yelling at work, coworkers smokes e-cigarettes after being told to stop, and more

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

1. Is it ever okay to yell at work?

I know you give the advice that yelling is unprofessional, but is it ever acceptable?

Years and years ago, I had a coworker who didn’t respect personal boundaries. The first time he touched me, it was a pat on the arm. I very sternly told him I do not like to be touched and to never do it again. The second time, a few weeks later he came up behind me and started rubbing my shoulders. Just writing this, I can feel his hands on my shoulders and it makes me cringe all over again. I immediately whipped around and shouted, “I told you to never touch me again.” I marched back to my desk and sat down. Another coworker asked if I was okay and I said I was. After calming myself down, I actually went to the company lawyer/HR and told him of the incident. The offending coworker was fired the same day.

I don’t regret yelling, but I wonder if I should have done something different. There were people on phones near by that I probably disturbed. Should I have just walked away and gone to HR?

There are a couple of exceptions to “never yell at work,” like if you’re alerting people to a fire or other imminent danger, or if you’re reacting viscerally to someone groping you. You’re fine.

It’s unusual that your coworker got fired on the spot for this, so I’d bet that it was a final straw in a list of complaints against him and he’d probably been warned before.

2. My coworker smokes e-cigarettes at work but it’s illegal

I work at a small company based in a city and state that both have laws against smoking e-cigarettes in the office. In mid-2019, I saw someone very senior in my company (think C-suite) smoking e-cigarettes in the office several times. I raised the issue officially each time (3-4x total) with my boss (also C-suite), the regional GM, HR, etc. I was told that it would stop; this person was very sorry and just didn’t know the local rules (they are from another country, so this is a reasonable explanation although still annoying). I hadn’t seen anything since so assumed it was nipped in the bud.

We have all been working remotely due to the pandemic and I don’t have a lot of meetings with this person. But about a month ago, I was on a video chat with them and I could tell they were in our office e-smoking again. Nobody else was in that day, so my partner told me to just let it go. Despite the fact that secondhand smoke can remain on walls and furniture for a long time … and at some point I will be asked to return to the office and subsequently inhale this stuff. But whatever. I let it go.

Then last week on an all-office video call, the smoker is in the office again, sitting one chair away from another employee (sans masks — don’t get me started) e-smoking again. I am livid! I took a screengrab so that I have proof. Obviously this person is knowingly ignoring local and state law so I’m not sure what the next step should be.

When all this originally went down in 2019, I was pregnant. Nobody at work knew and I didn’t want my pregnancy to be the only reason to stop smoking in the office so I always made the issue about it being illegal. At the time, I also had a conversation with a friend who is an employment lawyer. He told me that I could involve lawyers and being pregnant would help my case, but ultimately they’d likely find a reason to get rid of me because I raised too much hell. So I never did anything then.

Now that it’s happening again, I’m thinking about submitting an anonymous complaint to the local department of labor, but since we’re so small it will likely get tracked back to me and I can’t afford to lose my job.

So what should I do? Should I just continue to let it go since I likely won’t be back in the office til spring anyway? Should I talk to management / HR again? Should I continue to gather evidence and use this as an excuse to just try and work from home permanently once the office reopens? Should I file that labor department complaint? I can’t afford to lose my job and there aren’t a lot of other options right now in my industry. But I’m beyond pissed off and really want to do something.

You could go the department of labor route, but the chances of them following up on it are … less than high while they’re getting flooded with bigger violations related to the pandemic. But you could talk to them and get a sense of how likely they’d be to act on it and whether they’d keep your name out of it if they did, but my money would be on nothing much coming of it.

You’re more likely to get results if you talk to whoever was the most responsive last time you raised the issue. You could say that despite the person promising to stop, it’s still happening, you’re concerned it’s putting company in violation of state and local law, and you’re concerned it’ll still be happening when more people return to the office.

That said, my bet is that you’ll have more of an impact if you save your capital for when you’re back in the office. Right now it’s going to sound like you’re complaining on principle (nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t always carry the same weight), and you’ll have more standing if it’s happening once you’re back.

3. Is it okay to do a virtual interview against a blank wall?

I have a job interview next week that will be conducted via Microsoft teams. This is a very important interview because my work is highly specialized, so opportunities for advancement are few and far between. I have never done an interview virtually before.

When I sit at my desk, I have a blank wall behind me. I am conscious that others have a beautiful backdrop of plants and art. I am considering if I should take some time to decorate the wall or if it is acceptable to blur my background. If a stylish wall is going to leave a good impression with the hiring managers, I’ll do it. I’m worried that blurring my background will come across the wrong way — i.e., make me look guarded or unprofessional. What is better — a plain wall behind me or a blurred background? Or should I suck it up and put up some art?

A plain wall is totally fine! Blurring the background isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it can be distracting and there’s really no need for it. Embrace your plain wall.

4. My boss encouraged me to apply to other jobs to know my value

I wanted to share a story about speaking up which also highlights the difference between most managers and my awesome manager.

I work in an industry that is doing very well these days, where jobs are plentiful and people tend to move every 2-3 years to move up the career ladder. Because I’ve been happy with my colleagues, the flexibility of my job and the customers we support, I’ve not looked for 9 years. I told my manager I was going to look for a new job, not because I wanted to leave but because my raises have seemed smaller than they should be the last 2-3 years and I wanted to know what the market was like.

Her response? “Go for it, you should know your value.”

After I looked around, had a few interviews and got a few offers, I came back to her with what was interesting about each, and what was better about my current job. We had a frank discussion about the importance of varying levers (time off, health care, bonuses, etc.) and she came back with a significantly higher salary and more PTO.

She again reiterated that she wished more people understood that their career is in their own hands and that she was proud of me for standing up for myself and for looking.

I’ve got maybe 5 years to go until I retire. As long as this person is my manager, I cannot imagine leaving here. She models every day what mentoring and integrity look like.

Well … It worked for you and you feel good about it, so she might be the exact right manager for you. But people shouldn’t have to go off and interview for multiple jobs and bring back a bunch of other offers (or even one offer) in order to get paid what their work is worth. That’s a lot of work to expect you to do rather than your company managing their own compensation decisions themselves. (And by using that strategy, she risked you leaving for one of those other offers.) Again, I like that you feel good about it. But I wouldn’t encourage managers to emulate this!

5. Can I take my bachelor’s degree off my resume?

I did my undergraduate at a religious institute and obtained a religious degree. I’ve never done anything with that training in my professional life and honestly my personal feelings toward that experience have shifted over the years. I’ve since gone on to get my M.Ed and additional certifications specifically relevant to my field. If your resume is marketing material, this isn’t something I really want to advertise about myself. Would there be a downside to just dropping it? Since I have an advanced degree, it’s a given that I have a bachelors but I wonder if it would just bring up more questions in a hiring manager’s mind or cause some other difficulties.

Yeah, it’s so very much the convention to include your bachelor’s if you’re listing a master’s that omitting it will raise questions about why it’s not there. I know you don’t want to call attention to it, but interviewers are far more likely to ask about your undergraduate schooling if it’s missing than if you list it.

You don’t need to get specific about the degree though — it would be enough to just list School Name, B.A. and leave it at that (as opposed to B.A. in Religious Studies or so forth).

{ 399 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    #1 reminds me of the picture book “The Library Lion” where (spoilers) the overly-rules-loving librarian kicks out the book-loving lion for roaring in the library – unforgivable! – but then learns that he was only trying to get help for the injured Head Librarian.

    OP1, like a lion roaring in a library to save his friend, your yelling was valid.

      1. Hvac guy*

        #4- Its really unfortunate anyone needs to do this but Ive actually had success with something similar twice. Three years ago I left a company and came back four months later with a 10% raise. And last year I got a job offer and my boss gave me an almost 25% to retain me.

        Why is it so many companies will pay people what they’re worth after losing them or to keep from losing them instead of paying them competitively in the first place. Not sure if it matters but my experience is in a blue collar industry.

  2. staceyizme*

    Yelling when someone touches you without consent, in a personal way is totally fine! He was gaslighying you, trying to see how far he could go and counting on your shock and embarrassment to prevent you from reacting strongly. I’m sorry that happened to you, because things like this are too common and can leave negative impacts in their wake.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, absolutely. Yelling in a situation like this is completely fine. It’s also fine if you see a mouse, cockroach or other vermin in your space. Or if you find that the bathroom or kitchen is flooded, etc. I would probably also yell if I found my space wrapped up in bubble wrap or full of post-its that would mean extra cleanup work for me. I do NOT enjoy pranks and reserve the right to react to them in an extreme way. Luckily pranks aren’t a thing in my office…

      1. tangerineRose*

        A co-worker once sneaked up on me and said “boo!” loudly. I screeched a bit that time and said “Don’t do that again!” She didn’t.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      He was 100% out of line and pushing past boundaries, but I don’t see where gaslighting comes into it. Could you explain?

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I think that’s becoming one of those words that people like too much so it loses all meaning.

        (I’m glad the guy was fired!)

      2. Aquawoman*

        I think the “trying to see how far he could go and counting on your shock and embarrassment to prevent you from reacting strongly” was how stacey was defining “gaslighting.” “Grooming” might be a more apt term?

          1. Lunita*

            I think the term gaslighting is appropriate here since it’s tied to making people question if they are perceiving situations and actions correctly. To me grooming has much more to do with inappropriate relationships between an adult and a minor.

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              I don’t see any of that here, though. It sounds like LW told him not to do something and he did it anyways… that’s a different type of abuse from gaslighting. It doesn’t sound like he was trying to undermine her sense of reality, rather that he didn’t CARE what she wanted and was hoping she’d be too polite/intimidated to make a scene.

              An example of gaslighting would be if he told her she’d said in the past that she likes it (not telling someone else she said she likes it – that’s just lying to avoid punishment). Or if he acted surprised and told her this was the first time he’d ever touched her.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I have had experience of the ‘I’m only brushing against you, it’s not harassment’, ‘I’m only being friendly, you’re just uptight’ and to me, the worst, ‘I don’t understand social interactions so it’s not harassment if I keep trying to stroke you’.

      The one that has forever left me with mental scars was the executive in charge of our department who liked stroking and grabbing women by the shoulders, from behind, and claimed he was ‘treating us like one of the guys’. He did it to me the day after I returned to work after I was violently mugged outside the building. I didn’t just shout, I screamed and nearly elbowed his teeth out. Entire office of people stopped and stared.

      He did get fired, eventually, but not for the multiple complaints from women (awarding company contracts to his friends. Big no no)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Edit: was my behaviour unprofessional? In the strictest sense maybe. But his behaviour was far more unprofessional than anything I did. To this day though I cannot have anyone come up close to me from behind (social distancing is actually a relief!)

        Would I do it again? Yes. Should I have handled it differently? No.

        1. Workerbee*

          People like that executive count on their targets thinking exactly that—that the target will think or fear they will be viewed as unprofessional and so forth. A well-placed elbow can work wonders.

          No one was forcing him to act that way. It was his choice every time.

          Relatedly, a male exec at OldJob also had multiple sexual harassment complaints against him, and even openly harassed a female subordinate in front of his own superiors at a work party—but what got him fired was that someone overheard him telling “secret executive business” to others.

          Those types are enabled and winked at and even applauded, so yeah, even in the strictest sense, your response wasn’t unprofessional in the least.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Yep, the company repeatedly refused to listen to the multiple claims of harassment from female members of staff (by the time I left the company there were 37 separate people reporting him) because we ‘didn’t understand how he works. It’s just his nature to be friendly. He’s not r*ping you’

            But as soon as the multimillion contracts were found to go to his best friend who’s company didn’t even have the resources to do the projects…he was kicked out the door the same day.

            Being a feminist in the workplace is sometimes soul destroying, but I do still have hope one day it will be universally recognised that harassment isn’t cool.

            1. Observer*

              Well, I can’t blame them for their immediate action. I’m glad they reacted that quickly.

              Which doesn’t make their behavior about the harassment any less gross.

            2. Paulina*

              It’s not remotely surprising that someone who acted so entitled in one aspect of work also acted entitled in another aspect. Sadly it’s also not surprising that senior management didn’t pay attention to what the ongoing obvious entitled behaviour said about his character, while they were busy excusing the damage to their female employees.

        2. Mockingjay*

          It’s never unprofessional to defend yourself from an attack.

          If any good comes out of this pandemic, I hope it’s that some of the social distance boundaries remain in place at work. I’ve never understood the need for hugging and standing close in a business setting. Cordial handshake or team fist bump is sufficient for me.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I never even did handshakes prior to Covid! Although that’s because they hurt (arthritis). I have a kind of courtly nod/bow over my walking stick that seems to work.

          2. TardyTardis*

            Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. I was dancing with a colonel once who was getting a little handsy, and slapping him at the O Club could have been fairly exciting for me, the 2nd Lt. But stepping on his feet ‘accidentally’? Only had to do it twice till he got the message, and obviously never danced with him again.

        3. Paulina*

          I don’t think it’s appropriate to expect people to react completely professionally when they’re suddenly and unexpectedly treated very unprofessionally by people they work with. This sounds a lot like “well they started it,” but they did! They made deliberate choices to do things that were unprofessional, things that they should not have been doing and can trigger severe reactions, and at that point the reaction is the reaction. We’re people, not automatons, and the idea that we’re supposed to be controlled and professional even when people act badly to us is dehumanizing in addition to the original dehumanizing treatment.

          I will do my best to act professionally when what’s happening is appropriate for my job, which has a relatively broad latitude. Output for inputs that massively deviate from this are undefined, so you get what you get.

          1. caradom*

            If someone knocked the person out I would completely support them. When the police arrive I would say it was self-defence because the victim was assaulted.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Yes. And worse. But by that time I’d had HR tell me to not make a scene because it’s only harassment if he actually r*ped me.

            Did NOT regret leaving that firm (was made redundant 5 months later)

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        The one that has forever left me with mental scars was the executive in charge of our department who liked stroking and grabbing women by the shoulders, from behind, and claimed he was ‘treating us like one of the guys’.

        So he did that to the guys?

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          He punched them in the shoulder from what I recall. Kinda fist bump to the back. With us women it was almost a full body tackle from behind.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Ick. Ickickickickickickickickickickickickickickickickickickick.

            Have I said ick yet? Because feckin’ ICK. My shoulders are IN my ears.

            FWIW, from previous experience, I would have also taken out some teeth. (Shoutout to the idiot in college whose nose I broke…. twice….for the same thing.) My fight or flight response is apparently fight TO flight.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Mine is usually ‘freeze’, I do have a spinal injury that means slapping me from behind will get me to scream in pain too. I think that particular day I’d just had enough of the world in general and him in particular.

      3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Same department that I worked for but different city and building had a fairly high up official that liked to pat women on the behind and other good ol’ boy type stuff. Multiple complaints from female staff. Crickets from HR. A male employee with a background as a lawyer collected loads of evidence and went to HR about the situation. Male employee was suddenly let go. Male employee went to the local paper and turned over his entire timeline of evidence. Nice big front page article. Good ol’ boy was terminated the same day the article ran and the entire state wide department had to retake our yearly Don’t Do That At Work Training. This was only a few years ago.

        1. Les Cargot*

          Once upon a time, I was standing in the hallway at work, talking with my supervisor, when I felt someone patting me on the rear. Enraged, I whipped around to find the offender … was a very small child, maybe 3 years old at most, too young to understand abstract concepts like “personal space” and probably too young to understand there are places where you just don’t touch other people. The rage evaporated immediately. The kid belonged to a colleague who had gone off to a meeting, leaving kiddo *unattended* in his office, and of course kiddo was exploring. Kid requested a paper airplane. Supervisor was an experienced parent and good at such things, and kid went away satisfied. I’m pretty sure my boss read the riot act to the neglectful parent.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Mate of mine used to have a badge that said ‘if you grab my arse I’ll fart on your hand’. I always wondered if young kids would just see that as a plus…

        2. GreenDoor*

          I’m glad Escaped Cubicle Land’s pig was fired….but why did it have to take a male colleague making a stink for things to finally happen? Multiple complaints from women going with no reaction unless a man speaks up? I mean I’m glad he used his legal training to help….but it shouldn’t be “we’ll only believe you if another man confirms what you’re saying.”

          1. TL -*

            To be fair, they didn’t believe him. He was just the one willing to take the risk over it (which make sense, given his background.)

    4. Not So NewReader*

      FWIW, I love it that OP yelled and I wish more people would do this. Quick and harsh feedback is what these predatory people need to understand the word NO. I think OP gave the correct response.

      I have a saying that applies to many situations: One should not make themselves into THAT person who has to have a concrete blocked dropped on their head before they understand a given message. OP explained it once. This jerk did not get it the first time. Oh well, I’d say, what happens next in settings like this is on the jerk, not their targeted person.

      1. EPLawyer*

        It’s not like he touched her arm to get her attention or something inadvertently. He made a deliberate effort to escalate the touching to rubbing her shoulders. Darn right she should have yelled.

        He got fired the same day. I am betting a pattern of exactly this — gentle touch on the arm. Then escalating to more touching.

      2. nona*

        Oh, they understand “no” and completely understand, they just don’t care and want to see how far they can push past it because what they want (image of “friendly”, getting away with touching people, etc.) is more important than what you want. They are counting on people being too polite to push back or comment.

        The quick/harsh/loud feedback just lets them know you *are* a person who will object.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          VERY familiar with the ‘but they didn’t say I specifically couldn’t touch them there’ so called ‘defence’.

          (I once lost a friend, they were an ass anyway, because he stated regarding office etiquette that ‘women say no when they actually mean yes’. Ever sprained your vocal cords screaming at someone? I did)

      3. Op 1*

        Thanks! Looking back this is actually a moment I am proud of. I am a very quiet reserved person and not one to make waves. At the time I was really upset, but also embarrassed. I drew attention to myself in a major way and everyone stopped to stare at me. But now I’m proud. We never know how we will react in these situations and I’m glad I stood up for myself.

        1. EPLawyer*

          As you darn well should be. Good job.

          For anyone else worried they might not react appropriately because “they don’t want to call attention to themselves.” It is also okay to quietly tell the person don’t do that, then quietly go to HR.

        2. GreenDoor*

          They were not staring at you. They were staring at the situation and once your words clicked in, they all knew HE was the one behaving badly and YOU were simply reacting to it. I was on a city bus once in high school and some guy came to the seat next to me and literally slid down my side and landed pressed up next to me, looked down my shirt, and said to my boobs, “Baby, wasss your name??” I yelled to a full bus, “I AM A MINOR AND YOU ARE STARING DOWN MY SHIRT! WHY ARE YOU SITTING SO CLOSE TO ME YOU GROWN A$$ MAN? I AM IN HIGH SCHOOL! Everyone snaped their heads up to look. Bus driver slowed down. And that guy scurried off the bus so fast it wasn’t funny. Three people nearby asked me if I was OK. I heard old ladies “mm mm mm-ing” and a few teenaged boys saying, “Da-yam – she told him off good!”

          Don’t ever be afaid to speak up because “people will stare.” Staring means the inability to hide, the public shame, the possibility of a mob coming to the victims defense. Embrace the stare if it keeps you safe!

          1. Kay*

            Years ago we had a creepy co-worker who was always very handsy.. He’d walk up to women sitting at their desks and crouch down putting his arm around them and casually enter into ongoing conversations.. He’d drape himself over women leaning into view their computer screen… He’d walk up and start neck rubs..or just stroke your arm or hair….. Shudder…
            Anyhow all the women would complain among themselves… But no one did anything…
            One day he squatted behind me at my desk and put his arm around me… I said somewhat loudly (but in no way yelling..
            DO. NOT. TOUCH. ME. EVER….
            You could have heard a pin drop.. All these shocked and appalled faces staring at me…
            I was made to feel that I was in the wrong.. Some of these same women “felt sorry for him.. And I was pretty mean .. And didn’t I feel bad.. And maybe I should tell HIM sorry..” Sigh.. I didn’t and still don’t “get” or maybe understand people.. So I’m glad to hear that in some instances speaking out is supported..

  3. LilyP*

    I think a blank wall is actually the most professional of all background options, personally. No distractions in the background, no chance of anything/anyone accidentally getting into the frame, less chance of weird lighting or shadows. A very normal interview background. (Not that there’s anything wrong with tidy-normal decorations or furniture in the background either)

    1. MJ*

      The wall has to be clean though. Quite distracting if there are marks.

      #2 could get a roll of removable wallpaper and stick it up just where the camera ‘sees’. There are different types: patterned, wood, seagrass, brick, stone, tile, shiplap… Won’t cost much and, well, removable.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. But only if the blank wall is dirty or scuffed, or if it has obvious markings from picture hooks that have been taken down. A blank wall, whether it’s white or any other color, should be fine. I have a blank wall and a couple of cupboards in my background. So do most of my coworkers now that we’re all WFH. Some people have a bookshelf or art in the background, but I must admit that I don’t really notice what’s there. One of my coworkers is a gun collector, and he has several old (non-functional) hunting rifles on his wall. He’s a hunter as well, but keeps his actual hunting guns in a locked gun cabinet. Our internal employee newsletter had an article about him once, that’s how I know. During the holiday season, lots of people had Christmas decorations in the background. Most people in my org are either secular or Christian, and I’ve never heard of anyone in my org taking offense at the holiday decorations in someone else’s home, even if they don’t decorate or celebrate themselves. It simply wouldn’t occur to most people here to take offense at things like this. I expect that (a hypothetical) someone who displayed controversial symbols in their background, like a Nazi flag, would get a talking-to, though.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I just want to reiterate: The OP does not need to do this! A blank wall is perfectly fine and no one needs to feel they need to cover it. (A couple of scuff marks or marks from hooks aren’t a big deal either! Don’t make this more complicated than it needs to be.)

        1. Ineverremembermynick*

          Thank you! I was even surprised at the question itself. The more things in your background, the more distracting something can turn out to be. You need the attention of the interviewer all on you.

          I have done a couple of important meetings with a blank wall and they went just fine. In fact, I had one interview that I had to do in the kitchen of my family’s home, which has an old pattern (clean but not the most polished) and still wonder if that is the reason why I did not get that job (yep, I am still in the beating myself up phase).

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*

            Here’s the thing. Are you trying to communicate only the specific words that come out of our your mouth? Or are you trying to give some kind of impression of yourself?

            If it’s the latter, then ideally you’d consider the look of where you are just the same way we think about dressing ourselves. Something nice in the background can give a positive impression, adding to the totality of the presentation.

            Even a blank wall communicates a feeling. Consider the First Axiom of Communications: You cannot no communicate.

            1. Myrin*

              What does a blank wall communicate?
              The worst thing I could think of is “boring”, and I can’t see that being transferred to an enthusiastic and lively person in front of the wall. But that’s the worst case, it would really just come across as “neutral” to me.

              1. pleaset cheap rolls*

                I’m not saying a blank wall is bad. I’m saying we can do better.

                You’re trying to make an impression. If it’s an important call and you can step it up, I think you should.

                1. Colette*

                  I understand that you think that, but that’s very much out of the norm in my experience. A blank wall is fine.

                2. BRR*

                  I don’t think stepping up the background enhances someone’s impression that much though for most of us in a work context. For those in media since they’ve been broadcasting from home? Definitely. But from both my experience and what I’ve heard/read from others it’s much more of just a pass/fail system than an A-F grading system. A blank wall or a carefully curated bookshelf are in the same group.

                3. Urt*

                  To me anything but a blank wall signifies that the person is strapped for neutral space or trying to distract from themselves and having their carefully set background do the interview instead of them.

                  I’m hiring a person, not their background.

                4. Observer*

                  Why is a blank wall not good enough? What kind of background would you consider “better” and why?

                  A blank wall is perfect for interviews. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to do that, but unless you WANT people to focus on the background instead of you or you are so high profile that people are going to make a big deal of your background, no matter what you do, blank wall is the best if you can manage it.

                5. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Prior to the pandemic, many of my interviews were in a conference room in my office, which are the definition of uninteresting. I also routinely interview college seniors via videoconference and have seen every backdrop from a blank wall, to their dorm room, to a cube in the library – it’s not a televised event, and Room Rater’s tweet score is not factored into my interview evaluation. I’m not there for the decor, I’m there for the candidate. With two seemingly equal candidates, my decision point is certainly not going to be their Zoom background.

                6. Myrin*

                  I mean, I guess I see what you’re saying but I’m honestly having a hard time believing that diversifying one’s video call background is going to influence someone’s impression of you as a person to a significant degree especially since, again, we’re talking about a simple white wall and not, like, trails of blood running down from the ceilings or something.

                7. LQ*

                  But if all walls communicate something then a blank wall communicates something too and sometimes that’s the thing you want to communicate. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to communicate.

                  I would think that a blank wall would say “focus on the person talking” sort of like how a “dull” personal uniform can communicate that the most interesting thing you want to talk about isn’t your clothing, focus on the person talking, or listening. The assumption that the blank wall communicates something you don’t want it to is strange to me. I think that the amount of communication the wall does is a pretty small amount, though everything is communicating something so it’s an amount, but I’d want the wall to reflect my voice. (though not literally because bad audio quality I actually care about)

                8. Crivens!*

                  Many of us CAN’T do better. I live in a one bedroom apartment. The bathroom is obviously right out, as is the bedroom as I’m not interviewing sitting I bed. In the living room, one wall is all window, the other is kitchen, and the third is covered in artwork I can’t take down. So interviewers get the one blank wall and me sitting on the sofa. It’s literally my only option.

                9. Lunita*

                  If I’m interviewing someone for a job I care about their responses to questions, not whether they have a blank wall behind them.

              2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                I’m trying to imagine a scenario where I’m interviewing a person over videochat when the wall they’ve chosen to record in front of would sway my hiring decision one way or another, and all I’m coming up with is if the wall is covered in hate symbols.

                Honestly, OP, even if I had two candidates that were really close contenders, what’s in the background on their interview video would not be one of the factors I was weighing in my decision. If it makes you feel better or more confident to decorate your wall, then sure, but honestly you feeling confident and comfortable as you’re answering your interview questions matters a whole lot more than what you’re interviewing in front of.

                1. Canadian Yankee*

                  I sit at my dining room table during this WFH time, and immediately behind me is a festively-painted, bright blue sideboard that also doubles as my bar. I like variety, so there are more than two dozen bottles of booze on the bar. At work, this has generally been a source of fun and camaraderie (my usual comment, “We all stock up for the pandemic in our own way!”).

                  However, as a hiring manager, when I am conducting interviews I either blur my background or sit in a different spot at the table so I’m not in front of a wall of alcohol.

                2. ThatGirl*

                  I did remove some prescription pill bottles and alcohol from behind me while doing my video interviews for my new job — none of it is scandalous, but I didn’t want it to be distracting, look at the pills and booze!

                3. MRK*

                  All I can think of is the time I went to view an apartment and the current tenant had their vintage playboys displayed on the wall. Amusing, but maybe not for work

                4. LunaLena*

                  I’ve done two video interviews where the background did become a small factor – one where the candidate was in their car (they had pulled off on the side of the road, thankfully), and another where the candidate interviewed from a Las Vegas casino, complete with flashing lights and slot machine noises in the background (they told us that they were waiting for a Britney Spears concert). The fact that they were interviewing in unconventional settings wasn’t a deciding factor in the interviews, but all of the people in the room definitely noticed both times and had something to say about it afterwards.

                  A blank wall is perfectly normal by comparison, and I’d be surprised if it was commented on at all.

            2. Allonge*

              A blank wall communicates that… the person found a blank wall to sit in front of.

              Seriously, I have a window in the background, and my DVD shelves, which is not good for lighting my face, but says exactly zero about how well I do my job. If I were interviewing, I could turn this setup around and face the window, in which case the only blank wall in my apartment would be behind me. I will not put random stuff on a wall that I look at 10 hours a day just to communicate anything. I will dress up, I will do my hair, that is fine. Any company that judges me based on my apartment setup will just have to deal without me.

              1. Super Admin*

                I have a house with very steeply sloping ceilings, meaning there are multiple walls with neither furniture or paintings at webcam level – if I’m in the upstairs office, people get a blank wall and have to deal.

                And really, does anyone care that much what people’s walls look like when we’re all working from home in a pandemic!?

                1. Anon for Today*

                  I always enjoy getting a little insight to people’s lives by seeing how they decorate their homes, but it’s just personal interest and wouldn’t be a factor in hiring decisions.

              2. UKDancer*

                Yes, I mean most of us have a limited amount of space and a limited number of places to put a computer and sit. I’m based in London so most people are in small flats or house shares. I think most people are limited by the space they have and we’re all accepting that we are working in less than optimal situations.

                So unless they had something particularly awesome or individual on the wall I wouldn’t really notice.

                1. londonedit*

                  Yeah, I live in a studio flat and the most neutral background I can find while still being able to sit at my desk involves my plain white wardrobes. I do have more interesting walls, but sitting in front of those would mean it’d look like I was conducting the interview/meeting from my bed (because, effectively, I would be. It’s a day bed but it’s still my bed).

          2. Mel_05*

            Yeah, I think a lot of people intentionally find of blank wall so they have an unobtrusive background. It’s only youtube influencers who really need to have this carefully curated background that goes with their brand. For the rest of us, a bare wall is great.

          3. AndersonDarling*

            I’ve been doing a bunch of interviews in the last 4 weeks and my interviewers have been commenting on the items in my background to start conversations. I always move the vacuum and laundry baskets, but I keep the guitar, books, and display rocks in the background. I’ve had some really great, casual conversations about those items to open up the interview.
            I was planning on discussing it in the open thread tomorrow…I’ve found that interviews have become more personable since Covid. Since we aren’t in the same room, we have to try harder to make a connection to see if we would work well on the same team. Half of my interviews are taken up with chatting about interests. So I like showing a bit of personality in my background.

        2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Yeah, unless the wall had bathroom-wall-style graffiti or looked like someone had punched a hole it in, I wouldn’t think about it at all. Worrying about the wall behind you for your interview seems on par with worrying that the shoes you’re wearing to an in-person interview are last year’s fashion. If you were setting up a long-term home office to meet virtually with clients from, decorating might be worth it… or if you were going to be on national TV maybe. But not for an interview, unless the job is “Zoom appearance consultant”.

          1. Allonge*

            I was seriously thinking this is way into the ‘overthinking it’ area. Sure, consider the background. Blank wall is awesome, as there is no distraction. Duly considered!

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Yes, this. “Room Rater” has a lot of followers on Twitter, but the account is teasing professionals getting paid to be on television or whose public roles otherwise have them interviewed on television. It’s not aimed at the person running a Scrum or having a business interview!

        3. Ben Marcus Consulting*

          I have a virtual background set up on my Zoom account specifically to create a ‘blank wall’. 100% fine to do this. Makes it easier to keep the background from being distracting, either because of artwork, mess, or wondering what location you’re at now.

        4. kmb213*

          I’m glad to see this – I also have an interview today and actually went out of my way to set up where there is a blank wall – I will be taking the interview in my bathroom, which probably sounds quite weird, but, well, there’s a blank wall and two doors I can close (one to the bedroom, one to the bathroom) so my dogs don’t bother me.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            If your bathroom has a lot of tile you might want to toss a few textiles around there to prevent echoes – like draping a blanket over the shower rod or putting some towels on the floor. I’m not suggesting you strive for radio studio sound, just enough to avoid it being hard for the interviewer to understand you. (Like the audio equivalent of closing a curtain so you’re not super backlit, not the equivalent of decorating your background.)

            1. kmb213*

              Thanks for the suggestion! The interview is in about 15 minutes and everything else is set up, so I’m going to grab some things really quickly!

        5. The Rural Juror*

          There are many people these days that wish they had a blank wall somewhere to use (me included). I’m a little jealous of the OP!

        6. Sarah J*

          OP here. I have spoken to a colleague, a mentor and a therapist (3 different people) and the consensus is…. I’m overthinking this. I’m going to clean the scuffs off the wall and call it done. Part of me still wants to paint the room and hang art and move furniture but I know my time is better spent preparing for the interview.

        7. Retired Prof*

          If they were interviewing in person, odds are that a blank wall of a conference room would be the visual backdrop. No different interviewing remotely.

      3. GreaseMonkey*

        I’ve interviewed about 20 candidates in the last year and I absolutely cannot you what any of them had in the background. This might be partially because I spend so many hours a day on virtual meetings that frankly it all blurs into one, but I think it’s mostly because you interview a person, not their decor.

        I think you’re fine to interview without styling or blurring if you don’t want to. Unless there’s something socially unacceptable about what is behind you (like you’re dialling in from your other job as a meth cook) or it’s an issue of privacy for others around you. And if someone doesn’t hire you because they don’t like your background… Frankly, bullet dodged!

          1. GreaseMonkey*

            Some of them. Nothing bad. The only one I really remember was the one who interviewed with his camera off, but that’s not anything I hold against him. He interviewed quite well.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Yep, it’s the outliers that we tend to remember. I couldn’t describe what candidates A, B, and C were wearing, but I remember the one who showed up in a hoodie (do not recall the slogan on it) and uncombed hair because it was such a contrast from the other candidates.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes, I was interviewing on a panel last month and I can’t remember what any of the 6-7 candidates I interviewed had in the background. I can’t remember what they were wearing much either. One candidate had particularly amazing braids with beads in and I remember that because I loved the look on her on an aesthetic level. Other than that I don’t much remember people after I’ve interviewed them.

          Even thinking about my colleagues who I have meetings with on a regular basis, someone would have to have a particularly unusual background for it to be memorable. One colleague has a really great piece of art that I like in her background. Another one uses a string of images from Star Wars as a background which always makes me smile. I mean I have MS Teams meetings with the same people from my company most days and apart from the two I mentioned, I’ve no clue what they have on the wall.

          So I think having a blank wall, a wall with stuff on it, or a background or blurring the background are all fine. Unless you have a very odd background I’d have thought it unlikely anyone would notice.

          1. Retail Not Retail*

            My job has people with offices, people who can work from home, and people who don’t have them and can’t work from home.

            I attended my first zoom meeting while at work and had to use my phone. I propped it on the steering wheel of the work truck when I needed to have my camera on. (The only remotely quiet private place at the site.)

            Then last week we had a meeting and someone I know has an office was also in a parked vehicle.

            I mean interviews are different but as we switch to more video interviews in more varied workplaces, things will get a bit wild. (Alas, no one was in front of any cool things)

        2. Cat Tree*

          I came here to say the exact same thing. The background wall isn’t something I would even notice 99% of the time. I know candidates want to do everything to make the best impression, but the background wall generally doesn’t matter.

          That said, there are petty people in the world so it’s not impossible that a hiring manager would care. Just very unlikely.

          1. Observer*

            Sure. And the problem here is that you simply have no idea what a person like that is going to get hung up on, anyway.

        3. lapgiraffe*

          And on the flip, I’ve had several dozen interviews in the last seven months and have been the OP – super concerned with my positioning, tried out different spots, wanted things to be visually interesting but not overwhelming – and then the interviewer logs on and it is clear that they have taken no such “care” and are all just setting up their cameras wherever is best for them to work. It actually makes me feel much more comfortable in the moment, we’re all just trying to adjust as best we can but most people did not pick, arrange, or decorate their house with a pandemic in mind.

          I have a background in film and photography so I’m just particular about it (and reminds me of the letter writer whose photog husband set up an incredible suite only for her coworkers to make snide comments about it, am jealous of her setup), but no one else cares, send that energy to your interview prep and go forth feeling good that a blank wall is actually perfect for this.

          1. AndersonDarling*

            My last interviewer’s kid was in the background demanding a snack. “Tacos. Tacos. Tacos!”
            Ha! It was a fantastic icebreaker! That’s just the world we work in now.

        4. Joielle*

          The only video call backgrounds I can remember at all are a couple of coworkers who have overtly religious art hanging behind them, and I only remember because I thought “huh, didn’t realize those coworkers were particularly religious.” But I wasn’t offended or anything, just stuck in my mind because it was slightly unusual.

          I think for most purposes, and certainly for an interview, if nobody remembers what’s in your background that’s a good thing!

        5. Sarah J*

          OP #2 here. Thanks for writing… it helps to hear from an interviewer that it is inconsequential.

      4. Mockingjay*

        Have you seen office walls? Those are usually far worse.

        A blank white wall at home is fine. No need to bring in an HGTV decorator to revamp your space before an interview.

      5. pancakes*

        I don’t agree that fake wood, brick, shiplap, etc. is a visual improvement over a blank wall. Unless the wall is badly stained or the wallpaper is of uncommonly high quality, it’s likely going to look a good deal worse.

      6. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

        When we went to work from home last year, I had to improvise a working space. I ended up putting a desk in a room we had been using for storage. Due to the amount of time I had to get the space together and the amount of stuff in that room, I ended up with a bookshelf full of random stuff behind me. I ended up buying two of those ceiling hooks for plants, a curtain rod, and a set of curtains and hung them from the ceiling in front of the bookshelf. On video calls, it looks like I’m sitting in front of a window, but because there’s no window there I never have any issues with lights or shadows. It cost me about $30. That said, I think a blank wall is fine- it will read as a a neutral background and you really don’t want to be distracting your interviewers anyway.

      7. A*

        Yup – the only blank wall I have has a fair number of scuffs on it so I just bought an oversized posted board at the dollar store and put that up.

    2. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Room Rater calls a blank wall the “hostage video” look.

      That’s a bit harsh, and a blank wall is not the worst, but just as we dress for work some small amounts of visual interest in the background are often stronger.

      I’d think of it this way – are you facing people on your calls for whom you care about your appearance? If yes, the trying to step it up a bit is probably a little stronger.

      1. pancakes*

        That account rates people appearing on TV, though. I like visual interest in the background, and looking at people’s bookcases in particular, and fussing over my own bookcases and apartment in general, but most interviewees have enough stress without comparing themselves to people appearing on live TV. I don’t think most interviewers expect their candidates’ rooms to be nearly as finessed as that, either!

    3. Helvetica*

      Yes! As someone who can’t help looking at that beautiful lamp behind you or the cool poster on the wall or the books you have on your shelf, a blank wall can actually be a blessing because my focus has to be on the person. There’s nothing wrong with having something in the back but you don’t need to go out of your way unless there’s something offensive or NSFW behind you.

    4. HR Exec Popping In*

      A plain wall is fine and much better than blurring your background. A blurred background can actually be very distracting (at least it is to me). I prefer a fake background or the real background regardless to what it looks like over the blur. But all in all, don’t worry too much about your background. These are unusual times and we all understand that. Work has invaded people’s home and most reasonable people give some grace on video conferences. I actually hired someone I was interviewing virtually even after her dog broke through the door to get to her during our interview. It was kinda funny but I know she was mortified. In the end, I was more interested in her qualifications and skills. The fact that she had a huge needy dog that rushed the room and kept hogging the screen didn’t factor into the assessment at all. :)

      1. Joan Rivers*

        Blank wall is fine. But pundits commenting on TV shows often have bookcases full of books, etc. behind them, and that can look nice. It fits w/them being historians or scholars.

        You won’t look bad to have a blank wall.
        But if you have an attractive wall it might be a good first impression. It depends on what it is. The right color can be flattering too. Don’t create distractions. But if decor reinforces you and your career somehow, it could be good. Be careful.

        Just check how your wall looks on screen, if you try anything decorative. And check how you look too.

        1. SwitchingGenres*

          Though the books/art/etc can be distracting, in that, if they’re obviously curated people know you put them there to look good and then they judge your choices. I remember early in the pandemic reading an article about how every politician and news person had The Power Broker on their obviously curated bookshelf, and how it became a trend.

  4. Julia*

    This may be an unpopular opinion, but I really don’t understand the big deal with vaping in the office with no one else around. It is absolutely nothing like smoking; there’s no way a smell will linger in walls or furniture and there is no real risk from secondhand “vapor” in that situation (and no conclusive studies showing the vapor is even toxic).

    It’s illegal, but it really shouldn’t be illegal; it’s an overreaction from people who over-associate the activity with smoking. LW, I know you and I are on opposite ends of tolerance on this issue so you’re unlikely to give my advice much weight, but I say let it go entirely. This person is senior to you and is not hurting anyone.

    (Full disclosure: I vape, although not in public areas. I use a juul. That’s much less obtrusive than some other devices which create billowing clouds of odiferous vapor, which I certainly admit can be bothersome to people in the vicinity. But when there’s nobody in the vicinity… let it go.)

    1. mlem*

      The smell does linger, though. Why wouldn’t it? (In my experience, smokers vastly underestimate smells.) “E-liquid” is not simply steam.

      Wikipedia tells me that “E-cigarettes create an aerosol, commonly called vapor, made of particulate matter. The vapor typically contains propylene glycol, glycerin, nicotine, flavors, and traces of nitrosamines, other toxicants, carcinogens, heavy metals, and metal nanoparticles.” It also states that, “E-cigarette vapor contains fewer toxic chemicals, in lower concentrations, than cigarette smoke, but also contains harmful chemicals not found in tobacco smoke.” That stuff doesn’t just magically cease to exist.

      I’m personally glad my state categorizes airborne carcinogens and heavy metals as pollutants.

        1. Ash*

          You should! A few years ago there were a spate of deaths and serious hospitalizations due to vaping.

          1. Ray Gillette*

            It was only 2019, but that feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? Those patients were vaping THC (the culprit was most likely vitamin e acetate used as a “thickener” – good for your skin, not so much for your lungs), not nicotine, but that doesn’t means it’s not still worth kicking the Juul habit. It’s a good harm reduction tool for people who have been unable to quit smoking by other means, but it’s not harmless.

            1. AndersonDarling*

              I know! I was remembering that the other day and was thinking, “What happened to all those teenagers that needed lung transplants?” It feels like 10 years ago on the disaster calendar.

              1. Ray Gillette*

                Yeah, I read an “ask me anything” thread with a hospitalized patient who survived. He’d gotten a black market copy of a legitimate brand that looked like the real deal, but he couldn’t verify its source. That’s why you always purchase from a licensed dispensary, kids!

          2. A*

            That was caused by vitamin e acetate being added to THC carts (primarily black market). It’s unfortunate that it got misconstrued. Vaping is the only thing that helped me quit cigarettes.

            That being said… I wouldn’t do it at work. But I also don’t think the health hazards are as extreme as some might think.

        2. WhereIsMyRobot*

          I did last year and I couldn’t be happier! Seriously, you can do it!
          First I put the vape in another room and just smoked every hour for five minutes, then after a week or two, I moved the window to two hours until I just didn’t feel I needed it anymore.

          That said, it’s just water. This person just doesn’t like the idea of it, which is valid, because it does look bad and is associated with drug use. It’s unfortunate because it has helped a lot of people quit smoking.

      1. Captain Raymond Holt*

        A coworker of mine at a former employer vaped at his desk so much that when he turned in his laptop it smelled like his vape. The smell definitely lingers.

      2. RiverRose*

        My husband vapes in his home office. I’m very sensitive to smells – and there is no lingering smell in his office at all. None. So – it can be done.

    2. Daffy Duck*

      My son vapes. There is definitely a smell associated with vaping many of the flavors (not as horrible as cigarettes or cigars) and it leaves a film on the walls and permeates fabric. His room smells even when he has been gone for hours and objects feel sticky. I would definitely object to sharing an office with someone vaping.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        This! I used to walk on my breaks, & the capers definitely emitted smelly vapors. It can smell like someone lit potpourri on fire. My walking partner has severe asthma, & it really bothered her.

        There’s also the fact that an e-cigarette is an electronic device, & they’ve been known to catch fire or explode. No different than the ban on cooking devices some offices have.

      2. lemon*

        I am not going to debate the issues of smell and triggering asthma (and am firmly on the side that vaping does NOT belong in the office)…. but stickiness? I vape all day long in my apartment and never, not once, has anything ever been sticky. The only time I’ve encountered vape-related stickiness is when folks were vaping more than nicotine. Just sayin’.

        1. anon4this*

          I knew someone who vaped all the time in their car and this gross clear film residue would eventually appear on the windows and windshield and be hard to remove/sticky.

        2. A*

          I think it has to do with quantity – I indulge in my house on a regular basis and have never noticed stickiness, but my close friends who both vape CONSTANTLY… it’s noticeable on their walls etc.

          1. lemon*

            Huh, so weird. I vape… quite a lot, and this has never been an issue in any apartment I’ve lived in. Must be something to do with the kind of vape juice or device folks are using. Good to know.

            1. mhunt*

              I’ve had both happen, some residue, no residue…it depends on the e-juice, and what wattage the device is set to. Higher wattage means less PG / VG left over. Certain flavors do stick a bit…but still NOTHING compared to actual cigarettes. I think VG has more residue than PG, but also a stronger taste. I’ve never had anyone complain about the smell; I’ve actually had MANY people say they like a particular ejuice smell. Especially when I’m refilling the tank before going on a vape break…”I smell donuts, did someone bring donuts?” LOL

    3. Jen*

      I mean, a quick google of second hand vape exposure turns up multiple recent articles from health institutions claiming otherwise, that second hand exposure to vapes is dangerous, can contain carcinogens and can settle on surfaces.

      Not to mention, the vapors can have adverse effects to those with asthma and other medical conditions.

      It’s illegal and someone is doing something illegal in the office, and apparently now on camera. While I agree with the response that she should likely wait until she is back in the office to have more of a leg to stand on, it’s illegal and a bit obnoxious the offender does not seem to think the rules apply to them.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. I don’t like smoke in any form, but if I had to smell smoke, I’d rather smell actual tobacco than most vaping products. The sweet aroma makes me queasy.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        >adverse effects
        Migraine trigger for me.
        Wouldn’t the office have to do a deep clean if this person is vaping on site for a long period of time?

    4. KoiFeeder*

      I have just as severe an allergic reaction to secondhand vapor as I do to tobacco/marijuana smoke. It’s actually worse- I spent about 4 hours blinded after walking into a cloud of vape smoke, and that count started after the swelling died down and I took benadryl. Still no idea what that was about.

    5. Homophone Hattie*

      Hard disagree. It’s much less obtrusive than smoking but there is definitely still a smell and still chemicals that linger. There is absolutely no need to vape indoors and people should not be subjected to the lingering second-hand effects.

      (I actually do think there are chemicals and artificial scents (WHYYYYY?) in, for example, cleaning and hygiene products that are worse than most vapes, but that still doesn’t mean it’s okay to vape in a shared space.)

    6. Bagpuss*

      It’s a lot like smoking – the smell does linger and sink into furniture, and while it is correct that there’s no conclusive evidence of toxicity, that’s not surprising given that it is a new process so there hasn’t been time to learn what the long term impact of vaping or inhaling second hand vapor may be. There are studies which suggest that it is harmful – probably *less* harmful than 2nd hand tobacco smoke, but less harmful isn’t the same as not harmful at all.

      On a personal level, as someone with asthma who is very badly affected by tobacco smoke, I find that vapes are generally not quite as bad, but they do still trigger my asthma and the scented ones are particularly bad – I’d put them below cigarette smoke and incense sticks but worse than things like air fresheners. And I can absolutely tell when I walk into a room where someone has been vaping, although again, it isn’t as bad as if they had been smoking.

      All that said, I agree with Alison that it would be sensible to wait to speak about it on this occasion until the LW has to visit the office.

      1. Myrin*

        A good friend who’s a physician wrote her dissertation on the effects of e-cigarettes; she did a really long study and a lot of tests on people who’d stopped smoking cigarettes and turned to e-cigarettes but it’s been some time since I’ve talked to her about it and forgot the details. She was only able to finish it very recently so it’s not publicly accessible yet but I’ll definitely check it out then since it was talked about as being a very valid contribution to the ongoing study of this topic as, like you say, there really isn’t that much known about it yet.

        1. Becky*

          I remember hearing a report on NPR a while ago (had to have been 2019 or earlier) that a study was done on which was more harmful smoking or vaping; and while smoking was more harmful than vaping, a very large number of the people would do BOTH and doing both was more harmful than smoking.

    7. Snark no more!*

      I agree with you Julia. For the folks above who say they can smell a lingering odor, they’re likely using one of those ones that do give off amazing amounts of vapor.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I think it is also depend on how sensitive someone’s sense of smell is – both in general and to the particular scents and products in question. If you dislike or are sensitive to a particular scent or substances you tend to notice it much more than someone who likes it or for whom it is neutral.

        For vapes specially , I would think that if the cent is lingering, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the potentially toxic microparticles are likely to linger as well, even if what you can actually smell is an added scent.

        1. AntsOnMyTable*

          I am very confused by the people who are stating it is just steam released. If it was just steam then you would be buying nothing but water cartridges. You are inhaling *something* and your lungs aren’t going to collect every particle – things are getting breathed back out.

      2. Ashley*

        It isn’t just the smell but the chemicals put into the air from vaping that makes it unsafe for others in terms of second hand smoke. Vaping is new enough that I don’t know if they have done studies on it, but there is research out there about third hand smoke where the room it self needs deep cleaned because the drywall, flooring, etc have the chemical embedded and it causes problems.
        Vape inside in your house if you want but vaping needs to be treated like smoking in public places.

      3. SwitchingGenres*

        I dated someone who vaped both nicotine (non-flavored) and pot and I could definitely smell both, though the pot was stronger smelling by far. Neither gave off much vapor that was visible. But despite the smell the chemicals are still there to be breathed in.

    8. Cat Tree*

      Well, it triggers my asthma so please just don’t. The smell also lingers more than you realize because you’re used to it.

      1. ZaChDr*

        I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I can’t smell cigarettes in situations where I definitely can. People who are regularly around these smells go nose blind to them.l and don’t realize how noticeable they are.

    9. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I dated a vape shop owner for two years, who believed in vaping as the best way to quit smoking, and was never seen without his vape (as in, he slept with it under his pillow, and, if he woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t find it, he’d get up, turn on the light, and look for it. And if he left the house without his vape, he’d turn around and come back for it no matter how late he was running.) I was around a LOT of second-hand vapor during that time. Was initially excited, because, while second-hand nicotine smoke gives me instant migraines and nausea, the vapor had no ill effect on me. Then I learned that it’s just me and a lot of people do have adverse reactions to vapor. Also, I could certainly smell it.

    10. Generic Name*

      I think you are underestimating the impact your vapor exhalations have on other people. Yes, walking behind someone who is vaping is less noxious than walking behind someone who is smoking, but it is still unpleasant. And saying “there is no real risk” is disingenuous at best. These are relatively new products and they haven’t been studied as much as cigarette smoking has. Since you vape, you likely have become nose-blind to the odor and don’t notice it. But other people do. I’m glad you follow the laws surrounding vaping, but let’s not kid ourselves that it’s harmless steam that doesn’t smell or potentially harm anyone.

    11. Rachel in NYC*

      I think it’s a impact question. My office has a couple of people who vape in the office- whose offices are literally all in a row. This is technically against the rules- and there are people bothered by it.

      However, the people bothered by it sit on the OTHER side of the office so they aren’t being impacted by it now. But in the immediacy, I much prefer my office mate vape over smoke outside. The smell of the smoke was literally causing me to feel sick and I was having to spray various things on him to try to mask the odor.

      OP 2, if the person if near you and vaping, totally tell them it bothers you and you should be able to expect them to stop but if you aren’t in the room, I think it’s reasonable to believe that the people involved may have decided that the person vaping is better then the alternative.

      1. ZaChDr*

        In an office situation though, it’s not like you have to pick either tobacco cigarettes or e-cigarettes and so the OP’s office had to choose the lesser of two evils. You can say that neither one is allowed at work, (At my work we aren’t allowed to smoke on company property even if we are outdoors) they don’t have to decide it’s better than the alternative. They can just say it’s not allowed period. Especially in this case where it’s against the law.

    12. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, no. I had an employee with a similar position who vaped in a cube farm and refused to stop despite my making multiple requests because, according to him, it “wasn’t smoking”, “didn’t smell”, “wasn’t a big deal”, “isn’t prohibited in the staff manual” (it is now, thanks to him), etc. I found out about it from his coworkers who could smell it and were bothered by the scents, including one experiencing several asthma attacks when the guy “lit” up a particularly odiferous flavor. HR finally had to step in and explain the concept of insubordination to him. After he left, there was a sticky residue on some of his office furniture that required deep cleaning.

      I would also avoid making the argument that there are no conclusive studies regarding it’s toxicity. Most people aren’t looking for confirmation of toxicity, they’re looking for confirmation that it’s NOT toxic. You don’t get to pollute someone’s workplace air until it’s directly linked to health harm and death because that takes, well, harm and death to prove.

    13. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      I don’t smoke or vape and I actually agree with you- I’ve never noticed a smell from my cousin’s vape, and it doesn’t bother me when he vapes nearby. I empathize with the comments below though- I really despise the smell of tobacco smoke and in large doses it gives me a migraine, so I feel you.

      I’m curious about the OP though- she doesn’t say that it physically bothers her, just that the theoretical health hazards upset her and that it’s illegal. Which, fair enough, except that apparently neither bother anyone else, and this person sounds much higher up in the company than she is. I’m not aware of any studies though that show health effects of secondhand vaping (if anyone else does, please let me know!), and I feel without that data or having it physically bother her the OP isn’t going to be successful, and should both probably save her capital for other things and start a casual job search for a culture that better suits her.

      1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        I should have specified, in the absence of a reaction like athsma/migraines, which could also be triggered by something more everyday like perfume- and I think the OP was actually referring to thirdhand smoke rather than second when talking about the smell sticking to the walls/furniture.

      2. Rainy*

        If people vape around me I have a violent asthma attack. I’m not the only asthmatic I know for whom vaping vapor is a trigger.

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          Sure, but my mom has athsma and perfume sets her off, which is also pretty common, and many people are allergic to peanuts. Many companies still don’t ban perfume or peanuts until there’s someone for whom that’s the case, and people who like perfume/peanut butter would be reasonably annoyed if it were banned for an abstract it-might-bother-someone-someday reason.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yeah, I’m wondering how long before the vape sets off the smoke detector? Clearly it hasn’t yet, but if you’re in an office building and set off the smoke detector/fire alarms, that is a major deal and you can get in a lot of hot water with the fire department.
        (I know this because someone decided one year that we should have a smoke machine for our Halloween party. They tested it a few days before the party and set off the fire alarm several times because there were no windows that opened, so we couldn’t clear the room of smoke. Obviously that was much more concentrated than a vape, but it’s still particulates.)

    14. AKchic*

      Some of the “flavors/scents” trigger migraines for me. When my daughter lived with us, she used hers outside in the summer and was banished to the garage as her “smoke shack” in the winter (heated, oversized 2-car garage with workshop attached, with a very heavy door separating the house from the garage – she was still on the far side of the garage, next to the window, and able to open the man door or the garage door to clear the smell out if it was a smell that triggered me).

      Smoking is still smoking. A vape may be incrementally healthier than a cigarette, but it’s not as healthy as abstaining altogether. Even discounting *that*, the office has a clear “No Smoking” policy and I doubt the insurance (building, liability, property, whatever) will allow for excuses on the differences should something happen and the business try to make a claim.

    15. TRexx*

      Policing your C level execs for something that’s not impacting you or harming anyone else socially around at the moment (as you’re not in the office) is probably the best route to getting canned. What’s more interesting to know, is if you taking taking photos of an unknowing individual without their consent, is that legal where you are?

    16. EventPlannerGal*

      I’m always kind of intrigued when people proclaim stuff like “there’s absolutely no way the smell will linger” even when many people say that it does. Like, do you think everyone else who says that they can smell it is lying? They’re smelling something else that coincidentally smells exactly the same as the vape? They’re suffering some kind of nasal delusion? Or is it some kind of no true Scotsman thing where vapes that you can smell somehow don’t count?

      I do think the OP should be prepared to let it go given that as you say, this person is senior and there’s nobody else around. But like… a lot of vapes do have strong smells and many people absolutely can smell it when someone’s been vaping inside.

  5. mlem*

    OP3, if the blur in Microsoft Teams is *anything* like the blur in Google’s corporate chat product (“Chat”? “Hangouts”?), the blank wall would be far more to your advantage. Blur effect, in Google at least, is clunky and distracting when it’s not dizzying. In my opinion, it should only be used to hide something that would be both highly distracting and not otherwise concealable.

    No harm in decorating if you’d like to, but even that doesn’t have to be extensive. Couple of corbels + a flat board = a fancy bookshelf where you can put a plant, a tasteful/simple picture, a few role-relevant publications, or anything along any of those lines. Or, instead, a pair of pictures with simple imagery, like color blocks — nothing that would tempt anyone’s attention away from you for a substantial period. Even that is just if you’re feeling like a little “pop” would suit you, though; you don’t want to have to compete with your background!

    1. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Adding to the quick/simple ideas – a simple tapestry. The tapestry quality can be low – there are many that are just printed on cheap fabric but will look great on camera. I have several that cost less than $20 which I use to help “stage” my space.

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        I am curious about why you feel you need to “stage” it — does it give you pleasure? Does it put you in a specific mindset of work and being “on”? Or do you feel like it’s something that “needs” to happen to be professional? Because if it’s for your own joy or presence, great — but I don’t think it’s necessary in any way to stage our spaces beyond no dirty laundry or naked people cooking or making noise behind us.

        I have facilitated virtual meetings on zoom LITERALLY 20 hours a week or more since March. I only notice people’s backgrounds if they have something like a lamp that looks like a hat on them (distracting) or are too backlit so you can’t see them or if there is a distracting virtual background, like fake Tahiti. Blank walls are the best, honestly.

          1. DiplomaJill*

            Holy cow what mercilessly self-congratulatory post about home office decor. Your description is spot on.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Eh, if the meeting invitation is Microsoft Teams, then I’d assume the people in the meeting are like me and use the platform a ton for internal meetings, and are used to the blur. Same with the virtual backgrounds – it’s less distracting than seeing people walk around in the background making lunch in the kitchen or whatever else might be happening in that person’s actual background. But for OP, just going with the blank wall is fine.

      Unless you’re interviewing for a job where your setup might be important during the job itself (for a media-heavy role, maybe?) then it really doesn’t matter unless your background is super distracting or offensive in some way. I dislike seeing unmade beds (at least one of my coworkers sometimes has one) and would probably consider that a tad unprofessional in an interview, I suppose. And I’d be distracted if the camera pointed to the kitchen and someone else was actively cooking a three-course meal the whole time. Or if the lighting were egregiously bad so I couldn’t see the person’s face at all (a bit of glare or shadow is no big deal). But I’d try not to hold that kind of distraction against a candidate anyway.

    3. I Herd the Cats*

      I am not a tech person (lol everyone I work with would support me on this.) I don’t understand the mechanics, but for a lot of folks using virtual background images on my daily Zoom calls, they sort of fade in and out of the background — their hair and the edge of their bodies disappear and reappear. I find that much more weirdly distracting than a blank wall, which I think is just fine for an interview. Everyone understands you’re trying to find a place to set up at home. Note: I am not criticizing using virtual backgrounds to screen out information (I know a lot of my coworkers are using them because it’s less intrusive or they’ve got kids running around back there) but if you have a blank wall, go with it!

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I’m starting to imagine a “Interviewing Between Two Ferns” type of situation. Just leave it blank!

    4. Observer*

      I’ve found that the background can be problematic no matter what product you are using. A lot depends on what you are blocking out (blank walls are the best), your lighting and the person who is using the background. If you have hair that is not helmet-like, or if you are moving around a lot, you are going to get much worse results than if you have smooth (or no) hair and stay still. Also, a lot depends on your computer.

  6. Daffy Duck*

    #2 – I would wait until you are back in the office and complain about vapor/ residual smell. Bringing it up now, when you aren’t directly impacted, comes across as nitpicking or you have a grudge against this individual.

    1. Anonymity*

      Complaining now when it doesn’t even affect her will give her the appearance of being a hall monitor. It’s overboard.

      1. TechWorker*

        To be fair, yes and no. The amount of alarm this has caused the company doesn’t fill me with confidence they would take any residual smell seriously and clean.

    2. JayNay*

      I would add that OP2 should think about what kind of tone would get her message across best. They write that they’re “livid”, which seems like a pretty strong reaction to this issue.
      I’d aim for a matter-of-fact tone, as in “you obviously wouldn’t want this to continue and I am bringing it up again so you can take care of it”, as opposed to “I feel personally mistreated because you ignored my last complaint, which is outrageous”.
      Not to say OP is wrong to be upset – if they get back in the office and have to be around the second-hand smoke, it’s very reasonable to not be thrilled at that. I just think they’d get better results if they try to turn down their emotional reaction a little bit.

      1. Ashley*

        I honestly get the livid. You are legally not allowing to vape indoors where they work. Someone thinks they are above the law and everyone elses safety doesn’t matter.
        That said expressing being livid before returning to the office is tough. This might be where the group dynamics is helpful, but also remembering sometimes companies suck and they may decide to let this employee continually break the law.

    3. tangerineRose*

      But the LW is going to be impacted – the smell is likely to linger in the walls. So stopping the person now is probably going to be better than figuring out how to clean it later.

      1. TRexx*

        Eh we don’t know that there will be lingering smell. If there is a smell when the LW returns to the office, then absolutely bring it up and request to move or a deep clean of the space.

      2. Anonymeece*

        Look, the guy shouldn’t be smoking in his office if that’s against the law, and especially not after he was warned.

        But I don’t think people are realizing that there is barely any residual lingering smell from e-cigarettes. My mom is *extremely* sensitive to smoke smells. They make her throw up and give her migraines that incapacitate her for days. Even after washing my clothes, taking a shower, and and spraying on perfume, she would barely come near me when I was a smoker. I switched to vaping in an effort to quit, and while she could smell when I was actively vaping, she couldn’t smell anything a few minutes after the vape smell disappeared.

        The guy is in the wrong, but unless other people are going to back up that they smell something, I’m afraid that she’s going to be dismissed as smelling phantom smells if she complains about that.

      3. Jesse Pinkman*

        I’m not a chemist, but I was under the impression that the sole emission from e-cigarettes is plain ‘ol water. If that is true, why is OP complaining about secondhand smoke affecting her and her baby, or about smells?

        1. Anonymeece*

          It’s… complicated. Originally people said it was just water vapor, but recent studies point to evidence that suggests there are some chemicals in the aerosol. Preliminary studies suggest that it might be harmful to people – though probably not nearly as much as secondhand smoke from traditional cigarettes.

          That said, I’m pregnant now and have what my boyfriend calls my “bionic nose” and many of my friends vape inside, and after it dissipates, even I can’t smell a thing.

        2. Someone On-Line*

          The claims that it is water vapor is tobacco industry marketing. In truth, e-cigarettes release an aerosol, composed of flavorings, nicotine, ultrafine particles, and other chemicals.

  7. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

    OP1: You say this happened years and years ago? Yet here you are an eternity later still worrying about whether you yelled too loud and disturbed people on the phone, and should you have found a politer way to not get sexually harassed..? Let that sink in for a minute and realise how messed up it is.

    You are NOT the one who needs to carry any shame from this situation. The shame is squarely on the creep who sexually harassed you. You did nothing wrong.

    1. Allonge*

      This struck me too, a bit. It’s of course fine to ask questions about older situations, but LW1, please try to let go of this event, for your own sake. That jerk got what he deserved. And you have not done anything wrong.

      1. Boogie Nights*

        We’re all under increased stress at the moment, and that tends to bring up the ghosts of past actions. If raising the matter here helps the OP to let go of this memory, that’s great and we should all support that. It’s also useful for anyone finding themselves in similar situations today or in the future, to know that they should feel free to make a fuss if they need to. In short, even a mildly implied criticism of the OP is probably out of place here.

        1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

          I completely agree and I unreservedly apologise to the OP if that’s how my original comment sounded. I didn’t mean to imply any criticism towards the OP, I meant to criticise our social conditioning and how messed up that makes recovering from these situations. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clearer, OP. And thanks Boogie Nights for calling it out with such class and keeping this an awesome, safe space.

        2. Allonge*

          I apologise for any implication that LW did anything to criticize here, either by writing in or at the time this happened, that was not my intention at all.

        3. Observer*

          Of course. I don’t think that anyone should criticize the OP.

          I do think that it’s worth pointing out to / reminding the OP that they simply do NOT have to second guess themselves. They may know that rationally, but it can be very validating when a bunch of people confirm that.

      2. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

        I wanted to add a little bit more, because I recognise it’s not as straightforward as just ‘letting go of it’ and I hope the OP doesn’t feel I’m minimising what they’re experiencing by suggesting that.

        I was sexually harassed and for years after I stopped working with that douche I worried about how I’d professionally explain the situation and how I’d be judged for my handling of it.

        It wasn’t until I talked to a new female coworker – a mutual acquaintance – that it became clear he was a notoriously creepy missing stair. She remarked how interesting it was that I was the one feeling the shame and worry about cutting him out of my professional circle and being judged, when actually it’s really simple: the dude is a creep. It’s not a shameful thing for me to say, it’s shameful for him to be.

        Something crucial dropped into place for me when she said that.

    2. Observer*

      Yes. Even two days later, it would be a shame the the OP were wondering if they could have done “better” and maybe tried to avoid yelling. YEARS later?

      OP, the REAL problem here is that we’ve elevated some norms (don’t yell) into unbreakable commands while taking other norms (don’t touch people without consent) and buried them 6 feet under.

      Yeah, yelling in the office is not great MOST of the time. But there are times when there is not even a need to TRY to find an alternative. And touching people the way you describe is TERRIBLE but somehow you are still second guessing yourself.

    3. Workerbee*

      100% excellent point. I, too, have dwelled on such things for far too long, and didn’t always have that “Wait a minute—this person DID this to ME and should be the one full of shame!” thought pattern.

    4. Op 1*

      Nope not worrying about it at all. Looking back I am proud of this moment. I stood up for myself in a major way when usually I’m the type to grin and bear things to not make waves. I wrote Alison for a couple reasons. First I love reading this blog, but never thought I would get a chance to ask a question. I left the workforce over nine years ago for the opportunity to raise my children full time. What am I going to ask Alison? Hey the little humans I supervise are constantly fighting even to the point of physical blows and biting sometimes. I have taken to separating them in different rooms, but I can’t get rid of them because it’s frowned upon in polite society and I love them too much what do I do? ;) So when this memory popped up the other day because I was actually thinking of another memory about the same co-worker (a funny one my spouse and I regularly laugh at) I jumped at the chance to see what Alison would say. I also asked because I was sure Alison would be ok with my reaction, even if maybe she had some ideas on what could have been done different, and I wanted people to know you do not have to be polite in all situations. Harassment in any form can be dealt with harshly.
      I know you were trying to make sure I wasn’t holding onto something I didn’t need to and I appreciate that.

      1. caradom*

        You’ve probably saved at least a few victims. People like him are constantly at it so hopefully being fired focussed him long enough to find another job and leave women alone (I’m in no way suggesting he will stop, but even if it stopped 3 people being harmed you should feel proud).

  8. nnn*

    #3: I absolutely agree that a blank wall is fine.

    However, if you want to give the impression of a decorated room without actually decorating, putting a few aesthetically pleasing objects on an end table can also do the trick. A small pile of books (whatever you have on hand that best conveys the desired impression), and/or a framed photo (or a table-sized picture frame that isn’t facing the camera), and/or a (real or fake) plant or flowers (even if just the kind of thing you’d buy at the supermarket).

    Even people who decorate don’t always have art on every inch of wall. Having something on camera that nods in the general direction of the idea of decor will do the trick for most audiences.

  9. JJ*

    #3 – Teams has some default backgrounds you could use as well. Some more appropriate for an interviews than others but I would agree a blank wall is fine.

    1. Roci*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the “nicely decorated” backgrounds OP has seen are actually default backgrounds. I thought a coworker had a very nice house until I checked out the Teams backgrounds and saw it was one of the options.

      But considering how little choice many of us have regarding our backgrounds (whether you’re in the office or in a tiny apartment or a house, it was probably designed as a usable space not a film set), anyone who judges you on a plain wall has seriously messed up priorities.

      1. Forrest*

        I’ve had meetings where i just assume the ornate mirror and plant were someone’s real home until someone else signed in with the exact same plant.

        1. UKDancer*

          I’ve used the background with the mirror and plant before I think, when I’ve not wanted people to see my actual home (mainly when I’ve had the laundry drying behind me).

      2. Doc in a Box*

        Yeah, back in the early days, I was on a research call with someone with a gorgeous kitchen behind them. The next week, an HGTV-worthy living room. A friend and I were actually texting during the call to try and determine whether it was real or fake (this was before virtual backgrounds became so ubiquitous) — it looked so nice it was actually distracting.

        I’ve been doing a lot of virtual interviewing for medical students this season, and a plain solid-color wall (ideally in a neutral color) with good front lighting really is best. Backgrounds are like interview clothes, you want to be remembered for the quality of your application, not your handlebar mustache or the sheepskin hanging on the back of your chair (same candidate).

        1. juliebulie*

          I sometimes use one from the Skywalker kitchen (on Tatooine), or the Brady Bunch living room. (Not for job interviews).

          But I still think a blank wall is an excellent choice. There’s literally nothing there to dislike – unless you pick an unflattering color.

      3. Generic Name*

        Ha! I thought the same of a colleague who looked like he had a very nice industrial style downtown loft. Nope, it was a teams background. Lol

    2. MJ*

      Pexels has lots of stunning (and free) backgrounds (and videos) to download. But it seems that’s not the point – a blank wall is fine is.

    3. juliebulie*

      Yes, and with Teams you can even use your own.

      True story – I used Windows Paint to create a plain rectangle of light blue so that I’d have a background that looks like a plain wall because it was much nicer than the old sad paneling in my office.

        1. juliebulie*

          I’ve already bought the primer! But it will be quite a while before I get around to doing it (have to move furniture out of the way, etc.). It will definitely be an improvement.

  10. CatCat*

    Ooh, yeah, on #4, if an employer wants to retain an employee then “go check out other jobs and then maybe we’ll pay you more” is not a great strategy. Been there, done that, left for a new employer.

    1. Engineer Woman*

      It’s great that #4 thinks their manager is that great because I’m not convinced. As Alison said, interviewing for jobs is a lot of work and putting the onus on OP rather than paying OP what they are worth (presumably the company should know!) just doesn’t seem right.

      1. Koalafied*

        Yeah, I scowled a little at, “I wish more people realized their career was in their own hands,” when literally she had the power in her own hands to pay LW fairly all along without making her jump through all these additional hoops. Sounds like she wants to absolve herself of blame regarding other people she knows she’s underpaying, or thinks she’d be doing them an undeserved favor if she based their compensation on their job performance alone. It’s their fault they aren’t getting paid what they’re worth, not hers!

        1. Liz*

          This!! That line strikes me as borderline gaslighting. The manager was underpaying the LW and then claiming “this is your fault for not doing the research and fighting for what you’re worth”. That’s so…. icky. If she wants to retain good people she has as much access to market information as they do, maybe more. Why not just have an honest discussion and make an appropriate offer? Why must the LW go through all that effort and time just to be afforded that opportunity? It’s such a manipulative tactic. Exploitation sugar coated in a facade of encouragement. “See, you did all this and stood up for yourself (against me). Go you!”

        2. KRM*

          Yes! To me, your career being in your hands should refer to things like “Oh, I like doing X when I did it for this one project. I should talk to my boss to see if I can take on more projects that use X”, not “I went out and interviewed at 3 other places and got 2 offers and had to discuss them with my boss so that they’d pay me fair market rate”. Being paid fairly should not be on the employee. My old company did a salary comparison every 2 years, which sometimes resulted in some positions being given a bump up to the median market rate (with the merit raise in addition to that). That is how you fairly compensate people.

        3. fhqwhgads*

          Yeah, like…if the nuance of the conversation had been different, like the manager said “look internally I’ve gone to bat for bigger raises for you, but the Upper Ups weren’t convinced by my data. So yeah if you go on some interviews and can come back with actual offers, that would help me with traction” then ok…maaaaaaybe I’d be on team “this is a good manager” because they have that good a relationship that they’re totally transparent with each other. But the whole “it’s in your hands” thing is bullshit.

      2. Antilles*

        Agreed. I’m really wondering about the idea that this is what the manager expects to get a raise and/or the manager (or employer?) needs some kind of ‘proof’ to justify giving you more money.
        What does it say about your manager/employer that the *only* way they’re willing to pay fair market value requires boxing them into the corner with a threat to leave?

      3. Tammy*

        The most charitable reading of this manager’s actions could be, she has been going to bat for OP and meeting a brick wall so thought she could get more money for OP if she said to her bosses “OP has a counter off of $X to retain them we need to beat it”.

        If this was the case (and there a many less charitable interpretations below), manager should have told OP this was what was happening and had to guarantee it would work anyway.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          I’m hoping this is the case. I don’t like the idea of wasting the time of many companies to farm salary information. It’s one thing to get the salary at the screening stage, but something else to go through the entire interview process just to get an offer with no intention of accepting it.
          But I was at a company where my boss could not get my salary anywhere near what it should have been. He may have resorted to this.

          1. Malarkey01*

            And, there is some professional risk to getting to the offer stage and declining. It absolutely is okay to turn down offers in general if an offer doesn’t work or you have competing deals, but using interviews and offers for research can affect your ability to change jobs in the future if you’re known as the person who turned down a job at one or more places. I wouldn’t do this lightly.

          2. LunaLena*

            Yes, this part of the letter rubbed me the wrong way too. I’ve been part of several hiring committees and I’d be extremely annoyed to learn that the person who made it all the way to the offer stage had no intention of accepting it, especially since other well-qualified candidates were probably turned down in their favor. I’ve been on committees that had to start searches completely from scratch because of people like this, and it’s no fun to learn that we spent hours reading and reviewing resumes and coordinating meetings for nothing.

        2. Smithy*

          Yeah, I think this is a really critical piece of information. Where I used to work they were very rigid about raises and promotions – let alone PTO and other benefits like that. However, the second someone got an offer/provided notice, all of a sudden money and movement came loose.

          So with that in mind, where I will get the OP’s manager a lot of kudos is that my own manager never was direct and open with me in regards to looking for new jobs and reviewing offers. So by the time I gave my two weeks notice and got the “OMG HERE’S WHAT WE’RE OFFERING TO KEEP YOU” – it was entirely too little too late.

          Had my boss been more direct with me about that feature of the workplace, and what I needed to do to most effectively champion myself – I don’t know if I would have stayed. But it would have elevated my relationship and trust with my manager to a really special place.

    2. Artemesia*

      No kidding — it is insulting to the worker. I would ‘test my worth’ and if I got a better offer, take it. It is insulting game playing by the manager.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. That said, in the LW’s situation I can sort of understand it, because they’re due to retire fairly soon and the manager seems like a reasonable one in other respects. I don’t recommend this approach either, but I guess if the LW is happy, it’s not the worst thing a manager could do.

      2. Ineverremembermynickname*

        Same! It is just playing games and manipulation. As I was reading #4 I was thinking “horrible management skills” because, how come she puts on others the work to find out or confirm what is paid in the market for the roles she manages? Does not she know the value of this person to the team and the company? Does she want them to burn bridges rejecting offers with potential good employers so they do not have anywhere to go? I understand they might be at a point in their career where stability is key but, OMG…that was a nightmare story.

    3. AcademiaNut*

      The other problem is that if this becomes the normal way of getting a raise you’ll have a lot of qualified people interviewing with no intention of changing jobs. They’ll take up interview spots, which means that the employer will be more likely to have to go through multiple rounds of interviews to get a candidate to take the job, which stretches out the interview process, and so on.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, that’s the part that bothers me. In this case, the OP interviewed for multiple jobs and got offers from at least a couple that she had no intention of taking – which wasted those companies’ time, and took interview spots from people who were actually interested in the job.

      2. Koalafied*

        To say nothing of the equity implications for people who are caregivers, people who are so underpaid that they’re moonlighting in a second job, people with disabilities, people dealing with trauma, people who have longer commutes because they need to live near a family member who can provide free childcare or because they can’t afford to live in close-in to a downtown office, and so on and so forth…all those people are going to have a much harder go of finding both time and emotional/mental bandwidth to carry out a job search in their spare time outside of work. Like isn’t it enough for them to be doing their full-time job well, to earn what they’re worth? To make them take on what often amounts to a part-time job’s worth of work in their off hours to be paid fairly is a great way of ensuring they never do get paid fairly.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      The other thing that worried me with OP4 is whether bridges have been burnt with those other companies (that she received offers from) in case she wants to apply there in the future? From the other company’s perspective it is “we made her an offer but turned out she was just using us as leverage to get a counter offer”.

      1. TechWorker*

        I mean yeah, if she phrased it that way, but no company should get too angry at ‘On consideration it’s not the right move for me at this time! Thanks so much for the offer’ or whatever.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Yeah I can understand that, but potentially (maybe I am making assumptions) the company / a recruiter would get that information eventually – especially if it’s a small or close knit industry in which hiring managers talk and so on. Having hired people myself in the past, if I’d made an offer and it got back to me that the candidate had used it to get a counter offer I’d be wary (not necessarily rule them out, but wary) if/when they applied again, as it would be natural to assume they’re doing the same thing again..

      2. Snow Globe*

        Plenty of people decline offers; no company worth working for would ‘burn a bridge’ because someone didn’t accept an offer.

      3. EPLawyer*

        It might not be bridge burning worthy, but it will come across as unprofessional in the long run. OP could get a reputation of someone who wastes other companies’ time. What if the “wonderful” manager leaves and OP really does want to move on. The companies are going to wonder if she really wants to move on or is just using them again.

        If this manager encourages other employees to do the same thing, it could harm everyone at the company who is interviewing. Other places will wonder if this is just a ploy for a counter offer or if they are genuinely looking for a new job.

        Just a bad way to handle this all the way around.

    5. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, my company has a group that researches industry pay and that info is used partly to determine our annual raises. But I work for a company that actually puts in effort to retain and attract employees which is apparently rare.

      Even if the work had to fall to LW, there are easier ways to get that info than going on multiple interviews.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        This is what I was thinking! We have a person in HR whose primary function is researching market rates and being sure our positions are aligned with the market and experience. I mean sure your career is in your own hands, but asking for a raise or more responsibility and being answered with “interview elsewhere and tell me what you get” is such a cop out to actually managing and helping your employee.

    6. pbnj*

      I read it as perhaps an awkward way of saying that the manager knows she can’t get a raise approved for OP, and she didn’t want to discourage OP from applying and wanted to avoid stringing OP along.

      1. pbnj*

        And I just saw where OP was able to get an adjustment after interviewing. In this case, I think it’s just those corporate games where companies won’t budge unless you get another offer, and I think manager was trying to hint at this without outright saying it.

    7. Det. Charles Boyle*

      Yes, #4’s manager doesn’t sound all that great to me. Employees should be compensated fairly without needing to jump through hoops and interview at other places (using PTO? putting in extra work for a job search for the purpose of researching salaries?). Honestly OP, your manager sounds kind of awful.

    8. juliebulie*

      My first thought was, OP’s boss is trying to get rid of OP.

      Now it seems this might not have been the case, but just the same, I’d think twice before challenging a good employee to find a better job!

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I think you’re partly right. Not really “trying to get rid of” OP as such, but more like looking out for OPs interests in a friendly way, rather than as a ‘manager’ wanting to keep OP in the role.

        “Go for it, you should know what you’re worth” could have an implied “you’re worth more than you are getting here and if you have an opportunity you should take it rather than be loyal to this company” perhaps.

    9. OhBehave*

      Agreed. I’m also peeved because she wasted the time of the interviewer. If she had no intention of leaving and was just fact-finding, do it some other way.

  11. Kiitemso*

    OP #4, I have a friend who doesn’t have a super amazing, awesome manager but this is my friend’s second post-grad job and since it’s the only job she’s moved up in and gotten raises (albeit very minor ones), she felt loyalty toward her boss. She applied for a few jobs in 2019 and told her boss about each of them. She didn’t get any offers, sadly, and the exercise really didn’t make her boss value her any more. I would agree with Alison’s advice on this in general, and while it’s good you have a gem, your manager could still have valued you based on your performance, not based on your ability to land a different position at a different company.

    Anyway, long story short, my friend’s boss turned out to have behaved very unprofessionally toward certain employees and former employees. The boss got dismissed, and a new manager was brought in. My friend thankfully now has a clearer view of both her current and old manager, and her status in the organization. Honestly the whole place seemed fine at first but there was a lot of toxicity hiding beneath the surface, I have encouraged her to apply elsewhere.

  12. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. One advantage of working from home is not having to put up with Fishwife, somebody who is incapable of speaking normally. There were 2 occasions I can think of when she lost her temper with somebody in the same team and started screaming at them. In both cases cases, the recipients started screaming straight back at her, that no, they were not going to be spoken to like that.

    It did help – for a while.

  13. Aepyornis*

    LW3, a blank wall is perfectly fine. If I were interviewing you, I’d probably think that you cleared the wall to avoid any distraction, rather than think that it somehow mirrors your personality or actual home decor tastes! I would pay more attention to the light, making sure that you face is properly visible rather than dark and backlit, that there is no harsh contrast between your two sides, etc. An iPad with a white background can provide nice soft additional lighting for instance. This is more important.
    And I wouldn’t blur the background. It can be very distracting, is rarely perfect (part of your hair can get blurred at times for instance). I regularly do videocalls with someone who has put a picture of their office (presumably) as their virtual background for their home office and it’s driving me crazy: the perspective and light of the “office” are very different from that of their face, and there’s a weird fuzzy zone around their face at all times.

    1. Sara without an H*

      I was going to say this myself. I don’t pay much attention to backgrounds on Zoom calls (well, not unless somebody’s husband is strolling naked through it), but good lighting is critical. You might also experiment with the height of your camera. It’s kind of distracting to be on a call with someone who seems to be looking down a hole at you.

    1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

      Didn’t we have an earlier letter last year, where the manager was writing in about whether or not she should say something about her employee vaping while on video chat? And Alison’s response was “he should not be doing that. Even working from home”

      Also, likely the LW is upset because it’s likely he never stopped vaping in the office. And she’s mostly worried that he’s doing it around other people as she mentioned seeing recently.

      1. Roscoe*

        That was Alison’s response (and I disagreed then as well). People can do what they want in their homes. If you are distracted, that is you problem. That said, I think managment can enforce that, if they want. As they can enforce that you have to wear a suit on zoom’s if thy want.

        Difference here is that this woman isn’t a manager, and the guy is senior to her. If the person he is doing it around is bothered, let them speak up. She doesn’t need to be angry for them. If I was in an office with one other person, as a non smoker, I can’t say i’d care. And I wouldn’t want to be used someones reason for being upset either

      2. TRexx*

        Lots of things are distracting and annoying like barking dogs… such is working from home. Learning to look past that stuff can serve well.

    2. Joielle*

      Idk, depending on what the guy is vaping, the smell could linger long after the OP returns to the office. At that point it’ll be too late to solve the problem, unless the company is willing to shell out for serious deep cleaning, carpet replacement, etc. Can you imagine if he’s vaping some cotton-candy-flavored abomination in there? The carpet will smell like rancid potpourri forever.

      If the company doesn’t care I think there’s a limit to how hard the OP can push back, but it’s not unreasonable to be concerned about it.

      1. Todd*

        Oh wow, in my experience the vape smell normally lingers for a few minutes maximum, not even an hour. But I don’t know what products are out there.

        1. Joielle*

          Yeah, it probably depends. I have a close friend who vapes in his house frequently and it DEFINITELY smells. I’m sure if you asked him, he’d say the smell doesn’t linger, because he’s used to it. But I certainly notice it. Even if he’s not vaping at the time, or hasn’t vaped indoors in a while (he mostly does it outside in the summer) it’s in the carpet, curtains, etc.

    3. JustaTech*

      To me the issue is beyond the safety risks of the vaping and is about the fact that vaping indoors in a workplace is *illegal* where the OP works, and this executive has been told that, and continues to ignore the law.
      Then the question becomes, what other laws does this person think that he can ignore?

      I live in a place where you may not smoke or vape *anything* in any place of work (office, restaurant, bar), or within 25 feet of the door (or in a bus shelter). And because it is the law everywhere in the city, people abide by it. When we had smokers/vapers in our office they all went outside to the designated smoke/vape spot. That’s just how it is. There aren’t exceptions for “from another country” or “is a big deal”. Safety applies to everyone.

  14. Filicophyta*

    OP #5, Alison’s advice is always excellent but I don’t have a BA on my resume. Almost thirty years ago I left my BA a semester before graduation. Over the years I did other professional certification and ten years ago, I completed an MA at a good university. (They let me in without BA based on work experience, recommendations and a detailed application package.)

    I do get asked about the lack of BA at interviews but my answer has never been a problem. Of course, I don’t know if I’ve ever been denied an interview due to that, but I’ve always had a good job.
    Leaving it off might make people think you went to a dodgy for-profit school, so since you do actually have the degree, I’d go with Alison in this case.

    1. AGD*

      It’s not totally unheard of. I know people from the UK who enrolled in an MA or professional degree straight out of secondary school.

      1. TechWorker*

        This is generally a ‘combined masters’ though (so basically BA + masters but all one course), it’s not the same as a masters you would need a BA to take.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          In some cases you can cash out early with a BA (eg my then-housemate who did 3 years of a 4-year MEng and left for an exceptional job offer).

          It’s occasionally awkward to have to clarify that your “Masters” is actually a first/undergraduate degree, but it’s sufficiently common in the UK that it takes very little explanation.

          And in any case that’s the opposite of LW’s case, where she has both a true Bachelors and a true Masters. In that case, omitting the BA risks undervaluing the MA if it isn’t obvious that the latter is a postgraduate qualification.

    2. Kimmy Schmidt*

      “I do get asked about the lack of BA at interviews but my answer has never been a problem.”
      I think this is exactly the thing though. If she leaves if off, OP will get asked about it and her answer should be no problem. If she includes the degree it’ll be a non-issue and most employers won’t say anything at all, so it seems like a time and effort saver to just include it.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes, I’m in the same position, I got my master on the strength of my professional experience, so I went from A-level to Master in a year. I’m very proud of that, basically I learned five years’ worth of university education on my own, and I explain that in my cover letter, partly to explain why I don’t have a BA, but also to show that I self-taught myself to that level.

  15. Undine*

    One approach with vaping might be to bring up the issue that, being illegal, it also essentially violates the terms of your lease. It seems like, over time, the residue and smell can work their way onto the surfaces of the room and probably into the carpets and fabric. The vapor can also travel through air ducts. Does your company want to run the risk of someday being on the hook for a deep clean, not only of that office, but any other office in the building that anybody complains about? Or what if someone finds out and decided to sue them for health issues that might be related? Sure, they might get away with it, but there’s a risk and especially now, with only few people showing up, it might not be clear how much effect it is having.

    Also, if one person in the office is vaping, that gives tacit permission to other people to vape in the office, which would only increase the potential damage.

    He may even have been sincere in intending to stop, but with no one onsite to remind him and with the winter making it unpleasant to be outdoors, it’s really easy for a habit to creep back in.

    1. Retail Not Retail*

      And if you have clients in the office that could make them think less of you OR make them think it’s fine for them to do so as well.

  16. Elle by the sea*

    Yeah, weirdly enough, interviewers are really shocked when they don’t see your bachelors degree.

    I have a masters and a PhD, but no bachelors degree. It’s because I did my “undergraduate“ education in a country which – at that time – didn’t have a bachelors – masters system. It was a 5-year-long unified masters equivalent course. So, I ended up not having a bachelors. Almost every time I interviewed I had to explain this to people. There were some online systems that didn’t let me continue with the application.

      1. Not sure of what to call myself*

        You mean the free upgrade they give out after a couple of years? That would confuse anyone.

        1. Elle by the sea*

          Haha! I wouldn’t call mine free upgrade. Having to write three 60+ page theses is something I would rather call expensive than free. :) But financially, it was free. (MA, Non-oxon.)

          1. Not sure of what to call myself*

            Graduates of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin can upgrade their BA to a MA after six/seven years without having to do anything except request it and pay a fee (£10/$14 I believe at Oxford). Its a benefit of going to one of these uni’s.
            There was a stink about it back in 2011 and some MPs tried to get it abolished as they said it devalued earned MAs and could confuse some/most employers into thinking that the person had a post graduate qualification. But it never made it through the House of Commons, possibly due to the fact that several MPs had claimed their upgrade themselves.

      2. TechWorker*

        But when given a form that asks for a BA you could just still put in BA in without anyone caring?
        (From an Oxford BA + MSc who never bothered with the upgrade ;))

      3. Owlimentary*

        Can confirm, have had this exact issue interviewing with an MA(Cantab), made worse because I have a separate “real” Masters as well.

        1. Not sure of what to call myself*

          So do you put MA (Cantab) MSc/MLitt (other)? Doesn’t that trigger people to ask questions and make you explain the upgrade? The the Oxbridge/Dublin upgrades always have me curious.

          1. Owlimentary*

            I put MA(Cantab) and MSt(Oxon) and then yeah, inevitably have to answer questions about it. I decided I’d rather just have to do that every time than put BA(Cantab) which feels… not quite dishonest, but it is incorrect. I also get a lot of questions about the MSt too (mainly “wait, what does that stand for??”), because past me couldn’t pick /sensible/ degrees, oh no. The only one that ever went badly was an interviewer who decided this was an Oxbridge “scam” where we get to pretend to have a masters and lord it over the rest of humanity (and told me about it at length). That was an… interesting interview.

    1. Kathlynn (canada)*

      If there is space you might want to include that “this program didn’t require a bachelors degree” and I would see what options there are for places that require you to have a bachelors to put something equivilent (I had to do this for the job I had, required me to enter some type of education, but formatted it for only post secondary degrees (I tried to leave it blank iirc). I don’t have a degree, so I just entered my high school. And made it clear that it was only high school.
      But others may disagree with me

    2. Filicophyta*

      Online systems that work like that are annoying. I encountered that once and entered my MA twice. I got an interview but not the job, but not for that reason (but for problems related to the second stage of data form – hate those things).

      I used to worry that when people saw MA without BA they would assume the MA was a lie or from a degree mill but as far as I know, that hasn’t happened.

    3. allathian*

      I have a master’s degree, but I don’t have a bachelor’s, because I got accepted to a master’s program straight away. When I participated in a student exchange program, my college issued a “bachelor-equivalent” certificate, because the school I went to required a bachelor’s degree. Today they’ve changed the program, everyone has to do a bachelor’s degree first and there’s a minimum GPA that’s required for you to be able to apply to do the master’s. Many people take a year or two to get some work experience under their belt before they decide to continue. Some never do, but settle for the bachelor’s degree.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I have the 5-year degree where we had to defend a thesis at the end of the five years. I stupidly put it on my resume as a bachelors, and by the time I found out that it evaluates to a Master and that everyone else lists it as a Master, it was too late to evaluate or change. But wow, I didn’t know that the online systems would’ve blocked it, that’s not great.

  17. Kathlynn (canada)*

    Fir number 2, would it be the department of labor? Where I’m at it would be the department of health or WorkSafeBC. Not the labor board. Interesting difference if it is.

    1. La la la*

      Yes, if this is the US, I was thinking OSHA might actually be the better route if she wanted to make a complaint.

      1. OP#2*

        OP#2 here – so it might be OSHA too, but after talking to my lawyer friend and doing some digging around on our local laws, it turns out the official online complaint form for something like this is through the local DOL website. But maybe it could be both? If I decide to go the “complaint” route, I’ll def do some more digging. Thanks for mentioning it – I honestly wouldn’t have thought of OSHA on my own!

  18. Kathlynn (canada)*

    For the backdrop question. A white wall is good. I had the chose of a really old fake wood wall or a blanket on the wall. Because I wanted the blanket on the wall (it’s a fancy blanket that has a weaved image of a bookshelf full of books on it) anyways, I decided to use the blanket. But I was sure nervous about it and asked quite a few people before hand. The interviewer was charmed (some people didn’t think she would be). But actual wall would have been just as good.

    1. Kate, short for Bob*

      Fabric makes a great backdrop anyway – gives some soundproofing to the next room if you need it, reduces the bounciness of acoustics if your room’s a little echoey, and can be used to quickly cover e.g. a planning whiteboard with job-specific entries.

        1. Rain*

          Honestly, why do you care so much about other people’s backgrounds? Does it pain you to see a plain white wall?

          1. Joan Rivers*

            A plain white wall is like a plain business suit. It’s fine. But if you zhooosh it up the right way, it can be flattering. If you do it the wrong way, it can be unflattering. So be careful if you zhooosh. Check how it looks on the screen, get feedback from others.

            It’s like wearing black or navy vs. a tight white T-shirt, that shows more than you intend —
            sometimes people don’t seem to look in a mirror. That applies to women who wear v-neck tops that don’t show cleavage when they’re still, but the moment they move, they can. It always surprises me when people don’t MOVE when they try on clothes, because even sitting, you still move. [Look at yourself from the back, too. VPL?]

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Ooh I like the tapestry-covered whiteboard idea! I’ve been resisting hanging a bulletin board in my living room but this could be the answer.

  19. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I’d add a third example of ‘it’s acceptable to yell at work’ from bitter experience, which is dropping a whole box of printer paper on your foot, which smarts a bit, when the nearest coworker is two offices away and you need help to walk…

    1. Louise*

      I had this once where I fell and broke my ankle and had to yell for help to get off the ground … and still had to sit there for five minutes because the closest person didn’t think it was urgent.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      I sit in the office directly across from the shared kitchenette. I kept smelling something weird one day, almost like someone had sprayed WD-40…a chemical smell of some sort. Then my coworker started yelling and I turned around to see the kitchenette full of smoke! We all went running out while my boss went clamoring for the fire extinguisher! But then he realized the smoke was coming from the drain in the sink.

      Turns out one of our neighbors in the building had a leak in their bathroom. The plumbers were using a smoke bomb to try to detect the location of the leak, but didn’t realize our drainage was interconnected. We had to open all the doors and set up fans to get the smell out, but no harm was done. Scared the heck out of us, though!

    3. nonegiven*

      A can of peas fell on my foot the other day, it is all purple now and I said several loud words at the time and repeated them a few times.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      OMG you just reminded me of a horrible accident a friend had. He was working as a restaurant chef, and had sent everyone else home, saying he’d just take the bins out. Somehow the dumb waiter malfunctioned and he ended up with it chopping his arm off, the last thing he remembered was watching his arm fall down the chute! Luckily he screamed so loud just before fainting, his colleague waiting for the bus just outside heard him and went back in to see what the problem was. My friend would have bled to death otherwise.
      They stitched his arm back on, in an operation that lasted about 13 hours.

  20. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #3
    A blank wall is fine. Don’t worry about it. My only advice would be to wear a color that doesn’t clash with the wall or make you completely blend in.

  21. Caragh*

    “She models every day what mentoring and integrity look like.”
    Oh dear. I’m concerned that you think this is what mentoring and integrity should look like! If you were younger/further away from retiring, this would be even more troubling, as it would likely negative impact your career in future. Given that you seem to be expecting to stay in this role/company and with this manager until you retire, maybe it’s not so bad. But this isn’t good mentoring, or a sign of integrity. This is a weak manager who doesn’t know how to lead, how to measure the value of an employee, how to accurately establish the market value of a role, or how to guide an employee in moving on/up. This is someone who wastes your time, makes you jump through unnecessary hoops to get something as simple as a reasonable raise, and who doesn’t respect your time and effort. This isn’t an awesome manager, objectively speaking. It’s great that you feel happy, and maybe it works for you, but please do not hold this person up as a paragon of management to others. Many people would not find this person an adequate manager, let alone an awesome one. Also, I think you might just be letting your personal liking for this person colour your judgement.

    1. Generic Name*

      I’m doing research and putting pieces into place to ask for a raise at some point in maybe a year and my mentor said she’d reach out to colleagues to ask what they’re paying people in similar positions at other companies. She didn’t tell me to start interviewing to get offers to “show my worth”.

    2. Joielle*

      Yeah, I really hope there are other examples of the manager’s amazingness that aren’t mentioned in the letter because the letter itself doesn’t paint a great picture. Personally, I would feel really disrespected if I had to jump through all these hoops to get a reasonable raise – and then be told that it was basically my fault that I hadn’t “taken my career into my own hands” and “stood up for myself” earlier.

    3. Workerbee*

      I was wondering if this was just the way that company operates, and the manager doesn’t have the standing to change it but did all she could to encourage the employee to get the details needed for her to make a case that couldn’t be denied.

  22. NYWeasel*

    Re OP#4: It’s not described this way in the original letter, so maybe I’m reading in to it a bit, but I had a much more generous take on the manager’s direction than most of the responses I’m seeing. My thoughts are that the manager needed some solid “external proof” to take back to HR/upper management to be able to effectively advocate for the employee. I know that in my company, there are some pretty tight limits on annual raises, so when I’m trying to bump someone up, I have to do it in small increments. If I want to push for a higher raise than the standard %, it involves pulling together a lot of data to show why they deserve the raise. I get why it’s an extra unfair burden on the employee, but if the manager’s managers aren’t reasonable, sometimes you have to go about things in roundabout ways.

    1. NYWeasel*

      And because I didn’t specify, in my current job, the decision makers *are* reasonable, so I could get by with just outlining how the scope of work deserves higher pay. But I’ve worked for plenty of companies where they only value what other companies are willing to offer.

  23. Damn it, Hardison!*

    OP#5, I totally understand where you are coming from. I have a BA in religious studies and a master’s in theological studies. People make some assumptions about them for sure, which are valid in some cases but not in mine (I’m not religious in the least). I even had a manager says that during the hiring process they had discussed whether I would be a good fit because of my assumed religious beliefs. Removing your major should help, and it will be of less interest to anyone the longer it’s been since you graduated.

    1. kittymommy*

      LOL, I have a BA in Poli Sci and a Masters of Divinity. People are absolutely fascinated with the combo. Lately they also make a LOT of assumptions which are not correct and has led to some interesting, and rather civil, discussions.

    2. OP5*

      The University changed their name to something innocuous and meaningless a few years back which is good. I’ve never had anyone directly ask about it but especially since I’m back living locally to the University people know it.

      Before I got into my current industry I worked in restaurants, one employer mentioned to the, mostly Guatemalan, kitchen staff where I went to school. They spent the first few weeks I worked there apologizing whenever they cursed in front of me and the entire year I worked there calling me Padre.

  24. Roscoe*

    #2. What I’ve learned from reading this site is people have VERY strong opinions on vaping. I’m not a smoker, never have been. But, I went to college at the times where everyone smoked constantly in bars and I had roommates who smoked. I hated it, but I got over it.

    As for vaping, you often don’t smell it. I have friends who have been to my place, and while I don’t allow cigarettes in my home, I don’t care about the occasional vape. I remember on here there was a question about people vaping on a zoom call, and a lot of people, for some reason seemed bothered by it. It appears the poster is bothered by this too. But, if you aren’t in the office, and don’t even have a set return date, why are you so livid? Yes someone else was there, but they may not have cared. Even if its “illegal” it seems to be one of those things that currently doesn’t involve you. I agree with Alison, wait until you are back. if he is still doing it, by all means, talk to someone. But just seeing him do it on a zoom chat probably shouldn’t make you this upset, because again, it has 0 effect on you currently.

    1. tangerineRose*

      I think the LW is concerned that there might be carcinogenic stuff embedded in the walls that the LW may end up breathing when the LW gets back.

    2. JustaTech*

      Just to provide some info, in my city it is illegal to smoke/vape in any place open to the public and any place of employment (offices, stores, bars, playgrounds). There are fines to the businesses that allow smoking ($100 per infraction), and the Public Health department has a handy online form for reporting violations.

      So depending on where the OP lives it might not just be “illegal” it might be illegal with consequences to the business as a whole.

      1. Roscoe*

        I mean, lots of things are illegal. I jaywalk. Thats illegal too. Shouldn’t be anyone else’s concern unless they are currently being impacted for it.

        And even it it might have consequences to the business (lets be real, unless it is a place where the public is coming in and out of, chances are they won’t get fined), that still isn’t OPs concern. It is a management concern whether they are willing to deal with the possible consequences. OP is far too upset by this when none of it currently will have any impact on her

    3. Nanani*

      Cool story bro.

      YOU got over it but the rest of us aren’t you. Some of us get asthma attacks and migraines from it. Some of us have a stronger sense of smell than you.
      Everyone else isn’t you. This advice and attitude (“it shouldn’t bother you because it doesn’t bother me”) is bad.

      1. Roscoe*

        I mean, that’s unfortunate for you that you have a stronger sense of smell.

        Point being, currently, this doesn’t involve OP since she isn’t in the office and hasn’t mentioned even having a return date. So my point of she should probably get over it for now is valid. And it definitely shouldn’t make someone livid about what is happening when she isn’t there.

        1. Dream Jobbed*

          No, not unfortunate for them for having a stronger sense of smell. It is illegal. People get physically sick from it. It puts chemicals into the air that others have to breath. It gets into the walls and carpets and materials that non-users have to interact with. The long-term consequences are unknown.

          Your smugness does not belong in a workplace. You can carry that attitude into your home, but for a bunch of reason explained above by numerous posts, it does not belong into a place where other people have to work. What you can do at home is very different from what you can do at work, and if you are unwilling to accept that simple conclusion I doubt you will gain much from this site. The workplace should stay as carcinogen free as possible, regardless of how long it will be until people return. And people do tend to get livid when entitled others continue to do things that are legally and morally wrong in spite of being told not to over and over again.

  25. BRR*

    #4 in this instance your manager actually sounds…well kind of bad. At the end of the day she thinks you’re worth the higher compensation but chose to give you small raises, even when you said you were going to explore other options. She wanted you to know your value while she already knew it and ignored it. Not to mention it sounds like it was shared knowledge that you were probably not going to leave.

    I think speaking up in this scenario would usually entail presenting the case for a raise based on your accomplishments and things like that.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      YES! The boss had no problem of advocating for the higher salary AFTER LW#4 interviewed with multiple other companies. That’s unnecessary. It seems like this started after the LW decided to start job hunting because she was underpaid. If the boss really valued LW#4 she would have noticed that she deserved higher raises for the last few years and could have advocated for one without the other offers, the boss could have researched market value of the role, the boss could have asked LW#4 to research the market value of the role.

      It wasn’t exactly terrible; the boss was completely transparent, but underpaying an employee until they are unhappy enough to job hunt and then multiple interviews and presumably even more applications were unnecessary and a lot of work for LW#4 and did actually risk losing a valued employee because of long term low compensation.

    2. yokozbornak*

      You are assuming the manager has control over the raises and compensation, and that is often just not the case. Many organizations (including mine) will only give raises or increases once a year and it is tied to performance ratings. They also deem a certain percentage increase for everyone who receive acceptable performance metrics with no exceptions. To get a bigger increase, people have to be promoted or there has to be an extraordinary circumstance. My guess would be that the boss knows the letter writer is valuable and knows that this is the only way to get HR to increase compensation. It is the reality of a lot of companies. It sounds to me like the manager is advocating for her employees while working in a system that is in place.

      1. Myhandsfull*

        I came here to say the exact same thing. I could see myself using the strategy for a particularly fabulous employee. I would not want to lose them, but I know that in the field where I work and as middle-management, I don’t have the ability to advocate for that kind of raise unless I have supporting documentation. Our corporate office is in a state with a lower cost of living, and it’s hard enough to get new hires approved near the top of the salary range. It’s an issue I’m working on as I rise within the company, but the reality is that it would take that kind of outside data to get a larger raise. I try to be the kind of manager that wants the best thing for my employees. So, if that means they go somewhere else where they can get what they should be paid, then that’s what I want for them. I try hard to make sure that the environment they work in is excellent enough to offset any pay difference that might exist and for those who choose otherwise, I then have more ammunition to take up the ladder to show how I need to be able to pay more.

      2. Mockingjay*

        Good point. I work on a fixed fee contract and funds for raises have to be factored into the cost bid up front. Current Job is very good about reinvesting its profit into employees and gives decent annual increases, but there is a point at which the labor rate is no longer competitive. It’s the nature of my particular industry.

        That said, Alison and other commenters are correct that the manager should be aware of current market compensation for their employees’ roles. For example, say I am close to the top of the pay range for my contract labor category. My manager knows that to get me another increase (other than COLA) means she may have to switch me to the next higher category, or move me to a different one. Thus she can assign me work that reflects the different duties and provide training for qualifications, so she can make the case during my next eval. But my increase has to be balanced against other team members who are also seeking increases and the finite funds available to be portioned this year.

        TL;DR: Managers usually have an allotment for increases and should be aware of employee market value, to make the best decisions/justifications for increases among all employees.

      3. BRR*

        I will definitely acknowledge managers often don’t have much control over salaries. But if the manager needed the LW to have an offer in hand to give a substantial raise, she should have presented the situation that way. “I think the work you’re doing is worth more but I’m unable to secure a raise without you having an offer in hand” or something like that. The way it’s described in the letter is the manager ignoring that she has a direct influence on the LW’s compensation. The tone is all about teaching the LW a lesson.

        I don’t disagree that the manager’s intent could have been advocating for her employee, but the actions don’t align with that.

        1. yokozbornak*

          Many companies would fire a manager for doing that. The manager may need some plausible deniability here. She may also know that getting an increase is not always guaranteed and would genuinely want the letter writer to accept a new position if it was a better fit.

          I just think a lot of people here are saying the manager is bad when there is no evidence here that this is the case. The letter writer (who is close to retirement age) thinks she is amazing so why can’t we trust her judgment? She works with her daily and we don’t.

  26. RD*

    Related to OP #4… I manage someone and wanted to advocate for a pretty sizable pay increase for them this year. My boss asked me to look at other job openings available right now to see which ones for which she would be a good fit. We compared the salary range listed for those opportunities and increased her pay accordingly. I thought that was a very fair way to something similar.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      And another reason why job vacancy listings should have salary bands stated, and remuneration should be more transparent in general.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I think my company may do something similar. For context, I work as a software developer for a company that’s a wholly owned subsidiary of another company that is decidedly NOT in the software field, and headquartered in a different state as well. I assume the standard raises are enough to keep most employee salaries in line with what they would get at another company. However, they aren’t enough to keep a software developer’s salary in line with what we could make at another business in our geographic area.

      As a result, I’ve gotten a couple of large salary adjustments over my tenure here, as management has determined our salaries were out of sync with the local market. I just wish they had a more formal process for evaluating this, since one time was right after we had a couple people leave for other (presumably higher paying) jobs, and another was after we had several candidates turn down offers because they could get more money elsewhere. I wish they evaluated this yearly (or on some other regular schedule) rather when they randomly get an external reminder that other companies pay more for the same work.

    3. The Rural Juror*

      The big difference was that you and your boss did that preemptively, which is awesome. You didn’t make the employee go out and do that legwork to prove they deserved the raise. You sound like a good manager!

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      yeah, you did the homework for your underling. You didn’t make your underling do it, which is what OP4’s manager did.

  27. SleepyKitten*

    OP#2, I agree that this person shouldn’t be vaping in the office (even in the UK where it’s legal, it’s very rude to vape indoors and many places have policies about it). However, I think that you don’t need to be so worried about second hand smoke residue! While not all of the chemicals in vapes and e-cigarettes are known to be safe, the smoke is definitely missing a lot of the chemicals that are harmful in cigarette smoke, like tar and formaldehyde. The popcorn lung problem only happens with long term high dose exposure (which is why microwave popcorn is safe but working in a popcorn factory is not) There also just isn’t as much second hand smoke, because you’re not lighting an open stick on fire but instead heating up the liquid in an enclosed space. This is assuming a standard type of e cigarette of course, if it’s something with actual tobacco in then I can see why you’d be concerned.

    You could also ask the coworker who was in the room whether they mind the e-smoking, and then you can go to management together. But honestly, not wearing a mask is the much bigger health risk to everyone right now, so if you’re going to complain about anything I’d focus on that.

    1. A*

      Yes. I don’t support what OP’s coworker is doing because, well there’s a time and a place (and work isn’t it). However there’s a lot of misinformation floating around in these comments. I’m not even talking about the lesser knowns / unknowns in re: to health hazards, but more so people still associated it with the unrelated EVALI lung illness, comparing the carcinogen residue to cigs etc.

  28. Ubi Caritas*

    #1, it’s not like you threw a ten minute tantrum! You are definitely allowed to yell “Stop touching me!” and leave, especially since this was the second time.

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      Especially if it now means that people are suddenly paying attention to the situation.

      “This is the second time I’ve told you to keep your hands off me!” I believe the whole office heard me.

    2. caradom*

      Exactly, he couldn’t hide it once everyone knew. A lesson abusive people need to learn: at some point you will meet your match. When I got a job I was really lucky to get (meant my career was close to friends and family) a loser tried to humiliate me in front of other people. I said ‘my qualifications and experience and research profile are way above yours so stop being dumb and get a grip’. He ran off. He’d done it to other people and management wanted a formal meeting. For some reason I only agreed to an informal one (but they made it clear they were fed up of him and he was on ‘watch’.)

  29. No Tribble At All*

    Blank wall: yes, a blank wall is fine. Don’t even worry about adding fake tasteful decor.

    One advantage of a blank wall is it reduces the clutter on the video if your internet gets throttled. Imagine your setup pixelated — if you’re the only thing in the frame, you’ll be less pixelated than if you have several distinct objects in the background.

  30. Jennifer*

    #2 I understand why you are upset, but I agree with your partner that it may be better to report this once you are back in the office, if this coworker continues smoking indoors. It’s clear that management doesn’t care, and the federal agencies you could report it to definitely have bigger fish to fry now.

    1. JustaTech*

      Depending on where the OP lives it might be city, county or state officials, but agree that they are probably swamped with other stuff. Which is no excuse to ignore the law, but impacts enforcement.

  31. aloha pr*

    I just want to mention something — it’s a common misconception that a ‘religious studies’ degree is, well, religious. It’s most often a secular degree that takes an anthropological, sociological, historical, philosophical, etc. approach to religion. Doctrinal degrees are more likely to be in “Church Studies/History” (although there are non-doctrinal programs in Church History, they are the minority–you can often tell if they are non-doctrinal if they are a tiny subdepartment of a history department at a secular university), “Theology”, etc.

    (Interestingly, McCutcheon’s “Just follow the money” makes a convincing argument that the religious studies/theology split, in the United States, owes a lot of its history to the post-Sputnik National Defence Fellowships and a Cold War culture of covert cultural propaganda, as exemplified in the creation and funding of things like the art exhibits, the Kenyon Review, and Iowa Writer’s Workshop, source of ‘show don’t tell’ writing maxim.)

    1. Person*

      Yeah, a good friend has a degree in religion, but it was really more of a philosophy degree, just the professors and courses they were most interested in were in the religion department. Basically all studying the way people look at the world.

  32. Jam Today*

    In a million years I will never understand the impulse people have to put their hands on people who explicitly and directly tell them “no”. They deserve to be yelled at, they deserve to be made uncomfortable and ashamed, and sometimes they deserve to be fired. All of that is in bounds.

    1. Generic Name*

      Well, people who blast through other people’s boundaries aren’t doing it on impulse. They are violating others deliberately because they want to and because they think they can.

      1. Jam Today*

        I get that. My point is I don’t understand the wanting to, that’s such an alien concept to me. I used to work at a company where people behaved like this, and I’ll repeat a story I told here a couple of years ago:

        I had an offside overnight department retreat (which I object to on principle for several reasons that I won’t get into) and knowing that my company was filled with very huggy people I asked upfront for people to refrain from hugging me, because I am not and my reasons for that are my own. I said it a few times, so people would be clear that I was serious. Apparently this had the opposite of the intended effect because when I got there, the first thing that happened was one of my colleagues got up from the table she was sitting at and hugged me. Then, THE VP OVER MY DEPARTMENT pulled out his wallet and gave her $10. I learned that before I arrived, he offered money to the first person who would hug me. He literally PUT A BOUNTY ON ME. What are my options at that point? Walk out, and risk my job. Call it out and embarrass him in front of 40 people, and risk my job. Keep my mouth shut, and keep my job. I chose option three, which in turn resulted in half my colleagues *also* feeling very free to put their arms around me after having been quite clear that this was extremely unwelcome. I still go into a slight panic whenever I even think about this, and it was 11 years ago. It seems trivial (a hug? come on, get over it) but the fact that an executive in my company actually, factually, put a bounty on me — and that not one of my coworkers thought it bad and that they should text me about before I got there so I could made a decision about what to do — still haunts me.

        The punchline to this? He was dating the VP of Human Resources, who was there the entire time. So, guess who had nowhere to go for help? *raises hand*

        1. juliebulie*

          What happened to the VP of your department? Because that’s some weird shit, accepting a fee to hug someone who doesn’t want to be hugged.

          1. Jam Today*

            He was promoted.

            Its upsetting on both sides: 1) that a VP thinks that putting a bounty on their employee is funny and a normal thing to do in a work setting (or any setting) and 2) that not one of the ~40 people in the room objected or thought they should warn me about what was going to happen. I’m sure you can imagine how hard to go into work after that knowing that there was not one single person in my entire department that I could trust.

            1. juliebulie*

              Yes, sadly I’ve had that feeling. I’m sorry you experienced that. Sometimes the sheer variety of different ways to be crappy to a coworker really depresses me.

            2. tangerineRose*

              If it helps at all, there were probably a lot of people there who thought this was wrong but were afraid to do anything about it.

          1. Jam Today*

            It was…not good. That, along with some other things involving my *direct* manager, all combined to make it the worst year of my life, and ones that I continue to spiral out about periodically, 11 years down the road.

            Interestingly, I am in a thread on the Twitters about abusive jobs and how long we stay at them for a host of reasons. One of the things I mentioned there is that they grind us down so much that they rob us of our ability to speak with confidence about our abilities and talents, so we can’t even interview well to try and escape.

  33. employment lawyah*

    1. Is it ever okay to yell at work?
    Yes and you were fine.

    2. My coworker smokes e-cigarettes at work but it’s illegal
    If it isn’t next to you; in the same room with you; at your desk; or in a place where you have a specific issue with a specific harm at that specific time… I would frankly leave it alone as you will probably seem annoying and get tagged as such. “I saw someone on a video call and this is an issue!” is not a great look, to be honest.

    3. Is it okay to do a virtual interview against a blank wall?
    Yes, sure, but be sure to take a couple of screen grabs and look at them critically. When there is one solid color and a fixed lighting source, it becomes very important WHAT color / lighting it is relative to your skin tone, clothes, hair, etc.

    People are very visual and if it’s “just your head against a ____ wall” you need a different approach than “you against a patterned background of different colors.”

    4. My boss encouraged me to apply to other jobs to know my value
    Your boss was not a good boss. It worked for you, here–but that is not a good thing to do for the company or for you, I would think, for the reasons AAM describes.

    5. Can I take my bachelor’s degree off my resume?
    No because everyone leaves it in there. But you can keep it small, one line, and can often (if appropriate) abbreviate your school name, taking some focus away from religious terminology. Nobody will care since they are only looking at the education degree.

    I.e. you can probably replace

    “Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies with a Minor in Pastoral Management, Saint Anselm’s Seminary”


    “B.A., 1999, St.Ans. Sem.”

    so to speak.

  34. Not So Super-visor*

    #4 I don’t know that this is necessarily the manager’s fault for not compensating the employee at a higher level. It could be an institutional problem. It sounds like the manager knew how to play the game with the company — show the higher ups that a valued employee could leave and that this is the rate/benefit package that competitors are willing to pay for this employee. This is very much how the company that I work for operates. I will hear “No. No. No” from my VP and HR about trying to offer a raise even if I can build a solid business case, but as soon as I show them an employee’s offer from another company, they’re open to renegotiating. I agree that it’s awful (and no, I don’t plan on staying here forever and putting up with that), but the manager doesn’t always have the ultimate power.

  35. AmosBurton*

    Regarding #2? Let’s be honest. If a C-suite executive is electronic smoking, and you have already complained about it?Four times? And he keeps doing it? It means you don’t have the juice to get him to stop. If, as you say, you can’t afford to lose your job? It would be wise to let this one go. Because if you push too far it is very likely that you WILL lose your job. In the real world, if you annoy a C-suite exec enough? He will have you fired.

    Fair? No. Reality? Yes. And in the end? This is really annoying, but just that. Not really dangerous (to you), not really affecting your ability to work. Not a fundamental moral issue. If you complained four times already (especially a about a C-suite exec), it is very likely that you are on somebody’s radar already. I know it isn’t “fair”, but unless you are willing to accept the very real risk that you will lose your job over it? I’d simply grit your teeth and leave it be; this probably isn’t the hill to risk dying on.

    1. Myrin*

      I mean, the company put a stop to it when OP complained the first times one-and-a-half years ago and the guy apologised and didn’t do it again until recently – it’s not like the company hemmed and hawwed and didn’t do anything all the while Vapey just continued smoking throughout all of this.

      I can easily imagine his thinking that since he’s alone (or with just one other person) in the office, no one is going to be bothered by this and that the normal rules are not being held up right now/he can get away with it right at the moment/it’s been so long that he can slide right back into his preferred behaviour, but there’s no indication that he’d react vengefully or that the company wouldn’t be willing to address the issue again (and, in fact, if I were in OP’s boss’s shoes, I’d be annoyed at Vapey for thinking he can clandestinely flaunt rules that have already been explained to him in the past, not at OP).

      1. A*

        Agreed… but OP is talking about filing an official complaint with OSHA/labor board etc. Very different than requesting employer to intervene again.

  36. Get Out Vapers*

    #2: I was on a plane (precovid) while pregnant where someone was vaping. On a plane! With recirculated air. They were one aisle over and it was incredible noxious.

    I pointed it out to the flight attendant (I am a Doctor and know how harmful these fumes are, especially on a recirculated air environment like a plane) who said they could only do something if they personally noticed it. They warned the passengers (3 guys were passing it around), but I was sure no consequences would happen- who would be stupid enough to do it again once they were warned?

    You probably know where this is going.

    5 minutes later dude starts vaping again. Flight attendant notices, confiscates it and hands them an official looking paper (maybe a fine or a summons- something bad ) dude tries to throw it away (on the floor- rude), immediately

    Flight attendant: “you need to handle that, it’s the law”
    Dude: You can’t make me. You don’t even know who I am.
    Flight attendant: Yes, we know who everyone is on the plane- you needed to sign up with an ID…. we know who you are… (Expression like: how. How did this person dress themselves?)

    I know this doesn’t help your situation, but hopefully you find some satisfaction from an illegal vaper getting their comeuppance.

    1. anonymous 5*

      I’m not OP5, but I always love a story like this. Bonus points for the reply to the “you don’t even know who I am…” BS. :D Dearly hope the dude actually got the penalty–whatever was on the paperwork–that he deserved!

    2. JustaTech*

      Vaping on a plane? I get that most people don’t actually listen to the safety spiel at the beginning of *every* flight, but they say very clearly that you can’t smoke and you can’t vape and that to disobey a flight attendant is a federal offense.

      Some people are *really* entitled.

      1. Deejay*

        For bonus points have it happen on a flight with Samuel L. Jackson so he can express his disapproval of these monkey-fighting vapes on this Monday-to-Friday plane.

  37. response to five*

    OP5, I also have a BA from a weirda** religious college that has a national rep for some not-so-great stuff. I have an MA, took a number of years off to be in the professional world, and am working on a PhD now. I went to that school largely as a result of where / how I was raised, changed a lot personally after graduation, and I get exactly why you might want to leave it off.

    But like Allison notes, it’s so weird to not include a BA that you actually have that I’ve concluded it would raise more questions than it answers.

    So, two things:
    1) Colleagues in the professional world — people w/ PhDs, working in the kind of role I want — assure me that now that I have an MA and will have a PhD, people don’t care as much. It’s *years* in the past.
    2) I still worry about it, of course, so I really lean into the kind of professional work that sets me apart from the kinds of assumptions people who read my resume might make about that particular school. I actively work to get stuff on my CV / cover letter / public accomplishments that demonstrates my growth. When I applied for doctoral programs, I looked for ways to subtly indicate that I had moved past where I was when I attended the school.

    I’m sure that in some cases, the school is still a detractor. Nothing I can do about it now. But it’s less of a detractor than leaving the BA off would be, and there’s ways to get around it and demonstrate that you rise above your school.

    Good luck!

  38. MamaSarah*

    OP 1 – I once did a yoga class with an instructor who offered to put a drop so essential oil on your wrist during shivasana. If you did not want the oil, you rested your hand on your heart. I thought it was a lovely and a beautiful way to signal touch was not part of your practice that day. All touch should be consensual. ❤️

    OP 2 – This has propably been shared already on this thread, but e-cigarettes and e-vaping can have a tremendous impact on a person’s covid infection. Not worth the gamble.

    1. Op 1*

      I love that. I hate being touched. I don’t even like shaking hands. What’s the point i can look you in the eyes to let you know I met you. No need for putting our hands together. Hopefully more people will realize that all touch should be optional

    2. Jack Russell Terrier*

      Yes, I teach yoga (well virtually now) and do hands on assists.

      It’s best practice at the start of class, when everyone is in child’s pose, or cannot see everyone else to say ‘I use hands on assists, if you don’t want that please put your right hand out / above your head etc’. If you have an injury or something physical I should know about, please do the same with your left hand’. That should also be done for savasana because some people are fine with being touched during class and not savasana. I was taught to rub my hands together before touching anyone who couldn’t see me approach not to startle them.

      In a good yoga teacher training this is really, really discussed.

      1. OyHiOh*

        which is exactly what did not happen in a yoga studio I went to exactly once, for this reason.

        I do enough yoga to know when/where/how I need to modify for my practice.

        The instructor a) did not explicitly say she does hand on assist and b) walked over and started trying to “correct” a much needed modification without asking. Some days, I think I should have just walked out at that point in the class but I settled for not going back to that studio. Sad, because they do lovely outdoor sessions in early morning during the summers.

      2. UKDancer*

        Same in anything else. In the before times my ballet teacher used to come over and adjust people, move them if they were not in the correct position. He would always say at the start of class that if someone didn’t want, for any reason, for him to adjust them then they just had to let him know and he would give the cue verbally.

        Personally I preferred him to move me as I could feel where I was supposed to be better but I liked that he always asked people to indicate their preference.

        Now classes are over zoom so the question doesn’t come up.

  39. lilsheba*

    On the e cig story, I have to say something. They are NOT smoking they are vaping, it’s two different things. There is nothing actually on fire here, it’s just steam. Not smoke. Please don’t call it smoking when it’s not. It doesn’t affect anyone else around the person who vapes like smoke might.

    1. Observer*

      This is a distinction without much of a difference. Vaping is not as bad as smoking, but it DOES affect the people around them.

    2. Vape*

      Yeah its like the difference between heating up food with a microwave vs. putting it on a charcoal grill.

      Several orders of magnitude difference.

    3. JustaTech*

      If it’s illegal where then OP lives then it’s illegal and that really should be the end of the conversation.

      Vaping is not smoking a cigarette is not smoking a cigar is not using a smoke machine set to max is not having a bonfire. But they all put particulates into the air, and particulates, no matter what the source (including non-combustion like dust) are not good for the lungs.

      Again, if it is illegal where OP lives (it’s illegal where I live) then there is no judgment call about vaping vs smoking, it’s all illegal and that means the executive should stop.

    4. Nanani*

      It isn’t just steam. It has stuff in it that can and does harm others, from respiratory distress to migraine triggers.

      Changing the word doesn’t change the fact that it does bother people. You are incorrect.

  40. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    OP3 – blurring is fine although some video conferencing tools are better at distinguishing what should and shouldn’t blurred better than others. Some tools also allow custom backgrounds (we use these at my work all the time). Sometimes a blurred background can be a bit distracting, at the same time it is an (often unwanted) intrusion of work into our private homes that has been thrust on us by Covid times and not displaying your home to (possible future) colleagues is perfectly acceptable. That said, I would not think anything at all if someone had a completely plain wall behind them while I was interviewing them :)

  41. Delta Delta*

    #2 – It sort of sounds like #2 was at the BEC stage with this job and this might not be the right job anymore. She sounds very upset about the fact this is potentially unlawful behavior, and also that despite the complaints, the problem persists. Put aside the possible illegality (this wouldn’t wander into criminal behavior, so at best you end up with an OSHA or DOL fine, if anything?), and it leaves the irritation that a legitimate complaint didn’t help the situation. Now #2 is working from home and seeing someone do something they shouldn’t be doing, and it’s causing upset, despite the fact there’s no real impact other than the person is doing something they’re not supposed to be doing. This signals to me not that it’s an issue with the vaping, but that it’s an issue with the job, the systems in place, and management’s willingness to address issues. Swap “vaping” with “bringing his dog despite our no-pets policy” or “not putting cover sheets on his TPS reports even though 4 managers said we have to” and it’s basically the same – someone seems to be getting away with doing something they’re not supposed to do. The ripple effect is one of not feeling respected or feeling like different employees get different rules, and *that* might be what the actual problem is.

    1. JustaTech*

      In my county smoking and vaping (of anything) are prohibited in public spaces and places of employment, with a possible $100 fine to the business, administered by the public health department (which is probably a bit busy with other things right now).
      So it’s not a labor thing here, it’s a health thing. I don’t know how it works where OP2 lives.

  42. Silly Janet*

    #4, that is great that strategy worked out well for you, but I definitely do not recommend it for everyone. Years ago at a former job, a colleague of mine approached our supervisor asking for a raise. He had worked with us for three years, but worked under her at another org previously. She said basically the same thing- she values him, but they don’t have the money, and if that is important to him, he should look elsewhere. He was extremely hurt and offended. Granted, he was a person whose pride was easily injured. He basically put in his two weeks notice then and there, left without saying goodbye to anyone, and never spoke to our supervisor again. The personalities, relationship, and history between the employee and supervisor really matter in a situation like this.

  43. gmg22*

    My reaction to LW #2, in addition to the LW’s concerns about this behavior not being legal, was simply to think that it’s pretty rude to vape on camera in the middle of a meeting regardless of where you’re logging on from. But then I stumped myself a bit wondering whether I think the same thing about eating or drinking, and whether I’m being arbitrary because of the social stigma around smoking. Thinking about what would be usual polite practice in in-person meetings, I came up with:

    – Eating could be sometimes OK, but ideally only in a small group meeting and you need to be neat and polite about it, ie mute your line, cover your mouth when you chew, etc.
    – An occasional sip on a beverage is fine in most settings, large or small; think an in-person panel discussion where people have water on hand in case their throat gets dry, etc.
    – Vaping simply doesn’t seem polite behavior for any work setting, any more than smoking in a conference room would be in the 21st century — it’s something you do on breaks, on your own time. It would be incredibly distracting to me even to see someone doing this from their own home.

    A different angle on the question of personal needs vs politeness during virtual meetings came up among a group of my friends the other day when one shared that she had had several colleagues join calls while walking on their home treadmills, and likewise found it super distracting and was trying to decide whether she should ask them not to do that. I haven’t been on AAM much recently, so perhaps Alison has covered this topic recently in a letter — I should look through the archives.

    1. juliebulie*

      Also, people need to eat and drink. Sometimes they have to do so at particular times for health reasons, especially if some merciless person has scheduled them for hours of back-to-back meetings. On the other hand, vaping can usually wait.

      1. JustaTech*

        I’m not a smoker, so this is a question, but isn’t smoking/vaping a “relaxing” activity? A break in the day, a sigh after work, something the person does to relieve stress and relax?
        If so, that would be the reason I would think it’s not appropriate to do during a meeting, because it gives the impression that you’re not engaged but are easing back.

    2. Roscoe*

      THis is going to come across mean, but that’s fine. Seriously, how easily are some people distracted? Someone was walking on a treadmill and someone else wanted to ask them to stop because it was distracting? How do people survive in actual offices where there are windows and things going on?

      1. OyHiOh*

        As evidenced by productivity spikes across approximately one third of employed adults currently working from home, who wish never to go back to an office (per LinkedIn around 2 weeks ago so not exactly scientific but seems roughly accurate), enough people are easily distracted in traditional office environments that it shouldn’t be seen as some weird anomaly.

        1. Roscoe*

          I understand workplace distractions with coworkers. But like, how can you not focus just because someone is eating or walking or a treadmill or vaping? My coworkers have cats walking across their screens, I have sirens in my backyard, 30 min ago it sounded like 2 dogs were fighting outside my place. If people can focus with those issues, I’m still not understanding how seeing someone on a screen not just staring at you is distracting

          1. pancakes*

            Those are very momentary distractions, though. A person on a treadmill is going to be bouncing up and down to some extent, unless their pace is extremely slow. For that reason I’ve always found it difficult to read while using one. I don’t think the constant motion would be any less distracting than someone anxiously jiggling their knee at an in-person meeting, which can be really irritating if it’s within eyeshot and habitual.

      2. Des*

        I can’t focus on my mental tasks properly when there’s stuff going on around me. At work there’s a ravine outside my window so the most distracting thing I’d see is a pretty bird or some deer, and I don’t mind being distracted by those. I think some distractions are unavoidable when WFH (e.g. kids, pets) but if it is avoidable then being courteous to your coworkers who just want to get stuff done would be nice.

    3. Unpopular*

      Having your crying baby or barking dog on camera is also distracting, and not something you would usually do at the workplace. Not sure why having a cigarette or a quick vape would be more distracting or unacceptable than that.

    4. Dream Jobbed*

      But I’ve worked places where you could not have food or drink at your desk. (Rare books library.) That was the rule (no law backing it up) so out of respect for supervisors, coworkers, but mostly the books, it never occurred to me to eat at my desk.

      Currently I do not eat on Zoom meetings. If I was ever in a situation where I had six hours of meetings in a row, no breaks, and blood sugar issues, I would let people know that is why I am sneaking snacks while in the meeting. I don’t worry about drinking (non-alcohol of course) on zoom meetings, because I take water into every work meeting I go into pre-Covid. Different norms.

  44. FCJ*

    I think #5 might be more complex than Alison is making it out to be. Religious studies isn’t a “religious degree”–it’s a broad academic field that often has more to do with sociology and anthropology than “religion” per se. Based on the OP’s wording, it isn’t just “I got a degree in RelStu and went into marketing statistics so it’s irrelevant,” it’s potentially, “I got a degree in Evangelical Mission from Liberty University.” The name of the school might be just as much of a problem for the OP as the major.

    As a person whose job title and credentials make me sound SUPER CHRISTIAN when I’m not even a monotheist, I’m not sure what the solution to that might be, besides making sure that the way you present yourself and your work since then doesn’t feed into whatever stereotypes you’re hoping to avoid, and be prepared to answer questions with something like, “My life has changed direction a lot since I was in undergrad,” and switch the topic to the job.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      The name of the school might be just as much of a problem for the OP as the major.

      That’s how I read the OP’s question as well. It’s not that they have a religious studies degree so much as they have a degree from a religious institution, which regardless of what they majored in may raise all kinds of questions (valid or not) about their education or cultural fit. OP went on to get another degree from what might not be a religious institution, which probably helps to explain away what they’re worried about.

    2. Urban Prof*

      I’m heartened to see your comment. I was honestly a bit sad to see “Religious Studies” used as a placeholder for the religious-sounding degree.

      Religious studies is indeed much more like anthropology or sociology than theology, and I wish more people knew this.

  45. MissDisplaced*

    4. My boss encouraged me to apply to other jobs to know my value
    I’m in slight disagreement on this because I see where the boss is coming from. You SHOULD be proactive and know what the market is like and what your skills are worth in the market. And if you’re trying to make a case for a substantial raise, you should have some backup research to show where you’re at in the market. A lot of companies only give the standard COLA, and even a manager’s hands can be tied unless there is solid research to back up a larger raise. Granted, encouraging an employee to actually go and interview to find that out was a bit odd, but asking for comparisons of job descriptions or salaries I don’t see as being inherently unusual.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      But shouldn’t an employer be aware of how the salaries they pay compare to similar companies? It feels like their outsourcing this work to the employee.

  46. caradom*

    1) He would be lucky if I didn’t stab him in his private parts. Well done for yelling and reporting! Normally the letters consist of people who have been putting up with it for ages. If I was you I would be very proud of myself because there’s a very good chance it means it saved a few victims (maybe even more with him having to deal with the consequences of being fired)!

  47. Tired of Covid-and People*

    #3: I just got off a Microsoft Teams call where the other party had a fake kitchen background. I always have my camera off because logistics. Their hair would sometimes disappear and their was a glowing outline around their head. It was far more distracting than a plain wall would have been. When people use books as a background, I’m always trying to see what the titles are because I’m an avid reader.
    Unless it’s complete disarray though, I don’t think anyone really cares much at all. Much ado about nothing.

  48. Des*

    What the heck…blurring your background is totally fine! Blank wall is great. You’re way overthinking this.

    You probably don’t want to use a sunny-beach background but short of that, as long as it looks professional/office like you could go for ti. I personally absolutely do not care what the background looks like as long as it’s not garish colors (and I’m conducting interviews right now).

  49. 1Potato2Potato3Potato4*

    I haven’t read all the comments and I’m late to the party here so I’m sorry if this has already been mentioned. I’m wondering if the person vaping is using it as an excuse to not wear his/her mask as often since you can’t wear a mask and vape at the same time. Just an idea.

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