I shaved my head and now my coworkers think I have cancer, I don’t want to take time off, and more

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

1. I shaved my head and I think my coworkers think I have cancer

A few months into lockdown, I was extremely fed up with my overgrown hair, had a little bit too much to drink one evening, and buzzed my hair. Even though it looks terrible, it’s so easy to deal with that I’m keeping it until I feel safe to go to a hair stylist again.

My work transitioned smoothly to working from home with frequent video calls with coworkers, occasionally vendors, but never clients. I wear hats for video calls and, if anybody says anything, I just say it’s cold where I am and change the subject.

However, I’ve recently noticed that people are being very considerate of me. Lots of checking in and “How are you doing?” and encouraging me to rest if I need it. A couple of people have brought up friends/family of theirs who had cancer and recovered from it, without it arising very naturally in the conversation. Throw in the fact that the style of hat I wear is often marketed as a “chemo cap” and I’ve got a horrible feeling I’ve given people a very wrong impression. I’ve got no idea how to correct that impression!

Do you have the kind of culture where on the next video call with a group of your coworkers you could simply say in a light-hearted way, “I’ve heard there’s been some speculation and concern about my missing hair! I’m fine — this is a pandemic cut since I’m not going to a hair stylist right now. No need for any concern!”

That might be enough to correct any rumor mill that’s at work. But if you get more comments after that, personally I’d just address it head-on and say, “In case you’re worried because of my hair, I’m fine! It’s just a pandemic cut.” (But I apparently have a much higher tolerance for awkwardness than many people.)

2. How do I persuade my manager NOT to make me take time off?

I’m in a situation that I suspect a lot of people would like: I have hardly taken any of my annual leave this past year, and have four weeks’ worth to take before the end of March. The trouble is, I don’t want to take any time off. I will be separating from my husband as soon as lockdown is over. He doesn’t know, because as bad as it is at home right now, being broken up but not being able to get away and move out would be worse; I’m waiting to tell him at a point when I can actually leave. (There is no abuse and I am not worried about my safety.)

Because I haven’t told him yet, no one else knows. I can’t talk about this with friends, family, or counselors because we’re stuck in the house together and he generally never leaves the house. When he does, it’s ad hoc, and I can’t arrange phone calls with people on the off chance that they’ll be free at some unknown point in time. My mental health is suffering badly, and I’m fighting depression and anxiety every day, but trying my best to appeal normal. Work is my lifeline. On days I don’t work, I struggle badly. I love my job and am doing really good work at the moment. Weekends are something I dread, not look forward to. I can’t drive and am avoiding public transport until case numbers drop, so I’m stuck with the maximum of one walk a day, then hanging round the house.

My manager wants me to make a plan to take my annual leave, but I don’t want to. Not working at the moment is actively bad for me. As a manager, is there any way in which one of your reports could convince you to let them not use their annual leave, but without having to go into details about the reasons why? I am fine with forfeiting the leave; I just want to keep working.

(I’m not looking for suggestions about how to use my time off – trust me, in the last 11 months I’ve tried a lot of things, but the only thing that keeps me on an even keel is working.)

I’m sorry, what a hard situation.

Would you be willing to say something to your manager like, “Normally I would be thrilled to have so much leave to use up, but right now some things going on at home make it difficult for me to be there any extra amount of time. I want to be clear that I understand the benefits of taking time off and normally I’d have no problem doing it, but my current circumstances make it very difficult. Is there a way for me to either roll this leave over until later in the year, donate it to someone else who might need it, or forfeit it entirely?”

Ultimately the answer might be no; your company might have rules this would violate, and in some fields ensuring people take time off is a way to guard against fraud (although that might be a non-issue with your job). But it’s reasonable to ask about it in a situation like yours.

3. How do I tell my new boss he can’t go over his meeting time?

I’m an admin who has been at my current job for almost a year now. In that time, I’ve gone through four directors due to various job changes and reorgs. My newest boss, Pierre, took over in November. I don’t yet know him well and haven’t met him in person.

Other than required personnel, most of my department is still teleworking, which means a lot of video meetings. Each video meeting requires a “host” and each host can only run one meeting at a time. I have back to back meetings nearly every day, which means if someone goes over, all my meetings are now off-schedule.

Pierre is constantly going over his time. If he just asked for more time, I could schedule it appropriately, but last week he asked for half an hour then went for an hour and 15 minutes. How do I either let him know he needs to stick to the time he asked for, or ask for more time? Or, if he doesn’t, how do I politely cut in and ask him to wrap it up when he’s going over?

If he were just running over by a small amount, I’d say to just schedule longer buffers between meetings — but if he’s running over by 45 minutes, that’s not practical.

Could you solve this by having Pierre be the “host” for each of his meetings so that if he runs over, you’re not prevented from starting the next meeting you need to host? If so, I’d simply explain the situation and ask him if he’d be up for letting you assign him as host in the software, so that if his meetings run long, it doesn’t have a domino effect on the rest of the day. If he’s not up for that (for example, if he’s not tech-savvy enough to do it comfortably), are you able to set up a separate host account and just use both of them?

If none of that works, ask what he’d like you to do! Explain the problem and then say, “What’s the best way to handle this? I could schedule more time for your meetings, or I could message you when we’re getting near the end of the scheduled time so you know we need to wrap things up.”

4. How to handle a counter-counter-offer

A friend referred me to his company and I got a job offer. I gave my current company the chance to counter offer and they did, but now my friend’s company is offering more money.

What is the most ethical (and professional) way to handle this? While I’d love to squeeze as much money out of this as I could, I’m pretty sure that would backfire and I don’t want to burn any bridges. Also, I did accept my current company’s counter offer.

Yeah, don’t keep trying to play them against each other. You risk losing both (plus annoying your friend who helped connect you to his company).

Which job do you want more? Whichever it is, take that one.

Also, what made you interview in the first place? If it was just idle curiosity, it may not be relevant — but if you went looking because you’ve been unhappy with your current company, put a lot of weight on that. Be aware, too, of the risks of accepting counteroffers; a lot of people who take them end up wanting to leave again (or worse, pushed out) not terribly long afterwards.

5. A speaking up success story

Thank you so much for your advice, especially about speaking up and directly saying things even when it is difficult.

I’m a peer tutor through my university’s program that provides free tutoring from students with tutor training who already took and did well in a class to students who are currently taking the class.

I just had a tutoring session with a student who wanted help with homework, and it made me really uncomfortable because as a tutor I’m specifically not supposed to give detailed homework help. I can lead you in the right direction and help you find information/resources (which is what happens in most of my sessions), but not give you the exact answers to problems. In this case, the student didn’t know where to begin on the assignment, which is fine. I could help him figure out how to approach it and find resources that will help him understand what the question is asking. What I am not supposed to and didn’t want to do, which he wanted, is to give suggestions on the exact wording of his answers.

In the past, I probably would have sat through the entire session very uncomfortably while doing my best to answer his questions while not actually giving him answers, which is what I started doing. Then I recalled all your advice about just saying things directly and was able to tell him that no, this was not something I could do. He questioned why not, which I answered as well as I could in the moment (mostly it wouldn’t be fair to other students because I already took the class, etc.). I don’t think he really understood it, but at least he got the message enough that he immediately cancelled the second session he had scheduled for later today (which he scheduled specifically to continue working on that homework assignment). *breathes sighs of relief*

If he continues to schedule with me, I’ll probably have to deal with similar stuff from him, but now I know that I can speak up and I’m certain that my supervisors would be fine with me ending a session early if necessary. (They are wonderful and I’ve spoken with them about this student previously.) I just have to remember that I can speak up, and the uncomfortableness is on him for not respecting the boundaries, not on me for enforcing them.

Well done — especially on the part about realizing that you’re not the one causing awkwardness (or that some awkwardness is okay even if you were), which is often such a block for people.

{ 310 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Lots of people below are offering LW #2 advice about how to leave her husband during lockdown. That’s not what she’s seeking advice on. Please keep your comments on #2 to the question she posed — how to talk to her boss about not taking leave. Thank you. (I’ll be removing additional comments that ignore that request.)

  2. C Average*

    Shaved head: oh, man. I lost a bet years ago and had to shave my head, and I got so many cancer-related questions. “No, not cancer, I just lost a bet.”

    To this day, whenever I witness a bewildering-to-me fashion choice, I tell myself, “Maybe they lost a bet.”

    Hair upkeep really is SO much easier when you haven’t got any.

    1. Totally Minnie*

      I had the opposite of this! When I had cancer, the only hair I lost was in the area of my scalp they had to shave to do my surgery. I wore a whole lot of hats while the surgical wound was healing, but under the hat I still had enormous lion’s mane hair. Two years later I mentioned something about a follow up visit at the oncologist and one of my coworkers was like “Wait. What? When did you have cancer?” I asked if he remembered that summer when I was always wearing hats and he thought I was just having a weird fashion phase.

      OP, just be really straightforward and neutral when you use Alison’s script. Your coworkers will most likely be incredibly relieved to find out you’re okay (and maybe a little bit embarrassed for having made the wrong assumption).

      1. C*

        Yeah it is interesting that sudden shaved/bald head = cancer for a lot of people. When my father had cancer and underwent chemo and radiation therapy he didn’t lose any hair. Not all chemo drugs cause hair loss.
        I actually work in a cancer center now and a large proportion of our patients don’t have hair loss!

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, when my mom had breast cancer at 50, it was discovered early enough that they just removed the tumor and some lymph nodes on that side. After that she had radiation therapy and estrogen blockers, and she never lost a hair on her head. That said, I seem to remember that she didn’t have any traditional chemotherapy, so maybe that’s why she didn’t lose her hair. This was 25 years ago. At about the same time, one of my friends from college had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I obviously don’t know every detail of her treatment, but she didn’t lose her hair either. For that matter, my grandmother who had breast cancer in 1983 and who lived another 10 years after her diagnosis and died from malnutrition (she had debilitating dementia and stopped eating and drinking and essentially starved herself to death), never lost her hair from her cancer treatments.

        2. UKDancer*

          Yes my cousin had breast cancer and the chemo didn’t result in hair loss to any significant extent (although it thinned a bit).

          The specialists said that the drugs can vary and also individual reactions can be different.

      2. Spicy Tuna*

        A few years ago my cat had cancer (RIP) and people kept asking why he still had all of his fur! Pet cancer treatments are NOT like people cancer treatments!

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      OP #1 — I like this script, and Totally Minnie’s advice to remain matter-of-fact.

      I’ll add that, as awkward as it is, I urge you to correct the impression ASAP. If you have a colleague or two that you trust, perhaps ask them to spread the word?

      While this is 100% in NO way your fault (since bald =/= cancer) if a lot of time goes by with people assuming you have cancer, you run the risk of being the recipient of resentment if the truth comes out. Probably not at all offices, but definitely at offices with particularly active rumor mills or not-great communication.

      1) People may forget how/why they made this assumption and that source amnesia may lead some people to conclude that you made it up
      2) If anyone is taking on extra work or otherwise treating you differently due to their impression that you’re battling a serious illness, they might feel angry
      3) When people are wrong about something and a while goes before it’s corrected, they tend to feel abashed — and insecure people may turn that feeling outward toward you

      Again, not your fault — but since you might suffer the consequences, it’s worth addressing.

      1. OP1*

        I didn’t make it clear in my letter, but my bosses are well aware that it’s just a pandemic haircut, so there definitely hasn’t been any easing of my workload. In fact, I’ve been promoted twice and put in charge of our biggest project since lockdown started.

        1. allathian*

          I hope a cheerful “it’s just a covid haircut, not cancer” will get your coworkers to back off. Congrats on your promotions!

          1. ToS*

            Yes, this. The coworkers could be more disability-friendly by deferring to their colleagues for real information. Having an actual conversation about a hairstyle is really simple and less awkward than any assumption that encroaches on personal health information. Glad OP is well-understood and being treated like the capable professional they are!

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      “No, not health issues. Shut my hair in the car door and braked too hard”

      (Making up funny stories is a great way to divert people, my scars aren’t from operations, they’re from fighting Klingons in friendly combat)

      1. OP1*

        It would be easy if people would come out and ask me directly! It’s just this vague, well-meaning support with nobody actually saying anything I can categorically respond to.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Feels well demeaning when they do that. Analogy of taking the plaster off in one go – just raise it ‘by the way, this is a pandemic haircut, not a health thing, no need to send me sympathy!’ then fast change subject back to work.

          Short burst of awkwardness, dare say people will go silent but here’s the bit to remember:

          They’re being quiet because they’re likely now thinking ‘oh man, I read that totally wrong. I feel like a jerk’. You’re returning the awkwardness to the senders :)

        2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          As well-meaning as I’m sure they are, this makes me cringe a little. I feel like that sort of vague kid-glove treatment can feel really condenseding sometimes — and what if you actually were ill? I wonder if it would make you feel comforted or talked down to?

          1. EditorPerson*

            I think it depending on who is asking. If it’s the same few people every time, yeah pretty condescending. But if it’s always different people, well, maybe each is testing the waters. If I was worried about someone at work I’d use a soft opening to see if they were willing to talk more. At the end of the day we’re coworkers and if someone doesn’t want to open up to me at work I respect that call, but I’d also want to signal I’m sympathetic and here if they want to.

          2. Tabby*

            It really does get annoying. I shaved my head for the first time years ago to get rid of damaged hair — and omg the pitying looks and questions were annoying. I just wanted undamaged, unpermed hair (I’m black, and the perms made to straighten Black hair are vicious to the natural curl/kink). Until my hair grew back, oh my god my patience was tried hard. In the past 5 years (since Black Panther) it’s been less unusual to see a completely bald black woman (I’ve been hair free since before that movie, for the most part, for about 15 years). It’s as if people don’t realize how tiresome it can be to comb and style one’s hair. I don’t like dealing with mine, so off it goes whenever I get tired of it.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Long ago had a case where I thought a co-worker was making strange comments about my life outside work, and I suspected she was acting on a very wrong assumption.
          I went HALF direct: I invented a conversation with an elderly relative and talked about it in a Monday morning coffee chat. “So I have another Auntie story. She came to me all worried about ABC, and I had to explain that nope it was XYZ. I hope she’s not embarrassed because if it HAD been XYZ I’d have appreciated the support. “

          1. Smithy*

            I like this approach for these kind of vague comments/stories as a way to defuse the conversation.

            If there’s a specific team or person where you’ve noticed this the most, then it might be worth starting a meeting with some COVID small-talk. An example might be, “what’s everyone’s biggest quarantine changes? Going first, I’ve become my own barber – finding it makes sure that I don’t impulsively dye it green over the weekend.”

        4. Worldwalker*

          Because of shutdowns in our state, it was easier to get out the clippers (which we got for a former cat!) and give each other buzz cuts. My explanation when needed is “Pandemic hair don’t care.”

          1. Joielle*

            My spouse and I did this too! I always wondered what I would look like with a buzz cut and figured it would be a good opportunity. If it looked terrible, who cares??

            I kept it for a while, he started growing his back out immediately. We both have awkward in-between-length mullets now. Mine is blue. It’s great.

          2. Julianna*

            Yep, I’ve buzzed mine a few times since the start of the pandemic. Just did it the other day. But my team is all men who I don’t really worry would judge or care about that sort of thing.

          3. Quinalla*

            Good for all of you, I seriously considered buzzing my head (woman) like my husband does, but decided I would be far too cold – I get cold easily. If my hair hadn’t thinned out recently (thanks? pre-menopause) I definitely would have cut it myself by now. I was considering getting a middle-aged lady short hair cut pre-pandemic, so I may just do that post-pandemic and treat myself to regular hair appointments :)

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Ugh, my long, long hair thinned pre-menopause, and then it thickened up again, but with a surprise different texture, and I *still* have not quite figured out how to care for it. I am halfheartedly trying Curly Girl, but I well understand and empathize with wanting to just shave it all off!

        5. SomebodyElse*

          Own the awkward, is my motto.

          If they aren’t coming out and asking directly, then say something like “haha.. it’s been really weird with my new haircut. I’m sure some people think I have cancer. I feel bad for unintentionally misleading anyone if I have. Ohhh did you hear there won’t be any Budweiser commercials in the superbowl this year?’

          more effective if you say this to the office gossip,

          1. SomebodyElse*

            I can admit to something similar happening to me in the workplace. I came into work with a spectacular black eye. I didn’t think much of it (outside of the obvious ‘oh great a black eye’ but then everyone was very quiet around me and extremely nice and concerned.

            It dawned on me that they had jumped to a conclusion that DV was the cause of the black eye. I finally used a similar line of the one above “So ahhh… 2 things guys, I’m not dating anyone atm and after my spectacular fail at catching that softball that popped off of home plate last night, I’m sure I won’t be finding any dates at future games based on my catching abilities” or something like that.

            The mood changed instantly, and they all started making fun of me for it (which was normal and what I expected to happen)

            1. tamarack and fireweed*

              SomebodyElse’s comment illustrates the situation quite handily. *If* you have a serious problem going on (DV, health, house-burns-down…) in which the coworkers would want to be supportive, *but* you aren’t coming right out with it *and* the signs you’re giving off are sufficiently ambiguous, some coworkers find this circle too hard to square, so they pussyfoot about. If no one takes the bull by the horns for a while this can become quite ridiculous, so it should be done! Especially if there is a clearly binary attribute (buzzed hair – non buzzed hair, black eye – no black eye) attribute that one can point at. This is so much easier than if there’s a general feeling that someone looks pale and has gained or lost weight, and may react negatively if asked about it.

        6. BadWolf*

          I buzzed my hair off too, I’ve always wondered what it would be like and now seemed like the time to try it! I loved it “from the inside” but not the look in the mirror. I’m now growing it into a mohawk. It’s an interesting experiment to me on how long it takes for it to go from standing up to flopping over.

          I am a cis woman and generally feminine presenting so I have wondered what my coworkers think on the few times we’ve had video on (we are audio mostly). Surprisingly, no one has said anything. I suspect they either haven’t actually noticed or they’re afraid to say anything (either that I might be sick or maybe I’m transitioning and hair is first).

          I wonder if the hat wearing/I’m just cold is throwing people off in addition to the cut.

          I agree with Alison, if there’s a time/place where you could make a joke about your buzz. Do you use any group messaging? Or maybe if you’re on a call and the meeting hasn’t really started yet? Something like, “What are your weekend plans? I’m debating whether I should rebuzz my COVID hair or grit my teeth through the grow out period sooner rather than later.”

        7. mission critical*

          Can you redirect into some light hearted chats about what new habits people have taken up with quarantine? “Oh, I started shaving my head, it makes it so much easier, what about you, Dave?”

        8. Emma L*

          You could still make a joke of it, as in “so,, anyone else get bored and decide to cut their own hair??”

        9. ToS*

          This colleague-response backs into a problematic behavior of presuming, which is an incredibly slippery slope. It may be helpful to call out their misconceptions while underscoring your experience in an effort for it to not happen with someone else. Others are bringing The Awkward. Flag the play, if this is the right group of people, so they do better next time. There is nothing wrong with working while having cancer, however having others shifting to hushed tones and concern when you are Getting Work Done can be a distraction if there is no other initiation.

        1. Llama face!*

          As another buzz cut gal, I now want someone to make a hair comment so I can use the “shrunk in the wash” line. Lol

    4. juliebulie*

      “Maybe they lost a bet” is my answer to a lot of things!

      I shaved my head back in April, totally sober and not on a bet. I didn’t wear a scarf or chemo cap – I just let my scalp do the talking. If anyone on a call looked surprised, I’d just say “I couldn’t deal with my hair” or “I put my hair in a timeout.”

      I’m trying to let it grow back now, but it’s even more obnoxious than it was before. If it were not the dead of winter I’d be tempted to shave it off again.

    5. Ace in the Hole*

      I used to shave my head routinely. Since I’m a young woman, I got a lot of questions about such an unusual choice. The real answer was “because I hate combing my hair,” but some of the answers I gave people included…

      – I lost a bet.
      – I shaved it as a political protest
      – My best friend joined the military and I shaved it with him (technically true, but happened more in the form of “hey y’all I got the clippers out anyone want a haircut while I’m at it?”)
      – It’s religious. No, which religion is none of your business.
      – You should’ve seen what happened to the other guy.
      – I lost a fight with a hairdresser.
      – “I won’t get into details, but it turns out you can’t train a raccoon to give haircuts even though they have hands…”
      – My little sister wanted to cut my hair

      None of these are work appropriate, just thought I’d share for kicks!

      1. Susan*

        100% would use the racoon one if I ever shaved my head.

        My father lost the top of his ring finger in a high school acccident (misjudge jump over chain link fence + class ring = ouch). I always tried to encourage him to say he lost it in a shark fight, but he didn’t go for it.

        1. SD*

          My high school son smashed the tip of his finger in a door and got some really impressive bandaging which even leaked blood for a while. He told kids at school that he got shot, because how embarrassing is slamming your own finger is a door? Nooo!

        2. TardyTardis*

          My dad circulated the rumor of a toe-eating monster in our fish pond to keep the kids from going into it. A young man from the neighborhood lost a bit of a toe in Iraq, and in the summertime would go barefoot and solemnly warn all the local kids about the Monster in the fish pond…

    6. willow for now*

      Reply to Spicy Tuna, below – nesting is messed up here:

      When I was chemo-ing my cat, I asked the vet if she would go bald, and he said no, cats have fur (stops growing at a certain length), not hair (does not stop growing), and they react differently to all the chemo

      1. MMD*

        LOL. Funny coincidence, my cat and I both had lymphoma – I lost my hair during chemo, she did not.

    7. TiffIf*

      There’s like three guys in my department who go shaved by choice and the one guy in the office who it is known had cancer never lost his hair.

      That said–if any of the women in the department (very small minority) suddenly sported a shaved head there would definitely be questions on those lines.

  3. Elementary Fan*

    #2, I also wonder if you could mention you would be able to make better use of the time after shelter in place ends. Maybe they’ll let you roll it over? Might be a long shot, but worth asking, especially if you would need/want that time when you move out. But your boss now might just think you want to take a regular vacation once it’s safe if you don’t go into too much detail.

      1. allathian*

        The LW said in their letter that they’ll be separating from their husband once lockdown ends. We don’t know when this letter was written.

        That said, even with lockdown, it’s permitted to leave your home to escape an abusive relationship. The LW states that there’s no abuse in this relationship, but if it’s so intolerable that the only recourse is work, it’s not healthy either.

      2. Self Employed*

        Whether or not there’s an official “shelter in place” order where you live, many areas just are not safe for travel and/or have quarantines to KEEP them safe. Los Angeles is having a terrible outbreak right now, with positive test results of about 1 in 5 people tested.

        Long distance travel is why new strains from Brazil and South Africa end up in the USA. In-state travel is how California had such big post-holiday outbreaks.

        Do I want to travel? NO! A friend of mine reports that her husband apparently caught COVID and ended up dying just from sitting in the parking lot waiting for her with the windows down on a warm day.

      3. Grace*

        The entirety of the UK is a lockdown similar to the one in March – no in-person school, no travel, no work, no seeing anyone else outside of one other single-adult household.

        The detail about being allowed to take one walk per day makes me think that the OP is in the UK – that’s part of our lockdown.

        1. Snuck*

          Perth Western Australia… land of the 10mths no community transmission and the dream location of most of hte world just went into a snap 5 day hard lockdown :/ Here’s hoping the person with the UK version didn’t spread it, and we’re all out in a few days….

          I imagine the OP has weighed up whether to leave during lockdown (knowing her options to do so, which is that… of course she can if she wants to) and decided against it for now. There’s a lot of complexities to leaving a marriage in a normal year, let alone right now! And not being able to get out to do meetings, to handle things delicately face to face etc could be deciding factors.

      4. Sharpie*

        We’re still in lockdown here in the UK, and I’m fairly sure quite a lot of Europe is as well. I can’t speak for anywhere in the USA, of course!

    1. OP2*

      I have asked about rolling some of the leave over til next year (April and onwards) but I don’t think my company will allow it; partly because a lot of other people are trying to do the same thing and it would potentially lead to staffing problems.

      I am in the UK, and lockdown is pretty severe right now; it’s hard to plan anything when you have no idea when things will ease up, and allow more freedom of movement.

      I am going to try and talk to my manager about the leave and asking if I can forfeit it; let’s see what happens!

      1. Not A Manager*

        I wish you could briefly email or message your manager and explain the actual situation. Is that TMI? Maybe then they could work with you.

        1. Ashley*

          Maybe not the whole situation but a more general work lets me focus and no obsess about how long till I can resume more normal activities maybe. Joke you are done with all your hobbies kind of thing.

        2. Annony*

          I would probably be a little vague but I do think that it is possible to explain without talking about the state of your marriage. Something like “Lockdown has been really tough and right now work is keeping me sane. It’s a tie to normalcy that I really need right now so I would really rather forfeit my vacation than take extra time off to sit around the house.”

          1. Quinalla*

            Yeah, I would take this approach. I didn’t end up using the last couple days of PTO last year cause work is one of the things helping me feel energized and I let my boss know that. I enjoy time with my family, but work and errands to get necessities like groceries are the only “break” I get from being stuck in the house (especially in the winter now) with my family. I love ’em, but I need breaks from them and I’m really tired of being a teacher part-time and doing so much more cooking and cleaning than normal too cause we are all at the house so much more. Work even when it is being frustrating is a real break from the rest of that.

            What I need is a REAL vacation, but it just isn’t safe enough for our risk assessment to do that right now. I’m hopeful we can at least visit family in the summer/fall when all the adults are vaccinated!

      2. Zoe*

        Good luck. If they say no maybe say it’s better for your mental health? That being said, I don’t understand why you feel you cannot leave your husband now? Is there paperwork and other things you can’t access? Why can’t you go for a walk and make calls? Why can’t you email friend or family for help? I just worry for your mental health.

        1. Ashley*

          Personally if I was in a position of needing to move a pandemic is one of the worst times. Who do you call to help move your stuff? How do you safely apartment search? Not to mention at some point you need to tell the other person before you show up with movers and that timeline will be super awkward because it isn’t like either of you can easily go for more walks or crash at a friends for a few days.

          1. Smithy*

            I moved in the autumn in the US to a new city and without any of the personal realities of leaving a partner – and it was incredibly stressful. At one point I was talking to my mom and openly considered picking an apartment just based on listings and the fact it was a city I used to live in and had seen the building from the outside before.

            Thank goodness I got a very stern “that’s a terrible idea” lecture from my mom – because it would have been the wrong choice. But it wasn’t easy.

            1. Alex*

              I did something similar with a move across state lines and this is my second year in my then sight unseen apartment. Because of covid, I’m scared to move. Honestly I got lucky, but I definitely understand why OP feels they can’t take this step. On another topic, i will say that there are helplines that provide support via text, and that if you can’t talk on the phone, that I hope they can access those.

              1. Smithy*

                I was doing an East Coast move where it was possible to fly in the morning – see a bunch of places, and then fly out that night. As it turned out, all of the appointments I set were so-so and while doing a desperate walk around for a place where I could use a toilet, I found the building I ended up moving into.

                That being said, being nervous to move right now is 100% understandable. None of my apartment tours made me uncomfortable – but one of them, I was just handed keys and told to wander the building to find a series of units to see on my own. Which ultimately didn’t leave the greatest impression because I kept on getting lost. Then with movers…there’s only so much policing of mask wearing you can really do.

                Emotionally, I was very ready and excited for my move – and it was extraordinarily stressful. Just to confirm if anyone else is trying to rationalize putting it off a bit longer because of COVID.

              2. PT*

                It varies based on the particulars of your lockdown. Real estate wasn’t flagged as an essential service in New York City’s original lockdown, for example, so anyone who was mid-move within the five boroughs just got hung up mid-transaction. The only people who could move were the people leaving.

          2. DocVonMittens*

            I moved across the country during the pandemic and it was so stressful. I ended up buying my house sight unseen (other than via Zoom walkthroughs). And couldn’t hire movers, get friends to help, etc so I got rid of almost all my belongings and bought more once I moved in. Not only was it deeply stressful but it’s not financially viable for a lot of people.

        2. disconnect*

          “I don’t understand why you feel you cannot leave your husband now?”

          Gently, it’s not up to OP to convince you, all you can do is believe OP that this is her read of her own situation.

      3. Scatterling*

        OP, I wish you the best of luck getting out of this horrible, stressful situation. But since you are in the UK, I assume that your company is legally obliged to ensure you take a certain amount of annual leave. It might help to have a plan about how you’ll handle that.

        1. SarahKay*

          Yes, in the UK there are legal obligations on the company to ensure that everyone take a minimum of 28 days holiday (pro-rated for part-time people) every year. That 28 days can include bank holidays, so it typically works out as 20 days plus bank holidays.
          OP2, I’m sorry, but the company may have no wriggle room here. It’s like HSE legislation – you can’t offer to opt out of it and let the company ‘off the hook’. If you don’t take this minimum every year then they are breaking the law.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            There’s wiggle room in it, even in pre pandemic times. I’ve worked for several firms in my many years where I’ve just not used all of my leave and I got generally a one to one with the boss about whether I could roll a couple of days over (usually yes) or just ‘work on being better on taking leave’.

            Low stress meetings, no negative outcomes. Corporate law in the UK is complex as heck (I once read the Companies Act. Pretty much every firm breaks part of it every day – I’ve seen thinner virology textbooks!) and the odd worker deciding they can’t take all their leave one year has pretty much no impact.

            Now if a firm regularly had 90% of its staff taking only 10 days a year…yes the legal lot would take interest.

            But one person here and there? I’ve never heard of legal proceedings for that.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes, my company allows us to roll a certain amount of leave over. You can roll more with your boss’ consent.

              As Keymaster says unless everyone is taking no leave or people are being prevented from taking it, most of the time there’s some wiggle room. Most people in my company take most of their leave most of the time.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Top tip: get your boss on a good day! I worked out my then manager was more amenable to being asked to bend the rules a bit on Friday mornings – he was more relaxed then than any other time of the week.

                1. UKDancer*

                  Good tip. To be honest, I like taking holidays and travelling around (or I did before Covid) so I’ve never actually wanted to roll my leave over. I’ve had my staff asking it of me but it’s not normally a problem for me to agree.

          2. Bagpuss*

            SarahKay, there are emergency regulations which allow it to be rolled over at present, due to Covid and the number of people building up leave while on furlough etc.
            OP’s employer could legally allow her to roll her holiday over, but they are not required to do so., and could legally require her to take it now.

            1. Not sure of what to call myself*

              The emergency law says you can carry it forward if wasn’t “reasonably practicable” to take it. Its clear that you can carry it forward if you are busy due to covid, but its not clear that people can automatically roll it forward because they don’t want to use it during a lockdown.

              Several UK law firms have put guidance statements on on how reasonably practicable can be interpreted, and are googleable.

              So as it sounds like a lot if holidays, you might want to explain a little bit more of the situation to your employer so you have a better chance of getting it approved.

          3. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            This just makes me incredibly jealous, as an American. Especially as someone who hopes to be pregnant in the next year, I just lost myself in a fantasy of “Wow–I would have FOUR WEEKS of maternity leave paid!” and then was hit with the realization that OF COURSE the UK has actual paid maternity leave on top of regular PTO. I wish this country would get it together.

            That said, for OP, I’m really sorry you are in this situation. My best friend is in a similar situation where she doesn’t want to leave her wife during the pandemic. It’s brutal to be stuck in close quarters with someone you don’t want to be around. I recommend increasing your daily walks to two if you can. Sometimes a long walk while confiding to a friend on the phone helps.

            1. inksmith*

              No – even when you leave a job, I don’t think they can do that, though a lot of people take whatever leave they’re owed after their official last day. So, I stop working on the 10th, but I technically work for the company but am on leave for another two weeks after that to burn my last 10 days of leave, even if I’ve already started at my new job in that period.

        2. Not sure of what to call myself*

          It will also depend on the industry. When I worked for a UK bank, we were obliged by FSA rules to take two consecutive weeks off during the holiday year. Also, employers can build a minimum amount of holidays required to be taken into their contracts and often have a maximum number of days that can be carried forward.

          And UK employers do now have to account for the cost of unused holidays on their balance sheets and so are pushing hard to get people to take days off. My company was like the Marie Celeste in December and January.

      4. Kate*

        You’re explicitly allowed to leave home to move house, and estate agents are still working. A friend of mine left his girlfriend and moved into a new flat just this weekend. The leave seems like a great opportunity to find a new flat or move in with a friend.

      5. Magenta*

        Hi OP2
        I’m sorry that you are going through such a hard time right now it sucks. I’m sure you have things planned and don’t need my advice but I just wanted to let you know that you don’t have to wait until lock-down ends.

        I’m in the UK and moved last week. Estate agents and lettings agents are still open and there are empty houses/flats available. My boyfriend and I got fed up with the long distance thing and decided to bite the bullet and move in together and it was fairly straightforward. We had fewer options on furniture, home ware etc but managed to make do with IKEA and Asda for the essentials.

        Good luck, I hope your situation improves soon x

      6. Keymaster of Gozer*

        UK, severe depression, needs to work to cope….

        Mate, I get where you’re coming from and I wish I didn’t. But, here’s one tactic I have tried:

        Speak to boss privately (only if they’re good people of course), use Alison’s wording about not being able to take time off – but also ask if there’s any slightly different projects/tasks/departments that you could help with during the period. It’s still work, but new and different stuff and I’ve found that really good at diverting my depression brain when it’s got work that’s a little bit ‘new’ to concentrate on.

        (Your mileage may vary!)

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          (Just remembered that this was what prompted me to change careers at one point. IT had WAY more to occupy my brain than the labs. I was getting out of a horrible relationship at the time too…)

        2. EPLawyer*

          This is what I was thinking. See if you can be seconded to another department. Maybe covering someone else’s leave. It’s still a mental break from your current actual work which you do need from time to time. But its definitely will keep you occupied.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Covering someone else’s leave is a good plan too. ‘My skills mean I can help do xyz which’ll assist the team’. Taking on new stuff is a key part of my mental health management at times.

      7. Bagpuss*

        OP, You are allowed to move if it is a permanent house move, so you (or your husband) could move out (if you can afford to run 2 homes) – this includes moving into rented accommodation or making a permanent move (as opposed to a visit) to live with family or friends.

        I appreciate that this is not ideal as it potentially involves coming into contact with people you might not otherwise have to, but it is permitted.

        Most solicitors are still open, with staff either working from home, or socially distanced, and offering appointments via phone or e-mail, so if/when you felt ready to do so you could get some advice and even start the divorce process if you felt ready to do so. (Even in non-pandemic times, a lot of it is done on paper and currently even if you need court hearings to deal with financial issues, they are happening remotely)

        That said, if you are not ready to take that step yet, your employer is legally allowed to let you roll leave over, but isn’t required to so so, and as ou say, may be reluctant to let you take across as much as 4 weeks.

        If you can, I would speak in confidence to your manager or to HR and ask for an exception.

        If they won’t agree, would you be able to take it (or some of it) as odd days – maybe every Tuesday and Thursday , for instance, so that you don’t have to spend long blocks of time in the house? That could allow you to use up about 2 weeks worth by the end of March and they might be more open to you carrying over smaller amounts into the following year

      8. Snuck*

        It sounds like the company is concerned about carrying too much accrued leave. (I’m in Australia, so I’m not sure if this is the same in the US, but probably/possibly.)

        Annual leave shows on the (company financial) books as a debt – they owe you (here at least) money for that leave if you exit the company, and it’s both a cash asset, and a debt (it’s complicated). Most companies (particularly larger ones) don’t like accruing too much leave because it isn’t a) the usual “healthy”, b) good for company functionality (what if you need to move teams around and someone gets lumped with someone owed six or eight months/years leave?) and c) financial positions if you are trying to refinance (smaller companies generally, but large ones can carry huge leave balances).

        So from their perspective NO ONE this year wants to take annual leave, and has used every form of non-accrued leave (the non-roll over forms like sick, parental for homeschool kids, career for elderly parents/sick kids etc) so, at least in Australia, there’s probably a push to have people take leave.

        I think you have a different priority, this isn’t about not wanting to take leave until you can go on holiday somewhere sunny, this is about accruing leave for a future family event that will need it. I would ponder how much leave you have accrued (and will have accrued in six months further down the track), and how much you actually need (don’t scrimp, but don’t pad it out too much) to organise your affairs and move out/take some time to organise yourself, and then go to your manager and say “I know I have three months leave accrued, but there’s a reason I’m not keen to take it. It’s highly likely that at some stage in the next year I will have a major family event, that I cannot disclose now, that will require me to take four to five weeks off, with maybe a few days here and there around it. I cannot talk about it, I am well, so there’s nothing to worry about there. Can I please retain five weeks leave now, knowing I’ll accrue more in the interim, and I’ll keep you informed if things change? I am happy to take the remaining seven weeks to meet our goal of reducing leave. Would that work for you?” (Change the weeks/time to suit your numbers, they could well be radically different! I have no idea?!). It shows you aren’t just holding onto it for a week in the Bahamas…. and has a chance of putting your need ahead of those who are. You have no more ‘right’ than others at this point, but it’s worth a try. Everyone is hurting this year, and has a reason to use or save their leave… 2021 is shaping up to be another 2020.

        If there’s the ability to put it into a pool for people who have a need and don’t have any… that’s a good option too. If there isn’t an option yet… why not ask if it’s possible and can be created?

        1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          My company has staff with weeks and weeks of accrued leave that they’re pushing to be used up, including all of 2020, despite having nowhere to go, because the accruals on the books were getting out of hand. One person on my team spent 72 vacation days; and another, over 53 in one shot. (This resulted in being short staffed and I had to rollover seven of mine.)

          Ask if the days can be paid out instead of simply forfeiting them. The extra cash might come in handy for when OP finally leaves.

      9. Stranded American*

        OP2, UK here. I left my husband in August. Similar situation to not being able to make phone calls – I used my daily walk to make those calls (to solicitors, estate agents, my boss) to discuss the situation. I suggest using one of your walks to tell your boss the situation and see if you can get an exemption to roll over. It was challenging, but well worth it. Best of luck.

      10. Nikki*

        So many people on this thread are giving the LW advice about how to leave their husband during lockdown. The LW explicitly asked commenters to not offer advice on anything other than how to talk to their boss about taking leave. I’m sure they already know they’re allowed to move and they have their reasons for waiting until pandemic conditions improve. Let’s respect the LW’s request and stick to the topic of the letter.

        1. File Herder*

          You don’t need to take the statutory minimum of 28 days – that’s the point of the emergency legislation to amend the Working time Regulations, to allow some of that leave to be deferred by mutual consent of employee and employer. I used it myself to carry more forward than normal, after the days I usually hang on to for medical-type appointments were suddenly not needed because nobody wanted to see patients in person and some couldn’t even see patients over the phone. (I gather my dental surgery was on standby to work in the local hospitals.)

      11. MsSolo*

        If you can’t stomach taking whole days, can you take an hour or two a day (and take a longer walk) to clear enough to carry the remainder over?

      12. Emma*

        If you have to take the leave, could you just pretend you have to work still and not tell your husband? Then at least you have that time to yourself to read a book, email friends (or call if you can), attend a virtual support group meeting, meditate, or whatever self-care you need right now. (Speaking from experience, pre-pandemic I definitely drove in to work when I didn’t need to when I wanted to avoid my now ex-spouse. I totally get work being your sanctuary–just don’t want it to be the only thing you have left.)

        1. Daria*

          I was thinking this too. I have plenty of work-related projects that would be great to do during “days off” where I had no meetings or tasks to do. (Reading books related to my field, familiarizing myself with upcoming projects, reorganizing my desk drawers, etc.)

          I also wonder if part of what keeps you sane about work is that if you have a dedicated office space with a door, you don’t have to interact with your husband much during the day. (I recognize a lot of people working from home don’t have that.) If so, and you’re ok not telling him you have a day off, could you stay in your office like it’s a normal day?

        2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

          I think this is a potentially great idea, especially if you have an office or separate space where your husband won’t disturb you if you are “working”. It would be harder if you, like me, just have your office set up in the corner of your living room.

      13. Regular Reader*

        I’m in the UK too and I’m sorry you are going through this. This is a situation where provided there are not regulatory issues an exception might be allowed. If you have a good HR department/person available I’d speak to them about the situation in confidence. They might be able to work with your manager and enable you to roll over more annual leave if you explain the circumstances.

      14. Rachel C*

        I’m in the UK too. Normally my employer is quite strict about rolling over a very small portion of our annual leave each year, and using any rollover within the first 3 months of the following year. They have relaxed the rules a lot this year (our leave year runs Jan-Dec) as a one-off because the pandemic has meant a lot of people either couldn’t take the leave because of the workload our department was under, or for various reasons will not actually benefit from taking it right now due to lockdown. So they lifted the limit on days rolled over from 2020, and we don’t have to use up all the rollover by end of March, and although they’re trying to encourage people with large accumulations to use it, it’s on a very individual basis, taking into account each person’s situation.

        I think it’s worth an ask, especially if you can use some of Alison’s wording. Maybe you can add something about it being easier to sort things out once we are out of the current lockdown, and asking if you can postpone taking leave until then. (Yes, none of us know when that will be, but we’re all in that boat, and I’d hope your manager would be understanding.)

      15. calonkat*

        I have no clue about UK rules, but I work for government in my US state, and we can donate excess leave to others who need it. If there’s any sort of leave bank available, that might sense for you right now. And there are online museums and such, if your weekends are busy, could you schedule a day of visiting some online places that you’ve wanted to go to? No need to inform the husband if he won’t see you at the computer NOT at work.

        And you have more people that you think who can talk at the drop of a hat!! I work during the day, but I’m allowed to talk to people on the phone, and honestly, if I had a friend or family member who needed to talk, I could make up the time later on. So don’t rule that out!

      16. Caz*

        How about just taking like one day a week off for the next few weeks to use it up… you could still stay at your desk and deal with emails, or look at stuff online or play games… and it’s only once a week

      17. BluntBunny*

        Ahh yeah I’m in UK and had the same last year but had to take all holiday by end of June. I was able to carryover 2 days. What I did was look in my calendar for days that were quietest which was Fridays and Tuesdays and booked them off. That meant I had a long weekend which was nice but also meant I didn’t have too much time off at once it also became a bit of a routine. I was able to spread out errands as I was quite tired after working. At first I was quite annoyed I had to take off time but it was quite nice just to have a lie in having cooked breakfast and just do nothing. Like many I took up baking and did that on the day of I also got into jigsaws. You could also maybe take half days and get admin stuff- post office, bank etc

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I don’t think that’s a good way to go. Practically everyone could make better use of time off after the shelter in place ends when they could travel for vacation or even stay home and go places. The LW is in a unique situation, but that vagueness equals almost everyone’s truths about the situation.

      I think Alison’s wording is good except I would invert the option order to
      #1) forfeit it entirely
      #2) donate it to someone else who might need it
      #3) roll this leave over until later in the year

      There’s a reason that the company has a use or lose policy. If they were relaxing it or allowing extra rolling over for all employees because of the pandemic they would announce it and they haven’t. I think it appears better if the LW goes into it willing to lose the leave rather than trying to save it for later.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, that’s my concern with a lot of the alternate wording being suggested; it sounds like it would apply to pretty much anyone right now and doesn’t convey that there’s something exceptional about the OP’s situation.

    3. virago*

      This is a reply to …, who asked: “Where is shelter in place still going on?”

      Your question is a good reminder that the AAM readership extends outside the US and that US conditions do not prevail everywhere.

      In the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and the EU countries, restrictions on movement, commerce, etc., have been put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. Employers who insist on butts in seats have actually been fined and/or closed down. And bars, restaurants and other places that depend on public attendance haven’t reopened.

      It’s worth pointing out that these countries have paid employers to keep employees on the payroll. Otherwise, since COVID restrictions have kept businesses from opening, they would have had to lay people off.

    4. Koalafied*

      I wonder if your boss would be open to letting you use the time as project/professional development time instead of leave.

      If you’re going to lose the leave you don’t lose at the end of March anyway, and if they’re prepared for you to be out of office long enough to use it all up – then maybe they could be prepared to give you 4 weeks to focus in on your professional development, or one of those aspirational/stretch projects that you tinker with in found minutes here and there but never really have time to make much forward progress on. During this time they would treat you as if you’re on vacation, get coverage for your daily work, and not expect you to answer emails. I don’t know what the payroll/legal issues might be with actually charging you PTO for it, so you’d want to work with your manager and HR to figure that out.

      It might give you some of the benefits of a vacation by giving you a break from your day-to-day work and an ability to step back from the fray and gain some perspective, but it would still give you a reason to go into the office and do work that you get satisfaction out of doing.

  4. BRR*

    #2 I think saying work is a welcomed distraction from the pandemic might work.

    #5 Well done! I wonder if you should flag this for your supervisors in case he tries to make an appointment with someone else who isn’t as comfortable speaking up.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      ‘Boss, I work so I’m not sitting at home crying over the friends I’ve lost to this pandemic, or stressing out about how dangerous it is if I catch it’.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      OP2, this would be my approach as well – “boss, I know you want me to take vacation, but there’s no where to go right now so I’d really much rather keep working as it gives my brain something productive to focus on instead of worrying about everything that is going on in the world right now.”

    3. LW#5 Tutor*

      There is an evaluation system that I fill out after each session, so I flagged what happened there. I might also talk to them directly at some point.

      1. Nicotene*

        Good job LW! I am also a tutor and it’s difficult, as the company takes student evaluations as the be-all end-all and the students really, really want me to give them answers or provide specific language for their essays. Even after I explain why I can’t, it often tanks the review later. I wish the company took the scores with a little more grain of salt.

  5. nnn*

    #2: If you’re comfortable disclosing that there’s something going on, maybe a script along the lines of “I was hoping I could save my leave until after lockdown, because I’m going to have to move house as soon as I possibly can after the lockdown is lifted.” You could add “due to an unexpected family situation” if that would help. Also, if you say “I recently found out I’m going to have to move”, that makes it sound somehow more urgent.

    Sometimes, in situations where managers are incentivized to make their employees take leave by a deadline, a specific plan to use the leave at a specific later date is more persuasive than “I don’t want to do it right now.”

    1. Elliott*

      Yeah, I was thinking something similar. Even if the leave can’t be carried over, it could make sense to not want to take four weeks off now if the OP is anticipating possibly taking time off in the near future.

  6. Your Local Cdn*

    LW#2 I won’t add to the wording suggestion because I think the advice already offered is excellent. I will say if it turns out not to be possible, perhaps something like an online course or training could keep you engaged in the same way?

    1. Forrest*

      I like this idea. Can you afford to sign up for some all-day courses that will give you some structure and a need to be Elsewhere if you do have to take some leave? If theres nothing professionally appropriate, could you study art, filmmaking or yoga for a day or two each?

      (Huge sympathy—whilst not the same situation, I found it really difficult being told I should still take “holiday” last spring when being able to go upstairs and think grown-up thoughts away from my two small children for four hours a day was the only thing keeping me going. I absolutely think annual leave is valuable under normal circumstances but nothing is normal right now!)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        The courses would need to be online, I can only speak for my particular bit of the UK but there’s no ‘elsewhere’ to go.

        (Things open round here: pharmacies, doctors, food shops, essential services. Even the schools are shut)

        1. Sharpie*

          OP2 could try something like Skillshare, which offers online courses for all sorts of things at a reasonable price if they can’t find a free trial offer (a lot of YouTubers have sponsored videos with a coupon code for a free trial). OP could take leave from work but keep the same routine at home, using ‘work time’ to learn to draw or start a business or… anything at all.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Good idea. Maybe OP’s manager could even identify some training to be done online outside of work hours — work related reason to stay busy apart from family, but not something they would pay you to attend.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Adding to clarify, by outside work hours I mean it’s specifically not required for work, but would be beneficial for a future move, so it’s the kind of thing that could be done on a vacation that would still keep you mentally engaged.

  7. PinkiePieWorksHard*

    LW#2, I don’t want to pile on advice that you’ve already considered but doesn’t work, but is there *any* way you could get out of the house for a week or two? I.e., tell your spouse that you’ve got an in-depth project that would benefit from some dedicated space, and make a beeline to an Airbnb? Not necessarily to meet the leave requirements, but to give yourself a little breathing room while you wait for the situation to be resolvable? Or even to walk around the block while you take calls with your manager (obviously I don’t know what the weather situation is where you live)?

    1. OP2*

      We’re in lockdown right now so I have no freedom of movement (plus the risk of infection on public transport – I have an underlying health condition so I have to be extra, extra careful). I just have to be patient until things get better before I can make any moves.

      The calling my manager from my walk is what I’m planning to do, but it can be hard to find somewhere private enough to have conversations when I know I’m going to start crying. Those pesky joggers come out of nowhere!

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        So much sympathy for you. I want to say “let the joggers see you cry” though I know not everyone can get comfortable with that. But it’s a horrible stressful lockdown time, and any jogger that thinks less of a passerby for crying is a grade-A jerk.

        1. SweetestCin*

          Honest, I’m a jogger, and if I saw someone bawling on the phone? My first instinct would be a “stop and see if there’s immediate hurt that I can help relieve, can I call someone for them, walk them somewhere, etc.”. Because all humans need care.

          Best of wishes and luck to you OP2

          1. UKDancer*

            Definitely, my reaction would be check if they’re ok rather than saying anything bad.

            I was at the gym in the before times a few years ago and there was a woman crying in the changing room. So I asked her was she alright and could I do anything to help. I gave her a clean tissue. She said no but thanked me.

            More recently a year ago I was having a discussion on the phone with my then boyfriend which was not going well and was distressing me. I was sitting in a cafe drinking latte. I started crying when I got off the phone and sat there for a few minutes. A lady came over and asked if I was alright and could she help. I thanked her and said I would be ok.

            I should say London is not renowned for being the most compassionate place on earth but in my experience people are more likely to respond in a sympathetic and helpful way if they see someone in tears than the converse.

          2. Washi*

            Not sure if you’re saying you would actually offer those things or just think them…but I’m guessing OP wants to avoid kind strangers offering help. (Not that you would be wrong to check if the person needs anything, I’m just getting the impression that OP would prefer people pretend she is invisible.)

            OP, I am also a jogger and I probably would not say anything to someone crying quietly on the phone. Or even really think much of it, tbh. Especially with a mask, a lot of people might not even notice. But I live in a city and have seen much weirder public behavior, plus I’m a New Englander so my instinct to ignore almost everyone is strong :)

            1. Joielle*

              Yeah I have had many a crying-outdoors situation (had some particularly bad mental health at a time when I was walking to work every day) and personally, I would prefer if everyone just pretend they cannot see me at all. Of course, if someone is wailing or sobbing or clearly in crisis, check in. But quietly crying… please maintain the polite fiction that it is not happening.

              1. Dream Jobbed*

                I would not approach someone on the phone crying. I would assume the call was the cause of their angst. (Unless I saw blood or an injury.) Having been on those types of calls, I really would not want someone interrupting it to ask if I am okay.

                If the person was not on the phone, I would be far more willing to approach them.

                Not trying to ignore someone in pain, just not feeling like I could be much help if they are already talking to someone.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          My concern with being emotional in public isn’t that people will think less of me… it’s that they’ll try to help. Then you’re stuck being upset while trying to convince well-intended strangers that you’re fine without help and just want to be left alone. This goes double if you’re female-presenting, triple if you’re young.

          One of the most uncomfortable conversations of my life was with the (genuinely nice, genuinely trying to help!) police officer who saw me crying at an empty train station. I’m glad he stopped to check on the distraught teenager sobbing by the train tracks, because I COULD have been in a really bad situation. However, I was just having a bad day and didn’t want to go somewhere more private for fear of missing my train. Trying to explain that in a way that didn’t make the officer worry about me even more was really rough on an already really rough day.

      2. Wendy*

        I’m really sorry you’re going through this, OP2 :-( Calling on your walk is a good idea – is there a shed in a nearby park you can duck behind? Or if you get a day with iffy weather, can you walk and bring an umbrella “just in case?” The umbrella can do a lot to shade your face from passers-by – and if you need to sit on a bench somewhere, you can pull it down low so truly nobody can see you cry. (Don’t ask me why I had to figure this out…)

      3. TechWorker*

        Are you working from home in general? I don’t think you’d manage 4 weeks (!) but could you take some of it and just… not tell your partner you’re not working? (Like, obviously that’s a lie but it sounds like the relationship is already broken down). You could keep your normal hours and read or watch tv or as someone else suggested do some online courses. Ever wanted to write a novel? Nows the time (that one might be best in some ways because from a distance it probably looks like work…)

        1. BadWolf*

          I was wondering the same — could OP pretend to be working? If OP normally talks on a lot of calls, that probably won’t work very well. Or if husband can generally see the screen and would notice the difference between spreadsheets and reading the AAM backlog.

          Or maybe the stress of that deception wouldn’t be worth it, even if it might work.

        2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          It sounds like part of wanting to be working is to have the distraction of working. An online course might fulfill that. I couldn’t do creative writing in OP’s shoes because stress absolutely saps my creative energy, but learning a really concrete skill like programming or a foreign language might work for me.

      4. Keymaster of Gozer*

        One place I’ve found (taking my car out for a drive is the only exercise I can get at the moment) that’s great for having a private think/phone call/general level meltdown is near closed down big stores, commercial estates, that sort of thing. Any areas like that near your walk?

        1. Snuck*

          Or just sitting in the carpark at your supermarket…. that could be fine for 15mins for the call too?

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          (Side note: the lockdown part 3? is doing a number to a lot of us with health issues that mean we’re high risk or can’t get out for walks etc. I’ve found the NHS mental health services a literal lifesaver during the past year. If you’re in the UK and starting to feel like bits of you are cracking under the strain give them a go too.



      5. Jane Plough*

        It sounds like you are under a lot of strain at the moment, I’m sorry.

        While it’s true that lockdown is quite severe, I don’t think your options are as restricted as you think they are. We also don’t know when this lockdown is going to end, so there are ways you can start to take control now which may help.

        You definitely don’t need to wait until lockdown is over to move house, as others have stated, so perhaps starting to get those ducks in a row would be a good place to start? Although you’ve stated the relationship is not abusive, you could also contact Refuge or Women’s Aid for advice on leaving during lockdown (apologies – I have assumed you’re female).

        Are you in a support bubble or could you form one with a single friend? This would enable you to visit their house (and potentially stay over – check the rules on that). Please don’t feel you need to wait to tell your husband before reaching out to your support network – trusted friends, family, colleagues even. Get your team together.

        Finally – regarding public transport to get away. Have you considered taxi services? A taxi with windows open and masks on is a low risk situation and many companies are taking extra measures to make the journey safer (e.g screens between driver and passenger) so is worth exploring.

        Good luck!

        1. Bagpuss*

          If you are in a support bubble you are allowed to stay overnight – the members of the bubble are classed as one household.

          However, OP would need to find a single friend who has not yet formed a support bubble with anyone else, as you can only be in one, or someone who is willing to stop their existing bubble, wait 10 days, then form a new one with OP .

        2. Emma*

          I don’t think the issue is that LW perceives the restrictions to be tighter than they are. If you’re high risk then it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s legal to have a team of movers come into your house: it matters whether or not it’s a risk you’re comfortable with, and from the letter it sounds like it isn’t.

          I get the instinct to encourage LW to take care of their emotional health, and it’s a compassionate one. But it seems pretty clear that LW has balanced the emotional and mental health risk of staying put for now, against the physical health risk of interacting with all the people you need to interact with when moving, and has made a considered decision based on those relative risks. I don’t think trying to talk them out of that is helpful.

      6. Elsie*

        Slightly strange suggestion, but from personal experience, there are places that you can go where crying in public doesn’t get the same reaction. I used to be dealing with some emotional things and like you don’t like crying in public, but found that nobody was concerned by me crying while in the local graveyard.

        Feel free to ignore this advice, but I found it helpful.
        Also my experience in the UK at least is that random stranger conversations just aren’t happening at the moment.

        Sending you positive thoughts.

      7. Trillia*

        Apologies from one of those pesky joggers!

        Sunglasses are good for crying behind, and a useful barrier signal. If the weather’s too gloomy for sunglasses to pass, wear a wide-brimmed rain-hat. A head tilt will shade your eyes, and it will keep rain off your phone.

      8. JSPA*


        1. you’re allowed to cry in public. Joggers will not pry. Plenty of people have things to cry about at the moment, unfortunately.

        2. If part of the issue is that your spouse will give you time without distraction for work, but not for other things–or even that you will concentrate on work, but not on other things–would a work-skills-training course “count” in your mind as work? And if you treat it as work (not even mentioning to spouse that it’s time off), would there be a reason spouse would find out or otherwise not respect that? After all, it IS a form of work, to do training, and in a normal year, work might well send you to a training.

        3. If for Reasons (legal or just structural) you’re not allowed to be accessing certain work files or computer systems (or for that matter, working more than X number of hours in a year) but contact with people from work is what’s helping, is there something work-related that you can do, all the same (with boss’s blessing, but not part of anyone’s normal work function)? It’d have to be something that’s legitimately volunteer–maybe surveying people to find out what sorts of support would be welcome / needed. Or whether they’d like to do some sort of virtual volunteering through work.

        4. if the outside things you’ve tried have not included volunteering, and if part of the draw of work is that it’s something where people count on you, and then thank you for your help, and treat you as a valued human being…there may be forms of volunteering that you can do, without adding to your emotional burden. Around this time of year, helping with very simple tax preparation via food bank and social justice organizations (e.g. Just Harvest) comes to mind. Or teaching adult literacy. Or some other form of tutoring. Many people think in terms of “what will be a pleasant diversion,” but you may need a demanding distraction with a big side of “I have done a good thing” more than a pleasant diversion. It’s possible you can even merge this with volunteering at work, e.g. by test-driving several different virtual volunteering options, and writing up your experiences for your workplace, with attention to attitudes, coworker aptitudes and mission.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      They said above that they’re in the UK, and restrictions are very strict right now. “You must not leave your home unless you have a reasonable excuse (for example, for work or education purposes).” You can only leave your home for exercise once a day. So an Airbnb is definitely out.

      LW, my dear friend went through this in Melbourne from June to October and it was SO hard… but she got through it, and you will too. The biggest piece of advice she had when she was coming out of lockdown and my location was getting stricter was to take the maximally allowed outdoor time every day, even if it was just walking around the neighborhood again and again.

      1. BubbleTea*

        AirBnb isn’t an option but moving house definitely is, I know three households who moved during national lockdowns. It sounds like some of the barrier is psychological (which is totally legitimate, trying to make huge decisions while in a pandemic with an underlying health condition is really, really hard) and sometimes when you have told yourself “I’ll do X once Y happens”, it can be hard to shift the plan without it feeling stressful.

        LW, I second the recommendation someone made to call a domestic abuse helpline. Not because you need a refuge place, but because you are sufficiently miserable that you can’t function normally, and the people on those helplines are very good at talking through the options and helping you make a plan. You wouldn’t be wasting their time or misusing the service – emotional abuse is also a thing, and you sound sufficiently trapped and desperate that it makes me wonder whether there might be some harmful patterns going on in your relationship.

        1. Trillian*

          Moving house or moving out may be allowed within the regulations, but it still carries with it an increased risk of infection, because it will involve an greater number of potentially high risk contacts (by nature of the work they do). OP has done her own risk assessment.

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        You can’t even go on WALKS except once a day?!! That’s outrageous. What transmission are they possibly stopping that happens when people walk past each other for 2 seconds? That’s just control with no benefit.

        1. Risk Manager*

          You can’t even go on walks very far from your house (I.e driving to a national park etc.), there have been multiple examples of people being fined. The UK is not in a good place right now.

        2. Emma*

          With the majority of indoor activities/entertainment closed, outdoor spaces like parks, footpaths and playgrounds are absolutely rammed. The risk of transmission is certainly lower outside, but when you have hundreds and hundreds of people walking down a 6ft wide path during daylight hours every day, and stopping to use the public toilets, it’s still significant.

          1. PT*

            Ah see you have public toilets. The US doesn’t have public toilets and closed the few they do have “due to the pandemic” so people can’t wander too far from home unless they like going potty in the shrubbery.

        3. Forrest*

          It’s a nightmare. It’a also incredibly tempting to fudge—like, if I’ve taken my small kids to the park, walked less than half a mile and stood around in the cold for an hour, is that my exercise? I can’t even go for a bike ride or run at adult pace on the same day?

        4. londonedit*

          You’re allowed to leave your house once a day for exercise; and you’re also allowed to leave your house to access food, medication/medical services, and to work if you’re unable to work from home. You’re allowed to exercise with one other person, or with your household or support bubble.

          The idea isn’t that they think everyone is spreading the virus outdoors, it’s about limiting the amount of time people are spending in places that are not their own homes. We know that if you give people the opportunity to meet others outdoors, they’ll push that – last summer, when lockdown restrictions were eased, loads of people were ignoring the ‘rule of six’ and meeting up in large groups. The more you have people mixing in ANY situation, the more likely it is that they’ll transmit the virus (and let’s not forget that the new variants we have here are something like 70% more readily transmissible than the ‘original’ virus we were dealing with last year). Covid has been running absolutely riot in communities all over the UK – and it’s not because people are being reckless or flouting the rules or having wild house parties. Government advice at the moment is to stay at home as much as possible and to limit any contact with people outside your household/support bubble (a support bubble means an adult who lives alone or with small children joining one other fixed household). It’s not about control, it’s about trying to stop the absolutely insane spread of the virus that we’ve seen since last November. And our lockdown is still not as severe as the ones in places like France or Italy last year.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            It’s very very similar to what Melbourne did this summer (well, their winter). It was REALLY hard, but it worked. They got their case numbers WAY down. In contrast, the US’s more mild measures have led to more mild decreases that then were easily able to spike up at Thanksgiving.

            1. Self Employed*

              California never had a true lockdown–our Shelter In Place was much less strict–and I am FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE FURIOUS that our Governor decided that as soon as any ICU beds opened up he should stop the latest halfhearted Shelter In Place and let people dine in tents outdoors in groups again, go to hair/nail salons, etc. Too many people decide that if an activity is permitted, that means it is safe and anyone like me who is staying home and not going into stores is just paranoid. I am sure we will have a post-Super Bowl spike from all the sports fans crowding into “outdoor dining” tents and cheering all over each other.

              In Los Angeles, 1 in 5 people tested has COVID-19. In San Jose, 1 in 10 overall but concentrated in the neighborhoods where low-paid essential workers live. Yes, of course it’s safe to sit around in a tent full of unmasked people and breathe all over the poor waitstaff… /s

        5. Keymaster of Gozer*

          The reasoning for the really tight lockdowns are because when they were relaxed, shops were packed, parks were full, our infection and death rate shot up and the NHS was/is overrun. I get, believe me, that there’s a lot of feeling behind the restrictions in the UK at the moment but there’s reasons for them.

          (I’m limited to going on a drive with the windows open at the moment as our town has a large population of people refusing to wear masks/stop having parties).

          1. Self Employed*

            Be careful. A friend’s husband recently died of coronavirus and the most likely exposure was when he was waiting for her in a car park with the windows down.

        6. Not sure of what to call myself*

          Its not outrageous. People were choosing to go out all at the same time and to the same places. People had the idea that if you were outside you were safe and so they swarmed to the same green places. They ignored the fact that they still had to take care and space out. The papers were full of pictures of crowds in parks and gardens. A park may be big, but if hundreds of people are walking along the same narrow paths and stopping at the same food vendors then it stops being safe.

          Plus people were walking so slowly that they bunched up and so got closer than they should. And Ppeople also didn’t wear masks outside, even though it was so busy, and they tended to meet up in mixed household groups.

          1. Lucy*

            Be sceptical of those pictures – they are often taken using clever trickery to make beaches and parks seem far more crowded than they actually are. People have posted pictures from a birds-eye view that look far less frightening than the pics of ‘crowds’ that don’t reflect distance properly.
            The UK’s covid problem isn’t a result of single households going to parks for a walk.

  8. Phil*

    #2 Have you looked into your company’s annual leave policy for options? My place lets you “cash in” some annual leave if you get a certain amount accrued. This might be something your workplace offers? In addition to you being able to keep working, you also get a little extra money which will probably be of use when you do get the chance to move out.

    1. Bagpuss*

      This is rarely a thing in the UK – there is a statutory requirement to give 5.6 weeks leave (which works out at 28 days for a full time employee) and there are very limited circumstances where this can be *not* taken – it can be carried forward if you are on maternity / paternity / adoption leave or on long term sick leave, for instance, and right now, the government has made rules allowing it to be carried over from 2020-2021 but for the special covid exception it is permissive, employers are not *required* to allow it. It can only be paid out if you leave.

      Many employers give more leave than the statutory minimum and can chose how to deal with the contractual element of your leave, so if some of OPs accrued leave is contractual rather than statutory she might be able to ask to cash it in or give it up, but I think it would be tricky to cash it in as most workplaces won’t be set up to process that kind of arrangement, and they may be wary of setting a precedent, not to speak of the fact that it would involve extra up-front costs to them. As she has 4 weeks to use up I would guess most, if not all, of that is statutory leave rather than contractual.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Some UK firms do have a ‘buy/sell extra leave’ option in their benefits, but if it’s anything like mine you have to do it at the start of the year. So you could get a little extra pay by having 2 fewer leave days in 2021, or a bit less pay by having 2 extra leave days in 2021 but you’d have to have made that arrangement last year.

      I’ve only really got experience working for monopolies though so the rules vary everywhere (I’ve got zero experience working hourly for instance)

      1. LDN Layabout*

        I think buying/selling leave policies can only cover anything above statutory, otherwise it’d be a legal mess I’d imagine.

        My old company allowed it every quarter or so (in line with opting in and out of other benefits in a ‘window’) but it was limited to 5 days either way.

  9. 867-5309*

    OP2, My only concern is with the start of Alison’s script. If my employee told me there were “some things going on at home [that] make it difficult for me to be there any extra amount of time.” then I would assume abuse and be very concerned.

    Can you tell your manager more broadly that there are some things going on in your personal life and that work is actually your lifeline right now? That would just mean a slight adjustment to Alison’s script, “Normally, I would be thrilled to have so much leave to use up. However, right now there are a couple things happening in my personal life that make work an especially welcome focus. I want to be clear that I understand the benefits of taking time off and normally I’d have no problem doing it, but my current circumstances make it very difficult. Is there a way for me to either roll this leave over until later in the year, donate it to someone else who might need it, or forfeit it entirely?”

    1. Washi*

      I agree, Alison’s script would immediately make me think of abuse. I would probably say something like “normally I’d be happy to take my usual amount of leave, but I’m going through some really tough things in my personal life and being able to focus all my energy on work has been the best way I’ve found to cope. I know you’re in a tough spot since I’m really supposed to take this leave, but the absolute best thing for me would be to be able to continue working as long as we’re in lockdown. Is there anything you can think of that we can do to compromise somehow?”

      Also, one thing I thought of OP, is could your take your time spread over the next few months? Like work only 6 hour days until you use it all up? I know that’s not ideal, but at least you’d have your structure still in place.

      1. XF1013*

        Yes! This is what I was thinking. Focus on the benefit of work right now, not on the home situation.

        My boss and I don’t normally talk about our private lives. But in several conversations in the last year, we’ve acknowledged what a difficult time this is and how there have been some really bad days along the way. If I found myself in OP2’s situation, I would say that work is a lifeline for me right now, and it’s important to my mental and emotional health to keep working, and ask him please not to take that away from me. If I promised to use the leave once the pandemic ended, that would probably be sufficient. Only if it failed would I bring up the additional matter of problems at home.

        Good luck, OP2, with all of it.

      2. TechWorker*

        6 hour days seems like a great plan to me if your company would go for it. Taking a long lunch seems more doable than filling 4 weeks if you don’t have anywhere to go.

    2. BethRA*

      I like this edit. I suspect stopping the constant “you need to take vaca” would make life just a bit less stressful (and save OP from having to repeatedly think about all the reasons why they can’t) although honestly, depending on OP’s relationship with their manager, it might be an even bigger relief to actually tell the manager (via email or Slack) what’s going on.

  10. many bells down*

    #3, if this is Zoom we’re talking about you don’t actually have to have a host depending on your settings. I handle the main Zoom account for my organization, and we have lots of meetings i don’t log into.

    If no one needs to share the screen, and if your account settings don’t require authentication or a waiting room, if you have “join before host” turned on, the meeting doesn’t have to have an active host. If I need to be in another meeting, I log out of that Zoom account and use a personal one instead.

    Also we’re trying to move to Teams for small meetings between staff, because even with multiple Zoom accounts we were running out of slots for meetings that tend to run over.

    1. Tired Admin*

      I think the setting is called “Participants can join at any time” or something like that now — but yes, it makes it so that you (the host) don’t need to join the call at all. Make sure you set the meeting to be password protected instead of wait room protected otherwise it gets weird. I haven’t had issues allowing screensharing while using this option.

    2. Flora*

      Also, a recent Zoom update made it so that one can have two meetings (that one is the host of) at the same time. This didn’t work like 3 months ago, so it would be easy to not have noticed yet! So when Pierre sets a meeting, unless you actually need to BE in the meeting, you could set it for 17 hours and then just leave him to it and go do your next thing.

    3. phira*

      Yeah, I was going to say that there are plenty of workarounds for Zoom if that’s what this person is using. Using join before host and no waiting room, it should be fine. You can also list other individuals as hosts when you set up the meeting, so if they log in and you don’t, they’ll be the host. And finally, in Zoom, you should be able to easily make someone else the host of the meeting. And if I remember correctly, if the host has to leave the meeting unexpectedly, like if their internet cuts out, often hosting duties will go to someone else as opposed to the meeting ending (I think??). If this is Teams or another client, then I have no idea what the logistics are, but in Zoom, this is handled pretty easily I think.

      1. JustDesserts*

        In WebEx there is delegate access. Then they can schedule the meeting from the bosses account instead of their own. Assuming they have access to bosses calendar to make appointments on their behalf, it is just a click of a button once set up properly. It also gives the admin an option to cohost so they can start meeting but do not need to be on it the whole time. Instructions are on the WebEx website.

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        I think the best thing would be to have him use his webex room and she could just make the meetings. I know for us we all had out own webex room and the link stayed the same like this: Organization name.webex.com/my name.
        This might varynon the type of webex you’ve got but it should work. Unless they only have like 1 subscription or something and in that case they should get more, or switch to Microsoft Teams

      3. Annika*

        In Webex, you could either set the meeting to join without the host or name alternative host(s). That would solve the technology problem but not the larger problem of him going over meeting times.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I also know that I’ve left Webex meetings I was hosting without closing the meeting – it may be a setting at my org, but as the host, when I leave a meeting I get the option to leave it or to close it for all participants.

      4. Paris Geller*

        We use WebEx too, and there’s a way to change the host of the meeting once you’re in. I’ve had to do that before. I’ve only done that once or twice before, but if OP’s boss still wants her to be the one to set up the meeting, she should be able to set up the meeting, turn the hosting responsibility over to him, and go to her next meeting.

    4. Healthcarezoomer*

      This might have already been mentioned, even though OP is not using Zoom I wanted to leave this here for others. If your company has the purchased option, there is a way to “assign scheduling privileges” it is at the very bottom of settings (on website) of Zoom. Have the person who will be hosting the meetings add the scheduler using their email for sign-on with Zoom. When the scheduler creates a meeting, they can choose between host in the drop down. In the app it is under the more options. This saved our tails for the company I work with.

    5. TardyTardis*

      Yes, trying to let people out of waiting rooms and still take minutes at the same time was unworkable for me, so we changed our meetings to ‘let people in at any time’. We have yet to be spammed or invaded (plus they’d have to listen to our budget, which would likely induce them to flee as soon as they figure that part out).

  11. Cant remember my old name*

    #3. You did not mention what software you’re using but if it’s zoom and if you are mainly the host by name and aren’t responsible for launching polls or muting people or stuff like that, this isn’t a big ask. If you don’t want to schedule a call just to explain it to him, I would just shoot him an email like 15 minutes before the meeting letting him know. Something like – “heads up – I need to roll off right at 1 to start them meeting for X. I’m going to go ahead and make you the host at 12:50. You don’t need to do anything, but this way you all can stay on after I move onto the next meeting if needed. Does that work for you?”

    I’d be surprised if you got any pushback.

    1. introverted af*

      I also have an option on Zoom to designate alternate hosts from my organization. Works like a charm.

  12. Robin Q*

    LW #3-can you get access to your boss’s zoom account and schedule it there, instead of yours? Your organization might also be able to make another zoom account for you to schedule it on. I know my boss’s admin had this problem for a while and was able to get it sorted, where she uses one account for smaller meetings and another for bigger meetings.

  13. judyjudyjudy*

    LW2: if your company does not allow you to roll over your leave or whatever, perhaps your company has a PTO donation program? That might be a nice thing to do if you can’t use them yourself. Best of luck!

    1. TechWorker*

      I hope so but LW has said they’re in the U.K. and honestly I’ve never heard of it here (in particular most leave is a legal requirement so I’m not clear it would even be allowed for companies to offer a donation scheme)

    2. Bagpuss*

      It’s not really a thing here in the UK – partly because for most people, most if not all of their leave is statutory, which is a minimal legal requirement which you can’t not take, and can only carry over or have paid out in very specific circumstances (You can carry forward leave accrued when you are on maternity/paternity/adoption leave, or sick leave, and can carry it forward a short time when you were prevented from taking it right at the end of a year. The government has made temporary provisions to allow leave to be carried over due to the pandemic, so OP’s employers could permit that but they aren’t required to, and of course from the employer’s perspective it may be better to have people use it up, especially if the business has contracted due to covid)

      I think donating it might also create big problems with payroll, tax and pension contributions, and rules around working for free…

      1. UKDancer*

        My company gives more leave than the statutory minimum so it lets you sell a small amount of leave (up to 1 week) but you can’t sell all of it. I’ve never heard of anyone wanting to donate leave. I don’t think we do leave donation in the UK or at least we never have in anywhere I’ve worked.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          The only way I could see ‘donating leave to another’ working in the UK would be if it were entirely off the books and kept incredibly secret that it was going on. It’s not something I’ve ever seen happen.

    3. Ange*

      I’m in the UK and my organisation allows you to sell or buy up to one week of annual leave. Like TechWorker said, leave donation is not really a thing here. You could try suggesting that you will take the leave within 6-8 weeks if they do allow it to roll over, and hopefully we will be out of lockdown by then.

  14. ChelseaNH*

    #2 Would it be possible to take 2 months of half-days? You’d still have the work routine to get you out of the house, and only half the day to find a way to fill.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      If they are in a place in lock down, they are very likely working from home. Especially when they say in their letter that they don’t drive and are avoiding public transportation. They also say that they and their husband are stuck in the house together.

  15. Mary Richards*

    Oh my gosh, LW 2, I feel for you. What a tough situation. I would encourage you to do your best to communicate during your walk, as you plan to do. I know it’s hard, and I’m going to sound like a horrible person, but given the pandemic/masks/sunglasses, there’s a decent chance people won’t notice crying.

    Otherwise, wishing you so much strength.

  16. Never Nicky*

    LW2 – I feel for you. When my last relationship ended, we were trapped together in a small flat for several months for Reasons and it was horrible. I threw myself into work, studies (perhaps you could look at Coursera or Futurelearn courses) and hobbies, just to avoid interaction. The situation – initially amicable – then rapidly went downhill (I exploded). I know you don’t want to leave and you say there’s no abuse but your mental health is important. And even with our lockdown, you are allowed to look for accommodation, move house etc.

    In terms of annual leave, the UK Government has allowed more rollover my reducing the amount you MUST take annually so hopefully you won’t lose everything. (I think there’s a limit as to when you can take it – two years maybe?) My employer (small charity) only allows 4 days rollover usually but we could roll everything over this year.

    Good luck.

    1. Not sure of what to call myself*

      You would need to check the rules as I think the law was intended for holidaysvthatvpeople couldn’t take (ie. medical staff who were not able to take holidays due to increased schedules) as opposed to people who didn’t want to take time off.

      Or at least that’s how my company interpreted it when we asked.

    2. anon for this*

      I also feel for you, LW2, since I was in a similar situation as well. My former partner decided to make a large-scale move at the end of our relationship. This made sense to both of us, but it kept getting pushed back because it was logistically complicated. In the meantime we were still living in the same space, and things declined until they were downright hostile.

  17. Paperdill*

    LW2, I am so sorry you are going through this and this leave thing is just making things more difficult.
    I would like to suggest that when you talk to your boss about it (via email for privacy?) make it about COVID and lockdown rather than referring to anything “ at home” or in your relationships: “Like a lot of people, lockdown is really getting me down and work very important in provide information structure and purpose to my day. Taking leave now would not be a good thing for me” (that’s not the best script, but you get the gist). Surely it’s widely acknowledged enough that lockdown sux, that your boss could understand this perspective and negotiate other options with you?

    1. Emma*

      I actually think it might be better to refer vaguely to a personal situation, because that makes it clear that you have a distinct reason for asking for an exception – versus “lockdown sucks”, which is true for everyone and therefore can’t be used as a reason to make one-off exceptions to the rules.

  18. phira*

    Hey, LW 2, I’m so sorry! The pandemic is making already awful situations into unbearable ones. I gave birth during the summer and had severe postpartum depression after, and it felt like I was trapped with no escape because I could not go anywhere. I’m still feeling trapped because it’s been 11 months of isolating at home with a toddler (with the last six being isolated with a toddler AND a baby), but it’s no longer the same kind of desperate, unbearable anguish that I felt during the worst of my depression.

    I don’t know what lockdown is like in the UK; here in my part of the US, people are able to take walks outside while masked. If you’re able to get out of the house for a bit on your own to go for a walk, I urge you to do so, if only to breathe. And if you would feel up to calling someone you love–a family member or a friend–or a counselor or a hotline just to have someone to tell about what you’re going through, I’ve had lots of phone conversations while masked and I’ve been understood just fine. Just a thought, but honestly, you’re not doing anything wrong and I’m so sorry that this is happening to you. I’d keep saving that vacation time so that when lockdown ends, you can use it to move the heck out of there and take several weeks off to recover.

    LW 5: I’m a college instructor and I just want to say THANK YOU! Students (and instructors!) are so lucky to have tutors like you who understand the importance of teaching students how to approach questions without giving them the answers (or confirming to them that they have the right one). You handled it really swimmingly. As an instructor, I have the added excuse of, “I’m happy to tell you if your answer is correct or not, but that’s called grading. So I can grade it now or grade it when it’s due, but once I grade it, it’s graded.”

  19. PX*

    OP3: as others have said, this depends on the software – but almost every one has an option where you can either have meetings without needing a host or you can delegate host function to someone else when the meeting starts. I’m thinking specifically of Webex which has security features similar to what you mention, and it’s very possible to have multiple meetings running or delegate host duties even though the settings might be a bit difficult to find.

    But also, the real problem here is your boss being rude about other people’s time! I’m team “train him to finish on time” but I realise that’s easier said than done.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Thank you for your second paragraph. I’d hate working for Pierre.
      If I were a manager at a new company, I would definitely want to know that company culture is strict on meeting durations.
      OP is there another manager you are friendly with at Pierre’s level or above who you could trust to mention this to him without implying his direct reports complained? Can you schedule Pierre’s next meeting right to one of “Pat’s” so Pat has a natural opening to mention it to him?

  20. Tamer of Dragonflies*

    Op 1- If you like the buzz cut,don’t worry about what it looks like. Just explain that no, it’s not from chemo, but thanks for the concern. I had to deal with much of the same thing when I went from having hair down to my butt to having a scalp as smooth as a peeled onion.

    Op 4- Why did you interview with another company? If you think it’s time to move on, no counter-offer will change that feeling for long. Never discount being as happy as you can be with a job. I know the grass is always greener, blah blah blah, but you don’t know for sure untill you at least jump the fence and look around a bit. And don’t try to play each company off one another. Eventually they’ll get get wise to being milked and move on.
    On a somewhat seperate note…WOW, you got a counter-counter offer?! In my (limited) experiance, this is the first time I’ve heard of this happening. New company either wants you really, really bad or they lowballed the ever loving $h!+ out of you with the first offer.

    1. Reba*

      Re Op 4 — you accepted your current company’s counter offer already! You accepted, the negotiating phase is over. As I see it, this scenario is done, there is nothing left to “handle” except to say thanks, but no, to the new company.

      Unless you want to risk really damaging your standing at current company, that is–I can’t see any way that a conversation like “I know I said yes already but I just want to see if I can get a little more” goes well.

  21. Mara*

    Hi OP2. I’m really sorry to hear about your situation. As a manager in a company where annual leave is use or lose by March 31 with no exceptions (a policy made many pay grades above mine for a huge organization), I have been reminding my reports to take their leave too. If you just need to ask to forfeit or tell your manager to lay off on the reminders, I think Alison’s script is great. Depending on your office culture, if you’re uncomfortable mentioning your home situation for fear of raising red flags or being asked things you can’t field right now, you could potentially replace that part with something to the effect that working is helping you stay healthy and well right now (along with Alison’s words about normally you understand the benefits of annual leave etc.). This advice is super contingent on your office and your manager, but the management team in my office has openly discussed that many people want to work instead of taking leave due to stress of the pandemic, and that while normally allowing people to forfeit leave is normally not ideal for staff or the team, we need to be cognizant that people are handling this extreme period of stress differently and ultimately it’s their choice to determine what is best for them. I know in some offices any hint about mental health is still taboo so this wouldn’t work, but I just wanted to give some alternate wording in case your workplace is anything like mine and the words “health and wellness” would carry weight and help you to avoid awkward questions.

  22. anonymous 5*

    OP5: THANK YOU for your willingness and ability to put your foot down on what kind of assistance you’ll give students! I wish we had more of you at my college! (well, and at undergraduate schools in general…)

    1. Alice's Rabbit*

      I did some tutoring and proofreading in college. It still shocks me when I remember how many students expected me to just do their work for them. It’s plagiarism! Cheating! No, I won’t do your work for you.
      I was more than happy to type as the dyslexic students dictated their work. But I wouldn’t just write it for them. It was still in their words.
      I was just as happy to edit papers, but I wouldn’t fix the problems. I’d merely point them out, and tell them the type of correction needed. “This entire half-page paragraph is a single run-on sentence. Break it up into at least 5 sentences, please, each with an independent clause.” But I wouldn’t rewrite the paper for them. They had to do that themselves.

  23. hbc*

    OP2: This might depend on your office setup, but how about asking your manager if you can take it in 4 hour chunks and stay in the office while not working a few half days a week? I might not be thrilled with it as a manager during normal times, but these are not normal times, and I would approve it for something as trivial as “I’m sick of my house, please don’t make me go there.” This would also allow you to set up any of those calls you need, provided there are somewhat private spots you can take advantage of (like a conference room that’s hopefully not used much now.)

    1. allathian*

      They’re in the UK and in lockdown, and I assume everyone who has a job that can be done remotely is currently WFH. Most stores, except grocery stores and pharmacies, are closed, and restaurants and cafes are limited to takeout or deliveries, so most non-essential employees in customer service are on furlough or have been laid off.

      In most parts of Europe, there’s much less sympathy and understanding for employers that require butts in seats during this time. They can be fined for breaking lockdown regulations by requiring non-essential employees to be on site, and in some jurisdictions they can be barred from operating at all.

      1. hbc*

        Huh, I guess I assumed working outside of the house, because being at home working and being at home messing around on the computer aren’t substantially different to me. If that’s the case, I wonder if OP couldn’t just…fake working for some part of that vacation time.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          There’s a big difference. Mostly to do with how your brain and emotions are engaged:

          Working – you’re in a mode where you think a lot, have to constantly consider professional norms, deal with the minute of business, manage relationships with others..

          Playing on the computer – different areas of the brain active, no need to be professional, it’s easier to let the depression processes run in your brain, nothing you mess up has any great impact on things..

          1. Forrest*

            And no outside people to talk to! That’s the thing that’s really kept me going— I know everyone is supposed to hate Zoom but I really appreciate having work meetings just for the chance to interact with my colleagues.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I absolutely love our Slack channels – although you know we’re having a busy day if it’s 90% SQL jokes…

          2. Lucy*

            Absolutely! Also I have many recurring meetings which give a structure to my day. There’s also online training, various deadlines, processes and procedures to follow. It is a structure that does help stave off poor mental health, for me.

        2. Emma*

          Also, if OP is trying to limit interaction with their husband, it’s much easier to do that when you have the excuse that you’re working and can’t be interrupted.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Does LW’s husband need to know that they’re not working?

            It depends very much on the logistics, but if LW normally protects 9-5 as work time, would husband actually notice the difference between “preparing TPS reports” and “going down a wikipedia rabbit hole starting with medieval undergarments” or “reading the entire AAM archive or “watching the MCU films in universe-chronological order”…?

            I think the LW could be well served by negotiating to carry or cash out as much leave as possible* and using up the rest in hours or half-days as necessary, perhaps without explicitly telling husband how it’s allocated. Sometimes taking time off can be stressful in itself (“what will my inbox look like when I get back?” “what if Wakeen annoys my client while I’m away?” etc) and shorter days can avoid a lot of those smaller concerns.

            * FWIW I’m also in the UK, supposed to be moving soon, and carried several weeks’ worth of 2020 leave into 2021 by arrangement with my boss. I’ll also remark that although house moving is still permitted in lockdown, it is significantly slower and more difficult than usual, the latter particularly for anyone who is clinically vulnerable.

      2. Forrest*

        I wish this was true but there are a ton of British employers who are still requiring office workers to be in the office, especially if they’re low paid, non-unionised clerical work. My colleague’s partner has to go into work in a call centre. There’s even been a government campaign shaming people for going to work, as if that’s a choice individuals are making instead of their managers.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Not to mention ministers proudly announcing that they’ll be staying at home to quarantine, when they could all absolutely WFH all week at the moment instead of taking six-hour round trips to be photographed at food banks, etc.

        2. Emma*

          Meanwhile government agencies are requiring their own clerical staff and callcenter workers to work in the office, leading to outbreaks.

          It’s bananas.

  24. Washi*

    OP, have you considered doing some kind of online gig work if you do have to take leave? I briefly did online transcription stuff for Rev and it was terrible in the sense that it pays very, very poorly…but stuff like that requires your full concentration and there’s some amount of accountability if you take on larger transcription projects. I know there’s also sites where people give English conversation lessons online. So maybe even if you can’t be working your real job all the time, you could still be working?

    1. Camellia*

      This is a great idea. OP, would you be able to keep it from your husband, that you are working a job like this and not your ‘real’ job?

  25. LDN Layabout*

    Chiming in to OP2 to add to the ‘moving is possible’ bandwagon. I understand if it’s not possible for you right now, but I had to move flats in December (a week before Christmas, so pandemic and holiday fun there) and while it was sureal and a bit more difficult, it was doable.

    In terms of leave carryover in the UK, I know my organisation has been pushing people to take leave throughout the year to avoid big build-ups of leave and are only allowing the usual 5 days UNLESS there are very compelling reasons. Even my friends on the vaccination frontlines are being given overtime pay vs. TOIL, which is the opposite of what usually happens.

  26. Anon4This*

    #2 I’m in a very similar situation at home, on top of having moved to a new country just before the pandemic hit and being unemployed for most of the past year, I am now glad to be working (but on a temporary contract of max. 6 months). Having a similar routine has made the co-living-co-working situation easier to bear, however I was upfront with my partner about wanting to leave as soon as my job situation turns permanent and life returns to a semblance of normal. It’s not easy though, we had a few bad fights where I got to see an ugly, unfair and unreasonable side of him that led to my decision to split, ideally I would have just packed up and left, found a place to stay, organised the move/ storage and come back for my things. Luckily, as for you, it isn’t abusive or unsafe, but it still sucks to be stuck like this.

  27. Not a Skinhead*

    I have given myself a buzz cut at home a few times over the years, including this past summer, because it really is so much easier to manage. Every time, my wife fears that people will assume I’m a skinhead or white supremacist. Maybe it’s because I have a naturally scowling face and look mad when lost in thought, or maybe it’s because I’m a middle-aged white man in a semi-rural Southern town. (Our neighborhood is full of Gadsden flags and Thin Blue Line flags.) I want nothing at all to do with white supremacists! I just want a convenient haircut. :-(

    1. Emily*

      I wouldn’t automatically assume that a white man with a buzz cut is a skinhead, but I can understand your concern. Maybe you could signal in other ways that you’re not a white supremacist (i.e. by displaying Black Lives Matter or other progressive paraphernalia on your person or car or house).

  28. I'm just here for the cats*

    #2 I feel so very sorry for you and I hope you can get out soon. If you have plans to leave soon, like April or may could you ask your boss if you could save the time for then?
    If you’ve just use your time is there someplace you could go? Do you have a friend that you could text and ask to be discreet and hang out at their house during the day, or maybe even stay over for a few days to get away from your husband.
    For counseling ha e you tried to do telehealth during your lunch? Or maybe you could schedule during work and take a long break or something?
    Also there could be counselors that are doing in person sessions. You can look and maybe schedule and just leave early one day from work and use up your leave.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        You’re only allowed if you’re in a support bubble. So my sister and her kid can visit my mum and dad (she’s a single parent) but she and her kid can’t visit anyone else, nor can my mum and dad, and I’m not allowed to visit either.

        This situation is why they’ve upped my meds again…

      2. Self Employed*

        And LW is in a high risk group so even if she didn’t worry about getting arrested, she IS worried about getting exposed to coronavirus.

  29. AthenaC*

    #3 – One thing you could do is right at the start of the meeting, say, “Just a heads-up, I have a hard stop at X:00 and I’ll have to drop. If we’re still working through things at that point, I’ll make sure to make Pierre the host before I drop.”

    Of course, that’s assuming you are able to make someone else the host in your software. If you’re not able to make someone else the host, I’d replace the second sentence with, “If we’re still working through things when our time is up, I’ll be happy to reschedule a followup meeting, but I do have to drop at X:00.”

    It would be a courtesy to talk to Pierre ahead of time to let him know politely what impact he’s having when he doesn’t respect the scheduled end time, but either way – unless Pierre is very senior in the company, you becoming more transparent about your schedule constraints should read as rude in a work context, if you keep your delivery bright and cheery.

    Good luck!

  30. Rebecca*

    I shaved my head in high school and everyone thought I was a) a lesbian or b) having a mental break down.

    I just got tired of washing it.

    1. E*

      Ah, I remember the teen years – a change in appearance is almost the only way to signal who you are! Not surprised at all that it got interpreted that way.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      I chopped my hair off (elbow length) to a pixie cut in college and everyone thought I broke up with my boyfriend. Actually kept ripping out chunks while snorkeling for work and got fed up. Married that boyfriend, too.

    3. Sylvan*

      I want to do the same thing, but I think people who already know I’m mentally ill might reach certain conclusions, lol. Experimenting with your hair is just fun!

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        Not that anyone needs to justify something like this, but if you wanted to head off concern maybe you could post some stuff on social media or drop in conversations that you’re thinking of making a big hair change so that it is more obviously a premeditated decision? Or if you share after the fact just add a note in that you’ve been thinking about it for a while and are very excited about the final look?

      2. Self Employed*

        I got that reaction for offering free books/DVDs even though I said I had leftovers when relocating a bookshelf.

  31. Dust Bunny*

    LW3: I couldn’t tell–have you actually told him you can’t afford to let him run over? I know he’s your boss but surely you can tell him, “I’m scheduling you for 3o minutes as requested but I have a meeting immediately after that so I can’t stay longer–are you sure this is enough time?” You’re not ordering him around, you’re just sharing a straight fact of scheduling limitations.

    1. GreenDoor*

      LW3: You need to be more straightforward. You’re the technical host….but temporarily assume the role of acutal host. lead off with “Welcome everyone, as a reminder, we are only allowed one hour for this session so let’s jump right in, Jane, I beleive you were going to lead us off….” Or “Hi everyone! To be respectful of our alloted time, I”m going to suggest that Jane jump right in. Bob, Tom, Marsha, you’ll each have about 15 minutes for your parts and then we’ll need to wrap up.”

      Even if you’re only role in these meetings is background support, most people understand that one of the roles of Admin is often acting as timekeeper or agenda keeper. Get more comfortable interjecting at a pause or moment of natural transition, like, “Excuse me, All! Bob, before you go into your piece, I want to remind everyone that I will need to end this session promptly at 1:55 to transition to the next meeting on this platform.” Most people will understand that you are are not being rude, rather, you’re doing your job as digital host.

      Adhering to the nuances of digital meeting platforms is one of the new ways of doing buisness now. You need to teach your boss that. Maybe with an email or private convo with your new boss to let him specifically know that meetings are booked back to back and can’t overlap on the platform your company uses and that you will be ending a session at its scheduled end time – even if the discussion hasn’t wrapped up.

      1. Self Employed*

        And I’m sure everyone else in the call will thank you for it, LW3. I don’t do many work-related Zooms but I’m in a bunch of organizations and everyone appreciates having someone chair the meeting who keeps everything on the agenda (topics and timeline).

  32. periwinkle*

    OP#3: Ah, you are using WebEx. It offers two options which will help.

    1 – Before the meeting, you can designate an alternate host so someone else can start it if you are unable to do so.

    2 – During a meeting, you can assign the host role to another attendee. That would let you leave the current meeting to go start the next one.

    Cisco has pretty decent support documentation at help dot webex dot com.

    Granted, the core problem here is a boss who doesn’t respect the schedules of other people. Until that gets resolved, at least you can deal with the hosting issue.

  33. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    LW 1: Maybe say something like “What do you think of my haircut? I got tired of the way my hair got in the way of fastening a mask.”

    That’s why I’m considering buzzing mine.

  34. Peeped EA*

    OP#3: In a virtual environment, it is vitally important to stick to the schedule specifically for this reason. Also, you shouldn’t be scared to speak up. As the administrative professional, your job is to administrate the situation, not find workarounds as the first resort. It is perfectly within your rights as the admin to set up a meeting with him and discuss this issue, bringing up reasons why going over is problematic, and offering solutions that will work for him that he can choose from to address the issue.

    As an admin, communication with those you support is key. You’re not a mind reader, and neither are they. You need to talk to him as someone who is trying to keep both his best interests and the best interests of the company in mind, which is what you are. I understand that not all bosses are open to discussion, but there’s no indication you’ve even tried. Don’t be afraid to address legitimate concerns such as this with your supervisor. It’s your job to keep him situationally aware as best you can. You’re doing both him and yourself a disservice by not directly communicating the issue before going to workarounds.

    As someone with over a decade’s worth of administrative professional experience, I can tell you that establishing a relationship and learning boundaries and expectations is key to being successful with those you support. It should be a partnership. You can’t be afraid to at least try.

  35. Person from the Resume*

    For LW#3, I think you need a script and some steps because it sounds like you let the meeting continue and missed hosting other meetings. He’s holding you AND that other meeting hostage. It seems that hosting meetings for other people are a part of job description in addition to hosting his meetings so his should not take precedence especially if it’s a failure to schedule enough time problem. If you as the host needs to be there or the meeting doesn’t happen then you have obligation to show up even if it means cutting off your boss because if you don’t show that meeting jusy never happens, is left hanging. wastes people’s time while they wait for you to show up and start the meeting.

    When the meeting starts announce, “This meeting has a hard stop at noon because the host is required to host another meeting at that time.”

    When there’s 5 minutes left, announce that the meeting will end in 5 minutes.

    When you reach the time limit say” “I’m sorry, I have to drop for another meeting and this meeting will end now” and then leave so no one can argue with you. (That’s why you gave them the 5 minutes warning.) And seriously you can try to wait for a break in the conversation for a minute, but when you’ve got to drop to host another call you got to drop so break in and end it if you must.

  36. yala*


    So, fibbery and lies aren’t GREAT, but if you absolutely cannot avoid taking the leave…do you have to tell your husband? If you’re not taking public transportation and don’t drive yourself, then I’m guessing he drops you off at work. Could you still do that, but just…go somewhere else? Or shoot, possibly just stay in the building, but do *you* things for the day?

    I know with the pandemic, it’s not really like we can really pop into a B&N or Waterstones, grab a coffee, and settle in an armchair for the day (*sigh* I MISS it…), but, say, libraries tend to be pretty good about having space, and are relatively easy to be careful in.

    It’s not ideal, but it would at least let you be out of the house.

    Alternatively, do you have a friend you could stay with during working hours?

    I’m not saying it’s a great solution. It’s super risky, as all lies are, and not really a first, second, or even third choice option. But if it’s between that and having to be home with your husband all day, it might be better. Even if it’s just sitting in your office with a book.

    1. ceiswyn*

      Libraries are not open. We are not allowed to visit friends’ houses. And the OP is almost certainly working from home.

    2. ThatGirl*

      She’s in the UK, they’re in a hard lockdown, she’s working from home and there’s nowhere else to go.

  37. Mike Engle*

    I really appreciate the advice of addressing the short haircut *HEAD-on*!

    I’ll see myself out.

  38. SugarHaus*

    OP #2 I could have written your post almost word for word, including the part about not driving, and my heart goes out to you. While ultimately it was necessary for me to leave during the pandemic for safety reasons, work absolutely was my refuge in the interim.

    One thing that helped immensely was being upfront with my boss to a certain degree. I told him that while I wasn’t up for taking time off like he wanted, that work was a great distraction from what was happening in my life, that I would make an effort to take a little time off here and there. Sometimes that meant coming in an hour or two late if I was too exhausted from fighting. Sometimes it was a random day of the week when I knew he was going to be away, or a day where I’d schedule a few doctors appointments to get out of the house. I promise you these short breaks will become a refuge for you too.

    My boss was actually the first person who I told about my divorce the night after it happened. Because he had a vague sense of what was going on, he bent over backwards to pave the way for me to be able to take two weeks off almost immediately, so that I could grieve. I’m generally a very private person, but this whole situation taught me that there’s a middle ground. People don’t need all the details to know that you are suffering, and more often than not will assist you where they can.

    If you see this, know that you’re not alone, and that this stranger knows that you’ll make it through to the other side of this. <3

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I love this comment. Virus free virtual hugs to anyone who needs them. We *will* get through this and people *do* care.

  39. Bookworm*

    #3: Wishing you good luck. I have one of those (although not in the extreme as yours!). It’s exhausting. I’m sympathetic for many who can’t socialize, haven’t seen other people, etc. but in some ways WFH in a pandemic has highlighted how some people don’t seem or care to understand how they’re monopolizing people’s time by doing this. Hope you have success.

    #5: YAY! That can be a tough thing to do but it sounds like you had some headway. Do hope it works out for you!!

  40. PersephoneUnderground*

    I think the cancer assumption is fueled by the have more than the hairstyle, in case the LW hasn’t already pegged that. Something subconscious in me definitely registers uncovered buzz cut as obviously Covid hair or fashion, but suddenly wearing a hat to cover what looks like no hair under it maps exactly to our cultural image of a person with hair loss from chemo (and actual memories for anyone who has known someone who went through that). I assume the hat was because you don’t like the cut either? It might not be as bad as you think, so in addition to Alison’s script I’d encourage ditching the hat if it doesn’t look too bad under there/ if you can get comfortable with the idea.

    1. Reba*

      I can imagine that a shaved head actually is cold, though. My cursory googling leads me to believe that a “chemo cap” is basically a knit hat? Similar to a beanie? I.e. what I wear outside all winter?
      Or, it’s one of the more decorative ones with a little visor, in which case a bit more distinct. Wearing a hat like that all the time, indoors, could be contributing to the misperceptions.

      In any case, a quick “yah, shaved my head” ought to do it. Awkwardness is not usually fatal :)

      Glad you found a functional way of dealing with your hair, OP!

      1. Metadata minion*

        Yes, especially if you have thick hair to start with shaving it off is super cold! It also means that you can feel every little breeze against the buzz which is super distracting until you get used to it :-b

    2. MCMonkeybean*

      I took it as not that they don’t like the cut as much as they thought it would look unprofessional and that putting on a nice hat would look more put together for on-camera meetings

  41. B Wayne*

    LW#1: When the Atkins Diet was all the rage I adhered to it and lost around 45 pounds one summer. Lightest I’d been in 25 years. People did indeed speculate and a few ask if I’d gotten sick. No big deal. Although I ended up a big deal as I gave up the regiment after a few months. Forward to two, three years later and I did get cancer and believe you me, no one will mistake that once you start treatment. It’s not a movie where the actor shaves his head for sympathy and still looks healthy, just bald. So, it is fine. I’ve seen plenty of 1/8″ to 1/2″clipper guard haircuts (including me, I’m saving $20+ a pop) this year, don’t sweat it.

  42. employment lawyah*

    1. I shaved my head and I think my coworkers think I have cancer
    That is pretty funny.

    AAM’s advice would work, or you can always lie and say you did Locks of Love or some other hair-donation thing.

    2. How do I persuade my manager NOT to make me take time off?
    AAM is right. Also, if you’re planing for a separation and want to make sure you have time to handle it, you might reasonably try to see if you can take an unusually long vacation (“next April”) and then deal with separation at that time. The longer vacation would also justify the longer notice.

    3. How do I tell my new boss he can’t go over his meeting time?
    Most programs will allow you to set up a co-host, or to tranfer hosting. That’s the best bet: “Pierre, I need to sign off; you’re the host now, thanks!”

    You should give him a heads up that you’ll be doing that, though.

  43. MCMonkeybean*

    For OP2, I think you can give some personal detail without bringing your husband into it at all. Personally I think the vagueness in Alison’s script would leave me kind of worried if someone said that to me.

    We’re all going through something new and weird and everyone is struggling with lockdown in different ways, but I think most people understand however it is affecting you. While it’s possible that your boss *has* to make you take PTO by company policy, if he’s just pushing out of concern then I don’t see why you couldn’t say a lot of what you said in your letter, just taking out anything about your relationship. But something like “I’m really struggling in lockdown and work is keeping me sane right now. I understand why the company would want people to take PTO even if we can’t travel, but keeping my mind occupied with work is honestly the best thing for me at the moment. “

    1. MommyMD*

      I agree. The something “bad” is happening at home and I don’t want to be there would have me worried about domestic abuse. I think I would just matter of fact ask if my leave could be postponed, bought out or donated, and say with the pandemic, work is the only thing that gets me out of the house and if I’m home for four weeks I’ll go stir crazy. Keep it light and don’t allude to a domestic situation.

  44. Elenna*

    OP#2: Is it possible for you to “take your leave” but actually keep working through it? This is basically a suggestion for if your company insists on you taking leave for legal reasons. I guess this would also work if you can’t/don’t want to tell your boss, but it sorta feels like lying to your boss in that case so idk.

    Of course it depends on your work (e.g. a receptionist obviously can’t keep answering the phone if they’re supposed to be off and they aren’t getting any calls), but for my job I have a long list of stuff I want to improve/document/etc when I get time (which, of course, never happens :P ). If you have something like that, you could maybe pass your regular duties on to others as you would if you were actually taking the time off, and use the time to keep working on the list of improvements?
    Depending on your WFH setup, it may or may not be possible or necessary for you to appear offline during this time, as if you were actually on leave.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This is what I came here to suggest. I’ve seen people in my workplace work through their days off. Boss would have to be somewhat in the loop, though.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      LW #2, I can commiserate. In my position, PTO is a liability, not a benefit. This was going to be my suggestion, too.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m not encouraging this or forbidding it, just to say if you are planning on doing offline work for your job make sure that you’re not violating any data storage (confidential data stored locally etc) or GDPR regs. That *can* get you into a great deal of trouble.

      (Once typed up an FAQ on one system during time off, using my ‘what daft questions have I been asked?’ memory on my own laptop. Was laid up with spinal pain and really bored..)

    4. MCMonkeybean*

      This could be a good Plan B if the boss comes back and says they really have to make her take it. I would not normally advocate for that because I do think PTO is important, and it can also set unreasonable expectations of what you can normally accomplish if you get a lot of stuff done on vacation. But in these unusual times I don’t think anyone would blame you.

      Probably it would be hard to fill a week or two at a time that way, but maybe if you take them in 2-day pieces once in a while you could take that time to do sort of “lighter” work. Brainstorming things, or laying the groundwork for some “nice to have” projects that have been on the backburner for years or something. Organizing files, rebuilding spreadsheets that have gotten out of control, etc.

      Don’t lie to your boss, so if he were to like truly forbid you doing any work then you’d have to accept that, but I think in a lot of WFH situations it’s normal for people to say they will log on occasionally during time off to check email or something so if that’s usually accepted at your office then I would think you would be fine to take that a bit further. Just don’t be too responsive to emails, and if there’s an office messaging system like Skype maybe don’t log in there (Which could be a bonus! Getting work done without having to deal with people interrupting you with questions? That’s the dream haha!)

  45. Web Crawler*

    LW1: the same thing happened to my partner when she shaved her head. Nobody commented on it to her face, but she got a lot of “take care of yourself” or “are you doing okay?” And as her partner, I got the direct questions like “how’s partner’s health?”. She was just tired of hair

    1. Web Crawler*

      Forgot to say- my partner responded to it with either “I’m fine. Better now without the hair weighing me down” or “somebody told me I shouldn’t shave my head because it would look weird. So I did”

  46. lilsheba*

    I have been so so tempted to shave my head, because it would be zero maintenance. I never do anything special with my hair, no blow drying/straightening/coloring like I used to. But I’m afraid of how much uglier I would be so I don’t. But I do wear those “chemo caps” a lot to veil and protect myself from outside energy.

    1. Web Crawler*

      Now would be the time to do it, if you want to. And if it helps, it only stays shaved for two weeks or so- after that, it becomes buzzed, and then just short.

      I used to have long hair and now it’s an inch at the top of my head, and the lack of maintenance (besides regular clipping) is amazing. I’m a weird case though because I transitioned to male at the same time as cutting my hair off, so it was just trading one gender norm for another

  47. Jaydee*

    LW2: One thing you could ask your boss about is cashing out some of your leave (assuming this is a “use it or lose it” situation). Open a separate bank account in your name only. Yes, you’ll have to list it in your financial affidavits if you divorce, but he won’t have access to the account to spend the money. Your employer gets the accrued leave off their books and you get a fund for moving expenses, retainer for a divorce lawyer, or whatever you need it for.

  48. MommyMD*

    Can OP 3 say at the start of the meeting: this meeting will wrap up at 10 as I have another meeting to host?

  49. Letter Writer 3*

    Thank you for answering my question! It is WebEx and not Zoom.
    I will certainly dig around in my settings, but for what I’ve found only licensed members can be hosts, and there’s only 2 of us in my department of over 200. We can now have 2 meetings running at once, which has helped, but I definitely need to schedule time with him.

    From what I’ve found, WebEx rooms function like actual conference rooms, so I can have two with my name on them, but if people are in them, I can’t open another until all of them leave (or I kick them out). Except with WebEx you can’t see the next meeting knocking on the glass!

    I think my hesitation has been that I’m not actually part of most of these meetings, so it feels extra intrusive to pop in.

    1. F as in Frank*

      When a meeting ran over in the office, often there were people waiting outside the meeting room. This was a visual reminder that conference rooms are a limited resource and people in the meeting wrapped up. Assuming that you are not able to get a dedicated WebEx account for Pierre, as an admin for your virtual meeting rooms, you likely are able to send a reminder to wrap up.

      I would talk to your boss on what way of reminding is best. At my org, I would IM him with a five minute warning of “a hard stop at the top of the hour” and unless it was critical expect that he’d wrap in time. Some other options are to implement a policy of closing meetings when they have run over by 1-2 minutes.

  50. OyHiOh*

    OP #1 – I shaved my head in college. Pranced around in pretty dresses, heels, and no hair (femme presenting human). It was liberating. My college campus – fairly progressive – didn’t bat an eyelash. My parents flipped out. Behind my back speculation about supporting a friend with cancer or a sudden flip in politics. They wouldn’t outright ask me though so the whole thing got pretty ridiculous as I started hearing carefully couched “concern” from family friends.

    The truth = I’d gotten a bad short haircut that left me with a ridge of slightly longer hair down the center of my head that was not even long enough to do fun mohawk things with, so rather than look like a Rhodesian Ridgeback for a few weeks, I just shaved the whole thing off.

    Alison’s scripts are good. Use them at will.

  51. LGC*

    Wishing you the best, LW2. It sounds awful. (I’m not rehashing the lockdown situation, but it sounds like you feel safe there, which is the most important thing.)

    I’m not in the UK (US, in a state that allows PTO to expire), and my boss does similar things near the end of our fiscal year. (She is very conscientious about that.) It’s at turns annoying and appreciated – in my case, I forget to schedule time off sometimes, so I’ve ended up with a lot of accrued time with two months to use it all (and only able to carry five days over). But also…this might be a time to push back a bit on your organization’s PTO rules, if possible. (And if legal.)

    When the pandemic first hit, my state was essentially shut down entirely for two months and was one of the last to reopen – and this coincided with the end of our fiscal year (in June). What happened was that we basically extended our PTO year for six more months (until December), allowed people to carry over significantly more time than normal (~16.5 days vs. 5) past December, and then we’ll revert back to our regular schedule starting this upcoming fiscal year. Again – I’m not sure whether this is even legal in the UK, as other people have mentioned, but…if that’s an option, I’d consider the old “band together as a group” thing.

    Like, I really hope none of your other coworkers are unhappily married (and I hope that you stop being unhappily married soon, too!), but I’ll be honest – even outside of your particular situation, going, “YOU NEED TO TAKE YOUR ANNUAL LEAVE IN THE NEXT TWO MONTHS” while there is MEGA RONA OUT HERE IN THESE STREETS is…not ideal. You’re probably not the only one with your leave situation.

    (That said, if you HAVE to take time off because you’re required to by law – 1) ugh, and 2) is it IN ANY WAY possible for you to get out of the house outside of work? Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but it seems like work is a safe way for you to get out of the house, which is what you really need. But I’ll leave it at that.)

  52. Anonymous Hippo*

    On #3, I’m pretty sure there is a function where you can transfer the host to someone else (at least in zoom). So maybe if the meeting is coming to an end you can say “I have to run to another meeting, so just going to transfer hosting to [boss]”. Honestly, that usually works to shut down the meeting altogether, but if he wants to continue, and everyone else is free (and they will feel empowered to speak up if they aren’t since you will have broken the ice) he has that option.

  53. Person of Interest*

    #2 – is there a sabbatical type of project or professional development you could work on while using your leave? I and other people I’ve worked with have used time like this for longer term strategic planning, reading and research to inform future projects, and professional development activities. (I realize that a sabbatical has different connotations in academia but it’s been a great perk in my nonprofit world to get away from the day to day crap and focus on something bigger picture.)

  54. Robin Ellacott*

    I just wanted to send <3 to OP#2. That sounds really difficult at any time, particularly now.

    Obviously there may be policies in your company that change things, but as a manager I would absolutely read between the lines a little and be flexible on this.

    I like Alison's script. You could also clarify with your boss why she is asking you to schedule the time off – is it out of a general desire to ensure work life balance, or a firm policy? If it is the former, it would likely make a real difference knowing that for personal reasons your work is actually a respite for you right now, and vacation time would be more stressful than otherwise.

    She may simply assume that your home is crowded with your partner working from home or something, rather than a situation like yours, and that would be a totally valid reason to delay vacation time too!

  55. Raven*

    I’m curious –– is LW#1 male or female? Maybe it’s just because I spend a lot of time on subreddits like r/bald, where guys post often about shaving everything off in the wake of combovers and bald spots and such, but the idea of a guy shaving his head because of style, convenience, etc. is not something that would make me think “cancer,” especially if he still had eyebrows.

    I say this as a woman who has nearly butt-length hair that’s also very thick –– although I’ve had hair before that was short enough that people kept calling me “sir.” (That’s actually why I grew it out, although I like the length of it anyway.)

    Still, I think LW#1 could have said beforehand, via Slack/email/however their workplace communicates, “Hey, just so you know, I shaved my head recently because I wanted a style change. It’ll look drastic, but it was just for convenience.”

    1. OP1*

      I’m nb but mostly female-presenting. My workplace doesn’t do much communicating outside of defined meetings/emails, and there’s very little by way of casual chat.

  56. NancyDrew*

    OP2 — Please, prioritize talking to someone — ANYONE! — about your situation. I bet it will make you feel a million times better just to be able to express your situation to someone you trust (friend, family member, whatever). I know you feel like you have no privacy, but surely your partner doesn’t read your emails or texts (if they do, then yes, you’re in an abusive relationship) — so please, for your own health, either call someone on your daily walk OR send a long text or email.

    You have to look out for your mental health right now. Your vacation isn’t the problem here!

    Wishing you well.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It can be both! I’m one who’s mental health during bad lows is actually improved by being at work, giving the depression something to munch on that isn’t my own sanity. Suspect OP may be the same?

      The NHS mental health people I saw last year were really good at helping me explore what will better or worsen my mental condition and setting up resources or contacts to help. I knew exercise and fresh air do nothing for my depression but having a really good intellectual challenge, like work, helped (along with a shedload of meds).

      Definitely recommend if someone is feeling that rough to call their GP or the NHS mental health services direct because they can help. Sometimes it’s just a chat to help you feel more confident about facing an issue like negotiating leave options with your boss, it’s not just throwing medications at you.

      Long story short, taking annual leave or not is part of the problem and I hope anyone who is struggling with brain detritus at the moment knows it’s ok to decide what will/will not make them feel worse.

  57. Anonymeece*

    OP #1: Can you maybe use that well-meaning stuff to bring it up?

    For example:

    Concerned Coworker: How are things going? Everything okay?
    You: Had an impulsive moment where I shaved my head, but I’m actually digging it! Guess I gave into the pandemic haircut craze!

    Concerned Coworker #2: I’m here for you if you need anything.
    You: Thank you so much! I appreciate that. I’m doing okay, though, just rocking my new haircut and enjoying the freedom. How about you?


    1. Self Employed*

      Or “I’m doing great except when I gave myself a pandemic haircut I hadn’t anticipated how cold my head would be!”

  58. Anonosaurus*

    Years ago, so pre pandemic, I had a guy in my team who was working excessive hours and wouldn’t take leave even though I encouraged him to. I found out some time afterwards that he had been going through a divorce. I wish he’d felt able to tell me – at the time the company culture was very much “use your leave, we want you to take care of your wellbeing” but what he needed for his wellbeing at the time was to be at work all the time so he wasn’t at home.

    I think I would say to my boss “actually, while I understand the company wants me to use my annual leave, the absolute best way for me to maintain my mental health and wellbeing is to stay working right now – can we make that work (whether that’s by carrying over leave or some other arrangement)? I’m keeping an eye on this situation and if it changes I will let you know, but at the moment this is what’s best for me in terms of my health and wellbeing” or words to that effect. That’s the kind of language HR might respond to, and if the concern is about you not taking your statutory leave, emphasising that working is actually maintaining your mental health might help.

    I wouldn’t talk about lockdown much, because everyone is affected by that, but I might say something like “staying in touch with people through work and having a purpose to my days is helping me to cope”.

  59. ThePear8*

    #5 – I love all the speaking up success stories lately! I hope we can keep hearing about these

  60. WhereIsMyRobot*

    Good for you, LW#5 I am a Public Librarian and when I worked in a university, I was shocked at how many students were not able to think critically. People often go to such great lengths not to learn that you realize they are actually creating more work for themselves.

  61. Foxgloves*

    OP2, sounds like you’re in the UK from your use of “annual leave”? Just to flag, there was a new rule put in by the government related to the EWTD that means you can carry over additional leave this year if you weren’t able to take it due to the pandemic. It might be that if you explain a little to your manager about what’s going on, you might be able to roll over additional leave under this rule, even if you previously wouldn’t have been allowed. Link here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/holiday-entitlement-and-pay-during-coronavirus-covid-19#carrying-annual-leave-into-future-leave-years

  62. Bodhi*

    To the tutor:
    This is a very common tutoring scenario, so ask your boss/trainer about how to work with students who come with these expectations.

    It’s not uncommon for tutoring in other contexts (e.g. private tutoring services, high school) to do exactly what the student is seeking. Your program has explicitly chosen NOT to do that. Does the student know this? Is there language on your website that explains this approach and it’s rationale that you could share with them? Have you made it explicit in your session? When you and your tutee are coming at the interaction with different intentions, it’s almost always useful to point that out. You might say, “It seems like you are looking for someone to work with you directly on the homework. That’s understandable given that a lot of tutoring does that. But, our program doesn’t for a variety of reasons (which I can explain). What I can do that will help you complete this week’s and future homework is….”

    While a cancelled appointment may be a cause of relief because you felt awkward, it probably doesn’t help the tutoring program or the student meet its aims. If you feel your tutoring service has something to offer, but the student isn’t interacting in a way that helps them get it, back up and explain the approach so they can get in sync.

  63. EngineerMom*

    2. I think in this (admittedly really crappy) situation, you have a couple of options:
    – Negotiate for your PTO to rollover into next year
    – Negotiate to receive the PTO as just paid time (vacation buy-back)
    – Find a local Airbnb or other non- or low-contact place to stay during your “vacation” if it’s required by company policy, and schedule some classes or Zoom meetings with friends/family to help provide structure while you’re staying there during your “vacation” time if the previous two options aren’t possible. Just getting physically out of the house for a week or two may be helpful for your mental health, with regular check-ins to avoid an entire week of laying in bed binging Netflix.

    1. Magenta*

      The OP is in the UK where we are in the midst of a national lockdown, it is illegal to spend the night away from home, or indeed to leave it at all except for, work, food, healthcare or exercise. The weather is also terrible right now so spending hours walking is no fun. It is legal to move home and to stay overnight if you are escaping domestic violence.

      There are also legal restrictions on how much leave can be carried over and very few employers allow buy back as we have a statutory minimum of 28 days paid holiday a year.

  64. This too shall pass*

    LW2, I’d be a bit more open to the manager and mention that – ‘I really want to take your advice on vacation days, but my current personal situation makes it impossible. Is it possible for me to bank these days and use it later? ‘

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