sort of knowledge. It helps track the spread of the virus. There are most likely people whose very job it is to track people like LW1.

    Please call your local health agency today and tell them all you know.

    1. Pibble*

      I remember many public health officials weighing in in the comments for LW1’s original question. The consensus was that the information was so out of date as to be useless and if LW1 is in the USA or another overwhelmed country there were far more important uses for their time than talking to someone in LW1’s position. So don’t despair, LW1 was responding to informed advice.

  19. Annie Barrett*

    I disagree about giving honest answers when you are leaving a bad workplace. It’s not my responsibility to help a company clean up their mess. My responsibility is to keep my options open and my networks positive. And the OP said that she had already discussed her concerns with her manager, who agreed with her. If the company can’t figure out why she left, that’s on them.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      People at higher levels aren’t going to be aware of all the nitty gritty stuff that goes on at the employee level and it may not be obvious why someone left. You can be honest without burning bridges if you stick to the facts.

  20. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP2, I hope you can escape your company soon. They sound less fun than a box of hemorrhoids – with a simultaneous root canal. Without painkillers.

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