boss told me I need to wear makeup and jewelry, employee has terrible attitude, and more

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

1. My boss told me I need to wear makeup and jewelry

I work as an account manager in health care. I have a new boss who has been writing me up for having an “unprofessional appearance.” Today she explained to me that I need to wear makeup and jewelry. I have never been one to wear makeup, and when I do it’s minimal. Same with jewelry, I do not like to wear it. My overall attire is always professional and I take much consideration in my appearance. Is she right for saying I should wear makeup and jewelry?

I have been with this job for three years and never been told I lacked professionalism until she was hired.

Nooooo, she is out of line. There are a small handful of jobs where women are still expected to wear makeup and jewelry — some types of high-end sales, for example. But it’s not most jobs, and it’s not health care. In most jobs, whether you wear makeup and jewelry is entirely up to you. You might be expected to look polished, but how you get there is a matter of personal choice. Your manager is being weirdly overbearing and sexist.

A bit about the law: Courts in the U.S. have generally allowed companies to have different grooming standards for men and women, including requiring that women wear makeup — but they’ve also generally held that grooming standards shouldn’t place a significantly higher burden on one sex, and your manager’s requirement sure as hell sounds like it would do that.

I’d suggest talking to HR. Tell them your manager has told you you’re required to wear makeup and jewelry and ask if that’s a new rule that’s now in effect; assuming it’s not, tell them you’re concerned she’s presented it as a requirement, you’re concerned it creates legal liability for the company, and ask for their help in shutting it down.

2. My employee gets their work done but has a terrible attitude

I was promoted earlier this year to a position where I’m leading a small team at a small company (~100 employees). One of my direct reports (we’ll call them Jan) is both older and more experienced than I am, but for a number of very valid reasons, was not considered for the promotion. However, Jan feels they should’ve been promoted over me. From early on, Jan made it clear that they saw reporting to me as temporary and frequently kept me out of the loop on important projects or tried to go around me. We had several challenging discussions about this, and it felt like we were making some progress.

However, after nearly a year, Jan has continued the same behavior. We discuss the behavior regularly, but after our meetings, it’s like we never discussed anything at all—they just adjust their behavior on one project and then revert to their old ways with new projects. I understand that the reason why is there are little to no repercussions—Jan still gets their work finished, and as long as they’re getting the work done, I don’t know what I can do.

It’s gotten to the point that it’s causing tension on our team since it’s painfully clear that Jan is unhappy. I’ve asked Jan for feedback so we can work better together (I’m very aware of the fact that I have a lot to learn!), but they insist things are fine…then I hear from my boss and others on my team that Jan is complaining about my management.

I don’t have any management experience with a situation like this, and I’m at a loss as to what I can do. Can I discipline someone for having a bad attitude? Is there some way to get Jan to actually provide feedback?

Give up on trying to get Jan to give you feedback and instead focus on the changes you need to see from them. Don’t make it about their attitude (which can be hard to pin down); make it about specific behaviors that need to stop (or start). You can absolutely discipline and fire someone for things like you’ve described — you just need to translate the problems into concrete behaviors. For example, if Jan keeps you out of the loop, one of the standards you need to hold them to is “proactively informing me of details like X, Y, and Z.” Sit down and write out all the behaviors you need to see that you’re not currently seeing, and you’ll have the meat of a performance improvement plan.

You’ll need your boss to have your back on this so loop her in right away, both about the severity of the issues and your plan for dealing with it. You should be prepared to fire Jan if the problems continue after you clearly spell out what they need to change, and you don’t want your boss to be blindsided if that’s the direction things go in. (Also, this isn’t something you should let drag out. Aim for a resolution within a month or two at most.)

Read an update to this letter here.

3. How much does a company’s Covid response reflect how it might respond to other crises?

I know you have been receiving and answering plenty of questions regarding how to navigate working for an employer who doesn’t take Covid precautions as seriously as they should. I just started a job this fall and have been extremely disappointed with how my small company has handled the massive increase in cases recently (think: scheduling an in-person holiday party, having a culture where it’s a “choice” to work from home but a frowned-upon choice, etc.). I’ve been following your advice in this context as best I can, and I know that if it really came down to it, I would 100% pick my safety over keeping this job. But if it doesn’t get to that point, I’m wondering if I should still be thinking critically about my long-term desire to stay at this company — which I otherwise like — given their Covid response. In other words, how do you think a company’s Covid response is concretely related to how it might respond to other, non-Covid (and non-emergent) contexts?

I think it’s strongly correlated in several ways. First and foremost, it says they’re cavalier about public health, and their employees’ health in particular. In your company’s case, it also says you can’t trust what they say; they might tell you something’s okay but then penalize you for it. And it says they’re either willing to buy into the politicization of a serious public health issue if it suits their own agenda or — if they’d be doing this even if Covid hadn’t become politicized — that they prioritize their profits way over the safety of their employees (beyond even the typical amount of self-interest you normally see under capitalism).

4. Holiday blues in a festive office

I work in a job that is classified as essential, so I have to go into the office every day. My family was hopeful that we’d be able to get together over the holidays this year, but we canceled Thanksgiving and stayed in our own homes.

I’m looking ahead to Christmas, and starting to mentally prepare myself for the fact that I probably won’t be able to see my family for that either. To make matters worse, I live alone and my company has a shutdown for Christmas that’s pretty long, but not long enough for me to properly quarantine and go visit with loved ones. So I’m looking at a holiday that I’ll have to spend alone, for the first time in my life. The easiest way for me to do this is going to be to essentially pretend the holiday isn’t happening and do my best to act like it’s just another day.

The office that I work in tends to be VERY festive and based on communications from management I think they’re going to double down this year in an effort to lift spirits after a rough year. Unsurprisingly I’m not super into it. I want my coworkers to enjoy their holiday and I don’t want to stop anyone from having fun. Any recommendations on how to respond when people realize I’m not as into the festivities this year (they will, I’m a big Christmas person in the office) without drawing too much pity or coming off like a grinch?

How about, “The holidays are hard for me this year since I can’t go home so I’m kind of tuning it out. I don’t want to dampen your celebration; I’m just sitting it out myself.”

You do risk people responding to that by trying to cheer you up or get you into the holiday spirit, so be prepared to say, “I appreciate the thought, but this is easier for me this year” followed by an immediate subject change.

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Asking for a raise after I was hired back at an old job

I was laid off last spring (like many), but was offered an old job at a previous company. I had kept in touch with my old boss, and when they heard I was unemployed, jumped on asking me if I would like to come back. They were offering $13k less than what I was making at my laid-off job, but I was not in a position to say no to a steady income. I did not negotiate at the time because I wasn’t sure if I could. Upon my hiring, my manager said we could discuss a raise in around six months to a year. I have now been at the company for eight months, but I’m not sure how to bring this up. Our company definitely is not doing poorly (or as far as they share with employees), but I just don’t know how to ask to revisit the conversation. I was thinking about waiting until the holidays and seeing if they do anything special this year (during my previous time with this employer, they never did a holiday bonus/end of year cost of living adjustment).

Am I being too timid with this? Thinking about the conversation makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Yes, you’re being too timid! Don’t wait to see if they do bonuses or raises around the holidays when they’re never done that before. Plus, you want a raise, not just a one-time bonus or a cost-of-living adjustment.

Asking for a raise makes lots of people (probably most people) uncomfortable, so don’t take your discomfort as a sign not to do it. Sit down with your boss and say, “When I was hired back eight months ago, you suggested we could discuss a raise after six months. I think my work has gone really well — I’ve achieved X, Y, and Z — and I’m hoping we can increase my salary.” More advice here!

{ 337 comments… read them below }

  1. Zombeyonce*

    I’m so glad that LW #1 has been at the job for 3 years already, so has a track record with the company and can say that their appearance has never been a problem before. The only thing that’s changed is the manager, not anything about their appearance. This is only bad for the manager, but still a pain to have to deal with. I would also complain to HR to see if the previous write-ups can be removed from their employee record; they are not deserved and should not be left on their file because they have a sexist boss.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      This punitive response from the manager is really out of line, and it’s a great point that the write-ups should be brought up in a conversation with HR, and be removed. I’ve been in the work world for decades and not once has a manager commented on my lack of make-up and jewelry. I wouldn’t even know how make-up is applied. OP, you do your job well and that’s what’s going to back you up.

      1. it's-a-me*

        My boss would seriously regret asking me to wear makeup, as I too would have no clue how to apply it, and would no doubt look horrific if I attempted it – I’d also have to go buy the cheapest junk I could find because I REFUSE to spend any significant amount on such a frivolous unnecessary thing.

        1. Julia*

          A frivolous unnecessary thing that brings some people joy. I definitely agree that make-up mandates for women suck, but I’m not sure dissing make-up itself is called for.

          1. Ariaflame*

            I think they were referring to the jewellery there. Frivolous isn’t necessarily bad, nor is unnecessary. When you’re being told as a condition of employment to spend your money on something you wouldn’t, then there is no joy in that.

            1. pancakes*

              Jewelry isn’t applied, though. Either way, the boss’s request would be out of line even if their employee is skilled in applying makeup and/or owns jewelry they prefer not to wear. It’s a sexist and unacceptable request to make, period.

              1. Zephy*

                One could argue that accessorizing is a skill as much as makeup application is, but yes, neither of those are skills required to perform the job of account manager.

          2. Tabby*

            Julia, frivolous and unnecessary is how some of us view it — it IS pretty unnecessary, and frivolous. So are my video games. That doesn’t mean I won’t continue to enjoy them, nor should that mean you don’t get to enjoy your makeup. Not everyone likes makeup, and that’s okay. That’s not bashing it.

          3. Scarlet2*

            The fact that some of us don’t want to spend money on makeup or jewellery is not “dissing” it. It is indeed an unnecessary and significant expense. Nobody’s saying “I don’t want to spend money on makeup therefore nobody should either”. Obviously if it makes you happy, you’re quite welcome to wear makeup and jewellery. We all have our frivolous pleasures.

          4. I'm just here for the cats*

            Wow that’s an odd response. I believe Its-a-me is saying that makeup is a frivolous and unnecessary thing FOR THEM. They aren’t bashing makeup or saying that others cant find enjoyment from it.

            1. MK*

              I don’t like nitpicking, but “I REFUSE to spend a significant amount of money on such a frivolous unnecessary thing” is not a neutral statement, even if it isn’t specifically meant to convey contempt on people who do spend their money that way. One can just as easily say that they won’t spend money on things that aren’t necessary to them and they don’t like and want, without placing a value judgement.

              1. boo bot*

                Yeah, I think part of the reason it comes across that way in this case especially is that there’s historically been a lot of overlap between “frivolous feminine things that silly women waste their time and money on” and “appearance-related things women basically have to do in order to be considered ‘professional’ or be taken seriously in any way.” (See: hair removal, makeup, hair styling/processing, dying gray hair, nail care, having more variety of clothing because people notice if you only wear the same two suits every day, etc.) Clearly all this has been changing, and that is good!

                There’s just not the same tradition of circular logic surrounding the purchase of video games, as someone suggested as a comparison above (as far as I know, no one is saying “OMG you have to DO SOMETHING about your lack of video games or no one will ever listen to anything you say,” unless you work in the video game industry, in which case it might be a fair criticism.)

                1. Tabby*

                  Boo bot, yeah, no, there isnt that same logic re: video games. There’s often a certain amount of ZOMG ADULTS SHOULD NOT HAVE THEM! that happens, but you’re right, it doesn’t rise to the entire cluster of wtf that surrounds makeup and femininity. Trust me, I do know that exists. I get All The Lectures as a woman who doesn’t wear makeup At All, and am seen as unfeminine because of it. So, yeah, I get it. My point is this, though: games and makeup are both frivolous and unnecessary; they are (or should be) seen as a completely voluntary, fun thing some people do and others don’t. Neither should be seen as some essential thing we MUST do to survive and live life.

                2. boo bot*

                  To be clear, what I’m trying to say is, people like the OP’s boss are part of the reason that “makeup is frivolous and I’d never waste my money on it” can feel like a harsh or judgmental statement. If the OP were in a different situation (where she had just started at the company, for example, or this seemed to be the prevailing culture and not just the particular boss) it *wouldn’t* be a personal choice to purchase and wear makeup, it would be a necessity in order to keep her job. It shouldn’t be, but it would.

                  Beyond that, I think a lot of people find themselves in gray areas where nobody’s outright saying “you must wear makeup” or “you must do X to your hair” but it’s clear that doing so is preferred and leads to better treatment in both work and social situations. Whatever our personal choices are, they’re rarely made in a vacuum. There’s nothing wrong with considering makeup to be of no value to you, personally, it’s just kind of odd to act like it’s purely a hobby with no other social or cultural context.

              2. Tabby*

                Of course it’s a value judgement — for me, makeup doesn’t have any value. That doesn’t mean I think others who find it valuable shouldn’t do it, though. It’s their face, they can put their money on it and enjoy it, and I’m all for that, for them. We really need to be okay with everyone finding things like this not valuable (I mean, my video games don’t really have any value to people who don’t like video games, or people who don’t like Final Fantasy video games…. I don’t really care. They don’t have to like or buy them. Problem solved! :D) without fearing that there’s a judgement against the person.

                1. Zennish*

                  Your video games obviously don’t carry the same worth and importance as my extensive collection of used sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks. ;-)

                2. Tabby*

                  Zennish, I am coming for to steal all your books, because I also happen to love sci fi books! :D I wish my book collection was more extensive than it is.

          5. Totally Minnie*

            But it’s true that makeup can be quite expensive, so for people who don’t wear it regularly it would very much be an unnecessary expense.

            1. MK*

              The overwhelming majority of things people spend money on are unnecessary expenses, and plentyof them are frivolous. Is it really necessary to point that out?

              1. TinaLevinTwelve*

                I think Totally Minnie is highlighting the frivolity of it because it’s an unnecessary expense LW is being tasked with solely because of their boss’ sexist interpretation of professional appearance. We all like a frivolous thing here and there. This is however a case of the manager writing up the LW because… well, because she doesn’t like LW’s face.

                This situation reminds me of the poor LW years ago who was essentially managed out because her mastectomy made coworkers uncomfortable.

        2. MissDisplaced*

          Please let’s not us have this argument.
          Some love makeup some don’t.
          No one thinks it should be a requirement of the workplace.

        3. Sea Witch*

          I get an allergic reaction to a lot of products, including the supposedly hypoallergenic ones. Also, rings, bracelets, and earrings drive me nuts. There is no way I could follow this directive.

      2. Alex*

        I’m commenting on this post in *looks down* a Disneyland T-Shirt. Light blue.
        (And yes, I’m in the office right now…).

        Granted, we are very casual, but appearances do not matter if you are not customer facing.
        Comfort however, does.

        Interestingly enough, the Boss in that story is a woman – so this is not sexism either. Weird…

          1. The Rural Juror*

            Right. Sexism is sometimes expecting things of one sex that you don’t expect of another. For example, my male coworkers often wear baseball hats to work because we work outside quite a bit. If my boss told me I, as a woman, wasn’t allowed to wear a baseball hat when I work outside, that would definitely be sexist. If the manager wants women to wear makeup and jewelry, she should tell them men they have to wear makeup and jewelry as well. See how well that goes over!

          2. lemon*


            Internalized sexism in women can often take the form of “I had to make x, y, and z compromises to make it as a woman in this world, so other women should have to do that too!” Which I could see being at play for the LW if their manager felt that she was forced, in some way, to maintain a highly-polished appearance in order to be successful.

        1. Batgirl*

          I had a friend whose woman boss told her to “dress more provocatively” and heard a female customer on an airplane complain the female crew “weren’t pretty enough”. Some women live to be sexist to others.

        2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          It is sexist for the manager to require a woman to dress and adorn herself in a way that she, manager, feels “a woman” should look.
          For the manager to say, “a woman must wear make and jewelry because she is a woman” is sexist.

        3. Sparkles McFadden*

          Sadly, I had dealt with sexism far more when I reported to women than to men. Examples abound. Here are but two:

          – We were having new equipment delivered and engineers would be setting it up and involving us in the set up process. Though I was the only person with extensive hardware and programming experience, the boss said “I guess us gals will have to find some other way to keep busy that day.”

          – I had a female boss who informed me “I was forced to hire you. I hate working with women and would never hire women if I had a choice.” She went on to tell me why women are terrible employees and list all the things men do far better than women. When I pointed out that SHE was a woman, she said “I am the exception to that. That’s why it’s so hard for me to work with other women.” Yeah, OK.

            1. Artemesia*

              yup. Those of us who entered the workforce in professions where there were few women learned to feel like ‘the exception’ and that can lead to treating other women badly in a ‘man’s world.’ Plenty of older female bosses were enforcing sexist rules as part of their jobs and internalized all that.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Yeah. Two of the women I used to report to were horrendous.

            – Got very cross with me when I said in passing, to another coworker, that I was thinking of going short with my hair again, as the ponytail was giving me headaches. Apparently “short hair is just not appropriate or attractive on young ladies”.

            – With same as above, I simultaneously needed to “dress nicer” for some conference because I needed to be pretty but also “dress worse” because I couldn’t look nicer than her. I wore my normal business casual which was very, very similar to what every other person there was wearing (and got compliments when I asked other people that I trusted at the same conference).

            – At the same conference, instead of rescuing me from Creepy Vendor, got mad at me because Creep was hitting on me and not her. One of my colleagues from another office assisted with my rescue instead.

            – Demanded to meet my husband to “approve of him” because “men are horrible creatures” but also complained nonstop about any female scientist, technical expert, etc. that she had to work with.

            – Other boss was visibly disgusted with me when I mentioned I had gotten engaged, because some logic about “wasting my life” or something like that. Also was visibly disgusted when I took his last name.

            – Instead of getting me a separate hotel room when the team was traveling, only the men went because “they could share and it would be weird if the ‘girls’ went”.

            – Told me that it was my job to have children.

            etc., etc.

            I realize this is very anecdata, and most likely very different for different people. Just adding in my story.

        4. Sartorial wizard*

          “Appearances do not matter if you are not customer facing”

          1. Completely incorrect. It is about setting the kind of corporate culture you want. Your Disneyland t-shirt would be disqualifying if you wanted to work at Fortnum and Mason or Hermès even in the back office.

          2. You should dress for the job you want, not the one you have.

          1. Observer*

            2. You should dress for the job you want, not the one you have.

            Well, maybe Alex doesn’t want a job at Hermes. Why would you tell someone to dress for a specific kind of job as though OF COURSE they want a job of that sort, in that kind of company?

            1. Rayray*

              I agree with this. I like having a casual dress code. It sure beats freezing in dresses in winter or in the summer when AC is blasted to arctic temperatures.

          2. Tabby*

            Sartorial Wizard, tour third point is very odd to me. I’ve never seen the point in that particular bit of “advice”. You aren’t going to be accosted by a banker because you’re wearing a suit while bagging groceries, or in my case, I’m not going to be accosted by a veterinarian looking for a vet assistant position while walking dogs.

            I mean, I dress for the jobs I have because I am wearing what is appropriate for them — you would totally be out of place as a dog handler or dog walker wearing anything fancier than a polo, khakis, and trainers in either of those. :D

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes quite. I’m sure if Alex applied for a job at Hermes or Fortnum they’d been aware of the impact that would have on their dress and wear appropriate clothes. If that’s not a job Alex wants why should they have to dress as if they do?

              I think you’re right that you dress for the job / task you’re doing. I mean if I have a job interview I will wear my best suit and make sure everything is neat and tidy. If it’s a day in the office when I’m not having meetings I’ll wear smart trousers and a smartish jumper. If I’m catching a flight on a Sunday to get to Kyiv for a Monday meeting I’ll wear jeans and a fleece. All of these sartorial choices are right for the job I’m doing / going for.

            2. Totally Minnie*

              “Dress for the job you want” is also quite classist, as far as workplace advice goes. A lot of people can’t dress for they job they want while being paid for the job they have.

            3. boo bot*

              “You aren’t going to be accosted by a banker because you’re wearing a suit while bagging groceries”

              Lol. It’s like Lana Turner getting discovered at a drugstore. “You! You’re absolutely perfect! Let me take you away from this hourly job, and whisk you off to the magical world of predictable scheduling, salaried pay, and healthcare benefits following a 90-day probationary period!”

              1. Tabby*

                Boo: OMG I just spit coffee everywhere! Now, see, if Oprah wanted to hire me as a live in nanny for her dogs, sure, I would totally consider changing how I dress — as long as she paid me extra for a wardrobe overhaul. That’ll be half a mil, okthx. :D

            4. Rusty Shackelford*

              Well, sure, like any advice it can sound silly when taken to the extreme or used out of context. But it makes perfect sense in the context of a more hierarchical workplace. If you’re a teller, and you want to be the bank manager, dress more like the bank manager. And if you’re a dog walker, and you want the kind of clients who pay big money for khaki-and-polo wearing walkers, wear khakis and a polo.

          3. Crivens!*

            I don’t want any job that would expect me to wear makeup. I’ve got nothing against makeup or accessorizing: I own 50+ earrings. But I won’t wear makeup.

              1. 'Tis Me*

                My eldest wanted to be Harry Potter for her school non-school uniform/fancy dress day for Children in Need a few weeks back. I wanted to find an eyeliner to draw on her lightning scar. I *think* my husband may have thrown all my make up away as I couldn’t find it, but can’t remember when I wore it last… It was probably well over a year ago. It’s also possible that I temporarily tidied it away somewhere silly and have forgotten though…

                (And it was fine, I could find marker pens and used one of those instead ;))

                1. Artemesia*

                  my husband was in opera choruses for decades so in our house if you needed eyeliner, green eye shadow or other make up you’d have to ask Dad

                  All I had was lipstick and a little neutral eye shadow

            1. Rayray*

              I wear makeup and rarely wear jewelry. I don’t have pierced ears and only own a few quality necklaces and bracelets.

              However if a job required makeup, I’d seriously hate it. Because 1)it’s makeup and isn’t actually necessary and 2) I know the rule would only apply to women and not men which isn’t fair.

                1. Rayray*

                  Same. My parents weren’t the type to pierce our ears before we could consent to it, and once I got old enough I just didn’t care for it. It seems to really shock people if it ever comes up. I’m 31 now and don’t have any plans to get pierced ears now.

          4. Arvolin*

            “2. You should dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”
            Which is why a friend of mine got Jedi robes.

          5. Momma Bear*

            But what if this IS the job the OP wants and the dress code hasn’t changed, just the management? To WRITE UP someone who has been in a job for 3 years for an unprofessional appearance for not wearing jewelry or makeup…many people don’t wear accessories or makeup for many reasons. If men, for example, aren’t required to wear a watch (many don’t anymore) why would a woman need to wear a necklace or bracelet? What if their ears aren’t pierced? What if they’re allergic to makeup? Lots of reasons a woman might be minimalist. If Alicia Keys can go on stage to perform with minimal or no makeup, surely OP can function in an office.

            I think OP needs to dig into why the manager suddenly thinks this is a thing. Was OP even warned? I’d be concerned about what else the Manager was going to suddenly write me up for.

          6. Tinker*

            “You should dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”

            My coworkers don’t necessarily need to know such things about me, and also there’s the matter of public nudity laws.

        5. Le Sigh*

          Women can be sexist/say sexist things, just like a gay person can be homophobic/say homophobic things. Sexism doesn’t require the host to be male to pass the sexism onto others — in fact, that’s part of what makes it even more insidious.

        6. Pretzelgirl*

          The only times I have been told to change my appearance at work was both by women. One told me I needed to wear a suit, when the men at the company could wear polos and khakis. We were all in the same positions. At another job, a manager chastised me to not being able to button my uniform all the way. I am big busted. She made me purchase more uniforms at my cost. Buy them too large and have them taken in bc the “new ones were too loose”. All on my own dime. Bc I should have picked the right size to begin with. ::eyeroll::

    2. bunniferous*

      Yes, they need to go to HR immediately. (In my fantasies I would be tempted to go full tilt Tammy Faye but …yeah, don’t do that.)

      1. Totally Minnie*

        This makes me think of the Schitt’s Creek episode where Stevie-who never wears makeup-is given an enormous box of makeup as a gift, and to prove a point she puts on ALL of it.

    3. Diahann Carroll*

      I would also complain to HR to see if the previous write-ups can be removed from their employee record; they are not deserved and should not be left on their file because they have a sexist boss.

      They absolutely need to be removed, but I’m curious what they say. Do they actually say something explicit about OP not wearing makeup and jewelry, or do they just say she’s inappropriately dressed? Because if there’s no official policy that says women have to wear makeup and jewelry to work and the manager’s write ups are more of the former, why in the world did HR not say anything/intervene in the first place? This is a bizarre thing to write someone up for.

      1. Amaranth*

        My guess is ‘unprofessional appearance’ but would HR let something so vague stand, especially if there are multiple reports? Is HR just filing without reading?

        1. Uranus Wars*

          Depending on the organization itself I do know (anecdotally) that even some hospital HRs aren’t better that what we were discussing last week or so about HR in academia. We used to swap stories among friends, one that included HR signing off on an annual review saying my friend abused vacation time and needed to improve her time out of the office. She missed 12 weeks BECUASE SHE WAS HAVING A BABY. Not to mention she has worked there long enough that all 12 weeks were paid under PTO.

          When she complained HR said because she signed off on the review there was nothing they could do and it would stand in her file.

        2. PT*

          This is also my guess. Either they are so vaguely phrased that HR cannot tell the boss is writing her up over makeup and jewelry, and thus the boss can lie when called upon it, or HR can see that the write up is over makeup and jewelry, and hasn’t said anything.

          I’m skeptical that the LW is going to get a resolution from going to HR.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Dress and appearance codes can be extremely specific for good reasons. A long-ago employer developed a policy for clothing without script or lettering, except for the manufacturer or designer label. We had a ‘Freedom of speech’ claim by a guy who wore a t-shirt saying ‘Screw Japan’ to work, years before hate speech became a frequent work issue. He would have lost his claim anyway, but he proved that some people just won’t use good judgment. So we had to expect the worst workwear decisions and plan for them.

        But vague, subjective terms like ‘must look professional’ or ‘no inappropriate appearances’ can, indeed, allow OP’s boss to write her up without pushback. Until now, I hope. Demanding that someone wear jewelry or makeup is ridiculous. I happen to love makeup – if you saw the dark circles under my eyes, you’d understand why – but I’d never demand that my female team wear it.

        1. Tabby*

          Idk, dark circles around the eyes is such a thing in my family that I probably wouldn’t look askance at it, but as a previous poster said, there is this whole societal muckety muck around how one (especially of the female-presenting type) is ‘supposed to look’ (ugh, i wish we could outgrow that), that I do indeed see your point. People assume you’re tired, or whatever, when it’s possibly just a genetic trait. Or maybe you don’t get enough sleep… or whatever. I don’t tend to wonder about this kind of thing because I have them. Even when I have slept well, they’re always there.

      3. LifeBeforeCorona*

        For “inappropriately dressed” you can demand concrete examples because one person’s inappropriate dress is another person’s work uniform. Think Hooters vs a lawyer appearing in court. In the right context, both don’t seem unusual.

    4. Engineer Woman*

      Yes, LW#1 – please bring this to HR and get your write-ups removed from your record! Unless there’s a new policy, make-up and jewelry shouldn’t be what make appearances for women “professional”.

      1. Elizabeth I*

        And maybe have several sample photos of your appearance on the days when the boss deemed it “unprofessional”? Might help HR understand that you are not the problem here.

    5. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Yes! Not only are there people who can’t wear make-up or jewelry due to allergies or sensory issues, as mentioned this is blatantly sexist. There is no male equivalent. I’m curious as to what the employee handbook says specifically.

      1. DArcy*

        Note that per Supreme Court precedent, “equally burdensome” in legal terms does not actually mean equal in colloquial terms. It just means there has to be a corresponding requirement for both genders.

        A corporate dress code that requires male employees to have neatly trimmed fingernails and requires female employees to have professional manicures is an “equal burden” in the eyes of the courts; it’s only an unequal burden if there is *no* dress code regulation for male employee fingernails.

        1. Observer*

          A corporate dress code that requires male employees to have neatly trimmed fingernails and requires female employees to have professional manicures is an “equal burden” in the eyes of the courts;

          I’m pretty sure that you are wrong about that. It’s true that the standards don’t have to be the same, I’m fairly sure that if you can show a significant expense (or possibly time investment), that would be an issue.

          The Harras Casino case wasn’t based on cost, but on the fact that the employee didn’t want to be sexualized. That’s a problem, for sure, but it’s a different issue. And in fact, in the appeal the court pretty much said that if the employee had provided proof that the requirement actually take significantly more time or cost significantly more money, they would have ruled differently. (Don’t ask me why the time and expense issue wasn’t considered obvious…)

      2. Tabby*

        Teekane: Yes, this! I tried wearing makeup a few years ago and discovered thst issa no for me. As in itchy face, eyes watering, must-scratch-skin- off NOPE. I also can’t wear any earrings that isn’t surgical grade steel or titanium. My current jewelry is all that, or made of paracord.

    6. BatManDan*

      I can’t tell from the post if she works in an organization big enough to have an HR. “Healthcare” could refer to a small medical or dental office.
      How does the advice change if the boss is the office manager, and the only one higher is the doctor(s)?

      1. Lady Meyneth*

        If it’s just the boss, without HR or anyone above her with more power, then LW is in a bind. She can and should still talk with the boss, mentioning how this could be considered sexism and thus be a legal liability; I’d do this in a very friendly tone, like *of course* this would never be the boss’ intention. But I’d also be furiously looking for a new job, because having someone like this as the sole authority over your lifelihood is just dangerous.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I think she speak to to that person, and flags up both the potential legal liability, and the fact that OP has worked there for 3 years and it has never been an issue before, so it’s legitimate to ask what has changed, and why there was not announcement or update to let people know that new and more onerous policies on appearance were being implemented.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Right, if there was an update to the dress code, there should have been a memo, at the very least.

    7. Ubi Caritas*

      LW1, you cannot win with this manager. If HR tells the manager to back off, there will be something else. I’d start polishing my resume now, just in case. And I’m really, really sorry. But I think your future with this manager is really limited.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        Yes, unfortunately. This is someone who does not define professionalism by how you act or communicate or conduct yourself. They define professionalism as putting pigments on your face to make yourself look more sexually receptive. This is someone who does not manage you based on your competence at your job’s core functions. They manage you based on which metal objects you have in the region of your head.

        This person either:
        1) is a dull knife with zero concept of what it takes to do your job effectively and well and is focusing on a few superficial things that are within the scope of their comprehension
        2) thinks performance considerations are irrelevant to you as a woman, since your primary function is to be a sexualized object for display
        3) is just plain out to get you for reasons of their own and is coming after you in any way they can think of

        It doesn’t bode well.

    8. Friendly Comment*

      Not to mention this could be religious discrimination in some cases. I’m a Quaker, and I take the testimony of simplicity seriously, for example.

      1. Well Then*

        I hadn’t thought of that angle, but it makes sense! Some religious sects also consider makeup to be immodest. HR should shut this down and I hope LW can get the write-ups taken off her file.

    9. Girasol*

      Even in my lifetime women were hired based on bust-waist-hip measurements, hair and eye color, and so on, for roles that were not so much administrative as office decoration. Heel heights, makeup, and accessories were often specified for “front office” roles. While I admit the need for an appropriately polished appearance in the workplace, I’m suspicious of dress code requirements that hint that a woman will have one of those old decorative roles to play, whether for staff or for clients. (I can imagine a woman boss who remembers those bad old days and figures that if she had to suffer through them, then every woman should have to. It’s not weird, just unfortunate, that this is coming from a woman.)

  2. Zombeyonce*

    In not communicating and going around LW #2, Jan thinks they’re going to get rid of the LW to take the job they wanted in the first place. In reality, it’s going to get Jan fired. I have a feeling this kind of terrible logic and reasoning is one of the valid reasons Jan didn’t get the job in the first place.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      “I have a feeling this kind of terrible logic and reasoning is one of the valid reasons Jan didn’t get the job in the first place.”

      Yep. This exactly.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah, no one wants to promote someone this petty and insubordinate. She’d be horrible managing other people.

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      Yes to this. LW #2, you have given Jan nearly a year to change their attitude. It hasn’t happened and they are actively undermining you. This is as much a part of their job as “getting their work finished” and sound like it’s undermining your whole team. Alison’s advice is great and at this point, it’s about following whatever steps your workplace has for a path to termination.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That upcoming anniversary becomes a clear designation of why you’re acting now when the behavior hasn’t had permanent consequences yet. “I’ve been saying this for nearly a year and …”

    3. Beth*

      Exactly. And this makes me a bit worried that OP might not be given the chance to fire Jan even if this continues. If Jan has been at this employer long enough to make it very clear that they’re not promotable, but that hasn’t been made clear to them and they haven’t seen any concrete consequences for their problem behavior, then I’m concerned that this employer isn’t willing to address problems. We see plenty of companies on this blog that will let employees like Jan continue to do their thing for as long as they choose to stay, no matter how much trouble it causes. Hopefully this won’t end up like that, and LW2 will be given the support they need to resolve things!

      1. Observer*

        I think it’s too soon to say that about the employer.

        Let’s face it, the OP has not done anything to make it clear that Jan needs to change her behavior. And they don’t even seem to realize that they CAN and SHOULD do that. They ask if it’s ok to discipline someone over bad attitude, and want to know how they can get Jan to give feedback so they can accommodate her.

        The OP needs to follow Alison’s advice. If the OP’s management won’t back them, that’s a different issue. But at this point, the OP hasn’t even started the process.

    4. Morgan*

      I’ve never understood this type of behavior. An employee gets mad because they weren’t selected for a job and not self-aware enough to know why. Instead of addressing it with management, they take it out on the person hired. I’ve seen this scenario a number of times and that resentful employee is normally the reason why. Saw this with another co-worker and the angry employee ran her off. She got the job (after 3 tries) and she is isn’t doing very well in the role. I agree that Jan thinks she can run off LW #2 and then she’ll get the job. She is making herself look bad with management. While things tend to go unchecked, it doesn’t mean management isn’t watching.

      1. Mongrel*

        “Instead of addressing it with management, they take it out on the person hired.”

        Thus reinforcing the decision to not promote them.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        The time I’ve seen this scenario, it was possibly made worse by the fact that the employee (I’ll call him Riley) had been acting in the role for almost a year. While his predecessor “Angelus” was in post, the employer underwent an evaluation of all jobs and that role was downgraded a pay scale. This was appealed, however not long after the appeal was submitted Angelus found a post with a much shorter commute and resigned.

        Because the appeal over the pay had not yet been resolved, they were unable to advertise the role, and Riley, who had been Angelus’s assistant, was asked to act up in the role temporarily. The appeals process took some time (there were lots of appeals going on) – Angelus had left in June 2005; it was April 2006 when interviews eventually took place.

        Riley assumed it was just a formality and he would automatically be hired. Instead, an external hire “Spike” was selected. As Spike didn’t live locally and needed to relocate, it was another three months before he actually took up the post, giving Riley three more months to stew on it.

        Once Spike started, Riley made it very clear he wasn’t happy – he’d do things like arrange meetings with people who really should have been meeting with Spike, at times when Spike couldn’t be there. He’d tell callers that the person they needed to speak to was a temp who had been there for two weeks but long since ghosted. He left all the records in such a mess that it became common to say “Here’s another Riley special” when a screwup came to light – one person tried something on, claiming Riley’s mess up had cost her a grant, and because this was the kind of thing Riley would have done, it was taken seriously and a lot of time was spent on it until this person’s husband dropped her in it.

        Buffy, team manager, was made aware of the situation when Willow, another coworker, started catching on and reported it. I know she took Spike aside to explain, but I don’t know what she said to Riley about it. In the end, Riley was offered a job elsewhere and was just waved off with a good reference to get rid of him.

        1. BelleMorte*

          I am cackling picturing this scenario playing out with the actual characters. It’s kind of funny this is actually how it played out in the show, to a point :)

            1. EvilQueenRegina*

              Buffy could be a bit conflict avoidant – I don’t know exactly what happened because it was before my time but some previous staff member had taken out a grievance against her and won, and ever since then Buffy had been a bit wary of actually disciplining anyone properly. In her mind I guess giving him a good reference and waving him off was the better outcome than having him stay there and having to actually deal with him.

              Initially there were a few people who felt a bit sorry for Riley – at the time we were based out of one main and three satellite offices, so those based in different buildings weren’t getting to witness his antics and didn’t know what was happening at the time. But honestly I think his behaviour reinforced that it was the right choice to hire Spike instead – I don’t know what was the deciding factor initially, but the way he acted afterwards just confirmed it.

      3. Black Horse Dancing*

        I think one reason is plenty of good people are overlooked and favored incompetents are chosen. (This is nothing to do with the OP’s situation!) You asked why some people act this way–many times it is because companies promote poorly, mistreat their employees, etc. So many times outsiders are chosen over skilled employees or favored people who the boss likes, etc. Yes, the overlooked employee is often resentful. It is human and common.

    5. Kiitemso*

      It should get Jan fired. Depends on the company if it will.

      I say this because I came into a work place where a similar case was bitter about not being promoted, and slacked off a lot. But they had a lot of knowledge that the company needed so the boss never fired them. Eventually the company expanded and this person actually was hired into the position, because they now needed new division managers for the new slots. Turns out they’re still lazy and not really great at their job, despite all that knowledge. (I no longer work for this department but a friend of mine does so I get the goss.)

    6. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. This happened to me . Someone on the team didn’t like how I changed things, which was to make it so more than one person on the team knew how to do certain things and eliminate a lot of manual processes that were no unnecessary, and was also upset that someone else got a promotion she thought she’d get, even though the position was completely different than what she thought it was. Her answer to this was to work around me any way she could, including keeping me out of the loop during a regulatory exam–not good since I’m ultimately the person responsible for compliance–and I didn’t realize the full extent of it until after the exam was over and we go the report.

      Things came to a head when she went to HR about something. The three of us met and in no uncertain terms I laid out what I was trying to accomplish and why (things she knew from the very beginning), told her very bluntly and firmly what I expected from her, that I expected us to be able to work together and that I was hoping she’d be a part of the process. I also reiterated that freeing her up from so many manual processes and showing others how to do certain things would allow her to learn other parts of the business–something she really wanted–and insulate us from being in a position where someone is out sick and work can’t get done. But she was convinced that I had nothing good to offer and ended up quitting without notice a few weeks later.

      OP, you need to put Jan on a PIP and make it clear that she needs to be on board. There’s no reason she shouldn’t be put on a PIP. She also needs to stop working around you. You might also tell her that she doesn’t need to like you, but she does need to respect you and what you’re trying to do and that you expect that you all can work together. (I pulled this one out in our meeting with HR and said it in very blunt and firm tone. I was totally BEC at that point after months of dealing with her.)

  3. New Jack Karyn*

    LW1: She’s been writing you up? How many write-ups are there? If she insisted on me wearing makeup & jewelry–simply because I’m female–she and I would be having a serious but short conversation.

    1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I’d probably escalate the write ups to HR. What specifically was “unprofessional”? Was it just the lack of makeup and jewelry? Which is ridiculous. Or was it along the lines of shirt not tucked in or must wear jacket with pant suits(I know a place where if women didn’t wear dresses or skirts they were expected to wear a blazer/jacket with their pants and it had to be matching not random) I give advice with full disclosure that I haven’t worn anything more than Chapstick in years. I agree with the others who said women can be worse than men when it comes to beauty/professional standards. I have naturally curly long thick hair. Almost always worn in braids or a partly pulled back. The amount of times I’ve had other women tell me I need to cut my hair short into a wedge or a pixie cut is unreal.

    2. TPS reporter*

      I for one am proud that women have made it to the point of also being sexist leaders! girl power!

  4. Carrie Oakie*

    LW #4, I was in that spot 8 years ago – it was finances that made me have to spend holidays alone for the first time ever. They live in the opposite coast and I didn’t have funds or time off to make it there. Normally I love the holidays but that was hard – this year is the first time I haven’t seen my family at all. I know how you feel, and I send you support. I’d follow Alisons advice, & if anyone tried to cheer you up, I suggest “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but honestly it can make things harder.”

    1. LW4*

      Yeah, it absolutely sucks lol. I like the wording of the advice, and I’ll probably participate to an extent. I’m just hopeful I don’t get too much pushback.

      The biggest issue is that we’re having a Christmas party during working hours on a day I can’t take off, right before shut down. So that ones really gonna be rough.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Oh hey, you are all set for the day of the Christmas party. If you can’t take it off, its probably because you have so much work to do. Go to the party, mingle a little. Be SEEN. Then quietly slip out, don’t say good-bye or anything. Head back to your desk and get your work done. Trust me, people will swear you were there the whole time because they SAW you but you didn’t say you were leaving.

        As for the other days, just a quick “just not in the mood this year” said in breezy tone then “Now about those TPS reports, do you want them earlier than usual that final week?” If you ask a work question right away, no one will push back on the holiday thing because they will move on with you.

        1. LW4*

          Unfortunately it’s actually because we’re doing shared work which requires us to come in a certain percentage of time, and with the holiday that week we’re all required to be in that day. It’s very much not the kind of party where I can just slip out. Think more of a work in the morning then sit down to a group lunch (which we’ve been told will be distanced). I’m a we’re a smallish company and I work with everyone so my absence would be fairly conspicuous.

          1. The Rural Juror*

            That would be an opportune time to have some “tummy issues” that day. Then sneak away and have a granola bar. I see no harm in a little white lie. Hopefully you can talk a walk and have a break.

      2. Sparrow*

        I feel you, OP. I live in a different state from my family, and this is the first time I may not be seeing them for the holidays (I had intended to rent a car and go, but most of them have no plans to quarantine or test before gathering for Christmas. I have not spent 9 months being super cautious to throw it all away because they’re being cavalier.) It’s also the first time I haven’t gone to visit at least once during the year, and it’s been rough. The thought of being alone for Christmas is not good, to say the least.

        Fortunately, I’m confident my friends and coworkers will get, “With everything going on, I’m just not feeling very Christmasy this year.” It’s a bad year. I think everyone is feeling that to some extent.

  5. another scientist*

    LW3, for what it’s worth, my employer has been pretty great during Covid, and is also a great place to work in normal times. Despite being not without it’s flaws, they come from a place of wanting to do the right thing and valuing their staff.

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*


      Every company has flaws, but when 99.999% of its actions come from a place of wanting to do right, its not bad. The company I work for owns its errors even when they were made with good intentions, and takes action to correct them.

    2. Smithy*

      I think COVID has really been a fascinating view both in how companies are structured, what runs well, what needs work, and what is really rough.

      Prior to COVID, my last job was not great about remote work. A lot of talking from both sides of the mouth about how you could work from home, but 101 issues of optics and the right/wrong way to work from home. We were in NYC and the effort to keep everyone up to date on the issue was taken very seriously. While we didn’t go 100% as quickly as we probably should, once it was clear that needed to be done – it was done without hesitation.

      If I were to describe that place prior to COVID, I would have said that often their heart is in the right place but struggle to implement large bureaucratic changes. That was the same with COVID.

    3. Bea W*

      Same here. I’ve been very impressed with my company’s response which was early and robust, and their focus on employee health and safety. It speaks volumes about their ability to respond and adapt to a rapidly evolving situation and their priorities.

      I was shocked to find out other companies in the same industry and situated in the same location were not even remotely on the same page. While my employer was assembling a task force and implementing new policies to protect employees from exposure, another was barreling full speed ahead with business as usual and became an early super spreader.

      I think these behaviors can reflect the culture and values at a workplace, particularly when you see a business doing reckless things.

  6. Anononon*

    For letter 1, unfortunately it’s not as clear cut, legally, if there’s a discrimination case or not, based on an unequal burden. See Jespersen v. Harrah’s Operating Co. In that case, a casino required essentially full face makeup and styled hair for women, and the court didn’t find it to be an unfair burden and thus discrimination. Of course, there’s a major difference between a casino bartender and an account manager in health care, but I’m not sure how much the specific position played a factor in the court’s ruling. OP should definitely discuss with a local employment lawyer, but I just wanted to point this out as Alison’s response makes it sound like this could be a slam dunk case.

    1. WS*

      A casino is exactly the kind of appearance-focused work that Alison discusses, though – my brother worked as a dealer in a casino and one of the reasons he quit was the extensive grooming requirements for men. Women did have to wear full-face make-up and styled hair, but men had to wear styled or shaved hair and there was an intense focus on “appropriate” grooming of facial hair (including eyebrows!), plus rules about jewellery, visible tattoos and nail polish that applied to everyone.

      If the manager is applying extensive appearance rules like that to the male employees as well, then OP #1 may indeed not have a case, but it seems unlikely in accounting.

      1. Anononon*

        I skimmed through the actual opinion, and it doesn’t look like the profession actually mattered that much, just whether or not there were similar standards for men and women. So, yes, whether or not she is solely being targeted is a key element. However, then it also matters if everyone else generally conforms to socially acceptable/“preferred” grooming standards – if she’s the only woman who doesn’t wear makeup, less likely to be a case.

        (Note, I think personally that it’s absolutely awful what the manager is doing, especially as a woman myself who doesn’t wear makeup. But, it can be dangerous for people to assume they have a legal case when they may actually not.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There are indeed court cases establishing that it can legally be a requirement for some professions — but that’s not the case in the OP’s situation, just a separate point of interest. Regardless, I don’t think anyone is suggesting she has a slam dunk legal case, just that the company is opening itself to legal liability.

          1. TheB*

            And it’s not likely to get into a courtroom anyway since any company with a lawyer or HR is going to get told to shut this down long before that point. No company I have worked for throughout 2 decades in HR would take on the expense and burden of fighting a lawsuit to defend one manager’s preferences on something of this nature.

            1. UKDancer*

              Definitely. I know what my HR team would say if someone started trying to make us wear make up and jewellery. It’s not a fight they’d want to have so they’d make the manager back down. Unless you’re working somewhere like a casino or with a very detailed dress code mandating make up and jewellery, no sensible HR person would want to have this fight. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the issue it’s just too much trouble and effort.

          2. RollerGirl09*

            I worked for Harrah’s in my early 20s. As a cocktail server I was hired as an “entertainer” and had a costume which included my uniform, hair, makeup, jewelry, and even an acceptable weight range.

      2. Mystery Bookworm*

        Yeah. I worked in retail at a high-end fashion location for awhile. Women AND men both had pretty strict requirements. (I think they were more onerous for women, but they were hardly lax for the men.)

        And there’s no way you could have worked there (at least not customer-facing) for three years and had no one ding you on appearance.

      3. Oui oui*

        I thought the job was “Account Manager” which in my previous workplaces has meant the person who interacts with the business’s clients, not someone who does accounting. In a health care context, that might mean the person who handles things for corporate accounts, e.g. if the health care business provides services as part of a company’s Employee Assistance Program. So it’s a customer facing role. I may have it wrong, but that was my understanding of the job title.

        1. Forrest*

          Yes, that’s what I’d understand “Account Manager” to be too.

          I don’t think it’s quite as clear as Alison suggests that “healthcare is not one of those fields”. If it’s a corporate-facing role–say, managing relationships and sales with corporate insurance clients–then that high-maintenance, corporate-style presentation could easily be part of the deal. Much less so the closer you are to clinical work and patients, in my experience. I used to work for a healthcare union in the sales team, and my sales colleagues were absolutely full-make-up-done-nails-blow-dried-hair-heels-and-tights people. I don’t think a manager who *imposed* those standards on an employee would have got very far, but I certainly didn’t see them employ anyone in the sales role who didn’t present like that.

          I think the best evidence that it’s not a requirement of the role is the three years’ experience in the role, and if LW1 is meeting her targets for business development, sales, or whatever she’s targeted on, there shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t think it’s the case that everyone in healthcare is protected from a high-maintenance appearance-based standard, though!

        2. Saberise*

          When I heard account manager in health care I immediately thought of the pharma reps that frequently come to see the doctors I support. All the female reps very much dress to the nines with makeup and jewelry. It is definitely the norm.

      4. LJay*

        Everyone is reading account manager as accountant.

        But in my experience an account manager is an external sales and customer service role (pretty much every one of my vendor representatives that I interact with are an account manager, in this case account referring to a company they have a sales relationship with so they manage all their company’s interactions with my company) and medical/pharmaceutical sales are one of those jobs that are notorious (or at least used to be) for being appearance based.

        Not that I think it should matter either way. But I am curious at to what the actual nature of the letter-writer’s job is.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      The fact that the LW has worked there doing the exact same job for 3 years without the lack of makeup and jewelry being a problem until this new manager was hired points to this being a slam dunk case.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this exactly. I hope you have decent HR and can get the “unprofessional appearance” stuff off your record.

      2. Anononon*

        In the case I cited, the employee worked there for two decades, never wearing makeup, until a new dress code policy was put in place….

        1. Bee Dub*

          OP presumably hasn’t had a new dress code imposed or they would know about it. Hence why Alison’s advice starts with asking if that’s the case, though.

          You seem weirdly defensive of your newly acquired legal “knowledge”. Why is that, I wonder?

        2. Mystery Bookworm*

          That seems different though – a new dress code would presumably be company-wide, and reflect a changing ethos at the company.

          If they ARE changing the rules, the way you implement that isn’t to issue critiques on a case-by-case basis, it’s to annouce changes and allow a window of time to adjust.

    3. Beth*

      It doesn’t need to be a perfect clear-cut case; it just needs to be a plausible enough case that LW1’s manager’s manager, or LW1’s HR, doesn’t want to deal with the possibility of a lawsuit. Most employers won’t want to risk the expense and hassle over something that comes down to a new manager trying to throw their weight around for no good business reason.

    4. Mx*

      This really makes me mad that some people are required to wear make-up according to their perceived gender. What if you are non-binary ?
      Does the law allows these casinos to require make-up to non-binary staff just because they look female ?

      1. Beth*

        I’m going to bet yes. There aren’t a lot of protections out there for nonbinary and trans folks, in a lot of states. At best, a person might be allowed a say in which set of standards they conform to, but in a field where appearance-based requirements are considered a legitimate business concern, I don’t think anyone would be gettin out of them completely. (That’s assuming this hypothetical person would get hired in the first place; a field that requires this kind of conventional attractiveness is generally not very open to anything outside cissexual heterosexuality, or at least the outward appearance of it.)

    5. Observer*

      The position clearly played a significant role. Also, it looks to me like the lawyers made a significant miscalculation. When they appealed the ruling, they pointed out that even though the initial pushback came because the employee didn’t want to be sexualized, the requirement also placed a time burden on the employee. And the court responded by saying that just because someone says that it’s time burden, it doesn’t make it the case, and that they needed to provide proof of the burden.

  7. ATM*

    LW1, if you were me, I’d be soooo tempted to see if any of my male coworkers (presenting as male? Men coworkers? Masc coworkers?) would be willing to wear makeup and jewelry with me.

    I’m also supremely petty in my head where there’s no consequences lol, so I wouldn’t actually do this.

    …But it really would be tempting.

    1. Nurse Manager*

      They wear suits where I work, with neat hair. Health care administration encompasses many roles, not just secretarial type positions. There are meetings with very high level professionals and directors. You have to dress the part. Also vendors, pharmaceutical reps, government employees, etc.

      1. UKDancer*

        I don’t think the OP is objecting to wearing a suit with neat hair. What they’re objecting to is make up and jewellery. I think it’s perfectly possible to look smart and wear a suit without makeup and jewellery. I wear make up mostly (unless I’ve overslept and am running for the train) and jewellery always (because I am a magpie who enjoys shiny things) but I don’t really notice which of my colleagues do or don’t wear it. I’d notice if any of them looked inappropriately dressed but otherwise not so much.

        1. Forrest*

          It does depend a lot on the field you’re in, though. I have nearly always been in business-casual type offices, where I’m usually just slightly smarter than average and rarely wear make-up. However, I’ve been part of a sales team where half of us were trainers and were there with dried-naturally hair or scruffy ponytails, bit of mascara or lipstick depending on how late we’d got up, smart-ish top and trousers, flat shoes, and the other half were sales: full make-up everyday, blow-dried and straightened hair, heels, skirts and jacket, neutral gel polish, etc. That high-maintenance presentation is very much the culture in some industries, and employers can require it as part of a “professional image”.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            The point people are making is, in those environments, the dress code and standard is made clear to everyone ahead of time – that isn’t the case with OP. She’s been makeup and jewelry free for three years with no issue, gets a new manager, and now suddenly it’s a problem. If this is now a company-wide standard that OP doesn’t know about, going to HR to get clarification on the policy will let OP know what her options are. If it’s just this manager’s particular quirk, then OP will know that as well and can ask HR for assistance with shutting this down and removing her write-ups that have no basis in actual company policy violations.

            1. Forrest*

              I disagree that it’s always made clear ahead of time, actually–in my experience, it’s frequently unspoken and for the most part attracts women who are into high-maintenance grooming, but there’s a few people for whom it doesn’t come naturally and who struggle enormously with trying to figure out what the expectations actually are. I remember someone once posting on a message board who had started a sales and business development role and was being given extremely non-specific advice about, “you need to be more *vague wave* professional looking” from a male boss who would say things like, “I dunno, maybe it’s your hair?” She was really upset by it, but she liked and needed the job otherwise and was asking for specific advice on how to achieve that super-groomed look.

              I am not saying this boss is in the right or that LW should just suck it up and wear make-up and jewellery, just that the “this is an absurd set of expectations, nobody cares about this stuff, it doesn’t belong in the workplace” is unfortunately not true. There are teams and environments, including within healthcare, where it matters a lot. Hopefully the LW is not in one of them!

              1. EventPlannerGal*

                I completely agree with this. You’ve basically described my experience of getting into events – I started doing hands-on event staff work then moved into planning, sales and corporate events and I really didn’t understand at the time just how polished and specific a look would be expected of me. They don’t put it in the job description because the assumption is that if you’re interested in the job you already know what’s expected. I know a few people who followed that path and the transition can be rough.

                Tangent (sorry, Forrest): I think that also based on that experience, it is not going to be productive for OP to stress some of the points brought up here – “I’m bad at makeup”, “I don’t know what specific products are ‘basic’”, “what if I touch my face and smudge it?”, that kind of thing. To the type of person that I suspect that OP’s manager is, this would be kind of like somebody turning up to a client meeting barefoot then protesting that they can’t be expected to wear shoes because they’re not very good at tying their shoelaces. (This is not a viewpoint I agree with nor an exact comparison but hopefully it conveys my point.) The response is going to be something along the lines of “figure it out”. (Example: I was once written up for wearing my hair in a ponytail. My manager asked why, if I insisted on wearing my hair up, I didn’t do a nice chignon or ballerina bun like my colleague A. I said “I don’t know how”, and she looked at me like I’d admitted I didn’t know how to use a knife and fork and said “well, I’m sure A can explain it to you”.)

                The main point should be that if makeup and jewellery are genuinely not expected in this job and haven’t ever been expected before, then it’s absurd to suddenly start writing OP up for not wearing them. It doesn’t matter if she’s a MUA by night, if it’s not required it’s not required. But if she rests her argument on being bad at it, in my experience of this particular type of person, they will just tell her to get better at it.

                1. Uranus Wars*

                  Yes, I agree with you and Forrest on this. I am trying to figure out how to explain why in a way that makes sense. I think the write ups and the focus on jewelry and makeup are weird, but I wonder if it’s a scenario where it is the norm but previous manager was uncomfortable addressing it or thought “well, if it doesn’t matter to me it shouldn’t matter to anyone else” but it does in their workplace so OP is caught off guard?

                  I have definitely been through the above early in my career.

                2. Forrest*

                  Not a tangent at all, I completely agree! I hope for LW1’s sake that it’s not the case that this has been the elephant in the room for the past three years and she’s just got a new manager who’s willing to say the unsayable and this manager is the one put of step with the company and sector norms. But I don’t think it’s impossible that this IS an expectation that’s been holding her back and her boss is just the first one to say it explicitly.

                3. Lizzo*

                  She wrote you up for wearing a ponytail? That’s infuriating. Also, super presumptive of her to assume that the only issue here is your lack of knowledge. Not everybody has hair that will work in buns–see: my very fine, progressively thinning hair as an example. I’ve tried, and it either 1) doesn’t stay up or 2) looks awful.

        2. Bagpuss*

          That’s how I read it to.

          I don’t wear make up – I have a lot of contact allergies and there are very few things I can use, plus as the allergies developed about 6 months after I first began to be allowed make up, I never really learned to use it properly (And never really got over having to get rid of all the nearly brand new stuff I had just acquired, and never got to use)

          I also react to a lot of jewelry so rarely wear anything other than earrings.

          I am a lawyer so I have to present well to clients and in court, I have never had anyone comment on my lack of make up. Even in my first job, where management were pretty old fashioned in many ways, and the dress code did not permit women to wear trousers (which went by the wayside the year after I started)

      2. Tabby*

        Neatly dressed and groomed doesn’t include makeup, Nurse Manager. One can be both those things with zero makeup.

    2. Tinker*

      I probably wouldn’t actually do it either, but I do kind of want to be “I’m a queer larper; be very sure you want what you are asking for because glitter is not a decision you get to take back” in these sorts of matters.

      1. SQL Coder Cat*

        “Glitter is not a decision you get to take back” should be on a plaque in my crafting area. In fact, I just might have to make one now.

      2. Jessica*

        “Be very sure you want what you are asking for because glitter is not a decision you get to take back.”
        You, my dear Tinker, have won the internet! Where would you like it delivered?

  8. Chc34*

    LW4: just wanted to say I feel you. I also live alone and don’t feel safe traveling, so I’ll be on my own for the holidays too. You might be alone for Christmas but you’re certainly not alone in this situation <3

    1. Pennyworth*

      I’m lucky that I will be able to see some family, but I wonder if Alison could set up a holiday Open Thread for AAMers who have to be alone this year. Captain Awkward used to do it and it was a lovely way for people to connect and support each other.

    2. Keladry of Midelan*

      Yes, sending solidarity from someone else who is missing Christmas with family for the first time ever, and spending it alone instead. It’s going to be hard, but we’re doing the right thing.

  9. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Our perennial reminder that a person who causes upset and discord within a team is not “doing their job well” regardless of their output.

  10. Nurse Manager*

    Yes, Health Care Administration is expected to look polished. They deal with many types of professionals all day long. I’m not sure why the answer suggested otherwise. It’s ridiculous to require anyone to wear jewelry. Basic make up, neat hair and professional dress is fine. It sounds like you are already doing that. Wet hair, jeans, t-shirts etc won’t cut it.

    1. Moeg*

      “Basic make-up” done by someone who has never worn it, after a couple of hours of forgetting that touching your face will smudge it, will probably look less professional than none.

      1. Quoth the Raven*

        And what constitutes “basic make up” is very open to interpretation, too! I consider that I use basic, and it’s only eye shadow and lipstick/lip gloss, and very rarely foundation (which I then have to worry about smudging if I sweat or if I touch my face). To someone else, basic make up might include mascara, concealer, and foundation…

        1. Albatross*

          As far as I can tell, everyone considers their simplest makeup routine “basic”. I’ve seen basic makeup routines that listed ten different products – eyeshadow, lipstick, foundation, concealer, mascara, bronzer, blush, highlighter, something to fix your eyebrows, and of course your eyelash curler. But it’s basic in comparison to the routines that need multiple kinds of those products!

          1. UKDancer*

            I think it’s like wearing a corset and crinoline. There’s a lady whose videos I enjoy who wears period outfits. It takes her about 8-10 minutes to get dressed in any number of garments depending on the period. She can do it really quickly because she’s experienced at doing so. Just as a 19th century woman who wore these clothes all the time would have been able to put them on quickly. It would take a lot longer for me to do it because I don’t know the shortcuts and tricks and it’s something I’m unfamiliar with.

            Similarly putting on makeup is quick when you know how to do it and have the routine down and I can do my daily routine in about 10 minutes. During lockdown I’ve actually started doing more advanced makeup (contouring, eyeliner winged flicks etc) and I’ve got faster with it as I become more comfortable. For someone who doesn’t wear it regularly, it would take longer. The key thing is I want to wear makeup so I am happy to spend the time learning how to do it.

            1. Quill*

              Yes, precisely.

              When I was in theater we could do quick changes into a huge variety of outfits with pre-planning and practice, but you had to learn it.

              And anyone doing makeup tutorials online has so much practice that their “basic” routine is going to be comparable to the makeup novice’s “going to prom” routine.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I occassionally wear corsets as daywear and on a few occassions under my suit at work. Proper steel-boned ones because if I’m having a bad day with my back pain (upper spine) they are such a relief!

              I can probably get into one in under a few minutes.

          2. Clisby*

            Yep, some years ago I read an article in Real Simple (!) magazine titled something like “Tips for completing your makeup routine in less than 15 minutes”. At the time, I occasionally wore makeup and could not conceive of my makeup routine taking more than 3-5 minutes.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          My “basic” doesn’t even involve concealer or foundation (I don’t cover my skin at all) but is still obviously makeup with black liner and mascara.

          I suspect that “basic” may depend more on the effect rather than the application – after all, it’s perfectly possible to craft a “no makeup” look using ten products or more! It sounds as though for this manager it’s the effect rather than the effort that matters, so perhaps thirty seconds with a kohl pencil would satisfy. “I’m wearing makeup! Happy?” LW says she wears minimal makeup “rarely” and I absolutely support that position, but perhaps she’s creating a “no makeup” look that the manager thinks is just a clean face, and manager can’t quickly tell the difference between a “minimal” day and an actual clean face day.

          It should go without saying that such a requirement ought to be absurd, and manager should concentrate on (for example) suitable clothing neatly kept, appropriate hygiene levels, etc – which it sounds like LW is already achieving perfectly.

          What actually matters here is that the rules haven’t changed, only the manager. If LW is well thought of and has never been pulled up on her appearance before, it’s totally reasonable to query the new implementation of the rules before making changes to her daily routine. Maybe her previous manager was unduly lenient and should have been insisting on obvious makeup all the time (let’s hope not).

          1. The Rural Juror*

            One day I slept through my alarm and woke up late. I raced through my morning routine and cut corners where I could. Luckily I work for a casual company, but I do normally wear light makeup. I have very fair skin and my eyes tend to look a little red, but a little concealer and sparse foundation usually diminishes the redness and I look “alive and well” without much effort. That morning, I only had time for mascara and a rushed ponytail.

            My boss (middle-aged male) came into my office that morning and asked me if I was feeling ok. I laughed and said, “Yes, I’m fine. I woke up late and didn’t ‘put on my face’ this morning.” He laughed and said, “What?! I didn’t even think you wear makeup.” So I explained to him I wear JUST enough to make me look like I’m not ill! Then he felt bad for saying I looked like I didn’t feel well and apologized. I laughed again and said, “No, don’t feel bad. That’s exactly WHY I wear the makeup. I know what I look like without it!” Which then led to a nice conversation about expectations people put on women and their appearances and how it sometimes sucks.

            At the end of the conversation my boss said, “I don’t want you to ever feel like you HAVE to wear it. Your clothes always look nice, and that’s all I really expect from you. I want everyone here to be comfortable.” I appreciated so much that he has that attitude. It makes work more enjoyable.

            I’m the only woman currently working for my company (though in the past there have been one or two others). So if the attitude was different, I would probably feel pretty singled out and like my boss was being sexist towards me. I don’t blame the OP for having this response, and I agree with you that they should find out if this isn’t really what should be expected of them.

      2. ThatGirl*

        My “basic makeup” is all mineral powder based, a primer and a powder base plus a little concealer. None of those things smudge noticeably. It’s very much a “no makeup” look until I add eyeliner/mascara or a little blush or whatever else.

        BUT – it does take a little practice to put on, and I want to be 100% clear, nobody should ever feel like they have to wear makeup to exist in the world. And as Quoth the Raven notes, everyone has different ideas of what “basic” makeup is.

    2. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “They deal with many types of professionals all day long.”

      So you think basic makeup is required for women?


        1. Quill*

          Lotion. Sometimes concealer.

          … lip balm, but I lost mine and don’t feel like toing to the store for another, so I’m going to sit here drying under my mask.

    3. Julia*

      OP1 has been in their position without issues for three years. What gives you the idea they don’t know how to dress professionally, or in something like “wet hair”?

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. If nobody has said anything for 3 years she’s obviously compliant with the dress code. If this has changed suddenly to require make up and jewellery then this should be communicated to staff so they are able to comply, not to approach her on an individual basis.

    4. Hotdog not dog*

      Basic makeup for me means a touch of mascara and chap stick. When I was younger it meant a full face. I look more “professional” now than I did then.

    5. ceiswyn*

      ‘Basic’ makeup still requires a) skill and b) products.

      I have no idea how to apply makeup, having spent most of my life sufficiently overweight that it seemed like putting lipstick on a pig. If you ask me to apply ‘basic’ makeup, the result will be my spending a lot of money in order to gain clown lips, wobbly eyeliner, and what looks like two black eyes thanks to the combination of mascara smudges and trying to apply eyeshadow while very short sighted.

      That is not a professional look. You know what’s a professional look on me? Bare, healthy skin.

    6. BioBrains*

      I never wear make up. The only thing I can even manage to put on semi-decently is mascara. I think the requirement to paint one’s face if one doesn’t want to do that is absolutely ridiculous.

      It would be reason for me to leave that job (and a reason why I am in an industry where none of this matters and I can dress like a student). Although to be fair, I am occasionally probably taken less seriously than I would be if I were wearing pencil skirts and heels and looked like a cover girl, but I am fighting and changing that ridiculous system from within.

    7. HannahS*

      I sure hope you’re not requiring female nurses, who work 12 hour shifts, to wear any makeup at all. That’s kind of insulting to their professionalism. They don’t need any makeup, including basic makeup, to do their job well. If they want to, sure. But women don’t have to be pretty to be professional.

      1. Quill*

        Also in a LOT of potential biohazard environments makeup and jewelry can be a negative – I’ve worked in several stem environments where any form of makeup was a potential contamination hazard.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yup! There’s a whole division of my STEM company where all makeup, perfumes and nail polishes are banned for product safety reasons (but lotion for face and hands is encouraged, mostly to reduce the risk of you shedding skin cells in the clean room).

    8. WorkingGirl*

      Why is ANY makeup required?

      Clean, dry hair, showered, neat and appropriately formal/conservative clothes, yes. But concealer, mascara, lipstick do not make anyone look “more professional”

      1. Tabby*

        Nurse Manager, no matter how many times you type it, makeup of any kind is NOT A REQUIREMENT OF BEING WELL GROOMED.

        You are oddly obsessed with that idea.

        Also, Alison definitely did not suggest that the LW shouldn’t have neat hair and clothing. She simply stated that this manager might be out of line to suddenly require makeup and jewelry without it being a company-wide policy.

    9. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      OP writes that she does not wear make up. I’m curious if that changes your reply. Do you feel that women must wear some make up?

    10. Observer*

      I’m not sure why the answer suggested otherwise.

      Because it didn’t? Allison EXPLICITLY states that it’s reasonable for the job to require the OP to look “polished”.

      What I don’t understand is why you keep on claiming that makeup is a requirement for looking polished. I do know some people for whom a touch of makeup really DOES make them look much more put together. But that’s far from universal.

    11. Nanani*

      “Basic makeup” is not an ok requirement, especially when only one gender is required to do it.

      I haven’t worn makeup since an unfortunate phase when I was 12 – which means never in my adult life. I would not be able to apply it well and it would be a significant burden to buy all that stuff and learn how to use it. It’s not ok to impose that burden on women just because we’re women. Even if it’s technically legal, its not ok.

      Leaping to “wet hair and jeans” shows some interesting reading between the lines.

    12. Anon for Today*

      Nurse Manager – do you require men to wear basic makeup (nothing wrong with that) in order to be considered professional? Why is it that a man can have a makeup free face and have that be considered professional, but women are considered unprofessional without it? Nothing wrong with asking people to present to work in professional dress, but I’d reexamine your ideas around makeup.

  11. Jennifer Juniper*

    I wonder if the manager in the first letter is threatened by the OP’s competence and wants to set up a case to fire her because she thinks that the OP is after her job.

    1. MK*

      I don’t know if you are joking, but societal beauty standards being imposed to mean professionalism is a pretty common thing, there doesn’t need to be a bizarre conspiracy behind it. We have zero indication that the manager is insecure, or that the OP would be a candidate for her job, or, heck, that the OP is even particularly competent.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        Also, it can be detrimental to start seeing these conspiracies everywhere.

        I’m not saying we shouldn’t be *open* to it, but if you get too focused on that explanation, it can lead to additional resentments and proactive defensiveness….that often won’t serve OP well.

  12. EventPlannerGal*

    LW1, I am so curious about what your manager’s rationale for this is as it seems like the biggest “no, duh” ever! (And I say that as someone who does have a job where makeup is expected.) Why on earth would a healthcare account manager need to wear jewellery? Really bizarre, and Alison is quite right.

    1. MK*

      These expectations vary by culture, region etc. I was working for 10 years before I came across a coworker who didn’t wear any makeup or jewelry at all ever. It’s not unbelievable that the manager might be used to women wearing at least lipstick and studs and considers it necessary for a professional appearance. The bizarre thing is that she is escalating it to writeups; even those who think these stuff is necessary for polish, rarely make it a disciplinary matter.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I completely get the makeup part, even if I don’t agree with it – I’ve been sent out on my lunch break to go buy and apply lipstick when I wasn’t wearing it, been written up once for doing a ponytail rather than a ballerina bun, etc etc, so believe me, I understand that some managers want this stuff. It’s just the jewellery thing that’s so weird to me because even having spent my whole career in environments where this type of look is expected, I’ve never had a boss telling me to wear MORE jewellery, so I’m just curious about that part. But as you say, standards vary.

        1. MK*

          I think the OP isn’t wearing any jewelry, which isn’t common, I think. Nowadays I see many women without makeup, but not many without at least one piece of jewelry.

          1. Scarlet2*

            It really depends on people’s style. I generally wear makeup when I leave the house, but never wear any jewellery (I get allergies to most alloys). The majority of women I know never wear any jewellery either (the few who do tend to wear quite a lot of it).

            1. I'm just here for the cats*

              Same here! I’ve got a lot of jewelry but I’ve gotten out of wearing it because this last summer I got a bad sunburn on the back of my neck and any necklaces really bothered it. Occasionally I will think to wear something but I’ve gotten out of the habit. And now that I’m washing my hands all the time I find rings annoying.

              1. ThatGirl*

                In “normal” times I wear my engagement ring & wedding band on my left hand and an antique family ring on my right, but I haven’t worn them regularly since March because of all the hand-washing and because I’m not really going anywhere.

            2. MK*

              I think it’s more cultural, than personal style (though of course one influences the other). I see almost no one without jewelry, but then again I see almost no one wearing lots of it.

              1. UKDancer*

                I think it’s a mixture of both definitely.

                I wear a lot of jewellery because I enjoy it and also make up but if I only had time for one of them I’d pick the jewellery because I’m a magpie by nature and it gives me more pleasure to wear.

                I don’t know what you’d call a lot of it. I’m wearing pearls, gold stud earrings and a ring and a watch. That’s what I’d usually wear for my office job and I still wear it now that I’m working remotely. If I were going out I’d wear a bracelet but they annoy me when I’m typing. I’d probably wear bigger dangly earrings and a pendant if I were going out dancing but I don’t think I’d wear more in terms of quantity.

          2. Cj*

            It’s interesting that your experience is that almost all women wear jewelry. I’m a CPA, and the only jewelry I’ve worn for years is my wedding ring.

            1. MK*

              Cultural, I think. E.g. my mother took me to have my ears pierced when I was 5, but she wouldn’t let me wear make up till I was 18. And jewelry are a go-to family gift from parents, in-laws, spouces, siblings for milestones.

                1. UKDancer*

                  I think also families vary. I didn’t have my ears pierced until I was 16 because my mother didn’t like the look of it on young girls and thought I wouldn’t take care of it. On the other hand my grandmother was a magpie who loved jewellery and I was the only female grandchild so she often gave me jewellery for birthdays ranging from something from a village shop in Lanzarote to a very nice gold bracelet.

                  Grandma was a very difficult woman but one of the good memories I have of her is looking at her jewellery as a teenager and trying things on. I am not much like her but we have a shared love of pretty sparkly things and when I put a necklace on often I can hear her laugh in my mind and it makes me smile.

          3. Totally Minnie*

            I never wear jewelry, unless a fitness tracker watch counts (and I wouldn’t think it does, since it’s basically a silicone band with a clock on it).

    2. Forrest*

      Surely it depends what kind of accounts you manage? If you were working with corporate clients and that’s how your clients dress, it wouldn’t be weird to fit in with their expectations and culture?

      I think the fact that OP has been in role for three years and presumably meeting her targets and being successful is the most important evidence that she doesn’t need to change anything, but I’m really surprised by the idea that if she’s in healthcare *of course* it’s not a thing, as if healthcare doesn’t have a corporate and sales interface.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Well, honestly healthcare had never struck me as an especially appearance-focused field – guess I was wrong! Every day is a school day.

        1. Forrest*

          I think there’s a lot of diversity depending on the role! As I said above, I used to work in a sales team within healthcare, and my colleagues mostly came from commercial sales backgrounds and were *very* groomed and slick.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I’ve been in health care administration for fifteen years and management for five of them, and haven’t worn makeup since I was 14 and had an ill-advised experiment with green mascara. :P (Intentionally green, at least, *that* wasn’t part of the issue.) And every hospital I’ve worked for has had more “don’t wear x” rules than “wearing x is required” rules in their dress codes, even around makeup/hair/nails type grooming.

          1. Saberise*

            It doesn’t say health care administration. It says an account manager in health care which in my health care world means pharma/sale reps. Right or wrong I’m never seen a female rep without makeup and jewelry.

  13. UKbased*

    To LW3: If you can afford to do so, leave that job now. You are already risking your health by being in an office that is not being safe. I know because I work in one just like it (especially WFH being a frowned upon choice) and I caught Covid. It has been horrendous (including a short stint in the hospital). I wasn’t in a financial position where I could leave my job without one to go to and my sector wasn’t hiring in my area so leaving wasn’t a possibility. I was forced to gamble with my health for a paycheque and I lost. I was very, very fortunate that it wasn’t worse.

    So, LW, if you can afford to get out do. Pick your safety now, if you can. By the time the warning bells really start ringing it may be too late to protect your health.

  14. MsSolo*

    For 4 – you might find it easier if you start putting a plan together for the day. One of the most daunting things about going against tradition, especially when it’s out of your control, is not knowing how bad it’s going to be. Tradition gives holidays a comforting structure; if you decide in advance how the day is going to work for you, you can take back a little of the control. Plan zoom calls for the activities you’ll most miss doing in groups, like opening gifts. Fill solo time with an activity you’d never normally do and frame it as a great to yourself (even if it’s just ‘have a nap’ or ‘watch some non-festive telly). If food is important to you, cook yourself a full dinner – the leftovers will be magnificent! Plan time to take a walk somewhere you don’t go regularly – go see your neighbours decorations, or out into nature, or anything that feels different to routine. If your family live in a similar sort of area, maybe do a photo scavenger hunt – best decorated house, most reindeers, prettiest frozen leaf, most fluffed up song bird, etc. Reach out in advance and tell people you’re expecting to find it hard, and ask if they mind keeping an eye on a group chat etc for if you need a bit of extra support during the day, so you don’t get in your own head about intruding on other people’s holidays if you start struggling.

    1. MsSolo*

      Equally, if you’re clear in your own mind about not being festive, plan that too – schedule calls so they don’t fall during activities you’ll miss, pick out some non-festive movies or boxset so you don’t run into Christmas commercials on TV, cook something non-festive but complicated enough to keep you distracted (time to figure out how to bake a soufflé!). Still take a walk!

      1. LW4*

        I am doing some of that.

        My family and I talked about zooming for presents, which is what my parents wanted to do, but I don’t think I’ll be able to handle it. As I told my mom, I’d be fine while we were doing it, but then the zoom call gets turned off and I’m just sitting alone in my apartment.

        For Thanksgiving I legitimately treated it like any other day off and that seemed to work for the most part.

        I’m considering planning a full on movie marathon day for non holiday movies with way too much junk food.

        I’m in the Northeast so any walk will be subject to weather lol

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I’m in a slightly different boat in that Mr. Gumption and I are together, but missing seeing the rest of our family is hitting us hard, so we decided to go camping (we are in AZ so not as ridiculous as it might sound in December) and be away from any festivities. Maybe try something like a long walk (lots of cities have cool self, guided historical walks), learning to snow shoe/cross country ski (if close and available), a full blown spa day at home, or anything that is not holiday but you enjoy. Tell your family you’ll catch up and chat about gifts 12/27 or 12/28.

        2. Sunflower*

          LW 4- Are there any other coworkers in the same boat as you that you can spend the holiday with? Not sure what your comfort level is but since you’re already in the office with them, might be a good idea depending how closely you’re already working with them . My parents live in Philly and last few years have been pretty warm on Christmas so hoping you get similar weather and can plan to be outside for a bit

        3. Lizzo*

          Music is helpful to break through the silence!

          Is there some sort of volunteering you can plan to do for the day that won’t subject you to COVID risk and is also not subject to weather? I’m not sure what that would be, but if there’s something you can do for an hour that you can look forward to that is focused on helping others, maybe it will serve as an antidote to the glum feelings?

          Sending very sanitary and socially distant hugs!

    2. Toothless*

      Seconding this! I wasn’t able to see family or friends for thanksgiving and I tried to pretend like the holiday wasn’t happening, but that didn’t work and I found myself just feeling sad all day as I tried to get stuff done around the house. It wasn’t just a one-off problem either because I did this the first Easter after I moved to where I live now and the same thing happened. Even if the plan is just to rent a movie and cook something special for yourself or call a specific friend, you’ll want to give yourself to look forward to.

  15. TechWorker*

    I do agree with Alison that companies should be prepared to fire people over this type of performance problem, but depending on Jans other skills many companies wouldnt… eg if Jan was in a highly skilled technical role with lots of experience but just not suited to management. It would then be IMO the responsibility of OPs boss(es) to make sure Jan understands why they didn’t get the promotion, what they’d need to do to get there and that respecting their current manager is part of that. I’m not sure that’s a conversation OP can easily have. I don’t think it changes the advice about communicating what the actual performance problems are, but OP may not have free rein to fire them after a month or whatever if they have been at the company a long time.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Companies tend to have a mindset that people with unique skills should be “preserved,” in spite of the consistent problems these special snowflakes cause. I’m not sure why that is.

      Jan is the the type of employee who can never see herself as others do. For years she’s been lauded for her skills and work output to the point she thinks she’s immune to criticism or rules. Jan’s done the same type of work and steadily progressed until now. She sees OP2 as usurping the role that should be hers, without understanding that higher supervisory and management roles require soft skills Jan doesn’t possess – and therefore she will never qualify.

      No amount of coaching and explanations from upper management will get through. Jan’s had a full year to figure this out, and hasn’t. Also, (supposition here) Jan’s knowledge of the company is most likely in her head, not on paper. That’s how she’s continued her project successes – she has the knowledge, but hasn’t shared it with anyone else. For the sake of the team, Jan probably has to go.

  16. Gertie*

    I would just make sure LW1 is prepared that her relationship with her manager may worsen with going to HR. I would still go to HR, but I’d bet a judgmental person like that is not going to take it well. I once had a manager complain to me about my eyebrows being too “eighties”–as in not plucked and my (natural) hair color not being the right one for my complexion. She just didn’t like me and was an aging mean girl.

    1. Non non*

      You had me on your side until you threw in the word “aging” which sounds like something a mean girl would say about another person.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        Agreed. To be clear: the manager’s complaints were ridiculous and inappropriate.

        But I don’t love the word aging used in a deprecatory context. It is difficult to go through the aging process — both since Western culture venerates youth, and because there is a lot of judgement about HOW people are supposed to grow older. We judge people for growing older, and then lambast them for struggling with the process — you can’t win!

        Also, to be a bit pedantic: aren’t we’re all aging all the time?

      2. Gertie*

        I just meant aging compared to a high schooler. She was in her thirties at the time. Not at all old. I’m in the “aging” mid forties now myself so I didn’t mean it that way.

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          Mmm. I think I see what you’re saying: you mean that she was still operating in a high-school context but she had long left that context behind.

          I think it’s tricky with internet comments; like Non non, I read that word as a negative remark about her apperance / a suggestion that she was bitter about being old.

          1. Gertie*

            I probably could have worded it better. It’s a reaction because it’s considered an insult to point out that women age. I plan on doing it as long as I can and getting old. I’ve found there’s quite a bit to like about being middle aged myself.

  17. Not So Happy It's Monday*

    You are not alone in being solo for the holidays. Fortunately, my workplace isn’t one for decorating & asking people’s plans. My family lives across the country and I just can risk bringing possible illness to them. So I’ll be on my own.
    I do, however, have a coworker who is married with grown kids and has been on at least 4 vacations this year. He was complaining loudly about how they would only be able to spend a week together at Christmas rather than the 2-3 weeks he wanted. I told him this was a sore subject for me and eventually had to leave the room. Did I mention that I’ll likely have to work thru the holidays, so our group can meet critical EOY goals?

    1. LW4*

      Ugh, I’m not sure which would be worse, working through the holidays or shutting down while being alone. So I absolutely feel for you too!

      I do find myself getting super frustrated with coworkers who I know are behaving poorly with their Covid response outside of work, in a “this is why we can’t have nice things” way

      I’m hoping I won’t be driven into a blind rage when I hear how everyone spent their thanksgiving today.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        I’m hoping I won’t be driven into a blind rage when I hear how everyone spent their thanksgiving today.

        Just pretend that they’re a different species. Or that you’re an anthropologist observing a remote tribe. Both of these things are basically true because whether you’ve come to terms with it or not, their sense of entitlement to merriness and joy mean that they are different people from you.

        This isn’t satire, in case anyone’s wondering.

  18. Mannheim Steamroller*

    RE: #2…
    [You can absolutely discipline and fire someone for things like you’ve described — you just need to translate the problems into concrete behaviors. For example, if Jan keeps you out of the loop, one of the standards you need to hold them to is “proactively informing me of details like X, Y, and Z.” Sit down and write out all the behaviors you need to see that you’re not currently seeing, and you’ll have the meat of a performance improvement plan.]

    Jan seems to treat everything you say as project-specific. You’ll need to spell out, in writing, that these are RULES that apply to all work. “ALWAYS keep me in the loop when developing the scope of work. ALWAYS inform me when a project is at risk of deviating from the budget in either direction.” Then enforce the rules.

  19. Musereader*

    #1 Anybody try any of that with me and they would get a lecture in disability discrimination, I cannot wear make up or Jewellery because of a metal allergy, I get a painful rash and swelling from two or more hours skin contact. I can’t even wear normal deodorant because of the Aluminium (And not the crystal stuff either, It has to be scented oils and waxes)

    Any jewellery I do have is made of alternate materials, like wood, leather, shell, ribbon, crochet, polished stone (and still need to test the stone in case there is any metal in it,, have bought a few beautiful pieces that I turned out to be allergic to).

    Make up is a bit hit and miss, cannot wear anything blue because that uses aluminium silicates for the blue colour and I need to study ingredients to find out if there are any metal compounds used for any other colours, I even had an all over body rash from a shower gel once, and other thing like shampoo and conditioner I stick to known brands because I’ve had reactions to other brands as well. Maybe I could wear makeup, but it would take extensive investigation to find the right stuff to wear, that is too much effort.

    Nope, i’m not putting my health at risk for some arbitrary and sexist beauty requirements.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, a LOT of people cannot wear makeup or jewelry due to allergies and/or skin issues. It is insane to insist on something so stupid in this day and age. And it is so gender based too.

    2. BadWolf*

      And I’m guessing that your list of non-metal materials wouldn’t meet the “You must put on make up and jewelry” vision of the OPs manager. “Wear jewelry, no not that kind!”

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Okay, now I would love to see the OP pile on some boho jewlery – a crocheted choker, wooden bracelets, etc. – and maybe some goth dark lipstick. “But… but you said makeup and jewelry!”

        1. Tabby*

          AHAHA I would totally do this — bar most of the makeup due to the stuff making me itch/dries my skin out (Om fairly certain more expensive stuff won’t do this, but I can’t see spending the money to find out), but I’d rock a bit of black lip, crochet up a choker, and throw on my best boho goth ‘look’ with all the malicious compliance I could muster (a LOT; I specialized in it as a teen, and still have the skill as a 44 year old contrarian)., simply because I do not like this kind of foolery from managers.

      2. Musereader*

        The Amber necklace that I spent about £400 on might, but do I want to wear a £400 necklace at work? No.

        Pearls work too, but I don’t have any of my own.

        Most of it is from when i was a teenager – chunky resin/plastic reminiscent of the 80’s (but I was only born at the end of that decade) hippy type wooden/leather combos or VERY expensive 100% semi precious stone with elastic or cotton string that looks cheap. Bracelet of turquoise chips? £80, looks exactly like the plastic version for £10. I’ve got some black plastic that looks like it might be tarnished silver. But I haven’t worn any jewellery for about 10 years.

        1. JustaTech*

          Pearls make me think of that scene in Hidden Figures where Katherine Johnson is told that the only jewelry she may wear are pearls, which she can’t afford.

          Why does it matter? LW1’s been doing her job well for 3 years and all of the sudden her lack of earrings and necklace and bracelet and rings makes her spreadsheets not run? Come on.

    3. GothicBee*

      Wow, you just opened my eyes to why most deodorants seem to give me problems. The only deodorant I’ve found to work for me is the sensitive skin version of Native deodorant.

      Metal allergies can be awful. Luckily I can wear stainless steel/surgical steel jewelry, so I just bought some stainless steel earrings that I wear permanently now. But I’d be pushing back hard if someone decided to require jewelry because it’s absurd and not as easy as just going out and buying a cheap necklace. I even like wearing jewelry, but I bet my preferred leather cord necklaces wouldn’t fit what they want (likely some sort of sterling silver nonsense which = painful rash).

      1. Musereader*

        yeah, i was getting to the point of working up the nerve to ask the dr about cancer – i had swollen lymph nodes and shooting nerve pains in my armpits about 7 years ago. Was reading about how there is aluminium in deoderants which can cause cancer. so i stopped wearing it, it took about a year for it to detox, there was some build up inside which would periodically burst and cause pain.

        I didn’t wear any for 3 years until someone told me i was the smelly co-worker. Showered every morning but would still smell after my lunch time walk. so i had to reserch alternatives. I currently use ‘We love the planet’ deoderant which is dutch.

  20. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Re: #1…

    When you talk with HR, make sure to ask the specific business purpose of having a makeup-and-jewelry rule only for women but not for men.

  21. Retail Not Retail*

    LW1 – how is your manager asking about makeup in these times? How much of your face can she even see in a mask?

    1. Anon-mama*

      Thank you! Was going to comment about this. OP1, if you are working in the office, it’s a great idea to wear a mask. Not only does it make makeup pointless (my mornings are so much easier!), it protects others. I suppose she could still bring up eye makeup, but like everyone’s said–she is being ridiculous and you need to bring this to HR.

      If you are working from home, is your boss watching you the entire time or are these write-ups based off of check ins? That seems even more ridiculous.

      1. Retail Not Retail*

        Same with jewelry – you can only tell if you’re studying the person’s appearance from much closer than six feet.

        If HR is unreasonable, tell her you are. You’re just very talented at the natural look. (Or you’re wearing lipstick and a nose ring!)

        1. Caliente*

          “But I AM wearing makeup! It’s the no makeup look.” I would pay to see the response to this LMAO

      2. Bostonian*

        Ugh, the first time I wore mascara and eyeliner with a mask on, I was looking like a raccoon within hours because the condensation from my breath funneled up and caused it all to run. I don’t want to have to be wiping make up from my eyes on a regular basis during a pandemic. No thanks!

    2. Delta Delta*

      If LW is working remotely and doing video meetings, then probably she’s not wearing a mask. I have actually started wearing more makeup than usual now that I’m working remotely. I’m very fair-skinned and the wall behind my desk is white. A little bit of makeup makes my face… not completely blend in with the wall behind me. But nobody told me to do that.

      1. Forrest*

        yes, agreed! I’ve also seen stuff saying it’s much easier to lipread on video if someone’s wearing lipstick.

        1. TechWorker*

          This might be true but how many companies are asking their male executives to wear lipstick? (Fwiw I enjoy wearing lipstick on occasion, but would have issues with any company who asked for it because whenever I get cold sores (fairly frequently) lipstick is absolutely not an option. )

          1. Peachtree*

            Right! While it may have some benefits for people who do lip read, you can bet that men won’t suddenly start adopting it as a practice. It still ties into traditional beauty standards …

      2. Retail Not Retail*

        Being asked/required to wear makeup (and jewelry!) while working from home feels way more invasive than a requirement like “please wear a nice shirt when you have meetings” and I don’t know why!

        It just makes me so uncomfortable! (I’ve never worn makeup, I have a job where I wear shorts and don’t shave my legs, when I was looking for pants in my closet this fall i was like oh there’s permanent mud stains i wore you last year! So this is all alien)

    3. HS teacher*

      First thing I thought of as well! I used to wear foundation to work but now with the mask I don’t bother with any makeup at all. Half my face is covered!

    4. Researcher*

      These priorities are really misplaced given the state of healthcare in 2020.

      We are very concerned with face coverings, but not of the make-up variety. This is a crisis, not a beauty pageant.
      Doesn’t matter if you’re working remote or on-site, in my opinion.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      Well, eye makeup is pretty obvious, and it definitely shows even when you’re wearing a mask.

  22. Twisted Lion*

    LW1: Same thing happened to me but I worked in a call center and didn’t even see customers. Im allergic to makeup, had a doctors note to put in my file but my manager continued to make an issue about makeup and how I dressed. The company had the most wacky dress code for women (shirts had to have a straight hem, no curves or splits. Capris could be worn but they had to be super baggy like pirate pants and only worn with boots). I ended up wearing the minimum of the dress code in our employee manual which was khakis and a polo which enraged my boss. But since it was in the manual she couldn’t do anything. The makeup I would take to HR which I eventually did. She never let up on it though. Fair warning. She just might be one of those people who expects that

    1. Hazel*

      As I was reading your comment, I kept thinking, “What?!” over and over. I’m sorry you had to deal with that BS!

  23. Delta Delta*

    #1 – Not for nothing, but I’d submit an expense request for $20,000 jewelry. If it’s a job requirement, and the bar for “professional” is “jewelry,” you’re not going to Claire’s or Top Shop, right. *wink*

    1. Maxie's Mommy*

      Well, you have that terrible nickel allergy so the only metal you can wear is platinum….. I learned I was allergic to gold after I got a gold filling at the dentist and woke up the next morning looking like a squirrel stealing nuts.

    2. Nanani*


      If any job wants to require makeup, they should pay for the supplies and the makeup artists.
      People who go on camera or stage have pros applying it, so -surely- that’s what you want if makeup and jewelry is so important.

      No? You just want to impose a gendered burden on time and money? NOT OK.

  24. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#2 —
    You say: Jan still gets their work finished, and as long as they’re getting the work done, I don’t know what I can do.

    You’re making the common mistake of assuming that “getting the work” finished is the only standard you can require an employee to meet. As a manager, you are also entitled to insist that Jan keep you informed at all stages of all projects AND be receptive to your feedback.

    I think you’re letting Jan’s age and greater experience intimidate you. You’re Jan’s manager. Act like it. You’ve let this slide for a year, and Jan probably assumes they can get away with it. Other commenters have suggested that Jan is trying to drive you out in hopes of getting your job. Please consider this possibility.

    Alison’s advice to start by writing out the consistent behaviors you need to see from Jan is good. Don’t get mired in things like “feelings” and “attitude.” Concentrate on the behaviors your need from someone in Jan’s position.

    You definitely need to bring your own boss up to speed on this, because you’re going to need their support. You say the company is small — is there an HR person? If so, you need to brief them as well.

    And don’t let this drag on much longer. Jan can either straighten up or they can’t. It’s been a year and, frankly, letting it go on much longer is going to damage your own reputation as a manager.

    1. EPLawyer*

      ” be receptive to your feedback.”

      this part. You are asking Jan for feedback on how YOU can work better with her. You are the manager, but you have been letting Jan run the show. Maybe as Sara without an H said, you are intimidated by her knowledge. But TPTB put you in charge, not her. So knowledge is not everything in this job. You need to make it clear that she can be as unhappy as she wants about not getting the promotion, but you are STILL the manager. She needs to accept that fact and do her job correctly — which involves keeping you informed on every single project.

      You may have to supervise her more closely for a while. Which may involve more communication about what she is doing on each project than you normally like. It’s not micromanaging (although its a fine line). It’s managing someone who has communication issues that you can’t trust fully because they have poor judgment.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Agree 100%.

      I just want to add that OP needs to speak with her own management first to lay out her plans and be sure she will be supported in putting Jan on the PIP…and that they will not back down when Jan has to be fired. (That’s where this is going to go because, the Jans of the world can almost never comply with a PIP.) Sometimes, upper management folks really do think they cannot do without someone because of some particular skill.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        To do anything formal like a PIP, yes, the OP probably would need to get their manager’s approval. But to simply set clear expectations and hold the individual to them – that should be something the OP can do on their own.

        That said, if the OP’s manager is generally receptive (and recognizes that there is an issue), the OP could tell them that this is the plan and ask for any advice.

        The challenge comes if the second-line manager does NOT recognize that there is an issue. That was my experience, and it wasn’t until I actively managed the issues myself, that my manager was willing to acknowledge that there were issues.

  25. LadyByTheLake*

    I had a situation like LW2 — I was an external hire to manage a department and one of the people who reported to me had expected to get the position. She still did her job well, but she bristled at ANY requests I made to her and didn’t communicate well with me — not keeping me in the loop. It came to a head after an annual review where she had gotten generally good marks but I had said that she needed to improve in communicating, particularly with me. She went to my boss to complain and his response to her was “thank you for confirming that my decision to not promote you was the right one.”

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      I should add that we were all very senior people with set roles and independent work, so it wasn’t like she was refusing to do the work or anything — it’s just that every time I interacted with her she was icily polite and to get information from her I had to specifically ask — she never volunteered.

  26. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    #4: So I’m looking at a holiday that I’ll have to spend alone, for the first time in my life. The easiest way for me to do this is going to be to essentially pretend the holiday isn’t happening and do my best to act like it’s just another day.

    From an alternative lens, “It’s just another day” is how my family insists I ought to view the holidays, because they’re uncomfortable with putting energy into celebrating things for some reason. That means I don’t get to “celebrate” the holiday season with them, even when we’re in the same place. They are good people, but they’d scoff if I said anything about spending the holidays alone because it is truly just another day on the calendar. They’re pragmatists.

    As cold as that sounds, the bright side of this kind of situation is that one learns that they’re not entitled to fun and yet they manage to survive. You will too; it’s mostly other people who are made uncomfortable by these kinds of experiences because it’s some major threat to their understanding of the world. You’ll feel better and stronger when you realize that this won’t kill you.

    1. LW4*

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say I feel entitled to fun.

      I come from a family that is very close while still (more or less) respecting boundaries. We love the holidays, not necessarily because of fun holiday activities and traditions but because it’s an opportunity to spend time together.

      This may not kill me, but it is something that is important to me. I’ve made choices in my life to keep me as geographically close to my family as possible (I’m about 2 hours away which is really the end of the radius I was willing to go to). As someone who lives and spends a lot of their time alone, the holidays have always been a time where I don’t have to do that, so this is hitting me really hard.

      1. Jellyfish*

        LW, you’re not acting entitled. Thanksgiving was rough on many people whose holiday looked very different from what they’d like and could realistically expect in the past. I think it’s a positive thing that you’re taking proactive steps to make Christmas, etc. less hard on yourself.
        It’s absolutely okay to find family and holidays important, and to grieve what you’re missing. I hope you come up with an acceptable way to enjoy your time, one way or another.

    2. Observer*

      I think you are being unfairly harsh here.

      Your family is the way it is, for better or worse. The OP’s family is the way they are, for better or worse. I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to say that one way or the other is THE right way to be.

      And, for what it’s worth it doesn’t sound like the OP is being entitled or demanding. The situation has made it impossible for them to engage in an activity that is mutually rewarding to all of the participants. That’s genuinely and legitimately hard.

  27. Kelly*

    Re: #1 – I’m assuming that the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year regarding transgender discrimination did not abolish gender-specific dress codes, but rather that you have the right to dress in accordance with how you identify. (I’m curious how this would apply to non-binary employees as someone else suggested – I suppose you could be required to pick one standard and adhere to it consistently while at that job, but the employer couldn’t dictate which one.)

    None of this would apparently apply in the OP’s case, since her issue is how she thinks it’s unfair that female-presenting employees are being asked to wear things that male-presenting employees aren’t (and not that she wishes to start presenting in a more masculine way, which would be where the new precedent would come in).

    1. TechWorker*

      Gender specific dress codes are still crap IMO, if what they’re enforcing is ‘feminine==make up and jewellery’. If LW did want to start dressing in a more masculine way (today I wore jeans and a t-shirt to work, no make up, is that ‘masculine’?) why not?

      I don’t mean to deny that gender presentation is a thing and definitely more of an issue for those who ‘read’ differently to their gender – but when it’s used as rules criteria it becomes obvious how bollocks it is! Make the criteria ‘smart’ to whatever level is required, not gender based.

      1. kt*

        Agree. Becoming open to a range of gender expressions does not mean codifying that ‘women’ must be a certain way and ‘men’ must be another certain way. I want to expand choices, not simply make a binary a trinity or something. I personally want to be a woman who doesn’t wear makeup and likes ‘masculine’ things — I want to expand the range of ‘female-presenting’ if you like. And it’s not like I’m that ‘unfeminine’ — I just don’t see why numpy is going to treat me any different if I’ve got mascara on or not.

        Am I trying to upgrade my wardrobe so I look more business than grad student? Sure, but that’s a different question. Remember, historical misogyny and discrimination means that even if I had the hair & makeup skills of a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and the wardrobe of The Fold, I still wouldn’t “look like a [statistically average] CEO or VP”. I want a workplace where CEOs/founders/VPs look like Martine Rothblatt or Kathy Wolfe or Shellye Archambeau or Lisa Su or Ramona Hood or Roshni Nadar or Limor Fried or Rana el Kaliouby or Geisha Williams, and clearly such workplaces exist.

    2. The Vulture*

      I suppose maybe it doesn’t apply to nonbinary people, the transgender discrimination ruling (I haven’t looked, have no sense of how broadly or specifically it was applied) – but I do think it would still be discrimination (in the colloquial sense, at least, if not legal) to require a nonbinary employee to “pick one”. It’s literally in the name – they are not one or the other. It does just highlight how alienating and confusing it is to attempt to make people adhere to a dress code based on a rigid understanding of binary gender presentation.

    3. Random Librarian*

      As an AFAB nonbinary person whose body stubbornly suggests a binary gender, being required to wear makeup or jewelry in a work context would create some serious emotional issues for me. It’s difficult enough to dress professionally in specific contexts that call for it (like conferences or pre-COVID days when I’d be interacting with the public) without the added pressure of actively conforming to gendered expectations like these. These mandates and even societal expectations can do very real psychological damage.

  28. NewYork*

    There are other ways employers have mishandled the pandemic. Some have just added work to non-parents and tolerate parents “working’ remote but not getting work done. If they dump on non-parents now, they will continue to do it.

  29. learnedthehardway*

    OP#2 – I had that same situation, in my first management position. After months of my direct report ignoring directives, by-passing me, and simply not doing their work, while my own manager ignored my concerns, I finally got a handle on the problem by giving the employee a “needs improvement” rating on their performance review. Once it was documented that there was a problem, my manager finally admitted that yes, there was an issue, and what it was (ie. that the employee thought they should have gotten my role).

    After that, I had a conversation with the person, in which I pointed out that they needed to either get on board or find another role, and that their best chance of progressing was to help make our function successful. I put in place specific requirements – eg. no working from home without prior approval (the person would call in at the last minute and then get nothing done that day – they were renovating their house and running a side business). I also started to detail every instruction I gave the person in emails, and cc’d my manager on them. I set deadlines for everything, and set a requirement that if there was going to be a problem with the deadline, that the employee was required to inform me X days prior, etc. etc. etc.

    Yes, it was somewhat micro-managing, but believe me, that had been earned, and the employee had totally lost my trust. In the end, they left the company rather than try to improve their performance, which was just fine by me. The person who replaced them was a gem.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      What you did wasn’t micromanaging. It was good managing, as you were doing what need to be done with that employee. Most people don’t want to put that level of effort in.

    2. Uranus Wars*

      This isn’t’ micromanaging, it’s doing what your employee needed to do the job (or realize the job wasn’t for them) and what you needed to do because, well, you needed someone in that position who was going to do the work.

      I had a similar employee and it took me quite awhile to stop letting them do whatever they wanted. I had bad experiences with micromanagers and I was so worried about becoming one that it took a mentor saying “Setting expectations is not the same as micromanaging” for me to realize I needed to be clear with this employee. She quit as soon as I turned on the heat. We are talking same day I said “You can’t just switch your schedule last minute going forward” she turned in her notice.

  30. MissDisplaced*

    #1 I am really sorry you are going through this about the makeup and jewelry. It just goes to show that sexism is alive and well even with female bosses.

    Please push back on this with your HR department. Assuming you are dressed for the office, are clean and otherwise attired for work, there is no reason to insist on makeup or jewelry wearing, nor do these things truthfully make anyone look more professional or do their job any better.
    There are certainly cases where makeup and jewelry (and skirts or nylons!) or suits are more of a requirement, such as on-air personalities, being a public face or voice of the company, acting, court or press appearances, and the like. But it does not sound like any of those situations apply in your case and your boss is being a jerk to threaten you and write you up over this.

  31. Sarah Layne*

    I have had the same experience, I’ve been at a job where the previous manager didn’t care what we looked like as it is a very blue collar industry and neither of us were girly girls. She quit and a new manager came in (he is from a very masoganistic background where women stay home and have no rights) he was appalled that I didn’t wear makeup and spend hours on my appearance… I’m a very good employee and in my mind my appearance does not say if I work hard or not. One day we had a work meeting outside the office and my main opinion is you always dress up including hair and makeup when we leave the premise… he went around showing pictures of me dressed up saying look she can dress up. It was mortifying!

    1. Retail Not Retail*

      Wow I would be so furious.

      I have one coworker who wears makeup even now with masks and wore it when it was 100 degrees all that jazz. What’s weird is people may attribute that to age and background, but there’s another woman a few years older than her who is also born and raised here who wears shorts and no makeup. It is definitely not the norm for more than half of the departments since we get dirty.

      1. Quill*

        My mom’s been a teacher for years and she has done both “dressed as mrs frizzle” (don’t ask about the lobster barrettes) and “just fell backwards through a thicket dressed as a lumberjack” for work.

        I’ve been a no makeup, no jewelery lab rat, I used to dress up a bit for the office, and am currently wearing earrings mostly because I worry about my ears closing back up.

        1. Tabby*

          Quill, this is why I still have 13 earrings in my right ear. It used to be 20, but I scaled back because that was a pain to maintain, but the remaining group is easier, and I like it, and I don’t want them to close, so in the captive bead earrings remain, since I can clean my ear without removing them. I have a vague notion to find some really sparkly, colorful earrings to replace them eith, but haven’t done it yet.

  32. employment lawyah*

    1. My boss told me I need to wear makeup and jewelry
    Well…. One common error is to think that company rules need to be “rational,” or “sensible,” and in fact they do NOT need to be those things, so long as they are outside the bounds of illegal and so long as you’re an at-will employee. Yes there are areas and cases where dress codes are unenforceable–that sort of thing varies by state quite a bit–but by and large your employer can do what they want within reason. Even if it’s dumb as hell, like this.

    I personally agree this is ridiculous; none of my family wears makeup and it has nothing to do w/ their professionalism. But this can be a hard nut to crack w/r/t discrimination cases and your company is (to some degree) usually entitled to set some sort of dress code–even a stupid one, or an ill-informed one.

    You SHOULD talk to a lawyer, though, because sometimes there is a solid case–usually resting on gender discrimination, because nobody usually cares what us guys dress like.

    In any case, one choice is a conversation w/ HR. The other option is to go over your boss’ head if you have the mojo and connections. The choice depends on your status and the relative competence both of HR and grandboss.

    I tend to think it’s less of a good idea to mention “this could be illegal” right off the bat. For understandable reasons, companies are very sensitive to employees who show an inclination to lawyer up. And in my opinion, waving that around early is dumb because that should NEVER BE A GUESS. If you want to know, FIRST hire a lawyer and THEN (assuming it’s illegal) you can speak about it.

    Best of luck.

    2. My employee gets their work done but has a terrible attitude
    It’s been a YEAR? You should probably just fire them. Most studies show that bad people really have a disproportionate effect on the company.

    You can, if you want, spend even more of your time and energy trying to “fix” them. It may not work. And the worst-case, in a sense, is if they improve juuuuuuuuuust enough to meet your bare-minimum criteria. Then you have spent even MORE time and energy just to get a nothingburger. Who the hell wants to keep a bare-minimum employee?

    There are lots of good people who are unemployed. They deserve a job just as much–more, even–as your existing, bad employee. Fire them and hire someone else.

    3. How much does a company’s Covid response reflect how it might respond to other crises?
    Not much, in my opinion, at least in a general sense. It’s an unusual situation and there is a huge variation even across official channels (think “US states” or “foreign nations”) about what should be done.

    Pretty much everyone thinks their personal way is the “right” way (of course–otherwise you’d do something else) but I don’t think it says much about a company’s general culture. It mostly says that they are some of the the people who might agree with a different set of experts.

    There are plenty of people who I think have an idiotic CV response, but they run good businesses and are generally good to work for. The reverse is also true; some people are horrible to work for even if their CV response is what I favor.

  33. Crivens!*

    Honestly unless the job is directly related to makeup sales I will never see a good argument for ANY job to expect women to wear makeup. We as a society, including workplaces, need to get over the idea that makeup is the final step in looking polished for women.

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      Yes, it’s something that’s on its way out, thankfully. When I started working, ~20 years ago, it was rare for me to see a woman who didn’t wear some makeup and other feminine-coded grooming – eyebrows, hair, etc. I’d say last year it was about 50-50 among my acquaintance, and this year rapidly going to less thanks to COVID and masks.

    2. Tabby*

      Crivens, I so agree with you. It’s the most irritating thing! Like, why does makeup make a woman look “better”? Why does she have to change her face? It’s fine if she wants to and enjoys it (I’ve seen some truly amazing women who are movie-artist level great at it, and think they are able to make cash from it if they wanted to), but the relentless pressure for all women to do it or they’re not put together/depressed/whatever is extra annoying. I will be so glad when that ends.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        This is my feeling exactly. There’s something messed up, imo, that a man’s face is acceptable to the vast majority of people just as it is, and a woman’s face is somehow not acceptable to some people unless it’s cosmetically enhanced. It bugs the crap out of me!

  34. BlueBelle*

    I had a manager tell me in my 6 month review that I dressed too nice “like management” and that I should dress more like my team members. Um, I was 30, they were all 45+ and wore khakis and polos. I have never worn khakis or a polo in my life. I was a trainer and going to hospitals to meet with doctors and hospital administrative staff, I was dressed professionally.

    1. OyHiOh*

      I (female presenting) was told I was overdressed when I showed up for first day at NewJob. Business casual trousers, button down blouse, and blazer (and yes, a bit of makeup but that’s beside the point). I’ve since discovered that my male presenting boss lives pretty much exclusively in ancient jeans and faded flannel. I’m still wearing my business casual trousers, button downs, and blazers. I interact with the organization’s board of directors on a regular basis – yes, I am going to dress professionally and “like management” !!

  35. Retail Not Retail*

    LW2 – as an employee on one of those teams where someone does their work but is not a team player to put it mildly (when everyone has reported your behavior it’s a you problem!), it is very demoralizing to see no repercussions or changes. My opinion of my manager has dropped a lot for his inability to manage personality conflicts, especially when they’re the type that lead to less work getting done.

  36. Hazel*

    RE: #5 – I’m glad this question came up today. It reminds me that if/when my new company hires me as a FTE, I need to make sure I get the same net salary as I’m getting now as a contractor. I was laid off in April, and – after following all of Alison’s advice on cover letters, resume writing, and interviewing – I was very happy to get a new job that paid the same as the job I was laid off from. I love my new job and new company, so I’m really thankful that it worked out this way!

  37. Lizy*

    #1 – Alison, courts have said workplaces can require women to wear makeup? How does that work since it, by default, puts an undue burden on women verses men?

    I rarely, RARELY wear makeup. I, personally, wouldn’t claim it’s a religious thing, but tbh it probably is for me. (I’m Pentacostal, but the more I find out about it, the more I realize I really am more Apostolic Pentacostal, which is pretty strict. Women wear long skirts, no make-up, don’t cut their hair…) I’ll wear foundation, but it’s a very light foundation and really just to diminish the appearance of a scar I have on my cheek. I don’t wear jewelry, with the exception of a cross necklace and my iWatch. Could an employer force me (or someone like me) to wear makeup?

    1. Tabby*

      Depending on the employer, yes. Think high fashion, Hooters, any career where a certain image is required. There are careers where that is a thing, and it’s legal to require, as long as men have a similar grooming standard. It’s ridiculous, but true.

  38. 30 Years in the Biz*

    LW#2: I think Jan’s actions are textbook insubordination. You were kept out of the loop on multiple projects ; she went around you, her direct supervisor/manager on multiple projects; she continued the same behavior – willfully disobeying you after multiple challenging discussions; and she complained about your management to boss and others. I’m thinking you may have more than enough supporting information to get disciplinary action going now. You could also try to get her to confirm your directions in emails and when she doesn’t comply, write back with your concerns. This creates a written record, although I understand this could come off a little artificial. If questioned you could explain it as “I think you’ve misunderstood my directions and what I’ve requested in projects in the past, so I wanted to further define it so there’ll be no misinterpretation”.

  39. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    So am I the only one who saw “account manager in health care” and thought “pharma rep”? Because that’s one of the most icky sexualized jobs going in the professional world. OP’s boss might have come from that world, which wouldn’t excuse it but might explain it.

    1. maggggghie*

      Me too! And then considered that perhaps they were an MSL and coming from academia, while manager was from pharma sales. Very different universes.

  40. AKchic*

    LW1: When going to HR, I’d be very tempted to ask if the work-appropriate, “professional” make-up and jewelry is going to be paid for by the company, as well as any classes to teach you how to apply said make-up correctly, as your manager did not give you any direction on this matter and you are unaware of the forms needed to fill out for reimbursement. Also, what guidelines are there that deem jewelry and make-up “work appropriate” and “professional”, and when did the policy change and have any of the men complained?

    LW2: With Jan, I think you should discuss this with HR and your boss, but putting Jan on a PIP immediately, with a clear-cut timeline of “this improves now, and stays improved” and watch for malicious compliance. She knows what she’s doing. Everyone knows what she’s doing. She is actively undermining you. It isn’t helping you in the slightest to ignore it. List out the actions (or inactions) she is doing and how she needs to provide work-related information. When she tries to data dump you (and she will) by informing you of her every single action (up to and including her bathroom breaks) in order to overwhelm and claim “but you said you wanted more communication! you said you wanted to be in the loop!” then it’s very clear. Don’t give her more than 60 days. If I were generous, I’d say 45 at most for her PIP to get her butt on board with the program, but I doubt she’d last that long. She will play games the whole time, and will end up doing something stupid. Limit her access to things. Narrow her focus on her work. Make it very clear that her behaviors have gotten her in this predicament and now she either plays ball properly, within the rule structure, or she will have earned the firing she should have had months ago. Only you are being the gracious one by allowing her a chance to change her behavior so she can keep her job.

  41. lilsheba*

    as to the point “Appearances do not matter if you are not customer facing” I have to agree. Appearances do not matter. As for makeup, I also find it frivolous and unnecessary, and it can be expensive! There is no way I would spend that kind of money on something I don’t find necessary at all. Dressing up/makeup etc makes me feel very uncomfortable and I have to be comfortable to work effectively.

  42. AnonNurse*

    #1 – your boss is definitely wrong here! She could easily cross over in to discriminatory acts if she’s not careful. I also do not wear makeup or jewelry but it is for religious reasons. The first time a boss tried to write me up for my appearance based on that type of criteria, HR would be looped in immediately. It would be one thing if your job had anything to do with the appearance you present but given that it doesn’t, she is 100% out of line. I also work in healthcare and I’m just amazed she had the gall to say that out loud. I wouldn’t wait to have another conversation with the boss, I would call HR right away and please know your choice not to wear makeup or jewelry, for whatever the reasons, is totally acceptable!

  43. Anon Anon*

    LW#4 — I just wanted to say I’m sorry.

    I’m in the process of debating if I should travel to see my family over Xmas. For me, the most challenging part isn’t that I’ll miss the holiday with my family, but due their location, I haven’t seen them in 18 months, and if I don’t go over Xmas, it’s highly unlikely I’ll see them for another year or perhaps even longer. Personally, I find it excruciating hearing about there being a “light at the end of the tunnel”, when I know for me there isn’t. Especially, when I combine that with people who are seeing their families over the holidays. I have no advice, I just wanted you to know that you are not alone.

  44. Mimimi*

    Here’s an easy tip: A print scarf can pull together colors in your outfit and people don’t wear them as much as they could, so they stand out.
    A good one instantly upgrades your look and it’s less work than makeup or jewelry. Tuck it inside your jacket neckline if you want it to be subtle. It’s like a tie. You can wear it outside your coat too and instantly look dressed up. One good silk scarf w/neutral colors can blend w/several outfits.

  45. CatLadyInTraining*

    I don’t think women should be required to wear makeup and/or jewelry for work. That said, I do think it is fair to say that shorts and sandals aren’t allowed or you need to dress up somewhat

  46. hayling*

    OP #5 if it feels weird asking about a raise, sometimes using the phrase “compensation increase” or say “I wanted to talk about my comp” can feel less awkward.

  47. anonforthis*

    For LW#2 – completely agree with Alison’s advice. Jan is actively undermining you and complaining to your boss (!!!!!) about your management. Who knows if that also extends to clients (if she’s externally facing) or other important stakeholders. In a small organization – with 100 people – it’s important to get this handled after nearly a year – for your own sanity and professional reputation. I completely agree with a short-term – four weeks max – performance improvement plan, focused precisely on the behavior you need to see. As someone who manages managers, I have moved people out of positions for not handling employees like Jan. It will definitely be possible to find someone who can do the job with a good attitude, who isn’t actively trying to get you removed from your management role. Good luck.

  48. two cents*

    Hoo boy LW 1 I know this isn’t constructive but I would be terribly tempted to go the whole malicious compliance route…think of all the jewelry you can make with office supplies! I envision a (red, naturally) stapler hanging from a security chain. Paperclip chains galore, binder clip earrings (hang the silver bits from studs in your ears, not actually clipped to your ears…unless you like that in which case go for it!), post-it brooches etc.

    I don’t have the skills for it but if you spent a week with clown makeup or KISS makeup or Goth makeup etc her tune might change…

  49. Catabodua*

    For OP #1 – My very first thought is similar to what others have mentioned – malicious compliance. I’m picturing Mimi from the Drew Carey show…

  50. LonleySanta*

    LW4 for what it’s worth, I live across the country from my family and spend many of my holidays alone. If getting through this one means you need to disconnect and pretend it’s a regular day, that’s totally cool and nothing to be ashamed of. Some ways I’ve been able to stay connected is by getting stuff to make my own meal and Skype cooking with my mom while we make mirror dishes and then, jumping on video during dinner. Also, decorating for myself because I simply like it and it feels nice to have twinkling lights. It’s not a replacement for being in person, but it is a form of self care at a particularly lonley time for me. That might not work for you, but I felt compelled to share in case it could help. I hope you’re ok this season.

  51. RB*

    Re #1, I enjoyed the Schitt’s Creek reference someone made above and that made me think of the gigantic necklaces that Moira always wears, not to mention the fabulous wigs and shoes. I wonder how LW 1’s boss would react if the LW went full-on Moira and took the makeup and jewelry way over the top.

  52. Mr. Jingles*

    LW1 One of my first bosses once tried that with me. Only they didn’t manage to be quite that clear and stammered around the topic. They made the mistake to ask me to be more ‚professional‘ and told me my clothes where to ‚casual‘. (Nice blouse, black pants, flats, ponytail, no makeup)
    I said ok and went shopping. Since then at each and every company I‘m known as the woman in the suit. I must admit: slightly tailored to accommodate my very feminine figure men‘s business suits are pretty comfortable. I own four sets, several business shirts and have a big collection of nice ties. I really enjoy ties.
    My very favourite is a four piece pin-stripe suit with a forest-green dress-shirt and a purple tie. My husband gifted it to me for my birthday and its so soft on the inside I imagine him hugging me whenever I wear it.
    Nobody ever dared asking me to wear makeup and jewellery and heels have never been a topic. And it is ridiculously funny to see people react if they see me wearing dresses and female bling on parties or out of work. somewhere.

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