boss freaked out when I used bottled water in the coffee maker, manager is buying supplies with her own money, and more

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

1. My boss freaked out when I used bottled water in our coffee maker

I do admin work for a small firm with two bosses: Isabella (who recruited me) and Ferdinand (to whom I directly report). I’ve known Isabella for many years and get along well with Ferdinand.

Although our office is small, it takes up several floors of a narrow building. Area A is the main workspace with a conference room, Keurig-style coffee maker, small fridge, and water cooler. There is no sink. Area B, where I work, is on a different floor and has a coffee maker, full fridge, and a sink. Our office provides quality coffee, water (bottled, tap, and water cooler), and snacks. These are only available in Area A, but all employees can access any area at any time.

Our Area B coffee maker broke, and after Googling it, I learned that the issue was probably scaling and mineral deposits. (We use tap water.) Desperately needing coffee, I used the Area A machine, which is inside the conference room. Ferdinand and Isabella were there with another employee, but it was not a formal meeting and the standard procedure is that meetings can be interrupted to make coffee. There was no water in the machine’s reservoir, so I went around the corner to the water cooler (which is what people generally use for coffee), but that was empty, too.

Unsure of what to do, I grabbed a bottle of water. Isabella saw me doing this and raised her voice at me, asking, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? ARE YOU REALLY USING BOTTLED WATER IN THE COFFEE MAKER?” I explained the water cooler was empty. She made a derogatory remark about my being “an environmentalist,” then said that the logical thing would be to fill the reservoir up in the bathroom. I complied and when I returned, Isabella continued to scold me, asking repeatedly why I thought it was okay to use bottled water. I wanted to say that I thought it might be a bit off-putting to take part of the coffee maker directly into the tiny, one-seater bathroom, but I didn’t want to offend her so I simply said I was concerned that not using filtered water might be bad for the machine. She said that was ridiculous; it ended at that.

I tend to be overly apologetic – and I did say I was sorry – but I think she expects more of an apology. Do I owe her one? I apparently violated an (unknown) office policy, but it was honestly well-intended. Should I address this, and if so, how? Also, mostly out of curiosity, was my behavior strange and out of line?

Your behavior was fine. You weren’t filling up a toilet tank with bottled water. You were using it for the coffee maker when no other obvious source was available. I suppose Isabella’s argument is that the bathroom was an obvious source, but office bathrooms generally don’t feel like a place that anything you’d want to ingest would come from. (Also, I can’t figure out her scoffing that you’re an environmentalist; environmentalists aren’t known for loving bottled water.)

You don’t owe her more of an apology. You also didn’t owe her one originally. That said, she’s your boss, so I’d look at what you know of her generally and how put off she seems now. If she’s reasonable, it shouldn’t need to be revisited. If she’s not reasonable, it’s possible you’d benefit from saying something like, “I wanted to follow up about the issue with the water for the coffee the other day — I hadn’t realized you wouldn’t want me to do that. I’ll find a different water source if it happens again.” (To be clear, this isn’t truly necessary; it would just be about appeasing her if she’s a ridiculous person who requires it.) You could also tell Ferdinand you were surprised by the intensity of Isabella’s reaction and ask if he thinks any kind of follow-up is necessary — but again, it shouldn’t be.

2. Should I let my boss buy my supplies with her own money?

My employer is going to be continuing mandatory WFH for people in my role for a long time. I’ve run out of the office supplies, like notebooks and Post-Its, which I brought with me when WFH started (as instructed). My employer’s policies forbid ordering supplies for deliveries to employees’ homes. (Somehow they got around this policy to deliver external monitors, thankfully!)

When I asked how to order new supplies through the company, my boss told me that won’t be possible. She has offered to go in to our closed office, pick up office supplies, and mail them to us (on her dime). I’m not comfortable with her spending her own money, or the small but non-zero risk of her going in to the post office unnecessarily. She also offered to order supplies to be delivered to us from her personal Amazon account.

How would you react to a manager who solves business problems by spending her own money? For some reason, “buys her team a round at happy hour once a year without reimbursement” seems fine, but “buys her team’s work supplies on Amazon without reimbursement” seems nuts. Where is a reasonable line?

Yeah, she shouldn’t have to spend her own money on work supplies. It’s different from buying a round of drinks, because that’s more of a personal gesture of good will. Supplies you need to do your work are … supplies you need to do your work, and should be paid for by your company.

While your company won’t order supplies for home delivery, any chance it will reimburse you for supplies you purchase for yourself, just as it presumably would have done pre-WFH? If not, ideally you’d all push back with someone above your boss, ask how to obtain necessary supplies at this point, and propose just submitting them for reimbursement as you’d do with any other business expense. Alternately, you could just buy them, submit them for reimbursement, and see what happens — or ask your manager what will happen if you do that.

Also, is your boss someone who would be pushing back on this if there were room to do it, or have you seen her be timid in situations where she could be more assertive? If the latter, I’d tell her that you’re not comfortable with her personally paying for your work supplies and urge her to push on this.

If none of this works … at that point it’s a personal call that you’re being forced into by a ridiculous company policy.

3. My boss (who is like an aunt to me) was abruptly fired — should I reach out?

I’m in a bit of shock right now, so I hope this is coherent! My boss of nearly 10 years was fired today, and I’m not sure if I should reach out to her. She is the long-time head of the academic department and beloved by students and alumni, so I truly never expected her to be fired.

I’ve been in my current position since graduating college and moving a city far from my family. My boss is close in age to my parents and very much like an aunt to me. Before I met my fiancee, she was my emergency contact! I’ve stayed in this job for longer than anyone expected (there is no room for growth), partly because of her. I’m finishing a graduate degree now and have plans to look for another job once I finish.

We weren’t explicitly told not to contact her, but it was implied (much like the fact that she was fired). I’m truly not worried about my position for various reasons, so should I text her? Should I give her space? I have no idea what to do in this situation, and I want to make sure she is okay.

This is someone who you describe as like an aunt to you! There’s no reason the relationship has to end just because she’s no longer working with you. And her being fired doesn’t change that — you can proceed the same way you would if she’d left voluntarily.

So yes, text or email her. Let her know you heard she left and you’re sorry to hear it, you loved working with her and stayed as long as you did partly because of her, and you’ll miss her and want to stay in touch.

4. Working while quarantined and not getting paid

My husband’s company recently announced that if any employee travels to an area with a travel restriction, they are required to report it to their manager and then self-quarantine for two weeks without pay. It is our understanding that he would still be required to work from home during the quarantine period. This seems super illegal; can they do this? My husband is an exempt, salaried employee who has been completing most of his work at home (his company was deemed essential) since March.

They can require a two-week quarantine period, and they can require it be unpaid — but they cannot legally permit him to work while they’re not paying him. So either he’s working while quarantined and getting paid, or he’s not getting paid and he’s not working. (Any chance this somehow got mixed up when it was being relayed? Could it be that people who can work from home will quarantine, keep working, and be paid, but people who can’t work from home will just be on unpaid, non-working quarantine?)

Also, I’d hope that if the travel in question is for work (rather than personal travel), there’s no “you don’t get paid for two weeks afterwards” option. You shouldn’t lose money because of your work duties.

5. One way to advocate safer conditions as workplaces re-open

I know you’ve previously encouraged readers to name businesses that were violating their states’ shelter-in-place orders and I just wanted to throw out a sort of related suggestion that I hope you’ll consider passing on to your readers as well: please consider writing to the governing board of your local public entities like cities/villages, schools, park districts, libraries, etc. and expressing your support of measures that protect the health and safety of public employees. If your local public entity is doing a good job and clearly taking their employees’ safety into consideration, tell them that you support that; if they suck, express your disappointment as a taxpayer who supports those institutions and demand better.

I’m a public employee (librarian) and I can’t tell you how much it means for staff to hear that our health and safety is valued by members of the public. I’m fortunate that my employer has been super reasonable and smart in its response, but it means a lot to hear that from the public because ultimately, they are the ones who pay the taxes to fund the library as well as vote for the officials who govern it. For employees of the institutions who are not handling this well, I imagine that supportive words from the public would carry a lot of weight because the staff lacks that support from administration. Public feedback can also have tremendous influence on the actions of public entities because of that relationship, ESPECIALLY at the local level. This is not like sending an email to a D.C. politician and several months later receiving a form response that doesn’t actually address your concerns; local governments can be a lot more responsive.

Anyway, if you’re someone who is concerned about employee health and safety in general, you have a lot of power as a taxpayer to advocate for that in your community, even if it’s just rattling off an email to your local library or park district board.

Thank you for this.

I want to add that writing to lawmakers in D.C. can carry a lot of weight too, even if you just get a form letter back. Legislators have staff who track how many communications they’re getting on each side of an issue, and getting a lot of letters/emails/calls on an issue really can change what they prioritize and how they vote. It’s usually easier to have an impact at the local level, as you note, because the numbers are smaller — but know that expressing your views to your senators and congressional representatives matters as well!

{ 375 comments… read them below }

  1. MK*

    The boss’s reaction in #1 is frankly bizarre. I understand telling the OP not to use bottled water for the coffeemaker (I find that the expense of repairing the damage to it from tap water is much less than that of using bottled water all the time-unless the machine is very expensive, I suppose). But it’s really odd to keep scolding someone over it.

    1. Avasarala*

      I am baffled that given the option between bottled drinking water and water from the bathroom sink, OP was supposed to obviously know to use bathroom water. I can imagine being scolded for doing that (not all tap water is drinkable).

      OP, you are seeking to make right where no wrong was done. Your boss was weird and had an unnecessary and hopefully unusual outburst. She owes YOU an apology. You are indeed being overly apologetic and trying to apologize for doing something normal. Instead you should take this as information about what kind of person your boss is–the names you chose are the regents who ordered the Spanish Inquisition.

      1. Gen*

        Most offices I’ve worked in have had “do not drink” signs on the bathroom taps, especially the ones with water coolers or bottled water available. OP you’re not the odd one in this situation

        1. hamsterpants*

          It really depends on the locale. In the US the basic standard (not that it’s always fulfilled) is that tap water is drinkable. The exceptions I’ve seen have been in very remote locations.

          1. pancakes*

            Flint Michigan isn’t very remote. Neither is Detroit, where water in a majority of public schools was found to have elevated levels of lead and copper in 2018. In Pittsburgh in 2017 residents were told to boil tap water before using it due to giardia concerns. A nationwide study of county-level water quality violations between 1982 and 2015 found “[a]t the bottom of the pack were Washington, D.C., Oklahoma, Idaho, and Nebraska. In the latter three, more than a third of water systems had violations in multiple years.” I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea.

            1. lost academic*

              You’re not wrong about the violations, but the standard and the expectation outside of places with known systemic and official situations like Flint is that tapwater is potable unless otherwise posted and in most offices generally a requirement. Whether or not it’s a good idea because there are repeat problems with your POTW, there is an immediate situation with contamination from a treatment plant or a line break, or a management/contamination issue with a private system is another story, but the average office worker in the United States, unless otherwise notified, should expect that water coming from a kitchen or bathroom faucet is indeed potable. (This is my field and I have personally managed drinking water systems.)

              1. pancakes*

                As I said, studies (based on EPA data) indicate that many, many, many places in the US don’t have safe drinking water at any given time. Whether you agree that the data does in fact exist is beside the point. It seems quite clear to me that many people don’t keep up with news on this, and as a result have unrealistic expectations about water quality in the US.

                1. lost academic*

                  But that isn’t what you said. You listed some states that have had repeated violations without any specifics that have occurred in a period spanning over 30 years. That wasn’t exactly relevant to the point being made above which is whether or not the average American does or doesn’t expect that tap water is potable, which is a legal definition and in places a requirement. This is a very different situation (potable vs non potable) than having either sporadic or systemic problems with a drinking water system.

                  It is a correct general statement to make that the basic standard in this country is that tap water is potable. It’s also correct to note exceptions, but it’s important to distinguish between systemic exceptions, such as Flint and places that specifically do not and are not required to provide potable water, and episodic ones (your Pittsburgh example, for instance, was a situation where a problem with low chlorination potentially impacted part of the city and thus a flush and boil advisory was issued even though no problems were detected at any point, and the advisory was lifted in 2 days).

                2. pancakes*

                  lost academic, are you unaware that you can use a direct quote from an article about a study to find it? I didn’t link to it directly because comments with links here are delayed for moderation. If you need more specifics you can easily find them in moments.

                  You don’t seem to be open to the idea that a nation that widely and consistently has sporadic problems with drinking water safety has meaningful problems with the safety of its drinking water. That’s a remarkably fatuous point to try to make, even if only as a distraction or time-wasting ploy.

                3. pancakes*

                  lost academic, I want to add that your comment here about water quality in Pittsburgh is misleading. From an area public radio station, WESA, in February 2018:

                  “PWSA has issued four boil water advisories in the last 13 months. In January 2017, the authority told 100,000 customers to boil their water because low chlorine levels meant there was a chance giardia could live in the water; in August, officials were concerned the water supply for roughly 18,000 homes could be contaminated by bird and animal droppings that might have slipped through an aged reservoir cover. A December water main break on Centre Avenue caused low pressure and prompted a boil water advisory for 7,000 households in the East End just weeks before a main break on Penn Avenue found 700 households firing up their stovetops in January of 2018.

                  And that’s just PWSA. Pennsylvania American Water issued a boil water advisory for 100,000 customers in November 2017 because high turbidity, or cloudiness, meant harmful bacteria could be in the water. This month, water main breaks in Aspinwall have twice resulted in boil water advisories.”

                  Trying to spin this as an isolated incident resolved in two days is very misinformed.

                4. JSPA*

                  While this is true, it also took decades to recognize the issues with plasticizers leaching from LPDE (e.g. older refillable water bottles). As with pharmaceutical problems (older ones often have more known side effects, which makes newer ones appear safer for years or even decades, whether or not that’s true), water source safety is very much a “known vs unknown” question, as well as a “safe vs. unsafe.”

                  Add in the very clear risk of additional plastic in our food chain, and I come down solidly on the boss’s side, in terms of squaring ecological risk, direct health risk and indirect health risks, as far as formulating a strong preference. You can add in cost, as well, if you like.

                  None of that makes the boss less of a complete ass, in how that preference was presented.

            2. EA*

              My elementary school in the 70s and 80s regularly had to stop us from drinking the water. My husbands workplace does not have potable water. We live in Maine

              1. The Rural Juror*

                There are times of the year in my city in Texas where the water is bad because zebra mussels in the lake. Taking a shower in it is unpleasant! It has this distinct smell that isn’t horrible, but is unpleasant and it makes you feel like you’re still unclean. Although, I don’t remember there being a boil notice because of it. There was a boil notice during flooding, though.

                Extreme circumstances, sure, but it’s not unheard of to have fluctuations in tap water quality.

              1. pancakes*

                Hamsterpants didn’t comment on countries other than the US, and I think it’s sketchy you’re trying to. No one needs a fable about American exceptionalism to discuss the letter-writer’s questions.

              2. Tidewater 4-1009*

                I once tried putting a filter on my kitchen faucet and it didn’t work well at all!
                Now I use a filter pitcher. You can buy one in any drugstore. I think there are refillable water bottles with filters, too.

          2. Nesprin*

            Eh I work in a major city in the us an old building with deeply sketchy pipes. We have do not drink signs on our taps. So yeah not common but not unheard of

          3. KoiFeeder*

            There used to be a restaurant my parents liked to go to that had radon issues, so you couldn’t drink the tap water there. I don’t know if if was just that they were the only ones who put signs in their bathrooms or if the rest of that strip also had radon issues and didn’t mention it. I was pretty young, I just remember the big signs on every sink. It was unusual for the state (and for the area- it was pretty close to a wealthy suburban area), but I don’t think it ever got fixed.

        2. bluephone*

          I use filtered (Brita pitcher) water in my coffeemaker *at my own home* because our tap water is notoriously hard. It’s safe to drink but it will absolutely scale the heck out of your faucets, dishware, leave buildup in your hair, etc. My office’s tap water is less hard but has a noticeable, unpleasant (to me at least) taste. So if I had a keurig for my desk, I’d be filling it up with bottled or filtered water too.
          The idea of trucking a *food* item into the **bathroom** (especially a communal bathroom) is just….gaah. Just give me COVID-19 instead.
          TLDR: Isabella is a loon, OP did nothing wrong, also why does Isbella not have enough on her plate that she has the time to a) obsess over this and b) *freak out* at people about it? Girlfriend needs to add a few goals or something to her next performance evaluation because someone clearly has too much time on their hands.

          1. Vina*

            Yep. If they served me that as a client or visitor, I’d freak out on the boss. Food in bathrooms is gross.

            The only exception is a cup of coffee or wine in a bath. But only if it’s far from a toilet – and the lid is closed.

            Just, ugh.

            1. Vina*

              And, FTR, I have drunk water out of garden hoses, cisterns with pumps that are over 100 years old, running mountain streams, Etc.

              Bathroom water, when there is any other choice, is gross.

              There is a human psychological barrier to eating and drinking anything that’s been near human waste. I can’t believe I even had to type that sentence.

              Isabella is a fool. An angry one.

              1. JM in England*

                It would seem that Isabella simply likes the sound of her own voice.

                As to the psychological barrier, it is definitely a deeply ingrained instinct in humans. Once saw a science program with an experiment where they put in front of the presenter a bowl of their favourite soup. The demonstrator then took a brand new toilet brush that was still in its packaging and unwrapped it. The brush was then swilled around the bowl of soup and the presenter was asked to eat it. Even though they knew intellectually that the brush was clean, they could not bring themselves to do so…..

                1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                  plastic toilet brush in hot soup? Good way to leach chemicals out of the plastic into the food. No thanks!

              2. Cindy*

                I agree that Isabella is a loon, but do you never get up in the middle of the night and drink a cup of water from your bathroom sink? Or if you’re thirsty, do you go to your kitchen for a drink of water in the middle of the night?

                1. Gal*

                  A lot of people don’t drink any tap water at home because of taste. I only drink water that’s been through my brita filter, so yeah, I would go to the kitchen.

                2. The Rural Juror*

                  I agree with Gal. We have hard water at my house and it has a mineral-ly taste which I don’t like. The faucet in the sink needs to be cleaned often because the minerals start to deposit around it. I have to take the aerator off the faucet and rinse it well or it gets gross. I keep a bottle of filtered water from the kitchen in the bathroom to take medications and whatnot, though I do rinse after brushing my teeth with the tap water…as long as the faucet is clean!

                3. HoHumDrum*

                  Home bathroom feels different to me because I brush my teeth in there and regularly put the water in my mouth. Also I do so much more in a home bathroom (shower, bathe, makeup, just hanging out and using the mirror etc) that it doesn’t feel as much like “the poop room” as a work bathroom does.

                  I’m a big fan of tap water, and I definitely have used many public bathrooms to fill up water bottles when I’m out and can’t find a better option. But it’s always a little gross feeling, and I would much prefer access to filtered water or at least a dedicated drinking fountain. If I was at the office and couldn’t find any other water source I probably would try the bathroom sink, but if I saw a coworker grabbing bottled water to use I’m pretty sure my reaction would be “Oh! Yes! That’s a *much* better idea! Let’s do that!”

                4. noahwynn*

                  I rinse my mouth after brushing my teeth in the bathroom, but I can’t say I’ve ever filled a cup and drank the water. Just seems nasty, even though I guess it really isn’t any different. I would go to the kitchen, but also admit that in my 1 bedroom apartment the distance is about the same.

                5. TardyTardis*

                  I’m a mutant-the water in my bathroom tastes better than the kitchen water. But as I said…

              3. Ellen N.*

                “There is a human psychological barrier to eating and drinking anything that’s been near human waste.”

                Some humans have that psychological barrier; others don’t. I have no problem drinking water from the bathroom sink. Most people I know brush their teeth in the bathroom, using the bathroom tap water. In fact, I think it’s disgusting to brush your teeth in the kitchen sink.

                1. Vina*

                  Yes, but don’t denigrate those humans who do have that barrier, like some in this post have done.

              4. Burned Out Supervisor*

                “There is a human psychological barrier to eating and drinking anything that’s been near human waste.”

                Many animals have the same aversion. Most animals, such as cats, will not eat if their food is too close to their litter box. I’m not sure of the science, but I would have to guess it’s to avoid predation while eating.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  I mean, it’s the same reason most animals don’t want to drink water that’s too near their food and/or waste. It’s a good way to get sick, either from bacteria found in the waste or from food that’s been rotting in the water.

            2. JSPA*

              It’s going to not only be boiled, but vaporized, though. Effectively, the coffee machine is making distillate. (That’s why the minerals that cause scaling get left behind and the machine scales up so fast.) The idea is gross, but the risk has to be effectively zero, no?

          2. Dust Bunny*

            We use filtered water (Houston suburbs) because, while it’s safe, the water tastes weird and spoils the flavor of whatever you’re making with it. At work, we have one of those coolers that taps into the wall and filters water as it goes. We use that water in the Keurig. I don’t even think the Keurig reservoir would fit under the bathroom tap, anyway.

            The boss here is a froot loop.

          3. Your Weird Uncle*

            I work in a university office building that was built in 2007. There is no breakroom, and there is no sink. If we want to wash food or rinse out our dishes, we have no choice but to do it in the communal bathrooms. It’s beyond gross, and I bring it up at practically every opportunity.

            Of course, now that the Facilities folks have moved their office to our building, they’ve been talking about adding a sink. Scuppered by COVID, no doubt, but hopefully soon.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Surely with Covid-19 they should be scaling up hygiene measures rather than scuppering them?
              I mean, French schools at last have soap and toilet paper in them now so…

          4. Chinook*

            Ditto. Tap water here is also hard but very drinkable and can greatly shorten the life of machinery. If there is filtered water available, then that is what is recommended.

            1. HoHumDrum*

              I just want to point out that bottled water ≠ filtered water. People have a misconception that bottled water is super pure and high quality and that’s all just marketing. The actual regulations on bottled water in the US are sometimes actually more lax than the ones on tap water. I don’t disagree with anyone here about the feeling of grossness from using a bathroom sink for water, just wanted to make sure people know that bottled water isn’t automatically pure and clean. If you want high quality water your best bet is to buy a filtration system like a Brita pitcher.

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Yup. Bottled water is likely to have had all sorts of chemicals leaching out of the plastic including Bisphenol A. This has been banned in plastics for infant feeding, like baby bottles, because of the danger it can wreak on reproductive systems, but not in other plastics. (Never mind that mothers use bottled water in baby bottles). If the bottles of water have been left out in the sunshine for a couple of hours, that’ll multiply the leaching by about ten IIRC.

            2. TardyTardis*

              That reminds me, I need to run some white vinegar through my generic k-cup machine…

        3. andy*

          I never seen that, so it likely depends. The only “do not drink” signs I have seen were in tent camps and similar locations.

          1. JM in England*

            I have seen “Not Drinking Water” signs next to the handwashing sinks in many public and workplace bathrooms.

          2. JustaTech*

            Every lab sink in my building has a “Non-potable Water Do Not Drink” sign on it.

            I honestly don’t know if the water is *actually* non-potable or if that’s just to remind you to not drink anything in the lab. The same was true in other labs where I’ve worked in this city. I remember it mostly because of one really horrible day where I seriously contemplated drinking out of the “non-potable” sink because I was so thirsty and couldn’t leave the lab.

      2. TechWorker*

        Maybe the water cooler is just for cooling and infact contains tap water :p

        I mean, probably not, but I doubt it’s unheard of in places where tap water is safe to drink or not very limescaley!

        1. Creamsiclecati*

          And aside from the questionable tap water, is anybody else as grossed out as I am at the idea of bringing a coffee maker into a bathroom? The idea of something I will eat or drink, or a container I will use to hold or make my food or beverage, being anywhere inside a public bathroom, makes me a little queasy.

          1. irene adler*

            Yes. If I’d learned that the water used to make coffee emanated from the bathroom tap, I don’t think I’d ever drink coffee from that coffee-maker again.

            Which is very much an over-reaction on my part.
            But I can’t lose the thought of where the water came from…

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Me me me! And, since I now know Isabella’s prereffed source of water, I wouldn’t be able to drink any coffee she makes again without gagging. I mean, when I hear “small company” and “one-seater”, I imagine a bathroom laid out like a gas station bathroom, with the sink right next to the toilet and no stall walls separating the two.

              (username checks out, was making coffee, lol)

              1. Creamsiclecati*

                Ok, glad it wasn’t just me who was turned off by the idea of the coffee maker maker reservoir being brought into the bathroom.

                You can write whatever you want in the bathroom, we all do it. Just don’t hand me a cup of coffee and say “I made this in the bathroom” haha

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  You can write whatever you want in the bathroom, we all do it. Just don’t hand me a cup of coffee and say “I made this in the bathroom” haha

                  Nope, I won’t!

                  There’s a backstory behind my username. After a concert of a band I like, a fellow fan was grilling the band leader about the meaning behind this or that song. It was awkward because it looked like the leader was tired and wanted to end the chat, but I didn’t know how to best extract myself. Finally noped out of it after he told the other fan and me, “Oh, that song? I wrote that in the bathroom”. I won’t disclose the band name, but the song is called “When I’m Away From You” (as we all should be, in the bathroom!)

          2. Vina*


            If this is discussed again, LW should mention she’s heard a lot of people say they find water taken from a bathroom gross.

            Honestly, Isabella is totally wrong. LW did the exact correct thing.

            Isabella is gross and had no leg to stand on.

            1. CheeryO*

              This is ridiculously precious, and I’d roll my eyes out of my head if you told me that. There is nothing wrong with bathroom water. It’s the same water that comes out of the kitchen taps.

              1. Vina*

                And I would think your an immature jackass for that response.

                It may be the same water, but it’s not the same place.

                It’s really telling you have zero respect for someone else’s boundaries about what they put in their body.

                You don’t have to agree, but the amount of disrespect the eye roll would show and the choice of the word precious is very telling.

                Seriously. Why did you even feel the need to post this?

              2. LutherstadtWittenberg*

                You most assuredly shouldn’t be managing anyone if you responded in that manner.

          3. Vina*

            Human food and drink should never be near human or animal waste. This is pretty fundamental for all mammals.

            Don’t s where you eat. That’s an old expression for a reason.

            Heck, my cats won’t eat if their food is within 10 feet of the litter box, even the very, very good stuff.

            It’s fundamental mammalian behavior.

            Something’s wrong with Isabella that she doesn’t understand this. It’s fine if she rationally thinks “it’s ok because…” But to not know that would be why someone might not get the water from the source is just baffling to me.

            1. Alex*

              Tell that to my hamster! He seems to have a thing for nsaffling up his own poop, weird little creature he is!

              But.. he’s a hamster. That’s his excuse, Isabella has absolutely no excuse, whatsoever. Unless.. OP, is your boss perhaps a hamster..?

              1. Quill*

                Lots of animals will eat their own / others’ poop if enclosed or for various other health and housing reasons. Especially domesticated and caged animals.

              2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

                Hamsters and rabbits both eat their own poop as part of their digestive cycle. Basically it’s two rounds of poop: eat, poop, eat poop, poop, done. The stage one poop is softer and probably is easily identifiable by the animal.

            2. SarahTheEntwife*

              I’m not grossed out by that, unless the bathrooms aren’t cleaned properly. Honestly, I try not to think about it too hard, but at my workplace our bathroom sinks are probably way cleaner than the sink in the staff break room — the bathroom sinks get cleaned and sanitized daily by professionals, while the break room gets cleaned weekly by volunteers.

          4. Ellen N.*

            No, I’m not grossed out be part of the coffee maker being brought into the bathroom. Even if I was worried about germs somehow being in the water tap the fact that water is boiled to make coffee void my concern.

            What grosses me out is people who talk on their phones while they are on the toilet. Now, that’s a germ-fest.

        2. CDM*

          Our office water cooler (and heater) is plumbed into the water line and filters the municipal tap water. It’s definitely more environmentally friendly that the coolers that use water bottles.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Yep, those are my favorite ones! And it does a great job filtering the water.

      3. an infinite number of monkeys*

        I was expecting you to call Isabella unreasonable, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

            1. willow for now*

              What if she likes it, and you are forced to make extra “cat coffee” forevermore? (Never know what cats will like. One cat liked bananas. And Pringles. The other one loved McD fries, would eat Wendy’s fries, but shunned BK fries.)

              1. In the provinces*

                Which tells you which chain was using beef tallow or lard for their fries and which was using vegetable oil

      4. Anonymous*

        I agree that the boss’s reaction was out of proportion to the situation, but this single incident doesn’t necessarily make them an unreasonable boss. If this was a one time occurrence from a person who doesn’t normally behave that way, it’s possible she had something stressful going on in her personal life or in some other part of her job that put her on edge, so she got upset about something that wouldn’t have normally been a big deal. That being said, she still owes OP an apology but may be embarrassed by what she now realizes was an overreaction and is trying to save face by not backing down from it.

    2. Scarlet2*

      Yeah, it sounds like the boss massively overreacted. I’m wondering if she was just being irritated by something else and took it out on LW or if she makes a habit of scolding her employees for no reason. If anyone should be apologizing, it’s her, for publicly scolding LW over something so ridiculous.

      1. Batgirl*

        This was my thought. I’d be seriously questioning her judgement and character because it seemed like she was simply scolding a subordinate because she could, especially since she’s making up odd reasons, like the environment, on the spot.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I wondered about that, too. Then again, people sometimes come unglued over the weirdest things.

        Regardless, OP does not owe another apology.

    3. Mystery Bookworm*

      I was really expecting the issue to be that the boss was super enviornmentalist and was maybe putting the weight of global warming on the issue of refilling the coffee machine…but then to accuse OP of being ‘enviormentalist’???

      So confused.

      1. Anonysuse*

        I think the comment about the OP being an environmentalist was either said straight up sarcastically, or, if the OP has ever expressed that they care for the environment, the boss was admonishing OP for being an environmentalist but doing something bad for the environment.

        I have this issue with my parents because I have spoken to them before about being more environmentally friendly and using fewer plastic bottles and now every time I do anything not super ecologically friendly they are at me with “aren’t you such an environmentalist” comments

        1. Pilcrow*

          That’s what I thought, too, that it was meant in a “and you call yourself an environmentalist” kind of way.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          That’s what I was thinking too, that the boss was not using that as an insult but more in a scoffing “psh and you call yourself an environmentalist” type of thing. That’s the only way that piece would make sense to me… but either way the whole thing is super ridiculous.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        I’m pretty sure the environmentalist comment was sarcastic, shaming her for using the bottled water… that this company provides. If they’re so concerned with sustainability, maybe they shouldn’t be stocking their company with bottled water in the first place!

        1. coldbrewraktajino*

          Or using Keurigs/pod coffees! At least the big water cooler jugs get refilled.

    4. T2*

      I think that the issue with the bottled water possibly was not about the bottled water.

      Some people just keep hitting a nail long after the point was driven home.

    5. Isabelle*

      I used to live in a hard water area and we would buy soft bottled water just for coffee making. It works the other way too, many bottled water brands are very high in minerals and would be bad for the coffee machine.
      Best use soft or filtered water if you have access to it.

      Either way, using bottled water for coffee making is fairly common and it’s a weird thing to get very upset about.

      1. Anonysuse*

        Not to start a war over bottled water use but to be honest it would never even occur to me to put bottled water in a coffee maker! It’s so wasteful I don’t even understand why an office with a water cooler and sink even has bottled water. I still think the boss overreacted though and getting the water from the office bathroom is a little gross – to me the clear and obvious solution would have been to walk up/down a floor to the sink in Area B and fill the water from there!

        Also getting access to filtered water is super easy, I mean the office could just buy one of those water filtering jugs/bottles for Area B and solve the tab water ruining the coffee machine problem.

        1. doreen*

          I wouldn’t understand either- but I once worked in an office where the water delivery automatically included a certain number of free individual bottles based on how many water-cooler sized bottles were delivered. No idea why the water supplier did that.

        2. Gila Monster*

          I’m somewhat taken aback by both OP and her boss’s actions and reactions. It almost feels like OP was worried about taking too long to make the coffee and panicked.

        3. noahwynn*

          Bottled water is easier to give to guests. I know the company I work for stocks some in each of the conference rooms near the front of the building that are normally used for external meetings. We have one of the filtering water coolers in each breakroom that most of the employees use though.

        4. Ellen N.*

          I have worked in offices where bottled water was kept exclusively for clients.

          In every office I’ve worked in, if the water cooler was empty it was expected that the person who used the last of the water would replace the bottle. If that person was unable to lift the bottle, he/she was expected to ask for assistance.

    6. Lynca*

      I have a Keurig and I want to say the manual recommends using filtered water anyway to reduce the risk of scaling. My tap water source doesn’t produce limescale but does have a higher iron content. So for the for the coffee maker we have to run the water through a Brita filter.

      I’m struggling to see how the OP was in the wrong and what Isabella’s deal actually is.

      1. MK*

        I have had coffeemakers with those recommendations and, frankly, I am sceptical. I used to live in an area where the tap water was not drinkable, so we had to use bottled for everything, and I didn’t see any difference in the coffeemaker’s damage. Maybe I am a cynic, but I suspect they put those in so that they can attribute the damage to bad use and not to the simple fact that most things nowdays aren’t made to last.

        1. Lora*

          Worked at a place where the Senior VP had a thing with buying expensive Italian espresso-maker type machines for every location, in case he visited them and wanted to have good coffee. We definitely had to put Brita-filtered water in the thing, it had a bunch of sensors that would throw error messages from not-good water quality in some locations.

          At one point, someone figured out how to short out the sensors and make it run with the tap water, and the thing really did clog up with crud and break. Turns out the espresso steaming thing cooks all the limescale right onto the narrow tubing in the guts of the machine. We soaked it in vinegar for a day and that sort of helped, but it was never the same and eventually someone bought a regular Keurig and told SVP he was just going to have to deal.

          1. Quill*

            Vinegaring the line regularly is a good idea regardless of where you live and what the water quality is like. :)

        2. KRM*

          I grew up with well water that was very hard, and would scale everything like crazy. My parents cleaned the coffeemaker with a vinegar rinse once a month and we still had to replace them every 18 months or so. It does happen.

          1. Clisby*

            Yeah, I’ve had to do that too. When my Keurig went on the blink, I goggled something like “Keurig troubleshooting” and one of the common recommendations was to run a brew cycle with distilled vinegar. Worked like a charm.

            1. The Rural Juror*

              The worst part of that is the rinsing all the vinegar out after! I’m usually the one who remembers to do the cycle at our office so the Keurig doesn’t get gummy. I don’t mind doing it, though. Gives me a break away from whatever tedious thing I’m working on…

        3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          I live in a place with soft water where you don’t get mineral build-up using tap water, and my incredibly cheap Mr. Coffee is still working fine after years of daily use without filtering the water first. (I selected it on the basis of being the cheapest coffee maker at Fred Meyer that day, so I didn’t exactly do a lot of research and deliberately pick a durable one.) I ended up replacing my previous cheap off-brand coffee maker after about a decade of use when the carafe broke and I couldn’t get a replacement for it, and the machine itself was still working fine at that point.

          I run vinegar through it whenever I find ants (I live in an area where teeny little sugar ants are so endemic that they’ll occasionally find their way into your house no matter how clean you keep it), and I wipe down the places where coffee or grounds can spill, but I’ve never had a coffeemaker damaged by the water, so I suspect water hardness does make a difference.

    7. Jay*

      I just feel like it should be regularly pointed out that anyone “desperately” in need of a drug (in this case, caffeine), is addicted. That isn’t good for your body, and is also likely to make you act more urgently than necessary. In this instance, I wonder if this urgency led to a stronger tone or approach than the OP realizes.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I read that as hyperbole of it wasn’t an addict desperately needing a fix, as much as OP just wanting coffee that morning enough to refill the coffee machine with water. I personally doubt OP was nearly as intense as Isabella was.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        Evidence suggests that coffee in moderate amounts is pretty neutral for your body. Can be bad for your heart, can be good to prevent cancer and dementia. Different drugs are different.

      3. AnonyNurse*

        I feel it should regularly be pointed out that your definition is not, in fact, the definition of “addiction” which is much more complex and nuanced. Even if OP is dependent on caffeine, that’s not what was asked nor is it relevant to your question.

      4. KoiFeeder*

        Can’t believe I’m addicted to the medicine that keeps me alive, wow.

        (Yeah, this is snarky and in bad faith. But dude, come on.)

      5. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        Or they’re using that drug medicinally, on doctor’s advice. I had a doctor offer to prescribe stimulants, if the caffeine stopped being sufficient to keep me functional.

        And, as is regularly pointed out here, it’s inappropriate to diagnose strangers over the Internet.

    8. Amethystmoon*

      Yeah, I am wondering if this boss is unreasonable and scoldy about other minor things, too. I mean, really. Of all the things to scold someone over. Maybe if the bottled water comes out of the office budget and so it’s not meant to be used by employees but given to customers, or it’s supposed to be signed out or something, but even then, they should make sure everyone in the office knows about such policies. Like, put a sign up or something.

    9. The Starsong Princess*

      Continuing to scold someone over it is over the top and odd. But otherwise I am with Isabella. Using expensive (compared to tap water) and environmentally bad bottled water to fill a coffee maker because LW didn’t want to walk a few steps? Bottled water differs little in quality to most tap water – there is generally no reason to offer it, especially as the company offers water cooler and tap water. Coffee makers have to be descaled at some point even with bottled water.

      Unless there is something wrong with your tap water, use it for your coffee.

      1. LeahS*

        I think that it is less an issue of not wanting to walk a few steps and more not wanting to fill up the reservoir in the bathroom because… gross.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Yes, but the particles would be the smaller ones that made it through the filtering process, so they’re less likely to gum up the inner parts of the coffee maker. Would still be better than tap water in a lot of locations around the US, including my city, which has hard water. Our office fridge’s water dispenser’s filter has to be changed pretty often because of the water quality (so it is really nice to have filtered cold water out of the fridge!).

        You’re definitely not wrong, though.

    10. Ladylike*

      I agree, bizarre and extreme. Who berates an employee for using the “wrong” source of water *one* time? She sounds like a massive jerk.

    11. lost academic*

      Yeah, bizarre, but I have found in my years that some people feel extremely strongly about the use of tap vs bottled water for various applications and are HORRIFIED when those expectations are not met. I have seen this with coffee both ways – people expressing the boss in #1s’ horror on both sides (using bottled, or using tap). As an environmental professional who’s managed drinking water systems, this is not a hill to die on without some other issue being present, but tapwater in some locales might cause faster scaling in carafes, coffeepots, hot pots, the like. They’re easy to clean and all you generally need is vinegar (though my current office stocks the fancy carafe cleaner stuff because it’s easier for the average person to deal with). I personally draw my own line at people who use hot tap water for consumption without knowing anything about their pipes – and I have found that most people are simply unaware that that is Not a Good Idea.

    12. Beth*

      I read it as Isabella freaking out because bottled water is expensive, so it’s wasteful to use it in a coffee maker. But nobody who has a Keurig should open their mouths about waste. Keurigs are incredibly wasteful.

    13. Mama Bear*

      We had a Keurig die. We think it was from tap water. All replacement or new machines now have “filtered water only” posted on them. I think the reaction was overblown. Bottled water should be fine, especially if a company provides bottled water for anyone. Was the issue that she was there during a meeting and the boss was stressed? I only drink water from our standalone filter machine. We have “drinkable” tap water but it’s heavily chlorinated.

      1. Show Me the Money*

        I recently found out after calling Keurig customer service that newer, fancier models actually should use tap water. The recommendation for the basic model I have is to use distilled water. Something to do with the newer fancier models having built in mineral sensors and filters which are thrown off if distilled water, which has no minerals in it is used. I was surprised, but I checked written product documentation and the CS rep was correct.

    14. JessaB*

      Especially since there are de-scaling treatments you can and should be doing on a system that gets such massive use. Heck before the purpose made stuff came out we’d put a pot full of vinegar through and chase it with a bunch of water til it brewed clear again. Scale doesn’t make decent tasting coffee anyway.

  2. Nita*

    #1 – is it possible that Isabella wasn’t sure whether the bottle OP was using has been opened? It’s probably obvious to OP that they wouldn’t put water they’d been drinking into the coffee maker, but maybe less obvious to Isabella. After all, people do all kinds of questionable hygiene things sometimes. Maybe that explains the “environmentalist” comment too – was she thinking OP is reusing the water they already opened, rather than grabbing new water from the sink? I can see why she’d be grossed out by that, especially if this is a recent letter. In that case, OP can just reassure her that this was a new bottle no one had been drinking from.

    1. many bells down*

      I read it as scoffing: “oh you call yourself an environmentalist but you used BOTTLED water???”

      It’s still super bizarre though.

      1. namelesscommentator*

        Yeah, it feels like obvious sarcasm. I genuinely don’t know what I would do if I saw someone filling up a water tank with bottled water. I don’t think I’d be as harsh as Isabella, but I’d probably want to be. It’s so incredibly wasteful. Especially when you can walk a little further to the area B sink. If the mineral deposits were the problem descale the machine every now and then.

        1. Observer*

          The area b sink is one a different floor. Clearly Isabella didn’t expect her to go there.

          And seriously? This is a ridiculous over-reaction, especially in front of others.

          1. Colette*

            Yeah, it’s not reasonable to ask people to walk to a different floor carrying a coffee maker, fill it up, then walk back to plug it in.

            1. Emi.*

              That seems … totally reasonable to me. I wouldn’t freak out at someone who didn’t do it, but it’s hardly out of bounds as a suggestion.

              1. Colette*

                Personally, at that point I would leave work and walk/drive to a place that makes coffee. There’s water in the room with the coffee maker; there’s nothing outrageous about using it to make coffee. If they want their employees to use different water, they need to supply it.

            2. Laura H.*

              Alternatively, you could pour the bottled water out in a cup, drink the water, and then take the now empty bottle to fill and bring the tap stuff back.

              Or if you have no shame, skip the pouring it into a cup…

            3. BonnieVoyage*

              But surely you wouldn’t be carrying the entire coffee maker? The Keurigs I’ve used have all had removable water reservoirs – you don’t unplug the whole machine and stick it under a tap every time you need to refill it. For most able-bodied adults, carrying what is basically a jug of water a short distance does not sound especially onerous to me.

        2. KimberlyR*

          There’s no reason for you, or Isabella, to be so upset about this. The LW only did this once, in these specific circumstances. If you were her boss and wanted to ensure it didn’t happen again, a simple comment, asking her not to use bottled water for that purpose, would suffice. It’s not the most eco-conscious choice but this company stocks bottled water and k-cups-this one thing is not the most wasteful thing happening there.

          1. Avasarala*

            Agreed. In a company with bottled water AND drinkable tap water, and k-cups, why get mad about one person filling up a coffee maker with bottled water?

            We should save that level of outrage for the sustainability issues involved in producing the office coffee, the gasoline burned in cars driving to work where public transportation is available, the massive amounts of food wasted in office catering… lots of other things to get angry about first.

            And when we get angry about them, it’s more helpful to channel our anger into motivation to educate others and make systemic changes, not to punish individuals for making “immoral” choices.

        3. Batgirl*

          Yes but the main thing here is that its the outward harshness that is super unreasonable no matter what your view. I think it’s a bit weird to be so invested in the water, but it’s extremely weird to not know basic people skills, like “Oh, please use the bathroom water and don’t use bottled water for that in future”. As the boss, she gets to have whatever preferences she wants but she doesn’t get to be a jerk.

          1. juliebulie*

            Yes… she sounds like the kind of person who would flip out at other minor things. “NO WIRE HANGERS… EVER!!!!” I’d be really nervous working around such a touchy person.

        4. Kalala*

          I’d be pretty surprised to do something so obviously wasteful too. Bottled water is terrible for the environment, and if OP does consider herself an environmentalist then I can see why the boss was extra shocked and had such a reaction.

          1. Gal*

            A lot of people who consider themselves environmentalists do occasionally use bottled water. You don’t need to completely eliminate your use of single use plastic to be a good environmentalist.

            1. pancakes*

              People who consider themselves environmentalists also tend to have a better grasp than that on the limits of individual choice to prevent climate change and pollution, having kept up with science rather than being stuck in the 1980s and 90s.

              1. Quill*

                This but also:

                Where and how people were raised impacts their water use greatly.

                For example, I grew up in the Great Lakes region, where we have historically (With exceptions) had a ton of good quality potable water without extreme pH or trace minerals factors that can clog the lines or change the water taste.

                Softened water in the plains areas where some relatives live has always tasted ludicrously slimy to me. A friend lives in Oklahoma, where the tap water is good in theory but rendered practically undrinkable by the sulfur smell.

                Unsurprisingly I grew up drinking primarily tap or reuseable filter water, whereas many people in the regions I just described default to bottled water.

                1. The Rural Juror*

                  I grew up in Oklahoma and we had some friends who lived in an area so rural that they needed to have a well for drinking water. The well had a lot of iron in its water, and the woman who lived there had white white hair, which would get a red tinge to it from the iron! She had to rinse her while washing it with jugs of water from the store.

                  I also remember some relatives deciding not to dig a well because the water report came back with high amounts of sulfur and it wasn’t worth it, even to water their garden.

                  This was years ago, when at-home filtered water wasn’t so easy and cheap to get.

          2. Product Person*

            Yes, I’m surprised Alison didn’t realize that was the point of the comment.

            Also, I can’t figure out her scoffing that you’re an environmentalist; environmentalists aren’t known for loving bottled water.

            Simple: the person making the comment is referring to the fact that a true environmentalist wouldn’t be using bottled water to fill a coffee machine when other options were available. (They were making assumptions as to which other options were really available or appropriate, but it’s easy to see where the comment came from.

          3. LutherstadtWittenberg*

            It was likely just a sarcastic comment from Isabella. It was also a stupid comment from Isabella, considering she’s the boss and would be one of the two people responsible for the supply of bottled water and the presence of the Keurig in the office.

            1. kt*

              It’s also stupid because… whether you drink it straight or infuse it with caffeine, either way, you’re drinking the bottled water. It’s not like you’re watering a plant or washing a window with it — it still goes in your mouth and out… well… yeah.

        5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Y’all assume that Isabella was being logical and rational. She wasn’t.

          Offtopic, I once got called an environmentalist (in a scoffing tone) by someone for complimenting their backyard rock garden. The person told me that he’d torn the lawn down in his yard, put in a rock garden, and planted catnip all over the garden for his cats to frolic in (life goals?) I said “wow this is great, the garden looks nice and is much better for the environment than a lawn” and all of a sudden he turned on me. “Are you an environmentalist?!” It’s like he had a random generator of insults in his head and that was the word it happened to spit out. I suspect something similar happened here too.

        6. A*

          Agreed. I would absolutely have noticed and been frustrated internally, but I would never say something about it in the workplace – let alone to a direct report in the form of shaming/beating a dead horse.

          Although it is making me a bit sad to see how many comments are along the lines of ‘we always use bottled water!’ and ‘it’d not a big deal!’. I agree that bosses response was over the top and not appropriate in a work environment, but I do think it’s a big deal – and there are very few justifications for using bottled water.

          Granted, this is something I feel very strongly about and always lobby to change when I move to a new employer. Definitely not the hill everyone is willing to die on (except for OP’s boss, apparently).

      2. Beth*

        Yes, I read it the same way.

        And her boss was yelling at her for using bottled water . . . in a Keurig. The poster child of wasteful appliances.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          +1000 to Keurig not being the go-to coffee maker of environmentalists!

    2. Oh Snap*

      #2: it is weird for a private company but common in public institutions like universities. At the beginning of this whole mess a family member who manages a department at a university had to jump through ridiculous hoops to get monitors sent to employees’ homes.

      I can see why for something small like post it’s and pens, it wouldn’t be worth the hassle and your manager would just order the items themselves.

      1. Bumblebee*

        Yes, I was told unequivocally I could not take my computer home, and that if I didn’t want to take the only laptop remaining in the office after everyone else took one – a 9 year old laptop! – I would have to get my VP and the VP for IT to sign off on an “emergency laptop.” I ended up having to get a new battery and a new power cord for the laptop, and I just bought those out of my own money, because to get them via the university would have taken at least 2 weeks, and we aren’t allowed to have things shipped to home addresses. There would also be substantial permissions involved. Later I found out that a friend who runs another department just had all their folks sneak their computers out early one morning!

  3. Heidi*

    So LW1 would have been fine just drinking the bottled water, but the boss thinks it’s wasting the “good” water if you make coffee with it before consuming it? Or is the bottled water is supposed to saved for guests or special events? If it’s the latter, the boss’s objection is sort of understandable, although I still think the she overreacted. If it’s the first, that makes no sense to me at all. At the same time, sometimes people are irrationally cheap about certain things. Like how my grandmother used to cut napkins in half.

    1. Yvette*

      I can understand that. Kind of like it would be a waste to use filet mignon to make chili or chicken fried steak. But her reaction was way, way over the top. Could there be something else concerning her? The current pandemic situation does have a lot of people stressed out and on edge.

    2. Batty Twerp*

      If the bottled water is specifically ‘mineral’ water, the deposits can gunk up the coffee machine inner bits worse than tap water.
      Still an extreme overreaction and no excuse.
      Maybe it was a case of “Dont break this coffee machine too!” (Losing one coffee machine and a water cooler would annoy the hell out of me, and I’d be concerned about losing the second coffee machine on top of all that, but not to ‘yelling at employee’ levels. Weird)

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      The only thing I can think of is that possibly she assumed that OP has been using bottled water the entire time, wasting tons of it, rather than just in one specific instance, and then when OP explained that it was just because the other water sources were out, Isabella’s brain was stuck in angry scolding mode and she didn’t switch gears. Still a really weird jerk move though.

      1. Kiki*

        I was thinking this too. It still sucks and being angry at an employee for using bottled water is pointless. Part of being a manager is realizing your employees will not do things exactly the way you do and differentiating when that’s fine (definitely here!) and when you should intervene.

  4. ROM*

    Replying in regards to the first letter writer on coffee making – this brought back a lot of awful memories of my time in small firms & startups.

    Just to reassure the writer, there is absolutely nothing wrong that you did and it’s recommended you use filtered water for coffee makers.

    The fact that one of your bosses reacted SO intensely to something that isn’t a big deal is a big flag to me and especially when they decided to KEEP attacking you after you apologized and came back after doing what they had requested.

    It’s definitely a problem with THEM not you.

    I was attacked for “smiling too often” when I first worked at a startup and spent 3 months terrified of smiling at anyone and genuinely thinking I was in the wrong. I later found out that another coworker of mine was also attacked for smiling and had several close coworkers tell me that when they started out in the industry, they also learned to smile less in order to stay safe.

    Start up culture can be incredibly toxic and unfriendly over the smallest things due to how small the company size is.

    1. namelesscommentator*

      Lots of bottled water isn’t filtered though, often it’s just tap water, so it was likely not recommended at all.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        That’s really not the point. Whether bottled water is recommended for the coffee maker or not, the over the top reaction was completely unnecessary.

    2. Noname*

      Agree. Once I worked at a small start-up, I had a boss who was yelling at me for “why you keep being cute?” and hated me for that. Nonsense haha. And she over-reacted over trivial things too. I quit after a few months.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        WHAT?! “Yes boss, I’ll stop being me and go on being someone else from now on, boss!”

      2. Quill*

        Mmmm, startups + panic attacks + boss that yelled…

        Don’t miss those days, especially not the implication that one person can yell and interrupt but if the other person is calm they’re not upset enough about their failure, if they’re upset in any way they’re overreacting…

        1. Noname*

          Hi Quill, thanks for your comment but I don’t really understand what you mean (not a native speaker). Can you explain it a little bit. Thanks.

          1. Malthusian Optimist*

            boss out of control
            employee reacts and is labeled hysterical, doesn’t react and is labeled sullen.
            equals a no-win situation.

    3. hamsterpants*

      I have to be that guy and say that DISTILLED water is recommended for coffee makers because most of the minerals have been removed. Filters don’t do a great job of removing the minerals that cause scale. Distilled water comes in bottles, but most bottled water is not distilled. When I see recommendations to use filtered water, it seems to be for flavor (not scaling) or because the recommender is the one selling the filters (hello Keurig).

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Brought some memories back for me too. From my experience (which granted dates back to the late 90s), in a small office of a small company, people often behave like they would at home. It looks like a single-family home, it has a small number of people in it like a home would, so I guess it feels like home? And come to find out, a lot of us aren’t on our best behavior in our homes.

      At one of mine, our office didn’t have a microwave, and we’d just moved to an apartment that came with one, so I donated my old one to the office. Then I proceeded to not use it except to make tea, because at that time, I was going out to lunch a lot, or bringing sandwiches. The rest of the office went on to use it and make an ungodly mess of it. One day I walked back into the office from lunch and was greeted with a “hey, (my name), clean the microwave, it’s filthy.” ???? I was so shocked that I actually cleaned it. I mean, now, I would’ve just laughed and said something like “oh, that’s a good one, haha” but I was younger then.

      1. ROM*

        It’s so absurd looking back on it now!

        At the time I was told that my smiling made three people feel like “I was looking down on them and making fun of them”, which was a complaint I never got at any of my previous workplaces and several people in my past would compliment me on my smile.

        I was new and only like a week into my new position so I was terrified of losing my job especially when higher level people were taking offense to me smiling at them.

  5. pcake*

    On a different note, unless the bottled water was distilled, it still has minerals that will clog coffee makers.

    1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      Right, isn’t most bottled water just tap water from somewhere else?

      1. Emi.*

        Or it’s spring water, which also has minerals, or it’s “purified and enhanced with minerals for taste,” or something. Most of it’s not pure water.

    2. hamsterpants*

      Haha thank you, I was hoping I wasn’t the only one who cared enough to point this out!

  6. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    OP1: Some bosses flip out over the weirdest things. I don’t think you owe her any more apologies or explanations. Hopefully, she has better things to do in her job than dwell on the fact that you used bottled water in the coffee maker.

    I’ve had bosses who were great and knew what to prioritize. And, like a lot of us, I’ve also had ridiculous bosses who created drama over the slightest things when, really, they should have had more important things to focus on. I hope Isabella is good to work with otherwise because she was ridiculous about this.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Yeah, agreed. I think a lot of bosses who flip out over random crap don’t realise that their employees might be taking it to heart – I’d bet any money that Isabella forgot about this interaction within half an hour. Bringing it up again might make her realise that she shouldn’t speak to employees like that, or alternatively it might just prolong the whole thing unnecessarily. I would just let it be unless she continues to harp on it.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I’m inclined to agree. I quit a job over a boss’s extreme reaction to a mistake (i.e. literal screaming, on my third day, no less). It told me that she was unreasonable and wasn’t likely to change. I mean, who screams at a new employee? She didn’t seem to think she’d done anything wrong. Her husband (yeah it was a married couple, small business) tried everything he could to get me to stay, except ensuring me it wouldn’t happen again.

        They also never told me about a job duty that would have had me doing part of another employee’s accounting work. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have taken the job, but the yelling clinched it.

  7. Observer*

    #2 – I’d be willing to bet that your boss doesn’t push back on the things she should push back on. Picking up supplies at the office is one thing. Spending personal money to make sure you have supplies is another and it’s a red flag to me that she’s offering it. Especially since it’s clear that there ARE ways to deal with this policy.

    1. TechWorker*

      Whilst I don’t agree with the boss paying out of their own pocket, at my own absolutely huge multinational we have the policy that all purchases must go through their official system (like, I definitely cannot approve random expenses on Amazon), and I also would have zero sway on policies RE: getting stuff delivered to a personal address. I think in our case they have relaxed that requirement (though most people still haven’t actually received what they ordered it’s not exactly gone smoothly..) BUT if they hadn’t then getting them to ‘change the system’ is way above my pay grade.

      Just saying this could be bureaucracy elsewhere in the company and the most time efficient thing for the mgr to do is say ‘fuck it I’ll just pay cos it’s a tenner’. Yes, not ideal, but I don’t think it’s a huge character flaw, if the alternative is trying to escalate up multiple layers of management and into departments they don’t usually interact with.

    2. T2*

      I am not sure I see a red flag here. I mean for practical purposes this is exactly what expense reports are for.

      I know that sometimes, managers have budgetary control over expenses and they want to keep costs low to get some sort of bonus. And in education, unfortunately it is common to just buy your own supplies without reimbursement.

      So it is odd, but this is the cost of doing business now, and I don’t see any particular issue issue with how Boss wants to play it. At most I might say that it seems silly for Boss to pay out of pocket when Amazon exists. But I would only say that once.

      1. CC*

        The boss could also send the supplies without a post office trip. USPS offers free package pick up, so she could schedule a pick up of the supply packages from her house.

        And many offices have postal scales which print postage. When she is picking up the supplies, she could use their postage scale to print the postage to not have the out of pocket postage expense.

        Yes, the boss would still need to go to the office once – but if everyone has been working from home, it should be safe from virus. And it is not a bad idea to have someone walk through the office periodically when it is empty for so long just to make sure there is not any issues like leaks etc.

        1. JustaTech*

          Or the boss could use something like or GoShippo, which let you print postage for USPS . You do need to weigh your package (I use my kitchen scale), but then you can just leave the box outside for your mail carrier to pick up.

    3. TechWorker*

      I also don’t necessarily see red flags – or rather could be bureaucracy meaning that getting policies about where things can be delivered or ordering things directly rather than via some procurement system is not going to happen without a lot of time and effort. In that case I can see a boss being like ‘meh policy is stupid but it’s a tenner, I’ll just pay’ and judging that a better use of their time.

      (Alisons suggestion that obviously they should be able to buy their own and expense them is sadly not how it works at my huge multinational, managers aren’t allowed to approve expenses for stuff that is available through the ‘proper channels’. Obviously this case is ridiculous and I’d push back but if the amount truly is pretty small I wouldn’t be that surprised boss doesn’t want to bother?)

      1. hbc*

        Yeah, I do that on a semi-regular basis. I make the personal choice that jumping through the hoops is not worth the time or effort to me. There’s a bunch of little things that aren’t worth fussing about in either direction–I’d just count it against the pens that wandered home or something.

        1. Beatrice*

          Same here. Not a red flag to me. It might be my choice as a manager to spend my own money/time/take a tiny bit of personal risk rather than spend my time, energy, and career capital fighting a policy.

          I have an employee who wants me to fight policies all the time and I just can’t. I have to pick my battles. We’re cutting costs and the office supply cabinet is often out of things and we have to wait a couple of days for a notebook or a pen. I’m not going to fight the office manager or her bosses over that…either plan ahead for what you need or I’ll pick up a notebook from Walgreens for you if you need one that bad, idgaf. In this economy I’m not going to ask for better stocking or reimbursement, I know why the cabinet is low, and I already used all my string pulling superpowers to make sure you still have a job, Virginia, so drop it.

    4. Gal*

      I also don’t think its a red flag. I’ve purchased supplies for team I manage a couple of times because it was the easiest and fastest way to get them what they need. For some people, it’s just not a big deal to spend a small amount of money on work supplies.

    5. juliebulie*

      I wonder, did the boss actually say she was paying out of her own pocket to ship the supplies? She should be able to expense the shipping.

      1. Gumby*

        That is what I would assume. I’d also figure that whoever normally picks up packages at the office (FedEx, USPS, etc.) will be doing that for these office supplies and there isn’t an extra trip to the post office involved.

        But even if that is not the case, I am baffled at the idea of trying to micromanage how my manager accomplishes her job. Presumably the boss is a grown adult and can therefore make her own decisions on whether she wants to spend her own money on mailing supplies or visit a post office (while wearing a mask and complying with all local rules). If it is worth it to her to just pay out of pocket because it is easier and your company has terrible policies and procedures then that is her call to make. It’s may not be an ideal one, and the company policies and procedures should absolutely be changed, but I still don’t get to tell my boss what to do.

  8. Avasarala*

    #5 Thank you for reminding us that local government listens (or might) to the voices of its citizens. There are many causes asking us to contact our local govts right now and it’s always felt like an exercise in futility to me–so it’s good to hear I’m wrong and our words can have impact.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      See my comment below about the number of letters it takes to get a politician to listen to you. It’s ridiculously small when they don’t already have an entrenched official or personal position. Occasionally they’ll have a topic where they care more about it themselves than they do about who writes to them, or they’ve already expressed a position and don’t feel they can walk it back, but an awful lot of the time only a handful of individually written letters (meaning they can’t be the auto-send ones that organizations tell you to just sign your name to; it can work off a template but needs to be at least somewhat your own words) will get very real results.

      1. Avasarala*

        I see, this is very helpful! I’ll make more of an effort to customize the templates and hopefully change some minds!

    2. merp*

      I would say especially for situations like the OP – in some places (like my library) we’re having to reopen because those governing us are either a) being bombarded by those who don’t think covid is real and want to get a haircut or whatever or b) imagining being bombarded by those people. Getting letters that instead say that the community is concerned for public staff (and for most libraries – that they are happy with all the measures libraries are taking to take services online!) would make a huge difference.

    3. Swarkles*

      Can confirm writing to state representatives is not useless. I interned for a member of Congress and most of my job was to take phone calls from constituents and look at mail, making note of the subject and the person’s opinion/requests.

  9. Working Hypothesis*

    In a political science course, I once read a study about how many letters it took to win a politician’s vote on an issue which they had not 1) already committed publicly to a different position or 2) had a strong personal belief guiding them to the other side. The numbers were shockingly small. We’re talking roughly 10 for a small-city council member, 25 for a state legislator, 50 for a big city mayor or a congressional representative, 100 for a senator. It’s a lot more when they’ve already taken a public stand the other way or have a personal agenda against your position, but even then it can be done; and in many cases they really don’t have either of those situations apply because most politicians have public or strongly held private beliefs on only a handful of topics. Chances are yours isn’t among them, if it’s a niche subject… sick as the health measures taken by state or city offices for their employees, but it also applies to a lot of other things you may be interested in.

    My class, which had a few more than fifty students, immediately decided to organize a letter-writing campaign among ourselves and own the New York mayor’s position on a topic of our choice. It was an awesome class project. :)

    1. Courtney*

      That sounds like a great class project, and if Alison doesn’t mind a digress, I’d love to hear more

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Unfortunately, there’s not a ton more I can tell you — it was 25 years ago and I don’t even remember the exact issue we picked anymore. Something in the public transit area, because it’s one which is typically fairly non-partisan in New York and one in which the mayor — at that time, Rudy Giuliani — hadn’t said a word, so we didn’t run up against a pre-existing public commitment. We all got a form response, but one which indicated agreement and an intention to bring the issue before the city council. I honestly don’t recall if it happened or not, because by the time we got our replies the class was nearly over and I stopped looking for what the results were once I was out of that term. I’ve been part of a lot of other letter writing campaigns since then, though, and they’ve all worked pretty well when they followed the same principles (individually written messages instead of copies of other people’s words; writing to your own representatives from within their district, etc). It’s ridiculous how few letters it takes if they’re individually composed and come from within the official’s own constituency.

          Another example: recently in the UK, Conservative MPs who were commenting on the absolute flood of constituent letters they were getting about Dominic Cummings’ violation of lockdown rules said, “It’s crazy — I must have had 400 letters about this.” Think about that… *they* think that only 400 individuals writing to them is a “flood” on one topic, and it was enough to make them willing to stick their necks out and oppose the Prime Minister from within his own party. And that’s the national legislators for a significant-sized country. It really doesn’t take much, because so few people normally do bother to write in, and so they assume if you’re writing, a whole lot of people who agree with you are not.

    2. RecentAAMfan*

      I guess the thought is that for every letter writer there are probably 100 people who feel the same way but don’t bother writing letters. So it’s kind of like polling (but of course not random and probably less accurate)

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I took a class on this in college (which admittedly was a while ago, but still this century), and the professor indicated it’s generally for every person who cared enough to speak up, there are presumed 30 who felt the same way but did not write in/call/etc.

    3. Someone has to answer all the mail*

      I used to work in a Member of Parliament’s office — equivalent to a Congressperson, and I can personally attest that this is true!

      A few tips:

      -It can’t be a mass mailing. Signing your name to a prefab letter doesn’t work; pre-fab letter get a pre-fab response. What you want is for the staffer who is doing the initial read to say “huh, I had no idea anybody cared about that. Boss, how do you want me to respond to this letter?” and force the politician to think of some kind of answer.

      -letters from within the riding (congressional district) get attention and a response, letters that aren’t, don’t.

      -consider whether you really need to copy multiple people on your letter. For us, any letter copied to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, for example, got forwarded to them to answer (or not). Typically the Minister’s office would keep a rolling tally of letters received on a topic, but no answers would be provided.

      -it should go without saying, but don’t swear or threaten to sue. If you’re lucky, those get sent to the garbage; if you’re not, they get referred to the legal department.

      -on a humorous note, if you’re writing a lot of letters to your representative, you might want to keep track. I once answered a constituent’s email on X, and she wrote me back this blustering, belligerent email questioning my intelligence since she hadn’t apparently written to the representative about X, she had written about Y. She was very apologetic once I forwarded her a copy of her letter about X…

      1. kittymommy*

        These are great. I work directly for the elected officials in local government and can attest to many of these. The mass-mailing of form letters gets repetitive and threatening to sue is something that we hear everyday. It’s not a threat and it’s not intimidating. Hyperbole will get an eye-roll, stating that we hate all mankind and want you to die because we have begun opening up (even though we are following state guidelines) is just ridiculous and will lessen the how much your opinion is really considered.

        The best letter is a well-thought out, well-explained letter, especially if the person understands that there are opposing points of view and that many of these decisions are made not on an individual basis but as an elected body (governments; structure being considered of course). And if there are meetings that are open to the public and allow public comment, come to them! Best way to speak to a lot of the important parties at once.

        1. Gumby*

          Heh. I just home the governor enjoys my nephew’s letter on why he should re-open hockey rinks for his (my nephew’s) mental and physical health. My nephew is 10. He *loves* hockey beyond all reason.

          1. Gumby*

            home = hope

            They aren’t even close on the keyboard so I have no idea how that happened.

    4. Emi.*

      I swore off writing to my reps in high school when one of them sent me the “so glad you love X! I do too” form letter in response to my “X sucks, cut it out” letter, but I guess I’ll get back to it.

    5. Coverage Associate*

      I wonder what the numbers are about proposing legislation, though. I have never gotten a response on ideas for bills, rather than expressing my opinion on a common topic, and my ideas are always not partisan (I promise!).

      1. Naya*

        You may not always get a response, but your ideas are heard. It’s difficult to respond to every person, and its hard to know if your idea is feasible or not. But letters are tracked in all the ways listed above.

        Also please remember that a (usually pretty young) staffer is reading your letter, if you’re angry other poeple have also sent angry letters and made angry phone calls, and be nice.

  10. Jaid*

    My unit gets water from the break room sink, but we always filter it through the Brita before pouring it into the Keuirg.

  11. Past Gofer*

    #1 – People get so weird about water! When I was a freelance gofer, my boss of the week asked me to get bottles of sparkling water for client gift bags (she didn’t specify anything beyond that and was “too busy” to clarify her shopping list). I returned with them and she said “What is this?! EVERYONE knows you don’t buy San Pellegrino, you ALWAYS buy Perrier!” (or the other way around, I don’t remember anymore). The rest of that project was stressful and full of similar non-communications and expected mind reading. Although, I must’ve done well in the end because she did call me back more than once to work on other projects. I always declined the offer.

    Your story is also weird to me because when it was my job to make coffee there would’ve been a formal reprimand if I’d made it with tap water. We were always supposed to make with filtered water or use bottled if filtered wasn’t available.

    Anyway, you don’t owe her an apology more than what’s been said. She’s being weird about this.

    1. Kiki*

      Yes! Water preference is one of those things that some people have really strong opinions about but I generally consider a bit nonsensical. Yes, sometimes the distillation matters for causing deposits and stuff, I get that, but some people are just going off of branding and myths. Using bottled water in a coffee maker is fine, perhaps more expensive than using tap water, but in a one-off instance when the normal water supply is out, it’s not egregiously expensive.

      As other people have mentioned, it’s also very possible that she didn’t really care that much about the water, she’s frustrated by something else and decided it was okay to take that out on you. That’s definitely not cool, but it also definitely happens.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I have water preferences. I don’t drink a lot of bottled water, but when I do, I have favorite brands. But if I need water for whatever reason and Evian is my only/most convenient option, I will drink it. And I will not scream at anyone because I am not a jackass.

        The water is a red herring. Something is up with this boss and/or this relationship.

      2. Lady Heather*

        I have strong opinions about bottled water. Some brands have bottles that don’t feel nice in my hand, or they have caps that easily get on lopsided and then they get stuck!

        .. though those strong opinions aren’t as strong as my opinions regarding the amount that one should spend on drinking water. (I drink tap and if for some reason I do drink bottled, it’s whatever is cheapest.)

        I don’t know what your manager’s problem is, OP, but I doubt it has anything to do with the water.

    2. A*

      “What is this?! EVERYONE knows you don’t buy San Pellegrino, you ALWAYS buy Perrier!”

      I have a hard time believing this isn’t a part of a sitcom. Yeesh, I don’t think I’ve encountered quite this level of pretentiousness is the professional space before!

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        It appears you have never worked in entertainment, high-level marketing, or client event planning. It’s often worse than this.

        1. Past Gofer*

          It was entertainment. People in the entertainment industry often have meticulous preferences like that which is generally fine and comes with the job. Most people are professional about their requests and since they know they want something specific they’ll be gracious in the request or make sure to explicitly mention it on a shopping list (e.g. “I know it’s out of the way, but could you run to Trader Joe’s and get their beef treats for my dog? It’s the only kind he’ll eat.”).

          What was different in this case was she did have VERY strong preferences that I was just supposed to intuit. Which would still not be out of the question if I’d worked with her before, but I hadn’t and she didn’t want to be bothered with my requests for her preferences.

    3. Matilda Jefferies*

      San Pellegrino is bottled by Nestle, so some people may be boycotting it on that basis.

      But, you still can’t expect people to read your mind! If you’re asking someone else to buy something for you, you either have to specify which brand you want, or suck it up if they get the wrong one.

  12. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. My company provides the cheapest bottled water for free, however there is a sign above the sink in the kitchen/break room advising people not to use the water from the sink.

  13. KayEss*

    #1 reminds me of the office I worked in where the employees were divided into two camps: team “we do NOT use bathroom tap water for coffee, only kitchenette tap water” and team “tap water is tap water, and we will prove it by using the bathroom tap for coffee.” Now, the kitchenette and bathroom taps were on opposite sides of a shared wall—they DEFINITELY were fed by the same pipes—so I firmly believe there was a correct side on the issue. On the other hand… the entire debate was just one of a large number of weird, antagonistic, just-a-joke-but-not-really feuds simmering beneath the surface of an ever-shifting landscape of office cliques. I left that job virulently hating every single one of my coworkers because that kind of petty drama and needling was omnipresent.

    People are bonkers weird and probably don’t need any more caffeine, is what I’m saying.

    1. MayLou*

      I suppose you could potentially make the argument that the tap in the bathroom might be less clean than in the kitchen, particularly if people don’t put the lid down before flushing, but it’s going to be negligible.

      1. Annony*

        Yeah. The idea of bringing dishes into the bathroom grosses me out. It’s not the water I don’t trust.

        1. Annony*

          To be clear, while firmly in camp kitchenette tap, this would very much not be the hill I want to die on.

        2. Rebecca*

          Oh, I hear you. My office doesn’t have a kitchenette. If we need to wash out a dish or coffee cup, we have to use the bathroom sink. We even have a bottle of dish liquid sitting on top of the paper towel dispenser. It’s gross.

        3. Mama Bear*

          I once worked for an office that did not have a sink in the break room/kitchen. They had bottled water that you paid for and if you had dishes, you washed them in the bathroom. Good way to get people to dine out.

      2. andy*

        Typically, there is one room with sinks and separate stalls with lid where you close yourself. Lid position tend to be irrelevant in this setup.

      3. KayEss*

        I would have been less credulous if this was their argument instead of insisting they could taste the difference in brewed coffee.

        (I don’t drink coffee so I was never the one making it, but to be clear: I think camp Kitchenette-Only was a bit ridiculous but I would have used the kitchenette tap, while possibly rolling my eyes a bit internally, because “but bathroom water tastes the same” is an exceedingly stupid hill to die on when 2 seconds of consideration for people’s weird quirks could eliminate half an hour of near-daily repetitive bickering.)

    2. RecentAAMfan*

      The water would be the same, but the taps? Bathroom taps are by necessity touched with icky germs hands.

    3. Quill*

      It’s not the water, it’s the walking all the way into the bathroom, which offers more cross-contamination with fecal bacteria opportunities, to prove that point.

  14. Midwest Academic*

    #3 has me wondering as to what the “aunt” did. If she was an the head of an academic department its a reasonable bet she had tenure, and thus its really hard to get fired unless you do something egregious. But yes, if you were close to her then of course you should reach out to see how she’s doing.

    1. caps22*

      I thought the same thing at first, that the “aunt” had done something horrible. But then I thought of people I know in academia, and it’s more likely she got booted as part of a political coup instead. That sort of stuff can bubble for years in the background without people outside that circle, such as staff, before happening seemingly out of the blue.

      1. Southern academic*

        Booted out of her role as head, sure.

        Booted out of the university altogether? Very rare/unlikely that’s just politics.

        Like Midwest Academic, I’m wondering what she did—though if OP doesn’t know, it seems reasonable to give her the benefit of the doubt and reach out.

      2. OP3 (Work Niece)*

        I replied below that I should have said administrative rather than academic, as she is not a professor. I do still think it was mostly political, but I have heard from people above me in the department who worked closely with her that it was probably not a shock to her. We have no idea what prompted the sudden departure in the middle of the week during a pandemic, though. She is a workaholic, so I don’t believe that it was “voluntary,” as they have said.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      Assuming the OP doesn’t know, it makes sense to give ‘aunt’ the benefit of the doubt.

    3. T2*

      I am personally very against having personal relationships with work colleagues as a matter of my own personal policy. That does avoid situations such as this. But that is my policy, not something that is enforced.

      But this is a case where a personal relationship does exist. So what happened to her is unfortunate, but the organization does not get to determine who she is personally close to.

      I would reach out. If she is like your aunt, (i completely understand these kind of informal adoptions) then that is a relationship that shouldn’t end just because the work one did. As long as you are not spreading confidential information in either area of your life, then the company has no standing to dictate who you see in your spare time.

      1. Eleanor*

        I totally understand avoiding close relationships with work colleagues, but as someone who was previously in academia, I wanted to point out that this isn’t all that unusual (for better or worse). Academia is more than just a job… it’s kind of your whole life (again, for better or worse), so the people around you feel like more than just colleagues or managers. Given those norms, I don’t think this relationship is all that strange for OP to have.

      2. OP3 (Work Niece)*

        To be fair, I’m not terribly close with my actual aunts, so that description could be a bit misleading! I suppose calling her my mentor would be more appropriate? I am usually the same way, and I’m still not connected with any of my colleagues (former boss included) on social media. It’s just a small office and we’ve become really close over the years.

    4. AGD*

      Also an academic. Reacted the same way. The only person I know of who’s been fired was peddling conspiracy theories for a decade. Worth paying close attention to any communication from the department, just in case.

    5. Rock Prof*

      I think you’re probably not wrong, but at some universities, mine is an example, there are some long-term lecturers who can rotate into those types of positions. Lecturers are particularly vulnerable right now as universities are cutting way back.

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

      I thought academia was one of those places where you are “invited to reitre/leave” instead of fired. For example, some years ago there was a scandal in the Physics deparment when a Professor took the midterm exams with him instead of storing them properly because he was too eager to get home. It got way way worse when a couple of days later they found out he had died suddenly, and no one knew where he kept them. Legend says that the Professor’s family, the student council president, the T.A.s, and the department head searched for days his house and workplace and found nothing. The department head was forced to resign to save face, and the midterms were repeated.

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        That’s odd (caveat, I’m in the humanities, so maybe things are different in the hard sciences) because if we didn’t take work home with us, the grading would NEVER GET DONE. I can’t imagine a policy about storage that didn’t include being able to take exams home with me.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          I was a chemistry TA in grad school, and it was common practice for us to do grading at home. I’ve never heard of this being forbidden anywhere.

      2. Bumblebee*

        For faculty, maybe, but not for staff – and the “staff” designation goes all the way up to most Vice Presidents. In my experience it has not been uncommon for folks to get fired. Even if it’s couched as “OMG so and so has decided spontaneously to resign mid-semester” it’s firing.

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      First to OP, I always contact outgoing co-workers who I would work with again. If I get the feeling it would be impolitic at work, I just do so from a personal device at home.

      It doesn’t sound like OP3’s employer communicated clearly…. which may or may not have been intentional.
      (For example, if she was laid off the power that be might not want to admit the school finances are rocky.)
      And since one thing people can get fired for these days is refusing unsafe return-to-office… OP3 might NEED to make this call!

    8. Sara without an H*

      There are a lot of variables. I’m a little puzzled by this sentence: We weren’t explicitly told not to contact her, but it was implied (much like the fact that she was fired).

      Was the department head actually fired, or given the option to resign to avoid firing/prosecution/etc.? There are ways to force out tenured faculty — I’ve seen it done by experts. It’s usually ugly, but rarely amounts to an actual firing.

      But getting back to the OP’s question — sure, it’s fine to contact her old mentor. I’d avoid asking for details on what happened; she may or may not want to talk about it.

      1. Silly Janet*

        I have had two supervisors be fired like this. I was close with both of them and it was very upsetting. I waited a few days and emailed just saying I was sorry about what happened, they will be missed, and to reach out if they want to. They both appreciated the gesture.

    9. Work Niece*

      Hi, I’m #3 OP. I tried to make the details a bit vague to not dox myself. We are in an administrative department, so she wasn’t a professor/tenured. I wrote my question when I was really angry and upset, partly because we were not given any information. It was a complete shock to me, but less so to the people just above me apparently. She is very stubborn and it seems that there were problems with her cooperating with other departments. I do still think it was mostly political.

      We were told that we should let her reach out to us, and because I was defensive and angry, I took that as an order not to contact her. Now that I’ve calmed down, I’m not sure if that was indeed a request from her that we not contact her. It just feels weird.

      1. valentine*

        We were told that we should let her reach out to us
        You have nothing to lose by doing this.

      2. Sara without an H*

        OK, thanks for the clarification. I still think you’d be fine with sending her a short message of support, then see if she wants to follow up with more contact.

      3. Scarlet and Olive*

        If you do contact her, make sure to do it from a personal phone/email account and not a work account.

  15. Imprudence*

    #4, requiring people who cannot work from home to take unpaid leave, but allowing people who can work to continue to do so, sounds fair, *but*……. If you have a situation where low paid manual work is low paid and disproportionately done by women and people from non white backgrounds, and who may have more reason to travel to see family abroad; whereas managerial and desk work is done by old white men, then you end up financially penalizing one group and prioritizing the other, *again*.
    My academic institution is considering very carefully what its policy will be when international travel becomes possible precisely because of this.

    1. T2*

      There are things which are illegal, then immoral.

      As a partner at my firm, what we settled on was this:

      No travel unless absolutely necessary. There is now a $1,000 travel surcharge to clients.
      Meaning there is no other way to get this done.
      No travel by air. (We do all of our work in a 400 mile radius.).
      We reimburse mileage at the normal rate both ways.
      We pay you for the days you travel
      If a quarantine is required, we pay normal pay and you work normal hours.
      If you are sick or unable to work, then normal sick leave applies, but We decided informally that we would dock the PTO/sick time pools at half rate. (Meaning if you take 8 hours, we will charge you for 4, but pay 8.) we are not publicizing that one.

      We have been blessed to be busier than ever. But everyone is going to have to take a haircut in this. Those who have more hair, should get more cut.

      Some people are barely scraping by, and it is sickening to see “essential employees” in practice to really be treated like “expendable employees”

    2. Coffee Cup*

      Imprudence, I mean, yes, I guess, but then the solution should be paid quarantine for all, not unpaid and we expect you to work so it isn’t unfair to people who are unpaid and can’t work?

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’m confused by your comment because that’s not the issue here. They’re expecting people to take time unpaid leave at home and (they think) still continue to work. This isn’t about being unfair, it’s illegal.

      1. logicbutton*

        I believe they’re talking about the parenthetical in Alison’s answer, that maybe the policy is actually that some people can work from home and therefore continue to get paid, but those who can’t work from home need to take time off unpaid, which wouldn’t be illegal. What Imprudence is saying is that, if that is the case, it may not be illegal but it’s still unfair.

    4. OP #4*

      I’m just happy to have people echo that this is illegal! When his company first announced the policy, I was baffled. To be fair, a lot of the employees are lab researchers/engineers (my husband being one of them) so it is very inconvenient for the company to have people who can’t come into the office when as their work requires, but there is still so much that can be done from home.

      When they announced the new policy, I searched high and low for some kind of evidence that it was indeed illegal that my husband could use as push-back, but haven’t found anything thus far (maybe because it’s so obvious that you have to pay people for the work that they do? IDK)

      1. Mama Bear*

        Our policy is travel = quarantine. To date only a very few people have traveled for work because of the restrictions. It has to be something that absolutely cannot be done any other way and you get paid for staying home as required (either provided leave or able to WFH). To insist someone travel for their job, and then not be supportive during a mandated quarantine makes me wonder how necessary the travel was. I’d push back because it’s either work or it’s not and if it’s not then the employee should be able to determine if they go or not so they can avoid losing two weeks’ pay.

        OP, I think you or he should contact your local labor relations office for clarification on work performed = work paid.

      2. Working Hypothesis*

        You can’t find a law saying it’s illegal to force people to work for no pay? I would think minimum wage law does that, if nothing else.

  16. Batty Twerp*

    Did the boss for LW2 expressly say that the postage would be on her dime or is that just an assumption? Skipping over the whole “going back into a closed office during a pandemic” quicksand, is it possible that the manager has an allowance paid by the company that would cover the postage? Or a regular expenses account, so the company is in fact paying for it?
    Offering to buy things through her personal Amazon account is back on shaky ground, but again, it’s possible she has a standing expense account to reclaim from the company. LW2 could do with her manager reassuring that she (the manager) will not be inconvenienced by what she is offering if that is the case.
    A lot of speculation here, but I have worked for a company where this was exactly the case, and it was only when I did an internal transfer to the finance department did I realise that my 2x ex-boss wasn’t paying for all the little perks himself.

    1. NJ Anon*

      I buy supplies using my own money and get reimbursed. I also occasionally use my personal Amazon account because I have prime. Obviously, when possible, I use a company account or my boss’s credit card but sometimes it’s more practical or efficient to use my own. For example, Boss’s credit card is an Amex but Costco doesn’t take Amex, so I pay and get reimbursed. Perhaps that is what is happening here?

      1. NJ Anon*

        I should clarify that I’m the office manager and am buying supplies for the entire office.

    2. doreen*

      If I were going to the office to mail supplies to an employee working from home, I’d run it through the postage meter, not pay the postage myself. Is the letter writer just assuming that the postage would be on the manager’s dime because of the policy against ordering supplies to be shipped to employee’s homes?

    3. BethDH*

      Yeah, in my first job my boss paid for everything that needed an up front personal payment. She knew she’d be submitting receipts no matter what so it wouldn’t be much extra work, and she also knew that it was easier for her to wait a month for the reimbursement than it would be for someone paid less.

    4. Ali G*

      I agree. I think the OP has made a lot of assumptions that they should ask about first. It might be that it’s actually a lo easier for the boss to either mail the supplies from the office (or at least put postage on them there and drop them in a mailbox) or purchase them herself and get reimbursed. If I were the boss, I would think it’s a ton easier to but it all myself and submit for reimbursement, than tracking what my staff bought on their own and trying to justify it for them later.

      1. Willis*

        Yeah, this. I also think it’s possible OP’s boss doesn’t know for sure that she’ll be reimbursed, but would rather put her own money on the line and then argue it with the company than have her staff do so. While the company’s policy seems ridiculous to me, I could see just paying for some notepads and post its if I knew they weren’t going to budge, had only a couple staff members, and felt like the company was otherwise reasonable. Seems like the type of thing I (as the boss) would categorize as worth pushing back on but not worth a battle over, if I was otherwise happy enough at the job.

  17. Mx*

    #4 You can tell your boss that with a policy like this, employees could be tempted to not disclose they have traveled.
    If someone can work from home, they can get paid for it. And if they are hourly, they could claim these hours and put the organisation into trouble.

  18. tgirl*

    Where I am, most bottled water is described as mineral water and would cause limescale problems if used in a coffee maker, apart from the environmental impact. Using bathroom water to make coffee sounds gross though (my personal opinion, and I’m well aware it may not be true).

    Is the bathroom sink in a different room from the toilet? Or are they both in one room? In a different room it still sounds gross but it should be fine. If they are in one room then the whole thing is horrifying.

    1. tgirl*

      Blast, I meant to say, either way, the way she talked to you and expressed her disappointment with what you did is very poor.

  19. T2*

    LW1, I reread your letter. And based on available facts, you didn’t do anything wrong and it was probably just a bad day on the part of the manager.

    However, I saw this statement: “I tend to be overly apologetic” My advice from many years in business is to keep an eye on this. why? because a manager’s evaluation of that might be “Doesn’t react well to criticism.” If you are in the wrong, then certainly apologize. But no one should be requiring yourself to do penance on broken glass for stupid stuff. That includes you.

    Most people are reasonable, I should hope. But some are just not. And overly apologizing to an unreasonable person does not encourage them to be less unreasonable.

    1. Idril Celebrindal*

      My background is probably affecting my read on this statement (ok, it is definitely affecting my read on it) but when I see someone describing themselves as overly apologetic, I see someone who is struggling with growing up and/or being thrust into a situation that is overly patriarchal, probably abusive, where anything that is uncomfortable for the person in power is automatically deemed the fault of the person who isn’t in power. It’s hard, and I’ve had to work really hard to figure out what is my fault and what isn’t, because I have had so many people telling me that if something is wrong, it is obviously my fault even when it isn’t and that I need to apologize to smooth things over. In that case, an apology isn’t an admission of guilt in my mind, it’s a concession that is required to get things back to equilibrium. Yes, it’s bad, and yes, getting out of those situations is important, but when you have an employee who is doing this, the chances are really high that it is something from their personal life or background that is bleeding over to their working life.

      All this to say, OP#1, I would encourage you to consider your environment, how your boss might have stumbled upon some long-held beliefs about yourself, how your own life experiences are affecting your read on this situation, and recognizing that even if you are feeling guilt, that might be because of external factors that other people have done to you, not something that you bear any blame for at all.

  20. Koala dreams*

    #1 Your boss is unreasonable. It’s weird to first be sarcastic and then scold you after you already complied. As the boss, she could just have told you something like: Please use tap water only in the coffee machine, don’t use bottled water. There’s a tap in the bathroom. (Although I find it super weird that you don’t have tap water in the kitchen, only the bathroom.)

    I guess there’s something else she was upset about. No matter the reason, you don’t need to apologize again. My advice would be to ignore it and imagine it as a weird quirk of her. Sometimes people get upset for no reason and often they’ll calm down when you leave them alone for a while. But, if she keeps scolding you excessively for small things, you might need to look for a new job.

    #2 Some companies have weird rules about reimbursement, and it’s not uncommon that only managers or certain roles can buy stuff and get reimbursed. So the part where your manager buy the stuff and mail it to you is not weird, but it’s super stingy of your company to not reimburse for the office supplies and postage.

    #5 Thanks for the tip! For those of you that have written those kind of letters, how do you sign them? Just your name? Address? Do you mention how often you go to the library, how much tax you pay or anything like that?

    1. BethDH*

      #5 — I’ve never included anything other than my name and where I live (sometimes full address, sometimes just enough that they can tell I’m part of their area). I do that based on what the people answering the phone have asked when I call. At the state level, that was just zip code.
      I’ve never included things like how much I pay in taxes. I don’t think people who pay more should get more say, so it seems irrelevant.
      On the library front, it could be worth saying that you like to visit the library regularly but would be reluctant to use it knowing that the staff aren’t being supported properly, but I don’t think it matters whether you visit once a month or twice a week or whatever.

    2. kittymommy*

      I don’t write these letters but I receive them every day. You can put your address on them either at the top or underneath your name. Definitely mention what library you go to , assuming they have multiple branches, and how often you go. Don’t mention that you are a tax payer or how much you pay in tax. With all do respect, it comes across as obnoxious and no more weight is given than any other letter. Libraries are a service that are provided to all, not just tax payers and realistically, the amount one person pays in taxes to your local government translates to an almost unregisterable amount in their total budget.

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      The kitchen has a sink, but there are 2 areas with coffee makers, and one of them is really a conference room.

    4. Working Hypothesis*

      Name and enough about your address to let them know you’re part of their own district. I usually sign with only my name, but I might open the letter with, “Dear _________, I’m a constituent of yours from the __________ neighborhood, and I want to ask you about your position on ________.” And then go on with what I think their position should be and why. Asking them about their position means I’m more likely to get an answer… a form answer, almost certainly, but probably one which indicates whether or not they intend to vote the way I want them to, if they’ve already made up their mind.

  21. Mimosa Jones*

    I would sign it with my constituency information underneath like a job title. They already have your address from the top, but if you could list your contact information if it makes sense. You don’t need to quantify how much you use or contribute and you can even write in as a non constituent.

    1. Koala dreams*

      What do you mean by constituency information?

      Good to know I don’t need to write how much I use and contribute.

      1. Asenath*

        “Constituency” refers to which political area you are in. If the city runs the local libraries etc, I might write to the city as a resident of Ward 4, and address my letter to the councillor for that ward. If complaining about something under provincial jurisdiction, I’d write my provincial government member as a resident of the XYZ electoral district, and if I were complaining federally, I’d write my representative there as a resident of the ABC federal riding/electoral district. Exact terminology varies by country, of course.

      2. Marny*

        In the US, if you provide your zip code, the representative you’re contacting will know if you’re her/his constituent.

        1. Emi.*

          Actually, this may not be true, depending on how gerrymandered your state is. *cough*maryland*cough*

        2. Ranon*

          Unless you live in a particularly gerrymandered area, in which case you may also need the street address or zip + 4.

          1. juliebulie*

            Yup – there are 4 wards in my zip, if you don’t use the +4 which I can never remember.

        3. Mimosa Jones*

          I was also thinking pretty broadly and wanted to leave things open. I think the voting wards cross zip codes in my small town.

        4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          Would it make sense to provide the information on your voter registration card as your constituency information? (At least in my state, that would have things like which districts you’re in for various things so you know which races you’ll be voting in.) It’s never occurred to me to do so (as opposed to providing an address), but it’s not something that would be difficult for me to do.

        5. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          There’s a zip code near me that covers parts of three counties. So, this is useful for identifying you’re a constituent of our US Senators and State Governor. I don’t know exactly where the current boundaries for the US Representatives are, so it may or may not be useful for that. And it’s definitely not useful for State Senators and Representatives, County Commissioners, Township Trustees, or City Council members…

  22. Alex*

    #2 – were you told your boss would be paying for supplies out of her pocket? It’s possible that your boss would be buying the supplies, but then expensing the cost (or cost of postage of supplies already at the office. In fact that would be my initial assumption. It might be a little cheaper that way – boss can buy in bulk (and then expense) and distribute to her team as needed, rather than each team member having to pay for individual supplies and then individual re-imbursement.

    1. Policy Wonk*

      Agree. It is also possible boss has a company credit card she can use to buy the supplies, but doesn’t have a way to reimburse individual employees.

    2. pbnj*

      Agreed. Or perhaps it’s in order to fit the policy. The policy might say you can’t ship from directly from an office supply store to an employee’s house, but doesn’t say anything about shipping from the office. I also know my employer gets a cheaper rate ordering office supplies than what is on the website due to their contract, so it may very well be much cheaper.

  23. Roscoe*

    I dont understand #3. Of course you should contact her. Why wouldn’t you. A company can’t forbid you from contacting an ex employee on your own time. Even if they implied it was a problem, how would they find out, and what would they really do. Even the fact that you are questioning this is giving your employer too much power over you

    1. Work Niece*

      We were given so few details, so I just don’t know if it was actually a request from my boss not to contact her? I took it in the most negative way, because I was upset. We are in administration, and this was of course framed as her “leaving” but she didn’t suddenly decide to leave in the middle of a Tuesday after 20 years. She was obviously pushed out.

      1. valentine*

        A company can’t forbid you from contacting an ex employee on your own time. Even if they implied it was a problem, how would they find out, and what would they really do.
        They can forbid you, it’s going to get around in academia, and they can discipline or fire you.

        I took it in the most negative way, because I was upset. […] she didn’t suddenly decide to leave in the middle of a Tuesday after 20 years.
        Especially if she didn’t tell you the problems people had with her, perhaps there was something that was the last straw for her. Is it possible you’re still taking it “in the most negative way”?

        1. OP3 (Work Niece)*

          Higher ed administration is a bit different from academia, and it would be just be difficult to fire me for a few reasons. I could be officially reprimanded, but that seems unlikely.

          She loved the job and was a workaholic and we had a normal meeting earlier that day. I am just worried about her and don’t know the personal etiquette for this. I’ve never before had a close colleague who was fired.

  24. EventPlannerGal*

    OP1, you didn’t do anything wrong – well, I would have side-eyed the bottled water usage as well but it’s nothing to flip out about. I would bet that she doesn’t actually care that much either. Maybe she was having a bad day, traffic was bad that morning, she argued with her partner, the meeting you walked in on was more tense than you realised, who knows! But you did something that happened to irritate her and she took it out on you. Bad behaviour and bad management, but it happens. I honestly wouldn’t bother following up with another apology, it will just prolong the entire thing and make it seem like you actually have something to apologise for when all you did was do something mildly wasteful in front of a person in a bad mood.

    1. Gal*

      I wouldn’t even call it mildly wasteful. It’s not like she went out and bought a bottle of water to make coffee. It was already there and she made use of it.

      It’s not even worth a side-eye. Its impossible for people to completely eliminate having any environmental impact from their lives, so lets not shame people for occasionally using water bottles, especially when the vast majority of climate change is caused by large corporations rather than individual people.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Of course climate change is primarily caused by large corporations; I’m not sure why you think I don’t know that. I still think it is mildly wasteful to fill up a coffee maker with bottled water when there is tap water available. And as I clearly stated, I think it is a very mild form of wastefulness that does not warrant that kind of response that OP got.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          (And yes, I very much appreciate the ick factor of using bathroom tap water but in that situation I would have just walked to the Area B sink to fill the machine, given that it’s portable enough to take it to the bathroom tap. It just would never even occur to me to empty bottles of mineral water into a coffee machine.)

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              I know? My office is over several floors. I walk between floors all the time, sometimes carrying things. I absolutely think I would do that rather than empty bottles of water into a coffee maker. But like I said in my original comment, I still think the boss’s reaction was out of line.

  25. Jane*

    LW#1, I worked for a small firm during the last financial crisis and one day one of the owners walked into the office I shared with a few others and flipped out because the heating was on but the window was open (yes, this isn’t great – it was in the depths of winter, an old building, we couldn’t turn the radiator off and it had got really stuffy so someone had opened the window to let fresh air in). She shouted at us that it was her money that was flowing out the window.

    I wonder if it was something similar with Isabella – finances are on her mind (as they are most people’s at the moment) and all she could see was that they’d paid for the bottled water and it was going into the coffee maker instead of ‘free’ tap water (regardless of the ew-factor in office bathroom tap water).

    Not that this changes anything, she‘s way out of line and you didn’t do anything wrong.

    1. pancakes*

      It doesn’t matter why Isabella freaked out. Your last sentence acknowledges that. Why make a point of speculating about her anxieties, then? It’s worrisome in itself how many people seem to think this way. The letter writer similarly lacks conviction as to whether her own response was “strange and out of line,” as if Isabella’s disproportionate behavior was somehow itself a compelling argument in favor of disproportionate behavior. It isn’t any such thing!

  26. Secret Identity*

    For #1 – I didn’t even read the rest of the questions or any of the comments, I just came straight down here to say Isabella is absolutely nuts. I don’t get the advice to try to appease her. You don’t owe her an apology or an explanation and you don’t need to placate her in any way. What she did was ridiculous. I think you should have called her out immediately and been like, are you really actually yelling at me right now for using bottled water in a receptacle meant for water?? Boss or no boss, it’s not right for anyone to raise their voice at you like that and I absolutely wouldn’t take it. Not for a single second. No one, and I mean NO ONE is going to yell at me, even if it’s over something they may be reasonably upset over, let alone something completely bananas. And, for the record, yes I need my job and can’t afford to be fired, but if that’s the price I must pay to not be yelled at, I’d be SO fired. The first time would be the last time. I’m sorry, I completely disagree with the advice given. (That’s my interpretation of the advice anyway – it seems to be saying you must make your boss happy by placating her in some way even though she’s being ridiculous)
    And now, my angry rant is over.

    1. valentine*

      I don’t get the advice to try to appease her.
      I think the idea is to impress upon her that not everyone is on Team Bathroom Water and to avoid future dressing downs because Isabella reacted as though she caught OP1 mid-sabotage.

      I did not know some bottled water could hurt the machine, especially when the larger bottles for the cooler are acceptable.

  27. MLH*

    No apologies for LW1. The bottled water is presumably there for people to DRINK right? Well…I’m going to DRINK it, after I pour it through some coffee grinds. Good grief! LW1’s boss really needs to chill.

  28. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    Regarding #5: Does it make a difference if you send an actual physical letter, or if you send an email? And if you send an email, is there any significant difference between sending it from a form on the lawmaker’s website versus directly from your own email account? (My US Senators and Representative have these forms on their official websites, I don’t know offhand if officials at more local levels have them.)

    1. Ranon*

      At the national level physical letters still get screened (for anthrax, etc) so email is received more quickly, making email or phone calls better for urgent issues (e.g. something going to vote in the next few days, etc).

  29. White Peonies*

    #2 Your manager may not be using their own money to send them, if you are at a larger company management usually has an allotment each year to spend on employees (coffee’s, lunch, awards,etc) your boss may be using your allotment to send you supplies. Email your expense/finance department and find out what the policy is for supplies when working from home. At our large company they have been promoting our green initiatives for years as a way to not provide us with office supplies, employees have decided that Sticky notes are the hill to die on at home.

  30. MAB*

    I think the boss’s comment about OP being an environmentalist on #1 was intended to be sarcastic.

  31. Cheap and Chintzy*

    OP1, a similar thing happened to me at work. We finally got a water cooler on our floor. Up until then, I always used filtered tap or brought water from home to drink. I don’t usually make coffee in our small building but did one morning. I made half a carafe using the new water cooler water. An admin immediately rushed over and scolded me saying we weren’t allowed to use the “good” water to make coffee as it was too expensive.
    I thought about the cases of expensive, not environmentally friendly, bottled water the company purchases every month for executive meetings and such. And we’re forced to use nasty (hard!) tap water for one stinking pot of coffee!
    I never made another pot of coffee in that office. I still work there.

  32. Bookworm*

    #5: I want to add to Alison’s response and support that. I interned at a Congressional office years ago and it really does matter if you call/email/write your reps (social media is considered less useful because there’s no way to know if you’re really their constituent).

    Please don’t willy nilly contact random elected officials who aren’t yours. They will forward your call/letter to your official and it creates a delay and more work for the staff. But yes, please do call/write. And not just about this: on any issue you care about. Even if you live in a safe red/blue area and you didn’t vote for your elected, please make the time to make your voice heard.

    1. Boopnash*

      THIS. I currently work for an elected official and we track all communications from constituents, even if we aren’t able to respond right away. During this pandemic people have naturally been fearful and angry, but our office appreciates all opinions (good and bad) and it helps in so many ways. Especially if you have a particular professional or personal insight into something. We hear a lot from some demographics and interest groups and rarely from others, so it’s valuable to get a range of opinions. Even a quick “I support X” or “please consider Y” is good enough. It’s noted and appreciated.

    2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      I wrote to my state senator some months ago and got a reply saying that I should be writing to my own representative, not him as part of the leadership. I wrote back saying that yes, I live in his district, specifying my address as well as town, and got an apology and attention to the issue.

      For phone calls, I start with something like “Hi, this is The Gollux, I’m a constituent who lives in Tumbolia.” If they care enough to check, they will see that I am a registered voter and almost never miss an election. (Who I vote for is, and should be, secret; whether I voted is public information.)

    3. LW #5*

      Hi! LW5 here. I’m realizing I should have been much more precise with my language–my personal experience has been that with federal/state reps, I’ll get a form reply a lot later (the record was when I wrote to one of my senators in 8th grade for a school project. I got a reply sophomore year of high school) whereas response time for local government is faster and more personalized, at least in my experience. This was what I was attempting to get at in my letter.

  33. Blue Eagle*

    I understand the need for government workers (or in this case library workers) to be safe. What I don’t understand is why it has to be an all or nothing proposition. Why can’t the library be open just for curbside service to allow us to receive materials that are on reserve? Why is it that the library won’t open and get rid of all chairs that allow patrons to linger so that the library is only used as a check-out and return facility and not an open public space where everyone can linger for the full library hours? But no, they don’t want to open until they can serve the public entirely as they used to. If this is the library situation that the OP is talking about, then I totally get their concern and don’t understand why libraries refuse to take an incremental approach (and thus are still closed).

    1. Michelle H*

      I suspect that the “all or nothing” proposition MIGHT stem from fairness of accessibility. I agree, I would love curbside pick-up! However, libraries often serve as a place for those who have less access to resources like computers, smart phones, etc. They are places where the homeless, elderly, and unemployed can go to stay safe and read, to use computers, learn, and even apply for jobs. Perhaps – and this is just a guess – there is concern that curbside service might have aspects of inequality in that one would have to have internet access in order to use it. I don’t know; it’s just an idea.

      I like the removing of chairs idea, too, but perhaps people would just sit in aisles, etc. creating extra strain on the librarians

      1. academic librarian*

        “Perhaps – and this is just a guess – there is concern that curbside service might have aspects of inequality in that one would have to have internet access in order to use it.” nearly every PL i have seen doing curbside has had a phone number you could call to schedule curbside, and many have put in hard work boosting their wifi networks so people could use the internet from the parking lot. there are always going to be services that libraries offer that some patrons can’t access. hell, *print books* are inaccessible for some patrons! there is so little we know about the safety of how long the virus stays on surfaces, and the supply chain for necessary PPE is so strained already, often for more important causes (like nurses, and doctors). there are great, great inequities that cause libraries to be the place where people can go to stay safe or have shelter during the day, but curbside isn’t really one of them.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I guess it depends on where you live. In my state, they are currently working on a curbside pick-up situation (my library actually has a drive through window). They’ve stated that they are following CDC guidelines to hold the books in quarantine for 72 hours after they are checked back in before lending them out again. But I agree on the all or nothing approach. We’ve been opening in phases (and even the phases have phases). I’m so tired of seeing people complain to OPEN THE WHOLE STATE because it’s not happening fast enough. You can’t go from full quarantine to everything fully open overnight or the whole point of quarantine goes out the window.

      1. JustaTech*

        My city library is doing even more stages: first the librarians come in to deal with all the new books that need to be added to the system. Then they’ll ask patrons to start returning books (the book drops have been closed since April). Then, once all the books that were out are through quarantine and back into circulation, they’ll start with the curbside pick up. I’m not sure what that will look like in an area where almost everyone walks to their library (we have a bajillion tiny libraries rather than just a few big ones).

        But yes, I think the library professional standard is an incremental opening.

    3. DoctorateStrange*

      Curbside has its own downsides, including likely carrying the virus and whatnot. I think people need to understand too that librarians are burnt outtoo, and, likely, feel that their health is being compromised for the sake of being martyred for their vocation. A huge issue in the library world is that some (not all) library administrators can be awful towards their staff, so you can imagine that and badly handling the pandemic aaaaaand dealing with entitled patrons may make librarians frustrated and would rather work at home, especially in states where they are letting patrons come in without a mask.

      I should also add that at my library, with curbside delivery in place, we have had to deal with abusive patrons, including those who refuse to follow procedure and try to interact with workers by getting out of their cars, etc.

      There was a huge thing going around where a director was forcing his staff to either stay home unpaid or to work at homeless shelters with COVID-19 patients.

      So, yeah, imagine a pandemic with no clear answers occurring, dealing with abusive administrators, threats of budget cuts no matter what we do, etc.

    4. Paulina*

      The type of positive reinforcement that LW5 is suggesting can help support a partial reopening. Unfortunately, without that, any reopening starts bringing out demands for more and more services, including people wanting to use the library as a fill-in for other institutions or businesses that aren’t open. Figuring out what can be done safely and how to do it takes time, and it also takes money that many library systems don’t have.

    5. YouwantmetodoWHAT?!*

      Our libraries are doing exactly that – open for curbside service. You go up to the door (blocked by two tables) tell them your last name & last 4 digets of your library card, and you get your book/s. Easy peasy. I was extremely happy about this when they started it!
      And you can be sure that I was effusive in my thanks!

    6. Koala dreams*

      Where I live, different libraries do different things. Some allow only curbside pick up, some allow borrowing and returning books but not lingering, reading, using computers and other services, other libraries are closed entirely. As a result, many people are confused about the rules. (I’m confused!)

      1. Youth Services Librarian*

        There’s a lot going on in lots of different libraries (and yes, we’re all confused too!). Some things that can make a difference
        – Staff. The library may have lost staff for a wide variety of reasons (quarantined, laid off, budget cuts, high risk). They were probably understaffed to start with! They may not have enough staff to safely run curbside delivery. You might think “I just need them to run one thing out to me” but remember there could be literally HUNDREDS of people thinking that! Then there’s finding the materials, calling the patrons (our staff made literally THOUSANDS of phone calls in April), dealing with things that are not picked up, etc.
        – Space. The library might not have space for sufficient staff to work while social distancing, no room to quarantine materials, no way to safely set items out for curbside delivery without getting too close to people, etc.
        – It’s hard for people to see the big picture. You may be a reasonable, undemanding person, but for every one of you there’s somebody calling us 5 times in thirty minutes, demanding an additional item each time, and changing their mind on when they’re picking it up, the stress of wondering if the neighbor who has been sending us letters calling us “little hitlers” is going to be the next to call to pick up their materials, people refusing to social distance or observe even basic hygiene trying to force their way in, parents screaming at us b/c we won’t let their kids hang out at the library, etc.
        And during all of this we are also trying to continue to offer online services, widely expanding or creating from scratch virtual services and programming, run completely remodeled summer reading programs, etc.

    7. Kendra*

      Can’t speak to other libraries, but for mine, it was because our town immediately furloughed my staff as soon as we closed, so that they could collect unemployment, and the town wouldn’t have to pay them (except for the unemployment insurance, and they kept the full time staff on our health insurance, too). We’re 100% sales tax funded, so they were terrified we were going to take a major financial hit, and were trying to save every last dollar they could. It might have been possible for me to do curbside service alone (it’s a fairly small town), but I’m immunocompromised, so my town manager and I decided against it. We didn’t bring any of the staff back from furlough until we reopened, with a bunch of tables and chairs removed, and half of our computers blocked off to keep people distanced from one another. So money and staffing could be an issue in at least some cases.

    8. Loves Libraries*

      My library now does curbside circulation. They started 3 weeks after the tattoo parlors and barbershops reopened. The local book store never ceased curbside here. I’m told to pop my trunk and an employee will place the books in there however my car is not that fancy and my trunk doesn’t pop. Staff will not put books in unoccupied back seat with window down nor will they open and close my trunk for me. Just grateful to have print circulation back. Ebook collection is very limited.

    9. academic librarian*

      “Why is it that the library won’t open and get rid of all chairs that allow patrons to linger so that the library is only used as a check-out and return facility and not an open public space where everyone can linger for the full library hours?”
      i am sorry but have you met…..people? they will absolutely find ways to linger without chairs. i’ve heard from my PL colleagues that libraries who have done this have seen patrons *bringing in their own chairs.* a safety plan that is only safe if people are perfectly logical and compliant at all times is not safe. what happens when your patrons refuse to wear a mask? to follow social distancing protocol? what if someone gets agitated when asked to wear a mask? or aggressive? it’s not that librarians don’t want to open “until they can serve the public entirely as they used to”–they know their communities best and they don’t want to open until they can keep themselves and their communities safe. in addition, there is so little known about how long the virus can live on materials, and added PPE comes at an additional cost for libraries with very strained budgets (meanwhile, my tiny town spends over 10x as much on our police….)

      to add, if your library has done a kickass job rolling out new ebooks and electronic programming, virtual storytime and chat reference—make sure to include that in your letter. that stuff is expensive and it takes WORK. and if they weren’t able to because they lost staff or had budget cuts–maybe make some suggestions to your legislators about where you think your town’s money could be better spent ;)

      1. Youth Services Librarian*

        Lol, yes, have you met… people? Somehow I don’t see the patron that decided to bring in a wok and grill their own meat in the middle of the teen area being reasonable about social distancing requirements… (no, they were not a teen.)
        We’ve already had multiple complaints that we are not allowing people full access to the entire library (are they going to increase our budget so we can hire more staff to clean everything and purchase the PPE and cleaning supplies needed?) and basically that we are not going back to normal immediately and reopening everything. We’ve been doing curbside since the end of April and a soft reopen this week to allow people limited browsing and computer access and they’re still not happy.

    10. LW #5*

      Hi! LW5, late to the party. As others have mentioned, many libraries are taking the incremental approach that you describe. But even an incremental approach is enormously complicated. I am currently working on rolling out the plan for curbside services at my library and it is the most exhausting project I have worked on in nearly 2 decades in the profession. We are essentially taking a centuries old institution and trying to figure out how to reinvent it in a socially distanced environment. It’s been like learning an entirely new job and the stakes are a lot higher because mistakes could mean someone getting sick. And we are still lacking a ton of necessary information: we don’t have any kind of best practices or guidance for disinfecting returned materials. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is conducting a study, but the recommendations are at least a year away. My state’s reopening plan and related guidances do not mention libraries at all and it was not initially clear whether we would be allowed to reopen.

      I wish it were as simple as taking away chairs and putting up signs, but we also have to be able to enforce those rules. This requires a ton of planning, training, and resources that may not be widely available (such as funding, PPE, staffing, funding, funding, and funding). We are also going to be working with patrons and staff members who are stressed out and scared, which further complicates interpersonal communication. I once had a patron compare me to a Nazi because I asked him for his card so that I could retrieve the item that was on hold for him: if that’s how he behaves in a normal environment, just imagine what he’ll be like in a post-COVID environment. How is he going to react when I tell him he must wear a mask in the building? How do I enforce that rule? Do I have enough staff to back me up if the interaction escalates?

      There are also political considerations. My library coordinated its response with other governmental units in town. If the schools are saying it’s not safe for them to be open, it kind of undercuts their message if the library continues operations and invites those same schoolchildren to congregate in a different space; if the mayor issues an emergency order telling people to stay home, it undercuts their message if the library is like “hey, leave your house and come check out books that a stranger just had in their house!”

      And in addition to all of that, we’re still trying to figure out how to make our other services like programming work in a virtual or socially distanced environment. Other projects must go on–I launched our new website while we were sheltering in place; our newsletter still had to be published. We still answered reference questions over email and social media.

      I am not sure if I’ve provided any clarity, but I feel like I’m rambling at this point, so I’m cutting myself off. But I hope this explains some things.

  34. Michelle H*

    #1 – As to the bottled water comment: Having worked for an environmental non-profit, I can say that, whilst we did not condone bottled water usage, it was occasionally (albeit rarely) the best choice. We would always encourage people to use their own containers – and even gave away reusable containers – but there were times, such as handing out water to people without their own containers at large events, that it was the most hygienic choice. We also had an unusable well, so we had to bring in our own water. It’s slightly off-topic, but please don’t judge someone by occasionally using bottled water. There’s no need to die of dehydration on that particular hill.

    That actually gets me to what was to be my original point about this. I feel like that situation was a gray area of behavior on the OP’s part. They said that they tried to use the water cooler, but it was empty so they were left with two, possibly problematic, solutions: bottled water or bathroom water. And some people will be bothered by either choice. (Remember, George Costanza’s bookstore experience with a book that’d been in the bathroom?) They made a call and it turned out to the wrong one, but it wasn’t clear as to what the right choice would have been. It’s not something obvious like, “There’s no water, maybe I’ll use Pepsi!” or when unable to find a waste basket, throwing trash on the floor.

    #4 – In every state I’ve lived in, it would be absolutely illegal to require work unpaid!

    #5 – Thank you for sharing that, OP!

  35. Jennifer*

    #3 Do you really need a formal permission from your employer to contact a woman that’s like family to you? She was your emergency contact for goodness sakes. If you’d been in an accident, she would have been the one to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night. And now you don’t know if you should text her? Don’t let your employer dictate all of your behavior outside of the office. It seems you might be concerned about the reason she was fired since the organization is being so secretive about it but it doesn’t matter. She’s your family. Call her.

  36. OP2*

    Hi folks — I see some questions about whether I’m assuming my boss is going to pay. She told me “[employer] won’t pay for it, which is ridiculous, so I’m just going to send them to you myself.” Separately, the business manager of our unit said, “it’s too much work to handle reimbursements for small purchases.” So, not an assumption.
    Since I submitted my question, I told my boss “I don’t want you to spend your own money.” Even so, she sent a package of supplies.
    I’m glad to have the supplies, and I’m glad to hear some comments from other managers about the calculus of hassle versus money — that’s a good insight.
    Thanks Alison and everyone!

    1. Bostonian*

      For what it’s worth, I didn’t get the sense from your letter that you were making those assumptions.

      My employer has been unusually stingy and inconsistent about providing supplies while we work from home. We’re not financially impacted by the pandemic, so I don’t know what the deal is. I guess I don’t have any good advice to offer, just commiserating.

    2. Koala dreams*

      I’m glad that you’ve got the supplies, but sad that your employer is so stingy.

  37. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I disagree on #2. I don’t this is OP’s battle to fight. If you need supplies, and since this is not the typical situation, you ask your manager how to obtain them. It’s your manager’s choice on how to handle it. The company may have bad policies in place, but I don’t think it’s up to you to push back on something as minor as office supplies. If your manager is too timid or think’s it’s not worth it to push back, that not OP’s concern.

    1. Data Bear*

      I think this is a reasonable stance.

      I just want to add that “no shipping to employees’ homes” is not a bad or ridiculous policy. It’s a policy to prevent employees in a position to do so from engaging in criminal activity involving purchases without oversight. Like, say, padding an order for new laptops to get a bunch of extras using a deep corporate discount, reselling them on ebay at a higher price, pocketing the profit, and cooking the books to hide it. (To use a not-at-all-hypothetical example that I heard about through the corporate grapevine.) Shenanigans like that are much easier if you can have goods shipped to your home where there’s nobody else to notice all the extra stuff you ordered.

  38. foolofgrace*

    Re: #1 Coffee: A few days ago I heard a piece on NPR about making coffee. The expert said that actually tap water is better for coffee making because of the way the minerals in the water combine with the coffee grounds. I tried to find the link but it’s not up on the website. Most coffee maker manufacturers recommend running vinegar water thru the coffee maker once a month, which apparently helps with the lime and scale and such.

    Re: #2 Office supplies: Why not let the manager take care of this as she sees fit? Presumably she knows how to get reimbursed for these charges. If she wants to solve the problem of needing office supplies this way, why not let her?

  39. Case of the Mondays*

    Is anyone else just buying their own office supplies for WFH? I know I could go into the office and grab some boring legal pads but I’ve used the opportunity to buy some fun notebooks online. I don’t think my work would want to reimburse me for these when I could have ordered myself cheap notepads or picked up the office notepads.

    1. Jennifer*

      When I was WFH I just used my phone or computer to take notes. Maybe it’s easier for some to use pen and paper to take notes.

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I could probably get permission to go into the office and get things like paper to bring home, but I decided that I wasn’t using enough in the way of paper goods for it to be worth it in my case. Since I don’t need my workspace to look “professional”, I’ve been using this as an opportunity to use up the extra sheets of paper from all of the purpose-specific spiral notebooks I have instead. (I tend to use a notebook a year for notes on a lot of different personal life things, and get out a new one each calendar year or project year rather than when I’ve used up the last page for ease of filing them/locating my notes later, so I have 5 “wasted” pages here or 10 “wasted” pages there to work through in lots of notebooks.)

      This is also partially because I use a lot of office supplies for personal things, and I really didn’t want to have to keep two separate sets of everything at home and be careful not to use the work sticky notes for a home project now that they’d all be sharing my home workspace. I was tempted to grab a ream of copy paper to use in my home printer, but I realized I’d probably use less than a ream on work stuff and that I didn’t want to have two reams open and constantly swap which paper is in the tray. Instead, I just bought a big box of copy paper at Costco and considered that the price of not worrying about it. (I now have copy paper for years.)

      I’d feel differently if I used more consumables on work needs, but so much of my job is on the computer that it’s a $10 problem rather than a $100 problem, and my interest in jumping through hoops and carefully tracking things for $10 problems is pretty low.

    3. juliebulie*

      Yes. Or not so much buying, as taking from the surplus that I already had. I love neato office supplies and was accumulating them faster than I was using them… now I am using them and not accumulating them. It’s fun!

    4. noahwynn*

      I did this even when I wasn’t WFH. I prefer steno books and all we had at the office was legal pads. It is easier to grab a steno book from the dollar store every few months than try and fight my way through getting abnormal supplies ordered.

  40. Fiona*

    I usually really agree with Alison but this is one area where I’m surprised she even considered bringing this up again with the boss – reasonable or unreasonable. Honestly, if the boss is unreasonable that’s even MORE a reason not to bring it up again. You don’t want to get into a headspace of apologizing or even semi-apologizing for things like this. It’s a very slippery slope to a bad place mentally. Perhaps OP’s boss was having a tough day and lashed out at OP. Fine, it happens to everyone. But I don’t think OP should normalize that reaction. The most the boss should have said was: “Hey OP, I’d prefer to save the water bottles for X. Next time can you just use the bathroom water if we’re out?” Anything beyond that is really not cool for something this minor.

  41. Employment Lawyer*

    1. My boss freaked out when I used bottled water in our coffee maker
    Duh. It starts with bottled water in a coffee maker and ends with a ten-million-gallon oil spill in the Arctic Range, and that WILL BE ALL YOUR FAULT.

    Kidding. I recommend Poland Spring, it makes great espresso and it’s what I use.

    Honestly: buy “Urnex Dezcal” off Amazon. It’s $12 a bottle and will last you for years. It is specifically designed to remove mineral scale from hot water tanks etc. and it works like a charm.

    While you’re at it, buy “Urnex Espresso Machine Cleaning Powder”, also off Amazon. It is designed to go in the “drinkable section” and dissolve all the coffee residue gunk. It’s great.

    As for your boss: Assume she was having a bad day when you walked in front of her, and move on.

    2. Should I let my boss buy my supplies with her own money?
    Not if you can help it. But at heart she’s your boss, so it is not as huge of an issue. If she’s spending $20 or less and doing it only once, especially if it’s only for a handful of employees, it’s OK to let it go.

    3. My boss (who is like an aunt to me) was abruptly fired — should I reach out?
    Yes. You have only good things to say and it will be nice to hear.

    4. Working while quarantined and not getting paid
    As AAM notes, this sounds like a miscommunication.

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

    I used to manage a showroom that sold tile and countertops, I had clients in and out most days. We had a kitchenette at the front of the showroom that was used as a display for countertops and backsplash tile, so it had to be kept immaculately clean all the time. It had a mini fridge with sodas and water for clients, but employees were allowed to grab a soda as a pick-me-up every once in a while, but encouraged not to abuse the perk. I bought the mini bottled water and mini sodas (8 oz) in order to fit more and not have to re-stock so often. It was more expensive, but worked well when we had a lot of clients come through in a week. We also had a water cooler/heater in a back area that was refilled weekly by a service, which almost every employee utilized often.

    For some reason, there was one new guy who worked in the warehouse who could not understand why he shouldn’t take an endless amount of mini bottled water. I had to reprimand him MULTIPLE times a week for always coming into the showroom and taking the most expensive water in the whole joint. He refused to bring a refillable water bottle and fill it with the water cooler, but also refused to use the paper cups we provided by the water cooler. It was baffling. He would nod and say he understood, but kept on behaving the same way each week.

    One hot day, after bringing clients out to the warehouse to see some countertop slabs, I offered them some water and went to the fridge and all the water was gone. That may not seem like a high stakes situation, but after constantly getting onto that guy week after week, I was understandably pissed. He walked into the showroom after they left holding one of the mini water bottles and I just lost it on him. It’s the only time I’ve ever yelled at an employee, and I’ve never felt guilty about it. He was such an ass and he deserved it. He was fired the next week (over some other instances of not following directions) and it felt like sweet sweet justice.

    OP #1 was a completely different situation and I think they were fine to use the bottled water. But, having been a bottled water monitor at one point in my career, I can see how some people might fixate on it. Whatever was going in Isabella’s mind, it was probably not about the bottled water. I’m sorry the OP was the victim of her wrath.

  43. Flabbernabbit*

    On Isabella’s reaction to the bottled water for coffee, many commenters post how the OP did nothing wrong and Isabella’s reaction was outsized. I agree. However, I am further appalled that the boss yelled at her in front of other coworkers. That is shockingly bad management. Isabella could have expressed surprise and then calmly asked her to use another source, then taken it up with her later. Isabella absolutely needs to be called out on her hostility.

    I have been in a similar position as OP, making an incorrect assumption in a meeting once. My boss reacted like this. I quickly apologized then stayed largely silent as she vented, saying only that I understood her position and then attempted to move on to the next topic. But the next day I set up a one-on-one to debrief from the meeting. She declined. I insisted that we talk because it can wait if it must until we next meet one-on-one, but I will raise this. She relented. I calmly told her that there may be circumstances that I was unaware of at the time, but that there is no situation I could think of that would call for me being spoken to like that in a professional work place, and certainly not in front of other staff. I wanted her to know that I would be open to feedback and criticism as I have been so far, but wanted her assurance that she would not do that again. It was uncomfortable sure, because she at first doubled down, getting angry and blaming me, then calmed again. She finally admitted she had been stressed about something else, explained why my comment was the opposite of what she was trying to achieve, and said she would handle it better next time. We worked together nicely for the rest of the time I was there. She was a tough boss, but mostly fair. I was hired to lead teams on difficult projects, so that kind of personality, mine and hers, are not unexpected.

    In OP’s case and maybe mine too, I’m wondering if the sit down could start with “I was surprised that your reaction was so strong. Of course I’m open to correction, but we need a better way to communicate. Is something wrong?”

  44. Safely Retired*

    2. Should I let my boss buy my supplies with her own money?

    Let? Who are you to determine what your boss should be allowed to do?’
    Buy your supplies? That isn’t what is says in the letter, where the expense is shipping, not for the supplies themselves.

    It sounds to me like the boss is doing what it takes to support the letter writer. It is not possible to know all the reasons she may have for choosing that approach, so why not allow her some management prerogative to choose how to handle the problem and say thank you.

  45. Tinker*

    The scoffing about being an environmentalist is actually completely understandable to me — I’ve known folks who say things exactly like that, because they harbor overt contempt for environmentalism on the grounds more or less that it is elite snobbery directed against them. They’re not necessarily up on the question of single use plastic or such like things, and they also don’t necessarily draw a meaningful distinction between “because it’s good for the planet”, “because I think it’s healthy for me personally”, or “because I enjoy it” when classifying something as worthy of contempt because environmentalism.

    Here, the deal would be that you are wasting money because you are “too good” for tap water, which makes you delicate and precious about “dirtiness” and hence worthy of scorn as an environmentalist.

  46. Always Learning*

    Re: #1, I now use purified water in my coffee make at home for that exact reason. Our tap water is very hard and messed up my machine after about a year. The bottled water was a fine replacement in the moment. In the interest of minimizing single-use plastics, maybe the office can invest in a Brita-type filter so the water going into the coffee maker has fewer minerals and doesn’t eat away at the water dispenser supply (aka Alhambra water). But yes, your boss’ reaction was over the top. It’s just water.

  47. Analytical Tree Hugger*

    #3: I’m paranoid, so if you do email/text her, make sure to do so from a personal email/phone (in case your university provides a cell phone) and outside work hours.

    Sorry, that sounds like a bad situation :/

    1. OP3 (Work Niece)*

      I am also very paranoid, but it would be difficult to fire me for a few reasons! We’re also still working from home, so I’m not worried about it. I more didn’t know what to do on a personal level. I’ve never had this happen before, and I’m just worried for her but don’t know if she actually doesn’t want to be contacted.

  48. OP3 (Work Niece)*

    Sorry for the confusion about my letter! I tried to make the details a bit vague so as not to dox myself. We are in an administrative department, so she wasn’t a professor/tenured as many people are wondering. She was obviously pushed out, but so far we have only been told that she is leaving. We’ve been reassured that our jobs are secure, and I’ve since gleaned from people above me in the department that there have been long-standing issues with her perceived cooperation with other departments.

    We were told that we should let her reach out to us, and because I was defensive and angry, I took that as an order not to contact her. Now that I’ve calmed down, I’m not sure if that was indeed a request from her that we not contact her?

    1. Ray Gillette*

      I would guess that was a more general directive to her colleagues that assumes no outside personal relationship. Since you have an outside personal relationship with her, I’m sure she’d be happy to hear from you.

      1. OP3 (Work Niece)*

        That’s what was making me doubt myself! I was under the impression that everyone in the (small) office was that close, and I didn’t know about some of the interpersonal conflicts that had been going on for the last few years. I guess the current situation just amplified everything?

  49. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    OP 5:

    Thanks for this reminder. I just sent emails to the town library and town administration urging them to be cautious about reopening and, specifically, to protect the staff.

  50. OP3 (Work Niece)*

    Thank you, Alison and everyone, for your advice! This is a new situation for me, since I started this job right out of college, and I just didn’t know what the etiquette was. I sent her a long text with the caveat that I don’t expect a response until she’s ready and cried for the first time since I heard the news.

  51. Candi*


    Also, write to your state legislatures. It’s possible to effect change on the state level that is much harder to do on the federal level -look at California, Washington, and a few others on minimum wage levels, laws about paying servers FULL minimum wage before tips (and it hasn’t hurt the businesses, thankyouverymuch), and worker’s rights.

    On many things, states can tell the feds to shove it and make their own, better, laws.

  52. LC*

    “Yeah, she shouldn’t have to spend her own money on work supplies.”
    *laughs in teacher*

Comments are closed.