birthdays with food restrictions, quitting right before your boss goes on leave, and more

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

1. A birthday in an office that’s weird about food restrictions

My office has a tradition for celebrating birthdays where you bring a dessert (usually a cake) for the person whose birthday is after yours on the calendar. If someone wants to opt out, they just tell the person who would bring the dessert for their birthday and there is no mention of it.

I’m approaching my first birthday while employed with this office and am on a highly restricted diet due to some medical issues. Most times I simply manage to not show up for treats until they are all gone or just forget to pick up my piece of dessert after wishing the person happy birthday (both a little difficult when they are celebrating you).

I don’t really want to opt out of celebrating, but I know that I won’t be able to eat any of the treats. I could make a batch of treats that I can eat, but that would out of sync with office tradition. While the office is pretty good with not badgering people when they totally opt out of birthday celebrations, they are TERRIBLE about badgering about food choices or issues. (I experienced this a few months ago when we all ordered delivery and, not being familiar with the restaurant, I ordered a dish that contained something I’m allergic to, and was asked if I was okay for weeks afterwards.) I could really use some help with how to opt in to the celebrating but out of the eating something that could make me feel terrible for days, without it becoming A THING.

How about asking the person in charge of your birthday to do a non-dessert treat like fruit or something else you can eat? When people ask, say you’re trying to eat healthier or thought it would be a nice change or you’ve really been craving fruit lately or so forth. Alternately, you could opt out of the birthday schedule they have going, but then on the day of your birthday bring in a treat for everyone that you can eat and explain you ended up baking and wanted to share it.

Or, if your office’s weirdness about food restrictions truly prevents the other options, you could simply stick with the tradition but not eat anything yourself. (If pressed, say you had a big breakfast or lunch that day.) That’s not a great solution, but it’s an option if you just don’t feel like dealing with any of it. (Ideally I would like to see you push back on their weird food badgering, but fully understand that you might not want to bother.)

2. Quitting when my boss is about to go on maternity leave

My boss is scheduled to go on maternity leave in two weeks. I’ve been with this company for about 11 months but recently received a job offer at another company with much better benefits and pay. I love my boss and culture, but this new job would be a fantastic upgrade for my retirement plans and future growth. I had interviewed at the new company prior to joining my current company. How do I break the news to my boss and direct report?

Just like you normally would, but with an added “I know the timing is bad” and maybe “I’d interviewed with them last year before coming on board here, and they just brought me an offer that’s too good to pass up. (The subtext of the latter is, “I wasn’t actively interviewing after less than a year” — not that you can’t do that but it will usually add to the sting.)

Your boss will make do. She’ll deputize someone to handle the hiring in her absence or otherwise figure it out. Just tell her ASAP — like today — so she has as much time to get things rolling before she leaves as possible.

3. Contracts that assume you’re a man

I’m in a male-dominated field and I’m the only female engineer in my office, so I tend to notice subtle sexism in ways that most in my office don’t.

In one aspect of my job, I review and approve contracts from clients, and most of the language is pretty standard legal speak — “Company 1 shall provide X,Y and Z, Company 2 shall return A,B, and C.” From experience, I know these contracts come from templates that have been vetted by lawyers, so revisions have to go back through the lawyers and can be a big pain.

I had one contract come across my desk this morning, and in every section referencing my responsibilities, the engineer (that’s me) is referred to as “he” and “his designs,” etc. This is fairly common in contracts, and one of my biggest pet peeves. Really simple substitutions would fix this — “the design” instead of “his design” and similar.

On one hand, I understand the intent of the contract, and this won’t stop me from completing the tasks as necessary. Typically I just ignore this, sign the contract or return it as necessary, and move on. But on the other hand, language matters! Representation matters! Every time I see an engineer assumed to be “he,” it really bugs me! I think that maybe the company providing that contract implicitly doesn’t trust women as engineers or that they they’re just clueless. There’s no need for the contract language to be gendered at all. Each time, I have to fight the urge to take these contract and give it to one of my male coworkers for him to do, since obviously it wasn’t intended for me and I can’t work on it .

Is this worth asking our clients for revisions, or having them note it for future contracts? Or pointing in out to them so they see that it’s technically inaccurate? Or is that just what should be expected from contract language so I should ignore it?

(For the record, the client contracts I’ve noticed this on the most are companies that we work with regularly, and I think this kind of suggestion wouldn’t affect our standing with them at all. But I’d like another opinion to make sure I’m not overreaching here.)

Nah, this isn’t just something you should expect from legal language. 60 years ago, sure. Not today.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t still happen (obviously), but when it does, you can speak up about it.

Personally, I’d include a note when you send it back saying something like, “By the way, this contract says ‘he’ throughout — I went ahead and signed but for the future, can you correct that?” (Maybe also include, “The easiest way is to just take gender out entirely — ’the design’ rather than ‘his design,’ etc.”)

4. Company makes us use PTO to vote

My company recently announced they’ve made a change to our PTO policies: now, if you want to vote during your scheduled shift, you have to use PTO from your time-off bank to go vote.

I had always been under the impression that companies were required to give you time off to vote if the polling location hours overlapped with your work shift. Is it legal to require you use PTO to vote, or take the time unpaid if your PTO bank is empty?

The company I work for has offices all across the U.S., and while my hours are 8-5, some departments are open 24 hours, if that makes a difference.

It depends on what state you work in. Some states require employers to give a specific amount of time off to vote. Some states require that it be paid; some don’t. I haven’t seen any states that would prevent your employer from making you use vacation time for it (although it’s possible some state does, so you should look up your local laws). Google “voter leave laws” and the name of your state to find out what laws apply to you.

5. I don’t have anything to put under Education on my resume

I was wondering how you would suggest handling the Education section of a resume when you have no bachelor’s degree or coursework you can point to. I am approaching 20 years of working experience without having gone to university (I’m in Australia). I’ve considered multiple times getting some qualifications but ultimately haven’t completed anything. I did get through most of a short course, but it’s too old now to be relevant and looks sad and outdated to even bother including now. Which leaves me with my high school quals, which is even more pathetic on its own. Can I leave off the section entirely? I’ve got solid work history to point to, and which is essentially why I’m worth hiring at all.

Leave off the Education section entirely! You’re not required to include it if you don’t have anything to list there, and leaving it off is a perfectly fine solution.

{ 280 comments… read them below }

  1. MN Auditor*

    Idk if this applies to the LW, but Minnesota voting leave laws state that you must be paid and can’t be penalized with loss of vacation time.

      1. A Poster Has No Name*


        I’m very disappointed in LW’s company, as this is a subtle form of voter suppression. To change it from being paid time off to needing to use PTO in such a critical election year signals pretty strongly that the company doesn’t really want it’s employees voting (gee, I wonder why!).

    1. JM in England*

      In the UK, all polling stations are open between 7am & 10pm for both general and local council elections. This is to allow working people to vote. Are there similar arrangements in the US?

      1. kittymommy*

        We’re (Florida) 7 -7. I always vote absentee since it’s just easier and it stops me from getting all the mailers.

      2. Black Horse Dancing*

        Many open at 7 am and close at 7 pm or 8 pm. It’s a long day for poll workers and clerks.

      3. Person from the Resume*

        In my state it is from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on all Tuesday elections and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on all Saturday elections. The upcoming presidential election is a Tuesday election.

        The hours are designed to allow working people to vote without taking time off from work, but there are some outliers whom those hours may not work for. The polling place is always near your home so if you work far from home with a long commute, it will be more inconvenient.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          “The polling place is always near your home”

          Not now that they keep closing them down in certain districts across the U.S. Many people are having to travel further to get to places they can vote. This causes lots of long lines in plenty of places, which means people need even more time off to both get to the place they need to vote and to actually stand in line to vote. It’s also disproportionately affecting low-income voters who are less likely to have the time and money available to take this extra time off.

      4. Anon scientist*

        Time zones are a big issue in North America. Canada got smarter about it some years ago and the polling stations are now open later in the east and close earlier on the west coast, except for the Atlantic provinces which close a bit earlier, counter-intuitively. So it used to be that they would close at similar times locally, and the votes would be counted and announced on the east while the polls were still open in the west. Although I suspect this only became a problem when vote counting could be done quickly, as counting votes individually would have been sufficiently slow that results wouldn’t have been known for many hours.

        Hours of voting
        128 (1) The voting hours on polling day are
        (a) from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., if the electoral district is in the Newfoundland, Atlantic or Central time zone;
        (b) from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., if the electoral district is in the Eastern time zone;
        (c) from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., if the electoral district is in the Mountain time zone; and
        (d) from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., if the electoral district is in the Pacific time zone.
        Marginal note:Exception — Saskatchewan
        (2) Despite subsection (1), if polling day is during a time of the year when the rest of the country is observing daylight saving time, the voting hours in Saskatchewan are
        (a) in the case of an electoral district in the Central time zone, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; and
        (b) in the case of an electoral district in the Mountain time zone, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

        1. DireRaven*

          Which leads to elections pretty much being “called” before the last polls (Hawaii?) close. I think that there should be no reporting on election results as long as any polls are open. If your supported candidate appears to be winning, you might decide there is no reason to take the time to go vote, and if your supported candidate appears to be getting trounced, you might decide there is no point to getting out and dealing with the polling place. Another thing I’d reform is the winner-take-all system and allocate each state’s electors by percentage of the vote if not eliminate the electoral college and maybe introduce ranked voting. Not a perfect answer, but I doubt there is one, and those who benefit from the system are always loathe to change it.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            Elections being called happens by news outlets and other media. They don’t use actual vote totals, but rather they do surveys of people who have votes and ask them who they voted for as a representative sample.

            Election authorities do not do not release official vote totals until a polling place is closed and votes are certified. In my state a poll watcher can obtain an unofficial count of votes for a certain precinct, but that is not the final total because it does not include mail in votes, provisional votes that may or may not count, write in votes etc… Votes do not get finalized until about two weeks after the election.

              1. Zombeyonce*

                It will be very interesting this year how the election results are reported with so many mail-in ballots happening. The media will surely call results for different races, including the presidential race, but there will be thousands, likely hundreds of thousands, of ballots that won’t be counted for days after the election since I believe in some states they’re not allowed to even start counting them until the day of the election.

                It will be really interesting to see how many candidates refuse to concede the night of the election because of this, especially because historically mail-in ballots are by a large majority Democrat votes.

        2. Steve*

          All votes in Canadian federal elections are still counted by hand. It really doesn’t take that long since each box has it’s own officer. It’s adding up and reporting the votes that takes a while. The biggest delays aren’t caused by counting at all though, they’re caused by polls closing late. The Elections act says if you are in line when the polls close, you get to vote, so it’s not uncommon for British Columbians to go to their voting place after work and still be waiting for their turn at 8pm PT, when CBC has already declared a winner.

      5. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        39 (I counted off a list so I may be off by one or two) states have early voting, anywhere from an extra 7 days to 6 weeks, and that’s excluding the few states that have gone to full vote-by-mail.

        Needing to go to the polls on Election Day is pretty rare for Americans.

        1. OP #4*

          In the last state I lived in, there was no early voting, so moving someplace where early voting is actually A Thing was a pleasant surprise. I’m glad more states are allowing mail-in voting, because waiting in a long line on election day took a lot of time, depending on how big the election was.

        2. Anonymouse*

          Needing to go to the polls on Election Day is pretty rare for Americans.

          Not at all rare actually and it really depends on your location and situation.
          If you didn’t receive your mailed ballot for some reason and need to cast a ballot in person.
          You moved recently and your voter registration wasn’t updated in time, you may have to show up in person to cast a provisional ballot.
          Same-day voter registration is a thing in some places.
          Some states have been shrinking early voting availability and have strict absentee/mail in qualifications, forcing the long lines on election day, especially when they are also shrinking the number of polling places on election day.

          Yes, some of these can be mitigated by prior planning, but to say its rare that American’s need to vote in person on election day is not an accurate blanket statement.

        3. Natalie*

          This is a fairly new development, though, and it seems like a lot of voters weren’t aware of it or preferred to vote in person for whatever reason. And the laws that allow people to take time off work (paid or otherwise) predate the wide adoption of early and mail-in voting by decades.

          1. TardyTardis*

            A lot depends on where you live. In the last primary in Kentucky not that long ago, there was only one polling place *per county*. Some states are notorious for having fewer polling places in districts where minority voters live, too. I live in Oregon and will turn in my ballot pretty much the day I get it.

      6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        We’re vote by mail, only. And they do the final ballot box collections at 8pm election day.

    2. Kares*

      I’m going to link to a quick run down of the US States employer laws. In some cases time must be allowed, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be paid.

    3. OP #4*

      I personally am in Texas, but there are offices in MN. My main confusion is that the policy has been applied unilaterally for the entire company, which seems odd when everything varies so much from state to state!

      1. Rachel in NYC*

        I’d suggest you reach out to a local voter protection group. Everyone is right and this is super state specific. (As will be interpretations.)

        My understanding is that the relevant TX law says: the employee is entitled to take paid time off for voting on election days, unless the employee has at least two consecutive hours to vote outside of the voter’s working hours. TX polls will be open 7am-7pm this year (it may be different for different elections so check) so assuming you work 9-5, they are theoretically covered.

        However, I don’t know (OP, you didn’t say) what the issue is- if there are commute problems, etc. And a local voting group may be able to advise you to specific interpretations.

      2. PJS*

        I’m also in Texas and my understanding is that employers must let you have time off to vote unless you voted during early voting or have at least two consecutive hours available to vote on election day outside of your scheduled work time. It doesn’t sound like you should have to use your leave, but I could be misunderstanding.

        1. Anon scientist*

          I suspect the confusion may be as follows:
          If the polls are open 7am – 7pm and I work 9am – 5pm then I have time to vote before or after work.
          The company can expect me to vote outside of work hours, so if I do want to vote during work hours then they can ask me to use vacation leave.
          If I work a shift of 8am – 8pm then I might not have time before work to vote, and therefore your state or province could require your workplace to give you paid time away from work to vote (this is how it works in Canada).

          1. whingedrinking*

            Exactly. I ran into trouble when I was working two jobs because each one could point out that their hours did not limit my ability to vote, but together with my commute, they completely overlapped the time that the polls were open (I was typically out of my house for twelve to thirteen hours a day, which, yes, sucked mightily.) I had to take vacation time as a result.

        2. RussianInTexas*

          Texas law is such:
          Assuming that an employee has not already voted in early voting, the employee is entitled to take paid time off for voting on election days, unless the employee has at least two consecutive hours to vote outside of the voter’s working hours – see the following two provisions of Chapter 276 of the Texas Election Code:
          It just says “paid”. PTO is usually paid. Nothing prevents a company from requiring to use paid PTO.

        3. Malarkey01*

          I think the confusion people are having is because the law says you are allowed paid leave, and the OP is getting paid leave. The company is reducing earned leave to provide for that.

          This comes up a lot when people think “paid leave” means their personal leave shouldn’t be reduced by the company. However in almost every state a company can reduce your leave for almost anything and it doesn’t contradict the law since leave is a benefit. The requirement is they pay you for this time and they are through the use of your leave.

          1. OP #4*

            No, my confusion is that some states require paid leave, some don’t require paid leave, and some (like MN), state you can’t be penalized with loss of vacation time to vote. I’m unclear on how this policy would be implemented when state laws can vary so much.

            1. Natalie*

              Generally they would implement this policy in any state where it was allowed, and in states where it wasn’t they would follow the state law. I’ve worked at a couple of places where the handbook came with supplements for practically every state for this reason.

      3. A Poster Has No Name*

        My understanding would be that this wouldn’t be legal for employees in the MN offices, so those employees should push back (assuming the usual caveats about time to vote outside working hours, etc. and how it would actually apply to those employees). And other states, too, depending on their local laws.

      4. Artemesia*

        You work for a company whose leadership thinks discouraging voting will benefit their choice of candidate. You can bet that the board and C suite are not being penalized for voting. One more example of why we need national laws on this and on voting security.

      5. Someone Else*

        That’s not what you asked though:

        “Is it legal to require you use PTO to vote, or take the time unpaid if your PTO bank is empty?”

        And because laws vary by all sorts of things, including location, Alison was right on to suggest lmgtfy.

    4. RussianInTexas*

      Texas election hours are 7am to 7pm. We also have a month of early voting this year. Go outside of your shift unless you truly can’t.
      (please don’t start ragging on Texas mail-in voting fiasco, I am aware and I am mad already, and it’s unnecessary).

      1. OP #4*

        My question was not about specifically Texas policies, it was about how my company has applied a policy unilaterally, when everything varies so much from state to state.

        I am aware of the voting policies in my area, and have my own plan for voting. That was not my concern.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          Sorry, I am not saying specifically to you not to rag on Texas, it’s more a general request, because I’ve seen it all buy now and it’s tiresome.
          And even if another state requires the company to provide paid time off, I do not believe any of them require it to be NOT PTO. I don’t know how a company would deal if there is no PTO available.
          I do know that Texas law says this:
          Assuming that an employee has not already voted in early voting, the employee is entitled to take paid time off for voting on election days, unless the employee has at least two consecutive hours to vote outside of the voter’s working hours – see the following two provisions of Chapter 276 of the Texas Election Code:
          It does specify paid time off, which actually does not mean not PTO. It just means paid.

    5. beanie gee*

      One of the many reasons voting by mail has been working beautifully for Washington state and other states for many years now!

    6. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      I know that here in Massachusetts – if you are a shift worker (say 7 am-7 pm) you have to be given time off to vote.

      Our polls are open 7 am to 8 pm BUT if, say you worked 7-7, with our roads, traffic, and so forth – some would have to be granted time out or permission to come in late or leave early.

      This I know – because I worked in a group where there were some people who worked a 12-hour shift, and the manager was ordered to set up time-off-to-vote schedules.

      On a similar vein – that same manager was totally upset that his overnight worker, was called to jury duty, and he could not work the overnight 7-7 shift before showing up to court. I guess the rule is to prevent people from falling asleep in the jury box.

  2. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    #4: One solution might be to request an absentee or mail ballot. Also, check your state’s early voting schedule – you might be able to vote in person without having to deal with long lines or having to take off work. Good luck to you!

    1. Artemesia*

      In my state Illinois there is early voting on Saturdays as well as weekdays and anyone in my county can vote at any location as the system is connected to all voter rolls.

      Early voting is probably the safest smartest way to vote this season given the aggressive attempts to create chaos with the absentee system and the risk of longer lines on election day.

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        I love early voting anyway. In NZ they only started doing it a few years ago and it’s so much better just dropping in at your convenience than dealing with the crush and queues on Election Day. Especially this year.

        1. regular reader, rare commenter*

          Same here! Plus, in my county (I’m in Texas) you can early vote anywhere in the county instead of only at your specific polling place. That made it easy to vote during my lunch break at work back when I commuted to an office ~30 minutes away from my house.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            Yes! This has made a huge difference for me (also in Texas). I work across the street from a teeny tiny library, but live in another district. It’s been so convenient to be able to walk across the street at 8am and vote at the library in about 5 minutes during early voting periods. I think people forget about that library because it’s so small, but it’s been a godsend for me! Plus, I like their staff pick books :)

      2. ThatGirl*

        Illinois is also doing mail-in voting for everyone this year, we’ve gotten approximately 5 different applications already which is funny to me. (One from the county clerk, the rest from various organizations.) If you don’t feel like mailing will get it there in time, you can drop them off at specific locations.

      3. Dancing Otter*

        Artemisia, you’re in Cook County, aren’t you?
        I’ve signed up to be an election judge again. If you possibly can, would you consider doing the same? Usually, most of the judges are senior citizens, and a lot are not willing to take the risk this year.
        Every polling place needs a minimum number of judges to be open. If the county can’t get enough judges, they have to reduce polling places, which no reasonable person should want to have happen.

        1. EchoGirl*

          I’d say that’s true for most locations. I’m also a Cook County resident now but I spent years working elections in Wisconsin when I lived there, and it wasn’t unheard of for me (college student) to be the youngest person at my polling site by 25 years or more.

    2. Natalie*

      Specifically, check if your state has “no excuse” absentee voting – a lot of states have added this in the past few years. It’s voting by mail with a slightly different name.

      1. Parenthetically*

        My state added no-excuses absentee voting ONLY due to the pandemic, as well as dramatically expanding early voting. It was two weeks of early voting for the primary, and it’ll be THREE full weeks, at any county clerk’s office, for the general.

      2. Hillary*

        I’m also in MN – before we had “no excuse” absentee voting they accepted “I’m going to be out of my precinct” as an excuse. By out of my precinct, I meant in the next county over on the second day of a new contract job – I didn’t want to ask a boss I’d had a half hour phone interview with for time to go vote, and I had no idea what my schedule would actually be.

        For the spring primary I voted at my town hall since I was out of the country on election day. The staff there had witnessed so many early ballots that they’d printed labels to limit how much handwriting they had to do.

    3. OP #4*

      My state (Texas) reeeeeally restricts mail-in voting, though early voting is available. I was mainly curious about how the policy has been applied unilaterally for the entire company, which seems odd when everything varies so much from state to state!

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I suspect that state’s voting hours (usually at least 12; mine is 14 hours 6am-8pm) will still allow most of your employees to vote before or after their shifts. Even an office that is open 24/7 has shift workers with most likely an 8 or 12 hour shift. People with a 8 hour shift will still have time to vote before or after shift. The 12 hour shift workers if there are any might be tight depending on how their shift lines up with the polling hours.

        The unilateral policy might be breaking the law for a small group of employees based on their state law and hours, but given how long polls are open people working a “normal” 8-9 hour shift even in a 24/7 shop should have time to vote outside of work hours.

      2. The Rural Juror*

        It seems a little…I don’t know, tone deaf(?) of your company to make that a thing at all, especially in the current climate.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          Yes and no. They didn’t say employee can’t take off to vote, just that if they did they needed to use PTO. Maybe that’s not even a change in their policy, but a clarification for people who assumed they could leave work to vote without taking PTO like the LW. Most should be able to vote before and after work without needing to use PTO.

          *** And so many commentators didn’t pay attention the the LW’s actual question and are offering “solutions” to a problem the LW doesn’t have.

          1. OP #4*

            Thanks for that! It’s definitely confusing fielding suggestions that don’t pertain to my question.

            The previous policy actually paid for your time off to vote (within reasonable time amounts and at your supervisor’s approval) through a civic duty leave pool, which isn’t capped. Switching from that to having to use your own accrued PTO bank seems more restrictive to me.

      3. 2 Cents*

        Sounds like someone in HR thought this was a good idea and (maybe) abides by the laws in whatever state they are in, not thinking “maybe all states aren’t the same.”

  3. TiffIf*

    My office had (before covid) birthday treats (though one person coordinated them for the whole department). The birthday person would get to choose. Some things that people have chosen:
    Costco muffins
    Fruit tray
    Chips and salsa
    Ice cream bars (klondike, fat boy etc.)
    Veggie tray
    Little caesars cheesy bread
    Bagels and cream cheese
    Costco Pizza
    Cinnamon rolls
    Ice cream
    Yogurt and granola

    Pick something that you can partake of (hopefully a fruit or veggie tray is something you could do?), and just say like Alison suggested that you wanted to change it up a bit.

    1. Artemesia*

      Get with the person who is in charge of your treat and work something out you can do — let him or her know you don’t want a big fuss made about your allergies and so want to low key go with something you can have. The fruit tray is a great idea — and of course with covid it might be better to go with something packaged and single serving that you can eat. e.g. if you could eat ice cream bars or paletas or popsickles like those fruit bars, that would be both a nice treat and safer in single serving. If the person is difficult and throwing up their hands, you can always volunteer to get them yourself.

    2. JokeyJules*

      an idea i’ve always wanted to try so i will suggest:
      Waffle Bar – just get a bunch of those eggo waffles (or higher quality, whatever floats your boat), then you just need butter, syrup, or ice cream toppings too.

      1. pcake*

        Waffle bars are made of wheat, and many people cannot eat wheat or gluten – it’s possibly one of the things that the OP can’t eat.

  4. BRR*

    #1 would it work to ask the last birthday person to do treats for the next birthday person and you handle your own? I’m not sure if this would subject you to the badgering but you could say how you don’t want your dietary restrictions to make extra work for the last birthday person.

    1. Blue Eagle*

      This is what I ended up doing because the person who brought treats for my birthday always brought something that was not to my taste. The next birthday person wasn’t too happy that treats were brought by the last birthday person rather than me, but at least the treats for my birthday were something that I enjoyed.

    2. Emi.*

      Depending on the exact restrictions and the previous birthday person, I wonder if you could just ask them personally to bring something you can eat, with clear instructions. Hopefully they’re not one of the badger-ers.

      1. LW #1*

        Not a badger-we more of a forget until the last moment and get a box of doughnuts at the convenience store kind.

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Birthday celebrations at work seem exhausting. I opted out of all such events at my org – declined to go to any for myself, and skipped most others.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        Aw, I love birthdays. At my office (pre-COVID, we’re all at home now), there’s nothing official except a cake brought in at the end of the month by HR to recognize all the month’s birthdays and anniversaries. But our teams are all pretty tight and generally make sure to go out for lunch on each person’s birthday – paid for by the department. That makes it pretty easy to account for any dietary needs since it’s just a few of you at a restaurant, and it’s only a few times a year as opposed to celebrating everyone in the building.

        I also bring treats for my work friends’ birthdays, but that’s just because I live alone and love to bake and need to foist my baked goods on someone.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is why we have designated persons [it-me.] to do this stuff because it’s easier than spreading it around.

        However it sounds like the person is buying out of their pockets and not the company, so that doesn’t work here either. Then it’s time for a “birthday club” where you just give someone who offers to coordinate everything $10 every year or whatever it is if you opt in.

        1. abcd*

          We also have a designated person. They handle getting a card together and arranging for the treat. The treat is typically brought by the person with the last birthday, but gets mixed up a bit if based on preferences, vacations, etc. But regardless of who brings the treat, it typically matches the birthday person’s preferences.

    4. Just no*

      I think this is a good idea. I am also still a little confused about why the OP doesn’t just send an email to the previous birthday person and say, “Hey, I have a slew of food allergies, and it’s a pain to find a cake without [x, y, z ingredients], so I will bring my own treat. If you wanted, you could bring [coffee, tea, soda, whatever], but no pressure at all.” Who knows, the coworker may say, “I’ll just bring a fruit tray for you!” to try to accommodate the allergy. I think most people would want to get their coworker something they’d be able to eat.

  5. Bilateralrope*

    LW4, have a look at postal and/or early voting in your state. You might be able to vote without having to take time off.

    Especially since we are in a plague year.

      1. Hazel*

        That’s what I did this year. I requested a mail-in ballot, but I didn’t mail it. On Monday, I took a walk with my dog to city hall and handed it in there.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes. I have always voted by mail because of the state being all-mail in. And I always drop it off. First it was because Ef a postage stamp [extra postage!] before it was free-postage. And my dad always says it feels like he’s going to the polls, which he sometimes misses so he will drive his in purposely. On his own, no touchy the ballot even once it’s in his envelope! He wants only trusted poll employees to touch it.

    1. OP #4*

      My state (Texas) has pretty strict restrictions on mail-in voting, though early voting is available. I was mainly curious about how the policy has been applied unilaterally for the entire company, which seems odd when everything varies so much from state to state!

  6. Kate*

    HR in Australia here.
    20 years of work experience is more than enough to just leave off education, do not include high school. So many people add their private schools to CVs even when they are 25+ years old and I’ve had managers specifically not interview based on candidates including their private school even, I’m talking large prestigious organisations too. So many stories I could tell. Caveat for roles such as lawyers or accountants that require a specific degree. Don’t be fooled into adding in a meaningless course in just to have something, it often looks weird and out of place to include random course. As Alison always says a CV is a marketing tool for yourself. Adding in any professional development is good, but not a deal breaker.

    1. BonzaSonza*

      Fellow Aussie here too. Your 20 years of work history can and should hold more weight than any university degree for many careers.

      I haven’t actually completed any tertiary study, as I dropped out of my degree to pursue a career opportunity in a field that was the polar opposite.
      15 years later I’m in the highest possible role I can achieve within this broad career (unless moving into executive management). I have lots of relevant industry experience and certification but still no university degree.

      My husband is the CIO of a tech services provider, with lots of tech certifications but also without any degree under his belt.

      We had to start at a lower entry level in our respective careers, but have reached where we are through a combination of hard work, luck and merit. Unless it’s a specific degree that you cannot operate without (medicine, architecture,
      engineering etc), I believe that it is absolutely possible to have a successful career without a degree.

    2. Aussie Resume Writer*

      This is great to hear, thank you Kate and BonzaSonza for your specific Aussie feedback. I haven’t updated my resume for over 10 years and that section looks so odd now, given I have loads of work history to list.
      I’m glad that the instinct I first had wasn’t off base.

      Thanks Alison for publishing my question so quickly also!

      1. J.*

        There have been CEOs in Australia that have lacked university degrees like former Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti who started in the mailroom at Qantas. Plenty of my former colleagues in senior roles have as well. It isn’t as big a deal as in the U.S. it seems.

  7. nnn*

    #1: One possibility for if you find yourself faced with a birthday cake you can’t eat and want to distract from the fact that you’re not eating it is to cut the cake.

    Brightly and cheerfully announce “Birthday girl cuts the cake!” as though of course that’s how it works, bustle around asking everyone how big a slice they want and making sure everyone has a slice, deal with cleaning the knife afterwards, and everyone will be far too absorbed in their own cake to notice you haven’t taken any.

    This isn’t perfect – it only works for a cake (as opposed to cupcake or whatever) and only your food sensitivities allow you to handle the cake, and it can suck to be doing the work without getting to enjoy a treat – but it does give a strong impression of participation, so people are less likely to notice that you’re opting out.

    1. Artemesia*

      If I have gone to the trouble to bake you a cake, I am going to feel bad that you can’t eat it and yeah I’ll notice. I think the idea of letting your person make the cake for the next person and you bring your own since ‘my weird allergies make it so tricky for someone else to deal’ is good as is working with your person to identify something they can bring that you can eat.

      1. Smithy*

        I agree with this – offices that make a point of doing birthday treats really will certainly notice the person of honor not eating.

        Because there’s a system to politely and sincerely skip people who do not want to take part – I agree that choosing an item the OP can eat or making arrangements to bring something themselves while the last birthday person takes the next in line. Should this tradition focus on birthday recipients actually baking vs picking up a grocery store sheet cake, it may also help the OP out. Feeling the need to make something you can’t eat doesn’t sound like it’s in the spirit of the tradition either.

      2. Corporate Goth*

        This is where putting in participatory work to cut the cake plus “full right now, saving a piece for in about an hour” and quietly taking it home to dispose of (so no one sees it in the trash and gets hurt) has worked for me in the past.

        Or, “so good I’m taking this slice home for Spouse,” has worked, too, because it implies you’ve eaten a piece when you’re talking about the lovely decorations.

        We typically have so. much. food. during non-covid times – potlucks, chili cookoffs, Pi Day celebrations on a massive scale, random cakes and cookies and breads. It’s everywhere. I’m a huge foodie/cook/baker, but I don’t always like what others bring in, and have food allergies to boot.

      3. I'm just here for the cats!*

        Maybe the op can talk with the treat giver and they would be willing to get cake for everyone and something else for OP? Like an individual fruit tray or something?

      4. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes I definitely think you should just say something to the person making your treats – if I had to make some thing for someone specifically, you bet I’m going to notice if they tried it and kind of feel bad if they don’t unless there’s an explanation.

        Just let them know an option that you can eat, or if that’s not feasible, let them know that the treats they’ll make will be for everyone else but advise them ahead of time that you won’t be able to partake.

      5. LW #1*

        Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions. I think I was so focused on how to have this not be a thing that I could only see opt-in vs. opt-out and not any of the lovely options that have been suggested.
        Regarding those saying that my examples of coworkers behavior around food doesn’t seem that bad, I suppose it may not seem or be that bad but because I don’t want to draw attention to my restrictions it probably feels more badgering to me than it comes across to others.

        One reason I have decided to keep mum on my restrictions being medical in nature is a coworker who is very open about her diet. This coworker tells us that she’s on a medically restricted diet as part of treating a condition (she has even repeatedly shared some of her restrictions and what the condition is) she is one of he most vocal “I’m breaking my diet for this one treat” people and she was the person who tried to get me to opt in to the second group order.
        Is she well meaning? Maybe. Probably. But for me her actions say I won’t respect your food boundaries.

        You know now that I type that out I’m realizing that it’s not my coworkers in general that badger people it’s just her and I’m afraid of it spreading to others.

        1. anonymous 5*

          When a coworker is that vocal and that, well, consistently inconsistent (i.e. great detail about the condition but then reliably breaks the supposedly-restrictive diet “just this once”), I’d imagine that’s more than enough to make others go mum about their own situations! And even if this particular coworker were the only person who gave you a hard time, that’s one person too many IMHO. I don’t blame you for seeing this as a big deal even if it might not be as bad in reality as it feels…the reality is still not good.

        2. ThoughtsToday*

          Oh no, the coworker sounds kind of like me! I had to go on a weird diet last year that heavily restricted my food for medical reasons and I always tried to be open about it to be positive and remind people to be mindful of food restrictions. I didn’t “cheat” though — that would have impacted the results of the test. But I’m totally that person who will ask that honey be labeled as an ingredient of food because it makes me sick.

          This is a good reminder to be mindful about what I’m sharing.

          1. kt*

            Definitely be mindful, but I think in particular the LW is concerned because the most vocal talk-about-diet-restrictions-person is the one who most loudly “cheats” and so is concerned that talk-about-diet-er will attempt to badger OP/LW into trying something that will be bad for OP.

            I can see that — I don’t have any problems with someone who is strict about the diet for their celiac, but it’s quite different to have the colleague who “doesn’t eat gluten/wheat” except for “this one donut” and “just try this croissant it’s so good!” (I’m choosing this example because that’s the thing that I don’t eat, and while I’m not celiac, ‘cheating’ with just one donut hole really does give me three days of unpleasant problems so I just don’t. But having to discuss that is unpleasant! I want coworkers who just accept and move on! They can eat however they like — just don’t talk to me about what *I* eat.)

            1. LW #1*

              Your last sentence sums it up so well! In her case I could take a little less talk about her diet and more about anything else but I really don’t want to talk about MY diet (diet in the sense of foods I choose to eat)

          2. Paulina*

            What’s described is way beyond just being open about your own food restrictions, though. I’ve had coworkers like the OP’s coworker, they don’t just talk about their own diet but also use it as a springboard to talk about everyone else’s diet too, and add a moral dimension. Refusing a treat around them gets either pushy inquiry or commentary, and it’s very annoying. So too are those who want to make themselves feel better about “cheating” on their diet by getting other people to do it too.

            I also have a coworker who is celiac. He mentions it whenever there’s food being planned, sometimes in a bit of quick detail (can’t trust many condiments), and doesn’t say anything about what anyone else does. Not a problem at all, and it’s good that he builds awareness.

        3. Just no*

          It could be the case that her condition allows her to cheat once in a while with limited consequences, and your condition doesn’t allow that. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with cheating on a medical diet. Some people who are lactose intolerant can take a lactaid or something and “cheat,” and they will be fine. Some people with celiac disease end up in the hospital if they eat gluten. I’m not saying you have to explain your medical condition to her, but next time she “encourages” you to cheat, it might be worth just saying that you have a “severe allergy” or something along those lines that makes it obvious that you really can’t cheat.

          I can’t eat gluten. It’s not because I have celiac, it’s because I have a very rare autoimmune disorder in which my body responds to gluten molecules in the same way that the body responds with celiac disease (among many other symptoms). I usually just tell people I have celiac. I work very closely with 4-5 people, and I’ve been in my office for 10 years. I think that only 2 of those people even know that it isn’t actually celiac, and one of those 2 people is my boss. I don’t feel the need to explain why I can’t have gluten, but at a certain point, it becomes impossible not to at least say *something* (I mean, how many times can you say, “I’m just trying to eat healthier” when presented with foods with allergens), and lying about it has worked just fine for me for many years.

          1. Artemesia*

            ‘I’m just trying to eat healthier’ strikes me as the worst option as that is always perceived as a sort of insult by a busy body. No one wants to hear about how you ‘eat clean’ and by implication they ‘eat dirty’ — ‘I can’t have that it makes me sick’ is honest and better.

        4. Allonge*

          Why not say: I am glad that works for you, I would get very sick though, I am sure you don’t want that. No debate, no discussion. If she keeps up the pushing you get to push back: Do you want me to get sick?

          Everyone with an ouce of awareness in this knows that allergies and other food restrictions work differently for different folks.

          If she is this invested in what other people eat, that is annoying for everyone. I also would not care to listen to why she eats what she eats, to be honest – none of my business, even if I need to feed her I only need to know what, not the why.

      6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m fascinated that you assume that everyone is baking cakes for one another. Over the last couple of decades of being in the workforce, plus all the kids-birthday parties prior to that…it’s always store bought cake. Nobody cares if you eat it or not. I’m not baking a cake for any colleague.

        Even my mother, who does like to bake/cook just buys store bought desserts for colleagues.

  8. Germank106*

    As sad as Missouri Leave laws are (Employer does not have to give breaks, offer vacation, sick leave, bereavement leave or pay for Jury duty), the law on Voting has this to say:

    “Missouri law allows an employee to, with prior notice to their employer, take three (3) hours off work to vote if there are not three (3) consecutive hours when the polls are open during which the employee is not required to be at work.

    An employer who violates this law is guilty of a class four election offense – 365 days jail or $2,500 fine or both.”

    1. MK*

      The OP was asking if their employer can make them use vacation time for voting. There is nothing in the language above that demands that the leave be paid.

    2. Xavier Desmond*

      From a UK reader. We don’t have guaranteed time off to vote here (although I think we should) but polling stations are open long hours and are generally easy to get to. What are the opening times like in the U.S? And how far is it generally to the nearest polling station?

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Usually 7 am-7 pm. Not all that far to the nearest polling place. I live in Texas, and there is supposed to be one polling place per 5000 people. It varies by state, but in Texas we have two weeks of early voting as well, including the weekend. (Three weeks this year because of Covid!)

        1. OP #4*

          I’m in Texas, too! Last year it was insanely difficult for me to vote because my hours were 10 am-7 pm, with mandatory overtime on Saturdays. :/ Luckily(?) I had taken my wife’s birthday off, so I was able to vote then.

          I’ve got a much better shift this year, I was just curious about the implementation of a policy across the whole organization when laws vary so wildly from state to state.

      2. Ana Gram*

        Polls in my area are typically open 6am-7pm. I live in a rural area but I vote at a community center about 5 miles away. Polls generally take place at schools and community centers so not hugely far away.

      3. BethDH*

        It is vastly different depending on where you live. It it not unusual for me to be in and out in 5 minutes where I live (wealthy small town). When I lived other places, it was not unusual to wait half an hour or so before getting my ballot. I have waited 2-3 hours a handful of places. There are places where it’s not unusual to wait 4 hours, mostly poor urban places (where you can imagine people probably don’t have as much vacation time to use!)

        An important thing to remember is that a lot of the voting infrastructure is set at the state level, sometimes with additional input/funding at a local (like county) level. It can be very difficult to vote if you are from a poor region because they are likely to have fewer polling places with more limited hours. You also sometimes run into politicians purposely trying to limit poll availability in areas they think will go against them under the guise of cost cutting.

        Voting day is always a weekday, which adds to the problem. Your assigned polling place is based on where you live, not where you work, so you might have a double commute or having trouble voting before or after work if your commute is long. How long they’re open depends on where (again, that money thing) but 7-7 or similar is what I usually see.

        States vary in whether vote by mail is hard to get or not. Eligibility has been expanded a lot because of covid but most people have never done it before so it’s unfamiliar. Many places have early voting days, but they’re limited in hours and location so may not solve any of the problems above other than having shorter lines.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Also the polling location is based on your home address. If you commute, you have to GET to your polling place, then vote, the go back to work. You may not be able to vote before or after work because of timing either, you either have to leave for work before the polls open or you get off work and can’t get home before they close.

        2. Lynn*

          And then you have states like Colorado, where all ballots are mailed. We generally get our ballots, and rather than mailing them back we take them to a local drop box. It definitely limits the horrible line issues and the “can’t get time off from work to vote” issues that are more common in other areas (it doesn’t eliminate them as there are still folks going to a polling station last minute, and there are still issues for folks who move/have no address-but it does make it easier for a majority). Oregon, Utah, Washington and one other state that I don’t recall off the top of my head also do all mail in voting.

          1. Jack Russell Terrier*

            This is what I’m doing in DC this year. I’ve got a mail in ballot and they’ve got drop offs.

        3. Yorick*

          In the city, there are lots of polling places so the travel might not be a big deal (I once had one in the lobby of my apartment building!). But in rural areas, the nearest polling place can be quite far.

      4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I’ve been reading about polling blackspots where people will be expected to drive an hour to go vote this year, and not because they personally live remotely; and of polling stations expected to service tens of thousands of people.

        We are very spoiled in the UK by comparison, where a postal or proxy vote is ours for the asking, polling stations must be open 7am-10pm, and there are caps on campaign budgets which almost everyone takes very seriously. Queuing more than a few minutes to vote is so unusual it makes national news – and you know how much we usually love a queue.

      5. Jules*

        Voters in the US are also fighting active voter suppression, and many voting places are being closed, relocated, or having hours reduced. What might have been a five minute drive and a five minute wait in the last Presidential election, could be hours this time. For example, during the primaries, the state of Kentucky reduced the number of polling places from 3,700 to just 170 — a 95% reduction — and left only one polling place in Louisville (a major city).

        1. Reba*

          To be somewhat fair, in the Louisville case the one polling place was the largest possible venue they could get and was chosen for distancing/ safety. It worked well.
          It was hard to get to in the best of times, though, leading to those scenes of people banging on the door because traffic outside kept them from getting in line before closure.

          KY polling places close at 6 pm, THAT is voter suppression IMO and it is very longstanding. KY offers workers 4 hours of voting leave, does not have to be paid. (I grew up in Louisville.)

          Where I currently live, in our last election people were in line at our polling place until midnight! Polls closed at 8. Number of voting terminals/voters in at once was reduced, and technically at the time all were violating a Covid curfew! Well, voting is essential so perhaps not. I can see this polling place from my apartment and felt very proud of my neighbors and at the same time, so exasperated with this system!

      6. Kares*

        The ease of getting to an assigned polling place is often hindered by the distance that people travel to work. A friend works at a hospital in the neighboring city. Doesn’t sound bad, but the drive is 30 miles one-way. He does four 10 hour shifts, 7 am-5 pm. So, unless he votes ahead or arranges time off he usually cannot make it to his polling location. I can pop over to mine on my lunch break. That’s not possible for him.

      7. cmcinnyc*

        New York polls are open 6am to 9pm–I think that’s the longest hours in the nation. And forget it if you live in a caucus state–you have to actually BE at the caucus site for however long it takes to get it together. Absolutely crap system that caucus state people are irrationally in love with because Neighbors.

    3. Jackson Codfish*

      The actual statutory language:

      115.639. Three hours off work to vote — interference by employer a class four offense. — 1. Any person entitled to vote at any election held within this state shall, on the day of such election, be entitled to absent himself from any services or employment in which he is then engaged or employed, for a period of three hours between the time of opening and the time of closing the polls for the purpose of voting, and any such absence for such purpose shall not be reason for the discharge of or the threat to discharge any such person from such services or employment; and such employee, if he votes, shall not, because of so absenting himself, be liable to any penalty or discipline, nor shall any deduction be made on account of such absence from his usual salary or wages; provided, however, that request shall be made for such leave of absence prior to the day of election, and provided further, that this section shall not apply to a voter on the day of election if there are three successive hours while the polls are open in which he is not in the service of his employer. The employer may specify any three hours between the time of opening and the time of closing the polls during which such employee may absent himself.
        2. Any employer violating this section shall be deemed guilty of a class four election offense.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      365 days jail or $2,500 fine or both.

      Those always make me chuckle. $2,500 might be a day or two’s salary for an executive, against a year incarcerated…

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        Yeah you would expect that in state elections, but it’s strange when it’s so varied in national votes

        1. Pineapple*

          It’s not that weird. Almost everything varies by state. The US doesn’t really have a national vote. The only thing we all vote for is president and that voting process is managed by states.

      2. Doctor Evil*

        I know, right? Then you have PA – a battleground state – where it’s kind of “voting is YOUR problem. You don’t get time off.” I mean, we have no excuse mail in voting (finally!) but ballots won’t go out late September and the USPS has already we’re a “maybe we can deliver these, maybe not” state.


  9. rudster*

    Re. food restrictions, is company really all that “weird” about it? While showing concern for “weeks” after the mentioned exposure might have been a little excessive, they certainly seem willing to acknowledge that this issue exists and would be willing to accommodate it. Or is it that the LW just doesn’t want to make a big thing out of it?

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, I honestly didn’t get the “weirdness” factor from this example at all. A little over-the-top, maybe, but if it was genuine concern I don’t see anything wrong with it on its face.
      On the other hand, this was just the one food-related example OP experienced herself which might be coloured by her previous observed experiences of people being “TERRIBLE about badgering about food choices or issues” regarding others which might be much more strange or severe than what she personally experienced.

    2. KateM*

      Agreed, didn’t get the feeling of being terrible from this example at all. Showing concern for weeks being weird depends how severe was the reaction, maybe?

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I have an allergy to a popular food. What triggered empathy in me is saying that they asked her for weeks. Honestly, after 3 days, I would be beyond done with that situation.

    3. with a comma after dearest*

      I was thinking that because of the incident in the restaurant, her office is already aware she has allergies, and would likely be very understanding of why she needs to bring in her own treats.

      1. KateM*

        And brought as an example that colleagues were concerned about her allergic reaction. We have seen OPs of making mountains of molehills before – but maybe even more often OPs concentrating on molehills and disregarding mountains looming at background. As long as OP hasn’t added more examples, we don’t really know which is it this time.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          People often aren’t great at presenting the one example that will perfectly illustrate something in a short letter; I’ve noticed that for years in writing this column. But I ask that we take them at their word.

    4. LW #1*

      Perhaps that wasn’t the bed example. There have been other instances such as the 10 minutes spent trying to get me to opt into a group order from another restaurant (“come on we’re sure this one is safe for you”).
      There is generally a dismissive attitude towards the idea that what you eat matters just as much as how much of it. Many of the women in the office are on diets and specifically say that they are cheating for their own birthdays (and when they have cake on other’s birthdays gives the appearance that that they are cheating for every birthday). Because my restrictions are medical in nature cheating on my diet isn’t an option. I haven’t disclosed that my restrictions are medical with the obvious exception of the allergy (fortunately either I didn’t actually eat the allergen or didn’t eat enough to trigger any noticeable symptoms)

      1. Pineapple*

        Is there a reason why you haven’t disclosed that your restrictions are medical? Reasonable people tend to back off when they hear that.

        TBH, I don’t think people cheating on their diet makes a workplace terrible about food choices. People are allowed to say they are on a diet and then not comply with that diet. I hope you are not passing judgement on them for their food choices.

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          Yes it sounds like making it clear that this is A medical restriction would make a big difference; if they’re pestering you obviously that’s still not cool, but it sounds like they would be assuming that you’re just on a diet by choice and can have cheat days like they can.

        2. kt*

          I feel the OP here. Sure, people can eat whatever they want! In an office, though, where moaning about “cheating” on one’s diet (the diet that somehow all coworkers already know about — indicating they’ve discussed it) is a *bonding* activity, there is a social pressure to be one of the crowd by also “cheating”. This is one of the ways that social cohesion is developed. It’s like wearing a stupid outfit at a bachelor/ette party or doing a naked run in college, or drinking too much with your friends at their encouragement. Why do we even have the phrase “peer pressure” if this doesn’t exist?

          LW is concerned because saying that she can’t partake in “cheating” for medical reasons sets her outside the group for two reasons: she can’t participate in the activity/conversation of cheating, and she’s physically different. LW is really concerned about herself, not the food choices of others.

      2. Thankful for AAM*

        That helps clarify a bit. To me, what you describe sounds more like trying to include you in a social thing or wanting you to indulge in their “diet breaking.” But if it feels like badgering to you, give a firm response a few times.

        I don’t think you need to disclose your medical condition but they already know you have allergies. A few firm versions of this should make them back off, “thanks for thinking of me! I’m going to opt out of ordering take out because of my allergies.”

        If they still push, then you know they are badgering about food choices. But the constant, ooh, “I’ll break my diet for that treat” is not badgering you, feel free to ignore their food preferences just like you want them to ignore yours.

        If you have experience with a specific restaurant and know an order is safe, you can say, “oh, I can join in on this one, I’ve been to that place and know I can order x.”

        Good luck navigating this!

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, the culture of dieting, diet commiserating, etc is toxic but also insidious. They want to include you! In their self-destructive hobby/societal expectation! That they genuinely think is good for you!

          Since you have the one allergy that they already know about though, OP, it’s easy to say “thank you but in addition to the allergy you witnessed I have other less dramatic ones, so I gotta stick to the diet my doctors worked out.”

          Most reasonable people will attempt to honor allergies. They usually feel like they’re far better at it than they actually are, but it might cut down on the attempted diet bonding.

          1. Jack Russell Terrier*

            This – we need to break this toxic habit. It’s not a healthy way to bond. It’s a good part of why so many letters to AAM are about food boundary violations / how to navigate discussions about food etc. It’s also part of a really unhealthy saint / sinner attitude our society has about food.

      3. Thucydides*

        “There have been other instances such as the 10 minutes spent trying to get me to opt into a group order from another restaurant (“come on we’re sure this one is safe for you”).” This is a better example of not cool behavior on their part. I think the other example, “Many of the women in the office are on diets and specifically say that they are cheating for their own birthdays (and when they have cake on other’s birthdays gives the appearance that that they are cheating for every birthday),” is ironic, but not really badgering. It actually sounds like you’re judging them about their food choices a bit in this one.

      4. I'm just here for the cats!*

        Thanks for the clarification op! It really does suck when you have limits. I would recommend still participating in the cake by having the other person bring a cake and then if your able bring a substitute for yourself and you can say I still wanted to celebrate but because of allergies I didn’t want to take cake from the rest of you.

      5. CheeryO*

        The “cheating on their diets” thing is an office tale as old as time. It’s just a weird social thing that some people insist on perpetuating. Try not to read anything into that.

        I really think if you were clear that you have medical dietary restrictions, people would understand. They might forget, but if you gently reminded them, I’m sure they would lay off. You don’t need to go into huge detail, but a firm “I can’t do [x] food for medical reasons” would go a long way.

        1. Andy*

          I think that it is not even weird. If you in general keep diet solely for estetical reasons of “I don’t want to become too fat”, there is nothing ironic about breaking it at some points. You are still eating less sugar and what not then you would without diet, but you really don’t have a reason to become strict about it.

          It is in exactly same category as people who do sport three times a week in general, but will skip when social get together appears. It is completely different situation then the “I dont eat it cause appears”.

      6. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

        This to me sounds like they think you’re just on a ‘fad diet’ and can eat the food and just choose not to (non-gluten can often fall into this category). So I’m betting they’re all like ‘come on, live a little, cake won’t kill you!’ I would blame everything on food allergies, no one needs to know about other medical issues if you don’t want to share them. I’ve been guilty of convincing a coworker to have a donut or another snack, but I would never do that if I knew they were allergic. It’s more that the person kind of wants the item, but thinks people will judge them for eating it, so you want them to feel that ‘everyone is doing it.’ I sometimes worry that as a ‘bigger female’ that people are judging me for partaking in office sweets, but damn it, I really like cupcakes and donuts!

        1. Susan*

          Please don’t try to convince anyone to eat food they have declined. No one owes you an explanation of why they are choosing not to eat something, and you are not the arbiter of whether their reason is good enough. I have been on the receiving end of that sort of badgering plenty of times, and it is very upsetting and stressful. I have gone home and made myself throw up because a colleague wouldn’t stop insisting that I have a donut I had refused. That incident triggered a six month relapse of my eating disorder, and resulted in hospitalisation. I wasn’t allergic. And I shouldn’t have to disclose my mental health conditions to be allowed to say no thanks to a donut! Please don’t assume that you know why they are declining, or that you get to decide if their reason is good enough. You don’t know the harm you can do.

      7. Smithy*

        Decades ago, my dad worked on a team where for birthdays it was just ‘the thing” for people to bring in doughnuts for their birthdays. When my dad opted to buck the trend and radically bring in bagels/cream cheese it was weird at first, but by the time he retired decades later the system had changed to being more diverse breakfast/brunch treats.

        If right now everyone is getting cake/cookies/cupcakes/candy for their birthday – asking for a fruit/veggies may seem noticeable at first, but I think it’ll be much more socially smooth on the day of.

      8. EventPlannerGal*

        It sounds like your dietary requirements are very strict, which is entirely valid and you have the right to abide by them. Your coworkers dietary choices might be the result of less severe conditions (or just for general health/weight-loss reasons) that allow them to “cheat” for something they know they love and only have relatively infrequently – like, for instance, birthday cake. Many, many weight-loss diets specifically say that it’s okay to incorporate occasional treats like birthday cake, actually. If your coworkers don’t know these are medical restrictions then I can see why they might urge you to “cheat” for a slice of birthday cake. Is there a reason you can’t disclose the nature of the restrictions?

  10. Fancy Owl*

    That’s what I thought too! As someone with food allergies myself, generally the more concerned people are about allergies the more mortified they will feel if they accidentally feed you something you’re allergic to. I’ve had people spend an entire party apologizing to me about vegan cupcakes (now I always ask). It can get annoying to have to repeat I’m fine over and over but I’d categorize that as “concern” rather than badgering which would be disbelieving me about my allergy, claiming that allergies don’t exist, or hassling me when I don’t want to eat somewhere I’m not sure about the ingredients. So as long as you don’t think their concern is really condescension, OP, I think you would be fine to just say, “because of allergies I’d like a fruit tray”. Reasonable people get it and wouldn’t find it that weird I don’t think.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      If I was providing the birthday treat, I would appreciate a heads up about allegies/restrictions/ food choices. I once served a dish with peanut oil to someone allergic because I forgot about it. (No harm done, but lesson learned).

  11. Kathlynn (canada)*

    So I’ve applied to a few jobs recently, that require you to fill in something for education. I didn’t complete a degree, so I just put in my HS name and “High School diploma” and such. Sadly this won’t work if you don’t have a GED or HS diploma. (these positions don’t require a degree to apply. But the education part assumes you have a degree)

    1. Aussie Resume Writer*

      Thankfully this isn’t into a system or anything, and its actually for work I’m already earmarked for, but I still want my resume to be as impressive (and accurate) as possible.

  12. t*

    LW #5 – not Aussie, but some of my best employees did not have a college degree. I intentionally put “or equivalent experience” next to higher ed requirements because I want to see the resume of someone who has a 10 year track record just as much as I want to see someone with 10 yr + degree. I hope employers in your part of the world do similarly. Theses nothing wrong with no degree!

  13. Where's my Hyphen*

    #5 (Australian here) If your short course is a VET course (something you’ve done through TAFE or your state/territory equivalent, or through a recognised RTO) it’s still something you can list, even if it’s now superseded, and the current qualification is no longer applicable due to laws or regulations. For example, I have a very old Certificate III in Occupational Health and Safety, and I list it as follows: Certificate III Occupational Health and Safety (TAFE *campus name* *year*) Superseded *year*. As this is now a Certificate IV it no longer counts, but it shows that I’m willing to train and learn where relevant. If it’s one unit of competency for a VET course, you can list it with the equivalent competency number as well. For example, I have a single unit of competency for a unit, and I use the competency number (CHCPRT001 in this case) when listing it, because my older qualification didn’t include it.

    1. Aussie Resume Writer.*

      I could but it’s not industry specific enough for anyone to care about now and it’s not central to the work I do anymore either.
      But thank you, will keep in mind.

  14. Forrest*

    LW3, you can definitely push back gently on this by yourself, but my approach would be to build a bit of an alliance about it. I’d speak to your professional organisation, organisations for women in STEM or women in engineering and see whether they are recognising it as a problem and/or have any guidelines about non-gendered contracts. I’d also ask within your own organisation to see whether there’s any policy, and approach colleagues or managers who are generally supportive of equality to see if you can get a whole-company approach to it. As you say, it’s a cost for the client to get contracts re-drafted, so the more support you’ve got for the idea that this isn’t good enough, the easier it is to push back.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      All of theses avenues are fine as well, but LW can absolutely ask her contact at the company sending the contracts to update the language. I write contracts for my company and would be happy to go back and revise something like this (and I’d apologize too, because I make an effort to remove gender-specific language).

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Also, LW, it’s a nominal cost (if any at all) to change something like this, so don’t let that part alone make you hesitate asking.

      2. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        Had this happen just the other week. Contract that had been renewed on a yearly basis going back decades at this point had male-assuming language in it. Someone in my department sat down and actually read it (apparently out of boredom), noticed it, flagged it, and it’s getting changed to be more inclusive.

        People underestimate the amount of contracts that have been re-used so many times that nobody is actually reading the language in them anymore.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          My friend recently took a contract role, and her contract was similarly outdated – he/his/him language, and the signature line included a default ‘Mr.’ She mentioned it to her contact, and he was truly surprised. He admitted he didn’t read the contracts, He just confirmed project dates, deliverables, and billing terms. My friend had a new contract in a couple of days, no problems or pushback.

          The snarky side of me wonders how people would react if contracts defaulted to female identity.

      3. beanie gee*

        Totally. I think it could be handled like finding a typo or a mistake in the contract. “I signed, but FYI you might want to update your boilerplate language to be gender neutral since it mistakenly uses “he/him” throughout.”

      4. azvlr*

        Think of it as the “brown M&M” clause of Van Halen fame. According to legend, any brown M&Ms found in the candy dish backstage meant that the local stage crew did not read the contract carefully enough for the band to feel that their stage was assembled safely.
        Pointing out these errors just shows how carefully you read the contract.

    2. Mainely Professional*

      As someone who handles contracts regularly this is just sheer nonsense. A good contract defines the contractor by role: “Llama Groomer,” “Teapot Polisher,” and refers to the contractor throughout by role. Omfg if I have to change pronouns on a contract I would curl up and die.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        As someone who has experienced gender discrimination I can assure you that no, it is not nonsense.
        My first name happens to be female in some countries and male in others. Suppose I sign a contract with the wrong pronouns… might it actually not apply to me? I know of somebody living in my city with my exact name (first name last name) who is not the same gender as me, surely they could conceivably pretend to be the signatory to the contract?

        If just turning “he” into “they” or “s/he” would make you curl up and die… [self-censored so as not to have Alison censor me]

        1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

          I think they meant that it’s nonsense for a contract to even have this problem in the first place, because it should just refer to the role, not the gender. And I think the curling up and dying at the thought is just how much time and how tedious it would be to have to pick over contract legalese to fix it all.

    3. Observer*

      Guidelines on non-gendered contracts? Like you need someone officially pointing out that you generally CANNOT assume the gender of the people doing whatever work? You also don’t need to be “supportive of equality” to know that if someone asks you “Do you really mean that only men are allowed to work on this contract” the answer NEEDS to be a resounding NO, and that any language that implies otherwise needs to go.

      The small amount of time it should take to fix this problem is FAAAAR less than the cost of leaving this in place when something goes wrong. And, you can be sure SOMETHING will go wrong somewhere, some place. And this contract language WILL be used against them.

      1. Forrest*

        If it’s just inertia, hopefully it is an easy thing to fix! I was just assuming there must be some significant cost to the company or that it’s the kind if environment where it’s difficult to raise that kind of stuff because apparently nobody has raised it before.

    4. Ashley*

      I have also found that recruiting an ally can be helpful so that I’m not constantly the messenger for my own rights. It’s frustrating to defend yourself as the impacted person, because you’re already known as “the woman” and you don’t want to be known as “the woman who constantly reminds us that she’s a woman”.

      Better to recruit someone, not to implement systems, but to speak up instead of you every time. I’ve spoken to my boss about things like “This person regularly speaks over me, and I’m sure there’s a gendered element to it, but if you bring it up it’ll be more likely he acknowledges this behavior than if I do.” And then he’s the “trusted ally”! But it doesn’t have to just be someone above you, it can be a colleague who also witnesses these behaviors and can step in. Or several colleagues, so that you can send a quick “y’all, this contract keeps referring to the engineer as ‘he’, can one or all of you respond?” slack and know that other people have your back.

      And do the same for others – I try to speak up for BIPOC colleagues and LGBT+ colleagues when I see stuff like this (yesterday I had a conversation with someone about how the word “entitled” isn’t a great way to describe a woman of color. Because DUH come on dude.)

    5. Allonge*

      If you can, get someone from Legal to write one with she/her (regardless of which engineer will use it next). It can be done with a (smart!) search and replace, it should not take long. And any engineer upset about it will _obviously_ be a natural ally in achieving gender-neutral contract language.

      It was how it went at a previous workplace of mine. All internal policies were he/him. Then there was an insert in the beginning that he also means she. Then Legal drafted one with she/her, including she also means he. Management insisted on gender-neutral language after that. Surprise!

    6. Public Sector Manager*

      I’m a public sector managing attorney working for an agency that is perpetually trapped in 1926 when it comes to technology, providing maternity leave (only the minimum of what the law requires), remote access, training, etc., and even we draft our contracts and other legal work product in the gender neutral style.

      If we’re doing it, everyone should be doing it. I think the OP should push for change on this one.

    7. Jane of all Trades*

      LW!! I draft a lot of contracts. Whenever I come across one addressed to “dear Sirs” I change it, because seriously??? I would be THRILLED to have a client push back on gendered language, it would give me so much more power to just change them, and I wouldn’t be the lone squeaky wheel.
      Please please push back. You can push back in a super matter-of-fact way, like “I noticed that the contract addresses only men. Would it be possible to revise in a more gender neutral manner?” Should be all that’s needed. Language is so important!

    8. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      Only One caveat: “The design” may or may not work here from a legal standpoint, i.e. if it is necessary to differentiate between the client’s (draft?) and the engineer’s design. His/her or the engineer’s design should be safe, though.

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

    OP3, I know your pain. I still get emails from random recruiters addressing me as ‘Mr’. The most ridiculous was one that claimed providing “top medical insurance for your wife and kids”. I automatically delete those.

    1. ScroogeMcDunk*

      Ugh, because of course your imaginary wife wouldn’t have a job and insurance of her own, amirite?

    2. Rocket Woman*

      Female engineer here. I have a gender neutral name and frequently surprised people when I showed up to meetings as a woman. I once had a recruiter message me, “I was too pretty to be an engineer and would feel better doing contract work so I can focus on my family.” I’m young and have no live-in partner or children. Even if I did, me working does not mean they aren’t cared for!

      OP – I would push back on this. I’d say something along the lines of “Can this be edited to reflect inclusive language?”. Good luck!

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

        The Senior Engineer in our team once said an agency representative was “too hot to be one of us”. Same guy acted as if I didn’t exist during my first week in my job, even when I needed him to grant me access to the team platform. I don’t like him, and this is another reason why.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          Please tell me you’re ready to report him to management/HR immediately if he says anything else like that. That first thing is definitely reportable but would be good backup if he ever says something similar.

    3. beanie gee*

      My brother forwarded me a job application that described the ideal candidate using “he/him” throughout.

    4. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Back in the 90s when I advertised jobs in the Classifieds, my conventional and very-female name included with the mailing address, I got tired of all the ‘Dear Sir’ cover letters. I sent only those folks a ‘Dear Madam’ decline letter if I wasn’t going to interview them. Not my most mature moment, but I was in a mood.

      It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn I got several calls and letters from insulted men, demanding to know why I would make such a mistake. One long missive accused me of being an Andrea Dworkin-like Women’s Libber pushing an agenda. He also speculated that I was single, ugly, fat, lesbian, and/or dumped by every man I dated, hence my need to get back at men by attempting to emasculate them.

      Good times.

  16. LGC*

    LW4 – what was the policy beforehand? It sounds like you would have been paid for the full day from the letter, but it’s not entirely clear.

    All that said – assuming you’re salaried, that IS pretty nitpicky.

    1. OP #4*

      Beforehand it would have been covered within state guidelines for a reasonable amount of time, with the time off being compensated from a civic duty leave pool, which has no cap. Changing to having to use your limited PTO banks instead is a really sudden change, and seems to me like it could make it harder for people to vote.

      1. LGC*

        …I want to yell mean things at the person who made this change on your behalf.

        I’d look up options for voting just because I’m all about absentee voting this year (so is my state for that matter), but that’s a pretty demoralizing choice.

  17. Shira*

    Birthday LW – I personally like the idea of a “change of pace” fruit tray, but if this is an office where people have ~opinions~ about food, I’d worry that people might get rude about having an expected cake (or other sweet treat) not materialize. Doesn’t mean you have to cater to that (pardon the pun), but something to consider.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I wonder if they could let the co-workers know ahead of time. Hey guys because of allergies were going to do fruit tray instead.of cake.

      1. Quill*

        Look I make a fool of myself for fruit trays constantly.

        Probably a leftover from college, where catered events got the good stuff and the caf had fruit that looked like it had been through a frat war.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          When I got married, my company wanted to make a cake to celebrate, and asked what I wanted. I picked chocolate and raspberry, and “please also get a fruit tray, I know So-and-so is allergic to chocolate,” so they did, and several other people — including me — had fruit with or instead of cake.

  18. LGC*

    LW1 – would you be all right with bringing something for yourself and then have the person bring things for everyone else? It seems like the options presented are “smile and refuse” or “cook for the office,” and I don’t want that for you.

    I can get your hesitation though.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      First, LW #1 said they badger people but only gave an example of peoplenshowing concern over her allergy so this is not clear to us.
      Second, the allergy gives LW#1 a great option, just bring your own treat, do the cake cutting, and if they notice, say its your allergies. If you worry the person making a cake will be offended, tell them to make or buy a cake for the office, you will bring a treat for you. Or ask them to swap, you bring a treat for you, they bring a treat for the next person.

      Loop in the party organizer and let them know your preferred option. But they might like to modify the plans when someone has a food allergy, like by giving people a list of options to chose from.

      I’m vegan, other people in my office are GF or have other allergies. Very often, people do not like the options that vegans or GF people bring for themselves so it works best for us that the person brings something for themself that others can sample. But the office arranges foor most ppl like.

      1. LGC*

        That’s…actually what I meant to suggest, although not in as much detail! LW1 should loop in previous birthday person that she wants to bring in something for herself, and let PBP bring in for everyone else.

        You’re right that it’s not clear from the letter if her coworkers are actually unreasonable, but the issue is that she doesn’t want to bring too much attention to herself anyway. (And she wants the celebration!)

  19. Policy Wonk*

    Where I work paid time off to vote is only allowed if the polls are not open for three hours before or after your assigned shift. E,g, if your shift ends at 5:00, and the polls close at 7:00, your supervisor can authorize you to depart one hour early without the need to take leave.

  20. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I think I need more information about LW 1 and the office badgering about food. it sounds like she had an allergic reaction at work and then the comming weeks people asked if she was ok. Isn’t that normal? I mean if it was the same person over a2 week period asking then that’s badgering. But if it’s a bunch of people who ask when they see her in the break room or whatever that’s kinda normal. Just like if you fainted at work, or got sick, or had a bad asthma attack. Especially if there were a group of people who saw it. I don’t think asking if a co worker is ok is badgering. Now if they start asking weird questions or get invasive about your allergy and your food choices, then that is a problem

    1. LGC*

      To be fair, that doesn’t change the answer, though! In that case, it’s LW1 that’s being a little weird…but that’s a way she’s entitled to be weird. And the question is still about how to not draw unwanted attention.

    2. LW #1*

      Sorry it’s not clear in my letter, I ordered a dish that contained the allergen but did not have any reaction. Either I noticed soon enough and didn’t ingest any or didn’t ingest enough to cause a reaction. My allergy is very mild, but I avoid the food because I don’t want it getting worse.

  21. HailRobonia*

    I am in no way a lawyer, but I would think that for the situation in #3 the legal office would want the language to be as accurate as possible, and referring to you as “he” is inaccurate. Heck, you could say “sure you paid us the money to do X, but we didn’t need to do it because it refers to “he” and “he” doesn’t exist…

    1. Natalie*

      Nah, legal language aren’t like magic spells, gendered pronouns in contracts etc have been understood to refer to male, female, or neuter for some time now.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Sure, but it so happens that there’s a person in my city with my exact first and last name who happens to be the opposite gender to me. If that person were to claim to be me for the purposes of taking advantage of a contract I signed where I’m referred to by the wrong gender, what’s gonna happen?

    2. Anononon*

      This isn’t accurate at all. In the Uniform Commercial Code, section 1-106, “words of any gender also refer to any other gender.”

    3. Girasol*

      Until the recent blessing of “they” and “them” as non-gendered singular pronouns, “he” and “him” were considered correct when referring to a person of unspecified gender.

    4. Another JD*

      Nope, most contracts have a clause with something akin to this language: “Where the context so requires, the use of the masculine gender shall include the feminine and/or neuter genders and the singular shall include the plural, and vice versa, and the word ‘person’ shall include any corporation, firm, partnership or other form of association.” Drafting around gender takes longer when you’re customizing form contracts, and lawyer time is expensive.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’ve handled plenty of legal documents in my life and I swear I have never seen that in any contract.

  22. LadyByTheLake*

    I went to law school over thirty years ago and we were taught to use non-gendered language in all of our legal writing — so as Allison says, using gendered language in a contract isn’t just old, it’s a holdover from forty or fifty years ago. Point this out politely as an “oops, you might want to update this.” If I were the attorney for one of these companies I’d wonder what else needed to be updated in a contract that contains such antiquated language.

    1. Observer*

      Good point.

      Although I have no doubt that someone may point to the fact that the gendered language is technically acceptable, as a reason to not change it.

    2. Grey Coder*

      I’d like to think this was a thing of the past, but it doesn’t seem to be. I reviewed a job spec for a colleague a few years back and he had used masculine pronouns for the job holder (a software engineering role). I told him he needed to fix this and he said something about masculine pronouns being traditional. I told him sexism was very traditional. Said colleague was around 30 years old, so didn’t have the excuse of being raised in Victorian times.

  23. chewingle*

    LW3: Just as a funny aside, a good friend of mine is an engineer. But he’s a man who goes by a name that clients often think is female (though it’s a unisex name and short for his full name). Many times, he’s answered a call to be greeted with, “Hey, sweetheart, how are you?” And then they’re thrown by his voice. (I keep telling him to answer with, “I’m good, sugar tits, how about you?” Though I’m sure that wouldn’t end well.)

    The interesting (if we can call it that) part of this is that the reason they’re calling is usually because they “unhappy” with his work and need to “explain” what changes they want. But the second they realize he’s a man, their complaints suddenly vanish and they’re fine as is.

    As a woman, it’s fascinating to watch a man experience sexism at work because people assume he’s a woman.

    1. Aeacus*

      I’m almost the exact opposite. Female in engineering with a gender neutral name. I’ve had guys hang up with me because they weren’t expecting a female voice when I answer. Thankfully there’s not a lot of issues/complaints, or at least not in a way that I could point to sexism to. But I get a lot of emails with Mr. or “he/his/him” if the emailer hasn’t met me.

      The worst case of sexism was isolated to an awful project that went 9 ways to hell before it finally settled. It was going to be awful with or without the sexism.

      On a funnier note, my brother also has a neutral/odd name and in high school got “personally invited” to a beauty pageant.

      1. LGC*

        On a funnier note, my brother also has a neutral/odd name and in high school got “personally invited” to a beauty pageant.

        …did he go?

        1. Aeacus*

          Unfortunately not. He was still in that self conscious stage of being a teenager. Nowadays he would totally go!

      2. Rocket Woman*

        Fellow female engineer with a gender neutral name! My favorite experience was being included on a mass email addressed as “Gents.” I replied all and started with “Ladies.” Everyone else thought it was hilarious, the grumpy old dude who originally addressed the emails did not, but I noticed his greetings became neutral after that! Small victories.

        1. Aeacus*

          That’s awesome. I’ve been waiting for that moment. Un/Fortunately there are more female engineers with the girly names in my department (which is great!) so they can’t do that as much. I have noticed that leadership is still a little male heavy still, but it’s only a matter of time. My group’s been changing a lot since I started 8 years ago.

        2. Heather*

          Ha! That’s a good one. I get a lot of “Gentlemen and Heather” which I don’t love, but can’t really object to. It’s better than just “Gentlemen” anyway.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I worked for years in an agency and regularly had to do some proofreading work for an Italian client. I didn’t know that in Italy, my first name is that of a man. The files were all highly technical but the client was obviously happy with my work in that they kept coming back. The day they found out I was a woman (because they phoned for the first time ever) was the last day I ever got sent that project to work on.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      It may not end well, but it’d sure as hell be a hilarious response and make the point very well!

      I’m not technically an engineer, but I work with a lot of them. I’ve gotten the “sweetheart” line many a time. Oddly enough, the ones that really push the “sweetheart” crap really don’t like when you call them sweetheart/sweetie back. Especially when you do it back at them in a meeting.

  24. Larina*

    OP2, let me tell you about the nightmare that was resigning from my last job. Small startup-ish company (with a lot of problems), I reported to the VP of my department. He knew I was looking elsewhere, and he had promised me a raise to try and get me to stay (which never came through). He went on paternity leave, leaving someone who wasn’t very familiar with the department in charge. She wasn’t pregnant, but her wife was. So the day before I get a job offer, her wife gives birth, meaning she’s on maternity leave as well.

    The department was mostly self-sufficient, but I knew leaving would throw another wrench in things. And on top of that, I had to give my notice to the CEO, who I barely interacted with and wasn’t a very pleasant person. When I grab her, she asks me if it’s about the raise. Not only was it incredibly awkward, but she reached back out to the VP and made me give him my notice. Everything was awkward.

    All this to say: You’ll be fine. The company will be fine. Sometimes things just happen this way.

    1. OP2*

      This is the first time its happened to me and I just feel so guilty about it! Thanks for the encouraging words!

  25. foolofgrace*

    #3: Using “the equipment” instead of “his equipment” is easy. But how can you get a contract writer attorney, who may be stuck in the olden times, to replace “he”? What would they replace it with: “they”? That might be a hard sell. One way around it is to rewrite every sentence with “he” to remove “he” as the active pronoun, but that would be time-intensive. As a tech writer I’m familiar with restructuring sentences in this way but the contract writer might not be and might push back and it would be good to be prepared with suggestions.

    1. LQ*

      Eh, this is pretty easy, instead of “he will” put “the contractor will” “the contractor’s equipment” ” will hold the contractor liable for…” And for contract writers, this is usually not a hard sell at all because it makes it clearer who the contractor is and who the hiring party is.

    2. AnonInTheCity*

      I think it’s funny that you literally used the singular they in a comment about what a hard sell it is. Yes, they should use the singular they. It has been around since Shakespeare.

      1. Parenthetically*

        I think foolofgrace was saying that to a possibly-sexist contract writer, the singular they might be a hard sell. I don’t see any indication from their comment that they dislike the idea themselves.

        1. foolofgrace*

          Thank you, Parenthetically. Yes, I’m fine with the idea. I don’t know why I didn’t think of “the Contractor”, of course that’s an easy fix! Shame on me, I used to work in law firms…

    3. CTT*

      So the way most attorneys draft when doing template contracts like this is to define term any gender references out of there. So instead of “his equipment” or “he will have the option to terminate,” you use the party’s name once, define that name as “the Engineer” and everything becomes “Engineer’s equipment,” “Engineer will have the option to terminate.” Other variables, like addresses, are handled the same way so the non-lawyer client is doing as little drafting as possible and every contract will look the same.

      1. Rachel*

        Female engineer here – yep, this is an easy fix – just needs to be changed to ‘the engineer shall’ – really hope you can push back and get this changed!

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is the same as in leases. Where you use “Landlord” and “Tenant” after you establish their names in the first portion.

        It’s really not that difficult. It’s because people are just too lazy to remove the sexism.

    4. Lucy P*

      Most contracts that I’ve seen spell out the person’s or company’s name in the beginning and then say, “hereinafter referred to as “Engineer””.

    5. Quill*

      A singular they has been standard in a lot of situations for hundreds of years. But you could find and replace “he” with “the contractor” or “Contractors” and then do a quick skim for sentences that look ridiculous due to it and fix those.

      The majority of the “it’s grammatically wrong!” argument has actually arisen since 2000. When I was a kid we were taught to use it because “he or she” made things we wrote unnecessarily bulky.

      1. Aeacus*

        But still not perfectly inclusive. Going full neutral with using titles like ‘Contractor’ or using singular ‘they’ would be the best answer still. And I think it would be worth the push back to fix.

        1. Allonge*

          Plus, it’s just clearer. Legal language can be clunky, but is optimised for clarity and so it does not avoid repetition at all. There will be a bit more of it. So what.

  26. Allison*

    #3 I write those contracts you sign and if I left gendered language in it, I would want to know ASAP. And I would appreciate the desire and expectation that contracts be neutral.

  27. AMK*

    LW1- what about asking for something that is beverage related? Drinks tend to be a little easier for food allergies and sensitivities and because they can go in cups that are usually opaque it’s harder to tell if someone is participating. I could see doing fun teas, or picking up a box of tasty coffee, or making “spa water” for someone’s birthday and that being really fun (and pretty easy for the other person). If you asked for a beverage you could say you just wanted to do something a different .

    1. Lilyp*

      That’s a good idea! I’m trying to think if there’s anything non-food but still active you could suggest, like some sort of party favor or game? Maybe skip out on the food rotation but bring in pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or a small art project? Take everyone outside to blow giant bubbles? Idk everything I can think of ends up feeling a bit childish for an office but maybe it’ll give someone else better ideas

  28. Hiring Mgr*

    When I worked for an Israeli company, I would visit there a few times per year and the tradition there is that the person whose bday it is brings the food.. Maybe you can suggest that as a way of mixing things up, at least for yours ?

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I’ve always done it this way and it’s really the best way to do it all around. People can celebrate their birthday if they want and when they want, ignore it if they want and no one will be the wiser, everyone gets to eat exactly what they want to eat on their birthday and spend exactly how much they want to spend, and no one has to track birthdays or collect money. It’s the perfect solution.

  29. LQ*

    #3 Ask for this in a no big deal way. Definitely ask for it.
    Depending on who you are dealing with on the contract you could either point it out as technically inaccurate (I’d only go this route if you suspect the person you’re bringing it up with will fight you on it) or just “Could we make the contract gender-neutral in the future? ‘The contractor will…'”

  30. HR Bee*

    The past few orgs I’ve been apart of, the person whos birthday it is always brings the treat. Normally its some type of breakfast food – a variety of bagels and cream cheese seems to be the most popular. Some have brought fruit trays, donuts, cupcakes, and one or two went all out and catered in lunch (usually this was an exec) or brought in a big pot of chili. I thought it was weird when I first encountered it, but its actually been a lot of fun.

    1. Ali G*

      I think it makes more sense for the person who’s Bday it is to bring a treat, rather than involving someone else. This way if you don’t want to participate, you just don’t and no one knows and it’s not a big deal. And you can be sure the Bday person can participate.

  31. Ali G*

    OP4, start with your county of residence (where you are registered to vote) and review all the possibilities for not going to the polls on 11/3. Where I live, I can vote absentee because I do not work in the county I am registered in (specific language is “I have business outside the county”). However, your state may also have instituted a no reason choice this year, as many did.
    Second, check out the options for voting absentee. I can either mail my ballot, or I can choose not to use it and “vote early/absentee, in person.” My county has weekend hours for this. Some states also have drop box for your ballots (mine unfortunately does not).
    There are many options and hopefully you can find one that doesn’t include taking your time off!

    1. OP #4*

      I’ve got my personal plan for voting worked out. I was mainly concerned about how the policy has been applied unilaterally for the entire company, which seems odd when everything varies so much from state to state.

      1. Pineapple*

        In general, employees are subject to the laws in the state they work in regardless of what state their employer is in, so they may be violating the law by making this blanket policy for all employees. I think it would be a good idea for you to find out exactly what voting accommodations are required for employees in your state and raising that with management.

      2. Bear Shark*

        Often policies that have been applied unilaterally like that have fine print somewhere (even if it’s somewhere most employees can’t see) that says it applies unless state or local requirements supersede it. I’ve seen that on my employer’s Covid regulations. We must do X, Y, and Z and recommend doing A, B, and C, unless state or local regulations require something else.

        1. OP #4*

          Aha! I wonder if that’s hidden somewhere in the new time off handbook. My company usually provides the broadest interpretations since we’re nationwide; I haven’t seen a situation like this since I’ve been here.

  32. anonymouse*

    Just one comment for OP#3 that I haven’t seen yet: “the designs” is not the same as “his designs”/”her designs”. For contractual language, possessiveness is very important – who is responsible for the designs? But I agree “the engineer’s designs” would solve the problem.

  33. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 I’d honestly recommend being honest. We need to stop normalizing behavior that allows colleagues to bully each other over food choices.

  34. Anna*

    To LW3: Just ask if they change it, either for you or altogether.

    I work in a female-dominated field (literary translation) and the standard contract has he/him/his for the translator. I always ask the publisher to change it, either to she/her/her or to they/them/their if the translation is to be done by more than one person. One time, a publisher pushed back (‘We never do that!’) so I just signed, the other times it was no issue at all. (And one time, a publisher replace-all’ed, which resulted in some strange frankenwords and the male publisher suddenly being she/her as well. I liked that.)

    It would be good if the standard translation contract was updated to reflect the fact that women exist, but that contract needs to be updated in some other ways as well and I have some idea of how slow and painful the negotiations are, so I’m letting that be. Although now that I’m thinking about it, perhaps I should just email the relevant organisation to have them take it into account, if they’re updating it one day.

    My country’s entire law is written with he/him/his as standard. It bugs me.

  35. mgguy*

    Re: 4
    I have worked in two states-Kentucky and Illinois.

    Kentucky I believe required employees to grant up to 4 hours off for voting. Your employer had to cover(not charge leave) 2 hours of that time, and the additional 2 hours, if you chose to take it, were out of whatever bucket the employer said you could use for it.

    When I first started work in Illinois, every handbook I’d seen had language to the effect of “You can ask for time off to vote, but it’s not guaranteed and we really want you to go before or after work.” A new law went into affect this summer that, as I understand it, requires non-essential workers to be given the whole day off with no leave charge if asked. My current employer elected to just close on election day, although that’s not an option obviously for many places.

    1. mgguy*

      Okay, I was wrong on Illinois. Election day has been designated a state holiday, which means non-essential public employees(which I am) don’t work. My workplace is completely closed this year.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I so much prefer that it’s a mandated holiday, what a brilliant way to handle it. Is it required for that day to be a paid holiday? That would be my only concern. I’ve never known anywhere to ever have mandated PAID holidays, which can hurt people who even missing a day of work can put them at a huge disadvantage :( But at least they know it’s scheduled like that, to hopefully plan but paycheck to paycheck doesn’t really fix “oh so just aim not to eat that week, gotcha.” :(

      I don’t have to worry about it, I’ve voted by mail my entire life but this has made me into even more of a bulldog against voter suppression! I am utterly fascinated by polls and voters laws in all the other states, having been from this vote-by mail only region!

      1. mgguy*

        The paid vs. unpaid thing is a good question. I guess with state government observing it, it’s going to be treated like any other state holiday and presumably be paid(as a public employee, I know I am).

        At the same time, I suspect there’s no obligation for private employers to pay if they do close for they day.

  36. drpuma*

    OP3, assuming you have a contact at your company’s legal or contracts department I would ask that person to work on making a blanket change to all contracts. Or have your manager ask if you don’t interact with legal. This is super doable and can become a part of your company’s template or something your company routinely checks for when basing contracts off of the other party’s template. Seems like the type of thing you could easily bring up using language appealing to folks’ better nature.

  37. Phony Genius*

    On #3, having worked with engineering contracts, I’ve always found the legalese to be weird. Often, the word “he” is used to refer to a contractor or engineer, which in our case is often a company made up of, and owned by, multiple people. So it would seem that the plural “they” is more appropriate. But somehow, the lawyers decided that for a single company, a singular pronoun is needed, so they defaulted to “he.” (They never even considered “it” for a company.)

    Can any of the lawyers here comment on the use of “he” for companies?

    1. Delta Delta*

      I’m a lawyer and I don’t write contracts so take this as it’s worth. but I think it might make more sense to write as “XYZ Corp. (hereinafter “Company”) will make available and engineer (hereinafter “Engineer”)” and then from there refer to the company as Company and the engineer as Engineer. That way it’s never confusing who is being mentioned, and everyone is defined up front.

  38. Robot Voice*

    For OP2, I may be reading into this too much but when you mentioned that you “loved your boss and the office culture” but you want to leave for better benefits and pay, it made me just want to recommend taking some time to consider leaving your good company for a company that will just pay you better. I agree that the better pay and setting you up well for retirement is good (and especially if you are a women) but sometimes having a great boss and office culture can outweigh getting paid well at a job with a crappy boss and office culture. Just all to say, sometimes happiness and less stress can outweigh the money.

    1. Soon 2be former fed*

      If you don’t have to provide for your own future, sure. As a single parent, I didn’t have that luxury. More pay and benefits for the win! My pending retirement is excellent because of this. Being well-compensated made all the crap easier to deal with. Women in particular have to not fall into the trap of thinking that working with nice people in a nice environment means they should forgo good money. Get all of it!

    2. Zombeyonce*

      The problem with this is that your boss can leave at any time and you’ll be stuck with the worse pay, worse benefits, and you may end up with a crappy boss. Better to be circumspect about your future employer and boss during interviews to make sure it’s a good fit before jumping ship in addition to taking more money and better benefits.

  39. Save the Hellbender*

    Hey, OP #4, just so you know, in every state, as long as you’re in line before the polls close, you can still vote. Obviously ideally your employer would let you vote during the day, but since we’re expecting long lines, if you can’t make it before your shift, please know you have the right to vote if you make it to the polls before they close!

  40. LegallyAdmin*

    #3 – if these are standard template contracts I’m willing to bet that apathy is the main culprit here, because they’re used so often nobody has noticed or cared. Or if someone has noticed, there’s been a shrug and “eh, well nobody’s complained so guess its not an issue”. A simple & polite request to update them for next time should be all it takes to get it fixed.

  41. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’d just stick with your standard “don’t grab a treat” procedure. If someone mentions it, you just smile and say “Oh don’t worry about me!” and change the subject.

  42. what day is it*

    #3: I recall when real estate legal documents referred to unmarried women as spinsters, something that shocked me when I purchased my first home decades ago. That has changed now, at least in my state. Unmarried women are referred to as just that now. Not sure what the protocol is for non-binary folks. Speak up OP, no need for this outdated gendered language in contracts.

  43. Ria*

    A slightly underhanded tactic for OP#1– when I’ve been in similar situations in the past (where I don’t trust someone to cook something that fits my dietary needs) I’ve expressed great enthusiasm about how This One Special Family Cake with a Very Secret Recipe would just be such a nostalgic birthday treat for me, and if they didn’t mind me stealing their thunder I’d love to make it this year and share it with everyone at the office. That way you get to make it yourself without making them feel like you’re rejecting their generosity, and hopefully the diet issue can be avoided entirely. Good luck!

  44. Lizzo*

    OP#1: I think the advice offered here for you is excellent. I did want to add that I am part of a (small) organization that has a survey for new hires where–among other things–you indicate foods you love/hate, flavors you love/hate, dietary preferences (veggie/vegan/kosher/gluten free), food allergies, etc. This info comes in super handy for planning surprise gifts, birthday treats, restaurant outings, catering menus, etc. I actually just used this info yesterday to assemble a care package for a coworker who moved to a new city. Turns out she’s a big fan of dark chocolate. Easiest trip to Trader Joe’s ever.

    Now, admittedly we’re an office that LOVES food, and we have an organizational culture of great concern and care for others. We also put on a lot of catered events (pre-COVID) and let me tell you, I have never been better fed in my life despite all my complicated dietary issues.

    But I bring this up because maybe there’s a way to implement something similar that will be helpful for 1) ensuring the birthday person enjoys their treats and 2) makes things easier for the person who is responsible for the treats. No awkward conversations, just look at the survey results and purchase accordingly.

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