is it OK to ask a coworker to swap pants, teachers at my child’s school aren’t social distancing, and more

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

1. Is it OK to ask a coworker to swap pants with me?

During college I enrolled in a program that we call Junior Enterprise, where the students have to, on their own, maintain a company. It is an awesome experience because we have the daily problems of a small company. We need to look for projects in the area that we are graduating in to pay for the expenses of the company.

When I was a senior member of our Junior Enterprise, I had an appointment with a teacher who we wanted to sponsor one of our projects. Around 30 minutes before the meeting, my pants ripped in the knee, very visibly. I asked an “intern” of the company who was my size to change pants with me, and she did it willingly. (We were both students in the same course, although not close friends.)

Would it be okay to ask a colleague at work if I were in the same situation with an important client coming in? I have never made up my mind if it was the correct choice or not.

I think you could mayyyybe ask a peer-level colleague if you had a pretty good friendship — but I would not ask an intern, because interns will feel obligated to say yes … and no one should feel compelled to literally give you the clothes off their back (well, legs).

The key with a request like this is you should only ask if you know the person would be comfortable saying no. By definition, that rules out interns for a lot of personal favors because of the power dynamic. There’s too much chance they wouldn’t really want to do it but would feel obligated to say yes anyway.

(That said, this might not have applied to your “intern” in the school program if you basically felt like peers.)

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write one of my favorite headlines ever.

2. Should I tell the principal that teachers at my child’s school are not social distancing?

I normally very much believe that what teachers do on their own time is their own business, short of breaking the law. However. Many teachers from my child’s school live in our neighborhood, including one who lives on our block, and many of them are in their 20s/early 30s. During the Covid shut-down and our state’s phased re-opening, we’ve observed on many occasions that they are not social distancing (we live in a dense, walkable neighborhood, so it is easy to see what everyone else is doing). The most egregious example was a backyard party with ~10 adults sitting in a circle, chairs touching, and no masks. They socialize at restaurants, bars (again, no problem normally, big problem during Covid), unmasked gatherings, etc.

I find this infuriating on many levels, but I’m not sure whether I should say something to the principal or the district. I don’t want to get the teachers in trouble, and they could easily figure out which teachers live in our neighborhood. Cases in our state are up, so schools will start online and they are not putting other school staff at immediate risk, but at some point everyone will go back to school. It is also frustrating to hear these teachers say that going back to school is unsafe while they are putting themselves at risk, especially when many families have been staying home and isolating to try and ensure that it is safe for students and teachers to go back to school. Do I say something now, wait until schools reopen, or stay quiet?

Ugh. I hate how much teachers get policed for their outside-of-work behavior, but this is behavior that could end up killing people. Still, though, until in-person classes are happening, I don’t see grounds for you to say anything. Teachers shouldn’t be held to a higher bar than anyone else if their classes are virtual. (I agree with you about the hypocrisy if these teachers are among those saying returning to school is unsafe — although they may not be — but that in itself isn’t grounds for alerting their employer.)

If you’re still seeing it once schools resume in-person, then I think your question for the principal is what outside-of-work precautions they’re asking teachers to take, if any, and then you go from there. The reality, though, is that most employers aren’t policing their employees’ out-of-work behavior, and this is one time when it likely won’t be different for teachers (and you’ve got to make decisions for your family accordingly).

3. Can I get any maternity leave?

I work for a small nonprofit of less than 10 full-time employees. I have been with them for just under two years and am pregnant.

I knew going into the job that paid maternity leave was not a benefit, but I incorrectly assumed that I would always have 12 weeks unpaid, it would just be a matter of if I could afford it. But a quick and confusing google search seems to be saying that 12 weeks unpaid is not something a nonprofit with a small number of employees has to do. Further complicating matters is that my entire team works remotely, so I don’t know what state to go by, the one I live in or the one our address is based out of?

Am I totally screwed when it comes to anything I am entitled to? And if so, is it possible to try to negotiate something with my boss, either paid or unpaid?

It’s not about being a nonprofit; it’s about having fewer than 50 employees. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives you up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave while protecting your job, but it only applies to employers with 50 or more employees (and it does include nonprofits if they’re over that size threshold). More details here.

That’s a federal law that covers the whole country, but it’s possible your state has additional protections, and they could kick in at a lower number of employees. If so, it’s the laws of the state you’re working in that would govern, not the state where the company is based.

If none of this covers you, then yeah, you’d be looking at trying to negotiate something with your employer without being able to point to the law — but people do this successfully all the time! You have a better chance of negotiating unpaid leave than paid, of course, but a good employer will be very willing to work out some sort of maternity leave for you (and may already have a precedent they’ve used in the past).

4. I never received any acknowledgment after I turned down a job offer

I was in a job I didn’t like, found a new one and left but it was worse, contacted my old manager to say “my bad,” and they allowed me to come back as a maternity cover.

I had also been applying to jobs, and I recently go an offer from one that was more in line with the work I want to be doing. They asked that I hand in my notice ASAP (and after being back at my old role less than a week so I had asked for an extension on that, but they didn’t like that), and were offering less money than I was making, along with some other issues, so I turned down the role.

Is it normal to not receive any confirmation of my turning down the offer? I did even send a follow-up email to ask if they’d received my initial very thankful and gracious rejection of the offer email, but I’ve still heard nothing back.

It’s more common than it should be. They might think the conversation has been completed — they made you an offer and you’ve turned it down — but they should reply so you know the message was received, especially when you checked back with them. Otherwise you have to worry there’s a chance they didn’t get it and are thinking you’re rude for never getting back to them. They likely would have circled back with you by this point if they hadn’t heard anything, so it’s fine to just leave it here.

5. Following up on a job that I was invited to apply for

I am a director in the nonprofit/government field. I received a call back in March from the executive director of an organization in my field letting me know they are retiring this summer and, while they’re not involved with the decision making to fill the position, they felt strongly that I should apply. So I did. The new position would be the same level I’m at now, just for a larger org with multiple locations instead of one. It’s what I’ve wanted to do, and where I’ve wanted to be since I started (there!) in this field.

Then lockdown hit and I haven’t heard anything from the board responsible for hiring. I reached out once in May to say that I’m still interested. Crickets.

So now I’m on the fence about reaching out to the person who initially contacted me. I don’t want to be a nuisance (when people bug me repeatedly about open positions it gets irritating), but by the same token, I want to know if they’re still retiring, if the position is still open, what the timeframe is, etc.

She reached out to you specifically, so it’s completely fine to contact her now and let her know you did apply but haven’t heard anything. Add that you realize things may be on hold or significantly slowed down due to Covid, and say you wondered if she can share whether they’re still actively hiring for the role.

If you’d just applied on your own and didn’t have any connection to the organization, that would be too much — but you used to work there and were invited to apply personally. You have lots of standing to ask about an update!

{ 436 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    I thought 1. was going to be, like, ‘can I ask a colleague to change their pants because the pants are not suitable for work’ kind of thing. Anyway the answer is “no”. You can ask your coworker to swap pants but you shouldn’t.

    1. Courtney*

      My first thought was exactly what the question was, then I thought ‘no that can’t be right, there must have been an inappropriate wardrobe choice’. Instead, I was delighted to read a great question about clothes swapping.

    2. Esme*

      And I think in most workplaces people would find it strange and/or think you’re joking.

      If your job involves meetings that require you to look super presentable, just keep an emergency outfit somewhere.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        I know I should do this (I am very prone to spills), but it feels like a “waste” of an outfit. I definitely would have felt that way as a working student when I had barely enough clothes to get through the week without doing laundry.
        I guess the next time I buy an outfit, I’ll get two of the same. That way, I won’t feel like I’m missing out on the opportunity to wear it by keeping it as an emergency outfit.

        1. Blaise*

          I just use my least favorite stuff as my emergency outfit- that shirt that fits fine but I only wear once a year, the pants that have the clasp that’s starting to get a little loose, and the shoes that look fine on the outside but are missing the insoles lol

          1. jules*

            I did this a lot while working in-home behavior support. We were supposed to show up to every appointment looking professional and presentable, but things like brushing Huskies or crab-walking through mud puddles were very much a part of the job. Dress clothes I didn’t like as well would live in the trunk of my car so on days I had to run from one appointment to the next, I had a backup outfit (or several) I could change into at the nearest gas station on my way.

          2. Quill*

            When I worked with solvents I didn’t actually have to keep a spare pair of work pants on the premises, I just had to keep a pair of “and now your butt is covered” sweatpants around so that if I spilled something that seeped into my jeans I could wear something after decontaminating.

            I only had to do that once (the lids on the hexane are… not sealed. Especially when you and your boss are the only people gathering that material who are less than 5’8 and 200 lbs, meaning that 50 lbs of liquid, sloshy hexane is significantly more than a quarter of your body weight) but believe me, NOTHING (other than it having been more dangerous a chemical than hexane) would have topped having to drive home without pants.

            1. The Rural Juror*

              My mother works at a courthouse and one time they had a suspicious envelope mailed to their office. The employee opening the mail discovered white powder, so they went into lockdown. Luckily my Mom (the head of the office) wasn’t near that person’s desk, so she was still able to coordinate the emergency situation. They had to evacuate the entire courthouse. Then they waited almost 2 hours for the hazardous materials team to get there (because they’re in small rural town) and get the four employees who were affected through the decontamination protocol.

              Mom ran out to the nearest Dollar General or somewhere and bought them all sweatshirts and sweat pants. They had to quarantine all the clothes they had been wearing and go through a shower system, then given hospital gowns or something similar while they waited for results. Once they figured out the white powder wasn’t harmful, they were released and given their wet clothes back, but luckily Mom had some clean sweatpants waiting for them! They were traumatized, but at least they were clothed and dry. I can’t remember if they caught the person who sent the envelope…but I hope so. What a horrible situation! So, sweatpants: such a livesaver!

                1. New Jack Karyn*

                  Seriously, that took some thought, care, and effort on Mom’s part. A+ bossing, would recommend.

                1. whingedrinking*

                  Field notes: Decontamination of the area is complete and none of the subjects appear to have been harmed, although some reacted negatively to the testing process.
                  The courthouse staff have also been radio tagged so we can track their movements. We will be fascinated to watch these beautiful, mysterious creatures in their natural habitat for the coming months.

          3. Joielle*

            Same! I have a drawer that contains a plain black shirt, my least flattering pencil skirt (work appropriate, just a bit frumpy), a pair of black tights, and ballet flats that make too much noise when I walk. If I had a catastrophic wardrobe malfunction and had to wear the whole outfit, it wouldn’t be my cutest day at work but it would be fine. And I actually feel good that there’s a use for clothes that I would otherwise get rid of. Win win!

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I’m so glad to find out I’m not the only one who keeps “the outfit of last resort” on hand for emergencies!

          4. Curmudgeon in California*

            I literally keep a full change of clothes in my locker, just in case I get wet, we have to lockdown in the building overnight, or I have a bathroom failure. (I sometimes have IBS catastrophes at work.) It’s still in my locker, actually.

            I try to keep a spare outfit in my car, but that doesn’t work as well.

        2. clogerati*

          I have a huge purse (no car, public transporation) and just keep a simple but professional wrap dress that isn’t prone to wrinkles in it. I have a bunch that I’ve bought at second hand stores so I switch them out frequently. If I end up not needing the dress I can just wear it the next day and throw a different wrap in my purse. Not helpful if you don’t wear dresses, but a lot of the men I work with keep white thrift store (our office is next to a thrift store that has frequent $1 deals so we kind of lucked out) button downs in a closet which helps mitigate any feelings of wasting an outfit.

        3. azvlr*

          I have a spare outfit since I bike to work, or at least I did before Covid. I was always worried I would forget some key piece of wardrobe, and I have on a couple of occaisions.

        4. CFrance*

          Why not just buy an inexpensive outfit (pants and blouse, skirt and top, etc.) that you’re not so in love with it would kill you to leave it out of your clothing rotation? It seems like a simple solution.

      2. Lyonite*

        IDK, you can’t plan for everything. I wouldn’t support it as a regular practice, but in an emergency situation I don’t think even the power imbalance would bother me. If nothing else, I would get a great story out of the time the CEO spilled ink on her lap ten minutes before a board meeting, and my pants saved the day.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          Yeah. If the person with the clothes emergency was meeting with an outside constituent important for the organization, it wouldn’t be bad to ask. Pants and even shirts are a little weird though. I’ve had other men at my org ask to borrow a tie I wasn’t wearing and also a sports jacket I was wearing due to a surprise visit by someone. Did not mind.

          1. schnauzerfan*

            Yeah. Being a librarian I always have a cardigan or two on hand. I’ve loaned them out on several occasions to people having catastrophic wardrobe malfunctions. “Yeah, just tie the arms around your waist and it’ll hide that ripped seam while you walk across campus to the parking lot…”

          2. Indigo a la mode*

            That reminded me of an amusing little anecdote: Despite two weeks of notice of Website Picture Day coming, ALL the men I was taking photos of forgot a sports coat – including the CEO, who was the one who wanted all the men in a sports coat (even though our office is quite casual…). Fortunately his house was literally four minutes from the office, so he ran home and got his jacket – and every single man wore the CEO’s jacket in their photos that day.

            1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

              Male job candidate in interview: “So, do you provide those company blazers?”

        2. Alice's Rabbit*

          Same. I’ve loaned my blazer to cover shirt stains before. While I don’t like the idea of loaning the pants I am literally wearing, I have enough sisters to be used to borrowing clothes, especially in an emergency. It would be an amusing anecdote, and maybe the basis for a nice thank you gift from the boss. Possibly even drawing positive attention that could lead to a raise, or even a promotion. Don’t count on that, of course, but making a good impression on the higher ups never hurt.

          1. Quill*

            Yeah, swapping the clothes you’re literally wearing is a little bit weirder than “Oh, I have an emergency sweater lying around” or the college mainstay of “you’re soaked after digging your car out of parking hell, come up to my dorm room and borrow my spare yoga pants before walking cross-campus to your dorm.”

            Sufficiently baggy sweatpants travel well enough to even fit the friend group’s only guy. Didn’t try to loan him the ones covered in unicorns and rainbows though – not because he wouldn’t have liked them, but they would have come to his mid-shin.

            1. kt*

              Yep — I once lent a coworker my emergency pants (I was a faithful bike commuter so I had emergency clothes as described above, for those days when an unexpected storm might come about…). It was definitely an amusing anecdote, and fine! They were not the pants I was wearing.

            2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

              I swapped sweaty t-shirts at the end of a charity event – I’d ridden my bike across the US and at the end we met some people who had run across the US. A woman runner (I’m a guy) asked to trade so we did. I think we were about equally gross…so whatever. We were both stoked from finishing.

              National soccer teams swapping jerseys at the end of major championships is a pretty cool tradition.

          2. Indy Dem*

            I think I need to stop reading things for the day. I read your second sentence as “loaned my blazer to cover blood stains”. Yikes!

            1. TardyTardis*

              All hospital and nursing home people have had *worse* on their clothes. (so have many teachers, life can get exciting).

        3. PeanutButter*

          I’ve actually swapped clothes (temporarily) with the senior Marketing VP when I was a bottom-level office admin assistant. She had a massive curry + white suit wardrobe malfunction 15 minutes before a very important on-site meeting with a client. There was a moment of collective silence and panic, then a mid level manager looked around and asked “Who’s [VP’s] size?!” I was, and was wearing a shell and blazer that went best with VP’s slacks and I got to wear one of the CEO’s (clean!) gym t-shirts for the afternoon while the VP had the meeting, then went home to change and then came back with a gourmet cupcake from a local bakery and my shell and blazer for me. It did become a funny story to tell at office parties, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable or anything during the crisis. *shrug*

        4. Observer*

          It might not bother you, but it may very well bother someone else.

          Sure, you can’t plan for everything. But asking someone much lower on the hierarchy to give you the clothes they are wearing is just NOT the way to deal.

        5. I coulda been a lawyer*

          A million years ago our (large, conservative) banks only female POC officer grabbed a coffee before a very big executive meeting, and someone fell in the cafeteria, covering her with an omelette and buttered toast. I walked into the ladies room to find her close to panic trying to clean her suit, so we just swapped suits, blouses and all. Big wigs had no clue, her meeting was a success, and she sent a huge fruit basket to my mom (I was a 19 yo secretary living at home). Big problems sometimes require big solutions and teamwork. I just avoided people the rest of the day (but the bus ride home was interesting).
          Important to note that it was my idea though, not hers.

      3. Taniwha Girl*

        Here is what I keep at work:
        -emergency suit jacket for sudden formal meetings
        -extra sanitary items
        -emergency sewing kit
        -office has a first aid kit with bandaids and headache medicine
        -sweater for cold or for tying around the waist
        -toothbrush and toothpaste

        I used to carry:
        -shoes (in case you need to walk somewhere in an emergency or stay overnight)
        -extra underwear/pants
        -sandals/beach chair if you live by the water and need to suddenly go to the beach (wistful sigh)

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I keep a knapsack packed with a change of clothes and toiletries in my car in case of emergencies. It’s been useful when I had to stay somewhere overnight at the last minute.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            My husband does that — I don’t go the full kit and caboodle, because I rarely go past the grocery store, but I still keep a pair of flip flops, a pair of underwear, a t-shirt and a sarong that can be used as a skirt or light blanket in a ziplock bag in the side compartment of my trunk. (And I have a reminder on my phone every three months to swap out the clothes with clean ones.)

            Husband also keeps a dose of his daily meds in a pill safe on his keychain, and I get a text every time he travels for work thanking me for telling him to do that because the first morning in a hotel his routine is off and he ALWAYS leaves the hotel without grabbing his meds. (He has a reminder on his phone to swap THOSE out once a month too, while he’s refilling his weekly pill case, he just empties the pill safe into one of that week’s openings and puts fresh ones into the pill safe.)

          2. kt*

            More recently, I just kept my gym back with clean gym clothes in the car. I would not have been ready to present to the CEO with that, but I would be ‘covered’ in case of other emergency!

        2. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          I keep similar “office wear spare”, and a pair of jeans, polo shirt, and work boots for the random jobsite visit that crops up.

          You just never know. Heck, I’ve broken a shoe before at work, and my spare “office shoes” saved the day!

          1. Joielle*

            I have a few pairs of spare office shoes, lol. Sometimes you start the day in heels and decide midway through that it’s too much work. Or everyone decides to walk to the farther away lunch place. Or you start the day in flats and then have a surprise meeting with important people (office blazer also comes in handy for this). Gotta have options!

        3. Granger*

          Yes! I’d add mouthwash, anti-static spray, tweezers, and rubbing alcohol.
          I also second the wistful sigh!

        4. MCMonkeyBean*

          I had a really crappy pair of sandals I kept at my desk after I learned the hard way that a pair of new shoes I thought were comfortable can still leave the back of my feet bleeding by the end of the work day. The sandals aren’t super comfy either but they would at least put soles between my feet and the road without rubbing my ankles while I walked to my car so they lived at my desk from that point forward.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Oh, I had a pair of boots like that where I foolishly thought ‘ok, the heel size is a *little* higher than I usually wear…’

        5. Penny*

          My emergency clothes kit came in handy when the fire alarm went off while it was pouring rain. We had to run for our cars but even in that distance we were all soaked. Fortunately, I had a dry sweater and pair of pants at my desk and I let my friend borrow my pashmina wrap because otherwise she was soaked in a white blouse with only her gym tank to change into. It was fun though to see the VPs walking around in their gym clothes afterwards.

        6. Insert Clever Name Here*

          I used to work on the 20th floor of my building and kept a pair of flat shoes in my desk for fire drills. Every time we had a fire drill another coworker in heels would look at me and go “you weren’t wearing those this morning!” and then she would come to work the next day with a pair of flat shoes for her desk, too.

        7. JustaTech*

          I keep a set of black scrubs in my desk drawer for the days when I unexpectedly have to do something gross in the lab, or something involving climbing around on the bench top. Because there’s no faster way to get a instrument to break spectacularly than to wear a nice dress.

          The nice part about black scrubs is if you’ve got nice shoes and a coat, the pants can easily pass for slacks.

      4. Time_TravelR*

        Ah, I posted this downthread (emergency outfit)! I always keep one in the office… you just never know. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Mine is a black skirt, a basic shell and a jacket. Sometimes I don’t wear a jacket to work (especially in this heat!) and if I feel I need to dress my outfit up a bit I can grab that jacket. Since most of my wardrobe is black or coordinates with black (grey… LOL), I can mix and match pretty easily. Hmmm… I really need to punch up my wardrobe maybe!

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          A lot of my clothing is basic black, grey, white, etc., too. I punch it up with the occasional colored top, statement jewelry, or nice scarf. I have this beige suit that fits great, but it’s so… beige. A classy silk scarf and a brooch gives it a pop of color without diminishing the professionalism of the ensemble.
          Also, a silk scarf can be draped numerous ways, to hide all manner of stains (says the girl with an unfortunate tendency to drop food on her shirt).

          1. Lena Clare*

            I absolutely cannot wear light coloured clothing for this reason! I may as well lay it on the bed in the morning and throw the food straight on it before putting it on.

      5. agnes*

        this is what I do after having a skirt split all the way up the back just before an important meeting! I went to a consignment store and bought a black pair of pants and a solid color blouse. Went to Target and bought a cheap pair of black flats. These clothes stay at work.

        1. The Grey Lady*

          Happened to me too, although it was a pair of pants that ripped right up the backside. Ugh. I just used my lunch break to run home and change.

      6. Anononon*

        Yeah. I work in a law firm that’s extremely casual (I’ll sometimes wear jeans, converse sneakers, and a “nicer” tshirt), so I’ve learned that I need a backup suit outfit in case of surprise or emergency court appearances.

      7. blackcat*

        This was what I learned during my student teaching. As a science teacher, you should plan on destroying close from time to time, and always have backups in your desk drawer! I only had that happen once, then I was uncomfortably warm in long sleeves on a summer day. But at least I had clothes!

      8. Sam.*

        That said, an “emergency outfit” situation is the only time I could imagine asking for this. And it should be someone who isn’t supposed to be attending the meeting with you.

      9. NotAnotherManager!*

        I think nearly everyone I work with has clothing in their office somewhere. For most, it’s because we’re business casual, but if you have to unexpectedly appear in court or for a more formal meeting without notice, you’ve got appropriate clothing available. Or, less common, if you have to work an all-nighter and want to shower/change before business hours the next day.

        I tend to spill things on myself and have a change of clothes but have also made several emergency runs to the clothing store a few blocks away (and, man, do I miss Filene’s Basement) when I doused a light-colored shirt in a full cup of coffee early in the day. And my work shoes live under my desk anyway (I wear comfy shoes on public transit and change on arrival and prior to departure).

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I originally took ‘pants’ as the meaning we have for the word in the UK and had a very different reaction!

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          You say that, but I have heard a coworker ask the office if anyone had any spare ‘undercrackers’ because he’d poured coffee down his…

          (The railway industry can be weird)

          1. WS*

            I have PCOS and have many period accidents in my past, so I always have spare clean underwear at work and other people have asked to borrow it in the past – unfortunately, I’m the biggest person at my workplace so it’s not always as useful as it might have been!

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              I have IBS-D and stress based incontinence. I have lots of extra pads and multiple pairs of clean underwear stashed at work. I also have extra pads and TP in my car.

              I’ve never had anyone ask to borrow them, though.

          2. BethDH*

            My day is 10x better for the laugh that gave me — the content and the phrasing are both excellent!

    4. K8*

      I worked for a large multi-national consulting firm that frequently met with investment banks, law firms etc. Pitches could come up out of the blue, so all the senior level employees dressed in full suits on a daily basis in the event they got called out to one of these offices. However, the office itself was business casual and most junior to mid-level employees would wear slacks/button-downs/dresses and almost never had to attend client meetings. In the event that someone suddenly got invited to a meeting during the workday, there was usually a group of people who would offer up their business professional clothing from their desks to dress that other employee for the meeting. The culture was also such that I think if the senior level employees had a wardrobe malfunction and got invited to a pitch, the other employees would eagerly offer up their clothing for the sake of winning business. My instinct is that it’s awkward to ask, but in a lot of cases benefits both parties.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “offer up their clothing for the sake of winning business. My instinct is that it’s awkward to ask, but in a lot of cases benefits both parties.”


        PS – But be careful that when you pull a business card out of the jacket pocket it might not be your own!

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        I worked at a high school that once had a couple of seniors do a signing day-thing for athletic scholarships. They both dressed nicely for the photos, but one didn’t have a tie. I went down the hall and asked a staff member if I could borrow his tie; he started taking it off immediately, and *then* asked why I needed one.

        That was a great school to work at.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think you also just wouldn’t need to! I mean I don’t think she needed to for the school project either but I can understand how she felt pressured to look as professional as possible for the presentation because you don’t want them to think you’re not taking the junior enterprise thing seriously. But I think really it would be 100% okay if you had an important business meeting and your pants ripped to just… say that. You walk in and say “sorry, the knee got a little ripped on my way in” and then move on and I don’t think anyone would care at all.

    6. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      As a, erm, “top-heavy” woman, I may be known for putting a hoodie or sweatshirt on when eating. And yes, it is 105℉ here right now. Because I’d rather my sweatshirt catch the debris and spills than my shirt, where everyone will notice.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I have a couple adult bibs for this. They are terry towels with neck cutouts finished with bias tape, and velcro on the back. If those are dirty, I will tuck a microfiber cloth into my neckline and arrange it to cover the target zone.

        Otherwise, my liquidy breakfast/lunch/dinner often earns the “Curmudgeon seal of approval” with a sloppy stain on my left boob.

  2. Courtney*

    Alison, does your advice change for LW#4 since they said they have reached out? A second attempt to contact them to ask ‘did you receive the rejection I sent?’ might be perceived poorly by the employer.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I somehow missed that on first read! Yeah, that does change my advice and I’ll clarify in the post. (Not because it could be perceived poorly — they’re the ones being rude by ignoring her when she followed up in an obvious attempt to make sure the message had reached them — but just because she’s done her part at this point.)

    2. Esme*

      I think if the employer didn’t get it, OP would have heard from them by now. I would not be chasing them.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I don’t understand why any type of follow up is necessary. You rejected the offer. If they’re not reaching back out to you to find out what’s going on they’ve gotten it. It’s rude of them to not respond and acknowledge the rejection, but companies do a lot of rude things when it comes to finding employees for roles.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah, I’ve never been contacted again after I’ve turned down an offer even though I rejected the offer through a third party and not directly with the hiring manager.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I don’t understand why any type of follow up is necessary.

        An acknowledgment is appropriate,* so OP knows her message was received. Messages do occasionally get lost in transit.

        *Historically; we’re devolving out of those old norms aggressively.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          A potential “lost in transit” doesn’t change my opinion. If I sent an applicant a job offer and didn’t get a response, I would be the one to reach out a second time.

  3. Heidi*

    For Letter 1, I’m pretty sure I would never have thought of asking someone for their pants. I wish I had an awesome MacGyver-type solution, like stapling the pants together or turning into a skirt by ripping out the seams. But honestly, if I couldn’t get someone to bring me another pair or run home to get them myself or buy more clothing somewhere real fast, I would have just taken the interview in my ripped pants and explained up front. Most people would understand that these things happen. If the tear was higher up, you could borrow a long sweater (which feels less invasive than pants). If it came down to it, you could try to push back the meeting and explain why.

    1. nonegiven*

      I remember Nancy Reagan telling a story where she had a lunch meeting with someone in the White House. After it was over she stood up and her skirt fell off.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That first suggested link includes comment gold from 2017 about forgetting a research interview scheduled on Halloween. If you need levity, search on Anonymousaurus Rex*.
        (I am still cheered, and I read it during a round of insomnia.)

    2. Katrinka*

      I have stapled a skirt hem once, while sitting in my desk chair, behind my desk. I have used rubber bands to extend a waistband.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        I duct taped a hem, once. Done carefully, on the inside of the pants, that might be an option in this case, to hold the tear closed just long enough for the presentation.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I’ve stapled a couple of hems – also used binder clips once to shorten a pair of trousers that were long enough for heels on a day I was wearing flats. (I was 18, so of course I used the COLORFUL binder clips and not the black ones :P )

      3. The Rural Juror*

        Oh, I use rubber bands on the button of my pants allllll the time after a big lunch! Lifesaver!

    3. Yvette*

      You could turn the trousers (or skirt or whatever) inside-out, lay flat, and tape the edges together as smoothly as possible. You can keep a roll of wide masking tape on hand.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, that was my thought. Tape on the inside would make it a lot less noticeable (but I’d use clear packing tape if I could – it’s wider and would probably hold better.)

        1. Altair*

          In my experience of taping clothes duct tape actually works better on cloth than clear packing tape. I think it may be because duct tape has cloth as one of its components.

        2. Yvette*

          Masking tape has weaker adhesive and will leave less residue behind on the clothes. Of couse if the tear is in an embarrasing spot, the stronger the better!!

    4. Person of Interest*

      My former boss (an extremely thin person) once asked me (a pleasantly zaftig person) to switch pants with her because she got called unexpectedly to a fancy meeting and wasn’t dressed appropriately that day. I had to explain to her: sure, my pants will fit you; your pants on me? Not so much!

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I feel pretty safe from getting this request, but no one will be around to bail me out if I have a pants emergency, either. My office is mostly men, and there’s mayybbee one woman in my department close to my size. Most are taller and bigger, and one is tiny. Either way, I’m not comfortable swapping clothes that I’m currently wearing with a regular colleague. I would loan out an unworn, packed shirt or pants on a business trip if there wasn’t time to get to a store or no stores nearby, but that’s about it.

        1. Heidi*

          I love how this post has prompted us to formulate a list of our coworkers whose clothes we could borrow in an emergency. They will be so impressed with the extent of our contingency planning.

      2. BethDH*

        To me the request’s appropriateness is dependent on that!
        A tear in the knee in pants that would fit the new wearer is so different than pants that won’t fit, ones that are ripped in the seat/crotch, or pants with a big wet spot on them.

    5. M*

      I used to work with a guy who had a FABULOUS story about ripping his pants during a theatre rehearsal. He safety pinned them back together, since he didn’t have time at that moment to change/go get other pants. He was planning to go back to the hotel after that rehearsal, prior to the show. He forgot. In the middle of the show, a safety pin came unclipped and stabbed him in the rear, causing him to scream and go backstage to tear out the pins. He spent the rest of the show making sure to face the audience the whole time, which unfortunately caused his castmates to have giggle fits due to being able so see his underwear… It was a great story, but unfortunate at the time.

      1. Jean*

        One time I tore my pants on the crotch right before an audition. I had just enough time to run across the street to a drug store and buy some safety pins (pro tip: most drug stores/grocery stores sell little sewing kits) before my group was scheduled to go in. The first thing they made us do was go down the line, introduce ourselves, and give a “fun fact.” I said “My name is Jean and there’s a huge hole in my pants right now.”

        I booked it!

    6. Hillary*

      I once met with someone who’d split the seam in the rear of his trousers and stapled it closed. He did an impressive job maintaining his composure (it was an RFP sales presentation) – I didn’t know until he told us after the meeting.

    7. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I did once go to an important job interview with my pant leg duct taped together from the inside. The seam ripped as I was getting out of the car and I didn’t have any other clothing options, so I got the tape out of the trunk and fixed it up as invisibly as I could. But I don’t think that would work if the tear happened away from the seam. It would still be visible, I would think.

    8. SomehowIManage*

      My boss had to use binder clips to told together a poorly made suit that was falling apart on him.

  4. Nia*

    2. A good employer would have already been offering maternity leave. If you have to negotiate for unpaid(Unpaid!) leave they are not a good employer even if they give it to you.

    1. Pop*

      It sounds like the employee perhaps hasn’t brought it up with their employer yet, and are just starting to do research! OP, at my last two jobs (both small nonprofits), our EDs gave 12 weeks of unpaid leave to new parents, even though it wasn’t officially in the handbook (one had never had a pregnant employee before, one had a handbook that badly needed to be updated to reflect current policies). I do think there is a high chance that your boss will want to work with you to figure out how to give you leave that meets your needs.

        1. Nia*

          Yes I suppose it’s possible that an employer that somehow never had it occur to them that they should have a maternity leave policy could decide to offer paid leave but it seems unlikely. And offering paid leave is the only way they could be “good” on it now. If an employer only offers unpaid leave they’re automatically a bad employer.

          1. anony*

            I don’t think it’s unlikely. I’ve seen it happen, it’s not uncommon with small employers. Someone has to be the first.

            But just so you know, a quick google search says 60% of US employers only offer unpaid maternity leave. So good or bad it’s the reality for the majority of Americans.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              But just so you know, a quick google search says 60% of US employers only offer unpaid maternity leave. So good or bad it’s the reality for the majority of Americans.

              This. I’m very fortunate to work for an employer that offers four weeks of paid parental leave (at 100% of our base salaries) after employees exhaust any accrued sick leave they have and want to take and STD, which is I think six weeks of paid leave at 60% of base salaries. It’s not a lot, but it’s better than most in the U.S.

            2. Can Can Cannot*

              That’s not all that surprising given that 88% of US employers have fewer than 20 people. Most US businesses are small. On the positive side, the 40% of employers that do offer paid maternity leave should employ more than 40% of workers.

            3. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Everywhere I’ve ever worked, maternity leave is only paid if you have enough sick and vacation time to cover your time away from the office. There’s no extra maternity leave pot of paid time. They won’t fire you for it, but they won’t pay you if you don’t have enough paid leave already accrued.

          2. Sunblock*

            “offering paid leave is the only way they could be “good” on it now”

            Your expectations vs reality of a small business are very off. Paid maternity leave is most likely not going to be feasible at a company that small, and it doesn’t make them a bad company it makes them small. The small business (less than 25 employees) world is completely different than a company with with 50 or more employees. It sounds like your looking at this like they have many people and the owners have a large income. Usually a business this small has 1 or 2 owners putting everything they have back in the business.

            Its completely possible with 10 people to be the first to be pregnant. The owner(s) would never use maternity leave so it wouldn’t have been an issue until someone needs it.

        2. Maternity Leave OP*

          Hi I am the OP. Correct- it has never come up yet! Kind of crazy, I know. Although I am the first, I do know of other people on my team who are going to be in the same boat eventually. I think unpaid would be a good place to start, and it’s nice knowing that is at least common. Thank you!

          1. Planner*

            I successfully negotiated a maternity leave at a 12 person non-profit with no written policy. 6 weeks 0.6 pay with up to an additional 12 weeks unpaid (not amazing but a start, I also had short term disability) with longer term flexibility (work 0.8 for 0.8 pay). I looked at what other non-profits similar in size to mine were offering and what the state provided and started the conversation there. I do not work there any more but I did hear that they changed it to 12 weeks paid 100% for men and women and I am happy that my push may have made that possible. Don’t ask for unpaid only, negotiate!!

              1. AnonForThis*

                Ask for the moon! Well, not the moon, but 12 weeks paid is a reasonable starting point.
                When I was a grad student, we asked for that in our union bargaining session. Our goal was 6 weeks paid + 6 weeks unpaid (or 12 at half pay), but the minimum we were willing to accept was 12 weeks unpaid so long as health insurance was covered decoupling maternity/medical leave from our jobs from our academic standing (previously, maternity/medical leave could only be taken in units of semesters, meaning if you were due with a baby in March, you had to go without pay January-May).

                Anyways, 12 weeks paid was our shooting for the moon. And they just… gave it to us. Had we asked for what we thought was realistic (the 12 weeks with half of it paid), we would have ended up with much less!

                1. Can Can Cannot*

                  Good for you! Was the 12 weeks consistent with what they offered other employees (faculty, admin, etc.)?

                2. Anon4This*

                  It depends. Different types of positions get different pay for leave. I think most get paid for 12 weeks at around 70 or 80% pay, but they are also paid much more than graduate students (think administrative assistants making ~60k, faculty >80k, graduate students making 20-35k).

                  Most graduate students who had had kids in grad school just didn’t take leave at all prior to the institution of leave. That was the case for me. I took ~2 weeks off for giving birth with other grad students covering my responsibilities. Fortunately most of my work could be done from home, but it was MISERABLE. The institution insisted grad student employees were not FLMA eligible because we were/are technically 10 month employees.

              2. RG2*

                Also, if you haven’t already, look at your state regs in addition to FMLA. NY, for example, has a supplemental paid family leave program that comes out of unemployment insurance.

          2. LQ*

            Ask about paid! I wouldn’t start by asking about unpaid. At least ask. It would be wildly unusual if they would do anything other than just negotiate, they may say they can’t do paid, or can only do a shorter period of paid. But please ask at least. Good luck!

          3. These Old Wings*

            When I was pregnant with my first, I worked at a small media agency with less than 20 employees. They gave me 4 weeks at full pay and 4 weeks unpaid leave, but I successfully negotiated an extra month so I ended up with 4 weeks full pay and 8 weeks unpaid. Definitely try negotiating for paid leave. If they value you as an employee, they should want to work with you during this time!

        3. Anon Anon*

          I just came back from maternity leave earlier this year. I am at a smaller company and the last person who took maternity leave did so almost 15 years ago. My company is too small for FMLA, but they gave me 6 weeks of paid leave and allowed me to take 6 weeks of unpaid leave.

    2. Quilter33*

      I have a friend who successfully negotiated maternity leave a couple of years ago. She was super anxious beforehand because she thought the same, but they just literally had never had it come up before. Now they have a policy in place, and it’s a really good one because they were basically like “maternity leave? Oh, ok, what would be a good policy?” And she got to write the policy!

    3. Natalie*

      The majority of US employers don’t offer paid leave beyond possibly a short term disability insurance policy. I’m not sure what the point of this comment is – whether or not you think it’s good, it is the reality most workers are operating in.

      1. Nia*

        The point of the comment was to push back against Alison’s use of the word good. The vast majority of US employers are bad(60% at minimum according to anony up there), I think it’s important to acknowledge that. Unpaid leave isn’t okay, it’s barbaric. Yes the reality is that most people are going to have to just deal with it so take what’s offered but never forget that they’re taking advantage of you. This isn’t okay and we shouldn’t normalize it any more than it already is.

        1. WellRed*

          I think you’re getting a little word nitpicky here. At any rate, the advice needs to accommodate the reality, however bad that reality is. Neither the OP nor Alison is going to get paid leave done For All America today.

          1. Nia*

            I’m not asking them to solve anything. But if someone wrote into Alison and said their only options for work are for an employer that is physically abusive or an employer that is verbally abusive I expect an acknowledgement that both options are terrible even if one of them is clearly “better” than the other.

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          It may not be right, but I’m sure most people would rather not have paid maternity leave than be without a job, considering the majority of companies in the US don’t offer it.

        3. Colette*

          There are lots of things that make up a good employer, and paid leave is one of them – but if the employer is great in other ways (good management, pays fairly, satisfying work, excellent benefits, etc.) they can still be a good employer. Unpaid leave is a symptom of a society that is opposed to passing worker-friendly laws.

          1. Nia*

            Unpaid leave is inherently discriminatory against women and the poor. Are you really going to sit there and say that an employer that openly brazenly discriminates against women and the poor can still somehow be a good employer.

            1. JonBob*

              Yes. If everyone is a “bad employer” then what’s the option? Not working for anyone?

                1. Colette*

                  The issue is that if everyone is a bad employer, how to do you distinguish between the employers who are bad because you disagree with their leave policies and the employers who are bad because they frequently yell at their employees and expect them to work 20+ hours of unpaid overtime a week?

              1. Anonymous Hippo*

                Yeah, that’s kind of how it works. If everyone gets together and refused to stand for bad employer practices they will have to adjust…they can’t just do without the labor.

            2. Colette*

              I disagree that it’s inherently discriminatory against women and the poor, and I stand by my first statement. I would agree that an employer who didn’t offer paid maternity or sick leave would be an imperfect employer, but they could still be a good one. I also think that employers that offer paid leave could be bad employers, because what makes a good or bad employer is not limited to one thing.

              1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                On what planet is it not discriminatory against women and the poor? I don’t disagree that it’s at most a yellow flag in the US given our opposition to worker-friendly regulations, but that doesn’t make it nondiscriminatory. Poor people will not be able to afford to take it, and some women (but not some men) MUST take it to recover from childbirth. At a minimum, there will be a poor woman somewhere deciding between her health and the money for food or medicine or a doctor’s visit, and that’s just unacceptable. Calling out when policies are inherently discriminatory can be a first step towards passing more worker-friendly laws, and if you don’t see the discrimination that will never happen.

                1. Colette*

                  It will presumably affect anyone who needs time off for medical issues, of any gender. And it’s applied equally. It will affect women more, yes. And I agree that there should be laws that require employers to provide paid leave – but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect companies to give benefits that competitors don’t, in ways that will make them unable to make a profit or achieve their mission. The focus has to be on legislation, not individual companies.

      2. Morning reader*

        I thought the common thing was to use a combination of PTO and short term disability insurance to cover the leave time. I had income during my “maternity leave” but it wasn’t paid as salary by the employer. FMLA is unpaid leave and only guarantees that you’ll have a job after it.
        I’m confused though. Do non-US employers pay salary during the leave? I thought it was a government paid benefit usually. I like the idea of being able to take a year leave but I don’t see how private employers could manage to pay someone who was off for so long.
        (I’m of the opinion that all new parents should get a stipend for the first couple of years, then free preschool… free college is good too but it’s the child care that’s the big bite in the early years when parents are also early in their careers and less likely to have the big bucks.)

        1. Colette*

          In Canada, the base pay comes from the EI (unemployment) system; individual employers can top up the payment to their employees usual pay level.

        2. Georgina Fredricka*

          Yeah – at most companies I’ve been to, though, short term disability is something you have to opt into. At the first place they explicitly told us “you’ll need this if you get pregnant so it’s good to have just in case,” at the second place it was never mentioned and I’m not sure the average person makes the connection every time.

          agreed from my limited knowledge of one European country, I think it’s government backed.

          1. UKDancer*

            In the UK it’s definitely Government backed.

            The law requires employers to pay the first 6 weeks at 90% of average pay and then a further 33 weeks at a statutory flat rate or 90% of earnings if that’s less. The employer can reclaim this from the Government.

            Birth givers are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave but the remainder may not be paid so I don’t know very many people who take the full amount. They can I believe split this with a co-parent in some circumstances.

            Some employers make a more generous maternity benefit available. I know my company offers parental leave on full pay but I’m not sure how long for as I’ve never needed it. In which case they can’t claim any extra from Government.

        3. Yorick*

          I think you’re right – the government covers the maternity leave and the business is able to hire a temporary replacement.

        4. Koala dreams*

          In my European country, it’s unusual for employers to pay for parental leave. Usually it’s paid through the state, or unpaid (the rules for unpaid leave from your job and getting benefits from the state don’t line up perfectly). Some employers offer a small amount of extra money to new parents, but far from a regular salary.

        5. Portia Longfellow*

          In Canada, our unemployment insurance (EI) covers mat/pat leave up to 55% of your salary (max. $573/week), and employers can top that up if they choose. People giving birth get up to 15 weeks, plus 40 weeks that can be divided between either parent. There’s also an extended leave option of up to 69 weeks, but after 40 weeks EI only covers up to 33% of your salary up to $344/week.

          I used to work for the federal government, and though I never used mat leave, we would be topped up to 90% of our salary for up to a year, and we also had supplemental pat leave available.

    4. LQ*

      Sure, and that’s fine for people who can jump to another job without any effort. But it’s really reasonable at a small company to have it never come up. It’s fine for you to expect a small employer to have a documented handbook with every scenario, but I think it’s entirely reasonable to just talk to your employer about options and work through it with them. I do not think this means they are a bad employer.

    5. UrbanChic*

      Hi! So I am the ED for a small nonprofit. In fact, I was the first person at my nonprofit to have a baby two years after I joined – my Board developed a leave approach for me, and I developed a separate on to cover the entire staff. Some things I would explore with your employer – 1) do they have a short-term disability policy? If so, that could provide partial income replacement (its usually up to 60%) for 6-8 weeks depending on your delivery circumstances, if your employer doesn’t offer a policy perhaps they would consider adding one? It’s worth asking, and if you raise it make sure you frame it as being beneficial to all employees, 2) I would put together a formal proposal for parental leave with a starting position that is not taking the whole thing unpaid. You can propose to use a combination of sick leave/paid leave/short term disability + maybe 2-4 weeks covered by the employer. The proposal should open with how you suggest covering your responsibilities while you are out, and all the things you are going to do prior to going on leave to make your absence easier for your team. If you are willing, you could also consider drawing down future vacation or sick to cover leave (assuming your employer would allow it). I’ve worked more than 15 years in nonprofits where you have to negotiate parental leave, and this approach has worked in 90% of cases. And although I agree with the righteous indignation about more employers not offering parental leave, I would save that discussion with your employer for a time when we aren’t in a severe recession with double digit unemployment. Good luck!

  5. Lizzy*

    LW1, if you anticipate regularly ripping your pants at work, you should just keep an extra pair in your office. Pre-covid I kept an extra outfit in a drawer just in case I had a catastrophic coffee spill. Also, maybe invest in some higher quality pants?

    But honestly, for any situation except an interview it’s not that big a deal to just have a rip in your pants. Interviews are important because they’re your first impression, but among colleagues you work with regularly, stuff happens and it’s ok to just finish out the day with a rip (unless it renders the garment NSFW).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! And even with an interview, you’d just say, “Apologies for this rip — it happened on my way here! Please ignore it.” People get that stuff happens.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I once wore my floor-length black winter coat all the way through a job interview because I’d split the seam down the back of my dress and you could see underwear.

        Apologised to the interviewers, “sorry, wardrobe malfunction on the way here”. Got a very sympathetic knowing nod from them :)

    2. Mookie*

      I believe she intended the analogue with her college experience to be meeting with a potential client important to her and her colleague’s team, where she’d be representing them. I kind of think a team effort lending-of-pants would be seen as weird but acceptable in some workplaces but not many, and probably only those with an exceptionally collegial working atmosphere.

    3. KaciHall*

      One of my coworkers ripped the crotch of his slacks while we were the only two in the bank. There was no way to make it work appropriate other than sewing it up, but luckily he had basketball shorts in his car, so he sat for half an hour in those (which looked hilarious with his shirt and tie) and tried to avoid standing up behind the teller line while I sewed his pants well enough to last the rest of the day. I only had black thread on my mini emergency kit and they were grey slacks – I hope he got them fixed better later!

      1. Kelly L.*

        Working at colleges (with associated campus bookstores) has saved me from complete wardrobe disaster a few times, though it’s resulted in some odd combinations. I recall one time I accidentally dumped fettuccine alfredo all over my nice white blouse, creating a massive grease stain, resulting in me working the rest of the day in my nice skirt and the cheapest available university tee.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          I don’t tend to wear t-shirts with writing or logos on them, so anytime I get a shirt as part of company swag, I stuff it in my storage area to save for just this situation.

  6. bubba*

    OP #1, kudos to your intern colleague for having a great answer to the time honored interview question “Tell me about a time you were a team player!” I hope they retell this story at every interview.

    1. Esme*

      This isn’t being a team player, though. They’re not peers if they’re an intern – they were under pressure to say yes.

      Also, FYI this actually isn’t a good answer to that question. When people ask that, they want to hear about you doing actual work as a team.

      1. Mookie*

        They were fellow students. Her peer was playing the role of intern for their project, if I’m reading this right, although it’s true that the role the LW filled was “senior“ to the pants-lender.

        1. Alanna*

          Yes, the way I read the question was it was about an in-class role-playing project but the asker wanted to know if this kind of thing would be acceptable in a real office where your “coworkers” aren’t just your peers.

          1. mlk*

            A junior enterprise is a consultancy run by the students to give real world experience to them while at the same time providing services to companies and non-profits in the area.

            OP was going to be meeting with ‘clients’ AKA a local business about a project. The intern may have been a freshman or new member.

    2. PartialToPort*

      I think it could be a pretty entertaining follow up. Talk about team-type stuff, then if it’s going well, “And there was also the time I agreed to swap pants with a colleague.” Memorable, at the least :)

  7. Sam*

    LW2, I’d be careful not to let your urgency to get back to school colour your thoughts here! Even if one teacher isn’t social distancing, it doesn’t affect how you should view teachers who are saying that schools reopening are unsafe – and it’s not like all parents have, in fact, been working as hard as they could (or should) to get schools open again!

    If you’re concerned on the COVID-19/return front, I’d definitely reach out to the school board about what their testing/return-to-work procedures are going to be. But if schools can’t reopen, it’s not going to because any one group of people aren’t social distancing.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      Also, it’s not necessarily *that* hypocritical of the teachers — I’m not convinced that it’s entirely ridiculous to think that going out to dinner occasionally is one thing, but that filling the school buildings with hundreds of students every single day is another, riskier thing.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        And conversely, it seems hypocritical of the public to demand that schools reopen while criticising small outdoor events.
        Look, this is just a bad situation with no good solutions. I won’t rehash the countless arguments made for and against reopening schools, we’ve all heard them. But this isn’t a teachers versus parents battle.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          ” it seems hypocritical of the public to demand that schools reopen while criticising small outdoor events.”


      2. AcademiaNut*

        The reality is that COVID-19 is going to be present in the schools at the same level it is in the community, because there is no way you can make a bubble out of an education system. If they’re teaching younger kids, the teachers aren’t really adding any risk to the classroom by not socially distancing out of it (the idea that small children don’t get seriously ill or transmit the virus easily being the main argument behind opening schools). If they’re teaching teenagers, who spread the virus like adults, an occasional dinner out or outdoor barbecue pales in the face of spending five days a week in a poorly ventilated room with a bunch of other people.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          the idea that small children don’t get seriously ill or transmit the virus easily being the main argument behind opening schools

          This idea has now been shown to be false with the emergence of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children infected with the virus.

          1. MeTwoToo*

            Florida has over 300 children in hospital right now and that’s with them not in school.

            1. Stacy*

              In my state over 300 daycare workers and 100 children have contracted COVID. 25% of the cases are believed to have been contracted from the daycare settings. Those numbers may seem small but a) it proves that children do get and transmit COVID b) daycares were limited to a max of 9 children per room. Public school classes will have much higher numbers of students. In my urban school district, we are splitting up clases in half for a hybrid learning model and will still have upwards of 15 students in each class.

        2. Observer*

          an occasional dinner out or outdoor barbecue pales in the face of spending five days a week in a poorly ventilated room with a bunch of other people.

          This is so key. It just blows me away how even school boards who are supposedly taking the situation “seriously” are just not mentioning the ventilation systems. That should be the FIRST thing they look at.

        3. JM60*

          The reality is that COVID-19 is going to be present in the schools at the same level it is in the community

          I think COVID-19 is going to be more prevalent in schools, perhaps much more so. Children, especially young children, aren’t good at social distancing, mask wearing, or hygiene. Plus, the fact that COVID-19 doesn’t affect children as much might mean much more presymptomatic or asymptomatic transmission (I don’t know this for sure).

      3. Roscoe*

        Exactly. I’ve met up with friend outside in backyards and stuff like that. I also don’t think being in a closed school with a bunch of kids is a good idea. Not to mention the fact that if I were to get infected, living alone, I can limit who I’m exposed to. Kids or teachers going to school can’t really do that

      4. Alanna*

        I agree. I find it hard to judge the actual risk teachers are taking based on OP’s letter — they mention restaurants and bars but then say that a gathering of 10 people in a backyard was the “most egregious.” Going unmasked to an indoor bar is much, much, much riskier from both an individual and community standpoint. And so is going to work every day in crowded indoor spaces with possibly iffy ventilation and frequent interpersonal contact.

    2. Dan*

      Yeah… the reporting I get in my area about “teachers” is just that. “Teachers”. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the older teachers are the ones really pushing against reopening quickly because they’re more likely to be in a higher risk group. The teachers OP refers to seem to be much younger.

      Additionally, we’re still in summer. I don’t know when schools where OP live are expected to open, but realistically, I think the only practical thing that can be asked for is a two week quarantine before school starts. Yes, I know that schools can start any time from early August to early September, but OP says nothing about where she lives. Regardless, I don’t think where anywhere near two weeks out from any school system realistically reopening.

      1. Quilter33*

        Our schools are opening in two weeks. And the local private schools are opening in less than a week!

      2. Willis*

        One school system in my state is starting in-person classes on Friday. I dont think it really impacts the answer for the OP (I agree with Alison here), but I think your assumption that no schools are starting soon is off, especially in rural areas.

        1. Rafiki1082*

          Are they “quaran-teaming”? Is it just this group or are they often with a large varying group? I’m finding people are starting to increase the size of their bubble slowly and have frequent gatherings outdoors with the same group of people. They still restrict themselves against the general public. The loneliness of quarantine truly started to wear on mental health and some people need to be with more people. Young teachers are used to being surrounded by joy, maybe they reached their breaking point. As someone else commented, reluctance to go back is coming from at risk teachers and from the teachers that don’t see the feasibility in meeting the standards when many classes are already tight on space and have their own challenges before you add masks, space and providing each child with their own supplies (no sharing).

          1. Zillah*

            I’m not sure that I agree that young teachers are used to being surrounded by joy – my experience as a millennials is not that we’re a particularly joyful generation – but I do think that isolation might be a particularly acute problem for younger people.

      3. AnonymooseToday*

        Well the county next to my mom’s in a major metro area, while starting school online, is forcing all staff to work out of the buildings starting tomorrow. Also I’m young-ish, all of my education friends are terrified. So tired of the young vs old, it varies, groups of people in all age groups are doing things differently. Guess what? At my job, open to the public though still closed right now, the older employees wanted to keep it open, while the younger ones, fought to work from home. Right now, those older employees are the ones going in, even though they don’t have to.

      4. Anononon*

        I’m not sure why your distinction matters, that it’s likely only older and/or at risk teachers who are worried. So?

      5. Going anon*

        I work in higher ed. They do not want to pay for testing here. They either do not want to or cannot figure out how to make sure everyone returning has been tested. In lieu of testing, they began by telling every student, faculty, and staff member that they would need to quarantine for 2 weeks. Then it was 1 week, but still mandatory. Now they’re lightly “suggesting” that we do so. It’s a joke. We have to fill out an online form whenever we set foot on campus, but that is not a safety measure.

        Your school can try to ask people to quarantine, but I would not count on everyone adhering to the rules of the quarantine.

      6. Cj*

        Related to “depending on where they live”, and when this behavior was observed, are they actually violating their states guidelines? Obviously, during the shutdown they shouldn’t have been doing any of this, but if restaurants and bars are open now, most states say groups have to social distance between themselves in these places, but members of the same group don’t. And masks, even if recommended or required, don’t have to worn while eating or drinking.

        My state allows indoor gatherings of 10 people that should try to sit six feet apart. Outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people are allowed with no social distancing. A mask mandate just went into place for public places, but that doesn’t include a persons backyard.

        Is it a good idea? Probably not. I’ve only been to a restaurant twice since this started, in a county with only 63 cases and 2 deaths. But not necessarily against state regulations/guidelines.

      7. Librarian1*

        I know a bunch of 30-something teachers/school employees who also don’t want schools to reopen. These people are high-risk themselves, live with someone who’s high-risk, have very young children, are pregnant, or are going to have a new baby soon, among other things. Also, adults in their 20s and 30s aren’t immune from having a bad case of covid, even if they have no underlying conditions AND there’s evidence that covid is causing strokes in 30 and 40 somethings who’ve had it.

      8. Zillah*

        It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the older teachers are the ones really pushing against reopening quickly because they’re more likely to be in a higher risk group. The teachers OP refers to seem to be much younger.

        This might make logical sense, but it actually isn’t accurate – polling has found that while a majority of people in both age groups are changing their behavior and wearing face masks, younger people (18-44) are actually much more likely to do both than than older people (65+).

  8. MK*

    #1, I would say that you should first exhaust all other solutions (dash home and change, have someone bring you a change from home, buy a new pair) and then seriously consider how big a deal it is for this client to see you with a rip I your clothes. Many wouldn’t even notice and most people would understand it was an accident. Only if you were sure it would be a huge deal for this client you should consider asking a peer you have a good relationship with for this favour.

  9. TeacherTeacher*

    #2 — I get it. But I don’t know what state you’re in or where things stand. Some places are fine with gatherings of 10. Maybe these friends/teachers had all locked down for 3 months and were now choosing to safely spend time together. If restaurants and bars are open, then they’re doing nothing illegal (I’d argue that if the government wanted schools to open, they’d have kept bars, restaurants, casinos, gyms, etc., closed.

    Bottom line, there’s a lot you don’t know. And we teachers are seeing unmasked play dates galore in our neighborhoods too. It’s all a mess and the guidelines change by the hour and so much of it is contradictory. As a teacher and parent, I’m trying my best to trust that people are doing their best. Otherwise, I’d go insane.

    1. Dan*

      The other thing is an assumption of risk. If I choose to participate in an activity (or travel or whatever) I’m assuming that risk. My employer may want me to do some stuff that involves risk I’m just not willing to accept. Then what?

      And… OP mentions the worst offenders had a ten-person gathering. The number of interactions that will occur in a school are *way* higher than that. You probably run into ten people in the teachers lounge, yes? Never mind that in school, you’re coming into contact with dozens and potentially hundreds of people whose social contacts you know nothing about nor have any control over whatsoever.

      One thing I haven’t seen discussed much is what happens if a teacher gets sick or even tests positive. Do they then have to stay home for two weeks, and a sub needs to get found? I just don’t see the logistics of that working out all that great.

      1. Ms Frizzle*

        Can’t speak to anyone else, but a district nearby released an in-person plan where staff and students at the secondary level can come into contact with over 100 people in their cohort on a daily basis (it’s closer to 50 for elementary). All those interactions will be happening inside, over a sustained period of time, often in classrooms where 6 feet of social distancing is not possible even once they’re old enough to be able to do it effectively. Some schools aren’t even requiring masks. There are no easy answers about how and when schools re-open in person, but honestly I do think the risk level is probably higher than a lot of other situations.

        The logistics of coverage are just one of the many headaches of trying to open for in-person. Many districts aren’t allowing daily subs. If a teacher tests positive it’s likely the entire cohort would be out for remote learning/quarantine for a period (again, depending on the district). If they’re just sick, or potentially exposed outside of school, or if they’re waiting for test results, then we’re stuck trying to figure out coverage within our buildings while also maintaining the teacher’s cohort and keeping every other class in the building running without violating THEIR cohort and also respecting teachers’ contracts and keeping kids learning for those two weeks and. . .

        Knowing how often teachers tend to get mildly sick, having staff out any time they have even one COVID symptom is going to be quite an operational puzzle.

      2. Esme*

        I agree with the general view of your post but not the part about risk. The issue with COVID is that no, actually, it’s not just you assuming that risk – you’re also risking others.

        1. EPLawyer*

          thank you. No one can assume risk for anyone else. With Covid, you aren’t the only person that gets sick if you engage in risky behavior, you have the potential to get other people sick who did not choose to engage in the behavior . This is the time to think about others, not just ourselves.

        2. Sam*

          I think this is true in an absolute sense, but I think that the way other people are talking about it as an error in attribution – individual choices do increase societal risk, but ire is much better directed at people with the ability to implement societal solutions, not attempting to police individual behaviour.

        3. Zillah*

          I’m not sure it’s quite this simple.

          We can’t avoid some level of risk – it’s just not feasible. I’m not talking about indoor concerts, but things like grocery shopping, laundry, trips to the pharmacy, and exercise all include some level of risk. Some things clearly involve a very high level of risk and aren’t really justifiable, which is why many states have banned certain kinds of gatherings.

          But I think there’s a pretty big middle ground where people have to make a calculated risk assessment. I think the protests against police brutality are probably the best example of moderate risk activities where people are weighing where they can do the most good, but there are also other more individual judgments. How worried is one about a weird lump that’s probably not a big deal? At what point is it okay to get a routine dental cleaning or eye exam or pap smear? How much isolation can one handle before alleviating some of that depression or anxiety it’s caused or exacerbated becomes urgent to maintain one’s ability to function?

          I completely agree with you overall, and it’s really important for us to acknowledge that it’s not just our health we’re risking – but by the same token, it’s important to acknowledge the impact of the disease on the individual as well as the broader community, particularly where people don’t really have any good options. (I’m not trying to whatabout here – there are a lot of people in my social circle for whom the isolation has gotten so acute that they’ve been struggling with serious depression/anxiety and even suicidal thoughts, and I don’t think that’s something that would be noticed by an outside observer.)

          1. Zillah*

            *it’s important to acknowledge the indirect impact of the pandemic on the individual as well as the broader community, particularly where people don’t really have any good options.

    2. Flawed by Design*

      My partner is an administrator at an elementary school, and she’s currently working on the logistics of what returning to school really means. There is a huge difference between getting together with 9 friends, and putting hundreds of students into a building for 7+ hours a day where social distancing can’t be observed (3ft of distance is the best they can do) and where you have NO IDEA what precautions those families are taking on a daily basis. All you need is one anti-mask family in the district to result in an entire class being exposed in a best-case scenario. More likely, you’ll end up with it running through the entire school even with safety measures in place.

      My partner and I have taken this pandemic very seriously – both of us have been home since March and we’ve hardly seen our family and friends. We have gotten together with a group of about 6 other people a few times, but we know what precautions they’ve been taking and we live in a county with very few cases. It’s a calculated risk, and it’s very low. We understand that it’s not impossible, but it’s still low. It drives me insane to see people acting totally irresponsible and prolonging this pandemic, but those of us who are responsible can’t be expected to live in total isolation for months on end. I don’t think it’s morally wrong for people to make an informed decision about their risk.

      1. Zillah*

        All you need is one anti-mask family in the district to result in an entire class being exposed in a best-case scenario.

        Yes, exactly! And even if everyone is doing everything right, masks are more for the protection of others rather than ourselves – someone who always wears a mask can get still sick if they end up in line with someone who’s not wearing a mask or whose mask isn’t fitting properly.

    3. Posie*

      I also was wondering what state you’re in. In my state, everything you listed is currently permitted, so I think it would be pretty unreasonable to criticize a teacher who is abiding by state regulations – if you disagree with the regulations, you need to be directing that ire towards your governor, not teachers. If, however, your state does not permit those activities, I still wouldn’t interfere with their employer. You still have a choice: home school, virtual options, etc., but you cannot dictate what a teacher does outside of school. Accept the risk or keep your kids at home. An option that you could request from your school is more accountability as teachers enter the school. For example, my job requires you to report any symptoms EVERY DAY and takes your temperature upon entering the workplace. I personally think it’s overkill, but I’d rather that than them policing my personal life.

      1. Annony*

        Yep. I think teachers should be living by the same standards as everyone else. Would you be calling the school to tell them that you saw students eating in a restaurant with their families? Because the increase in risk would be the same.

        1. Stephanie*

          THANK YOU! Also, the writer says they’re starting online. If that’s the case then why does it matter if the teacher was in an outdoor gathering?
          As a middle school teacher myself, I would never put my students at risk by going to school after potentially being exposed (bars, restaurants, travel, etc). I would have to assume most teachers feel that way too.

    4. c828*

      yep, the situation really sucks, to put it mildly. I’m reluctant to place the blame on people who are going out to bars and restaurants that are legally allowed to operate in their state, even though I am still avoiding them. The 20 + “red zone” states should be on lockdown and people should be paid by the government to stay home, but it’s not happening. Local and federal governments are saying it’s safe. We shouldn’t have to be comparing different news sources against the government’s word to see what’s safe and not safe in a pandemic, but here we are.

    5. Cj*

      I can’t agree more, TeacherTeacher. Just like earlier this week, when people were stating not only that people absolutely shouldn’t be doing what they were doing, but claiming, without knowing the location, that they were violating state/local guidelines or regulations.

      None of this is to say that I think what they are doing is safe, or that I would do it myself. It’s the continuous comments that they aren’t following the local rules that is annoying me. Especially not knowing the location or how bad it is there.

      I made a similar reply to a different post, but it makes more sense to be nested under your comment.

    1. Courtney*

      Not long after I started at my current job, I wore a shirt and the top button popped off, exposing rather more of my chest than anyone needs to see. I hunted through the office for a safety pin, and couldn’t find one anywhere. I asked around, and nothing. I ended up using a stapler from memory, and have since bought a sewing kit and safety pins for the office.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        I once had a button pop off a cardigan I was wearing to my relatively short stint at a retail catalogue office (mostly other items, but some clothing). Fortunately it wasn’t a serious/exposing wardrobe malfunction, but long story short, there were actually sewing supplies on hand for photoshoot purposes, and I was able to fix the button on the spot.

        Also, fyi, first aid kits usually have safety pins. Just maybe replace the one you took out when you’re able to.

        1. Courtney*

          I did look quickly in the first aid kit, but I must have overlooked them in my not-quite-panic. Good tip though!

      2. M*

        When my boyfriend and I were performing together once, he managed to pop the button on his dress pants. I walked into the performance on my cue, and thought it was odd that he had his hands on his waistband like Sheriff Woody, but soon realized what happened. A very kind teacher noticed as well, and ran to grab him a safety pin. I had to vamp for a while so he could secure his pants, and he was known for the rest of the week as the guy who lost his button. From then on, we made darn sure that we had pins in my bag.

    2. Granger*

      Yes! Duct tape or packing tape on the inside of the clothing works really well! If you can, lay the clothing flat and apply the tape for the most stealth emergency repair.

      1. Recreational Moderation*

        +1 to this. Even before I finished reading the letter, I was thinking, “Duct tape!”

  10. feministbookworm*

    There is a very famous story in my professional circles about someone who biked to work and forgot his change of pants. He had an important meeting that day, and ended up borrowing pants from a work friend who was a very different size from him. This story has traveled far beyond those who worked at the organization at that time, so while borrowing coworkers pants may be the least bad option in a given situation, it’s definitely not a *good* one.

    Also, apologies to the UK readers for the gross mental images you probably currently have. (Pants= underwear in the UK…)

    1. Rainy Cumbria*

      UK reader here. Yes, the headline is extra funny for a Brit. Obviously we know that when an American says pants they mean trousers, but it still conjured up *quite* an interesting mental image

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        OT question: are women’s underwear still “knickers” or are women now wearing “pants” too? Or is it mid-change?

    2. Alex (UK)*

      Ha! I wonder if that’s a story about my old boss! He cycled or ran to work and regularly forgot his shoes, it wasn’t uncommon to see him around the office (even in client meetings) wearing full professional trousers, shirt & tie.. and bright orange trainers. He did once forget his trousers too, but rather than borrow a pair he opted to stay in his running shorts..

    3. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Not cycling, but one day I went to the gym before work. I remembered to bring a work appropriate top and shoes, but forgot to bring work appropriate pants! Fortunately, that day I’d worn yoga pants that actually looked more like pants than leggings, so I didn’t feel too embarrassed when I stopped by Target on my way to work and bought a maxi-skirt to wear that day. (We’re a casual office – gym clothes and pajamas are about the only things that don’t qualify as work appropriate.)

    4. SomehowIManage*

      My friend lived in France and drove to Switzerland for a business meeting. When he got out of his car he realized he was wearing his house slippers.

  11. About the pants*

    The pants swap was fine in that situation. OP was young and probably super on edge about doing everything right and “switch pants!” sounds exactly like the kind of OMG WHAT DO I DO kind of idea that college students would have. They were same age, in the same program, and friendly with each other. Even if they weren’t *friends* friends, there is often a bond to being in a cohort or team together. It makes for a funny story. And, in my experience, girls in college are used to sharing clothes. Plus, presumably OP’s success benefited the other student, as well.

    But I wouldn’t suggest this in the working world, unless you are related to or very close friends outside of work with the person you’re asking. Better to just mention it in the meeting if you don’t have access to backup pants.

    1. MeTwoToo*

      Absolutely the college student bond! When I was a student we had a girl who had applied to a masters program which required a presentation and was very ‘elite’. they only took around a dozen students each year. She was scheduled to present on Friday to the Head, but on Wednesday a message came to her in the middle of a 75 student full class that the Head had a family issue and was leaving the state that night. He would hear her presentation if she could do it within the hour. The problem was that she lived off campus and would never make it to her apartment and back in time and she was in typical student wear, rumpled t-shirt and battered jeans. She was panicking and some girls across the way grabbed her and took her to their dorm near by. They didn’t even know her really, but she come back with a conglomeration of their and their friends clothes. Nice pants suit, jacket, shoes, make up and everything. She looked great and I heard her presentation was awesome.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I love this story.

        Some organizations can have this feeling too. Or aspire to.

    2. CM*

      Agreed! In college, among fellow students at the same level (both students in the class, even if one was playing the “intern”) it’s totally fine and I’ve done stuff like this before — swapped stockings with a friend because one of us found a huge run just before an interview.

      While I agree that this won’t fly in many jobs, in a startup environment you never know! You do whatever you need to do to get by, and if you’re about to meet with a potential funder and need pants… you get pants.

      1. Observer*

        No, on the startup bit. I means it’s true that a lot of startups are fairly toxic places, but it’s not a good idea to perpetuate that dynamic.

  12. LGC*

    LW1: No real advice, but two work stories! My friends are going to hate me for this.

    1) About five years ago, my best friend and I worked in the same office. (I was a supervisor, he was an individual contributor. This was as awkward as you would imagine.) He’s a few inches shorter than me and I’m thinner than he is (he’s a large guy but not humongous, I’m really tall and thin). He ended up ripping his pants one day and freaking out – and since we’re different shapes a switch wouldn’t have worked. After getting entangled in his feelings (since I had no boundaries at the time), we finally ended up ducking out of the office for half an hour to get a new pair of pants for him at one of the local stores. (The office was in a small satellite city close to downtown, so a lot of shops in the area.)

    2) One of my friends told me the story about how she stitched a coworker’s pants closed…while the coworker was still wearing them.

    Also, thank you for writing this letter and bringing me joy! And actually, I do have advice…you had half an hour, so you could have had enough time to patch up. Generally, I think swapping clothes is probably a last resort regardless of who you’re asking – so the answer is “don’t, but if you must, do it with a peer.” (In this case, even though you had a senior role to your classmate, you guys were essentially peers.)

    LW2: I’m approaching this from a slightly different perspective – my coping mechanism to deal has been only to police behavior that I explicitly have to, and to not blame my neighbors for the pandemic. (Once I started doing that less, my mental health improved greatly.) Yes, they’re going to bars, but…the bars are open so people can go to them. Your state’s governor looked at the situation and decided that sure, letting bars reopen is a good idea. (I personally think your state’s governor is a reckless jerk, but that’s none of my business.)

    It’s this really weird paradox where most of the US has allowed high-risk businesses to reopen so they can make money…yet expects us to not patronize said high-risk businesses because they’re high risk, not only to ourselves, but to the community at large. And this isn’t to say that going to a bar is okay, but…like, the teachers are a small part of the problem here. You can be annoyed, but I would redirect your annoyance elsewhere.

    (Also, like – I’m all for public health, but your letter reads to me like you’re tracking your neighborhood’s teachers for social distancing violations, and I’m a little creeped out by it.)

    LW3: To follow up, I work for a mid-size nonprofit (roughly 500 employees overall), and we’re subject to FMLA and state law (where people are eligible for maternity leave for six weeks). Definitely look into your state’s laws – hopefully you’re eligible for those!

    1. WellRed*

      This is very well said. It’s also quite true for me that, while people not wearing masks irritates me, my mind is much healthier if I just tell myself we’re all doing the best we can.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        One thing that helps me to realize that we’re all working with a risk budget, and we choose to spend it different ways (the size of the budget also varies depending on health, general risk tolerance, etc.).

        I’ve done a couple of things that others probably think are nuts. My kids are in (outdoor small group) camp this week even though case counts are high enough that schools won’t open in-person. We also went to visit my in-laws in another state for two weeks.

        But, we’ve used basically our entire risk budget for those things. We’re both working full time from home, other than grocery shopping every 1-2 weeks and a run to Target every couple of months we don’t go to stores, we haven’t been seeing friends or family or anything else. But it’s been worth it to us to stay very locked down and save our risk for things that will give my kids a bit of outside socialization and normalcy before what is likely to be an entire year of remote learning.

        So when I see people doing things I wouldn’t, I remind myself that they’re choosing to spend their risk budget differently than I am, and that’s what works for them.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            In March when all this started (in my area that’s when it hit, at least) it made sense to do absolutely nothing that wasn’t strictly necessary as part of lockdown. Now that our leadership has failed so badly that we’ll be living with this for a year or more, we all have to find a more sustainable balance of reducing risk versus maintaining physical and mental health, social connection, maintaining employment (full time work at home with no child care is not sustainable for many), educating our kids, etc. It’s not easy, and basically everyone I know is struggling with their choices in some way or another.

  13. Teach*

    Ooooh OP #2, my blood is absolutely boiling right now. Can you give me these teachers’ contact information so I can give them a piece of my mind, lol…

    I’m a teacher too. It is teachers like these that are EXACTLY the evidence that “they” are looking for. These teachers are going to be the reason that we’re going to be back in the classroom before literally anyone else has to go to work in-person when it isn’t necessary. This letter was hard for me to read because of how infuriating it is to realize that teachers are behaving this way. We all know we’re under a microscope now more than ever; how dare they put all of our lives at risk so they can throw a party.

      1. Teach*

        As a teacher, I can assure you that we’re most definitely do not have a seat at the table, so to speak.

    1. Katrinka*

      Do we even know that they are under contract yet? Do we know that they haven’t been isolating in their own homes before and/or after the gathering? If their district is starting with distance learning, there is no danger to students or other staff. If they are planning on isolating for two weeks prior to the beginning of in-person classes, that is also considered acceptable by experts. I think condemning them for something that a neighbor saw in a backyard from a distance might be a bit of a stretch. There are too many variables that the LW may or may not be aware of.

      1. blackcat*

        A group of young, laid off teachers in my town totally had a party. I don’t blame them.

        LW can’t even be sure they’re teaching this coming year for a variety of reasons. My district is far from alone in having to cut teachers jobs for budgetary reasons (state has pulled back aid, because state is spending $$$$ on the virus).

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      One of my sisters in law is a primary school teacher and isn’t distancing or at all bothered about school restarting because ‘there’s no risk to children, only the old and disabled’

      She’s throwing a massive birthday party for one of her own kids this weekend. I’m not going, although the rest of the family is. Gods help us.

      1. pancakes*

        There’s a 9-year-old girl in Florida who just died yesterday. She had no preexisting health issues, and was turned away from the hospital her parents took her to.

        1. Cheluzal*

          I’m in Florida. A hospital sent her home and there’s no indication she had covid symptoms. Dying OF is often very much confused with dying WITH, especially in Florida now.

          Not saying it can’t happen but I predict there is more to that story.

          Also, unfortunately humans aren’t immortal. Over 200 kids died of flu last year…crickets.
          All death sucks but I lean towards perspective over pathos-charged rhetoric.
          Still be more scared of a car accident.

          1. pancakes*

            She had a fever of 103 and wasn’t tested. Do you think the hospital made the right decision by declining to test her, then? I don’t see a good reason why more widespread testing should be avoided, or why anyone would think declining to test this particular kid was a good call considering her subsequent death.

            I do think there should be more cricket sounds around seasonal flu deaths, because it’s increasingly looking likely many of those could be prevented by more people wearing masks. That’s what appears to be happening right now in Chile and Argentina, for example — it’s winter there and seasonal flu deaths are way, way down due to anti-Covid measures like masks and distancing. In some areas seasonal flu deaths are down over 60%. I’m not sure what you’re trying to convey about your beliefs on mortality but that seems like a plus rather than a minus to me.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        No risk to children? What news has she been watching? Multisystem inflammatory syndrome is a thing that kids infected with COVID are coming down with, and a lot of those kids are dying.

    3. Mookie*

      No, these teachers do not have that power or influence and they are not responsible for local, state, and federal government abdication of their duties to us. The zest for “re-opening” needs no additional “proof” because it was always a bad idea based on faulty reasoning and amorality.

    4. Guacamole Bob*

      Wait, what do you mean “before literally anyone else has to go to work in-person when it isn’t necessary?”

      There are millions of bartenders, servers, hair stylists, gym employees, retail workers, and others around the country who are back at work already, even though their businesses by any reasonable definition are less essential than our education system.

      And as a parent of two first graders, I think in-person schooling is pretty damn necessary. It won’t happen in my area because case counts are too high (and I support schools remaining closed if community spread isn’t under control), but the toll it’s taking on my kids to have no outside socialization, and the toll it will take on them and on our entire family for them to attend school remotely, is absolutely enormous.

      1. Teach*

        That was a little unclear, my bad.

        What I mean was that everyone who CAN work from home, is still doing so. As we’ve read in this blog many times, WFH in a pandemic will not be the same quality as working in-person in normal times, but THAT’S OK. Anyone who can do their job from home should be doing so. That includes teachers.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          I would argue that this is true for high school teachers, and probably for middle school, but that elementary school teachers cannot actually do their jobs from home. Certainly my children cannot learn from their teachers at anything like normal rates.

          Many office employees are working at 80% of normal capacity, and yes, employers just have to find ways to make it work. My kids, on the other hand, are learning at more like 20% of normal. They’re missing out on all of the social learning that happens in early elementary, all science, social studies, art, music, PE, group work, and individual instruction – basically everything except whole-class math and reading. They cannot sit in front of zoom long enough to learn everything they normally would effectively from their teachers. If they’re learning all of that, it’s because other adults (parents and babysitters) have taken over the teaching, and preparing materials, and getting kids to focus, and all the additional elements of having a functional first grade classroom that are part of the job of being a teacher.

          Schools need to remain closed in my area and many others. That sucks, but it is what it is. But it’s not because teachers can do their jobs from home, but because the public health risk is too great to provide adequate education to kids right now.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            (And I know a fair number of teachers, and I know they’re working at way more than 20% of usual to get to that 20% of normal outcomes. I don’t mean to disparage the heroic efforts that many teachers have made to get remote learning working as well as possible. But I think everyone recognizes that it’s vastly inferior to in-person instruction.)

          2. Chrs*

            In-person instruction will not allow a return to 100% of former learning. There will be no cooperative learning, no singing, no playing games together in PE, no hands-on science projects. All of the things your child’s education is currently missing will still be missing if schools allow in-person instruction – just something to be aware of.

            1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

              Yes, this. Essentially all we’re going to get back is the babysitting. Which is important for working parents! But only necessary because the government freaking refuses to pay people to stay home until we get case counts under control, and it’s infuriating.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                For some proportion of public school kids, we’ll get back adequate breakfast and lunch (schook districts are doing the best they can with meal distribution currently, but they can’t reach everyone), interaction with adults trained to spot child abuse, spaces to be that are adequately heated in winter and cooled in summer, some sense of routine and stability, access to books and computers, more time exposed to the language in which they are expected to complete their schoolwork but which isn’t spoken in their home, access to a trained nurse, special education support services (the story of a friend of a friend whose kid has a full time aide in school and who has no support at all now is brutal), etc.

                All more reasons why teachers are higher on the essential worker scale than your average office employee.

            2. Guacamole Bob*

              That’s true. And the social distancing and masks and everything may make it feel kind of awful and dystopian for some kids in ways that are worth keeping in mind, too. And I’ve never really understood how staffing is supposed to work for the weird hybrid plans many districts are going with.

              I get that all this is hard, and my kids are probably not going back at all this year (my district has already called it for fully remote through January) and that’s probably the right decision from a public health perspective. But the idea that (elementary and some special ed) teachers are comparable to many office employees in their ability to work remotely and should be treated similarly in re-opening plans really rubs me the wrong way. It’s an entirely separate set of considerations.

    5. high school teacher*

      I am a teacher myself and have a different take. Personally I am social distancing, not going out to eat, and only leave for errands and exercise (solo bike rides). I don’t really see how these teachers who chose to go out to eat, which I will say again is legal, are the reason we’ll have to go back in-person. The reason we’ll have to go back in-person is political and financial in many cases.

      Especially since these teachers are starting remote, I can’t conjure up too much anger. I’ve had a difficult summer because I’ve spent a lot of time browsing social media feeling angry that people are not staying home and social distancing. I had to stop doing that. Ultimately I cannot control anyone else, and I shouldn’t be blaming my fellow citizens, I should be blaming our leaders and our system for not adequately protecting people from this illness.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        The reason we’ll have to go back in-person is political and financial in many cases.


      2. CM*

        This is a much more balanced take than the OP’s letter.

        These teachers aren’t scheduled to go back to school within the next three weeks, it’s not your place to police them.

        You can privately judge them all you want, but I agree — ultimately this is a failure of leadership, and a much bigger issue than the actions of individual people. You can’t keep bars open and allow large unmasked gatherings and then try to get people in trouble when they go to bars and have large unmasked gatherings.

    6. PhysicsTeacher*

      I mean, you really have no idea of what their situation is.

      I recently attended a gathering that sounds similar to this “backyard party” (but I would not call it a party). It was because a friend’s (also a teacher in my building) spouse (ALSO a teacher in my building) had just gotten diagnosed that day with an inoperable brain tumor that WILL kill him, probably within 2 years. She needed friends around, so we gave her friends around. Was it a COVID risk? Yeah. Would I do it again? Yeah.

      A lot of us are struggling right now with anxiety about the world, anxiety about our jobs, anxiety about being sent into a situation in a couple weeks that seems SUCH a bad idea, anxiety that might be exacerbated by isolation. I have been isolating pretty hard, but in a few weeks, I won’t be able to justify seeing my friends and family at all, probably for weeks at a time, because I will have been in contact with an additional 130 16-19 year olds every day. There is a balancing point between mental health and physical health that is very important (I have personally been in an anxiety spiral for a week. I made a therapy appointment).

      It is so hard for me to blame other teachers when a lot of me is internally shouting “You should do this NOW! In a couple of weeks you may never be able to socialize again. If you’re gonna get COVID anyway, might as well get it now.”

  14. Jaybeetee*

    Yeeears ago I managed to wear mismatched shoes to work one day. My then-bf was ill, so I’d been trying to get ready in the dark so he could rest, the shoes were quite similar in style but different (dark) colours, and one had a slightly thicker heel than the other. I didn’t even realize until I’d gotten to work and walking felt strange.

    Very luckily, a colleague had a spare pair of shoes in the car (black, per our uniform) that were actually the right size – a miracle indeed for my size 9 feet! That said, we were peers, we were in our early 20s, she came in clutch, but I feel like I’d never be able to get away with any of that again. Adulting is keeping backups around and double-checking your shoes before leaving the house.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      To add to the hopelessness of this story, that particular job was in a rural area and quite a commute. So if my colleague hadn’t been able to help, my options would have been wearing mismatched shoes all day, taking an hour+ to drive home and come back, or take nearly as long driving into the nearest suburb to buy a new pair.

      1. virago*

        That was truly a miraculous occurrence.

        Julia Child wore a size 11 shoe (I think?). Anyway, she was a tall woman, and it was definitely a double-digit size. I’ve heard that when the home where she and her husband were living caught fire, she ran upstairs and threw all her shoes out the window because she didn’t want to have to hunt down more shoes in her size.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      I have definitely lent boots out to coworkers who needed steel toes and happened to wear a close enough size to me. That’s also why I kept an extra pair in my office. We had the slip-ons, but they weren’t small enough and/or wouldn’t grip onto generic flats. I’ve also lent shirts to people when malfunctions occurred.

      I’ve only ever lent sideways or down though. I’ve never asked someone below me in a hierarchy to lend me something. I have 100% driven to a store to replace nylons or shirts.

      I generally have a sewing kit stashed in my desk, too, so I’ve sewn up plenty of clothes on people before.

      To be honest, it’s not a big deal. Pants are a little weird to me for some reason, but in general I’m happy to help out a coworker in need of wardrobe assistance.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      I once went on a work trip and realized that the shoes I brought were mismatched, they were almost identical (brand, color, upper style, and material) except one was a wedge and one was a pump. My miracle was that at the last minute I decided to wear my ‘daily heels’ on the plane.

      My shoe options were limited on that trip, but at least they were appropriate in formality and style.

    4. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      I found a pair of loafers that were adorable, comfortable, and work-appropriate, so I bought them in black, dark brown, navy, and cream. Got dressed in the dark and headed to the office, where I was asked about my “fashion statement”. I was wearing a black shoe and brown shoe.

  15. Long Time Lurker, Infrequent Poster*

    Welcome to AskAManager, now with 200% more pants.

    Funny how the #pantdemic has ranged from wearing suit only from the waist up during video conferences and then getting busted when someone inevitably forgets to shut down the camera, metaphorical pants-on-head company policies, and now we have a pants swap question.

    In all seriousness, I personally stow a spare pair of trousers in case something happens that threatens undue exposure of confidential midsection matters, or other no less troublesome matters that require a quick swap of the leggings. More than anything I carry spare entire attires “just in case”. It has served me well so far and in your case it will spare you the need to have “the talk” with a coworker of yours when the worst comes to the worst.

    tl;dr spare pants

  16. Workaholic*

    L1: my office is business casual/ casual (ie: tshirts and jeans are mostly OK but must look nice) – except if a client is on site. If a client is expected an email goes out a week in advance with reminder emails, but people always forget. I keep a change of clothes – nice shirt, pants, flats (but not expensive or favorite) at the office just in case.

  17. Taniwha Girl*

    #2 I am not a teacher or parent. But I see this as a safety issue.
    If I was sure that schools were not reopening in my area, I would handle it the same way I handle seeing anyone else not observing guidance. (Maybe you know your neighbors well enough to call them out. I choose to call out when people are too close/pose a direct threat to me.)

    If my area’s schools were going to reopen or maybe reopen, I would bring it up to the principal or whoever as exhibit A of why we should not reopen schools. I’m sure I could get examples of parents and children also not following guidelines, statistics on community spread, and so on. In my opinion, it shows a lack of concern for the safety of the children in their care. I would be concerned that they would continue to expose themselves once school term has started. And in my opinion, teachers have more responsibility than parents of students with regards to safety because they are hired and trained to educate and care for students.

    I wouldn’t let my child play at someone’s house if their parent was irresponsible with safety and I wouldn’t send my child to school where the staff was behaving irresponsibly. And I would inform any other parents who weren’t aware of the risks being taken so they can make an informed decision about their children’s safety. I don’t care if teachers drink or date (and have drunk and dated teachers) but this casts doubt on their judgment.

    1. Flawed by Design*

      I really disagree that teachers have more of a responsibility than parents of students. EVERYONE has a responsibility to everyone else in the school. There’s probably 20-30 times more students than teachers in the school. Just based on numbers alone, little Timmy is more at risk from the other students in his class than he is from his teacher.

      I also don’t think it’s fair to say that it shows a lack of concern for children considering they aren’t even in school right now. You don’t even know that they necessarily demonstrated poor judgement by choosing to get together with a few other people. They may have assessed the situation and determined that it’s relatively low risk. Many people have been working from home and isolating themselves for 4 months already. I agree that we can’t let our guard down and stop taking precautions, but we can’t expect people to never see anyone outside their household for months on end.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        Agree with this (although admittedly I’m probably much farther on the spectrum)… I’m really just baffled at the response to our current state of the world. I’m a firm believer that everyone ultimately owns their own safety and well being. There is this weird phenomenon of wanting others to be responsible for your (global you) safety.

        In this case, teachers have no obligation to alter their lives outside of the workplace to keep others happy or safe from this virus. The OP is the one obligated to assess their risk and that of their family and determine what action to take regarding sending their kids to school.

        1. CatsAway*

          This isn’t ‘wanting’ others to be responsible to your own safety, it’s public health – the actions other people take directly affect your health and safety. If you are smoking a cigarette, everyone else in the room is smoking too, whether they want to be or not.
          I think that OP 2 would be out of line to ‘report’ the teachers she saw hanging out in a backyard, but overall the attitude that your actions don’t affect the well-being others is why the US is in the state that it’s in, in regards to COVID-19.

        2. Taniwha Girl*

          I respectfully disagree. I believe ALL of us have the obligation to alter our lives to keep others safe from this virus. That is how the pandemic works! We all have to do our best so that others don’t get sick!

          Children would have just as much responsibility as anyone else in the school, except they are developing minors and we don’t hold them fully responsible for themselves until adulthood. So the people in charge of them (parents, teachers, caregivers, etc.) are responsible for their safety and wellbeing. And that puts extra pressure on them to care for their health and safety in ways that would hinder their ability to responsibly look after the minors in their care. I would feel the same about a bus driver with a DUI or a babysitter who planned to deal with an emotionally taxing phone call while babysitting. It affects job performance and safety.

          If OP saw teachers behaving recklessly and believed that they would continue to do so when schools opened, I would agree with their decision to say something. If OP decided it was not that reckless, or thought they’d stop once when school started, or if schools weren’t going to reopen, then there’s no need to say anything.

    2. Dancing otter*

      Those teachers are going to be far more at risk from their students than the students will be from them.

      Ever notice how fast colds, flu, etc. spread through a class? It’s not the teacher giving it to the kids. Children, especially young or differently-abled children, are not likely to comply consistently with such basic measures as hand-washing, not touching other people’s stuff, staying six feet apart, and proper mask-wearing. In addition, how many schools even have the physical ability to accommodate such things? Then there’s the whole issue of poor ventilation.

      You expect teachers to risk their lives to offer in-person instruction and get your children out of your house, yet you object to them having any life outside of their workplace? And you think you should narc them out to their employer?

      1. Chrs*

        I agree. School itself will be a far, far greater risk to everyone involved than the outdoor meetings of a few teachers. In fact, the risk posed by the backyard gathering may duplicate that of the school: if these teachers all teach the same grade level(s), they will all have first- or second-hand exposure to each other in the workplace. Such a gathering would not significantly increase the likelihood of spread.

        Schools will not be safe. It will not be possible to keep small cohorts completely isolated from one another. It will not be possible to socially distance. Leave the teachers alone about their risk-management decisions.

      2. Taniwha Girl*

        I’m not sure we disagree? I don’t think schools should reopen, for exactly the reasons you stated. I think teachers have as much right to lives outside the workplace as anyone else, and have in fact gone out for drinks and dates and parties with teachers outside the workplace.

        But these teachers are not complying with the basic measures you have laid out:
        “a backyard party with ~10 adults sitting in a circle, chairs touching, and no masks. They socialize at restaurants, bars (again, no problem normally, big problem during Covid), unmasked gatherings, etc.”

        I expect the exact same of teachers as I do of any other adult right now: wear masks, social distance, stay home as much as possible, telework where possible. I believe we must make it possible for teachers to telework, because their workplace is not and cannot be made COVID-safe.

    3. c828*

      Guidance from who, exactly? The president? Their state governor? Because they may very well have been following it.

      1. Taniwha Girl*

        Well that is a separate issue in the US, as guidance in my country has been consistent. I assumed the teachers were acting recklessly by OP’s local standards.

  18. MassMatt*

    #4 They made an offer and you turned it down. OK an acknowledgement is nice but what are you expecting them to say, really? It’s over, you can move on.

  19. Janet*

    I’m a retired teacher with access to a state-wide FB teacher forum. My state has numbers that are rising. In general, younger teachers without pre-existing conditions and possibly no children of their own, are less wary of returning. All the rest (middle-aged and older teachers, pregnant teachers, teachers with infants, teachers with pre-existing conditions, teachers with family members with pre-existing conditions) are kinda’ terrified.

  20. Kisses*

    I just had flashbacks to a small resale store I worked in for years: a coworker was pregnant, and the boss/owner gave her 3 days paid and 3 weeks off. This was considered extremely generous. And in some sense it is, but my oh my have we set the bar low.

  21. Perpal*

    OP3; I gave our nanny 2 months paid maternity leave and offered more (they didn’t take me up on it, but bb is coming them with to the part time return and welcome “on the job”); no law required this. It was just the right thing to do and how I would want everyone to be treated. Hopefully your company values treating employees well and will act accordingly. But you may already have a sense of how your company is; do you think announcing your pregnancy early would be well received, or have they reacted badly to other leave requests in the past? Up to you if you want to try to announce and negotiate early vs wait until later in the pregnancy

  22. Hiya*

    #1 it’s always a good idea to keep a full change of clothes in your car or in your desk/office.

  23. Matt*

    LW1: Reading from the UK, where pants means underwear, I spat out my tea when reading todays headline. No one could possibly think that’s acceptable? It makes more sense after reading the actual letter!

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      FWIW, I keep spare clean, new underpants at the office. If someone close to my size needed them, I’d give them to them.

  24. Batgirl*

    OP2 seems reluctant to get the teachers in question in trouble and I think that’s a good instinct.
    Not only because it’s a bit unfair as they may be planning to quarantine, but mainly because putting pressure on the teachers of her neighbourhood doesn’t tackle the issue of what the school’s teachers in other neighbourhoods are doing.
    It needs to be top-down guidance from the head. Headteachers are also quite accostomed to hearing about and preventing out-of-school issues which reflect badly on the school.
    I’d probably go in with: “I’ve seen some teachers socialising without any distancing, now that bars and restaurants are open. (no need to mention the neighbourhood) At this stage, this is fine, but it made me wonder if teachers will be isolating ahead of reopening? And if this expectation has been communicated to them should you be made aware of any social media posts or sightings to the contrary by parents?”
    Teachers are pretty used to policing their social media and behaviour in public. That’s usually really unfair but you can use that preexisting expectation for safety in this case. Wheareas many managers will handwring about overstepping, a school will not. There will be an onslaught of complaints from other parents besides you, so giving teachers a heads up is only fair. Just getting over the message “this looks bad and will affect your employment” may be enough guidance for teachers to have a rethink, but remember there are no guarantees.

    1. Ms Frizzle*

      That may depend a lot on the area and district OP2 is in. I can just imagine the field day my union would have with schools telling teachers their employment would be affected by participating in legal activities outside of work, but I live in a large urban area with a strong union.

      1. high school teacher*

        Yeah, honestly, if a parent called my principal and complained about teachers eating at restaurants, not only would my principal not discipline that teacher but the parent would then probably garner the reputation of being “that” parent.

  25. Rebecca*

    LW2, the teachers having a small party are, frankly, the least of your concerns.

    I live in a country where we did open up in person for 5 weeks (for elementary) before the summer. I spent all day keeping those kids away from each other only to watch them get into the same cars as kids from other kids to carpool home, and listen to them tell me all about their sleepovers with kids from other schools. The school cannot police the behaviour of every family in that class and make sure they are all social distancing.

    I had half the parents on the class demanding that I magically stop the kids from getting the virus and the other half actively putting me at risk for getting it. Some parents tried to make me feel guilty for wearing a mask and others tried to make me feel guilty for taking it off for a moment to gulp a coffee.

    And I don’t live in the same neighbourhood as my school (on purpose!). If they were also peering into my back yard……

    Cut your teachers some slack. Let them live their lives. Going back to school is going to be a calculated risk whether or not you police them, and they are doing the same math.

    1. Rebecca*

      *as kids from other classes. We were trying to keep the classes separate from each other to create bubbles.

    2. US Teacher Abroad*

      Thank you for providing this perspective! I’m from the US but teach abroad in a country with very few cases that’s heading back to school in September. The teachers had exactly the same concerns at my school at the start of all of this. Our students outed their families so quickly, telling us during zoom classes about sleepovers, playdates, birthday parties, etc. Why were the teachers paying the price (parents sending me nasty emails about how awful distance learning is) when they were acting above the rules?

      OP2- Don’t be a Karen. If you’re going to report teachers, you better report all of the other students and families from the school that you see out and about. And reflect on your own behavior as well. Have you and your children been following the guidelines perfectly? My guess is no. This pandemic and the mess being made by politicians about returning to school is NOT teachers’ fault, or the principal’s either. Don’t scapegoat them. They’re just normal people.

    3. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      This is what I think everyone (who isn’t screaming for schools to be open because “there’s no risk to kids! There’s a 99.4% survival rate!”, because I live in an area that has more than a couple of these…) is struggling with. The calculated risk is that you are only as safe as the least safe person you come into contact with.

      As for a plan? It was completely obvious while watching my district’s school board meeting, on Zoom, that there is NO plan. And the irony that we were watching the meeting on Zoom because its currently not permissible to have that many people in a room together in my entire state? Well. It wasn’t lost on part of the “room” and was brought up.

      We have no good options. They all suck (insert favorite foul terms here).

    4. Jennifer*

      Amen. This mom needs to worry about the other parents in her neighborhood. I’m tired of teachers being held to a higher standard.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This. You can’t control every aspect of everyone’s life that would be in school in person once they decide to open.

      1. Helpful*

        They’re not even opening yet! OP is rushing to judgment in anticipation of a situation that might happen sometime in the future.

    6. Altair*

      Well and truly said. Teachers are already overly scrutinized when it comes to what they do in their private lives. Using the pandemic as an excuse to clamp down on them is neither fair nor effective.

  26. Time_TravelR*

    Letter #1 – I used to keep a complete suit in my locker at work “just in case.” It actually came in handy one day when I was caught in a torrential downpour. My hair looked bad (bad!) but at least I had a dry suit to put on! I always keep emergency back up underwear and pantyhose too.

    1. JustaTech*

      That was what taught me to keep spare clothes at work too: I was walking back from another building and a car drove through a huge puddle and absolutely drenched me.
      I squelched back up to my lab and the lab manager took one look at me and said “going home then?”

  27. RecentAAMfan*

    Am I the only one thinking of the West Wing episode where Abby cut the president’s tie seconds before the big debate? He gets josh to swap ties, and the adrenaline jolt helps him ace the debate.

    1. Shirley Keeldar*

      I thought of that immediately! It’s one of my favorite Abby moments. Love the expression on her face as the scissors go SNIP!

    2. EPLawyer*

      And he asked an underling. Power dynamics and all. So sometimes — like if you are the president of the United States, about to go into a debate, you can ask an underling for a tie — even if said underling feels they can’t say no.

      1. starsaphire*

        Technically, though, everyone around POTUS is an underling, right? So, not much choice there.

    3. New Jack Karyn*

      I was thinking of a later episode, in which CJ Cregg (now Chief of Staff) has a spill and her backup outfit is at the cleaners. She ends up borrowing her assistant Margaret’s scarf to cover the stain. The scarf clashed badly with CJ’s outfit, of course.

  28. Oh Fiddlesticks*

    OP4, is it possible that after this company made you the offer, they heard that you left your current job – then came back – and then were looking to leave again in less than a week or two? It seems likely if they haven’t responded, and that kind of realization would understandably make any company wary of continuing the conversation.

  29. How quickly we forget*

    Cut the teachers some slack. You don’t know their situation. I’m an essential worker (think first responder) and have worked every single day of the pandemic. We can wear masks (some of the time) and most of my colleagues do. We can’t social distance much because of the nature of my work. To stay sane, we do spend time together on the weekends – hanging out in the backyard with a handful of the same people I’m forcibly exposed to every day at work does not increase my risk (or the risk of a nosy neighbor for that matter) and compared to what we have to do at work, is much safer. Same goes for these teachers – backyard BBQ with coworkers is miles less risky that central air building with 500 other people.

    1. pancakes*

      It does increase your risk to some extent to spend additional time around people, even if they’re the same people you see at work. The risk is smaller than it would be if you were mixing with two or more sets of people, but it’s not nonexistent, and it’s not essential to your work. If someone in the group has a sick person they live with, for example, it could be quite risky to maximize the amount of time you spend in each other’s company. Also, the letter writer explained classes in their area will be online-only when school is in session again, so it’s quite clear that the teachers in their neighborhood aren’t in fact working alongside one another every day in the meantime the same way you and your colleagues are. We don’t know their situation, no, but we have no reason to believe it closely resembles yours.

      1. LQ*

        But your point of the classes will be online only is clear… so these are just neighbors that the OP wants to report to their boss about in order to get them in trouble with their employer. If we’ve decided that now we are a nation of report everyone to their boss and get them fired and have them lose their health care during unprecedent economic downturn and health crisis, then that’s what we as a nation have decided, but I definately do not vote for that.

        1. pancakes*

          A letter writer considering reporting their neighbors to the school system does not in fact mean that doing so is a nationwide policy. I’m not sure how or why you’re not seeing it, but the advice was to not do so, and nearly all of the commenters agree.

      2. Anononon*

        Just look at the lifeguards in NJ who had a party together and now almost 30 of them tested positive.

        1. Observer*

          Yeah, but life guards generally are not sitting within 2 feet of each other. They are NOT spending hours in close quarters. They were being incredibly stupid.

      3. Zillah*

        If someone in the group has a sick person they live with, for example, it could be quite risky to maximize the amount of time you spend in each other’s company.

        I agree in theory, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that the cumulative effect of stress without any outlet is also quite risky – there’s no good option here, just a bunch of less-bad ones.

        1. pancakes*

          It’s wild to me how common this argument is among people who oppose social distancing. There are ways of learning to manage stress and anxiety. A person who feels relatively at ease while binge-eating, for example, is not necessarily living their best life by giving in whenever they have an impulse to binge-eat.

  30. Roscoe*

    #2 As a former teacher, I completely agree with Alison. IF they were going back to school in the fall in person, it would be different. But as of now, this has 0 effect on you. You only care because you know what their jobs are. But I’d guess you see other people not social distancing to your liking, and aren’t trying to track down their employer to report them. Also, its very possible they live alone and have made the calculated assessment to hang out with a few other people in their social bubble, and you just see this. But right now, stay out of it. Its not their work time, and it doesn’t affect you

  31. I Herd the Cats*

    Spare outfit at work. I don’t even think of it as a “wasted” outfit that will only get worn maaaaaaybe once after some rare incident. People get caught in downpours. Shoes malfunction. Some VIP swings by on Casual Friday and you wore your I Just Work Here (shrug emoji) tee. It’s cold in the office, or too hot. I have a change of work clothes (more formal) plus gym clothes, and I’ve been grateful to have both. Also: some coworkers who ONLY wear their dressier clothes in the office keep most of them there and use the dry cleaner down the street. They change at work (know your office culture; nobody here thinks it’s weird, we have long commutes and some people walk or bike in.)

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yep. After I had a pen cap come off in my pocket and ruin a dress shirt, I always keep a spare shirt in my desk drawer.

      1. foolofgrace*

        That reminds me of the Mad Men episode where Don Draper opens a desk drawer and takes out one of a stack of clean folded shirts fresh from the laundry.

  32. Jennifer*

    #2 Not gonna lie. This question irked the hell out of me. I could maybe understand if schools were going to be open and your kids had to be in the teachers’ physical presence, but they are going to school online. What difference does it make?
    Listen, I get the frustration in general with people not social distancing. We are going to be in this pandemic much longer in the US because of people refusing to do simple things like keep their distance and wear masks in public.

    But there aren’t exactly a lot of people lining up to be a teacher right now. Be thankful that you have a safe home, reliable internet, and a virtual place for your students to learn. If the school ever does reopen, maybe then raise it with the principal. Until then – mind your business.

    1. MatKnifeNinja*

      Why would a principal or district office do anything more than thing more than, “Thank you for your concern.” No images, vids, FB screen capture. Fire the teachers? LW word against 10 other adults.

      Even if they asked the teachers, will they say, “Yes, we did that.” I have friends who flat out do no precautions, and everyone agrees if stuff goes down, the party line is they caught it shopping, not at the sketcky bar that turns a blind eye to social distancing.

      The district is not Lord and Master. Where I live, that gathering would have passed in June. Outside, less than 50 people. Don’t need a mask outdoors.

      I just assume everyone is carrier, and mask up.

      1. Jennifer*

        “I just assume everyone is carrier, and mask up.”

        Same. I don’t know why more people don’t get this. We can’t control what others do, no amount of tattling will change that, and we’re screwed until there is a treatment and/or vaccine. Mask up.

      2. pancakes*

        That’s charming of your friends to have come up with a plan to waste the time of contact tracers with a shopping story they fabricated. We had something similar happen in NY, in Rockland County, and the party-goers ended up having to cooperate after all because they were issued subpoenas and facing $2,000/day fines for not complying. I’d love to see them interviewed a year or so from now, after they’ve had more time to think about how they responded to the death of a friend by trying to protect one another’s complicity in it. I’m guessing it’s not as fun or exciting as it seemed when they first considered it.

        1. Observer*

          That’s what happens when contact tracing is used as a way to essentially force people to either incriminate themselves (which has some interesting constitutional implications) or get other people in trouble.

          These folks are only making explicit what is actually going on in the field. People are NOT sharing with contact tracers, and there is nothing the authorities can do about it, by and large. Because you can subpoena people all you like, but “I don’t remember” is something you can’t really disprove most of the time.

          1. pancakes*

            What happens, they cooperate? In the Rockland incident the authorities subpoenaed the relevant people and threatened them with huge fines, and as a result they did cooperate. Of course authorities can’t force someone to talk if they’re determined not to, but I don’t see that as a good reason to not bother trying in the first place.

    2. D3*

      LOTS of places school *is* happening in person!!! Just because your schools are going online does not mean the LW schools are going online.
      Schools in my area are happening in person, and I think it’s ridiculous. I find myself very grateful my kids are grown, because I cannot imagine.

      1. Jennifer*

        I know that. I’m referencing the OP’s letter where she says that school will be online. It literally says that. I don’t understand your point.

        I do agree it’s ridiculous that schools are opening at all but that’s not the LW’s situation.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It says they’ll “start online” and also mentions a phased approach. I have friends in a lot of places where it’s been announced the fist two weeks of school will be online before switching to in-person, or 2 weeks for elementary, 4 weeks for middle, etc. (and the steady increase in cases locally hasn’t changed this plan, which is disconcerting) I may be reading too much into the letter since I’ve heard that type of plan so many times recently, but I didn’t take the LW as meaning “it’s online for the foreseeable future” but rather “it’s going to start online and then gradually move the kids to in-person”.

          1. Observer*

            Yes, but AT THE MOMENT it’s on line. If they are not going to be in person at all for at least two weeks, then it does not matter what they did last week.

  33. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 – even if I was close friends with a co-worker, unless it was a very rare situation with zero other options (important meeting, attire matters, don’t have time to run home or out to a store for new pants) I’m not swapping pants with them. And I’m baffled as to why that would even occur to anyone as a normal ask? It wouldn’t even occur to me to ask someone to swap pants.

  34. Provincial Life*

    Question 3 and the point about state working in versus state company is based in got me thinking.

    I live in one province but work in another. The provinces have different holidays and we usually get the ones for the province we work in.

    During Covid, we’ve all been working from home and have continued to get the holidays for the province we usually work in.

    Is this correct or should I be getting the holidays for the province I’m currently working in?

    1. Colette*

      I’m pretty sure that’s correct – it wouldn’t be normally but because you’re working at home under these circumstances, they’ve made an exception.

  35. pancakes*

    There was a memorable pants-swap one day at a small law firm I worked at one summer. One of my fellow clerks was meant to accompany a partner on a court appearance and they turned up for work that day wearing the same shirt, tie, and pants, which, it turned out, they’d both seen on a mannequin and liked the looks of. The partner demanded that another partner swap pants with the clerk, which he good-naturedly did, and I think they found someone else to swap ties with the clerk as well. It was all very amusing for everyone besides the partner and his mini-me!

  36. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    OP #4: My rule of thumb is as follows.
    Person ghosts Company: Unacceptable, unprofessional, possible self-inflicted kiss of death.
    Company ghosts Person: Too normal to notice.

  37. Laney Boggs*

    I have asked my coworker to swap pants on two occasions actually.

    The difference is she’s my best friend and we work in a restaurant and we were at shift change. (The first time I was called in from Job #1 and was wearing khakis, and the second time I dumped ketchup ALL OVER my lap)

  38. Been There*

    I keep extra shoes in my desk at work – on more than one occasion I have lent out a pair of shoes and socks (that then get taken home to be washed) to a coworker because they (in the most recent case) got dressed in the dark and wore two different colored shoes to work. I laughed for the whole day about that one.

    1. JustaTech*

      I’ve loaned shoes and socks to coworkers who’d forgotten the schedule and came in on a lab day in sandals. No open-toed shoes in the lab, no exceptions, so she got to wear my worn out sneakers.

      The next day she brought in her own pair of “just in case” shoes.

  39. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    Wait, it’s going to be online education? Then seriously, none of your business. Nobody is going to catch anything over a computer screen. That is the whole point.

    1. Colette*

      I agree that the OP shouldn’t say anything – but if, say, 1/3 of the teachers in the school are out sick because they all catch COVID, that will still affect the education the kids get.

  40. Llama Zoomer*

    As related to question #2 – just curious to know – are there professions/careers where employers typically regulate behavior outside of work hours as a matter of course? Not thinking of something like alcohol or drugs, which would have an obvious safety effect if it happens adjacent to work. I also know that reputational things are bigger in some fields than others, so social media usage etc. But actual policies about this? This is a really fascinating question to me in these times due to what Alison said, since some “behavior that could end up killing people” these days!

    1. EPLawyer*

      LAWYERS. Yes, we can be disciplined for things outside of work — even legal activities. The idea is we are lawyers 24/7 and representing the profession 24/7 even though if you saw me in jeans and a t-shirt you would never know I was a lawyer, I am still responsible for projecting the “right” image as a lawyer.

    2. LDN Layabout*

      My friend has a job with security clearance and there are places in the world she is not allowed to travel to, not even as a tourist.

    3. New Jack Karyn*

      Plenty of places will fire a person for doing something that makes them look bad. Getting arrested, doing something so egregiously stupid that it makes the news, that sort of thing.

    4. Might be Spam*

      My father worked for IBM and had a lot of technical and institutional knowledge. They made him give up his hobby of racing cars. It was a shame because he was good enough at it to win enough prize money to pay for his racing expenses.

  41. Anonymous At a University*

    LW 2: The thing with this is that you’re focusing on what you see, not thinking about what you don’t see, and the effect of the pandemic in schools is going to depend on both. What are all the other teachers who live in different neighborhoods doing? What are all the parents of kids who will be in class with yours doing? (And their relatives, and their friends, and their social contacts?) What are school staff and the Board of Education doing? Even if this group of teachers was social distancing and quarantining right now, it doesn’t mean that in-person school would be safe. Thinking that it would be if you reported them and they stopped is magical thinking.

    And I mean, I get it. It’s annoying. I had someone yell at me for being afraid when I wore a mask the other day. I have a mother in my neighborhood who’s advocating loudly for in-person school and saying that teachers should be socially distancing and wearing masks “even to bed,” but her eight-to-eighteen-year-old children run around in a screaming pack constantly with no masks on, mixing with children from other neighborhoods and households all the time, because “play dates!” and she got mad at people who left for their jobs or to go shopping when the kids were outdoors, because apparently it “scares” her kids to see people with masks. (I suppose everyone who’s not her kid should huddle in their house constantly because the damn “play dates” are more important than getting food or the essential jobs that most people on my street have). I want to tell these people they’re being idiots, but resist the temptation. But ultimately in-person schooling is going to depend on so much more than a handful of people’s behavior that it’s a fantasy to think one small group socially distancing will make everything all right. I think Alison’s advice is good. Also, though, try to avoid the idea that everything is fine if the people around you are doing what they should. With in-person school, it won’t be.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I want to tell these people they’re being idiots, but resist the temptation.

      You’re a better person than me.

      1. Anonymous at a University*

        In my imagination, I totally make them change their minds and am a hero with cool, witty comebacks! But that’s not the real world.

        And with the mother of the “play date” kids in particular, it wouldn’t do any good. Her kids never wear helmets or knee pads when they’re on bicycles, either, and I had to kick them out of my backyard for trying to light fireworks in it and starting a small fire. (Luckily I saw the smoke in time to put it out with a bucket of water). Before the pandemic, their mother proudly told me that she doesn’t make them wear seatbelts, either, because they’re “free-range” and don’t want to. Someone who is this far into the “Better my kids be endangered than suffer momentary physical discomfort or the slightest contradiction of their wills” mindset is not going to listen no matter what you say.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Nope. It’ll take one of her kids dying from this virus – then she’ll be on TV crying about it and expecting sympathy for her negligence, smh.

          1. Cheluzal*

            I’ve removed three comments from you downplaying the virus. Please stop. – Alison

  42. Chalk Paint*

    #1 I am amazed that you and your co-workers are the same size. I am not sure I have ever worked with someone that I thought was the same size as me. Granted I have always been been more curvy and little more compact than most co-workers. A skirt maybe but pants no.

  43. OP #2*

    OP #2 here. First, thanks to Alison for the response, which makes a lot of sense. I am just frustrated at how reopening is being handled in our state. I also want to address a few of the responses from commenters. My comment about teachers not wanting to go back to school was specifically about these teachers and not teachers in general, many of whom are social distancing – in fact one of the things that frustrates me most is that this type of behavior will put other teachers at risk when they go back (which in our district may be October) – many of whom are older and are at higher risk.
    This is also not a case of nosiness – our house overlooks their backyard, there is no fence, and we can see (and hear) their gatherings as we go about our daily life, even though we keep curtains/blinds closed because we don’t want to see it! It’s to the point that my kid notices and wants to know why her teacher can have parties but she can’t. The bar/restaurant where they tend to go/congregate is on our corner so it is hard not to see. This is not a few isolated instances, but ongoing, weekly socializing, basically at pre-COVID levels.
    I am also a little dismayed by some of the commenters implying that these behaviors are not risky, or that others shouldn’t be concerned about risky behaviors. For what it’s worth (maybe not much), I’m an epidemiologist. Epidemiologists don’t all agree on what is/is not safe right now (a lot depends on the specific details of situations), but I don’t know any colleagues who think that going to bars/restaurants is safe in an area with moderate/high ongoing transmission (ie, much of the US, including our city). The backyard gathering would have been okay with masks and with *far* more distance (they were literally sitting with knees touching for hours, which, even outside). Reopening decisions are largely being made by politicians, not epidemiologists or doctors, and just because something is *allowed* doesn’t mean it is *safe*. And you ARE putting others at risk, including the essential workers at those bars and restaurants, and the health workers who will eventually be treating you.

    1. Today*

      Do you also plan to contact the employers (!!) of all the McDonalds workers, Kroger workers, nurses, bus drivers ect. who you can see behaving in a way you don’t agree with from your kitchen window? Or are these individuals simply frustrating you because you can see them behaving in a way you don’t agree with and they just so happen to be teachers? I think some perspective would really clarify this situation further.

      1. Llama Zoomer*

        Employees at restaurants and what they do/don’t do in off hours has been a huge subject of debate in my small town, actually. Our local FB group had SO many contentious conversations about what it is fair to expect of employees preparing and serving your food, what the staff could/should be doing differently, etc. So, I’d say that bridge has definitely been crossed as far as being concerned abouc McDonald’s workers.

        But, getting take out and eating out is a choice – public school should be available equitably across the board. So do teachers have different responsibilities here? (I don’t have an answer, just fascinated).

        1. Anonymous at a University*

          Not unless everyone has a shared responsibility. I’ve seen so many FB posts from people saying, “Teachers should quarantine so my kid can have sleepovers and summer camp vacations!” and sorry, that’s stupid as hell.

          1. JJ Bittenbinder*

            Are you sure that’s what those posts were saying? I’m trying to imagine the logic of anyone—let alone multiple people—making the leap that teachers quarantining will allow their kids to resume sleepovers and summer camp vacations.

            1. Anonymous at a University*

              The “logic” is that if teachers quarantine, kids don’t need to for…reasons. It’s the same logic in a few comments here that positions teachers as the risk to kids and not kids as a risk to kids. So if teachers quarantine “strictly, I mean not going to the bank, all summer,” as one post people were sharing on my feed put it (why not the bank? who knows?), then “my kid can have the sleepovers and summer camp now, and in-person in the fall! He needs that!”

              Again, magical thinking. “This one group of people I already think isn’t doing enough should do more, and then I don’t have to do anything! I’ll be safe.”

      2. Colette*

        There is a difference between socializing and doing what you have to do so that you can afford rent & food.

      3. OP #2*

        I know you asked this as a rhetorical question, but it’s actually an interesting question of in what circumstances it is appropriate to intervene when someone’s behavior puts others at risk. When our state first adopted a mask mandate, many of the people at our grocery store were wearing them only over their mouths, or were taking them off to talk, defeating the purpose. I considered sending an email to the store, not calling out specific people, but suggesting they reinforce messaging around correct use of masks for both shoppers and workers, but over time mask wearing improved and I didn’t send the message.
        Again, I’m an epidemiologist, and in my experience we are more comfortable speaking up when we see things happening that put others at risk – both on an individual level and at a systems level – but you want to do it in a way that won’t harm people. I’ve spent a lot of time writing emails and making calls about our state’s reopening plans, so it’s not like I’m focused only on these teachers.

      4. pancakes*

        Where are you getting the idea that the letter writer is indeed planning to contact the employers of these teachers? Rather than considering it?

    2. Colette*

      I agree that they are acting irresponsibly, but I think your best option here is to talk to them and explain that your child isn’t allowed to socialize at that level because it’s not safe, and that you’d appreciate their help in reinforcing the message by socializing elsewhere.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        I don’t think it’s reasonable to frame it this way. I understand that their behavior might not be responsible (my own neighbors drive me crazy with frequent parties), but this strikes me as “change your behavior to help make parenting easier for me.” Anything legal they do on their own property is theirs to manage, even if it’s irresponsible, so to take that approach just strikes me as odd. I wouldn’t ask my neighbor not to drink a beer in his driveway or to make sure he puts on his seatbelt before he drives down the street. I would instead reinforce for my kids that the choices we make are different and why.

        1. Colette*

          Maybe they’ll say no; maybe they’ll have a discussion and reach some sort of compromise. But these are teachers at the child’s school, not random strangers. And the most effective way for the OP to get what she wants and maintain a decent relationship with her child’s teachers is to talk to them directly.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Maybe it is the best way–talking to them directly–but asking them to congregate elsewhere so their kid doesn’t see the party, thus making it easier for OP to parent is not the tack to take. It’s like smoking cigarettes; we don’t ask folks to not smoke in their own yards to reinforce the message to our kids that smoking is bad for you.

            If OP wants to talk with the teacher in question, bring up the risk itself and whether the teacher plans on changing behavior when they get close to in-person school.

    3. Rebecca*

      Unless and until you can police the behaviour of everybody who will be coming into contact with your child in that class – and you can’t – it isn’t fair to put more blame or pressure on the teachers who happen to live next door to you.

      The flip side is also true for all the teachers who you are holding to a high standard – but we can’t call the bosses of all the parents who aren’t being careful and sending their kids into our classes. I worked my ass off to entirely change the very structure of my career, and then watched as parents took their kids to sleepovers or sent them to school with a fever with no regard for my health or my family’s health WHILE wanting me to account for my behaviour on the weekend.

      So, your science is correct. But are your expectations realistic? Can you spread your expectations equally among all the people who should have that reponsibility, or will this be one more thing teachers can disproportionately get fired for? Is this one more thing where ‘caring about the kid’s is going to replace good salaries and job security?

      Education is a right for everyone, and everyone knows that in school is better for everyone. I don’t know a single teacher who wants to continue remote learning. But going after individual, underpaid teachers who have no say in what decisions or plans or risks are being taken, or even that much power to stop your kid getting the virus in their classroom (they’re going to get it from the kid who licks the wall, not their teacher who is trying to explain why she can’t hug them) is misguided energy. Direct that energy higher up to the people who are placing the teacher AND your kids in danger by not funding proper in school distancing or remote learning options.

      Do you know how many teachers are right now trying to figure out how to make DIY barriers out of dollar store shower curtains because their district won’t buy them the plexiglass they need? Direct that frustration to where it needs to go, and let your neighbours live in peace.

      1. Cheluzal*

        Preach! I’m a teacher and I will be staying 6 feet away from everyone and I would venture if a kid gets it it’s most likely going to be from another kid and not an adult.

        OP. Sounds more upset by the laws that are legal but they really need to mind their own business. Teachers are easy scapegoats.

    4. high school teacher*

      Honestly, I think you need to back off a bit. This sounds nosey and interfering. I get that you’re all in the same neighborhood, but ultimately you can’t police what teachers do on their own time. I also totally understand how badly you want schools to reopen (I do too! I miss teaching on campus and seeing my students in person more than anything) but the actions of these teachers have nothing to do with whether or not a school reopens. Also, teachers have the right to do what they want in their personal time without worrying about being a role model for the students they teach. I am extremely protective of my personal time and life, and I would feel quite put off by a parent being so concerned about my personal actions.

      It sounds like this is more about you being super frustrated with the behavior of others during this pandemic which is completely and totally 100% understandable. My own version of this is seeing my friends go on vacations and continue to travel and eat out at restaurants (I’m in my late 20s). My mom told me her frustration was seeing her friends (5os and 60s) post pictures on social media of all their large family gatherings. We all have these social circles that we have to see somehow – whether that is in our backyard or on social media. I had to have a serious talk with myself to stop getting so frustrated with others and just continue focusing on what I can control. We can’t blame our fellow citizens for all of this because a lot of this comes down to poor leadership and bad planning on a much higher level.

    5. Anonymous at a University*

      Honestly, the part about answering your kid’s questions about parties is a bit of a red herring. Other people don’t have to change their behavior just because it’s something you wouldn’t allow your kid to do.

      I also think that, as other people have pointed out, your frustration with these teachers is understandable. But a) if they changed and quarantined that still wouldn’t make the decision to open schools in-person any more feasible, b) the people you will really need to be concerned about are the parents of other kids, not teachers, and c) the fantasy of “I do something virtuous and everyone listens to me and changes their behavior and everything is fine!” is a fantasy.

    6. Get back in your Lane*

      “It’s to the point that my kid notices and wants to know why her teacher can have parties but she can’t.”

      This is where you say because I’m your mom and I make the rules in our house and we are not doing this. You can make the rules at your house and for your kids but you don’t get to police everyone else. You need to get back in your lane and stop your taking this too far.

    7. Helpful*

      > It’s to the point that my kid notices and wants to know why her teacher can have parties but she can’t.

      Is this the first time you’ve had to explain to your kid that different people make different choices? Either your kid is really young or really sheltered.

      You can’t expect other people to live up to your standards just so you don’t have to have a mildly tricky conversation with your kid.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Dang it. Should have checked for this before posting a similar thought elsewhere in this thread.

    8. Altair*

      However, can you prevent everyone from going to bars and restaraunts, or are you focusing on these teachers because their jobs render them more vulnerable to punishment?

      Also, if you have the school district replace these teachers with ones whose behavior you know nothing about, will that actually make their coworkers and the students safer, or will it merely look like “something was done”? What are the odds that the replacement teachers have acted differently? As you’ve said, you’re an epidemiologist — you have the tools to run these numbers, to determine if they can be found or not.

      1. Carla*

        or are you focusing on these teachers because their jobs render them more vulnerable to punishment?

        Nailed it.

    9. Geek*

      If we observe people close together and not wearing masks, how do we know if they are being socially responsible or not?

      My wife and I have five kids. There are seven of us under our roof. If you saw a group of seven in our backyard, would you think we are being irresponsible? We have the luxury of avoiding most outside social contact. We have other friends in similar situations. If we haven’t been exposed and they haven’t been exposed, and we’re all reasonably sure of that, what’s wrong with getting together? What if a third family joins us? What’s the line at which my nosey neighbors should contact my employer?

      I wear a face mask as appropriate. In the summer and outside, I’m not wearing a face mask in a private yard. Nor did anyone wear one when we went to visit friends recently who hosted like-minded people who have been going above and beyond any social distancing requirements suggested by our government. In fact, our “leaders” here are not leading at all.

    10. JJ Bittenbinder*

      they were literally sitting with knees touching for hours, which, even outside

      This does not at all sound like a “I couldn’t help but notice” detail.

    11. Taniwha Girl*

      FWIW I agree with you. In my country public servants like teachers, police, and politicians are held to a higher moral standard and I would be very disappointed to see my child’s teacher acting irresponsibly and unsafely like this. We all have an obligation to take this pandemic seriously. It’s tough to negotiate that line of “when is it acceptable to police others” and every culture will have a different answer.

    12. Koala dreams*

      I’m even more confused at the idea of reporting the teachers after reading this comment. If the problem is that bars, restaurants and schools are open, then why focus on the neighbours? It would be much better to write to the politicians, or if they don’t listen, to reach out to the owners of the various places and ask them to close their place out of responsibility for society. An individual teacher (server, cashier, you name it) isn’t going to have the power to close their workplace, but the owner could. Reporting the teachers is focusing on the small problem instead of the big problem. If you plan on writing to the school, then write about the problems with reopening, not the backyard parties.

      As an aside, I don’t think people ignore that opening schools, restaurants and hospitals is dangerous. People see closing them down as having different risks, that can be weighed against the risks of opening them up in many ways. (You can see this most clearly when it comes to healthcare. Closing all hospitals to avoid exposure is not an option, but there is much debate around which treatments should go on, which should be cancelled or postponed, and which patients should be admitted to the hospital.)

  44. The Grey Lady*

    OP #1,

    I really would not feel comfortable doing this, even with someone you were friendly with. I would let someone borrow my jacket or blazer without much thought, but pants are a tad different and more personal somehow.

    I think your best bet to mitigate this problem is to keep a spare set of “emergency wear” at work or in your car. If you don’t have that, the next best thing is to run to the closest thrift store and find a replacement for a few bucks.

  45. HailRobonia*

    Re. Swapping clothing:

    Years ago one of my best friends (male) had a job in a department store stockroom. The stockroom had no AC and was sweltering in the summer. Shorts were not allowed by the dress code, but short skirts were. So he swapped his pants for a female coworker’s short skirt (she worked in the nice cool front of the store).

  46. Cat*

    Very unique situation but I’ve had to do a pants swap at work with my boss! I’m an admin but our office was undergoing construction so occasionally the admins would go down to do some small organizing in prep for moving down there. Came to work in a skirt + tights and found out they needed me downstairs in construction, which requires long pants for coverage. I’m very close to my boss so I sheepishly asked if I could swap with her (prepared for a ‘no’ and just having to sit out of this task) and she was super enthusiastic! Especially because I practically live in mini skirts + tights and my boss only wears leggings or jeans. It’s one of our office’s favorite stories just because people did see us earlier that day and later my boss was wearing a totally uncharacteristic blue plaid mini skirt with tights so they thought we had just changed as a practical joke lol. My boss told me it was so weird because people started complimenting her sudden style change and she had to awkwardly explain it was MY skirt.

    Like I said, very unique situation dependent on office atmosphere and my friendship with my boss but like… 1% of the time, you can change pants!

  47. Ryan Howard's White Suit*

    LW2, I know exactly how you feel. My state and city have rising cases, but my kids go to private school and all the rules that were made in the spring (mainly following the public school system, which has decided to go virtual for a few months) have been dismissed in the name of normalcy and tuition money. Luckily they are offering an online option that my children will take (both over 10, so in the high spreading rate demographic). In the course of discussing their opening plans, there’s been no discussion of commitments to one another in terms of behavior, or expectations that teachers and families will do what they can to minimize their own risk. I hate, hate, hate feeling like the behavior police, but, like, I open Instagram and there’s a picture of 3 teachers at a restaurant, posing with their husbands and non-teacher friends who were there. Or I hear about teachers’ teenage kids getting infected (also very rampant in my community) and I question the judgment of the teachers. We’re lucky in that I WFH and can have my kids home for school with no productivity or attendance questions, but I worry for parents who are in the position of having to decide who would have a harder time doing virtual school and I hate it for my kids. But I really feel like I cannot trust teachers or parents enough to let mine go in person.

    1. Ryan Howard's White Suit*

      I just saw your reply upthread and should add that I have an MPH, so I you and I sound like we’re both approaching this from the vantage point of our unique training in the specific field, which makes it harder.

      1. OP #2*

        Yeah, mine is 5 so I’m not too worried about her (but am worried about teachers’ and staff safety), but if she were >10-ish my level of concern would be much higher.

    2. JJ Bittenbinder*

      I hear about teachers’ teenage kids getting infected (also very rampant in my community) and I question the judgment of the teachers.

      How does a teenager’s infection translate to their parents’ bad judgment to you? Many teenagers have jobs, or are the ones to go to the grocery store while a parent works, or are someone infected in situations other than “their parents told them it was OK to get together with others without social distancing or wearing a mask.”

  48. Allison*

    For #1, did anyone else think of the Scrubs episode where JD demands Lonnie’s shirt? And Lonnie (Lonny?) was an intern, who gave him the shirt reluctantly? It was funny then, but it would be really weird in real life.

    Honestly, I don’t think I would’ve felt comfortable swapping clothes with anyone I’ve worked with, regardless of power dynamic.

  49. Traveling Nerd*

    LW2 – If you saw 10 teachers together, there’s a good chance they’re in a quarantine pod or bubble (or quaranteam!) — in many locations pods of fewer than 12 people are allowed, and for those of us who live alone, having a pod is the only thing keeping our mental health afloat!

    1. pancakes*

      The people at neighborhood bars and restaurants mentioned in the letter & the letter writer’s comments are all in the pod too? That seems unlikely.

  50. Space Cadet*

    #2 – Even though we should technically be distancing with the same stringency as day 1 of quarantine, I don’t personally know anyone who still is (myself included). It seems that the need for a small amount of social interaction has won out & I kinda can’t blame the teachers for slipping up a bit. They need to be more careful with school on the horizon, but also I wouldn’t burn them at the stake for taking a few small calculated risks in order to be with family or close friends.
    Also unbeknownst to you, they may have plans to dial it way back 14 days before school starts again. Just saying — try not to jump to conclusions.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Even though we should technically be distancing with the same stringency as day 1 of quarantine, I don’t personally know anyone who still is (myself included).

      I am – nice to meet you ;)

      1. Taniwha Girl*

        Hello, I am too, and it’s very frustrating to see people deciding they don’t need to quarantine anymore because they’re tired of it (even though cases are worse than ever).

        1. Zillah*

          I agree, but I think it’s really important to acknowledge that there’s a lot of space in between these extremes, which I think is what Space Cadet is talking about. Some people are absolutely doing what you’re talking about, which isn’t cool, but for a lot of people, it’s not about being “tired of it” – it’s that 4+ months of isolation can take a huge toll on people’s mental health, and the indirect impact of the pandemic on people’s ability to access the medical and behavioral resources they need to maintain their health is also something we need to take seriously and factor into our planning. (It’s also worth noting that if we’re speaking broadly, cases aren’t worse than ever everywhere – it’s really a mixed bag depending on where you are in the country. That’s not to say that anywhere is safe – just that “worse than ever” isn’t really accurate.)

    2. Joielle*

      Yeah – we could have tamped the pandemic down if we had taken appropriate actions early, but we didn’t (mostly blaming our government here) so now we’ll be living with it for a year or more. People aren’t going to strictly quarantine for an entire year and I don’t blame them. In fact, I think it makes sense to do some outdoor socializing and activities during the summer when the weather is nice, to prepare for the winter ahead when we won’t be able to do much of anything.

      Should they have put their chairs farther apart? Ideally, yes. But don’t blame individual teachers for what is ultimately a massive failure of our federal government. If this had been handled well from the outset we wouldn’t be in this position at all.

      1. pancakes*

        This is the same mindset as someone who starts a diet, messes up a bit one morning by having a muffin rather than oats, and thereby rationalizes having a sausage pizza for dinner as well. It’s a very common mindset, but not a smart one and not one that serves people well. The federal government not exhibiting good leadership doesn’t excuse the rest of us from trying to minimize the spread of a deadly virus.

    3. pancakes*

      No one, including the letter writer, is proposing burning these teachers at the stake. I don’t think outlandish hyperbole is helpful in these discussions.

      1. Altair*

        Yeah, but LW #2 does wnat to contact their superiors, which can potentially get them fired, and which is also part of a longstanding societal pattern of judging and punishing teachers for their personal lives. I’m not entirely convinced that replacing these teachers with ones whose behavior LW #2 knows nothing about will actually be demonstrably safer, as opposed to looking like “something was done” because the people LW#2 is angry at were punished.

        1. pancakes*

          I’m not convinced replacing them would necessarily be helpful either, in those circumstances, but those circumstances aren’t happening. The letter writer is, again, only thinking of contacting the principal. It’s far from certain the principal would 1) take this hypothetical complaint at face value and 2) proceed to fire the teachers, even if 3) the letter writer did decide to advocate for that. This is speculation on top of speculation on top of speculation.

  51. Lobsterman*

    OP, please stop beating on teachers. You know schools can’t open. I know schools can’t open. Teachers all know schools can’t open.

    The schools will open, and there will be mass casualties.

    Teachers at this point are akin to soldiers in the trench in WWI, just waiting to find out when they’ll be sent over the top.

    1. HS Teacher*

      As a teacher in AZ, working under a governor who refuses to govern, this.

      I’m getting an exemption due to underlying medical issues, but most of my colleagues are terrified. We’re spending time with each other outside of work because we don’t feel comfortable spending time with our friends and family members who aren’t working in schools.

    2. Heather*

      Amen. If my employer was going to force me to be in a cramped school full of kids in a week or two anyway, you can bet your butt I’m not going to feel the need to go above and beyond in my private life. Those teachers are presumably going to be elbow to elbow in a cramped staff room anyway. Let them have their get-togethers and preserve their mental health.

  52. Lizy*

    #3 (and Allison!) – the FMLA doesn’t apply to you, but the ADA does! Granted, it doesn’t guarantee you any specific amount of time – just that you have a job after however much leave your doctor requires – but just wanted to point that out.

    ADA doesn’t care how long you’ve been employed or how many employees the company has. If you’re pregnant, you’re covered. Period.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Unfortunately, that’s not correct! Pregnancy is not considered a disability under the ADA, although complications of pregnancy can be.

      Also, the ADA only applies to employers with 15+ employees.

      1. None*

        But wouldn’t it fall under having a surgery and not being released medically from the physician? After having a child, you are not allowed to return to work without a medical note releasing you from the doctor’s care in my experience.

        1. Helpful*

          A c-section is surgery, but a doctor’s note is not required to return to work. Some workplaces may have that restriction, but it’s not an across-the-board rule.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Not all surgery falls under the ADA.

          The law is very clear that the ADA does not cover pregnancy unless you have complications. It’s very black and white. Google “pregnancy ADA” and you’ll get a million search results explaining.

  53. Anon4ThisQuestion*

    Alison (and OP#2) – I think the letter writer has assumed a lot here. The teacher could be hanging out with the 10 people they formed a pod with. Automatically assuming they are reckless is jumping to a conclusion and frankly feels gross.

  54. M2*

    2 I disagree with the response here because our tax dollars fund the school system and pay the teachers salaries, health care and pensions. Maybe if you don’t want to make these Individual teachers stand out bring it up to the district in general. You have noticed teachers/ staff out not social distancing and at parties. You Wanted to know if the district was doing anything to mitigate risks for children and staff.

    1. Anonymous at a University*

      Then there should be the same restrictions for everyone with a kid. The idea that teachers are super-transmitters and everything will be fine if they quarantine is a fantasy. Oh, and also, how strictly should they quarantine? Should they only go to the grocery store every two weeks, because once every week is too permissive? Can they have food delivered, or is that dangerous? If they have kids themselves, should they be “allowed” to do what parents of other kids are doing, or do they have to put everyone else’s kids above their own? Good luck getting everyone to agree on that.

      1. TeacherTeacher*

        This is just it. For every OP2, there’s a teacher looking out their window and seeing students from their school having unmasked playdates, going to sports camps, and traveling for vacation (sometimes to COVID hotspots). If a child at the school contracts COVID, there will be no real way to tell if it started w a teacher or a kid.

        1. Anonymous at a University*


          My state’s legislature slashed the education budget, cut teachers’ salaries, cut special education budgets, took away every penny they were going to give to public higher ed, and then told K-12 teachers that they would have to pay for school supplies- because of course no kid can use the same ones- and cleaning supplies out of their own budgets. Teachers are quitting and taking early retirement in droves, and others are pointing out that no one can get the kind of disinfectant wipes the state is mandating they use, so what are they supposed to do? Meanwhile there are op-eds blasting these teachers as “selfish” and saying that teachers who are pregnant or planning to have kids should “reconsider the choice to do so” because “they should be putting [working parents’] kids above their own desires to reproduce.” I’m sorry, the idea that teachers are the most selfish people ever and that parents of school kids are martyred innocents who can do whatever they want because kids “need” vacations to Disneyland and sports camps is idiotic.

    2. high school teacher*

      I completely disagree, but also, how can this even work logistically? I live in an apartment. When I simply use the elevator to go downstairs to get my mail I risk walking past someone in the hallway, I risk germs lingering in the elevator. When I walk into the grocery store I could get infected. When I walk to the trash chute I could pass someone and get infected.

      So do you think teachers should quarantine, like actually old school quarantine, all summer? Okay, so will they get groceries and takeout delivered? Should they pay for that themselves? They can’t leave to go exercise? What if my apartment’s fire alarm goes off and I have to evacuate with the hundreds of other people who live in this building? What if they have a dog – can they not walk them? These are all genuine questions.

      My point is that while the things listed above can be qualified as essential and a party is not, you can’t really make those determinations and you can’t really enforce them. While social distancing and limiting outings to just errands is the right thing to do, you can still get infected doing those things.

      And just one last point – I think in most states right now eating at a restaurant (outside or at limited capacity) is still legal. It’s just weird to me to threaten to fire or discipline a teacher for doing something that is legal.

      1. pancakes*

        Whether these are all genuine questions or not, they’re not all lucid. No one is saying or suggesting, for example, that people observing quarantine should remain in their building if it catches on fire, or have their dogs pee on their floors rather than be taken for walks.

      2. Taniwha Girl*

        We should all quarantine. Whatever “old school quarantine” means. Restrictions have lifted for no reason, because cases have not gone down. EVERYONE should be social distancing and wearing masks. Restrictions have lifted because people in charge have decided it is acceptable for teachers and the working class to die on their feet. That doesn’t mean we should drop our precautions and let them.

        1. Zillah*

          I agree with you overall, but I think it’s really important to acknowledge that there are huge regional variations here. Of course masks and social distancing should remain in place everywhere, because cases can absolutely shoot back up, and congressional Republicans as well as some state governments are at this point being actively malicious – I just think that it’s important not to say that cases haven’t gone down as a blanket statement when that’s not accurate.

    3. Roscoe*

      If teachers aren’t doing anything illegal, then what can you do. If bars are open, they are open. Where I’m at, gatherings of 10 people are acceptable. So you are now holding teachers to a different standard than the rest of the population? No thank you

    4. anonymous 5*

      I mean…tax dollars go to a lot of things, and so if we want to talk about a district doing things to mitigate risk, a good place to start would be enforcing stricter quarantine rules for parents, ensuring that all teachers have adequate PPE, ensuring that all school buildings are adequately ventilated, ensuring that all students have access to the technology needed to manage remote learning in the event of a shutdown, ensuring that there is a contingency plan for immediate shutdown and quarantine for any school with a positive case, and ensuring that the students/families who rely most heavily on the school for support (in any combination of academic needs and basic needs) have backup available in the event of a shutdown.

      But hey, why actually demand changes that would have benefits long beyond the duration of the pandemic when you could just scapegoat teachers again?

  55. Chrs*

    In regard to Letter #2, I am a teacher who has been part of many discussions on how to safely reopen lately. I have one particular colleague who argues that district plans to force us into unsafe work situations disincentivize safe behavior in our personal life; he believes that there is no point to isolating now when we will be inevitably exposed in a few weeks. I personally feel it is everyone’s duty to the community to isolate as much as possible, but I do see his point. We will certainly be required to return to the classroom in person long before it is safe and under conditions which make it impossible to follow social distancing guidelines. It will not be possible to fully isolate each student group on our campus even if only teachers rotate, and holding class outside is not possible. Exposure is going to be our daily reality, so I find it difficult to fault teachers who find sacrificing their social life pointless.

    1. Ms Frizzle*

      I noticed myself having a similar reaction when we were still planning to go back in person! I’ve been pretty careful, but once I’m in a room with 30 kids (and covering in other classes) that all starts to seem kind of pointless. I’m still going to follow the same precautions I’m doing now, but it was a very real impulse to just go to Target instead of ordering online, or make a trip to the fancier grocery store for a few things that aren’t strictly necessary.

      1. Ms Frizzle*

        I want to clarify that I realize it ISN’T pointless. I get that. It just feels that way sometimes.

        1. Chrs*

          Agreed. Limiting exposure as much as possible is the best thing we can do. I only wish our leaders were making better use of all of the public’s sacrifices.

    2. Student*

      Explain to him that the severity of many diseases, including viruses similar to COVID, varies with your actual exposure level. If you will inevitably get exposed, it’s still far better to get exposed to as low a level as you can, since it will likely lead to a milder case. That goes for cumulative doses over different exposures as well as individual exposures.

      There’s not perfect data to back this up for COVID in particular, because it is too dangerous to conduct the experiment on people right now – but there is a long, established history of this in many diseases. It’ll depend on COVID’s infectious dose level compared to the amount of shed, viable virus that infected people generally emit.

    3. Bubble teacher*

      A caveat prior to my comment: I’m in an area where we have only had a few sporadic cases since May,

      I am a teacher. We are going back 100% in person the first week of September and in the past few days I have been to the beach and a restaurant for the first time since March. My region’s “plan” was released this week and is basically no lockers, distance if you can, mask if you want to. I probably can’t keep myself or my students safe under those circumstances, but I plan on doing my bit for my family, friends and wider community in September by putting myself in a strict lock-down (cubside grocery pickup, food delivered, no in-person socializing) outside of work. I won’t be able to see my parents if the cases start rising and I live alone. If I have to deal with the stress of work without social outlets to help me cope, I feel like I really need to focus on enjoying myself (safely) and being as social as I can now to make me even slightly ready for the school year.

      1. Chrs*

        Absolutely. Once in-person classes resume, all of our efforts will need to be focused on not spreading the virus from the school community to our other circles.

  56. employment lawyah*

    Is it OK to ask a coworker to swap pants with me?
    Yes, if one of the following is applicable:

    a) They’re your spouse/partner/sibling
    b) You are both under age 10 and “working” at a lemonade stand.
    c) you are both working in a strip club, stage play, or equivalent place where the “pants” are merely a costume.
    d) you and your coworker are in the process of returning a bunch of new pants.

    Otherwise: No.

    You CAN, however, always ask “do you have a spare pair of pants” and hope that they offer.

    1. TTDH*

      The first thing I thought of when I saw the letter was sort of a G-rated version of point C… Ages ago I used to work for a certain famous rodent and we had uniforms issued to us (as in, you pick up a uniform before your shift and change into it, then return it after your shift – it’s not yours). I thought for a second that this was going to be a story about about someone who was trying to swap for a pair they liked better without irritating their co-worker!

  57. Lemonbalm*

    Always keep an extra pair of pants at your desk. Black jeans or non wrinkle dress pants are best because they can go with almost anything. I also keep a blazer in case of unexpected meetings.

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