mental health days during Covid, talking about pumping in male-dominated office, and more

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

1. Believable excuses for mental health days during Covid

This is an iteration on the ever-popular topic of what is/isn’t acceptable for “mental health days” (the colloquial usage, meaning “to prevent burn-out,” not for actual mental illness). I know from previous questions that you support the idea of taking 2-3 sick days per year without a physical illness (provided you don’t use a lot of other sick time and it doesn’t negatively impact coworkers).

In past years I’ve just told my manager that I don’t feel well, and since I work for a great company with reasonable managers and paid sick time it’s never been an issue.

However, I’m struggling with what to do during quarantine. We’re all working remotely. My manager knows that my family is being serious about social distancing so it’s unlikely that I’ve managed to catch a cold. If I vaguely tell him that I’m under the weather, he will be worried about me since we’re in a hotspot region for COVID.

I’m probably overthinking this, but what can I tell my manager if I need a sick day to recharge and deal with some accumulated stress? Is there a magical “specific yet vague” phrase I can use that won’t lead to follow-up questions about whether it’s COVID?

People are still getting sick with minor illnesses that aren’t Covid! But I can understand why you want to head off any possible concerns. I’d still stay vague — “not feeling well” — but add in something that makes it clear there’s no cause for alarm, like, “Nothing that resembles Covid, don’t worry.”

2. Talking about pumping in a male-dominated office

I’m a mom and have recently returned back to work and I am breastfeeding, so I need to pump during the day. I’m wondering if I’m breaking some sort of breastfeeding etiquette though.

For background, I am a blue collar project manager in a male-dominated field. I am the only woman in my office. Every time I mention I need to go pump, I get kind of uncomfortable glances from my colleagues. I wish I could just slip off, but sometimes they try to schedule meetings during my pump time and I’m in physical pain if I don’t pump on time. Additionally, I have to refrigerate my milk and pump parts in between washes, and I am given a wide berth whenever I have them.

Is this a case of the men in my office being uncomfortable around the pumping or am I being too overt with it? I am not shy about, “Sorry, I have to go pump, I’ll be back in 15 minutes.” But I am getting a reaction from them as if it’s a gross bodily function. Is this something I need to adjust the way I’m presenting it?

There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing. You’re being matter-of-fact about something that you should be able to be matter-of-fact about. This is not equivalent to over-sharing about your plans for, say, a toilet visit.

But given that your male coworkers are reacting squeamishly, you have two options. You can continue what you’re doing, figuring that it’s their problem, not yours — which it is. That’s the ideal solution; you shouldn’t need to tiptoe around their weirdly delicate sensibilities. But if your sense is that their squeamishness could ultimately cause issues for you professionally, the more practical calculation might be to be more circumspect (“I have a conflict I can’t move then” vs “I need to pump then”) — not because you should have to, but as a nod to the reality of your office’s outdated mores.

So it really comes down to how much your male coworkers’ discomfort will or won’t affect your ease in working with them and getting the outcomes you want, weighted by how important it is to you to stand on principle. (For some people that might be very important, and for others less so.) But if the question is whether you’re doing something wrong, the answer is no.

3. My company laid people off and then immediately re-hired someone for the same job

The company I work for has been in massive growth mode for a few years, but when COVID hit, two people in my department of 20 were laid off — one who’d been around for a year, the other for three years. Three days later, a new employee started in the department in an identical role to the people who had been laid off. Our manager acknowledged that the optics were bad, but stated that the new guy’s hiring “had been in the works for a while.”

While neither of the people laid off would be described as a “rock star,” they were at least both overall competent and independent workers. I would have thought that it would generally be better to rescind an offer than to lay someone off right before bringing someone new on-board.

I’ve been remote so I haven’t met the new guy face-to-face yet, and I haven’t had to work with him directly so far, but I’m struggling with how to keep my resentment out of it when we do share a project. I recognize that it’s my boss and grandboss (not the new guy) who are responsible for the decision, but I can’t figure out how to express my problem with this to them either.

I’m not worried about my own position, but I am having issues getting around their handling of the situation. Is there a way I can reframe this to myself to salvage my opinion of my managers? Or is there a tactful way I can bring this up to them?

If there were really no performance issues with the two people laid off, then this is an awful thing to do — you don’t eliminate people’s jobs while simultaneously hiring someone new into the exact same role. If there’s more to the story, my guess would be that they wanted to get rid of those two people (because of work quality, because their salaries were high, because they didn’t get along with your manager, or who knows what) and used layoffs as a way to do it. If this was a work issue and they otherwise could have been fired, laying them off is actually a kinder way to go (because they’ll have an easier time getting unemployment and layoffs right now are highly understandable to other employers.).

It’s also possible that if this guy’s hiring was in the works before they knew they’d need to cut people, they judged that he was more likely to do well in the role than the two they cut. If the two who got cut were okay but not great (or worse) and they have reason to think the new guy will be excellent (based on his past achievements), that could explain the decision too.

There’s no way to know exactly what happened without asking outright, and your manager is unlikely to tell you if performance factored into the decision (largely to protect people’s privacy, and because those people themselves might not have been told that). Given that you don’t have the inside scoop, you’re stuck relying on what you know of your manager and your company. Are they generally fair and good managers? If so, I’d assume there’s more to this that you’re not privy to, and just roll forward. If not, that’s your bigger problem anyway, so I’d assume this is one more shady thing but not something you absolutely must get to the bottom of.

As for the new guy, he didn’t do this, so I’d try to treat him like you would any other new coworker.

Read an update to this letter here.

4. How to handle informational interviews requests when I’m still very junior

I am an early career professional working in sustainability — a very hot field! I completely understand that there’s a pandemic/economic downturn and all, but I have had an extraordinary amount of informational interview requests — like one a week during the pandemic. I’m flattered, but my time … is not free. People are also often explicitly asking about open positions I have no influence over, and I also feel like I’m not necessarily qualified to do informational interviews. I am 3.5 years into my first job and position.

What’s the best way to decline, offer other resources, or be clear about expectations? I am all about giving back/helping others but this is too much for me. Could I record a video or voice memo to send back, or is that tacky? I know you have discussed informational interviews before but as a young professional I would really appreciate more guidance.

Actually, you might be very well-positioned to help some of these people, despite being early in your career. You’re probably where they want to be in three to five years, so you’re a good person to talk about how you got to where you are, what things they should know, what surprised you, what challenges you’ve encountered, and so forth. In fact, you might be better positioned to speak to give them advice than someone with 10+ years of experience, because where they are is more recent for you. True, you probably can’t speak to them with the perspective of a hiring manager in your field, but your perspective and experience is valuable in a different way.

That doesn’t mean you need to respond to them all though! One request a week is a lot, and most people wouldn’t be able to do that many. But your idea to record a video or voice memo isn’t tacky! That way you can send it to everyone who contacts you, rather than turning down a lot of them. It’s similar to what I recommended to this recent letter-writer (in her case I suggested something written, but either is fine). The other advice in that post will probably help as well.

5. I can hear my husband working … and he’s good!

I know you’ve gotten some letters about people learning their spouse is a bad employee during this pandemic. We have a small house and my husband works downstairs at the dinner table and I work upstairs in an open loft/office space so I can hear him. I’m not surprised at all, but he’s so nice, polite, and helpful to his customers, and I’ve heard him assisting his coworkers and going above and beyond to help those that have kids (we don’t have any). I just thought it would be refreshing for you to hear something positive.

It is! Thank you.

{ 398 comments… read them below }

  1. Mid*

    I took last Friday off just because I could. It wasn’t a sick day, just normal PTO. I know that’s not an option for everyone, but don’t feel bad about taking time off right now. You’re still a human. We all still need breaks. Probably especially right now.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Yep, I did the same and when my manager asked me how my 3day weekend was, I told her I slept a lot and relaxed and she was genuinely happy for me.

    2. Phoenix from the ashes*

      Yeah, when my area was under hard lockdown I had a bit of a mental wobble and had to take some days off at eyebrow-raisingly short notice. My boss accepted my explanation that the stress was getting to me, a wonderfully vague term which didn’t make it sound like I was in a bad state (I was), but said enough in case I randomly started crying in future meetings.

      1. Harvey 6-3.5*

        If you can’t be completely honest, you could also say something like “something I ate is disagreeing with me.”

        1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

          i would be careful with this one, as stomach issues and diarrhea are also associated with COVID. even though you may be perfectly sure it’s just “something i ate” or are just saying it, you may still get a side-eye, especially if you work in healthcare.

          1. LW1*

            Yes, I was worried to use stomach issues for this reason (can you tell I worry a lot?). I just had an epiphany though related to LW2 – I can use ‘female issues’ if I’m pressed for an explanation, which I probably won’t be.

            1. Hyacinth Bucket (Pronounced Bouquet!)*

              LW1, I totally get feeling like you need to give a reason, especially if that’s the norm in your office. A few of my favorites are migraines, severe seasonal allergies, and known food sensitivities. Once I took a real sick day because I mixed up my medicines and took a really strong PM cough syrup that knocked me out instead of the AM non-drowsy version. If you have children/dependents, blaming it on them could be a good idea too. “Oh, you know kids. Little Jane ate a whole jar of pickles in one sitting and was sick all night, so I’m going to need a day to keep an eye on her and also catch up on my own sleep.”
              But since starting to read AAM years ago, I’ve really been trying to not give a reason for a sick day. Just, hey, I’m under the weather, I need to take a day.
              I know you’re worried that people would either think you’re lying or worry you caught Covid if you just say you’re sick, but I would argue that during this pandemic taking a day to sleep and rest at the first sign of any sickness should be encouraged. You’re more likely to kick that small cold that might make you more vulnerable to other illnesses.
              Good luck, and get some rest!

            2. BethDH*

              Other options as a reminder of common non-contagious health problems that could be covered by “not feeling well”: neck/back/wrist pain (especially now that our work environments often aren’t ergonomically ideal), eye strain (too many video calls!), migraines, injury/soreness from a weekend project or activity.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                Lol – I actually managed to scratch an eye with an eyelash (and used that as a call out reason) recently. Boss was fine, her only concern was “do you have enough sick leave to cover this?”

                (Caveat to this is I am medical adjacent, so I am required to give a call out reason for sick time so the supervisor can track for any viral bugs going round the office, even before COVID hit.)

              2. Evan Þ.*

                This. I had a whole lot of neck strain back in late March when I was working on the couch too much, before I realized it’s really better to put my laptop on a desk.

            3. TardyTardis*

              I have a bad left ankle–if I’m going to sprain anything, it will be it. If I take day off right away and prop it up, it’ll be fine. If I try to limp along, it’s the boot for about a week (which I kept from twenty years ago, still in good shape. And yes, I am doing the exercises).

    3. Mel_05*

      Yup. I was laid off for a few month’s, which increased the work load for my coworkers who weren’t. They were exhausted. So when I came back, they immediately schedule days off.

      1. TardyTardis*

        And at old ExJob, the week after year end has been posted is usually Accountant Stay Home, with one unlucky person losing the draw, but we tried not to ask them anything.

    4. The Other Dawn*

      Exactly. My senior person told me on Friday he’s taking yesterday off because he needs to recharge. It’s perfectly fine–and probably expected–to take a mental health day every once in a while, especially now. My boss is fine with me doing the same thing.

    5. Shramps*

      I also took last Friday off. I’m sad I had to use vacation/personal holiday and not sick (different buckets) but I’m grateful I could take any time.

      Things are really hard, and they keep saying it’s going to get worse.

    6. Pretzelgirl*

      OP, I don’t know if your schedule allows but we took a week off and did a staycation. We did a lot of socially distant outside activities with our kids and it was awesome. It was actually more refreshing than an actual vacation to somewhere out of town. We didn’t have to pack anyone up and drive for hours to our destination with screaming kids. We slept in, cooked great meals and had some great bonding time with our kids!

      Even if you don’t have kids, it def can be beneficial to just take a week (or a day or two) to just chill. Watch your favorite movies and tv shows, order food in etc.

      1. Liz*

        I plan on taking at least a few days in a row sometime this month. Maybe not a full week, but m-w, or w-f, so i’ll havea full 5 days off to do whatever I want!

      2. LW1*

        Thanks for the suggestions! Yes, I do also have vacation time but I already have that scheduled next month and later in the year so I have something to look forward to. I could use one of these if I had to, but I’m also lucky enough that I have weeks (months?) of sick time banked which I’d rather use for a last minute “having trouble coping” kind of day.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          Perhaps something about not sleeping well would be helpful. Go more for “I just couldn’t get to sleep last night” rather than anything like exhausted though, given the expressed COVID-19 concerns.

    7. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, I think the question at a lot of companies is not, “Can I take a day off at relatively short notice if I need a break?”, it’s “Can I count that as sick time or do I need to take it as a vacation day?”

      At my office, I could absolutely schedule that sort of day off. Whether I could take it as sick time is less clear to me.

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        Yeah, I can see how that could be confusing. My company has all the PTO in one bucket, so I don’t really bat an eye at what someone is taking PTO for, the PTO is theirs to use.

    8. Mockingjay*

      I took yesterday off. Hubby was ill over the weekend and ended up in the ER (not COVID-related). He’s fine – they took great care of him – but I was just plain exhausted after 9 hours there. I could have resumed work yesterday (WFH) and I thought – I can’t. I just can’t deal with work today. My supervisor is a wonderful human being and totally got it. I’m much more rested and calmer today; I’ve already knocked out a bunch of work.

      Few of us have the opportunity to take a vacation right now and completely recharge. An occasional day off can keep us going.

      TL;DR: Take care of yourself. If you need a day, take it.

      1. Liz*

        I did the same a couple of months ago when I found out a very close family member passed away (not COVID, suicide) I just couldn’t focus at all. I emailed both my bosses, let them now what happened and that I needed a day off. They had no issues with it at all.

      2. Uranus Wars*

        I am doing the same this Friday. I have to take my partner for surgery (non-covid but urgent) and I just have to drop off and pick up – technically I could work while he is in surgery and I’ll be home anyways…but I just don’t know if mentally I have the wherewithal to do it, so I am taking the day.

    9. Generic Name*

      We recently had to put our dog down, and on the day it was scheduled, by noon I just couldn’t think anymore. I just couldn’t muddle through the rest of the day because literally everything I had on my plate required thinking, so I took some sick time. I told my manager I wasn’t feeling well and that it wasn’t Covid-related.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I hear you. Our dog died on the morning of the day we came back from vacation, so it was my day off, but I couldn’t get over it for probably weeks. It was actually easier for me to get through the day of, because first all my thoughts were on needing to put Dog out of his misery so he wouldn’t suffer anymore, then we were digging his grave etc. Didn’t hit me until I went back to work the next day. In hindsight, I should’ve taken some time off too. Sorry about your loss.

      2. Dream Jobbed*

        Totally get this. Not sure how competent I would be that week if I lost one of my fur babies. Had a bad scare with my 14-year-old German Shepherd in December, and work was on notice that if the worst happen I would not be in. (He’s fine, but I had to ignore bad/greedy vet advice and do old-fashioned fluids and getting him up and moving.)

        So sorry about your pup.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        We lost a pet we’d had for 15 years at the very beginning of the year, and part of the reason we chose the day we did was that no one had to go in to work specifically because no one was going to do anything productive that day and we had kids that were just a wreck (too young to remember much about when we lost the the pet’s buddy years earlier).

        I’m so sorry about your dog. It’s by far the worst part of having pets.

    10. Liz*

      Same. I took two days off last week. I was housesitting and there’s a pool. Mini vaca for the win! But my company, and my bosses have been very good about letting people know that its ok to take time off, and that they should! We can carry over vacation, as much as you are entitled to, but must use that carryover in the following year.

      i now get 5 weeks; was going to take 2 for a trip that was cancelled. So I have almost all of it left, and while I COULD carry it over, i also realize that while I’m working from home, i’m still WORKING the same number of hours per week, the same number of days, so its ok to take time off. And I plan to take a few days each month, through the end of the year, and will still probably carry over 2-3 weeks.

      I also get some sick time that I can carry over some of as well, but am hanging onto that, just in case i need it.

    11. Dust Bunny*

      I took yesterday off to take my car in for maintenance and do some other stuff. I could have wiggled it around my WFH hours but it would have been a pain and I have a ton of PTO right now and there wasn’t anything at work for which I was especially needed (I have a lot to do but it’s all independent right now; nobody is waiting on me for part of a project). So . . . why not? Sleep in a little, get the car done, clean the house, take a long lunch, make a better dinner than I usually would because I have the time.

    12. A Simple Narwhal*

      I did something similar last week! I told my manager that I was getting burnt out and needed to take a day off in the near future, but I knew we were juggling a busy season and others people’s vacation time and I didn’t want to put the team out. He said do what I need to do to take care of myself, the team would make things work. I was expecting to take a day off maybe in a week or two since I didn’t want to make it too last minute, but he suggested taking the upcoming Friday off (two days away)! It was just what I needed, plus it felt good that my boss cared about my well-being and encouraged the time off, especially at the last minute.

      So yes, I recommend you talk to your boss and plan to take a regular day off if you can, as opposed to just a call-out sick day (but def call out if you need to, I’m not discouraging that).

    13. snoopythedog*

      I wish this question had been posted last week. I played all week with taking a mental health day. I was just so run down, tired, unfocused, and had on and off headaches. And even though my work is super flexible…I just felt like I couldn’t justify this during COVID since I wasn’t actually ‘sick’ and my stressors were so much less than others. In hindsight, I would have been a better worker if I just took the day to rest/get my shit together/relax and then came back ready the next day.

      So learn from me- take the day. Use sick time if you don’t have the vacation or a strict office. Migraine/headache is a great catch-all.

      Humans need breaks. COVID is throwing us for loops daily/weekly, even if you aren’t affected.
      I’ve hit my limit of being able to power through, knowing that this is here to stay for a good while longer.

      1. Can’t use my user name today*

        Yes. Take the day. Reading your response, snoopy, made me almost start to weep. I am so burned out and have at least three co-workers who aren’t taking Covid seriously. (They are polite and don’t say anything in front of me, but I overhear them all the time talking about it being a hoax. And to top it all off, all three went to a fucking county fair last week. We are in a hotspot that doesn’t think it’s a real thing, so of course no precautions at the fair.) I’m sick of it. I have such a huge workload and feel like a sitting duck. It really is giving me mental wobbles (as someone else commented). I’m going to get up the courage to take a mental health day or two off.

      2. Can’t use my user name today*

        Yes, OP, take the day. I almost started to weep when I read this, snoopy. My workload is out of control and I have at least three coworkers who aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. (They are very polite and don’t say anything around anyone else, but I overhear them calling it a hoax and how they get away with not wearing masks in stores, etc. They even took their families to the fucking county fair last week. This is a hot spot county where there are no precautions being taken….it’s a hoax after all.) I feel like a sitting duck in the office. I am getting burned out. This thread is giving me the courage to call out for a day or two with a back issue. ;)

  2. Ellis Hubris*

    #1 food poisoning. I have ibs and struggle with food doing the wrong thing. Can’t go wrong.

    1. Hazel*

      Although the salmonella poisoning that my girlfriend got last week caused a fever and body aches, so she had to get tested for COVID-19. Fortunately, she does not have it.

      1. JustaTech*

        Tangential, but there is a recall on onions for salmonella, so if you *don’t* want to have to call out for that, check for Thomson onions (all kinds, whole USA and Canada) in your house and throw them out.

    2. Kimmybear*

      This was my house last week. Hubby ate some leftovers I would have tossed. Migraines are another go to. Or like I told my boss, I’m taking a day off or I’m going to have a breakdown.

        1. Anax*

          Yeah, “bad headache” is mine – because it’s usually true, when I’m exhausted and stressed to heck, I tend to also get a bad tension headache, and spend the day laying down in a dark room.

        2. Gumby*

          I almost called in with insomnia last week. It just happens to me roughly one night a month normally. But I had 2 nights within the same week, which is rare. The only reason I didn’t call out sick is because I had important meetings with customers the day after night 2 of little sleep. That might have been the only useful thing I accomplished that day though…

      1. Heidi*

        That’s one thing I’d be concerned about. If you get food poisoning multiple times, people might start questioning your judgment (at least with regards to food).

      1. Bowserkitty*

        Not for everybody! The weird thing is that covid seems to spin a roulette wheel with each person it infects.

        1. Cambridge Comma*

          Of course not, but OP wants to avoid naming any potential COVID symptoms to avoid raising concern; she says so in her letter.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          This just gave me a flashback to my childhood. I remember my step mom trying to mask the weird taste of mashed potatoes…it took her about 5 spoonfuls before I went over and smelled the milk. It had gone really bad, but she had a cold and didn’t smell it. She could just tell something was “off”. I am sure it tasted horrific. She got so sick.

        2. LW1*

          Recently I had a glass of water next to the sink and one of my children (not sure which, but I have my suspicions) put a few pumps of soap into it and I didn’t notice until I’d taken several big gulps. I suffered no ill effects, but it actually happened so maybe it’s believable. Can soap make you sick?

      1. Annika*

        Back pain is great one. It’s happens to people of all ages and fitness levels. Sitting is terrible for it. Drugs that may be taken for it may not be suitable for working. It’s not contagious.

        1. Rainy*

          The last time I really threw my back out, the only comfortable place in the whole house was the living room floor. I laid with a small hand towel to cushion my head and my legs up at a 90° angle on a chair. It took three days of muscle relaxers to unspasm, and I spent three days on the floor.

          1. willow for now*

            I don’t generally jump in with the annoying “have you tried?” remedy, but for me, the ONLY thing that touches my back pain is Vicodin (hydrocodone with acetaminophen). It makes the difference between being immobile and being able to actually walk and function. I tried all the NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety with off-uses, anti-spasmodics, and it’s always back to Vicodin.

            1. Rainy*

              Walking into your doctor’s office and asking for Vicodin for your back is a one way ticket to a note in your file for being a drugseeker, in the US.

              Masking the pain isn’t the way for me, though. I have to get the spasm to stop, and opioids won’t do that.

      2. pbnj*

        +1 for this one. It’s unlikely they’d make you get tested for this. I’d worry if I said food poisoning, they’d make me get tested. Bummer that at many places you can’t just say mental health day.

      3. Liz*

        That and for me, major sinus headache, since they know i get them, and i suffer from horrible allergies.

      4. LW1*

        That’s a good suggestion – I’ve had mild back pain before and I really feel for anyone who has to deal with it on a regular basis. I also have an awful working from home setup and it wouldn’t hurt me to spend a day stretching, walking, and doing yoga with my kids.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          As one with chronic back pain (20 years as of this month!) I second the doing more movement and getting away from work for a bit. I really miss being able to just go swimming for a while (all pools are still shut down here) to relax and exercise out some stiffness.

          1. LW1*

            I also really miss swimming! I’d finally gotten back into it after a few years off and then everything shut down.

      1. Mongrel*

        I’ve used insomnia before and it lines up with ‘stress’

        It really does make you useless with fatigue and the best cure (if it’s a one-off) is rest.

        1. Batty Twerp*

          I’ve used “slept funny” before now. This is the full range of insomnia to sleeping so fitfully my neck was ineffectively supported so I got a trapped nerve.
          May also be a case of knowing your office culture. I can get away with “slept funny” being the entire reason without having to explain that I am incapable of using a pillow, but I’ve also worked at places where I’d need to give a detailed account of between which hours I was awake to determine if I really had too little sleep to function.

    3. Alice's Rabbit*

      Headache. I really do suffer from migraines, and the best cure is to nip it in the bud before it can get too bad. Even better is if I can prevent it entirely by taking some time off when I realize I have been too stressed for too long. So I can honestly tell .y boss that I feel a migraine coming on, and need to rest in a dark, quiet room to catch it before it flattens me for days.

      1. Sleepy*

        This. I’ve also called out with “I’m not feeling well today, pretty sure it’s related to a pre-existing medical condition so I’m going to take the day to rest. I do have mental health issues that have worsened during the pandemic and need to take actual mental health days, though. And just to make things more fun, in the last 4 months I’ve had a double ear infection that was resistant to antibiotics (seriously… have never gotten one in my life!), really bad allergies, migraines (probably related to the allergies, but whatever). Apparently the stress of working full-time while taking care of 2 kids on my own 7 days a week is hard on the immune system. And that doesn’t even count the extreme fatigue from insomnia and anxiety (although honestly, for people saying “that’s a COVID symptom” to stomach issues, I think fatigue would be a far more concerning symptom than anything stomach-related.

        That said, I think OP should schedule a vacation day if these mental health days are really just a break for them. It contributes significantly to the perception that people with mental health issues just need to “buck up and push through it” or are taking sick days superfluously, which is a big part of the stigma. I may take more sick days, but I also go to work so tired I can barely function more often than most would (and to the detriment of my health) because I’m afraid people will think I’m taking unnecessary sick days to relax when nothing is further from the truth.

        1. Sleepy*

          Whoops, supposed to be and end-quote after “taking the day to rest”… I don’t suggest saying all of that in an email to your supervisor, haha.

    4. Green Mug*

      I 100% thought the same thing. Tell you boss that you ate some bad lunch meat and need the day to recover.

    5. Capsicum*

      I have also taken sick days due to allergies, medication side-effects/interactions, migraine-related issues, etc. There are lots of minor but non-respiratory reasons why a person might need a sick day! I wouldn’t worry about anyone reading into you saying you’re under the weather.

    6. WorkingGirl*

      That was my suggestion too! It’s over in a day (or two), and not something you need lasting treatment for. If you need a lie to get out of work, that’s my go-to.

    7. Working from Home sick today*

      Yup. IBS flare. Been in and out of the bathroom for the last two hours. No need to TMI my team. Just declined my zooms, put sick day on the calendar, emailed my boss and made a pot of ginger tea.

      1. Anax*

        Yeah, I’ve developed a pretty bad onion intolerance, and end up doing the same thing when that gets unexpectedly triggered.

        (Onion powder is in SO MANY THINGS, so despite my best efforts… Who puts onion on popcorn?!)

    8. BottleBlonde*

      Yeah, people can take a sick day for a lot of reasons that are not germ-related! Food poisoning, menstrual symptoms, toothache, headache, injury, etc. I wouldn’t worry about it!

    9. Dust Bunny*

      I have a medically-trivial but annoying thing where I go through periods where I get gnarly headaches. Not migraines, thank goodness–no nausea or light-sensitivity–but I’m apparently impervious to most pain relievers so they keep me up all night. I have called in once or twice for days when I was just too tired and wrung out to function after a restless headache night.

  3. Observer*

    #2- You are absolutely NOT doing anything wrong.

    For scheduling, I would put this one my calendar and just tell people who try to schedule at those times that you have something else that you can’t move. I would not explain any further – not because it’s “too overt”, but not giving people an opening to argue, question or “discuss” the issue.

    On the other hand, unless you need to coddle the men you work with (a surprisingly common problem), a matter of fact “I need to go pump. I should be back in 20 minutes” is fine.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Context is everything…I juggled pumping with a meeting-heavy job. And so it made me laugh to think of Alison’s helpful phrase “I have a hard stop!”

    2. MedGal*

      I block recurring meetings on my calendar for this purpose. One 30 minute block before meetings start for the day (830), an hour at lunch, and another 30 minutes at 230. I can usually move 30 minutes either direction if I have to, but some days I would never get a break without that time blocked.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        This is smart. My start time is 9am, but we have rolling starts and I used to not infrequently get scheduled for 9am meetings, which I HATED. Then I got promoted and found out from my then-boss that he just never let his admin schedule him for meetings before 9:30! I was like, this is a thing I can do? (The answer was, well, yes, now that you’re the boss!) I still am not great about scheduling random blocks of time for myself and I need to get better about it.

    3. Quinalla*

      Do what you need to do OP2, but I would encourage you if you don’t think it will hurt you professionally to continue to be matter of fact about pumping. The more people are, the more it gets normalized. I was very matter of fact when I was pumping in a white collar male dominated field (different I know for sure as I work with a lot of blue collar folks) and I’m glad I did. Sometimes folks got a bit weird, but that is on them, not me. I did store my breastmilk in a cooler in the fridge for my own convenience and so people didn’t have to look at it, but yeah I had to wash pump parts in our one break room sink.

      At my new place, I’ve talked with various folks in leadership about the lack of an appropriate pumping room in my current office. It isn’t an issue right now, but it could be in the future so I bring it up occasionally like I bring up the fact that our current office has no wheelchair, etc. access. We are likely to move offices sometime soon and I want to make sure these are all addressed when we move.

      But yeah, to reemphasize, you are doing nothing wrong, they are being weird. And it is ok for them to feel weird honestly, but again it is on them to deal with, not you.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        So I was in a similar position – managerial role, in the field, blue collar.

        I’ll be d@mned if they weren’t my biggest advocates. Sure, they all had moments of being a bit weird about it, but they were the first to pull the crossed-arm-stance-scowl “Nope. She can’t meet you right now. You can’t go in that conference room right now. She’s busy. She’ll be back to you in like 15 minutes, chill TF out dude.” To a tradesman.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          This was what I was going to say. Today’s guys who can’t look you in the eye while you’re holding a breast pump are frequently tomorrow’s guys who advocate for fair treatment of nursing mothers or who are able to speak with their girlfriends or sisters about plugged ducts and how to prevent them.

          I worked in an organization that had 3 women return from maternity leave within 2 months and our administrative assistant was in charge of scheduling conference room space for them to pump. He went from flushing bright red at the mention of the word to handling their needs seamlessly, including buying them a radio for the room to make it nicer for them, to speaking to clients to ensure that they would have time and a place to pump during site visits.

          1. BethDH*

            Surprisingly frequently I’ve found they’re both awkward and supportive at the same time! I think sometimes the awkwardness is more acute then because they are so worried about being awkward, or sometimes because they want to show support without being “weird.”

      2. Cercis*

        This late, I doubt you’ll see this, but I wanted to say thank you. When I was starting as a paralegal, one of the attorneys that worked at the place I temped was very matter-of-fact about pumping. A few people made fun of her (attorneys are often quite juvenile) but her matter-of-factness about it and openness about it encouraged me to be really up front when I had my first child a few years later (working at a different place). Yes, people were annoying about it, and yes, I still had to use the bathroom or my car for pumping, but I didn’t get too much pushback. And then a year later when one of the other women was pumping she was able to convince them to give her an unused office to use. When I had my 2nd child, I would have had the use of that office too, but they laid us off right as I went on maternity leave so it was never necessary.

    4. June First*

      Another vote in favor of putting it on your calendar! I was much more assertive with pumping for my second child, although I was at a more family-friendly workplace than when I had my first. That also helps normalize it, if you handle it as part of your regular schedule.

      Related: When I worked from home this spring, I also blocked out time on my woek calendar for the kids’ lunch/naps. The most important “meeting” of the day if I was going to work productively the rest of the time.

    5. Pumping Mom*

      LW2 here – I do have pumping on my calendar! It says “time to pump” and is a reoccurring meeting. Turns out no one looks at my calendar when scheduling meetings.

      1. EPLawyer*

        that’s a bigger problem. That’s going to occur regardless of what the conflict is. So definitely train them to look at your calendar first before scheduling meetings

        1. Pumping Mom*

          The office is rather informal so it’s a “hey everyone let’s head to the conference room to discuss this project” type of thing. That’s why I’ve taken to saying “I’ll join you in 15-20 minutes, I have to pump”.

      2. Master of None*

        I work in a male dominated industry. When declining meetings or leaving early to pump i would say “Oh, i have a medical necessity that i need to take care of.” if they ever questioned it. I found this discouraged any followup questions pretty easily.

    6. MusicWithRocksIn*

      My only thought is, if it’s blue collar, they might not be using outlook or a calendar system the way a lot of us are used to. It might be easier to just have one big uncomfortable conversation to set up a standard to reduce discomfort going forward. If you can set regular times for this, sit everyone down and say “I’ll be pumping at X,Y and Z time everyday, so I won’t be available for a half hour after that” Or even a general announcement that doesn’t include the word pumping “Going forward I’m not going to be available at X, Y or Z time so please don’t set up meetings during that time” . And maybe print up some signs to put on your desk that just say “Will be back at X”. Personally I kept my bag with the main pumping unit at my desk, and my coworkers knew when it was gone that’s where I was.

      You are doing an awesome job! Pumping is so hard – really the part of breastfeeding that was hardest on me. Really I don’t think people talk enough about how heavy the mental load is that comes with breastfeeding and pumping. I had supply issues, so I really had to pump or feed on a strict schedule or my supply would go down, so there was always this stressful voice in my head counting down until the next time, and it was so exhausting. And no one in my life really understood at all that it’s something that couldn’t be put off or done later or worked around their schedule – stuff really starts to hurt!

      1. Pumping Mom*

        This is exactly what it’s like, outlook isn’t used the same way as it was when I was in a more white collar job. We meet as we can when the techs are in the office.

        I also keep my bag at the desk and so it’s gone when I am, but I don’t think they’ve picked up on that yet haha. I’ve only been back to work for about 6 weeks though, so I think we’re all adjusting still.

        My supply dropped dramatically when I first came back so I had to pump 4x a day to get the milk I needed. I’m down to 3 now though and it’s a lot more manageable! I pumped with my first child until he was a year so I’m hoping I can do that again!

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          What I have done before when operations staff (without email) needed to find me was to print out my calendar for that week and tape it to my door. If they came to try to find me, they could look at my calendar (helpfully right at eye level). Also helped to remind the staff that did have email access but forgot to check that there are other things I may be called away on.

          It takes a little bit to ‘train’ people to check if you’re available rather than assume availability, but it ended up working for me. To be fair, I wasn’t pumping, but had a quick check in meeting with Corporate that I couldn’t miss or reschedule. All I did was block it out with a BUSY label.

          Good luck!

    7. Casual Librarian*

      OP2, do you have a specific place that you pump? I found it easier to say, “I need to run upstairs for about 20 minutes, can we meet after that?” It worked in the moment as well as with scheduling conflicts. Everyone knew that the only reason I needed to go upstairs was because that was the only place I was able to pump.
      Also, I’m sure you’re being flexible with your time to a point, but it can go a long ways to pump a little earlier (like a half hour) if it’s a difficult-to-schedule meeting with many people just to show that you’re willing to be a bit flexible while still taking care of your needs.

      1. Pumping Mom*

        I do, actually. I go upstairs to a crows nest to pump (which has it’s own issues because it doesn’t have a door but I’ll take what I can get).

        And yeah I’m definitely flexible and move the pump time as I can but I get to a point where it’s too uncomfortable to wait any longer and I’m not sure it’s appropriate to massage my breasts because they hurt at my desk hahaha.

        1. Observer*

          Actually, you are entitled to have a place that is free from intrusions. So, if you can’t find some way to block the stairs or something, it’s time for a chat with whoever can help you.

      2. PJ*

        I agree with this “vagueness”. I don’t go into detail about why I might be using the bathroom…. so I don’t think you have to go into detail with this. I would say, “I need to step out for about 15 minutes” and if I had any questions or push back I would absolutely be clear and matter-of-factly tell them I was going to pump.

    8. indigo64*

      Another pumping mom here! The topic of me pumping came up once and my grandboss (male, two kids) looked noticeably uncomfortable and I told him “It’s only weird if you make it weird”. No more comments after that!

      Also, if you aren’t already, invest in a Pumparoo (from Sarah Wells Bags) to store your parts in the fridge so you don’t have to wash after every pump.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        You know what infuriated me when I was pumping? There were never any examples on TV or in the movies of women pumping at work. Whenever a main character on a TV show has a baby she’s always far to busy solving murders or whatnot to pump (don’t get me started on how often TV characters are workaholics with no sense of good boundaries). The only time I’ve ever seen a woman pump on TV is that Amazon show The Boys. I feel like some good representation in the media could do a lot to desensitize men to being so shocked.

        1. Pumping Mom*

          Ugh and in the boys they make her pumping sexual. I’ve seen in the preview for season two one of the characters drinking her breastmilk.

        2. Awkward Interviewee*

          The last season of New Girl! Cece has trouble with her (mostly male I think) coworkers not respecting her pumping time, so she just pumps in a meeting. Doesn’t even try to cover it up. As a mom who pumped until my kid was a year, it was hilarious!

        3. Natalie*

          It’s a plot point in an episode of Brooklyn 99 when Chelsea Peretti’s character returns from maternity leave. But overall you’re right, neither nursing or pumping seems to come up much for new TV moms.

      2. blackcat*

        Yep, I’d always throw my pump parts in a big silicone bag and put it in the fridge with the rest of the stuff. I’d only wash at home.

      3. Sleepy*

        Oh my gosh, I love this: “it’s only weird if you make it weird” – it’s so true! I tend to be really unaware of my body in general so I would be the one absent-mindedly trying to relieve the pain and not noticing the staring… and then when someone points it out to me it’s like “what? seriously? How could that possibly be sexual?!”

        It’s like seeing butt crack at work… unwelcome, yes, tell the person, maybe, but let’s not pretend like showing butt crack is somehow some sort of sexy act. Breastfeeding conversation might be unwelcome by some (why?!) but they should really be thinking about what their discomfort reveals about themselves rather than specializing something that is decidedly not sexual. No one ever has pumped at the workplace to attract sexual attention.

    9. Ann Perkins*

      This! You’re not doing anything wrong, OP #2. I think it’s great to normalize pumping, but if you grow weary of the awkward looks or feel like it will hurt you professionally, be matter of fact but no need to overexplain. “I have to run upstairs for 15 minutes but then I’ll join the meeting.” “Now isn’t good, does 1:00 work?” “I have something else blocked on my calendar in 5 minutes but I’ll join you in 20.”

      1. HR Maddness*

        I pumped with both my kids in a blue collar environment where I often had to do site visits (the places I had to pump…oof). I was always matter of fact about it and yes, the men were often visibly uncomfortable, but I took it as it was really something they just had so little experience with that they didn’t know what to do.

        OP if you can, keep being matter of fact and not at all uncomfortable with it yourself. My 1st kid, I noticed more looks. With my 2nd, much less so and they also started being more prepared for site-visits and large off-site leadership meetings by having a room already mapped out for me to use. It just became part of the logistics and no big deal.

        1. Chinook*

          I am glad that someone pointed out that the discomfort could be due to lack of experience rather than maliciousness. Since we are taught not to mention breasts in the workplace, it must be jarring and awkward to suddenly have someone explicitly talk about breasts via their main purpose. Add to that the various taboos about baring breasts in public (evn if it is legal) vs. a woman now mentioning that is what she is about to do, it is no wonder people may feel uncomfortable the first few times.

          But, OP, it is on them and not you. The more you mention it, the more comfortable they will become and their future colleages (and baby mommas) won’t have to deal with their discomfort.

    10. SpringIsForPlanting!*

      For those who CAN get people to look at their calendars; I had success marking mine the Outlook “Out of Office” color instead of the “busy” color. Sometimes in meeting-heavy cultures, where you’re just expected to juggle stuff, people respect that more? I also pumped while on conference calls, basically all the time, and it was… fine? That’s very YMMV but I got away with it.

  4. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    Headaches, real or fictitious, have been a useful way of getting out of things for centuries if not millennia. A bad night’s sleep or a food borne ailment are also plausible, though the latter in particular should be more hinted at than outright stated, because the symptoms are entirely TMI.

    Personally I have always wanted to have the neuralgia, because it was in a novel and the word sounds really cool. But I’m not sure what it actually is, except something Victorian ladies got when they wanted to lay about in bed.

    1. I hope you don't*

      “Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensation from your face to your brain. If you have trigeminal neuralgia, even mild stimulation of your face — such as from brushing your teeth or putting on makeup — may trigger a jolt of excruciating pain.”
      — from the Mayo Clinic

      1. Tau*

        Yeah, I have something that’s clearly related to this – “trigeminal neuralgia” in the sense of “my facial nerve goes nuts and decides to fire all its pain signals on a semi-regular basis”. Excruciating is the right word, and trigeminal nerve pain conditions are commonly considered some of the most painful conditions known. Trust me, you do not want to have this.

          1. MusicWithRocksIn*

            Man. Now I want to call into work with the ‘Vapors’. Not with my current boss though, that wouldn’t go over well. But my last boss would have thought it was hilarious. I miss her.

            1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

              I believe the ‘Vapors’ are the Victorian version of a panic attack, which sounds like a lot of work do to properly. And of course, you get over them fairly quickly, not like a headache that lasts all day.

              It does make me wonder if the standard Victorian treatment for the Vapors, smelling vinegar or something else strong, would be helpful for a modern day panic attack.

              1. Librarian here*

                Vapours are more a result of not being able to breathe because your corset is so tight all of your internal organs are squished and unable to work properly.

                1. Quill*

                  Much like brain fever it’s a catchall for “acute problem we don’t know anything about” and “too much stress / emotion to be seen in public.”

                2. Anax*

                  That one varies! Quite a few costume historians have looked into original measurements and clothing, and … tightlacing was done, but it was quite uncommon, and probably analogous to eating disorders (or significant body modification) today. Those tiny wasp waists are mostly optical illusions and photo retouching.

                  (Bernadette Banner has some good videos on the subject on youtube, for one.)

                  Kind of off-topic, but … I feel like it’s important to remember that women had agency then, too, especially in the context of work and intellectual labor.

              2. Claire*

                I’ve used smelling salts when I’ve been faint and when I’ve been on the verge of a panic attack—it’s just another way of getting a strong sensory stimulation, like holding an ice cube in your hand.

        1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

          Not for REAL! I can’t think of a single illness or symptom that I want to actually suffer from! But if I need a good excuse to play hooky, I love the way the word neuralgia sounds when you say it. Unfortunately, it also sounds like a fairly cruel illness that I probably shouldn’t ‘culturally appropriate’ for my own petty amusement. Alas, my dreams of swanning about like a sickly Victorian maiden! (Not like I’d do it anyway, my conscious is far too strict to let me fake illness.)

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            There is a silly card game called “Gother Than Thou” where your goal is to collect the most goth points, which you earn for things like “Black hair dye” and “A pet snake” and lose for “A visit from mom”, and so on. The card in the game that gives you the most goth points is, as best I can recall (it’s been a minute), “Being found unconscious, half naked and nearly dead by the groundskeeper on the grave of your fated love who died of consumption.” Swan away. :)

            1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

              Considering my favorite use of the word ‘neuralgia’ is in the Saki short story “Louise”, I may not be the best candidate for Supreme Goth. :)

            2. Chronic pain is no fun*

              My team gets a message that I am unavailable because “I’m taking to my bed like a Victorian heiress” I picture a Gorey cartoon from PBS Mystery series.

            3. Classic Rando*

              I’m swooning over the fact that someone else here has played Gother Than Thou!

              My go-to vague excuses for mental health days are headache/migraine, insomnia, and neck or back pain. Not contagious, can knock you out for a day without lasting effects, no tmi. And in my case it’s usually partially true, I can’t remember a day where I haven’t had a mild version of at least one of those.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                I’m also swooning over someone else playing Gother than Thou! “Crying Yourself To Sleep…” is the best card, but I’m also a fan of “Dire Fashion Blunder.”

          2. JJ Bittenbinder*

            Well, trigeminal neuralgia isn’t the only type of neuralgia there is, so I didn’t read it as you making light of TN (which I have had for over 15 years). But, yeah, vapours or the grippe or ill humours might be more up your alley.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          I have atypical TN and it really does live up to its reputation as the suicide disease. There are many days that I have to put every safety plan I have into action because I don’t know how I can live like this much longer. Then something shifts (usually a weather pattern) and I can go weeks without pain and life is amazing again.

          [I do have a good mental health team; please don’t take this as my being at risk!]

        2. Neuralgia is not fun.*

          It’s horrifying. I had a version similar which affected the nerve behind my ear, not my face, and it was unrelenting, non-stop excruciating 24/7 pain. I had the nerve cut out 3 times and it finally stopped, granted part of my skull is numb, but its better than the alternative.

          Vapours or “taking to my bed” is so much better.

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      The problem is that headaches *could* be a symptom of COVID. Here’s the CDC’s list:

      COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Infected people have had a wide range of symptoms reported – from mild symptoms to severe illness.
      Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:
      Fever or chills
      Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
      Muscle or body aches
      New loss of taste or smell
      Sore throat
      Congestion or runny nose
      Nausea or vomiting

      So “I’m not feeling well, boss, but I’m absolutely sure it’s not COVID!” is not terribly convincing, because there are so many symptoms that are at least *consistent* with it. Maybe it will become a widely-recognized thing where everyone accepts it for the white lie it is?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, there are plenty of things that you could confidently assume aren’t Covid but which would still count as “not feeling well.” Menstrual cramps. A flare-up of a chronic condition. Etc. But you don’t need to give details about what your symptoms are.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          Right, you definitely don’t. But if management is trying to reconstruct my epistemic state, then they might go “OK, so she feels bad enough that she can’t come in, but she’s 100% sure it’s not COVID? Hmm, better make her work from home for two weeks just to be safe.”

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            I was also trying to counter the idea that “you can just say you have a headache or GI symptoms, because those aren’t COVID symptoms!” — because in some cases, they can be.

      2. Anon Scientist*

        It also depends on what you have been doing lately. “I have no obvious symptoms, *and* have barely gone out, and was very cautious each time” should help.

        Years ago I went to the ER with symptoms that made me think of a possible appendicitis. The doc asked if I was pregnant and I said no because my tubes were tied, then he looked excited and explained that it probably was a pregnancy because tubes can heal. I paused, and explained it definitely wasn’t a pregnancy because of the complete lack of anything resembling sex for more than 9 months. He still quietly did a pregnancy test and looked really sheepish when he later saw me after my appendectomy.

        1. blackcat*

          Um. Appendicitis symptoms don’t really overlap with normal pregnancy symptoms. They do overlap with *ectopic* pregnancy symptoms (which can happen post-tubal) and WTF would that doctor be excited!?!?

          1. nona*

            Assuming doc would be excited to provide an alternative diagnosis to appendicitis. Nevermind, he’d be telling a women she’s pregnant when she probably doesn’t want to be (hence having the tubal ligation), and the WTF-ry of ignoring the more likely conclusion.

            1. blackcat*

              My mind is boggled.

              They do pregnancy tests before any surgical procedure on anyone they know has a uterus, though, just as a safety measure. My mom, age 65, well past childbearing years, was really amused to have apparently had a blood test before her last surgery.

              1. Dust Bunny*

                Same. I wasn’t past childbearing years but, at the time, was on the pill for other reasons and hadn’t been that close to a man in so long that if I’d gotten pregnant the last time I had been, the results would have been in preschool already.

                They still tested me.

              2. Queer Earthling*

                My spouse had to have a pregnancy test before their last surgery, which was to repair some minor damage done by their previous surgery. Previous surgery was a total hysterectomy.

              3. snoopythedog*

                Yup. Had an IUD for a long time and any time I have to get imaging, the nurse panics when I say I haven’t had my period in years. Cue round of “are you sure you aren’t pregnant”… like yup, if I we are going by date of last period, I’d have been pregnant for 4 years. Legally, I have to sign paperwork releasing them from harm if I *am* pregnant….but it shouldn’t require a freak out from every nurse. The only nurse who has been cool and rationale (and seemed to understand how an IUD and periods work) was a male.

          2. Environmental Compliance*

            I mean, I had a gyne at one point who wasn’t convinced I wasn’t pregnant, definitely not endometriosis (with the related extraordinarily heavy periods, yes, totally pregnant), and then when she was finally convinced I wasn’t pregnant, told me getting pregnant would solve the heavy periods.

            Which isn’t…..technically wrong….. but also, so, so very not right.

            I’ve previously used headaches (I do get tension or cluster headaches every so often) or cubital tunnel (which I also do have) acting very badly in a pinch for what is really a mental health day. I’ve also used “got bopped in the head by my horse’s head and the horse’s head won” and “fell off horse and have bruises to both body and ego”. Both also from experience.

      3. Chronic pain is no fun*

        Yes but fun fact. Except for loss of smell, all those symptoms are part of my chronic illness. Since I haven’t left the perimeter since March, pretty sure it’s not COVID. And if your working from home, it actually doesn’t matter until it does.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          My post would have made a little more sense if I’d given some relevant context: I work for a business that’s classified as essential, and having to work from home makes me dread waking up in the morning, even when there’s not a pandemic going on.

          And yeah, “I feel sick, but it’s a non-contagious medical issue I’ve dealt with before” does sound more convincing than “I suddenly feel sick and I pinky-promise it’s not coronavirus.”

      4. Turanga Leela*

        Spencer Hastings’s point is what I’m worried about. If your manager trusts you to be responsible, you can say you’re not feeling well but you’re sure it’s not COVID, and the manager will assume it’s menstrual cramps, or a mental health day, or whatever. If the manager doesn’t trust your judgment, or if your workplace has strict rules about reporting symptoms, this may not work.

        In theory, I’m supposed to tell my boss whenever I have a headache so that we can shut down the office and quarantine everyone. (In practice, I’m working from home and I get migraines every time the weather changes, so… I’m not exactly doing that.)

    3. WS*

      “Neuralgia” just means nerve pain, which can be agonising and difficult to treat. You definitely don’t want that!

    4. Important Moi*

      Euphemisms for diarrhea are great. No one wants details.

      “I must have eaten something that didn’t agree with me.”

      “My stomach was bothering me.”

      1. Quill*

        Or, the last time I unexpectedly spent some time in the office restroom, my boss

        “You can go home if lunch was that bad.”

        Me… thank you but it’s definitely not my intestines. (It was, in fact, not the intestines. Dame Sanguina hates me.)

    5. Lygeia*

      I get migraines several times a year and need to call out sick for them. I also get “migraines” a couple times a year and call out sick for them :)

    6. ampersand*

      Oh, you don’t actually want this. It’s crazy painful. Agreed that its name is one of the more interesting-sounding words for an affliction. The actual condition? Very bad.

    7. Happy Lurker*

      I heard a story today about taking a day off. Friend emails boss last minute to request day off, boss denies it and tells them they need to use a seperate system to request time off. This is the first time in a year they have been directed to use said system. Then boss and 3 other work associates call friend, so friend puts in that they worked, since they did. Boss denies the time and puts it in for PTO. Friend says yep, can’t wait to get out of this place.

      1. Happy Lurker*

        Sorry, OP. That was not helpful. Just say you have a migraine. Do not feel bad that you need time right now. I think it is very important that people take the time they need to keep themselves in good mental spirits. It’s a darn shame more people do not understand it.

        1. LW1*

          Thank you! It is actually helpful to get reminders that this is a low-stakes question for me. My boss might slightly wonder if I’m actually sick if I called in right now, but would never in a million years treat me like that boss treated your friend. Also, obviously, my company is not currently monitoring me remotely by video or checking how much time I’m spending this morning commenting on a blog.

  5. Observer*

    #3- I just want to point something out. Whether there was a good reason for the way the managers handled this situation or not, there is one thing you really need to keep in mind. You simply CANNOT allow resentment to color how you treat the new guy. That would be no better than your managers pushing two good workers out to replace them with someone who is not especially better than them.

    That’s true, regardless of whether Allison’s speculation turns out to be correct or not. And, it really could be the truth. I’ve seen stuff like that happen.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      OP3 One thing I would look at closely is if the people laid off were a protected class–and the newcomer not. Or if the people laid off both have had medical issues in the recent past. Either case, the company may have crossed a line from unethical to illegal.

      1. LW3*

        The more junior is a person of colour, and the more senior is white, and a parent of young children. Given overall company and department demographics, I don’t think race or religion was a conscious factor. The one with kids was generally disliked by our grandboss (formerly our direct manager) because he avoided working overtime (unpaid), and this may have reduced his overall output (not a KPI – Key Performance Indicator). Since his KPIs were higher than others in the department who were kept on, it’s hard to tell from the outside whether that was a factor or not.

        1. Super Anon for This*

          A lot can depend on the company policies and how they want to approach things. Having recently been involved in some decision-making around layoffs, I know it’s not always easy and in many cases there are performance-related matters that factor into the decision. Those matters may never rise to the level of a Performance Issue, but could include whether or not the person in question can grow in the direction the company wants to move. My guess (and it truly is just a guess) is that the layoffs helped drive a budget reduction and that eliminating the new position wouldn’t have achieved the necessary reduction. There can be a lot of other factors too — for instance in the situation I was recently in, we couldn’t make the representation of certain demographics change negatively due to the layoffs (e.g., after the layoffs we could not have a lower percentage of women than prior to the layoffs). For us, the decisions were pretty agonizing. If your company and your immediate leadership are usually respectful and decent, I’d wager the decisions were very tough. If not — well, that’s a different matter. Either way, I’m sorry for your colleagues who are now out of work and hope you’re able to work easily with the new person (who absolutely did nothing wrong here).

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      Also bear in mind the new guy may very well not know the history behind it at all, but whether he’s been clued in or not, none of it is his fault.

    3. Feline*

      This is true. It can be difficult not to treat the “replacement” differently because of the situation, but the new hire had no control over anything that happened before they stepped in the door. I’ve been in OP3’s shoes, and survivor guilt is a real thing after layoffs.

      In my case, the whole thing was clearly budgetary, and replacements were offshore. They were *terrible*, having misrepresented their qualifications and not being able to pick up the job or be trusted with simple tasks. I had to examine my feelings about them to be sure they were due to their performance and not due to their being low-cost replacements for valued colleagues. I was proud my team treated them kindly despite the situation and the resentments the whole thing caused.

    4. Darury*

      In my old job, we had a new guy hired a week before the rest of my team was laid off. He and one other person got to stay and the rest of us were let go. We had gotten new management about 6 months prior and we figured he decided he wanted his “own” people on the team since they were doing massive layoffs with other groups. The only part that annoyed me was I spoke to others who were laid off and they had 3-4 months notice it was coming, I got 15 minutes notice.

    5. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, the new guy is totally innocent of this, whatever was going on with those layoffs. He saw position, I applied for it, and got the job. There’s absolutely no justification for taking anything out on him..

    6. Firecat*

      Having been the “new guy” in this situation I can say that it’s unfortunately common for the team to take it out on the new person AND for the boss to be inept enough to not tell you the full story.

      I’ve had this sort of thing happen on two teams and each time I was never able to gel with the team. Originally because they didn’t want to betray their previous coworker and then because of momentum and the natural pitfalls that start in that kind of relationship.

      Meanwhile the boss is all “you need to get along with your coworkers better” while not telling me he fired beloved Sam before hiring me or that the ringleader egging everyone on is the guy who was passed over for your role.

      It’s like these bosses think it’s the new hires fault for stepping on a land mind when you didn’t give them the context to prevent it. :/

  6. Observer*

    #5 – Thanks for sending that in. It *IS* refreshing. We hear so many crazy stories, so it’s nice to hear the good stuff.

    1. Riverlady*

      I’m in the same boat as OP5 – my husband works for an international company and is able to be chipper and helpful at 5 am meetings with difficult people in another time zone. I don’t understand his magic but I respect it (as I groggily stumble past his office door on the way to the bathroom).

    2. Taniwha Girl*

      My partner is not only really skilled and helpful and collaborative, but also where his last job encouraged procrastination, now he is super dedicated and invested. It has made me respect him even more. We may not be able to get married this year but we won’t kill each other working from home!

    3. Alice*

      I love it! Same boat. My wifie is so amazing, handling her insanely demanding job and carrying the lion share of work with our 9 month old (not sexist – I’m the birth mom! We are both in up to our elbows, she is just way better with stress)

    4. Feline*

      I love this, #5. My husband’s job is safety-related, and it’s all on site since he’s essential. I don’t get to see him in professional mode at work, but when I had a health emergency at home that required calling paramedics, he went into professional mode. It’s the one thing I clearly remember about the whole blur, the way he spoke to me and the paramedics during the whole thing, and I remember thinking, “Wow, he’s really good at this!” I’m glad this mess is giving some of us insight into our partners being good at what they do without having to have an emergency.

    5. Thankful for AAM*

      Also love #5.
      My spouse is a professor in a stem field and, while we are very careful about student privacy, I can hear enough of his end of things to realize just how good he is at supporting students. I feel like he is modeling how they will need to present cases and arguments to employers, not professors and that this is a gift they may not recognize right now. We have always talked about his approach and pedagogy and seeing a tiny bit of it in action I have even more respect for him.

    6. Miraculous Ladybug*

      I’m in the same boat! My partner is on track for a promotion pretty soon, and after working with them in a studio together for the last four months, I can really see why! They’re so professional, calm, collaborative, and genuinely are an expert in their field and a total asset to their team. When I overhear them talking in meetings it’s like a masterclass in how to be a project lead while still acknowledging coworkers and collaborating. So proud <3

    7. ampersand*

      It’s so very nice to hear the good stuff!

      My husband is also working from home and every time I hear him on a call with colleagues I’m like, awww, he’s so helpful and kind! It warms my heart to randomly hear him in meetings when I walk by his office. (There’s a sentence I never thought I would write…)

    8. DataQueen*

      #5 i love that! It IS refreshing and very cute to hear. I recently ended a relationship during COVID and a genuine part of that was that he thought i was a mean boss! Turns out we had very different ideas of how work should work, so working from home we fought about it all the time.

    9. Donkey Hotey*

      Excellent! Right there with you. I was home for six weeks during lockdown – I was furloughed but my wife was WFH. She absolutely rocks. I wish I’d thought of giving her a shoutout here myself, but I’ll happily coat-tail on here.

  7. ezra*

    2. i have to say, my brain must be fried because i read this letter’s title and thought, ‘why would it be a problem to talk about weightlifting in an office of mostly guys?’ i didn’t even realize until i read the letter itself. oops!

    1. Special Agent Michael Scarn*

      LOL, same. And I’m a woman who knows more about breastfeeding than weightlifting. I’ll just blame it on the pandemic.

        1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

          I just pictured a mom feeding her baby a bottle, gently cooing “Time to get swole, sweetums!”

          1. Queer Earthling*

            “aye Moira yer spot on am oan the protein.”

            (I can’t be the only one who thought of that.)

  8. nnn*

    #2: if your office has a culture of not accepting vague reasons (like “I’m unavailable then” or “Excuse me, I need to step out”), you could start giving vague reasons when you need to pump, and, when pressed, look them dead in the eye and say “I need to pump.” You might be able to build a future where you can say “I’m unavailable then” with impunity.

    1. Eurekas*

      I work in a grocery store, and my boss has been pumping for most of the last year. She is unenthusiastic about saying the words “pumping” over the radio for whoever who works here may hear. So she usually just announces that she’s going to be stepping out of the room for a little while.

      It’s mostly been fine, although grocery store means essentially no rooms with doors that lock, so pumping itself is no fun. And I’m pretty sure most of the people in the department have heard her talk about pumping. And if she has to stay late, and needs to pump again lest she explode . . . management isn’t always great about understanding.

  9. nnn*

    For #4, I don’t see why recording a video or a voice memo would be superior to just writing it down. You’d have to script the video or voice memo, so why not just type that up and send them that?

    (That said, if it is somehow faster and easier for you to record it, you’re free to do whatever’s easiest for you – you’re the one doing them a favour. I just don’t see how it would actually play out that way.)

    1. Allonge*

      Not necessarily – I mean yes, for a professional video production that would be the case, but if LW just talks to a camera for 20 minutes about what they do and how they got there, it might well be easier. It’s not like they have to research the topic!

      And they can get by with minimal editing too. They can be a lot less formal than in writing, etc.

      Plus, some people just write waaay slower than talk.

    2. Kes*

      Honestly if that many people are interested, I think it could be a great idea to make a youtube video talking about the job and her path and common questions. That way it could potentially reach even more people who want to know about the field and that kind of role and if people do reach out to her, she can just provide them the link.

      1. LW#4*

        Yes, I should’ve clarified—I feel like FAQs are pretty Google-able, and it’s nice to get to talk to someone/actually hear someone’s voice/have their personality come through. What I’ve decided to do instead is host a webinar that’s recorded, then I’ll link that—I am in a Facebook group for people that are interested in the field but not necessarily in it, so I feel like that’s a good compromise + helping even more people than just the ones that have reached out so far. I’m definitely scared, but anything to help during these times !

        1. blaise zamboni*

          That sounds like an amazing compromise! Kudos to you for being so willing to share and welcome new people to your field. If the webinar is good quality (you have a basic framework for your points, the audio and video are clear, etc) you can also use that experience in future cover letters/interviews, especially if the community response is good. Plus it gives you some more practice talking about your experience and what you enjoy about your job! Sounds like a win all around. :)

  10. Turanga Leela*

    OP #1: Depending on your workplace, this is a time when I would consider being more straightforward than usual about mental health days. Almost any specific symptom you name is going to raise concerns about COVID—I’d even worry about that with “not feeling well.” Can you say you’ve been having trouble sleeping and need to rest? You’re just really stressed/burned out/exhausted and need to take a day off?

    On the flip side, if your workplace wouldn’t accept those, I suggest a white lie. You threw out your back or sprained your ankle. People will be sympathetic but won’t think twice about it, and that kind of injury can sometimes feel bad the first day but then clear up quickly.

    I wouldn’t normally lie, but these are unusual times, and you don’t want your boss or coworkers to be stressed because they think you might have COVID and aren’t taking it seriously.

    1. Inefficient Cat Herder*

      Know your manager.

      I am a manager, in an essential field, and I am trying to encourage my staff to take vacations now but also to take mental health days when needed. Or even better, just before they are really needed! I have no problem with people being honest with me, because I need my staff to be healthy. I do appreciate as early a head’s up as possible so I can arrange coverage, but if someone wakes up sobbing and just can’t, that is an emergency just as much as the flu.

      But I understand from reading here that some bosses thinks sick days are never reasonable :(

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Same here. My senior person told me last Friday he wants to take this week off since there are some things coming up that will make it difficult to take the time off, plus he needs to recharge before those things start. It’s extremely short notice and someone is already out this week, but I know he’s getting close to being burned out with everything going on (out of our control) and I don’t want that to happen. I told him to go and enjoy himself, whether it’s sleeping all day, gaming all night, whatever.

        I’ve worked for managers who see any time taken off as being unnecessary, not committed to the job and the company, etc. and I don’t ever want to be that person.

        1. Elenna*

          This – my company specifically required taking a week off before end of August or so – both to prevent burnout and to prevent everyone saving up their days off for the last couple months of the year. Granted, even in the Before Times ™ they always required everyone to take at least one straight week off a year to avoid burnout.

      2. sometimeswhy*

        Same, same. Manager of essential workers and in our last meeting I noted that only a couple of them have taken voluntary time off, that I know it’s “no fun” if you can’t go anywhere, but that recharging your battery is IMPORTANT, and that i was thinking very seriously about poring over our union contract to see if I could require them to take time off, (but also if you are a person who copes/charges by burying yourself in work, i understand that too).

        Since then, two of them have scheduled time off this month.

  11. Lauren*

    #1 I also think it’s not totally ridiculous, especially now, to be upfront and just say that you’re feeling crunched or burnt out and that you need a day to rest and reset. You know best whether or not that would fly with your boss, but it’s not unreasonable to be straightforward about it. Barring that, my mental health days often coincide with times when I get caught in a bad sleep cycle, so I’ll sometimes hang a mental health day on sleeping badly and needing a day to rest so I don’t get run down.

    And just to echo what someone else said, if you have vacation time, maybe think about scheduling a day here and there over the next few months. It’s very likely vacation time isn’t going to be used for honest-to-god vacations this year, so if you have some days to spare, scheduling some long weekends might help stave off the burnout. I’ve definitely started doing this; my job went from dynamic and enjoyable to boring as hell and very monotonous (public library) so breaking up the weeks here and there is keeping me from getting stir crazy (or TOO stir crazy, at least).

    1. WS*

      +1, I keep trying to get people to take some time off, because we’re unlikely to suddenly be able to go for a holiday, and even if we are, not everyone can go at once! Use some of the time now to de-stress!

      1. lobsterbot*

        i wish my boss paid attention to this and wasn’t so squirrely about people taking time off.

    2. MAC*

      I did the long weekend thing the whole month of July. We work 4×10 in July, which always wears me out, and my boss had been prodding me to use some of my use-it-or-lose-it hours, so I scheduled every Thursday off as well. Boom, a week of vacay used, while also having a few days each week in the office to stay on top of things. The balance *really* helped my mental attitude and stress level.

    3. BottleBlonde*

      This is a good point. I think if you can give a day or two of notice and just say you need a day off to mentally reset, it wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, if your time away won’t affect your team. It’s actually a pretty common thing to do right now.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I took a day off to relieve eyestrain! I’m super grateful to have a job at all but we’re mostly working from home and I am just never going to love laptops or tablets. Ever. I have two huge monitors at work so it’s not an issue but after a month and a half or so of doing research on a table all day my eyeballs raised white flags and I asked for a day off to just not stare at anything for awhile.

  12. Dan*


    I sort of think that “informational interviews” are a bit of a joke, because it’s all code for “please hook me up with a job, and I’ll use any in that I can get.”

    So to your question, what are you able and willing to offer? AAM is correct that your advice on getting a job in your field is likely pretty useful… I know in my line of work, that background changes over time. 30 years ago, computer programming was often done by math and physics majors who were “curious”, as “computer science” degrees didn’t exist that far back. The over time, computer science degrees became a thing. Now? Online portfolios for programmers are useful things that didn’t exist back in my more junior days.

    As far as hiring goes… at my org, the hiring managers often look to the technical staff for hiring recommendations. Don’t get me wrong, we have our own internal recruiters for the “normal” channels, but if I walk a resume in, my boss(es) take a serious look at it. So, assuming the same could be true at your company, what kind of background would you want to see from someone that would make you want to pitch them to your boss?

    That said, as an entry level employee, it can be really hard to differentiate yourself, and many things can come down to right place/right time. Sometimes, the most correct answer is, “getting into this field is a crap shoot, and you’re better off looking for something where the entry level competition isn’t so stiff.”

    1. OP #4*

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment! As someone who has mostly gotten jobs (well, internships+my current job), through informational interviews/word of mouth, I feel like a hypocrite/a**hole for turning them down.

      This is not my largest work problem by FAR, but I was getting enough in my inbox to want to see if there was a delicate, non-tacky way to resolve this.

      I just don’t want to overpromise/under-deliver–for example, I recommended my current intern for an open role, and my colleague said she got over 100 applicants for that role. He understood, of course, and is still employed with me, but I would have rather seen him in a full time, with benefits role that I cannot currently offer.

      The roles currently open…. don’t have much to do with me, but you make a good point. Our HR doesn’t have a sustainability background, so she definitely defers to us–and having been at the company for so long (3.5 years, avg turnover due to no mobility/low pay is 2 yrs I would say), I know everyone so I can at least put in a good word for someone if I REALLY like them. I also appreciate how you just suggested being truthful with them about the field–I just feel like a lot of kids these days want to do it “right” and I did it “right” (went to the right colleges/did the right major/had the prestige internships) and I want to tell them that my way isn’t necessarily the ONLY way and honestly I’m not the happiest camper either.

  13. Jessica Fletcher*

    Men are so grossed out when women’s bodies are mentioned and it’s not for their enjoyment. Yuck.

    Anyway, at my office you put it on your schedule as “Mom Break,” and nobody bats an eye. You might not want to use a gendered term, so maybe make up a code word. My vote is to keep saying pump and let the men feel uncomfortable, though. They’re being ridiculous and they should feel bad about it.

      1. Lena Clare*

        That is about making the men feel comfortable though. OP should decide what’s best for her – either let them be uncomfortable or be more circumspect only because it would be better for her and her career path to be so.

    1. Pumping Mom*

      OP here, yeah I tried to come up with someone else to say but couldn’t think of the way to say it that would keep them out of the crow’s nest where I pump except to say pump. I’ve been walked in on a few times because they seem to keep forgetting that I have to pump?

      1. Helen J*

        When you say “crow’s nest”, I’m assuming there are stairs? Maybe a sign that states the space is occupied?

        1. Pumping Mom*

          Yeah there are stairs! I think I’m going to get a bouncer type rope and hang a sign from it with a cow on it and say occupied haha

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            My coworker has a picture of a honey badger at her desk with the caption “Don’t pass this point without a mask!” Both funny and effective!

            1. Happy Lurker*

              My sign used to say Meetin in Progress with a picture of a cartoon baby…not the most professional, but it was fine in that office.

          2. Batgirl*

            A sign is a cool idea. If they don’t check the calendar you could put the schedule on the sign: ‘This is a pumping room between x and y” and flip to the other side to say “Pumping room engaged”.

          3. Pippa K*

            My husband overheard two women colleagues talking about meeting at the “milk bar” on another floor of their high-rise. The company has a lot of cool amenities for employees and brings in special treats occasionally, so he innocently said “wow, there’s a milk bar upstairs today? With sweets and things?”

            …and got a slightly awkward pause and the explanation “no, it’s space for nursing mothers.” He was a bit embarrassed in the moment, but they were amused (so was I!).

      2. Mockingjay*

        Can you block off the entrance with a chair or something? Add a sign that says No Admittance or Occupied?

      3. Ann Perkins*

        Is there a door but no lock where you pump, or no door at all? If you have a door but no lock you can put a rubber doorstop behind the door in lieu of one.

        1. Pumping Mom*

          No door, just a set of stairs I’m afraid. It’s either that or the conference room with the glass wall and well… eek.

          1. Chinook*

            Ahhh…the joy of a blue collar environment. My last employer’s locker room was the main hall between QC and reception. It wasn’t a problem until the heat of summer when I learned that most guys wore very little under their overalls. The women got a separate room (which got crowded as our female count started rising) but I felt bad for the shyer men (who changed in the lunchroom, which was also part of the hallway but atleast had corners. And the women and I just learned to not walk through at certain times and, if we had to, to look at the ground.

            So, OP not having access to a room with a door is not unusual because there may not be one in the facility that isn’t a bathroom for reasons that may include safety or logistics (think giant warehouse). A curtain on a shower rod across the crow’s nest’s entrance might be a good short term solution that would give privacy and a sign that they shouldn’t come in.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Stick a chair in front of the steps with a little sign saying ‘occupied’? Although I don’t know what your coworkers are like, some might just move the chair and come up anyway!

    2. Bumblebee*

      I think it’s important to normalize this (and most other things associated with childbirth, breastfeeding, etc). I once realized that I was going to need a private location to pump in a new, not yet really open campus of our university (one building), and that I was literally the only woman in the building, with keys to nothing. I said to the campus manager, “I’m a nursing mom,” and he quickly said, “Say no more,” whisked me off to a conference room, covered the window in the door, and asked me if I needed anything. Turns out he had at least 4 kids . . . The more we normalize this, the more we contribute to a culture where it’s normal. Do I wish all men knew this from the get-go? Yes, but they don’t all.

  14. Colorado*

    OP#1: “I’m not feeling well today”, is all you need to say, it has so many meanings and no need to elaborate unless specifically asked, but that would be weird if you’re working from home anyway.
    #5: that’s awesome! It’s so nice to see another side. My hubby tells me I apologize too much when he hears me on work calls. Good feedback!

    1. Koalafied*

      Yes, I’ve long made a habit of saying not much more than, “I feel awful and need to take a sick day,” for both physical and mental concerns.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      “Not feeling well” is probably the most common reason I see for my coworkers taking an unplanned day off. “Migraine” and “taking kid to the doctor” are the next two. My manager has never asked for more detail than that, and the amount of sick days has been pretty consistent pre- and post- WFH.

  15. Lilyp*

    Another possibility for #3 is there’s some relationship or politics related to where they recruited him from that they don’t want to screw up by pulling an offer (prestigious university or internship program, referred by a trusted VIP, quality recruiting firm, etc). They may have decided that preserving a good source of talent long-term was really important and worth the short-term morale hit.

    1. MK*

      Hmm, I don’t think this applies now. I mean, in normal circumstances a company might not want to appear flaky by pulling an offer, but in the time of covid hiring freezes are common, it would be pretty stupid to be offended by that.

      There are many possibilities, but it basically boils down to a) they wanted to get rid of the two previous employees or b) they really wanted to hire the new guy.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I wonder if the laid off people each had one rare skill …and the newcomer has both. That’s one case where it becomes somewhat understandable….but still really hard on your former co-workers.

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      If it was a relocation situation and the new hire has already uprooted their life, sold their house and bought one near your company, etc, it would be pretty nasty to pull the offer at the last minute.

    3. LW3*

      New guy is old friends with the company president. Cronyism used to be endemic in the company, but had gone down significantly as we grew.

  16. The German Chick*

    Maybe this is due to cultural differences but where I live, I would ask these guys if there was any problem with pumping (if there was, I would invite them to discuss these problems with HR or I would do it) and if there was not, to please keep quiet forever including nonverbal reactions.

    1. SatsumaWolf*

      I came here to say something similar – there’s and option 3 which is not get more direct with the mealn acting like they’re uncomfortable and tell them to stop. The OP is doing nothing wrong and should be able to do what they need to do without the overt uncomfortable reaction from others in their office. I’m surprised that people have only fed back on the verbal element of this – how the OP expresses why they can’t have a meeting, but people are reacting to her moving through the office with her pump and when she’s washing it and she shouldn’t have to creep around the office like she’s disgusting! If I was getting these reactions i would bluntly be telling these people “it’s a pump, it’s not contagious” and to get over it or, if I was feeling kinder, ask ” are you alright?” when i see their disgust to call out that this reaction is inappropriate.

      1. Kate, short for Bob*

        I’d be tempted to wave the pump at them like it was a snake or a spider, but I have childish moments

        1. Quill*

          So when we were in middle school we weren’t allowed to carry book bags so we had to carry purses… and certain boys would go through your purse if you turned around for a second, probably looking for money or candy to steal.

          So one day I filled mine up with realistic fake snakes and bugs, set it out as bait, and got a scream out of the would-be thief.

          Solved the whole problem for a month. :)

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      Yeah – obviously if the OP is not comfortable doing so then that’s fine, but personally I wouldn’t see anything wrong with just asking them what the problem is. Return awkwardness to sender and all that – they are the ones having frankly childish reactions to a very normal and necessary thing.

    3. Pumping Mom*

      LW2 here!

      It must be cultural, because at our main branch the manager is German and he straight up came up to me and asked if I was breastfeeding when talking about my kid. I’m getting a bit tired of the way breastfeeding is shushed here in the states.

      1. AnonforThis*

        I handle letters to the editor of a local newspaper, and in the Before Times, I always laughed when people would write in complaining about seeing mothers breastfeeding at the mall. The mall! Home to giant posters of cleavage in the windows of Victoria’s Secret! The irony never seemed to occur to the letter writers.

  17. Allonge*

    LW1 – it’s kind of you not to want your boss to worry, but think of it this way: you say you are not feeling well. You take the day. Next day you are back at (remote) work. Yes, you are feeling much better. The end.

    So your boss was worried for max one day (or plus a weekend). It’s really unlikely that he spends the whole time thinking about you. If he gets anxious about the possibility that you have COVID, that’s on him to manage.

    Take the day! And yes, if you have PTO, just take a day or two of that as well, regularly.

  18. Keymaster of Gozer*

    My favourite reasons for needing to take a day off before my brain shuts down/goes nuts/starts crashing gears/starts to suffer when I can’t tell the truth (often, since mental illness or issues have a really high stigma!). These are probably more specific than needed, since I’ve never had a UK employer who’ll accept ‘not well’:

    1. Anything digestive system related. ‘Think that the dinner I had last night wasn’t cooked properly’ has worked a lot of times. Unlikely to make people think of Covid since you can’t get that from contaminated food (stomach acid kills it).

    2. Migraines, IF you’ve got a history of migraines. All my family get migraines quite often and I’ve said I’ve got one to get a day to stop my mind exploding a couple of times in the past. Truth in that if I stress out for long I will get a migraine anyway.

    3. Non medical reasons. Harder to do normally, actually easier to do during lockdown/Covid stuff. I know my husband has used ‘the toilet at home has broken’ and ‘I need to spend the day sorting out a financial problem that the bank caused’ , and I’d probably have used ‘the fuse box in my house keeps tripping and I’ve got no power’ recently (I encountered a ptsd trigger) if I was employed.

    I hate this is still required. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t lost someone to Covid. I hope employers will realise that showing support for all mental needs now is going to save us from a seriously damaged workforce later. /soapbox end

    Can I say though I am very admiring of people who can see they need a mental health break? Takes good insight and good determination.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I will keep on the ‘look after your mental health during this’ box for a long time I suspect! Minds don’t heal fast or easily.

    1. EPLawyer*

      “I’d probably have used ‘the fuse box in my house keeps tripping and I’ve got no power’ recently (I encountered a ptsd trigger) if I was employed.”

      I love this euphemism for a mental health break.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m an epileptic and often joke that the wiring in my brain was quite clearly done by a drunken electrician!

        (Did that joke in front of my mum once though, learnt to know thy audience before cracking funny in future! She did not find it amusing!)

    2. Caaan Do!*

      Right? What is it with UK employers and a culture of having to provide specific reasons? I’ve never had a job where I didn’t have to give something more detailed than ‘not feeling well’.

      I’ve been really lucky that my immediate line manager and her manager above her (who used to be my direct LM before my current LM was hired) are very understanding about mental health stuff so I can now say a more professional version of “argh, brain weasels!” and they completely get it and are actually supportive and not punitive about taking sick days for my bad depression/anxiety days. But in past jobs I’ve definitely used a lot of versions of your number 1 in your list.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yup. After one boss hauled me up into a meeting and told me I had a weak will, because a doctor had signed me off for 2 weeks with serious depression, I’ve rarely told the truth about anything mental related.

        (Boss was one of those ‘depression is just being sad, and antidepressants are dangerous and addictive’ types. I hated him so much)

      2. UKDancer*

        I think, as a UK person it’s more that when you self certify sickness you need to put something down as a reason on the IT system. Most of my employers allow you to self certify (so avoiding the need for a doctor’s note) for up to 5 working days I think but you need to give something as a reason.

        That said the categories have been pretty broad and nobody expects chapter and verse so “cold” “upset stomach” and “migraine” are amongst the most common fields used. It’s less a question of having a discussion and more a question of filling in the necessary fields on the computer. I had one member of staff who used to tell me at length what was wrong with him and most of the time I’d rather he didn’t.

        Given that many of the UK white collar companies I’ve worked in have fairly generous sick leave policies, I don’t think it’s a bad trade off.

  19. Exponential Vee*

    4 – helping people out in a small way that works for you sounds like a great way to get your name known/ build a small amount of capital that will pay off in future years, when all these people are also more established in the field. You don’t have to help, but I think there are good things here for you too (and the video link sounds fun).

    1. OP#4*

      Thank you! I work for a nonprofit that is really, really well known by grad students…but not in the industry, so it’s always flattering, but overwhelming–tbh, it doesn’t help that I don’t actually like my job anymore (classic non-profit problems of bad managers, dysfunctional org, territorial directors, underpaying compared to industry, no upward paths/promotions)… so being forced to act like I like my job also sucks. I was just feeling a bit helpless and overwhelmed on top of everything, and wanted to sense check if a video sounded tacky/cliche. I would rather do it once.

  20. Dr Rat*

    #1, non specific allusions to “girl stuff” or “female problems” or some other outdated phrase from the fifties can work. If you’re the blunt type, you can always go with “I have cramps that would cripple a T Rex. I’m on muscle relaxers and my brain isn’t working.”
    A lot of people legitimately have lower back pain, so you can always say you lifted something too heavy and now need to spend the day in bed with a heating pad.
    I had to call in recently due to an adverse reaction to an injection I got – something that also happens frequently to people.
    And even if you are social distancing, if you got a toothache, you’d still have to go see the dentist. I had to go in a while back and the whole staff looked like extras in a movie about Ebola.

  21. Civilian Linetti*

    LW3 – this is actually illegal in the UK. If you make someone redundant at work, then hire someone else to take up the exact same job, you open yourself to legal action because the person you laid off now has proof that they were wrongfully dismissed and the work they were doing still exists.

    Companies in the UK weasel around this sometimes by giving the same job a new job title or a job description, but doing a straight swap of an old worker for a new worker in the same role is a big no-no.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      This occurred to me too (you can’t fill the position for six months), though we all know that employment law varies widely between countries, and that Alison gets tired of “well over here we do it differently”.

      Still, LW feels that a situation just feels morally wrong, and its illegality elsewhere shows that enough people agree with her! The optics are terrible, so it would be prudent of LW’s management to dress up the new hiring more explicitly to make it look less like a straight swap – perhaps new hire is fluent in the language of a new market which they are particularly targeting and was hired to be “the Japanese speaker” rather than “teapot sales”.

      Increasing headcount anywhere in a company that’s laying people off will always look bad, even if the roles themselves are completely unrelated.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        UK here too and thought of the same thing. I remember asking exactly how it worked in the US when there was a letter last year about a company who were firing someone but wanted him to think it was a layoff, so they pulled other people into a meeting with him and made out they were all let go, but the others all knew it was made up and they were still to report to work the next day – I’d asked what the plans were about replacing that role and whether the employee would have a case if he’d seen an advert for it and realised his role wasn’t redundant after all, but apparently it’s not illegal there.

        For all we know, it could be more to it than just a straight swap and OP just doesn’t have that piece of the picture.

    2. Reta*

      It’s illegal in the US as well. There’s either more to the story than OP knows or they managed to weasel around the law using covid layoffs as a cover.

      1. doreen*

        How is it illegal in the US ? It would have to be because the people lost their jobs due to their membership in a protected class- they were over 40 and the new guys isn’t, they had medical issues and the new guy doesn’t etc . But there isn’t anything in the letter that suggests that – in the US, it’s perfectly legal to decide to replace someone who does acceptable work with someone you think will do great work. They will be eligible for unemployment, but the employer has done nothing illegal.

        1. Judy*

          I’m worried about this very issue. I’m an admin who’s been furloughed since April. One pending hire was suspended, but 2-3 admins have resigned in the past couple months and my company has replaced them with new hires. I don’t understand why they’re not calling me back vs. hiring new people (the positions are similar enough that I could easily cover). My fear is at the end of my furlough I’ll be laid off and find out three weeks later they’re interviewing for my spot. And I am in a protected class (as far as age and medical) but worry it won’t matter since what they’re doing seems so shady to me.

          1. allathian*

            Ouch, that sucks. It’s probably time to polish your resume and start looking for a new job. I know it’s tough in the current market, but you don’t have anything to lose by trying.

        1. Student*

          … unless it’s done to circumvent the law around protected employment classes.

          Which, when I’ve seen this done at other companies, has been the main point of the layoff -> new hire in exact same role switch-a-roo. To reduce the odds of a successful anti-discrimination lawsuit when firing & replacing an employee in a protected class. Usually to fire people over the age protections limit, but occasionally to get rid of the disabled or pregnant employees. If this isn’t on your radar as a common tactic to dodge the law, it probably should be.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Of course. But the law isn’t “you can’t lay someone off and re-hire the role soon after,” which is what was originally being asked about in this thread.

    3. Hazy Days*

      We had a well-meaning Head of Department offer redundancy to a very longtime older staff member with health issues who wanted to stop working. All seemed lovely (farewell party, redundancy payout etc) until he tried to rehire and HR said ‘hang on, you said that post was redundant’. We had to manage for about a year with no librarian which was… inconvenient.

    4. LW3*

      I’m not a lawyer, but the way it was explained to me is that because the only part of the hiring process left to complete was for the new guy to actually clock in, he was considered to be “on staff” already, and therefore not illegal. Scummy, but not illegal.

  22. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    OP2 – I’ll never understand why men are squeamish about things like pumping – it’s just a thing that happens – one of the most natural things.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I think it’s the worst for people (not just men) who view breasts as sex objects, rather than the way a baby is nourished.
      All those medeival & Renaissance artists illustrating the Virgin Mary feeding baby Jesus got the difference (even when some were obviously monks with no clue about female anatomy).

    2. Pumping Mom*

      In having conversations with all the men in my office they ALL have wives who stay home (common in my field). So I think they’ve never really been around pumping. I am the first woman to ever be out of this branch so of course I’m the first pumping one, and I think it’s just something they don’t like thinking about.

    3. Analyst Editor*

      There are so many things in squeamish about which men don’t really get, generally, I feel like it’s kind of an individual thing. I think breast feeding being normalized is great, and I don’t think the men should be coddled, but I think you can allow people their idiosyncrasies, and police even their thoughts.

      1. Observer*

        The problem is not policing their thoughts, but their behavior. They *act* in ways that are problematic – interrupt her when she is nursing, squirm when she mentions pumping, constantly forgetting that she needs to take the time to pump, acting as though she’s “got the cooties” when she comes by with her pump parts.

        1. Caaan Do!*

          That’s the bit that made me roll my eyes so hard I nearly detached my retinas, that they flinch away from her when she’s carrying the pumping stuff. I mean come.the fudge.on. It reminds me of the letter a while ago (maybe years, I jump around a lot in the archives when reading posts) where a woman was scolded for keeping her sanitary towels/tampons in a shared desk and told she should hide them, and they kept getting moved behind her back.

      2. Altair*

        Why is it that when someone does something deeply annoying — deliberate misgendering, sexual comments about a coworker, racist pronouncements, and yes comparing breastfeeding to something unsanitary or disgusting — and someone else pushes back, the first person always complains that their thoughts are being policed?

        Think what you want, but there’s a modicum of decent behavior that it’s not unfair to expect everyone to manage.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Nobody is even suggesting the thought police so not sure where you got that from?

        You can think whatever you want at work. You can’t act however you want thought.

    4. Ashamed Anon*

      I mean I’m a woman and I’m squeamish abut the idea of pumping. I’m in a male-dominated field so I have very few women coworkers, and exactly 0 of them have ever been pregnant, much less pumped. I’ve literally never seen anyone pumping. I’d probably do double-takes at first too, and turn away while someone was washing the pump at the sink, because it’s personal?? It’s private???

      1. Observer*

        There is nothing “personal” or “private” about the parts of a pump.

        Beyond that, it’s one thing to do a double take the first time you see it, but it’s on you (man or woman) to get a handle and stop expressing your squeamishness. It weeks now, and it’s time for her coworkers to get a grip on their BEHAVIOR.

      2. Pumping Mom*

        So no one sees me pumping. At most they’ll see bottles and flanges and a couple bags with milk in them. I don’t consider it personal or private but I did breastfeed my son for almost 2 years and now I’m 5 months into it with my daughter so I accept I may be desensitized to it.

        1. JB*

          Fair or not, seeing the equipment and milk in the fridge does bother some people. I always put mine in a paper bag or other container. This was both to keep it out of sight and to make sure not handled – whether out of curiousity or just because someone was shifting something in the fridge.

          To me, this just isn’t a battle worth fighting. I don’t think you are going to change their discomfort level. Unless you feel exposing them to the information (that you have to pump, seeing items in the fridge) is necessary to make a point, why bother? There are many perfectly natural bodily functions we don’t openly discuss.

          1. Pumping Mom*

            I don’t just have my flanges in the fridge, they’re in my lunch bag, but I still have to carry them. I do not think this is akin to the other “natural bodily functions” you’re referencing. When someone talks about breastfeeding like that they’re almost always equating it to seeing someone pee. Think of it more like a box of tissues – should I be ashamed to have those on my desk?

            1. jenkins*

              And even if we did very briefly accept the ubiquitous, horrible analogy with peeing – none of them freak out when someone heads towards the bathroom, even though they know that person is about to bare their genitals, right? No one has conniptions about seeing a pack of toilet paper being carried through the building by whoever’s job it is to restock it? They don’t turn away when they see someone washing their hands after using the bathroom, even though THAT HAND was just wiping THAT BOTTOM? Nope, because using the toilet is normalised. If I actually concentrate and visualise a colleague peeing, sure, it feels weird. That’s why I don’t think about it that hard. Surely we can give pumping women the same bare minimum of respect.

          2. Observer*

            Please. This is not about “bodily functions.” And adults can be expected to learn how to behave like adults.

            The OP probably NEEDS to keep her mild in the refrigerator, unless she has ice packs and and insulated bad. And there is no way for her to keep her pump parts hidden at all times. She needs to wash them at some point so they will be visible then. If she can’t do it right after she pumps for some reason, she does need to put them in a place like the fridge or any milk left on the parts will go sour and that presents a significant problem. And how is she supposed to get her stuff back and forth? I mean I suppose that she could put her pump and all the parts into an additional large box that totally obscures the nature of what she is carrying, but I hope you realize how ridiculous that is.

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I pumped full time for a while, and I’m still squeamish about the process.

        But I don’t clutch my pearls at the sight of a pump, or a part-filled bottle, because needs must. The analogy with a box of Kleenex is apt.

    5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      It’s not only men I’m afraid. As a breastfeeding counsellor, I once had to take a call from a mother in tears because the woman managing the creche her baby was enrolled at said she wouldn’t accept her breastmilk on the premises because preparing the baby’s bottle would be too much like handling *urine*.

  23. Koala dreams*

    #4 It’s fine to say “I’m getting a lot of requests recently, and I don’t have time for informational interviews any more”. For the people who ask about open positions, you can say: “I can talk about my experiences as a new employee in the field, but I can’t help with questions about open positions and hiring.” If you want to be nice, end with “Good luck with your job search!”

    1. OP #4*

      Thanks for these! I want to help–maybe that didn’t come across? I just don’t *love* my current job anymore so don’t really want to spend my personal free time talking it up. Also, there’s a lot of niches in the sustainability industry/I am NE based so my advice may not be applicable to everyone. I liked another commenter’s idea of doing live session every once in a while.

    1. Cj*

      A lot of employers would consider that a vacation day, not a sick day, and it would need to be scheduled some time in advance.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Right. And some managers just won’t accept/allow someone wanting a day off to recharge. There has to be A Reason, though I personally disagree with that–if someone needs the day off, they need it off.

    2. Sacred Ground*

      It’s making obvious your status as a human when they’d really prefer to think of you as a unit of labor.

  24. Perfectly Particular*

    OP2, pumping can be so hard in some offices! It’s mostly men who get weird about it, especially if they don’t have a wife that works outside the home, but also women of a certain age. With my 1st, I experienced a lot of stress trying to work in pumping around my meeting schedule, find a private place to pump (before the law required a room for this), and not have my boss freak out because I was “missing” for 20 minutes twice a day, in addition to the bodily function weirdness. I ended up being unable to relax enough to pump, and that lowered my overall milk supply, making feedings at home extremely stressful. I switched my son to all formula once I had been back to work for only about a month. It wasn’t what I had wanted, but I felt so much better once I did. He always had plenty of milk then (that he loved!) so feeding times were happy bonding times again, and I could focus on my job while I was at work rather than trying to manage everyone’s feelings about the fact that my breasts were producing milk at the moment. I would not imply that you should ween your baby earlier than you planned, but if you are toying with the idea, I just wanted to give you the positive guilt-free side of that decision.

    1. Observer*

      The idea that managing people’s feelings around nursing and pumping is part of the deal is the problem. Of course the OP should do what works for her, but she should absolutely NOT make it part of her job to manage their feelings – that’s on her coworkers.

      1. jenkins*

        So much this. Navigating early parenthood is tough enough, babies need to get fed, and the feelings of anyone not directly involved just shouldn’t be a factor. Lots of people have their own squick or embarrassment about breasts, milk, whatever, but the way they feel about it is quite simply not relevant to anyone but themselves and they need to find a way to deal with it. I think there’s often a perception that the nursing/pumping person is the one breaking norms, doing something out of the ordinary, and thus needs to pre-apologise for any weirdness anyone might feel, or scuttle meekly around trying to hide what they’re doing. Nope. Not their problem.

  25. Sara without an H*

    Re post #1: I’ve been in management for over 30 years. I have never seen any point in asking staff for specific reasons for taking a day off. I’m not going to say “no,” unless their absence would leave us totally without coverage, so what’s the point?

    Kitty: I’d like to take Tuesday off. Jane says she can take my shift at the front desk.
    Me: OK, fine. See you on Wednesday.

    No fuss, no muss, no drama.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      This has been my experience as well, and I suspect many managers feel the same. In fact, I sometimes have to stop employees from launching into long explanations of their absences because I really just don’t need or want to know. You’re gone, you’ll be back. Boom. Done.

      I think we’re conditioned from years of having to explain away school absences into believing that every absence needs a “convincing” explanation when that’s not necessarily the case. To be fair, some workplaces do work on this model. But many do not.

  26. Not So Super-visor*

    LW#3: if in the US, I wonder if the manager did this as a way to make the employees immediately eligible for unemployment and the extra $600/week. If that’s the case, there were probably performance issues outside of not just being rock stars.

  27. Wren*

    LW #1: Migraines have been my go-to if I don’t want to disclose a mental health day. It works because it’s something that reasonable takes up a day, it makes sense why you wouldn’t want to work (“the screen hurts my eyes”), can come on suddenly, and doesn’t require a doctor’s visit to check out.

    1. HelloHello*

      Migraines have become my go-to mental health day excuse now too. I probably could get away with just saying “I need a mental health day” but to be honest I don’t want to have to spend the time reassuring people I’ll be okay, I just need a day away from work. Migraines are understandable and not covid related, so they work well for me.

  28. Tuckerman*

    #2- Go, mama! I think it’s likely over time they’ll get used to it and get over it. Especially if you pump around the same times each day. It might even help one of their wives if she decides to pump at work. He can tell her it’s no big deal, his co-worker does it all the time. Funny story- I emailed my manager about a pumping location and during a meeting he had his email up on projection screen (WHY, do people do this) and my email was up in full view of everyone in the room. My face got hot but I didn’t say anything because I hoped that my matter of fact request might help someone else in the room.

    #4- Any chance you can hold a monthly/quarterly informational interview session? When you get requests you can send them the Zoom link for the next session.

    1. Pumping Mom*

      Oh my gosh I would’ve been mortified to have an email about my pumping up on a projector! You handled that way better than I would have.

    2. OP #4*

      Is that too excessive? I thought about writing up FAQs, too. That’s why I thought a recording, that way it’s on-demand–I’m squarely a millennial not a Gen Z’er, but some of these requests…. I just doubt any of them would show up to something scheduled/planned. I might offer it as a webinar in some FB groups I’m in, and then record that, so there’s some live audience participation. Again, I’m early career/have spent all my FTE exp at 1 org, so not an expert by any means.

      Thanks for the tip!

  29. Laura H.*

    LW 1, you can explain as much or as little as you’re comfortable with.

    Just remember to actually take the day off- recently my mom forgot she’d taken a Friday, and “went in” to work anyway. (She arranged to take -and took- that next Monday IIRC). I kinda laugh cause it seems like something I would do once.

    But you take care of you! That’s important.

  30. Random commenter*

    I totally agree with Alison. If you don’t think it’s impacting you professionally, let them squirm. It’s about time that they learned that this is a normal thing (and something that their wives are probably doing too). For context, I’m a man.

    Also remember that you are under no obligation to provide an informational interview just because someone asked you to.

    1. OP #4*

      I know–but having been in their shoes, I want to help–but can’t/don’t want to expend the energy. It’s not a big problem in the grand scheme of everything right now, but considering the enviro nonprofit field is heavily reliant on donor $, the jobs have always been competitive, especially now. I feel grateful to have a job, albeit one I don’t love, so want to find ways to support without draining myself.

  31. Jaybeetee*

    LW2: My first thought was I wanted to punch these men in the throat, but that might be a little aggressive. ;) A friend and I were just talking recently about how I grew up skulking around during my periods because my mother taught me to Never Talk About It in front of my brothers or father – they couldn’t ever know the teenage girl in their midst had a period! Mind you, I’m still not the type to yell about Female Things at work, but if something pertinent came up and I had to mention it (as in your case), and my male colleagues started acting weird about it, my eye-rolling might reach outer space.

    1. Pumping Mom*

      I was also raised like you with the period talk and so I think that’s where I was coming from with this letter. It feels a lot like I’m telling them I have my period.

    1. Anononon*

      Because, unfortunately, there’s a stigma to saying that in some workplaces, and it’s not OP’s responsibility to singlehandedly change perceptions surrounding that.

    2. Deanna Troi*

      Because in many workplaces, you would be subtly punished for this. It might never be mentioned, but it could affect your reviews, your potential for promotion, assignments.

    3. Koala dreams*

      Because it isn’t? Being temporarily tired or exhausted doesn’t say anything about your mental health. Saying that you have bad (mental or physical) health also makes the problem seem chronic or permanent, which isn’t suitable for a temporary issue like occasionally being tired or exhausted. It would alarm people unnecessarily for no reason.

      If the the exhaustion is connected to an illness, whether mental or physical, there is nothing wrong with mentioning the illness, like the example above with migraine.

  32. straws*

    OP2 – you’re fine! When I was pumping in an office of mostly men, I found the reactions to be incredibly varied, but all were 100% on them. I had access to a pumping room, but couldn’t work from there, so I spoke with each person in my office (we had high-walled cubicles) to see if they would be supportive of me just blocking off the “doorway” to my cubicle and pumping at my desk while I worked. There were 4 men and all were supportive, but in very different ways! One was similar to what you’re describing – he would get uncomfortable and fully avoid even being in the office with me. He stepped out every time, but insisted that what I was doing was more important when I spoke with him about it (and he had enough work to do away from his desk so he just scheduled it for those times). So that may be where your coworkers are too – ok but still uncomfortable. (for the other 3, one was super curious and constantly asked me thankfully-not-too-invasive questions, the other was supportive but indifferent, and the 3rd was a dad of 4 who was initially outraged that I even needed to ask but calmed down when I explained I was just trying to be polite!)

    1. Pumping Mom*

      That’s kind of the vibe my coworkers have. One doesn’t even want to think about it and avoids me at all times, one is a dad of 4 women who all have at least 2 kids so he’s always making comments like “oh the work of a mother is never done!”, one completely doesn’t even respond to me when I mention I have to go pump, and one who turns around and walks out of the break room if I’m in there washing my pump parts!

      1. formerpumpingmomma*

        I’ve gotten varied reactions when I pumped too. From my manager shocked and dismayed that I planned on pumping when my baby was 7 months old (we were planning for a conference out of town and I was discussing my plans to pump there). To one guy who was in in late 50s, who didn’t know what it was and was shocked/amazed that one could pump breastmilk!

        1. blackcat*

          “To one guy who was in in late 50s, who didn’t know what it was and was shocked/amazed that one could pump breastmilk!”

          Gah, I once explained to a flight attendant what everything was…. it was a relatively empty flight on a small plane so rather than take up the sole bathroom for 20 minutes, I put on my cover and pumped at my seat. Flight attendant gave me the third degree about the pump, how it worked, how old my baby was, etc, etc, when all I wanted was some peace and quiet. She seemed genuinely shocked that there was a mechanical device that pumped my milk. Which… was a bit unnerving because there are regulations specific to pumps/breastmilk for planes that I would assume a flight attendant would know. She commented she had never seen a pump before and said “Well I guess most women check them” and I was like, “uh, hopefully not one like this because it has a lithium battery and I know you’re not supposed to check those…”

          Pumping while traveling was really the worst.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            A mother I know nearly had her pump confiscated post 9/11, the paranoid customs guy was convinced it had to be part of a bomb. She offered to show him how it worked, at which point he went bright red and told her to move along.

            1. blackcat*

              Oh, I had a power hungry TSA agent try to confiscate mine in 2018. He claimed all medical devices needed a written prescription to be allowed on planes. I told him to refer to the TSA policies, *which I had printed out in an outside pocket of my bag.* He legit said “Sweetie, I think I know policy better than you.”
              The scene ended when I yelled (because asking at a normal voice wasn’t working) “I NEED A SUPERVISOR RIGHT NOW. THIS AGENT HAS CONFISCATED MY MEDICALLY NECESSARY EQUIPMENT!!” I did theater all through school. When I’m loud, I’M LOUD. Entire security area (of a large airport, picture ~10 open lines) went quiet.
              Supervisor came running. I explained I was not being allowed to take my breast pump, explained I knew the TSA policies, had them printed, and that the agent had refused to look at them (or allow me to touch *any* of my belongings). Supervisor apologized, gave me my things, and said the agent would get more training. Agent muttered “f—-ing b—-” at me as I walked away. I filed a complaint but I never got a response.

              When I say traveling while pumping was the worst, I mean it. So, so bad. The other times, TSA agents were fine or even helpful, but I was pretty traumatized by that experience.

              1. blackcat*

                I also recognized that I, a petite, professionally dressed white-woman, could make a scene like that and have it turn out in my favor. I also saw more than one stranger recording it the interaction, which was further protective. Not everyone could make a scene like that and not get arrested.

  33. MicroManagered*

    OP2 I’m in favor of just saying “I have a conflict I can’t move” rather than explaining that it’s time set aside to pump. The reason is *NOT* that you should be embarrassed or anything like that, but in general, I try to give as little explanation as possible for stuff like this because I feel like explanation invites judgment or debate about whether the conflict is truly something that can’t be moved.

  34. Sherri*

    To LW#2: FWIW, this isn’t exclusive to male dominated workplaces. Not everyone is supportive of breastfeeding and many who haven’t done it just don’t understand. Been there, done that.

    Everyone needs some personal time at work for various reasons at various times (look back at all the AAM posts about urgent bathroom issues!). I personally vote for not making an issue of it, and leaving your reasons generic. By all means, share it when you can, but there’s no reason to volunteer the reason any more than necessary, just as you would (presumably) not need to know everyone else’s reasons for their private time.

    Lastly, congrats on your baby and good for you for pumping! There’s a bit of a hassle to it, but my kids were far less sick than they otherwise would have been, so in the end it was much less of a hassle overall. If you can hold out until the baby is a year old, it’s usually totally acceptable to switch over to whole milk. Personally, I did whole milk during the day, and tapered off with pumping, but kept up the breastfeeding at home. The nutritional, mental and comfort benefits were well worth it!

    Best of luck!

      1. GrooveBat*

        Yeah, that “good for you!” seems very judgey and off-putting. Not every woman breastfeeds, and her reasons for not doing so are no one else’s business. Also unrelated to the work advice problem raised in the original letter.

        Let’s keep the focus on the work issue and not on scrutinizing others’ choices.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I think a little encouragement can do a breastfeeding/pumping mother a lot of good. There are plenty of people here who congratulate LWs, why should it be different for this one? Other mothers don’t manage to pump and may feel inadequate as a result, that shouldn’t make congratulating Pumping Mum out of bounds.
          And it’s not even advice that Sherri is giving, she’s simply sharing what worked for her, and mentioned a goal worth aiming for, which I read as her personal opinion.

          1. Sherri*

            Exactly! The other three responders have proven my point that not everyone is supportive. I encourage breastfeeding because it worked for me and my children so I’m happy to share my experiences. I do not judge or criticize if someone chooses differently. No mom needs that.

        2. Lynn*

          Also, unless she did a scientific study, she cannot definitively say that her kids were less sick than they would have been otherwise.

  35. BlueFairy*

    For #2:
    My office was pretty good about pumping (aside from the oblivious web guy who opened my closed office door once despite the sign on it to email me), but I recommend checking out Jessica Shortall’s book Work, Pump, Repeat. It’s largely white-collar focused, but includes a good collection of advice for all sorts of situations. Almost more important was the solidarity and support I felt reading stories from all sorts of pumping moms. Wishing you support and success!

  36. Jennifer Strange*

    Slight tangent for #2: I remember being an intern at an organization about 7 years ago. One of my semi-supervisors had recently had a baby and was pumping. She went off one afternoon to do so and our business director (male) came into our office and asked where she was. Without thinking about it I just said “Oh, she’s pumping.” Got a very weird look from him, accompanied by “That’s more info than I needed.” I felt a bit embarrassed (I think mostly because I was an intern) but really, how is it any different than saying “She went to the bathroom”? Both indicate that a normal, bodily function is happening.

    1. Ann Perkins*

      Ha, I had a male direct report after my last leave who sits right outside my office, and the nature of my work is that I get a lot of drop-bys of people asking questions. So he was constantly asked if I was available or where I was. He fortunately knew the drill since his older sister nursed all her kids and also had to pump, so at least a couple times per week he was telling people who would stop by that I was pumping and to try again in 20 minutes or they could go back to their desk and call me.

      1. Formerpumpingmomma*

        We had a supply closet that several of us nursing moms used to pump. One time someone said they went down and couldn’t open it. We a latch that we used to lock it from the inside, when we pumped. I said “Oh Jane is probably down their pumping”. The guy turned red and said “WHAT?”. Apparently he didn’t hear pump. He thought I said a word that started with H and sounds like pump.

  37. Batgirl*

    OP2, this is very much a ‘know your office thing’ but if it’s just a new situation for them, leading to ignorance of how to respond, then I would just kind of lead the way. When they are giving ‘uncomfortable’ signals, and if you’ve had enough of just ignoring them, I would just raise it in a really unflustered way: “Oh is my being busy an issue? You look worried”. “No? Great. Because pumping has to happen then, which is why I am tellling you. *smile*”
    “Oh is there something wrong with the pumping room? You two just exchanged a look like something was wrong”.
    For the ones who are walking away, I’d say “Brad, before you go: Did you hear me say I was busy/pumping then?” “OK, Im just making sure you know because it means I’ll be unavailable for x mins. Ok? Nod if you heard me. OK!”
    Some men are raised to think that not only is “wimmins stuff” not their business, but that there’s something pervy about making a straightforward acknowledgement of it. When they are giving these signals (its beyond easy to hide discomfort so it’s not just an internal problem) it’s because they are saying ‘should you be telling me” and ‘should I respond’.
    Just rinse and repeat phrases which underline “Yes, you need to know” and “yes, please acknowledge me”.

    1. Pumping Mom*

      This is a really great take, thank you! I think they do worry they could come across as pervy if they acknowledge – because I am also the youngest person in the office, too.

  38. Bookworm*

    #1: I think saying something like that or that you just need a break to rechage a bit is okay. You’re trying to operate under trying conditions and in close quarters with other people. It’s not easy and that’s okay.

    #5: That is sweet. Thank you for sharing that with us. :)

  39. MissDisplaced*

    I took off a day last week because of a dental appointment, and I typically get headaches afterwards. I was so glad I did because it was worse/more complicated than I thought and I basically slept the whole afternoon away.

    And I need to say this: Even if you are WFH now, sometimes you just get TIRED! Being over-tired or exhausted IS sick (or likely to make you sick in the long run). Sometimes you just need a day to sleep and do nothing. Don’t feel guilty about taking an occasional PTO day for that if you need it.

  40. Moi*

    #2, there’s a scene in the TV Show New Girl, where the character Cece deals with something like this. Season 7 Episode 2. There’s a clip of it on youtube, and while I totally don’t recommend how she handles it, it’s absolutely hilarious.

  41. CSI*

    Re: Pumping. I once announced to an arbitrator (I’m a lawyer) that I needed an earlier and longer break in our hearing because I was still breastfeeding and needed to “relieve myself”. It was extemporaneous and a bit embarrassing but boy howdy did it work.

    But anyway, saying you’re pumping is easier sometimes than being circumspect, because seemingly random unmissable 20 minute breaks are not the norm in many work environments (it’s a crazy long bathroom break, a weird short lunch break, etc). They’ll get over it. Discomfort isn’t eternal and it’s not always avoidable. Just be very matter of fact, and all business. Plus honestly it really helps pave the way for other women, and while that isn’t your job, it’s a very kind and brave thing to do.

    1. CSI*

      Oh and! I’ve also had to pump in the middle of a long board meeting, and had to ask the CEO to use his office for privacy. Again, all business.

  42. JessicaTate*

    Alison, I simply love that you described the men in OP#2’s workplace as having “delicate sensibilities.” That is so spot on.

  43. MissAnnElk*

    #5 — My husband and I share a home office, but neither of us had worked from home full-time until now. Pre-COVID, I’ll admit I would occasionally use a “work from home” day as a mental health day; i.e., keep up on emails but mostly just play videogames. Now, of course, I’m actually working from home. My husband told me the other day that he’s so impressed with my work — he had definitely had an impression of me as a slacker, and now he knows I’m actually a hard worker who is good at her job. It’s a great feeling!

  44. BottleBlonde*

    This is a good point. I think if you can give a day or two of notice and just say you need a day off to mentally reset, it wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, if your time away won’t affect your team. It’s actually a pretty common thing to do right now.

  45. yala*

    #1 Honestly, taking sick days just feels weird with WFH. I had the sort of stomach troubles that would have definitely kept me home in the Before Times last week…but since I’m at home, and I work ten feet from the bathroom and didn’t have to worry about looking presentable in public, it didn’t feel worth calling in sick. In retrospect, I wish I had–it was much harder to focus, and I’m glad it was just on a half day.

  46. Granger*

    #5 I love your post!

    My spouse and I were both work from home on the same day one day and I had a routine conference call with industry colleagues that she overheard and she was surprised by several elements of the call. After the call she asked, “Is that what those calls are usually like? (with an air of disbelief)” – it was truly eye-opening for her to personally hear what parts of my job are *actually* like. LOL

  47. Jill*

    #2 – I wonder if the problem is more about telling people something specifically what you’re doing in private, when if it wasn’t meant to be private you’d just be doing it publicly. You’re the only woman in an office so there’s definitely some gendering in your situation, you’d probably be able to pump publicly in an office full of women, but if you’d tell your office what any other kind of thing you’d regularly need to go to in private for then it’d be reasonable to tell them that you’re pumping, if that makes sense. Things like therapy, stomach issues, depression, etc. come to mind, so if you’d openly tell your office about those things, pumping would make sense in the office culture.

  48. Aphrodite*

    OP #2, please do not assume this is just a male response. I am a mature women who gets very squicked out at this kind of talk, however brief. Just to read those words here makes me squirm and mutter “Eeeeeewww, ick!” I would never ever say it out loud but talk of that and other details of physical parenting/babies just causes me to almost melt down; it’s a physical reaction–and I know that while that kind of talk/information is not the only thing–I have a friend who had her second knee replacement and likes to share details and photos of her scars, pain, etc. it just causes me to shudder and worse. I may be in the minority but I’d rather sit through an hour of nails on a blackboard.

  49. Not Alison*

    re: Pumping
    There is something to be said for thinking about what words mean and what specific word we choose to use. For me the words “mom time” connote something loving you are doing as a mom. On the other hand, use of the word “pump” makes me think of the pumps that are used to pump milk out of a cow. And I cringe every time I hear a mom use that word.
    So please don’t just jump on the men for not liking your use that word. It may not be the action, per se, that freaks them out but use of the word “pumping” and if you use a more mom-friendly euphemism (and we all use euphemisms every day in our speech in place of other words) perhaps you won’t get the reaction that you don’t like from men. Anyway, I think it is worth a try. But if you are still getting an adverse reaction after using a different word, then you have an entirely different problem.

    1. Batgirl*

      Ok but wouldn’t the word ‘milk’ or ‘cow’s’ be more likely to make you think of cows being milked? Than the word ‘pumped?’ I’m not saying that you’re not honestly squicked out and if you were my friend I’d oblige you with avoidance, I’m just wondering how common that word association is. Even if a co-worker is a bit squicked out by the origins of animal milk, that’s not necessarily something a human mum with a calender to communicate needs to accommodate. My friend who is vegan is honestly pretty disgusted by cows milk – but she insists that it’s just her thing. shes not going to say that when people go get coffee.

    2. jenkins*

      It’s just one word, not a graphic description. The squick is unfamiliarity, and it’s somewhat understandable because we don’t normally think or talk about our colleagues’ breasts, but it’s still completely and utterly on the uncomfortable person to manage their response, keep it to themselves and not let it impact on the pumping colleague.

      People get to feel however the hell they want about breastfeeding, pumping, all the rest of it, but they don’t get to shove those feelings at a person who’s just trying to get a baby fed.

      1. jenkins*

        Also, I don’t think people’s awareness is good enough for ‘mom time’ to work – unless you make a big announcement about what it means, which defeats the purpose, some people won’t actually understand it’s a euphemism for pumping. I’ve known people who would definitely have assumed it meant something ridiculous like having four-times-daily video calls to the baby, or possibly having a nap because of sleep deprivation, something like that. Not anything you’d need real privacy for, or that couldn’t be delayed for a meeting. As another commenter said, someone in her office hadn’t even known you *could* pump breastmilk.

    3. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      If you’ve ever pumped, the experience is *exactly* like the machine used on cows. The milk even makes little jets like it does on cows. Not to be too graphic but cows and humans are both mammals, and there’s not a lot of difference in the transferring milk to a bottle process between the two.

      To me, “mom time” sounds both twee and risks seeming like you are slacking on work for your family rather than taking care of a medical need.

  50. NotAFan2020*

    I’m going to go against the grain a bit with the breast pumping issue. Allison said it wasn’t like you were saying you had to go to the bathroom. And what’s wrong with that? So, it’s not o.k. to comment about one natural bodily function, but it is about another? I think in any of these situations, it’s just courteous of others to say “I’m unavailable at that time”, rather than, “I need to have a bowel movement, change my tampon, pump my breasts.” Great for anyone who chooses to breastfeed, but I don’t think it requires announcing it to the world. Just like the other functions don’t get regularly announced.

    1. Pumping Mom*

      I don’t consider it like announcing I need to change my tampon because I don’t feed my kid menstrual blood.

      1. Altair*

        Well said. In honesty, I’m really sorry that not only are your coworkers being Weird at you but so many commenters here are being rude and making disgusting comparisons when you’ve come here for advice. I’m just one random person on the Internet but when my friends were breastfeeding I kept a copy of the relevant laws in my purse for whenever I went out with them (especially since one was my roommate so we went out together a lot). I was always ready to throw down on their behalf, but we really shouldn’t have to be. I am cheering you on!

    2. Batgirl*

      I don’t think that’s at all practical because her co-workers would then be completely in the dark about a regular, unavoidable, chunk of time to meet a daily physical need. To the point where they are walking in on her at the exact wrong time every day! Why would anyone leave their coworkers blundering around in ignorance like that?
      I don’t think bathroom use is a good parallel because a) everyone needs that, it’s not specific to one coworker and b) it doesn’t (usually) take much time and isn’t something at x o clock that people’s schedules need to be aware of. We don’t discuss bathroom needs because there’s no practical need to.
      Besides, people need to know that there’s a pumping room in the building (especially if it’s unlocked or used for other things) and there really isn’t anything wrong with using the word pumping to let people know that.

      1. jenkins*

        Yes! People need to know what she’s doing because they need to respond in a specific, appropriate way – giving her privacy and respecting the time she blocks out for pumping. She does not need to tiptoe around the subject to such an extent that her needs go unmet, which *will* happen if people don’t know enough to understand what those needs even are.

    3. Altair*

      The number of times people analogize breastfeeding to excretion is, frankly, disgusting. Breastfeeding is not.

    4. blackcat*

      Um. If something’s urgent, I definitely say “I need a short bathroom break” to clarify that I cannot, in fact, wait to stretch my legs 2 hours into a working meeting. And I’ve totally said, “I need lunch before 1 or else I’ll get hangry.”
      Similarly, “That’s when I pump” is a completely fine thing to say. No one says “pump my breasts.” That’s a strawman argument. The closest I ever got was someone asking me to push my pumping by an hour and I said, “The last time I got mastitis, I spiked a 105 fever. I’d really rather not do that again, so my pumping schedule isn’t flexible right now.”
      In the 12 months I pumped, I never once mentioned “breasts” or “boobs” to my colleagues.
      I see nothing wrong with making it clear you have a physical need that must be met on a certain time frame.

    5. Observer*

      No one is announcing that they “have to go have a bowel movement” but plenty of people DO say “I need to go to the bathroom / ladies room / men’s room” or “I need to use the facilities”.

      And the OP is not saying that she’s going to “pump her breasts” but that she’s going to “pump”. These are perfectly standard terms used in polite company.

      When people who have the standing want to have meetings you often do NOT just say “I can’t be there” and you often DO say “I need to us the bathroom / go pump”

  51. Altair*

    The number of times people analogize breastfeeding to excretion is, frankly, disgusting. Breastfeeding is not.

    1. Observer*

      It’s true that the analogy is wrong. What’s worse is that it doesn’t even work. The fact of the matter is that people DO mention that they are going to the bathroom. Products intended to be used in bathrooms are not hidden away from sight. Reasonable people understand that you can’t always “be flexible” around this stuff. While people are expected to avoid all the gory details of what goes on, no one is expected to use euqphemisms that are intended to pretend that nothing physical is actually happening. People don’t squirm and look away when someone mentions the bathroom or is obviously headed there. And no one in their right mind thinks that it’s remotely ok to walk in on someone using the bathroom.

      Yet we’re hearing attempts to defend all of the above being done to women who are nursing because of supposedly it just like those other functions.

      Basically people are using a gross and inaccurate comparison to treat nursing WORSE than the thing they are comparing to.

      1. Altair*

        So what do you think breastfeeding should disqualify a woman from? Employment? Public life? Leaving her house?

        1. Aphrodite*

          Of course not. That assumption is very wrong. Though I never wanted or had children I firmly believe that families need to be supported to grow, to contribute to communities, society and the economy.

          What I do not want is to hear about the physical parts of parents or children. I admit it makes my skin crawl and I really do not want to know what a parent does when she takes a break to do what she must do. Go, do it, have the right to have that respected. Just don’t tell me about it.

          1. jenkins*

            But it’s been widely covered in the comments here that pumping has some specific requirements – absolutely must have privacy, can’t necessarily be flexible on timing – that people need to know about or they’ll continually be walking in on the LW, scheduling meetings during her pumping times etc. She’s not chatting about it for fun or oversharing, she’s just being clear in an attempt to get her needs met. The reaction you have to this sort of thing sounds unpleasant for you and I’m sorry about it, but a pumping parent can’t reasonably be expected never to mention what they’re doing, or they’ll face significantly more difficulties in getting to do it.

            A friend of mine can’t stand the idea of breastfeeding on her own account and couldn’t even begin to bf her own kids. I didn’t discuss it with her in any detail, but there was no reasonable way I could pretend not to be breastfeeding my baby son and sometimes I had to do it while we were out together because you can’t just delay a feed for an hour or more when a baby is screaming hungry. I don’t want to be unfeeling but there isn’t a good way for you to never hear a word about this stuff.

    1. Batgirl*

      Luckily I don’t think that’s OP’s problem. I think this is specifically awkward guy syndrome. They’re still in ‘if we were split up by gender for sex ed class then infer and enact what the social expectation is supposed to be now?!’
      I have come across people who are genuinely squicked, like my former co-worker, who was a mum herself, and the awkward frozen glances and self conscious non reactions aren’t there in that situation. She was quite frank to a friend of mine about how disgusting it was (not for herself, which would be fine but disgusting of my friend) and we all cheerfully ignored it as being a bit odd.

      1. Altair*

        I’m just annoyed because so many people give their personal sense of disgust moral weight. For instance I remember so many ‘discussions’ where people cited homosexuality as ‘disgusting’ and therefore worthy of legal strictures, and it’s horrifying the number of commenters above who are comparing breastfeeding to excretion in order to argue that it should be hidden away as shameful. I doubt most of those commenters above sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus without ever having been a baby fed on milk.

        I think people need to own their own awkwardness instead of punishing others for ever sparking their discomfort, you know?

        1. jenkins*

          Exactly. Outside of a few shared taboos, like defecation or showing genitalia, one person’s disgust or discomfort is not an automatic moral obligation for everyone else to accommodate them. Breastfeeding and pumping are among the things we (in theory) make sure people can do, because it’s important – far more important than how any bystander happens to feel about it. It’s not something parents do *at* people, it’s something they do because it needs doing, and hiding it completely is not a reasonable ask.

          We all walk around in animated meatsacks that do gooey stuff. Outside of close relationships, the social expectation is that we don’t go into great detail, but we *do* acknowledge most things matter-of-factly, as necessary and without the need for shame. You say you ate lunch and even mention that it disagreed with you, but you don’t describe exactly what’s going on in your gut. You say you’re pregnant, without telling everyone where, when and how you conceived. You say you gave birth, without describing every gory detail of how it went down. And you say you’re pumping, because that’s what you are doing. It’s less universal than some bodily processes but that doesn’t somehow make it a whole new category of TMI. A personal issue with any of these things is just that – personal. You can’t expect people to pretend they live on air or that the stork brought their baby, and you can’t expect them to pretend pumping isn’t pumping.

        2. Batgirl*

          That’s so weird because I made the same homosexuality parallel in my head following this discussion. You don’t have to viscerally feel and first-person imagine that you are doing what other people are doing with their bodies. You don’t have to get it! Just mind your own beeswax, be respectful and don’t make a meal of the details.

  52. LMM*

    #3 just happened to me, only I was one of the people laid off. It’s infuriating, even knowing that the layoffs were most likely budgetary, to see someone new start two days after the company laid off 1/3 of its staff, and that 20 percent of those layoffs happened in my department for reasons none of us understand (we had thought we were pretty essential to the company these days). Rubbing salt deeper into the wound, the person hired would have been my boss, something I hadn’t had the entire time I was in that job and desperately needed and wanted.

    I had honestly gotten to a point of acceptance about my layoff, and this news put me back into a tailspin. It sucks. It SUCKS. And I think the new person is going to have a very hard time adjusting to a staff that just lost half their people and doesn’t understand any of it.

  53. Cari*

    I just took a Friday off because I needed the break. My boss is amazing and to her and our teammate I said “Been double booked all week, I need a breather” and to the larger group of colleagues we work with, I mentioned a need to do a project in my apartment (true, but didn’t necessarily warrant time off). Zero issues. My slack was something to the effect of “Text me if it’s urgent”. NO one did.

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