my boss is mentoring my employee, holding doors for coworkers, and more

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

1. My boss is mentoring my employee

I am a director at a government agency. I’m recognized at work for being highly inclusive and engaged in the success of each person on my team. I regularly meet with my employees and coach them in real time.

With that said, one of my employees has set up a mentor relationship with my boss. She also happens to be my boss’ assistant. When my employee first talked to me about setting this up, I thought it seemed like a great opportunity for her, but then I started to question whether or not it was odd for my boss to mentor one of my employees. The two of them work closely every day, considering she is her assistant, and they could even be considered friends.

Today my boss spoke to me about the new arrangement and said that I should expect to see major changes in my employee professionally and personally now that she was being mentored by her personally.

I have encouraged my employee to find a mentor in the past and advised her that often the best mentor is outside of your immediate organization. I understand her reasoning in asking my boss. She’s a strong, female leader in the organization. I think I’m questioning whether or not my boss agreeing to the arrangement is a good idea. Am I being close-minded? Do I need more education on mentoring?

No, it’s a little weird. Certainly a boss (or grand-boss) can be an informal mentor — I’d say I’ve mentored some of the people who have worked for me, and most good bosses do — but the nature of the relationship limits the ways a manager can truly act in that capacity, especially formally.

You share things with a mentor that it might not make sense to share with a boss, at least not as candidly — things like areas where you’re struggling, frustrations you’re having, thoughts about moving on, etc. You might share some of that with a boss, but the boundaries are a lot more narrow than with a mentor; with a boss you need to consider how the info might factor into her thinking in ways you don’t want or intend. And there are some topics where a boss often won’t be the right sounding board, such as if the mentee wants to talk about when it’s time for her to move on or whether the organization is a healthy one to stay in (since a manager may be swayed by her own interests, even just unconsciously).

In your case, where the boss/mentor is two levels up, your employee may want to ask for advice about you in ways that can be very tricky for both managers to navigate. It can also lead to her circumventing your authority in ways that normally wouldn’t happen.

Now, maybe your boss doesn’t mean “formal mentor.” Maybe she means she’s investing in your employee’s development because she’s talented and the two of them have good rapport. That’s fine! But without a better understanding of exactly what she means, I can see why the framing makes you uneasy.

2. We’re only allowed to wear a single, company-provided mask

I am currently working from home. We have been told that when we go back to the office, (1) masks will be required and (2) the only mask allowed will be the company-provided mask.

I fully support the masking policy, of course. But we are a company with a dress code, not a uniform, so I find this pseudo-uniform requirement kind of weird. I have a handful of masks so I don’t have to wash them every day (as they get gross after hours of wear). Now I will have to wash a mask every night, which is annoying at best. I’m also waiting for the day masks get mixed up, further spreading germs (I have already figured out how to mark mine). I would understand if HR banned masks with words or political statements or some other narrow categories, but the explanation I was given of “so we all look the same” feels like bad policy.

I will follow the rules but I’m wondering if I’m right to be kind of annoyed by this.

Yes. Masks are supposed to be worn once and then washed (they can spread the virus otherwise, rather than containing it), so it’s ridiculous to give you a single mask and expect you to wear it every day. Plus, different people find different types of masks more comfortable; it’s unlikely that every person in your company will find this specific model the most comfortable for themselves.

I’d address it from the washing angle, though. You could say, “The CDC says masks need to be washed after each use in order to be effective; otherwise they can spread germs rather than preventing them. If the company doesn’t plan to supply everyone with a week’s worth, we’ll need to supplement them with our own masks in order to use them safely.”

3. Holding doors for coworkers during COVID-19

What is the etiquette for holding the door for coworkers in COVID times? In normal times I will hold open the door for the next person if they’re nearby, and I will graciously go through if someone else holds it (assuming they’re at an angle where I can actually get by). Lately I haven’t been holding open the door (though I may push it wide if that will mean they can catch it before it is close to slamming), but some people have been holding it open for me. Is it rude to wait for them to stop holding it since it is physically impossible to go through the door without being close to them?

Potentially relevant info: I’m male and make my decision to hold it open based on how practical it is for the other person to get through, regardless of perceived gender. Also, I work at an essential employer as an employee who physically cannot work from home, though my employer is very careful (gave us masks to use on campus, is preparing to test every single employee for COVID-19, switched to a team A/B schedule, etc.) and our county only has had a dozen confirmed cases, with testing capacity increasing constantly.

You can’t physically distance yourself if you’re holding a door for someone, so I would stop doing it for now. If you feel weird about that, you can always explain why you’re not (“I feel rude not holding the door, but I want to leave you some space”).

If someone holds the door for you, you can pause at least six feet away and say, “Oh, thank you! But I’ll let you go through first so we stay distanced.”

4. Calling out bigoted conversations as a volunteer

There’s been greater discussion at my work about resources and training on handling divisive conversation and microaggressions within the company, as well as a general push to be more open about what we hear, see, or experience. But I’ve been bothered for some time by a conversation I heard while volunteering at a workplace in the past year.

The conversation was between another volunteer (from a different volunteer group than me, who I knew in passing) and an employee. We were in an open office, though they were in a separate work area, maybe 20-25 feet away. The volunteer was wondering aloud in a can-you-believe-it way why someone got angry at them for asking about a trans person’s surgery, because it (paraphrased) “wasn’t a secret or anything.” The employee seemed to just be nodding it along. It was maybe five or six sentences exchanged total.

I felt very taken aback and angry hearing it, but I also tend to just mentally freeze or shut down in situations I find emotionally charged (I am working on this). The only saving grace of freezing was realizing that nothing I was prompted to say in the moment was appropriate, helpful, or — frankly — coherent.

Since then, I’ve been trying to rehearse ways to approach similar scenarios. But a lot of scripts focus on approaching peers or coworkers, and I still feel stymied thinking back on this because: I was a volunteer in someone else’s workplace, not an employee; the employee was letting it pass; and the conversation wasn’t directly next to me. Was there a good way to say something in the moment, or to approach the other volunteer, or anything else? Or is this an overreach?

Actually, being a volunteer gives you plenty of standing to say something! You’re there volunteering your time to help for free, and they presumably care about you returning. But you don’t really need “standing” to speak up on this kind of thing anyway — you get to say something regardless.

In this case, it might make sense to go with something like, “I couldn’t help but overhear you. I don’t think you’d want to unintentionally be rude, so I wanted to let you know that asking about a trans person’s surgery is considered rude and a violation regardless of how open they are about their transition.” (You could also use this if you approached the person later rather than in the moment.) But even just a “whoa, that’s not cool” can be enough to call out the issue and make it clear that their views aren’t as broadly acceptable as they seem to think.

5. Should I tell my manager about a bad online review about them?

I work for a large franchise, and I recently came across a negative review of the manager at our location, who is my boss. The review is not wrong about the manager’s behavior, such as being patronizing toward employees. I would like to think that if our manager knew about this review, it could lead to some self-reflection and improvement. Then again, an equally likely reaction might be to get defensive. Either way, if I read this review and it was about me, I would find it very hurtful so I don’t know what would be the best way to gently bring it to their attention. Or is it none of my business? I would think that the franchise would be monitoring these reviews and pass the feedback along, but judging by recent remarks directed from the manager to customers, that seems unlikely.

It’s currently the top/featured review on the website for our franchise, and it does single out our location so there is no question who it’s about.

Nah, it’s not yours to address. An exception could be if you’re this person’s second-in-command or in a similar role where you help manage the staff and you have a strong rapport with them and they’ve shown a willingness to self-reflect and admit mistakes in the past. But if that were the case, you wouldn’t need an online review to broach the conversation; you’d be able to bring your concerns up on your own.

It sounds like the review is accurate. If it’s something warning prospective employees about the manager (like Glassdoor), that’s a good thing.

{ 264 comments… read them below }

  1. Heidi*

    For LW1: “I should expect to see major changes in my employee professionally and personally…” That sounds…ambitious. I’m curious to know what major personal changes she’s going for with this employee. The way the LW describes it made it sound like the boss is Henry Higgins and the employee is Eliza Doolittle.

    1. Beta was better*

      I think it sounds like the boss thinks the OP wasn’t doing a good enough job with the assistant, who will now improve because of boss’s mentoring.

      1. Triplestep*

        Yes, but “personal” changes? Inca perfect world, you wouldn’t know a lot about how someone behaves in her personal life.

        1. Alex*

          True, but professional growth often begats personal growth, in my experience. It may just be OP’s boss’s phrasing too. I wouldn’t read too much into it personally.

          1. Heidi*

            I guess the boss might be referring to things like confidence or maturity, which would be both professional and personal growth. I think what struck me as unusual is the manner of stating these big, broad goals, like “watch me grow this beautiful flower out of this pile of dirt.” But that might be reading too much into it.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      made it sound like the boss is Henry Higgins and the employee is Eliza Doolittle

      *SNORT* Thank you for this!

    3. leapingLemur*

      “The way the LW describes it made it sound like the boss is Henry Higgins and the employee is Eliza Doolittle.” Yep.

  2. Courtney*

    re: LW#4 Alison’s scripts are great here, and something I should add to my vocabulary. My personal response would have been to start asking weird, creepy, and invasive questions about their genitals and if they got upset to say something like ‘oh, I thought you were ok with discussing genitals, seeing as you’re discussing X’s?’ Of course I’d only do this to their face. And probably get (rightfully, admittedly) reprimanded.

    1. Red Wheelbarrow*

      I remember, maybe a decade ago, reading a book by a trans activist who pointed out that asking about the state of someone’s transition surgery was asking about their genitals. Obvious as it seems, that hadn’t clicked until then. But it kept me safe from asking my trans friends that particular rude question!

      1. Courtney*

        I had a similar moment when in a group chat with some trans friends! They mentioned that people’s obsession with monitoring a non-relative child’s transition was an obsession with a child’s genitals. I hadn’t thought about it, especially because these friends of mine are very open about their surgeries and all the other transition procedures in our chat – I don’t ask, they volunteer the info, and I just provide moral support when they might need it. I’m a cis person, so I don’t get a say in their bodies and what is right for them :)

        1. A Silver Spork*

          I honestly don’t know of any reputable doctor who would perform bottom surgery on a minor – heck, it’s pretty rare to even get hormones before you’re 17-19. Transitioning, for a kid, is generally changing name/clothing/hair, and then puberty blockers once appropriate. Still, it’s not cool for strangers to monitor that, the same way it’s not cool to monitor someone’s weight or diet.

    2. 'Tis Me*

      I was going to suggest a startled “wow, not cool” tone and “Wait – you were asking somebody about their genitals and are surprised they shut that down? Why did you think that was any of your business? As general casual conversation do you ask women who’ve had babies detailed questions about episiotomies, tears and stitches? Men about their circumcision status? How haven’t you been reported to HR yet?!”

      1. Courtney*

        Much better language than what I would have used. Depending on power dynamics, this might also work for the LW

      2. Lancelottie*

        I was actually surprised how many people casually asked about my tearing and stitches after I gave birth; it gave me a much better understanding of what my trans friends and family go through. Since then I’m a lot more quick to break in with a, “Hey, that’s an incredibly invasive question, dont you think?” when it’s called for.

        1. Jopestus*

          Simply answer really detailed and preferably BS answers. You can even do it a game to test how much you can feed them. People somehow stop asking if you do that.

        2. Tyche*

          One of my friends had a planned cesarean for her third child. Her friend asked her, on facebook, if the doctor was going to tie her tubes at the same time. Some people know no boundaries.

          1. AKchic*

            Some people seem to think that asking family planning questions are appropriate no matter what. After the birth of my 3rd and 4th kids, I was outright asked if I’d been “fixed” yet. Publicly. By the 4th, I started answering with “is the doctor planning to remove your foot from your mouth, or your head from your @ss?” and a pointed stare.

            Apparently, women and their uteri are community property, therefore all and sundry must not only weigh in, but need to hold a public forum on the topic.

          2. JSPA*

            It’s something of a political question, and a practical one, as the cost / billing are very different from one insurer or provider to another. Some will do both together (which can be safer as well as cheaper), others insist you go under anesthesia / under the knife twice. So the “will the doctor” doesn’t necessarily mean, “of course you want this.” It can literally mean, “is that particular doctor willing or not willing to do the procedures together.”

            This can very simply be answered with, “it wasn’t relevant in my case, so I didn’t ask. Feel free to enquire yourself, if you need to know.”

            1. Avasarala*

              Why would someone ask if a friend’s doctor also provides other medical services? It’s not a practical question at all. If the friend is looking for a doctor then she can ask privately instead of on Facebook.

              Friend has no need to give any information, including “it wasn’t relevant in my case”=”no”. It’s rude and impertinent regardless.

      3. Unajomsea*

        But it can be confusing. People who are reproducing in vivo are happy to share pictures of the vessel containing said progeny. If people openly give updates on the status of the internal organs of their reproductive system, others might not know where the line is.

        Always best to wait for the subject in question to initiate the conversation. If they don’t, you don’t get to ask.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          No, not all pregnant people share like you say. This formerly pregnant person did not.

          1. kt*

            Yeah, I didn’t share any of that. Most people didn’t even know I was pregnant until 4 months. That was fine.

        2. Aquawoman*

          I have to disagree here on a couple counts. Pregnant people may share sonograms but they’re really sharing pictures of the baby, not the uterus. Given that, it doesn’t even “open the door” to questions about the uterus, let alone other parts. And if someone doesn’t know where the line is, they should assume it’s set to the most private setting.

        3. BethDH*

          I have been pregnant and didn’t show those pictures widely, even at work. Also, that’s like saying that when you show someone a picture of you where your chest is visible you’re inviting them to talk about your breasts. Something being present — visually or as an aspect of the conversation — is not the same as it being the focus of the conversation. If someone mentioned having breast cancer would you feel entitled to ask about whether they would have reconstruction surgery?

        4. BethDH*

          I have been pregnant and didn’t show those pictures widely, even at work. Also, that’s like saying that when you show someone a picture of you where your chest is visible you’re inviting them to talk about your breasts. Something being present — visually or as an aspect of the conversation — is not the same as it being the focus of the conversation. If someone mentioned having breast cancer would you feel entitled to ask about whether they would have reconstruction surgery?

        5. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Removed a long off-topic thread here about language. (And yes, the language here was gross but we don’t need a 21-comment thread about it.)

        6. EventPlannerGal*

          I don’t think those things are really comparable or likely to cause confusion except among people looking for an excuse to ask. The fact that some (by no means all) expectant parents are happy to share ultrasounds does not mean that the gates are open to ask any and all questions about your coworkers‘ reproductive systems, and I don’t know who would believe that it does.

        7. Observer*

          This kind of thing is not QUITE as common as you seem to think.

          If someone wants to get into that level of detail, they usually make it pretty clear. You don’t ask people those kinds of questions unless they have made it clear that they are open. It is VERY different to be open about the fact of surgery (and with pregnancy, after a certain point it’s often not a choice anyway), and being open about details.

        8. Tyche*

          No, it isn’t confusing. It’s inappropriate to ask people what’s going on with their bodies full stop. Some people are comfortable sharing everything, but this shouldnt be assumed.

          Look at it this way. Some people are very open about their infertility. Other people are very private and the innocent question of when they’re having kids triggers them. Would you point to those who are open and say, it’s confusing because these people are so open, why can’t you be more like them.

          The second part of your comment is spot on. It’s always best to not ask invasive questions (even ones that are considered normal in other situations). If people want you to know, they will usually tell you.

        9. JSPA*

          The line on internal organs and the line on genitals (and boobs) is, for whatever societal reasons, actually quite distinct. (Probably because most people don’t have a uterus fetish any more than they have a gall bladder fetish or an ascending aorta fetish. At least, I hope not.)

          I happen to think it should be OK to talk about pretty much any body part, with other fully consenting coworkers, in a medically-relevant way. But that sort of thing has to be ENTIRELY opt-in, by all parties. Some people are effectively grossed out by bodies / by people being “made of meat” / by knowing that there’s any biology going on inside our curated external shell. That has to be respected, not poked at.

      4. T2*

        This is another reason why my strict separation policy between my personal and professional lives works so well for me. I am never motivated to even consider getting into such a discussion in any form.

        I deal with people as they are, with absolutely no consideration for how they live outside of work. I simply do not care.

        I know that seems harsh, but I am a private person, and to discuss mine or anyone else’s personal life invites discussion. And discussion invites judgement. And judgement breeds contempt. It is soooooo much better not even going down that road.

        1. Avasarala*

          Discussion also invites camaraderie, and and camaraderie invites life fulfillment and satisfaction.

      5. JSPA*

        People do ask all kinds of rude things, post pregnancy, though. Which also can be called out.

        I can see someone asking, “how did the surgery go” in the same way they’d ask about any other surgery, without thinking through the implications.

        Doubling down on “I need to know the details of your genital situation” instead of, “Oh, I meant, if that’s not too personal, but of course it’s personal, sorry, I wasn’t thinking” is what’s more problematic.

    3. JamieS*

      If you ever actually do that in real life could you record and upload it for viewing? Pretty sure it’d go down in history as the first instance of internet Billy Badassery someone actually followed through on and I, and I’m sure many others, would like to see history being made.

      1. Courtney*

        I have been known to make similar comments before! Less so in a work setting, which I tend to fall along the lines of ‘oh no! A rich person has to pay tax! How on earth will they go on?!’ (I work for an accountant, and the number of people on 500k a year who complain about paying tax astounds me. And I will only make the comments to my boss, never to a clients face)

      2. Via Vanna*

        what a very peculiar thing to say. Are you OK?

        It sounds like maybe you are surrounded by people who do not speak up. Perhaps that’s personal, perhaps it’s cultural. But just so you know, there are plenty of us out here who do speak up, who do confront these people, who are “badasses”, as you put it, out here in the world. I’m so sorry your life experiences haven’t allowed you to encounter any of us, and I dearly hope you will have the opportunity to learn and grow in your life by finding some of us to broaden your horizons.

        If not, perhaps you’ll at least grow out of the passive aggressive weirdness. We can but hope!

        1. Jack be Nimble*

          I actually really agree with JamieS, here! I don’t think Courtney’s script is realistic, practical, or actually helpful to trans people. Standing up for yourself doesn’t require an Epic Clapback! and it’s pretty disingenuous to assume to act as if the only way one could speak up in this circumstance is by being really weird and cementing the initial offender’s assumption that trans people and their allies are completely unreasonable.

          I’m trans. If you’re a cis person who wants to be an ally, that kind of aggressive, performative clapback is the furthest thing from helpful.

          1. GD375*

            I totally agree with this. This kind of badassery just doesn’t work and it should be called out. If someone genuinely wants to advocate for better treatment of members of the trans community, there are much more effective communication strategies.

            1. Courtney*

              Hi there, this it totally fair feedback which I understand and appreciate. My style has worked in other instances (mostly sexism) but I see your point and I will take that on board and use less aggressive language in the future. Thanks for helping me learn :)

          2. JSPA*

            Some people have the sort of style that lets them float even lines like that lightly, as they pass by–more a nettle sting than a whack upside the head. I can’t do it…but I recognize that it can be done. Depends on context and culture. What floats vs clunks at a tattoo parlor vs corporate HQ, or in Portland vs Oklahoma City, differ.

        2. JamieS*

          First, I don’t need anyone else to speak up for me. Second, I actually would let to see someone actually do whatever badass thing they say they’d do on the internet in real life. Third, someone claiming they’d ask blatantly inappropriate questions to another, especially at work or a work context, is extremely unlikely to be telling the truth and if they are they’re the exception. Regardless claims of internet badassery of ‘what I would have done’ aren’t particularly helpful but are incredibly common.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          I think this comment is really quite passive aggressive itself, actually, so I’m surprised that you see that in JamieS’s comment. And I think there is a big difference between speaking up, which many people do very successfully, and coming up with amazing snarky shutdowns online, which IRL most people simply will not use or will be perceived as bizarrely OTT. Not liking the latter does not mean that they don’t know anyone who does the former, or indeed that they don’t do it themselves.

      3. Joielle*

        Ha! Yes. “My response would have been” is unhelpful. You have no idea what your response would have been, so let’s focus on productive suggestions instead.

        Also, this particular response (sexually harassing someone?) is terrible. Do not talk about someone’s genitals with the intent to embarass them, ever. This should not need to be said.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, that concerned me. “I’m just doing what they did” flies on reddit, but not in a workplace.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      No it’s not a secret, but it’s still private. I look at it like pregnancy…you shouldn’t ask someone at work to tell you details of how she got pregnant. But it’s her prerogative to maybe volunteer that she went through IVF.
      My trans friends? I’m neither their doctor nor their tailor, so I get to ignore everything their clothing covers.

    5. Thankful for AAM*

      Re #4, I love Alison’s script, especially the “I could not help overhearing” part. I’d add, as others here point out, WHY conversations about a person’s transition surgery are invasive. It is invasive to ask questions about someone’s genitals or to ask detailed questions about anyone’s surgery beyond, I hope you are feeling better from the surgery.

      And I would add that curiosity about what the surgery is and how it is done migjt be natural, you can do the work to learn about that online rather than expect the person to be Dr. Google for you.

    6. Traffic_Spiral*

      You don’t even have to get that aggressive about it if you don’t want to. A simple shrug and a “yeah, we don’t talk about people’s genitals at work,” or “come on, man, don’t ask about people’s junk” will do the trick.

      1. Pescadero*

        This is much better – for two reasons:

        1) Less aggressive while getting the same point across
        2) Don’t ask questions you don’t want answered

        In terms of #2 – I’ve known people who were absolutely comfortable with discussing their genitals in any company, anywhere.

    7. Jack be Nimble*

      I’m transgender and have had to shut down invasive questions about surgery before, and if you’re a cis person trying to be an ally, please don’t respond by interrogatinig the offender about their own genitals.

      Answering rudeness with rudeness in this instance is pretty unlikely to actually make the person realize they’re in the wrong, it’s just going to cement their impression that trans people and trans allies are unreasonable.

      I think it’s enough, as another commenter said, to say something like “it’s usually considered pretty rude to ask people about their genitals” or “why would you ask about someone’s junk?”

      1. Anonish*

        “Answering rudeness with rudeness in this instance is pretty unlikely to actually make the person realize they’re in the wrong, it’s just going to cement their impression that trans people and trans allies are unreasonable.”

        Agreed! Glad you said this.

  3. Katrinka*

    For LW1, I’m trying to figure out the company structure. The employee in question reports to the LW but is the Boss’ assistant? That seems like an odd setup.

    1. Mike Hall*

      Sometimes you get people management arrangements like that. I’ve seen it with EAs, operations specialists, project managers, etc. It didn’t seem weird to me: there’s no point in having an extra layer of work management, extra communications, etc. but the senior person shouldn’t be tied down people managing specialists.

      I had an ops team like that: they reported to me, I managed check-ins, 1:1s, career development conversations, etc. as well as managing their overall capacity, but they supported the business unit’s VP a substantial amount of the time.

        1. Project Manager*

          Six people assign me tasks on a regular basis. (I am still a PM, but it’s the least significant of my three official roles at this point.) None of them supervise me. My supervisor does assign tasks as well, but it’s pretty rare; in fact, he usually has no clue what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. I use the terms “supervisor” and “technical leads” if I need to refer to the relationship (like if I’m telling my mom a work story). I basically never refer to a singular person as “my boss” because the term doesn’t seem to fit any of them.

    2. Lynca*

      They stated they were in a government agency and not a company. Some government agencies have a separate administrative office that provides all the admins for an agency. So the admins report to a different manager chain- but are supporting other directors/offices/etc. within the larger agency.

      1. doreen*

        I’ve seen something like that ( in government agencies) – but the different chain the admins “reported” to was only involved in certain issues. They approved time off , because they had to make sure there was coverage. They possibly determined who needed training and arranged for it. But as far as assigning and evaluating work, that was all done by the person being supported , with the admin reporting chain perhaps weighing in on some issues ( such as attendance) on performance evaluations. But that doesn’t sound like what Alison is talking about.

  4. Coverage Associate*

    We don’t have a washing machine. My husband is a stickler for separating colors. Sometimes we don’t get a full load of the colors he least likes to wash for over a month.

    I would either be hand washing masks (on company time) or they would have to give me dozens.

    1. Avasarala*

      Along those lines, OP do you have only one uniform (the clothing part)? If the company gives you multiple shirts but only one mask that’s a weird line to draw. And if you provide your own clothing (white shirt black pants type thing) then it shouldn’t matter if you have the exact same mask or not.

      And if you have one item of clothing to wear every day, you can still push back on the mask part for hygienic reasons during a conTINUING PANDEMIC IN CASE YOU’VE FORGOTTEN!!! (Some people seem to have forgotten)

      1. PTBNL*

        LW2 here. We don’t have a uniform, just a business casual dress code. This is a regular office, nothing public facing where uniformity should matter either.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          From a glass wearing person, one mask is not enough to get through the day. The moisture from just breathing steams my glasses and my masks are wet and need to be switched out sooner than later. Why not go with the three model? One mask on, one mask clean, one mask in the wash? Personally, I can see people forgetting or losing their masks or not bothering to wash them every night.

          1. WorkingGirl*

            Even three really isn’t enough. If you don’t have laundry in your home, and rely on laundromats, no way will you be doing laundry multiple times throughout the week.

        2. blackcat*

          I’d talk to coworkers and push back together, suggesting that either masks without text or plain solid color masks be explicitly allowed.

          My husband goes through 2 masks/day when he is in the office. We have 8 masks of one design that is comfortable for all day wear (ties behind the head vs on the ears), and I’m planning to make a few more.

        3. violet04*

          How is the company going to enforce this? Is the mask police going to watch every person to make sure they have a company issued mask? If they don’t wear the company provided one, what type of disciplinary action is going to take place?

          Sorry you have to deal with this. It sounds so annoying. I feel like I would just wear my own mask to see if anyone even notices.

          1. Alli525*

            Yeah, I agree. Management is obviously not going to confiscate any non-company-issue masks, and they’d be incredibly stupid (penny-foolish AND pound-foolish) to send someone home because they’re wearing their own mask.

        4. kittymommy*

          Did they give a reason why they’re mandating this specific one? The only thing I can think of is that maybe they’re concerned with the quality/protection level of the different masks???

          1. Megan*

            I was wondering if it was a quality control thing. But then they need to fork out for more masks for each employee if that’s their concern

        5. kt*

          I gotta say… I did a lot of research on cloth masks back in March as my spouse is a healthcare worker, the hospital had a shortage of PPE, and people were proposing dumb-ass ideas like “you don’t need PPE if no one is coughing” (which they actually tried, then halted, as 9 healthcare workers went out on quarantine within 2 days and they realized they couldn’t sustain this for even a week).

          There is not enough good research on cloth masks, but what’s out there indicates that 1) cloth masks help, if 2) they’re not moist and you launder them regularly. The one study that is used to *discourage* cloth masks (A cluster randomised trial of cloth masks compared with medical masks in healthcare workers, MacIntyre et al) gave healthcare workers in a hospital a mask a day (5 masks a week) and asked them to launder the masks themselves; this didn’t work as well in preventing respiratory illness as using 2 surgical masks/day or the ‘control’ of ‘wear surgical or cloth whenever you want’. This is no surprise, given that “wear a single cloth mask for your whole shift” would pretty clearly be worse than “switch out your surgical mask for a clean one during your shift”, but the paper does raise the point that wearing a single cloth mask for 8 hours leads to fabric moistness and decreased effectiveness, and possibly (but no one ever has studied this!) stewing in your own germs a little too much — this probably depends on the mask design and if your nose drips, etc.

          Good luck in pushing back against your company. I’m pro-masks-if-you-don’t-want-illness-spreading-through-your-office. I also think it’s important to follow the evidence that we have, and swap out cloth masks every 4 hours or when moist, if possible, seems concordant with that evidence.

          1. Dahlia*

            The point of cloth masks isn’t to prevent you getting infected, it’s to protect others from you, and it has been shown to aid in that.

        6. Curmudgeon in California*

          Then I personally think the one, company-issued mask is idiotic.

          Here’s why:

          1. Often one can only wear a mask for a couple hours before it’s soggy. A cautious plan for in office specifies having 4 or 5 per day.
          2. Not all cloth masks are created equal. Ones issued by a company for “uniformity” are likely to be cheap and poorly made. A mask that can take an additional filter is preferable.
          3. Some masks have loops that go around the ears, others have ties or elastic that goes around the head. The ear loops ones are often painful after less than an hour. Hospital people have “mask keepers” to help keep the loops off of their ears.
          4. Masks actually have sizes, especially the shaped/fitted ones. The most common size is 5.5″ (measured in inches from bridge of nose to just under the chin). But many people have masks that just don’t fit, especially if they have big noses, long faces, or beards. “One size fits all” doesn’t.
          5. There are about 4 basic types: accordion (pleats), shaped (like a cup), veil (hangs down from the nose), and neck gaiter (pulled up from around the neck.) Some people literally can’t wear some types because of sensory/breathing issues.

          Insisting on only company issued masks in a non-public, non-uniformed environment is bizarre. Yes, the company should be able to specify a minimum standard (i.e. 2 layers, full nose and mouth covered), but insisting everyone wear identical issued masks is like insisting that everyone sit in identical chairs. While it may give the regimentation enthusiasts something to revel in, it doesn’t accomplish the goal of enabling productive work safely.

        7. Avasarala*

          Wow. Then why the F do you need to have uniform masks???? Why does that part need to be the same but everything else can be different???

          I guess if you could answer that you wouldn’t be writing in though.

    2. Honeytwister*

      Reusable masks tend to be hand-wash only.

      But it’s ridiculous that employees can’t wear their preferred masks. The disposable ones from my company make it difficult for me to get a good seal, so if I want to wear one I wear my own. No one cares. I wonder what the motive is of the bosses to demand this.

      1. allathian*

        And there’s some anecdata out that you need to change cloth masks at least every few hours or so, or at least every time you take the mask off to eat or drink for it to be effective. Is the company banning people from eating and drinking at the office?

        1. PTBNL*

          Nope. They have said masks must be worn when not eating or drinking. Knowing the people in my office I’m sure a number of them will just pull the mask down to drink their morning coffee and leave it like that all day. On a related note I will say communication about policies generally has been awful; this mask policy has been the only distribution.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            It sounds almost like they copied and pasted it off a website somewhere, because it really doesn’t seem any thought went into it.

            I’m a really abrasive former virologist though so I’d probably say ‘I’ll use your company-issued masks but only for company-issued viruses. Covid gets effective masks’

            (Humour. Please don’t do anything that’ll risk yourself. I say carry on using your own masks, since they sound far safer than what your firm has dreamt up)

            1. Name (Required)*

              I like that answer. Turns out former company got masks for anyone they didn’t lay off…company branded but they don’t actually fit over mouth and nose at once (so…useless). This sounds like something former company would do for a “fun” social media post. smh

              I agree with the consensus: push back and be firm about it. And if you have to wait for an answer just wear your own masks in the name of safety and comfort.

          2. Chance of thunderstorm*

            What your company says and how it actually plays out are likely going to be two very different things. Take your own masks to work and wear whatever makes you comfortable. Hey, at least you will be wearing a mask and it sounds like you are fully cognizant if workplace norms and your masks are work appropriate. Mine have bees or Harry Potter. Not sure how those would fly in an office.

            1. Jaid*

              I got one that are covered in rainbows with butts. But one would have to be in my face to notice the butts…

              1. JustaTech*

                “If you can see that the rainbows have butts you’re too close.”

                Mine are all left over quilting fabric, nothing exciting but all some kind of print (including bees).

              2. A Silver Spork*

                Okay, I have to know: were the butts intentionally made to be butts, or were they intended as clouds that… don’t look particularly cloudlike? I want to make sure I’m imagining this correctly!

                1. Jaid*

                  They are curved rainbows with clouds on the ends. The middle has the butt shape in it. I got it off of It is called Rainbow Butt and the designer is Brian Cook. There’s t-shirts etc with the design..

                  Further research shows a taco butt, a donut butt, one of Baby Yoda scratching his butt…

                2. JustaTech*

                  @ Jaid: Oh, my cousins all got mask by that guy for their kids! Because what kid doesn’t want to have a taco with a butt on their face?

                3. A Silver Spork*

                  OMG, I looked him up and spent the last few minutes laughing. Dude found his niche and is rocking it! Butts everywhere!

      2. WellRed*

        I’d verify that it even came from a boss person. Could be HR or admin with strange ideas.

        1. PTBNL*

          Definitely came from a senior enough person. We have been told there are committees working on all aspects of setting up the office (and if this policy is any indication…) My boss and I have talked about how annoying it is but I don’t think he will ever push back.

          When the policy came out, I thought maybe they were N95 masks or wanted to make sure some other health standard was being followed and asked; nope, the response was they want us all looking the same.

          1. EPLawyer*

            Which is stupid. Because as you said there isn’t a uniform, so obviously you don’t all dress the same and you definitely don’t all look the same unless your office is full of clones.

            Most people identify others by facial recognition (yes I know face blindness is a thing). Masks cover most of the face. You need individualized masks to be able to tell Lucinda from Cersei. Just add to to the dress code what standards should be used for masks. Much simpler than ONE mask per person generic.

            True story — I recently misplaced my husband in a grocery store. A not uncommon occurrence we tend to squirrel. The only way I found him again amongst all the OTHER middle aged white guys wearing masks was by his mask — the nice motorcycle fabric one I made him.

      3. Wired Wolf*

        The restaurant servers where I work are being given branded masks; the ear-loop ones that I’ve already heard people complaining about. I don’t think they’re fitted and we don’t have suitable facilities for mask-washing. For everyone else they’re providing surgical masks–they may well have sourced them before everything went sideways, but I can’t wear them for a few reasons: my glasses fog up within seconds, if I’ll be doing any talking at all ear-loop masks don’t stay on and they’re just uncomfortable. I have a washable head-strap mask.

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        Reusable masks tend to be hand-wash only.

        Really? We machine wash ours, cold, and dryer or line dry. But I make them to tolerate that.

        Construction matters on a cloth mask. It’s no good if your mask falls apart after a few washings, since you need to wash it after each wearing.

        1. Honeytwister*

          Have two types of reusable masks – reusable but not forever. One (N95 equivalent) needs to be (hand) washed after each use, as stated by the manufacturer. The other (N99 equivalent) needs to be (hand) washed but only when visibly dirty, as stated by the manufacturer. Both manufacturers categorically say “no washing machine/tumble dryer”. So although they are of very quality with regard to blocking SARS-CoV-2, they cannot withstand the washing that yours can. You made yours well.

    3. Triplestep*

      There are plenty of reasons the company’s mask policy is not great, but washing is not one of them. When I enter the house I wash my hands immediately, along with whatever cotton mask I happen to have on using the hottest water and a clean plastic food container. (Think Tupperware.) I squeeze it out well and then squeeze it again in a clean paper towel. It hangs dry in about an hour. You certainly don’t need a washing machine! (For anyone looking to sterilize, do a net search about placing in your oven to dry.)

      LW#2, I would assume you’ll get pushback on the washing reasoning and go with “fit” instead. An ill-fitting mask is less effective. And more uncomfortable which would be distracting. I suspect management would be more open to considering those issues than washing which doesn’t need to be complicated.

      1. Hekko*

        I handwash with soap (soap destroys viruses), sterilise with a steam iron and let dry. I’ve been doing it this way since mid-March when face masks became obligatory in Czechia and we didn’t get sick. Another recommended way is to sterilise the cloth masks by boiling them for five minutes.

        During the first two months, I went through three to four masks a day, depending on how many people were in the office (I was usually alone for at least half the day).

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        The time cotton takes to dry will vary greatly depending on weather… speaking from experience line drying laundry.

        1. Justme, the OG*

          Yes. I’m in the US South and it’s summer and nothing dries in a timely manner.

        2. kt*

          Yeah… when it’s 80% humidity with no breeze it’ll take a bit longer… no AC in this house!

            1. Avasarala*

              Still going to take more than an hour… the moisture has to evaporate into the humid air.

        3. Glitsy Gus*

          Agreed. I live on the coast and even a pair of cotton socks can take a full day when the fog is in, like it is now. A mask is usually mostly dry overnight, but no guarantee on that, it’s often still a little damp in the morning. Since I have to go to a laundromat, I can’t throw it in the dryer to speed things up.

          I have a rotation going, which so far works OK since I mainly just pop out to the market or whatever, I’m not back in my office yet. There is no way I could be sure I’d be able to use the same mask everyday for 8 hours in my climate.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        The few cloth masks we have have taken longer than several hours to dry completely hanging up inside. I switched to disposable ones because I really didn’t have the energy to wash stuff every day. Humid weather bites.

        1. PTBNL*

          Yes! COULD I wash the masks every day? Sure. Honestly, I just don’t have the energy. Someone else also mentioned the good fit for glasses; this is another issue for me. I found my handful of masks that have the right seal to wear with glasses and I’m skeptical this mask will work the same way.

      4. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I was a little surprised to see the objection to washing because I do the same thing. My partner and I have two regularly used masks each, which we hand wash every time we get home after wearing them. Hot water, soap, hang dry. We’re still working from home so that works well for us, but when the time comes to go back to the office we’ll probably get a few more cloth masks and keep doing the same thing.

        Yes, you should be changing your mask several times a day, but if I were in your position I would feel comfortable washing masks at the office and leaving them to dry. No machine necessary.

      5. Koala dreams*

        Wouldn’t you need to wash it at work after the lunch break? Now I’m imagining a line of people in front of the bathroom, waiting to hand wash their masks in the sink, then the office is full of drying masks and people argue about which masks belong to who…

        Or should you take it on after lunch without cleaning it?

      6. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        I’m glad that hand washing your mask after every use works for you, but that wouldn’t work for me and I’m sure many others. There’s already enough things to clean and wash (and kids to teach and remind to wash their hands and etc) and etc. I would much rather have the choice spend the money (or one-time investment of quality time with the sewing machine) to get a set of 5 or more machine washable masks for the workweek.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I make masks in batches of six for that very reason. If it wasn’t for the fact that I also have a day job, I’d put them up for sale.

    4. Mannheim Steamroller*

      To cut down the washing to once per week, I line the inside of my fabric mask with a coffee filter. Then the “spittle” gets on the filter (disposable and very inexpensive) rather than the mask.

      1. PTBNL*

        I didn’t think of this, thank you! I did think about wearing the company mask over MY mask (so I could keep something fresh and change out throughout the day) but quickly decided that would be too uncomfortable for a variety of reasons.

      2. vampire physicist*

        The issue with that is there can still be particles on the outside of the mask, and unless you are absolutely flawless about not touching your mask/washing your hands every single time you touch it (which you might be), this can still spread COVID. While spit on the inside of the mask is definitely a reason to wash it, that’s mostly just going to re-expose you to whatever you’re breathing out.
        Don’t get me wrong – a coffee filter’s not a bad idea – but fabric masks need to either be washed or left for several days untouched before reuse, regardless of lining. This company needs to provide several masks or permit people to wear their own masks to facilitate that.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Yup– a lot of the reasons to wash your mask are the same reasons to wash your hands. You get so much stuff on the outside of the mask, especially if you touch it. Like washing a drinking glass– you wash the spit off of it but also the fingerprints.

          As far as I know (and as far as I do), hand-washing doesn’t have to be a long process and requires hot water and soap or lots of agitation and soap. The drying is the most time-consuming part.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, I handwash mine because I don’t want to wait until the next laundry day (besides, one of mine accidentally went through a full wash and dry cycle and I feel that it made the mask shrink). But there’s no way I could get through a work day in an office with just one, either. OP’s office is making a ridiculous requirement, and giving a ridiculous explanation for it (WHY would they need for “everyone to look the same”, when everyone does not *already* look the same (no uniform) and nobody would notice it either way (not a customer-facing job)? I’m getting a feeling that they want to be, I don’t know, make sure they receive a sufficient amount of gratitude from their staff for providing the masks? Might as well not provide them if it comes with this kind of strings attached (I agree with OP that masks will get mixed up, and that just defeats the purpose of a mask.)

    6. juliebulie*

      Is OP sure the company isn’t providing disposable masks? Maybe they left that little factoid out of their overview? My employer is providing disposable masks, 1 per day.

      1. PTBNL*

        Yup. I asked because our industry taking PPE would (IMO) look pretty tone deaf. I was told cloth masks.

        1. Honeytwister*

          So sorry. :(

          But I think when people realise one mask/wash daily is not easy to sustain, policy may change and practicality will win.

  5. K*

    Huh. I am surprised at Alison’s answer about holding doors. Where I am (about 3-4 weeks “ahead” of the US on the pandemic curve — it just means we’ve had it longer), holding the door is basically sacred. It avoids having a second (or third, or fourth) person touch the door and spread the germs! Then again, masks are mandatory here, so while they don’t replace social distancing, we do have one more layer of protection.

    1. RoseDark*

      Same. Maintaining physical distance is about being in proximity for minutes or more (like waiting in line or tables at a restaurant), not so much about passing by someone for a few seconds. Opening a door and stepping back to allow them to go first, or going through a door and then stepping around it to hold it for them, is not a dangerous thing to do. And as you said, the fewer people actually touching the thing, the better. Frankly it’s probably safer to do the no-contact door-holding passby than to grab a door handle someone else has just touched.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Interesting. I’m assuming no hand contact with the door — that people should be opening doors with elbows. shoulders, hips, or so forth. And I just wouldn’t want to get close enough to someone holding the door for me. Wouldn’t do it. Maybe that’s out of sync with the data.

        1. JKP*

          In my office building, all the interior doors are regular twist door knobs, so no way to open them without using hands. The bathroom doors all require a key and twist knob, so basically need 2 hands. Opening doors with elbows, hips, etc require swing doors.

          1. acmx*

            The interiors doors should be propped open (they don’t sound like they are fire doors since they have regular knobs).

            The bathroom doors are OK. Use a paper towel when you exit. Leave them unlocked so the key isn’t needed to be cleaned.

            1. JKP*

              Not possible. It’s a large building with many separate businesses on each floor. Most/Many of the businesses are therapy/medical related which require privacy and keeping the doors closed. The bathroom doors are permanently locked by the landlord, no way to leave them unlocked. I recently moved to this building, but my previous building was also setup this way. It seems to be how the older office buildings around here are setup. I only see the swing type doors that you can open with an elbow or hipcheck in the retail stores. I do use paper towel when exiting the bathroom and clean the key anytime I notice someone has returned it. I hold the door open for people coming in behind me rather than have them touch the knob, and I use hand sanitizer once I’ve passed through all the doors to get to my office.

    2. LW3*

      Interesting. I’ve always been quite the germaphobe, but I’ve never been afraid of touching a surface that harbors something infectious (unless the surface is otherwise dangerous, e.g. sharp, or has something that would absorb through skin or infect a cut). I figured just expanding my model of washing hands between untrusted surfaces and my face/trusted surfaces would work, but I guess being willing to touch several surfaces I wouldn’t trust in a row might be a hole in my attempted strategy of slightly reducing germs in but minimizing germs out. Maybe I need to add a third layer of “surfaces I don’t trust but others might not be sufficiently careful about” to fit with my strategy.

      I’ll have to think about implementing this in a way that won’t cause more fights with my partner than necessary. (She’s one who will make a sandwich right on a counter that hasn’t been washed since cracking eggs for breakfast, and her mental health suffers when she can’t see her family or friends, so it’s been a struggle. I can afford to pick my battles due to low transmission here, at least.)

      1. WellRed*

        I’m also less concerned about touching surfaces than I am about walking into someone’s air space so have felt the same about people holding doors.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        You could “catch” the door with your foot. I have found I can do that sometimes.

        But mostly what I do is thank the person warmly and just say, “I’ll let you go through first, so we can keep our distance.” This works if they are in the reverse direction of travel from me.

    3. LGC*

      It’s not sacred in the US, but it’s still not uncommon around me! But I’m from the NYC area, and we’re clearly past peak Corona Time.

      It might be location dependent, though. We have a huge outbreak around NYC, but we’ve also had a chain of smaller outbreaks nationwide (it seems like LA is the current major hot zone, from what I’ve heard), and…if I remember correctly, Alison is from the DC area, which had a later peak.

      But yeah, while I’m not surprised by the answer, I don’t fully agree with it. Don’t spend all day holding doors for people, but current evidence shows that momentary contact is very low risk.

      1. Alli525*

        Tiny nitpick – the NYC area is past its peak of the FIRST wave. I live in the city too and I’m convinced we’ll see a significant second wave soon due to the protests, and I’ve seen epidemiologists predict another wave when cold & flu season starts up again.

        1. JSPA*

          I’m not particularly comfortable using “the protests” as shorthand. This

          a) ignores the cumulatively effects of all the other, economically- and politically-motivated “opening” activities in areas where there’s clearly no medical mandate to relax (and that cities around the globe with no protests are already seeing an uptick in cases with the easing of restrictions)

          b) may be taken to imply that the protesters themselves (despite the majority of them doing their level best to mask and to distance) are to blame for being herded together, being forced to cough and tear and puke and drool on each other, or for being rounded up and de-masked and forced to sit together, bare–faced, for hours, in the very enclosed space of vans and holding cells. None of those things are an automatic outcome of “protests.” They’re a chosen response.

          1. Avasarala*

            This. Let’s not forget there were protests *about lockdowns and coronavirus* before there were protests about racism and police brutality.

            And many doctors and statisticians have said that racism kills more people than COVID.

      2. JSPA*

        Past the FIRST peak, anyway. There’s nothing magic about bending the curve down once; no area in the world has reached any substantial level of herd immunity.

    4. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “holding the door is basically sacred. It avoids having a second (or third, or fourth) person touch the door and spread the germs!”

      Great point. I hadn’t thought of that.

      1. leapingLemur*

        But if you touch the door, you can wash your hands afterwards. You can’t do much about being that close to people, even with masks.

      2. Dahlia*

        The droplets that person is breathing are more dangerous though. They haven’t even established covid-19 spreads by contact with surfaces.

        1. JSPA*

          We know that a wide range of respiratory viruses, many of which have lower persistence on surfaces, are easily spread if you don’t wash your hands after touching contaminated surfaces. We know this because it’s considered ethical and permissible to knowingly infect people, in controlled studies, to show that this is so. We can’t (and shouldn’t) do that with Covid-19, for really obvious reasons.

          So….it’s a trick question, frankly. There are relatively few people who have meaningful surface contact risk, while demonstrably not having air contact risks. And hand washing is very effective. So long as people are washing their hands well, and not picking their noses or rubbing their eyes or biting their cuticles before washing, the surface contact risk is low. That’s probably not because surface transmissibility is low, but because hand washing really works.

    5. No Longer Working*

      I was surprised that neither the OP nor Alison took masks into account.

      If both people are wearing masks, they are within 6 feet of each other for only a moment if you hold the door with your arm outstretched, same as they would be if they were passing each other in the hall. Seems acceptable to me since the rule is to wear a mask if you are within 6 feet.

      If only one or neither are wearing masks, I agree, no door holding.

        1. JSPA*

          That’s not quite so. The guidance varies from country to country, but it’s

          a) stay 6 feet* apart whenever possible, insofar as possible, inside or outside
          *or 2 meters, or in some places, 1.5 meters (but unclear if 1.5 is really adequate)

          b) wear a mask if you might be temporarily in closer proximity or in more enclosed areas

          c) avoid generating aerosols

          Some cities and states and a few countries have mandated both masks AND six feet distancing, but that’s not the standard guidance from health services, nor the norm.

          It’s certainly wise to add a margin of error (and a significant margin, for longer contact in enclosed spaces). But that’s more relevant for, “hay fever symptoms at 8 feet,” not “sitting on the porch 20 feet away from any passers-by.”

          What’s not Ok is, “I’m wearing a mask, so let’s go back to shaking hands, high-fiving, hugging and nightclubbing.” The mask is risk reduction for accidental / unavoidable closer contact, not magic fairy license to glom together.

      1. JSPA*

        You have to pass in the hall, or you’re both stuck. That meets the “times you CANNOT maintain distance” criterion.

        You don’t have to get close holding the door; you choose to do that, to be sociable.

        The mask is intended as insurance for when you cannot keep distance. It’s unlikely to be adequate if people start to “slippery-slope” the many times it might be more congenial (or comfortable, or normal) to get closer.

        We literally don’t know what we can get away with.

        Holding a door might be one person’s mark of civilized society / risk to willingly take. But it’s not something we should “define as safe.”

    6. Thankful for AAM*

      I’ll take touching a handle and washing my hands over walking closely to someone any day. Also, my son 3d printed a door opener thing so I dont have to touch the handle at all if I cannot wash immediately.

    7. Oh No She Di'int*

      Right. This is from the CDC website: “COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet) for a prolonged period” (emphasis added). They used to explicitly state that simply walking by someone at a normal rate of speed presents minimal risk. But it looks as though the website has been overhauled.

      However, a certain amount of safety theatre is in order right now. Being extra cautious about how or if you hold a door open communicates that you are conscientious of health concerns in a general way and that you’re taking things seriously, even if there may not be much in the way of real health benefits.

      1. JSPA*

        “mainly” is “the majority of the time.”

        Could be 60%, could be 70%, could be 80%. None of which is any help if you’re in the 20%, 30%, or 40% who get it some other way.

        And those numbers are situation/behavior dependent. Change the human behavior, and the primarly transmission routes can also change.

        The original call was for washing hands and disinfecting surfaces, constantly and obsessively, and only arms-length distancing (with elbow bumps allowed). Under those conditions, the majority of transmission was by droplets.

        If people had distanced first, and not washed hands and disinfected surfaces, the majority of transmission could have been contact based. (Unless you have parallel universes available to confirm, that’s pure speculation, of course.)

        1. Reality Biting*

          Jesus Christ. You’re not going to get coronavirus walking by someone for 2 seconds. You just aren’t. Viruses just don’t work like that. Full stop.

    8. MCMonkeyBean*

      I can see the argument both ways and am really curious which would have the bigger impact statistically: making sure everyone kept their distance by the door, or cutting down on the number of people touching it.

    9. SomebodyElse*

      I think this falls under the same category of everything else related to Covid… Do what you feel comfortable with. If you are a door holder, hold a door. If you don’t want to walk through a door being held… Thank the person and give them a ‘go ahead’.

      There is no evidence that walking past someone in a doorway is going to significantly increase your chances of infection, but with that said, some people want zero risk or as close to zero as they can get.

    10. fhqwhgads*

      Around here nearly all open businesses have had their doors propped open during business hours to prevent people from needing to touch it to enter. That said if this is a not-at-all public facing office I see how they would not want their doors open at all times.

    11. Pennalynn Lott*

      I carry a baggy of rubbing alcohol-soaked paper towels with me everywhere. I use them to touch surfaces (like door handles) instead of my hands, and to clean my hands in case I *do* touch something.

      And back when I was in the office, pre-COVID, I kept a stash of paper towels at my desk. I’d grab a few anytime I needed to go through a doorway or on the elevator and touch handles, exit button, elevator buttons, etc., with a paper towel then throw it away.

    12. PeanutButter*

      Ditto. Usually the person with the longest sleeves or something to be in between them and the handle holds the door, but they stand behind the door so it’s a barrier between them and the people going through. If it’s a set of double doors, the next person repeats the maneuver until everyone is through. I actually found it really fascinating how all of a sudden I observed this happening in different places in separate contexts all over my town!

    13. JSPA*

      If you can do it while standing behind the door (using the door as a screen), and people keep on moving, that’s probably fine, but you’re at the mercy of the one person who decides to box you in, or try to take your place, or otherwise get in your space. You can’t knee them in the junk or flip them off, and the only way out involves getting closer, or teleporting through the building. IMO, not generally worth it unless you trust everyone to behave.

  6. RespScientist*

    I don’t say this to diminish anyone’s concerns about COVID-19 transmission, but as a respiratory scientist, you will not catch coronavirus by walking past someone holding a door, even if you squeeze in tight.

    Both myself and the LW are from countries outside the US, but the CDC specifies that being in “close contact” (within 6 feet of someone carrying the virus) for over 15 minutes puts you at risk of catching it. Simply walking past someone (especially someone who’s not talking, spitting, coughing or licking you) is not high risk.

    Will it hurt *not* to hold the door or walk through a held door? No, of course not. If you’re in a vulnerable group, or in an area with high community transmission, this might make you feel safer and be more in step with everyone around you. But to me, more people grabbing that door handle is riskier than walking past someone else

    (and to be clear, touching a door handle isn’t high risk, particularly if you’re washing your hands upon arrival to your office/floor/building/ward/wherever you work).

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      But being near someone who sneezes is not necessarily safe. And yes I have sneezed when someone was insisting on holding the door for me pre covid, and even then it was kind of gross.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I hit send too soon. The upshot is that right now I say “you go ahead, my allergies make me sneeze a lot lately.”

      2. RespScientist*

        Being near someone who sneezes as they hold the door open for you? Sure, but it’s not inherently risky, either. There is such a specific set of circumstances that need to come together to transmit a likely largely droplet-based virus through the air in the fleeting moment you walk past someone – they’d have to cough directly at your face, the particles would have to withstand forces that want to degrade (sun) or disperse (wind) it, they’d have to land in your upper respiratory tract and not, say, the fabric on your shirt, they’d have to get past your body’s natural defences (like your little nose hairs), and they’d have to find susceptible hosts.

        I don’t mean to derail the conversation; the letter writer’s question was about the etiquette around door-holding, and Alison has a good script. I just wanted to mention that social distancing really refers to the “within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes” recommendation, not “you can never duck past anyone”.

        1. Adultiest Adult*

          Thanks for this. One of the most reassuring things I have heard recently is our medical director (large regional organization) reminding people that “coronavirus is not magic,” it moves in predictable ways, and that prolonged, close contact is really what we should be concerned about, not walking past someone.

    2. LW3*

      What letter writer are you talking about? I thought it was me until you said I wasn’t in the US (I am). Maybe you misread “county” as “country”?

      Also, I completely agree on the door handle thing. I’m trying to harness my natural borderline OCD tendencies instead of letting them grow out of control, and washing my hands between contacting an untrusted surface and touching a trusted surface, my face, or something going in/on my face is one of the key strategies I’m letting myself expand. Merely touching something potentially infectious doesn’t really scare me as long as I can wash (and only scares me a little if I can merely sanitize with a sufficiently strong hand sanitizer). To be fair, I do have the privilege of a youngish healthy body and few older or otherwise high risk people I would regularly interact with outside work (where we’re particularly careful), and the high risk people I would interact with are either several states away or less stringent than me, so I don’t dominate their risk assessment. I can afford to have moderate precautions against germs coming in and focus my strategy on minimizing germs going out.

      1. LW3*

        To be clear, I meant I agree with your last point that grabbing a door handle isn’t in and of itself a high risk action. It all depends on how it interacts with other risks. I’ll listen to what experts have to say on how much closeness is actually risky, though I’ll probably add a buffer myself since small individual risks can become big public health risks, and it’s my style to add a buffer to anything I don’t have precise knowledge and control over.

      2. RespScientist*

        As I said above, I don’t mean to derail the conversation! You asked about the etiquette around door-holding, and Alison’s given a good suggestion of a script.

        (And yes, I did misread “county” with the low number of cases and confuse where you were located!)

        From a workplace perspective, sure, it’s possible to get around holding doors without offending anyone. But from a public health perspective, is it necessary? I would still say “no”. The CDC definition of “social distancing” really does refer to “not spending more than 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 and no precautions”, not that you can never duck past someone on your way into the office.

        But again, I’m getting off topic. You didn’t ask for respiratory or public health advice. :)

        Your workplace sounds really proactive, by the way.

        1. LW3*

          Perhaps it was off topic, but I also happened to appreciate it. One of my coping mechanisms for uncertainty is knowledge, and getting info that can focus my efforts helps my search foravoid knowledge be productive and avoid an OCD-fueled research loop.

          And yes, it’s a workplace that is well known for treating its workers well. Their strategy is definitely building expertise and retaining institutional knowledge for decades rather than abusing workers until they can hire the next meat puppet. I am thankful that they are continuing that trend in the face of this crisis.

    3. Sandi*

      “as a respiratory scientist, you will not catch coronavirus by walking past someone holding a door, even if you squeeze in tight”

      As someone who works with a lot of statistics, it is probably not impossible to get coronavirus by walking close to someone, although it is very improbable. Sufficiently improbable that I would prefer to hold the door open, rather than make them touch a doorknob.

      I don’t know if this is a regional solution as no one has mentioned it. My preference is to hit the ‘wheelchair’ button which opens the doors automatically. I do it for myself, and it helps for anyone else passing through. I didn’t use it in the past, but have started now.

      1. Lora*

        I do this too – you can whack the wheelchair button with your elbow that is presumably covered in clothing, and not touch anything with your hands. Though, why wouldn’t interior doors be propped open? Unless it’s a door to a restricted area (which you’re not supposed to hold open for people anyway, they usually make a point of telling people NOT to hold doors to a restricted area even for people you know), or a restroom door that doesn’t have a 90 degree turn before the toilets, why wouldn’t you just leave doors propped open with doorstops?

        1. Sea Me Now*

          We’re usually asked to keep doors closed because our fire suppression system isn’t as effective if doors are left propped open. I haven’t been in the building since March though, so I can’t speak to whether or not building management might have decided COVID outranks fire as a risk.

          1. Lora*

            Ah, my office is very much on the soundproof headphones bandwagon. Everything open office and multiple loud talkers.

        2. LW3*

          The door I was mostly thinking of is a second door just inside a restricted area door, but the organization does something that is vulnerable to contamination, so they’d probably prefer that door stay closed. We are instructed to avoid holding open restricted area doors like you say, and I suppose some of the interior doors could be propped open if they weren’t too close to an area trying to avoid contamination, but I mostly encounter this issue in a spot that probably shouldn’t be propped open but also is already inside a restricted area.

    4. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      I’d add that touching a door handle right before i wash my hands is very different to me than touching a door handle when I’m going to be out without a way to wash (I’m trying to avoid hand sanitizer when possible). Yes, yes, I know not to touch my face/eyes, but still.

    5. yala*

      I was think the same thing. Neither are super high risk, but more hands touching a common surface seems more like a transmission risk than passing someone quickly, possibly even averting your face?

      fwiw, in an office setting right now I really think all doors that can be left open should be for now.

    6. Purple*

      In my area, all the stores have made aisles one-way and other “COVID theater” nonsense that has nonetheless perpetuated some fears.

      In a time when many people WILL have these fears, holding the door becomes an awkward thing to do. That’s why I’d be against. After spending all day walking one-way down aisles, standing 6 feet from my coworkers, having to go in the left entrance at home depot and then walk 3 city blocks to the flower section to exit because God forbid I pass anyone… Having someone then hold the door and wait for me to squeeze by just annoys me to no end.

    7. Honeytwister*

      You mentioned COVID-19 transmission. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes the disease (COVID-19) and I understand how the virus is transmitted and how it causes the disease. But how is the disease itself transmitted?

      I’m learning more than I ever thought I would need to know about this topic. Grateful for the additional knowledge.

  7. Buttons*

    Bad review: Hopefully, someone at the corporate office is reviewing and managing their social media. At my company, anything like that is giving to the HRBP to bring to the manager’s attention. If it is something that has come up often or in performance reviews then the person is assigned development. Depending on the format the company can often reply, which is important to do. “We have received your feedback and are addressing it with the franchise (person)”

    1. Mayflower*

      As someone who is managing my small business’ social media, it’s not always easy to see bad reviews even if you monitor them. Google tends to show negative reviews to people who wrote them but hide them from the general public, for example.

  8. cncx*

    Re OP2, my company, which hasn’t made company masks mandatory, still gave us four branded company masks.
    FWIW in a given day, and again, i don’t live in a mandatory masking area, i use three masks, one for each way in public transport, and one for when i’m at work in close quarters, which isn’t all day. If i were in a situation were i was in meetings all day, that would bump it up one more. So the four masks my company gave fits my use case for a day.

    I think the minimum, if a company is going to make you wear their mask, is to provide enough masks to make that possible. They would have a leg to stand on here if you got four masks but with only one…ugh…

    The pandemic has turned me into a mask collector, so i only use my work masks for work- the four work masks actually do me pretty good as my “meeting masks” over a week. I use my personal masks commuting.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      +1000 on the collector. There are some really cute fabrics that make cool masks.

  9. Buttons*

    Mentoring: “should expect to see major changes in my employee professionally and personally” This really bothers me. Mentoring relationships should set clear goals as to what they want to accomplish, those goals should be different than their performance review goals and individual development plans. The mentoring relationship should be confidential and feedback on the employee shouldn’t be given to their manager. That is why it is problematic that the employee supports her now mentor. Usually in that situation, a lot of feedback comes directly from the person they support as part of their performance review.
    I think this is a sticky situation and could lead to a lot of blurred lines. I think as the manager of the employee I would stay out of their mentoring relationship. If the mentor starts to tell the LW things or wants the employee promoted without LW’s input, then it would need to be addressed.
    A lot of mentoring relationships turn into “let’s grab coffee and let me tell you how I got to where I am today.” and don’t lead to much.

    1. boo bot*

      Yeah, I’m also bothered by that line – as you say, it’s really not appropriate for this person’s mentor to be telling her boss what to expect from her mentoring, but also, what does “major changes… professionally and personally” mean? Does the OP think she needs to make major professional changes? Is it the OP’s business to know what personal changes her employee is making?

      It all seems kind of messy and overreaching, and my biggest concern would be that the OP’s employee isn’t going to be able to extricate herself from this mentoring relationship if she decides it’s not working for her.

  10. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW2 – the only thing I can think of is that your company is trying to enforce minimum standards for masks by insisting on your using identical masks.

    They could instead, erm, set minimum standards for masks in the workplace (eg must be worn over nose and mouth, must be replaced after eating, must be at least three layers, etc) and have a supply for those struggling to source their own.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      I encourage everyone to bring up mask policies like G von K listed.

      I have had to ask people multuple times to wear their masks all the time, to cover their noses, and to follow policies about eating at work (no, you cannot take your mask off in the middle of the workroom to eat a snack).

      I am lucky that my workspace has given us rules about how to wear masks and that bosses are willing to enforce them. I am really surprised at all the ways coworkers can think to wear masks wrong.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      My company didn’t say this as such, but when the guidelines for working in the office came out last week, I got the impression that we were expected to have a new mask for each day we were in the office. (Mon-Thurs, building closed and empty Fri-Sun.) I got this impression because they told us that anyone who didn’t have at least 4 masks would be given enough masks by the company to bring them up to that number.

      (Granted, WFH is still the norm and required on Fridays, but personally, I’d plan on 2 masks/day if I had to be in the office. I’m also able to just make more masks for myself, which is far from universally true.)

  11. Mannheim Steamroller*


    To cut down on the “yuk” factor, I line the inside of my mask with a coffee filter. That way, any “stuff” lands on the filter ands gets thrown away as soon as I get back home and the mask stays usable until the next laundry day.

    Beyond that… A company that wants everybody to “look the same” should provide a uniform.

    1. Avasarala*

      What about what’s on the outside of the mask? That’s germy too.
      Cloth masks should also be washed every day, if not more frequently.

    2. Honeytwister*

      You could buy replaceable face mask filters. They will work better than a coffee filter.

  12. T2*

    Staff development is a big thing for me. But respect for the chain of command is something I prioritize and mentor into to people.
    If it is a big issue, like harassment then bring it to me. But if an employee comes to me because he doesn’t like a call made by his/her immediate superior than I won’t entertain second guessing.
    In my field, when i came up there was a specific hierarchy. I was expected to execute the plans of my superiors and at least at first, was expected to shut up and learn. At each stage, I developed competency and then excellence and then was moved up quickly.
    The people above me were always being poached so the mahogany row bosses always needed to develop new talent.

    Ideally, the manager and the grandboss are on the same page and can have a conversation about what their goals are with the employee. That would prevent a wedge from forming between the manager on the grandboss. And if the employee shows a tendency to try and triangúlate between them, that should be mentored out.

  13. M. from P.*

    re: OP1.
    I wish Alison had said a bit more about ways to handle this situation from OP1’s perspective. Is this something that would be worth addressing with the boss directly? If so, what could she say?

    1. Mockingjay*

      OP #1 could mention it from a support angle: “Hey, Boss, regarding Lucinda, could you tell me what things you are working on with her? She’s a great employee and I’d like to encourage / support her efforts.”

  14. T2*

    For LW2.

    The mask policy you describe is ridiculous stupid on it’s face and should never be followed. A mask is a health and safety item of clothing and The point of wearing one is that it should be clean. You should never accept wearing health and safety equipment that is not suitable, and no company policy has the power to make you do so.

    The CDC recommendations are that masks should never be worn wet, and you may even need to change them during the day.

    Given the nature of the risk, you really need to stand your ground. Your position is reasonable and based on readily proven available facts. The company position is idiotic in the extreme.

    This is one of those issues that if they fire someone over it, it will spread like wildfire when it hits twitter. So this is a hill to die on.

    1. Colette*

      You should never accept wearing health and safety equipment that is not suitable, and no company policy has the power to make you do so.

      This seems like something a company can in fact make you do, if you want to keep working there. I am not aware of any laws regulating where you get masks from in professions that don’t usually wear masks.

      And there are injustices every day that never hit twitter (or don’t spread like wildfire).

      A calm conversation is a better approach for the OP than an aggressive one.

      1. PTBNL*

        Honestly, I don’t think my boss would do anything if I just ignored the rule. But that still obviously leaves me exposed to the germs from all the other dirty masks.

        1. Colette*

          If you’re not picking up the masks, you’re probably not at any additional risk – the biggest risk is that your coworkers get sick. Wear your own masks and wash your hands well and often.

      2. JustaTech*

        From every PPE training I’ve ever had (several different companies/institutions, but all in the same state), you absolutely do have the right to 1) appropriate PPE that fits you correctly and 2) the right to refuse to wear inappropriate PPE that endangers you more than none at all.

        Just checked, that language comes from OSHA.

        So the company can say that PPE is needed, and it is their job to provide it, but they have to provide enough and train you in how to use it.
        Whether this will happen at OP2’s company is an open question, but there are actually regulations about this stuff.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Bingo. Even cloth masks are PPE.

          (Former safety person soapbox)

          Masks and social distancing are administrative controls. If there aren’t also engineering controls, eg sneeze shields, better ventilation and filtration, then your company is only doing half the job anyway.

          Masks are PPE, even cloth ones. A company has two options: 1) Provide sufficient masks that fit each person for a full workday (several, not one), and preferably enough for a week, or 2) allow people to wear their own, but have a minimum standard. The second option allows for more comfort.

          It’s like whether a person gets an allowance for steel toed shoes, or the company issues them out of a storeroom (and they may not fit as well, or might be previously worn). Even companies that have uniforms let people have multiple ones (one place where we had lab coats we each had three, and they washed them.)

          The problem I see here is that the company isn’t thinking about masks the same as they would other PPE.

  15. Fitty*

    Am I the only one who has literally never seen an official mentoring relationship like this in real life? I’ve seen the recommendations from career counsellors to “find a Mentor” but in real life all the mentoring I’ve seen has arisen organically out of specific projects.

    Sure I’ve had supervisors and managers, but the valuable mentoring I’ve received has all been ad hoc–someone taking a bit more time to help me prepare for a professional exam for instance. Or someone throwing an opportunity my way because they see my interest.

    Approaching someone to “Be a Mentor” seems gauche and needy–the professional equivalent of approaching someone at my yoga class and saying, “Will you be my Friend?”

    Being senior now, I’d find it really weird to be approached to “set up a Mentoring relationship”. If someone wants to learn about or be involved in elements of my work, I’d expect a more thoughtful and specific approach.

    Is this a thing? Or are they just using it as an excuse for more coffee breaks?

    1. GD375*

      I agree with this. I’m also quite senior and I’ve never seen the formal mentorship relationship described here. Maybe its something specific to certain conservative fields like law. In my experience, successful mentorship is more organic and more specific.

    2. CheeryO*

      We have a formal mentoring program at my (state government) office where you fill out an application and get matched based on skills that you want to improve. It does not seem super successful – the general sentiment seems to be that it’s too awkward. I agree that the best mentoring relationships come about organically.

      1. LJay*

        Yeah my husband’s company has an official program. And looking from the outside in it does seem to be awkward and not to be of much use.

        I’m wondering if it’s better in non-social distancing times. But right now it seems to consist of monthly awkward zoom calls without a real agenda or genuine personal connection of any sort.

    3. Liz*

      I was similarly baffled. I only ever heard the term on this site and was half picturing some kind mysterious but helpful stranger who appears through a parting crowd at a networking event and declares “I shall train you in the ways of business, young padowan”. I looked up the term and it seems that it’s normally somebody within the organisation, but the articles I read are pretty vague. I’m guessing there has to be some sort of formal application process, as one would a traineeship or development opportunity role? I would hope so, because otherwise they’re singling people out for enhanced training, and that just smacks of favouritism.

      1. Sandi*

        I have worked for several large tech companies and they have official mentorship programs. Both mentors and mentees apply, the mentees are offered several options of mentors, and then they meet occasionally (often every month or two) for a year. Some relationships work out, and some not, but when that happens they can try again the next year. Our mentorship program offers two mentor options, as employees have the option to become managers or senior developers, so it isn’t focused only on management.

    4. Koala dreams*

      Yes, it’s a thing, but usually the mentors volunteer. It could be organised through a business association, or through the company, or it could be informal like you describe. It’s fine to just say no, thanks if you are asked and don’t want to be a mentor (or don’t want to mentor that person, anyway).

    5. Sylvan*

      I’ve never seen it, either. I’ve been assuming it was a known thing in some other industry or location this entire time, but never asked, lol.

    6. Sandi*

      There are sometimes mentoring programs set up in my industry (tech). They seem to have the underlying aim of better supporting minorities (gender, POC, disabilities) although anyone can benefit. Like many programs, some of the relationships work, and some don’t. In my specific case, I developed a mentoring relationship with a manager and offered to make it official so that they could use it on their performance evaluation as an example of good leadership. We both submitted paperwork and requested each other, and were matched. I have also offered to mentor, and was matched with a junior employee who I had never met previously, and we have a good mentoring relationship (it helps that we are of the same minority type, and I specifically mention in my description that I am in that group and want to support all minorities). I answer the mentee’s questions, for example what is expected in performance evaluations, and what other jobs are available to the mentee and what experience they should gain if they want one of them. We have a set time for a monthly coffee, and often chat for a couple hours. Now I view our relationship as more equal, as they have more experience and less need for a mentor, yet I still enjoy our discussions and hopefully they will continue in coming years (much less frequently, as occasional updates, same as I have with my former mentor).

      I have seen how some people are advantaged by knowing the right managers, and many minorities don’t have the same opportunities, so I try to take advantage of the system by offering the little that I can to improve our workplace. For example my mentee was up for promotion this year, and my boss was one of the people reviewing their file, and I commented on the mentee’s competence (not with any subtlety! “I know you are reviewing Wakeen’s file, and I want to mention that in our mentoring meetings I have found them to be very thoughtful and competent”). I think my mentee had a strong case for promotion, and my comment would have little extra weight, yet their group is known for having inconsistent leadership so I wanted to do everything I possibly could.

    7. Generic Name*

      My company has a formal mentoring program. I am both a mentor and mentee. But most of the mentors I’ve had throughout my career have been more informal. They’ve all arisen organically, and they’re really great! I do think one can approach someone they’d like to be mentored by, but you don’t have to overtly ask, “Will you be my mentor?”. You can invite the other person out for coffee and tell them you’d like to get their advice on something. I wouldn’t assume they are looking for more coffee breaks, but I’m in an industry (consulting) where networking and professional development is considered work time (even if it’s not chargeable).

    8. Roeslein*

      Many moons ago I met the CEO of a supplier company at an industry event as I was trying to transition into more senior roles. We “hit it off” immediately and set up a weekly call (we live in different countries) which I suppose could be called a mentorship arrangement. I don’t remember actually using that word and anyway we quickly became close friends, so it’s mostly been an excuse to chat about everything in addition to work. We’ve only met a few times in person but he’s definitely been a mentor to me, and has given me very valuable advice that has enabled to progress faster in my career, so there’s that. We never miss that call.

    9. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “Is this a thing? ”

      Yes. I can’t say how common it is, but it’s done.

    10. juliebulie*

      I’ve had bosses that helped me with professional development and coaching, but not as formal mentors.

      I’ve had formal mentors, but they were never my boss. Some of the stuff I discussed with formal mentors, I wouldn’t discuss with my boss because it was specifically about how to interact with my boss.

    11. Goliath Corp.*

      Yeah this seems really odd to me — the only mentorships I’ve seen have been outside of the workplace, to support people from underrepresented backgrounds in an effort to diversify the industry.

      To that end, I think mentorships within a company seem quite problematic. How would this not lead to favouritism? Why does this employee deserve a leg up over others? Stats show that cis/het/white people from privileged backgrounds are more likely to receive mentorship, which is why the above-mentioned mentorship programs exist (outside the workplace). If there are going to be internal mentorships, it ought to be like another commenter from a government agency described — arranged through applications on an equitable basis.

  16. Anon for this*

    Our academic library system is providing each of us with a single cloth mask. The HR person informed us we will not be allowed to take it home. However, we will be responsible for laundering it daily.

    When I tried to ask questions about how we could do this, I got shot down.

    If anyone has any clever ideas how we can launder them daily in any meaningful fashion in a library system that is not exactly known for having clean spaces and which will not be paying for additional cleaning, I would love to know.

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      Don’t “launder” it at all, wait for HR to say something, and reply that your laundry facility is at home.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Sounds like a policy that was imposed without adequate thought. Can you band together with some colleagues to push back on this as a group?

    3. Colette*

      Hot water and soap is probably your only choice. But … do they mandate that you wear them? Or can you bring in and wear masks from home?

    4. EPLawyer*

      Wash in sink with oht water and soap, then hang in HR person’s office to dry. Of course you will then be maskless at work so I dunno, hide in your car until dry?

      Sounds like they don’t want them lost and then have people need another one so they are keeping them at work. Without think through what that means. Like you arrive without your mask THEN put it on? (where are they stored overnight, how do you know which is yours). Then you take it off before you leave. Which means folks are around each other maskless …

    5. Phony Genius*

      When HR tells our staff to do something that does not seem possible, our standard response is to ask them to show us how they do it. Either they demonstrate how to do it, or they realize that they can’t follow their own rules and make changes.

      1. Anon for this*

        I think this is what we will do. I am not the only one spotting the catch 22 of this procedure.

      2. leapingLemur*

        “our standard response is to ask them to show us how they do it.” Nice!

        Although I’m worried that HR in 2 places is so willing to order things to be done that can’t be done.

        I mean, I guess you could hand wash your mask with soap and let it dry overnight, but…

    6. JustaTech*

      If you’ve got a preservation department they probably have little irons for heating up glue; you could have everyone go down to their space to use the iron to dry the mask. Oh wait, that’s a terrible idea.

      And it’s not like libraries are places with tons of strong natural light that would be enough UV to sanitize/sterilize the masks.

    7. Curmudgeon in California*

      WTF? One mask, that you can’t take home, but that *you* have to wash? How the heck does that even work?

      The only recommendation I have is to bring a sealable plastic bowl with soapy water. At the end of the day, put on your own mask, drop the company one front first in the water, close it and swish it around. Walk it to the restroom, take out the mask, rinse it, then go back to hang it up to dry at your desk. Then leave for the day.

      But this is hardly suitable. How would they monitor if you took it home to wash or not?

    8. Avasarala*

      Don’t use it, and just use your own masks. Their mask never gets used/dirty so never needs laundering. Huzzah.

  17. Not So NewReader*

    Perhaps this is a tangent, but OP, I am concerned about why you say, “I’m also waiting for the day masks get mixed up, further spreading germs (I have already figured out how to mark mine)”.

    hmm. Is there a point where people take their masks off? How would the masks get mixed up?

    1. Mannheim Steamroller*

      I was wondering about that, too. Do you have to leave the mask in a common area at the office?

      1. PTBNL*

        People have made comments to me about being able to meet in private offices without masks (which, no on the “without masks” part). That’s where I can already see this happening.

    2. juliebulie*

      For lunch, we are supposed to put the mask in a paper bag (which we carry with us) with our name on it.

      1. Jaid*

        Are they supplying you with paper bags? And surely the bags are being disposed of too, right?

        1. juliebulie*

          Yes and yes.
          For reasons related to the impending destruction of the building my small group works in, we’re being encouraged to continue working at home until the end of the year. But we all had to take a video course on the correct way to wear and handle our masks.

          I’m really not sure the paper bag is a great idea, but it’s probably better than shoving the mask in my pocket.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            When we are done wearing our masks to the store, we take them off by the elastic, then drop them into a nylon bag. The we sanitize our hands.

            The nylon bag gets dumped into the wash with out touching the masks, then follows the masks in.

            That way, dirty masks are in bags, clean masks are in pockets.

  18. Sled dog mama*

    Lw3 something we’ve adopted at my work place is standing behind the door to hold it for someone, then you have a barrier between you and the person. We’ve also stopped holding doors mostly but those that choose to have adopted the use the door as a barrier strategy.

  19. Hold the door*

    It never occur to me, but I have def held doors for co-workers. I work at an essential business so I have been going into the office since CO-VID started. I guess I shouldn’t.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I don’t see how you can hold a door and maintain any kind of social distancing? None of the doors in my workplace allow enough space for that. We have made hallways and doors one way, like in a commercial kitchen, so we can social distance. And we are wearing masks.

        1. Gray Lady*

          Because social distancing doesn’t refer to three seconds walking past someone. It’s about remaining in proximity for a matter of minutes. You can walk past people; there has never been any suggestion by virologists that transmission happens in a matter of seconds that way.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            This. A helpful guide someone published put the estimate at 5 minutes of close face-to-face conversation, unmasked. Passing someone a couple of feet away for a couple of seconds is not a violation of physical distancing.

        2. acmx*

          Because the spread is mainly among people who are in close contact for prolonged periods of time. Holding a door open for 2 seconds (and presumably when the participants are wearing masks) has a low likelihood of transmission.

  20. chellieroo*

    LW #1, I have worked in for profit, nonprofit and in quasi governmental & my spouse works for the state. Government seems to me, by far, to be the most weird and prone to dysfunction. There are lots of good, competent people trying to do vital work in an infrastructure that not only tolerates but often rewards (even in a high performing agency), over time, behavior that would be seriously problematic elsewhere. My working theory is that there is, in the big G, a lack of financial accountability, combined with a rigid bureaucracy whose excesses enable a union to sanction worker behavior that would really be intolerable in the private sector. And since high level leaders are generally political appointees who, even if they have the skills to be effective, usually don’t have the time to be effective. In the case you describe, I am imagining that one, the other, or both are either clueless to workplace norms or politicking.

  21. NapkinThief*

    #4 – things I would wish to have the presence of mind to say in the moment:

    – Wow, so do you like, always ask people about their genitals? *physically edge away while looking uncomfortable*
    – Something doesn’t have to be secret to be private.
    – Listen, no matter how much you fish for an excuse to share about your own circumcision or prostate exam or Pap smear or whatever – no one wants to hear about it!
    – Well I’m relieved at least one of you has a sense of discretion.

    But seriously, no zingers necessary (or probably helpful, however satisfying). I think Alison’s script is great, but I would probably change out “trans person’s surgery” for “someone’s genitalia” to make it clear that this isn’t some complicated, special concession – it’s basic human decency.

    1. juliebulie*

      Actually, I’d say asking about any surgery, unless invited to do so, is rude and a violation regardless of how open they are about having had it.

  22. Falling Diphthong*

    OP5, defensiveness is not equally likely–it’s the default for almost everyone given contextless negative feedback from a stranger.

  23. Khatul Madame*

    Re. LW1. I have worked for multiple organizations with formal or quasi-formal mentoring programs that matched potential mentees with senior staff who opted in. On the whole these programs are very useful, particularly to people from underserved groups or those isolated by the circumstances of their work. For example, I had a mentee who was a consultant on client site with infrequent contact with anyone from our firm.
    Success of a mentoring relationship lies in common understanding of what it entails. I usually aim to help the mentee do their job better, understand the industry and different directions their career may take, apply EQ to everyday work. If a mentee views me as an express elevator that will quickly get them a promotion or a job in my organization, there is a clear mismatch. Unfortunately, many people view mentors as sponsors and patrons, and are disappointed when a mentor asks them to do research or any other “work”.
    Lastly, skip-level mentorship is great. If I were to look for a mentor, it would be 2 or more levels above my own, but probably not in my own vertical.
    LW1’s boss is indiscreet and it was stupid to slap the “mentoring” label on the relationship. Since LW does not have any recourse, my advice would be to stop worrying about this.

  24. LJay*

    For number #2 I was under the impression that best practice was to swap out your masks (in locations where you can do so safely) when they begin to get damp from breath/saliva and wash them? Or was I wrong about that?

    I know my masks could not go a full day without getting in that condition.

    So not only would the company need to willing to provide 5 to have one for each working day, but many more than than that.

    I’m wondering if the original rule was borne out of concern that people would be wearing masks that were inadequate, or to curtail people wearing things like Halloween masks or hazmat masks or similar that I’ve seen worn to grocery stores. But it seems like there’s a much better way than to mandate everyone wearing the same company assigned mask – just provide guidance on what is required, what is acceptable, and then treat it like any other dress-code or PPE item.

    1. PTBNL*

      No, I would think this is best practice too (it’s essentially what I do now when I leave my house). We are definitely not getting 5 masks. As for going a full day, this feels like a policy developed by a person with an office who can close the door and take the mask off most of the time, no consideration for us cube dwellers. That’s all I can think of at this point.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, your impression is correct.

      IMO, the minimum number of masks for an 8 hour day in a public facing job would be five (one for every two hours plus a spare) that gets changed out at break/lunch. Multiplied by five days in the office, and a week’s supply would be 25 (20 if they only allowed four per day).

      But yeah, even my workplace’s guidance on masks for non-medical employees is too vague.

  25. Ann O'Nemity*

    “I feel rude not holding the door, but I want to leave you some space.”

    I love the expression “leave you some space.” As opposed to “stay back, social distancing!” It’s just better framing.

  26. Ginger Baker*

    LW4: Problematic things said in your hearing are always addressable by you. Note, you may not say the smoothest most elegant reply – I know when almost this exact scenario happened to me, I was so flustered and my heart beating so fast, it was far from my calmest most-measured response, but it was effective and that’s what mattered. In my situation, I was sitting in my cube at work and some coworkers were standing in front of an office – in the hall – near me, chatting (as they often did). Only in this case, the chatting turned to discussion of pronouns and how someone “did not get” they/them pronouns. At that first comment, I cringed, but then the conversation just…continued…and another small handful of comments later I was definitely at the end of my ability to listen to any more of that. Which…is what I interrupted and said, loudly, something like “You are having this conversation about pronouns and you don’t “get it” but I have friends and loved ones who use these pronouns and it’s IMPORTANT, it MATTERS, it doesn’t matter whether you “get it” and I cannot listen to any more of this, it’s super upsetting to have you talk about this in front of my desk. If you want to continue talking about this, I mean fine whatever, but please go somewhere else because I absolutely cannot cannot listen to anymore of this.”

    I was red in the face, I tripped and stumbled over my words – they sound way smoother writing them here than they did coming out of my mouth – it was messy and a lot and having a “confrontation” threw off my entire rest of the day (so be prepared for that) but I would do it again without hesitation. I did get a bit of an apology, and more importantly, zero conversation of that nature continued around me then or in the future.

    I think we can get a little tripped up sometimes on “but is it okay if I interrupt” but look…it is. It is very reasonable to interrupt and shut down a conversation where overhearing is actively hurting you (and I don’t think you need to be the directly affected group to be upset by hearing this stuff any more than you would need to be a cat to be upset hearing discussion of animal abuse). You are allowed to be upset and you are allowed to speak up. And, to the extent possible, if you practice (in your head or better out loud) Alison’s scripts it will help those words come out more smoothly in the moment.

    1. juliebulie*

      I’m sure it felt messy when you were saying it, but it’s actually quite good!

  27. Hex Code*

    One avenue I haven’t seen addressed for LW #4 is the volunteer coordinator (if there is one) at this workplace. Regardless of whether you feel like you can call it out in the moment, you always are able to contact the staff person who recruits and coordinates volunteers, and say, “I overheard XYZ conversation between Person A and Person B the other day while volunteering. I was too shocked to say anything in the moment, but this kind of transphobic conversation is tasteless at best, and bigoted at worst. I hope this doesn’t represent the views and attitudes of [the place] where I’m volunteering my time trying to do good work.” This way, even if you never overhear these people doing it again, the staff know that this is major turn-off for you, a volunteer, who they rely on to function.

    1. Night of the Living History*

      As a volunteer coordinator, I definately would want to know if this sort of convo was going on, regardless if the person spoke up in the moment or not. I would want to speak to the volunteer in question either way.

      Our volunteers work in public facing roles at a historic site (insitutions that have done much to prepetuate a lot of bigorty in themselves) so I’m espically hardcore about this. However, I think the role of any volunteer anywhere is to help provide a safe and welcoming environment for other volunteers, staff and literally any human who might be in earshot.

  28. doreen*

    I’ve seen something like that ( in government agencies) – but the different chain the admins “reported” to was only involved in certain issues. They approved time off , because they had to make sure there was coverage. They possibly determined who needed training and arranged for it. But as far as assigning and evaluating work, that was all done by the person being supported , with the admin reporting chain perhaps weighing in on some issues 9 such as attendance) on performance evaluations. But that doesn’t sound like what Alison is talking about.

  29. MommyMD*

    I’m breathing through the same N95 I used yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Six days in a row and then I get a new one. But yes, they should provide two masks.

      1. MommyMD*

        Thank you so much for your support. I’m seeing a rise in cases in the last two weeks. I’m just happy to have a new N95 every seventh shift now. I wear a plain surgical mask over it to help keep the front clean. We all do.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Urk. The safety person in me cringes. I’m wondering if cloth covers would help, or if the surgical mask is a better cover.

        2. Adultiest Adult*

          Sending you support. Glad you at least have N95s. Also, I have so much respect for medical professionals, including my colleagues, who have to wear this PPE all the time, having gone from providing counseling dressed like “myself” to doing it with a surgical mask and a face shield. Crazy times. Hang in there.

  30. Observer*

    #$ – Here is framing that could be useful if something like this comes up again. The essential problem here isn’t really the fact the questions were asked of a trans person, but that the questions were asked in the first place. The fact that you know about someone’s surgery does not mean you get to ask about the details. You don’t get to ask someone about the details of the breast, prostate of uterine surgery, even if the person who had the surgery is open about the fact that they had the surgery. You don’t get to ask people about the details about highly personal and emotionally laden events in their lives even if the person is open about the fact that it happened. The fact that particular surgery involved transition doesn’t change that.

    “I was just curious” is not a good enough reason for asking nosy and invasive questions.

    1. MommyMD*

      Right? You don’t ask “how’d that uterine prolapse lift go? Did they get all of that prostate?” When someone comes back from leave, you say “welcome back”. You don’t go around pumping coworkers or ask invasive questions to anyone.

  31. Amethystmoon*

    #3 I’m surprised the company gives them a choice. Where I work, they have gone to badge access only for security reasons. So you have to scan your badge when entering/leaving. This is because there was a security incident early on during the spring when all this working from home started. Someone who doesn’t work here got in and apparently was very angry about not being able to find some things at the store because of the panic buyers. I believe security was called to escort that person out. But I guess it could happen. Before Covid-19, there used to be a lot of door-holding. Then every year or so, they would make everyone watch the security training videos where they tell you not to do that. I’m not sure how it was enforced, though, because I still saw it happen.

    1. leapingLemur*

      Yeah, I was kind of surprised about that too. In a previous job, it was kind of casual like that until there was an incident, at which point, HR and others were regularly reminding us to not allow “tailgating”. Maybe companies just don’t do this much until an incident happens?

    2. LW3*

      This is mostly about a door just inside a restricted area, so security isn’t an issue for this one. I do definitely internally grumble when people hold the nearby security door open, though.

  32. M.elle*

    #4 – You can also talk to the volunteer coordinator or whoever hired you to be a volunteer. As a volunteer coordinator, I want to know that my volunteers are having a positive experience with the organization or if a volunteer is saying rude, inappropriate, or discriminatory things. (When I do volunteer orientations, I always make it clear that if a volunteer has an issue with another volunteer, they are welcome and encourage to come discuss with me.)

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