I’m stuck with my coworker’s work because she has kids, denying employee bathroom breaks, and more

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

1. I’m expected to do my coworker’s work because she’s a parent

A coworker of mine, Mary, recently left to join another company on good terms with the management. Mary is a single mother to a young child and so would never be able to come in before 10 am (usually later) and would leave around 4 pm (often earlier). Prior to the pandemic, this meant that any tasks that would require us to be there earlier or later than our usual times would fall on me, and because I lived closer to our main hub (we worked at a satellite site), I’d also be tasked with being a courier. This would raise some frustrations when I would need a back up but couldn’t rely on her.

During the pandemic, we were allowed to work from home unless we had a client come in or if we had work that could only be done in the office. I was voluntold to take on additional pandemic-related tasks, but Mary would state that she did not have time and therefore couldn’t take on these tasks. Because of this, my workload tripled and I spoke with our manager to offload some of my projects to Mary — since many could be done remotely with a training session at the office. The issue was that this would mean that we’d need to be there at 8 am — which Mary couldn’t do, so it never really got offloaded.

Then Mary quit and I’ve been given all of her responsibilities. And now that I’ve spent a week going through loose papers, unorganized (to me) stacks of confidential information, and her to-do lists, I’ve seen that she hasn’t actually done much since September of last year. This means that her deadlines that haven’t been met fall on me, on top of my work.

I am burnt out, and I was burnt out prior to this and my manager already knows this. Previous concerns about Mary’s inability to show up early or stay late were always met with, “Well, she has a child and we have to be accommodating.” So, is it worth (or even okay) having a conversation with my manager about the issues I’ve found? And is it absolutely terrible of me to ask that Mary’s replacement be able to have flexible schedule? Am I too un-sympathetic since I do not have a child?

Yes, it’s worth raising it with your boss! Don’t frame it as “Mary sucked,” but rather as, “Here’s what I’ve found and it’s going to have the following impacts on me unless we come up with an alternate plan, which we need to because I’m stretched too thin and cannot sustain this workload going forward.”

Since your boss seems very willing to keep piling work on you regardless of what you say, you probably need to be prepare to set fairly hard boundaries on what you can and can’t take on, as well as when you need to stop working each day. Here’s some advice on how to do that.

And it’s very reasonable to say that because the burden on you from Mary’s schedule was significant, it’s important that the next person be available for full work hours. That’s not unsympathetic; it’s explaining a business reality. In fact, if anyone here is being unsympathetic, it’s your boss toward you. When she said, “Mary has a child and we have to be accommodating,” she really meant that she wanted you to accommodate Mary, at your own expense. It’s great when a business wants to accommodate someone in Mary’s situation, but it needs to be at their expense (i.e., by hiring more help), not by just shifting extra burden on to a different employee.

2. Denying an employee bathroom breaks

I’m being trained in a position that oversees about roughly four people. I’m not a manager, but I have authority over these individuals. I am in training to be my trainer’s backup for when she takes vacation or calls out. There is a new person I oversee who goes to the restroom for about 10-15 minutes maybe two or three times per night. She will normally ask me permission to go, but if I am not available she will go anyway.

My trainer has told me not to allow her to go so much, or at all. I am uncomfortable with this. I feel like I could get in trouble for denying her the restroom. And I don’t mind if she needs to use the restroom! But my trainer keeps pushing me to say no. I know some people go to the bathroom just to play on their phones, but I don’t know if that’s the case here. Regardless, I do not feel comfortable denying her the bathroom. But I keep being pushed to do just that. Are there any legal repercussions if I did deny her the restroom?

OSHA requires that employees have reasonable access to bathrooms, and not just during scheduled break times. Using the bathroom for 10-15 minutes a couple of times a night is not excessive.

But even aside from the law, what kind of environment is this where you’re being pushed to deny employees permission to use the bathroom? For that matter, what kind of environment is this where people feel they need to request permission to use the bathroom? Why not let people know they don’t need your permission and take yourself out of this entirely? No one with options will want to work somewhere where they need permission for a bathroom break, let alone somewhere where that permission might be denied. That is not how you treat adults.

Are there issues with this employee’s work or productivity? Is her absence creating workflow problems or issues for others? If so, address those things.

But please tell your trainer that you want people to take bathroom breaks as needed, you will track their productivity without monitoring bathroom usage, and you don’t intend to violate OSHA.

3. Arrival time and lateness with remote interviews

In this world of remote work, I have a question about remote interviews. What is your recommended arrival time for an interview on Zoom? Do you time it to log in right at the exact minute? Five minutes early? And then, as an interviewer, how long do I wait for the interviewee to login? I’m typing this now as I wait into my fifth minute for login. Am I being too rigid expecting the person to be here by now?

I’d get yourself set up and ready to go 5-10 minutes ahead of time in case you run into technical issues, but don’t actually log into the call more than a few minutes before the start time.

If you’re the interviewer, I’d expect the candidate to be there right on time, just like with in-person interviews. Give a short grace period since the person might be having technical issues, but after five minutes I’d be annoyed if I hadn’t heard anything (assuming they had a way to contact me — make sure they do), and pretty soon after that I’d give up on waiting. At that point I’d send an email asking if we got our signals crossed, and then would decide on whether to reschedule based on how they responded to that.

4. Employer wanted references that weren’t previous employers

As I was filling out an online job application, the references section stipulated not to use people related to me (expected) and that references must not be previous employers. What do you make of that? Is that normal? Who else am I supposed to use as a reference? Was this form really asking me to name friends outside of work who have no idea how I perform as a professional? Should I have given them my partner’s information? For what it’s worth, I gave the names of colleagues who are also good work friends.

No, it’s not normal, it’s bizarre! It’s a thing that you see pop up every now and then, and it’s extremely strange. Most employers have no interest in personal references; they want to speak to people who can talk about your work. But the ones who ask for this are usually looking for people who can attest to you being trustworthy and a fine member of the community. If you have to give them, the ideal names are people who you’ve worked with a colleague-like situation — coworkers you know well, like you provided, or anyone you’ve done volunteer or community work with, etc. (But in answer to your question, definitely not your partner!)

5. Paint colors for home offices

I would like to ask your opinion on office background paint colors for working at home virtually. Which colors are best to use? I have fair skin and white hair.

This is a question that you’re better off addressing to an interior decorator (or probably anyone who works with color and lighting) than to me, but I thought commenters might enjoy discussing it. For what it’s worth, though, I painted three walls in my office Benjamin Moore’s Tissue Pink, which is supposed to be a wildly flattering paint color to a variety of skin tones, and I don’t like it and want to repaint.

{ 612 comments… read them below }

    1. Blarg*

      #5: I’ve painted myself wall murals as zoom backgrounds. Nothing that requires too much skill, mostly just good taping; all things I saw on Pinterest. I get bored every few months and redo it. It’s a fun talking point especially as people often think it’s a digital background and are impressed when they learn it is actually my wall. I obviously don’t work in a conservative field. But it’s a fun way to express myself and I like painting. (Also, 8oz sample jars of paint are excellent for this kind of thing. And Home Depot ships them for free with no minimum order, so pretty pandemic safe activity).

        1. BubbleTea*

          Or DO do green, and use some fun virtual backgrounds for every call! (Probably don’t really do this.)

        2. Rachel in NYC*

          I did this color that in person is a dark blue-green. Really pretty.

          On zoom, it shows up green. Which isn’t great for me color wise- and sometimes makes my eyes take on zoom backgrounds. (And my lightbulbs probably don’t help.)

          That said, I don’t regret the color.

        3. radiolarion*

          Actually I painted my home office Benjamin Moore Green Hydrangea and I love it! No green screen effect and super lively & flattering

      1. many bells down*

        I’m using cheap “tapestries” I can get off Amazon. Currently using a reproduction of that medieval unicorn tapestry. I wanted to paint the wall but I rent and stick-on wallpaper seemed like a hassle.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          I’m doing the same. I have window behind me I want to black out completely for calls, so in addition to the blinds, I have a set-up to hang a black sheet and the a tapestry over that. I have 3 tapestries I use rotate among.

          AND I got a 9/10 on Rate My Skype Room on Twitter with this setup, though the tapestry was just a small part. A minor cord violation was the problem for that last point…….grrrr.

        2. CupcakeCounter*

          My old boss bought a bunch of cheap shower curtains to use as backdrops. One week he had a beach scene because he was supposed to be in Florida and then he had fireworks for Memorial Day and 4th of July, etc… It was kind of fun.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            My coworker has an under the sea/aquarium tapestry thing behind him and it’s really relaxing – but with his camera angle you can tell that’s what it is and see where one of the corners turns up so it’s this hilariously half-@$$ed version. It’s actually my favourite.

        3. queen b*

          do you happen to have a link to this tapestry? I am not sure I’ve heard of a medieval unicorn one but heck maybe I’ll start sprucing things up

      2. Forrest*

        I read this as “I painted myself as wall murals” and was just imagining a HORRIFYING Zoom scene with you surrounded by multiple painted yous.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          I have a video clip of myself walking up behind my WFH chair/computer after a short while, which I can use a virtual background sometimes. Has gotten laughs. I use it very sparingly.

          1. many bells down*

            There’s a member of my church who uses a giant selfie of herself as her virtual background and it just kills me every time. You go, Betty!

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          One of my coworkers uses a photo of himself as his zoom background in internal meetings. It’s really funny actually.

    2. nnn*

      Quick, someone invent some kind of zoom background paint colour simulator, so people can see how potential paint colours would work with their actual real-life colouring and their actual real-life lighting.

      1. Artemesia*

        Some of the paint companies do exactly that. You can upload pictures of your room and then paint it with various of their paints. I think Benjamin Moore has this program.

        I prefer deep jewel tones as background. I have a bedroom where I sometimes zoom that is a sort of moroccan red and a den that is hunter green. I think all things being equal a dark tone looks more together and more elegant. I am doing lots of zooms and find that white walls tend to make a place look more cluttered if there is clutter and more low rent. Even nice homes tend to look like cheap motel rooms or apartments with light walls as background (not as actual homes with real people of course, but on camera)

        1. Not Australian*

          Agreed. I’m a recent convert to dark/bold colours in decorating in general, but after a red dining-room, a dark blue bedroom and a black kitchen I can never *ever* go back; everything else just seems too wishy-washy now.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            We recently had to paint out the two ruby walls in our kitchen diner (to neutralise, trying to sell the house) and I really miss them. A close friend has a couple of deep almost navy blue walls in hers, and it’s spectacular against white louvre shutters and (real) houseplants.

          2. LifeBeforeCorona*

            My kitchen is egg yolk yellow and looks wonderful on winter days. My bedroom is Barbie bordello pink. Everything is floral pink and ruffled. After years of living with neutral colours in rentals, I love my bright walls.

            1. SD*

              I’m fascinated by the color names for paints and other products that come in a large variety of colors, each needing a name: “succulent peach,” “wishing well,” “spring in aspen.” “Barbie bordello pink” is genius!

          3. Picard*

            Agreed! My bedroom is actually antique gold walls with a dark blue ceiling (next project is to paint stars on the ceiling!)

            My old house we had a burgundy library! SO cozy!

            1. IndustriousLabRat*

              I currently have an Oxblood red library with black bookcases and ebonized wood Victorian furniture! It’s a very AHHHH space and goes well with hot cocoa and a book. Also a velveeta-yellow parlor with olive textiles, a citron living room with rust textiles and a zillion plants, and a navy blue den with citron and white. I tend to Zoom from the yellow parlor with filtered natural light.

              Colorful, bold walls really feel both cozy and put-together to me, and seem to make thrifted decor and furnishings make more sense… if that makes sense. :)

            2. JobHunter*

              That sounds awesome.

              I painted my spare bedroom Lagoon Blue with white trim and hung a prism in the window. I like taking morning Zoom calls when there are tiny rainbows all over the walls.

          4. Tricksie*

            We have a bathroom with peach & black tiling (it’s an old house, no idea when the tile was put in) and I painted the walls black and I LOVE it. It looks so sharp!

            1. Chance of thunderstorm*

              Are they square tiles with a black border and slightly rounded edges? If yes, I’d guess 1950’s. I use to hate that ‘old’ style growing up, now I would love it!

              1. CEMgr*

                1950s would be straight pink (or peach). Black trim is most likely to be 1920s or 1930s.

          5. On Fire*

            You are my people. My dining room walls are cantaloupe, adjoining a butter-yellow kitchen. Foyer, corridor and bathrooms are sea green. The remaining rooms have wood walls, but I love my bright colors.

          6. Bee*

            I would absolutely love to do some bold colors in my apartment (currently in love with a sort of matte teal that I’ve been seeing around, or that green that’s currently trendy for kitchen cabinets), but I’m too worried about them being hard to paint over when I move out. The curses of renting! *shakes fist* I’ve been looking at removable wallpaper instead, but I wish there were more options that were basically “paint, but you can peel it off when you leave.”

        2. iliketoknit*

          I love dark/deep colors in everyone else’s homes, but we have 1) oak trim and 2) oatmeal carpet, and I find they push me more toward mid-tones. It’s probably the floor as much as anything else, as I really don’t like high contrast where the floor is that much lighter than the walls (I don’t like to wear shoes that are lighter colored than my pants, either – just a weird preference I have). And a lot of the deep colors these days are matched with white trim, which is a completely different vibe than oak. (Unfortunately we’re not talking historic home with glorious antique woodwork here – it’s 1980s orange oak, although it’s in decent condition and looks nice for what it is. We think about painting it white, but there’s just SO MUCH of it, it’s a bit daunting. And we’re very lazy about decor.)

          1. Iris Eyes*

            White trim shows dirt like crazy so if you are the type that thinks cleaning the cabinets is a part of doing a full clean of the kitchen, I really don’t recommend it. Oak is so much more livable.

          2. GarlicBreadAficianado*

            You have my house!

            We moved in about 5 years ago, but working full time and kids activities left little time to actually do anything. What we loved about the house prior to purchase was everything was beige. What we began to realize is that after 5 years, was that beige was AGGRESSIVELY NEUTRAL. We started painting rooms this spring.

            Our front hallways is Acacia haze, the living room is Earl Greyer, the kitchen is Mountain Mist. They aren’t really deep jewel tones, but they are soothing and rich. We did our bedroom, the upstairs hall, the downstairs hall, the family room, the kitchen and the back hall. My goal this month is to also do the dining room before Easter.


          3. iliketoknittoo*

            Between your user name and your feelings about oak trim (why is there SO MUCH of it???) – you and I are apparently the same person.

        3. JB*

          I painted my walls SW Naval. I love it in person, but it’s a challenge to light for Zoom. If I wear a dark color, i blend into the background. Too much white is hard for the camera to adjust for. So, if you decide to do a dark color, put some art on the wall so the camera doesn’t pick the background up as a dark void.

      2. Antilles*

        Sherwin Williams already has a program just like this on their website. You upload a photo, then you can change any color to one of their paints and see how it looks.

      3. pleaset cheap rolls*

        Light is very important.

        In terms of all color, it also depends on how much else is going on behind you. A blank white wall is terrible. A solid color that’s a little interesting would be better. If there are a lot of objects in the background, white would not be bad, though some colors might be better.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          So far I’ve always lived in rentals with off-white walls – usually cream color – and I like them. I get along by putting pretty pictures all over the walls. I have two that are framed, and otherwise use photos from nature calendars. I love looking around and seeing nature.
          I also printed from google bright photos of single flowers and have those above my one big window. In a previous apartment a big mirror, half the size of the wall, was in the living room when I moved in. I didn’t want to be looking at myself all the time so I covered it with postcards, greeting cards, one or two calendar pictures, and nice random things that came my way. :)

        2. Glitsy Gus*

          Agreed. If you’re talking about Zoom calls, the lighting is more important that the paint color.

          If you have a ruddy undertone to your skin, I’d go with a more amber based ring light. If you have more of an olive undertone, go with a cooler, more lavender light. I also prefer setting my ring light a little bit off center, so the light is coming from a bit of an angle (like the outside corner of the monitor0 rather than flat head on. That helps keep you from looking flat and washed out. Extra points if you have a lamp of some kind somewhere on the other side of the room, or even just the overhead light on to fill in the shadows from the other side.

          As far as paint goes, I may avoid greens or anything close in color to your hair. I would also avoid very busy wallpaper patterns. Other than that, though, go with what you like. Pastels will make a more mellow transition, deeper colors are going to have you “pop out” more, so some of it is going to be whatever your preference is there.

          Try looking at some magazine photographs of blonde actresses, see what background colors you think look good and head in that direction. Unless you are sitting right up against the wall you probably aren’t going to get enough color bounce off of it to affect how your skin or hair looks, so I wouldn’t worry too much there.

      4. TootsNYC*

        so many things would affect it, though–the color of the light in your room, the calibration of your camera, the calibration of other people’s screens…

        You’d think it was blue and black, and everyone would say it was white and gold

    3. Why?*

      #5 Absolutely not white. I had a driver’s license picture with a white background and my white hair blended into the background and I looked like the sides of my head were bald. Maybe try a medium blue. Just don’t wear a shirt the same color as the wall.

      1. lapgiraffe*

        I have rather fair skin, and on some recent new headshots in a “natural light setting” my whole face blurred into the white background. I had no chin, no definition, I looked like a 2D melted snowman.

        1. Sylvan*

          I’m not pale, but I’ve turned into floating hair and eyes through the magic of bad photography.

          1. Quill*

            Back in high school I used to man the theater department’s annual haunted house fire escape / emergency exit in my guise as a floating head, with the simple expedient of wearing an all black outfit, including turtleneck, after people had been thoroughly disoriented by the blacklight room.

        2. Emily*

          I have a friend who once had her passport photographs rejected because ‘her face could not be adequately distinguished from the white background’.
          She is quite pale but generally not literally white..

      2. Collarbone High*

        Also, gray looks great IRL but on Zoom it looks like I’m calling from the county jail to ask for someone to post my bail. :(

      3. Marzipan Dragon*

        This happened to my mother with a Sam’s Club ID. They stuck her and her snow white hair in front of a white background and used the lowest res camera. In the photo her head just stopped above her eyebrows. It was the freakiest most alien picture ever.

      4. pnw dweller*

        my first passport photo was a huge fail. I wore a light blue top- matching the color of the background and the passport paper. My photo looked like a floating head.

    4. Renee Remains the Same*

      All I can say is that I have Behr’s Sand Castle (not dissimilar to Tissue Pink) and while it is a relatively light neutral shade of pinkish/yellow/brown, I feel like my living room resembles my grandmother’s apartment in Boca Raton. It was an accidental order, I meant to get a more browny-grey color that also had SAnd in the title. Alas…

      I can’t really speak officially about the best background color. But I have worked with TV before. Honestly, if there’s a color that you regularly wear that suits your skin tone, you should go with some variation of that. I’m a jewel tone girl, so if I were going for something that suited my skin tone I would pick a light shade that hinted at a sapphire, ruby, or emerald. General speaking, I’ve found that yellows and greens tend to make folks look sallow on camera. White or black lack can make people look washed out. Grey can pick up undertones (red/purple/etc) tones in skin.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Am I the only person who chooses sofa and chair colors based on what’s flattering to my hair and skin tone? I think it should be the same with walls too. I just googled this and there’s surprisingly little on it, but I did find this and now I’m obsessed with the first photo here.

        1. Library library*

          Years ago, I read a book about Catherine the Great and the author mentioned that she chose dark blue, almost a navy color for her sheets and bedding so her pale skin would look good against it.

          1. Lonely Aussie*

            I do that too, more from a photography stand point than irl but white sheets are my nemesis. Amazing how much of a difference it makes.

        2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

          My wall is just a touch darker than the second green at the link. It’s dark enough of a shade that I don’t have green screen problems, and all the redness in my skin is reduced. Also, facing a window makes a big difference in skin tone on camera!

        3. Cathie from Canada*

          I suggest following the Room Rater twitter account @ratemyskyperoom — this is a couple who “rate” the backgrounds that are now part of everyone’s TV experience, because people being interviewed do it by Skype from their own laptops now.
          Room Rater gives its grades with tongue in cheek, but basically they look for a background with some interesting features – a colourful wall, a bookcase, some interesting artwork or artistic decor pieces, a plant or flowers or both, good side lighting, a fewcushions on a couch, nothing too bland or dark or odd or distracting – they also give extra points for a dog or cat wandering past.
          After you have followed this account for a while, its easier to evaluate your own home office setup for what will look good in Zoom meetings.

          1. Tired of Covid-and People*

            Am I odd? Because I do not like interesting features in a background as I find them distracting. I always try to read book titles when they are in view, or identify plant types. As long as the background is clean, I just don’t care as I focus on the speaker.

            1. raktajino*

              Me too. I want a plain background with decent lighting so that I can see you clearly. It’s the visual equivalent of a quiet library.

              A pretty background is nice if you’re bored with the speaker, I guess.

              1. raktajino*

                That said, now that I haven’t been in anyone else’s house for a year, I really like seeing stuff in peoples backgrounds! Yes please show me your plant and how it’s thriving, I will appreciate your cat’s perch, give me a tour of the art your child has drawn on the wall. Please, give me something to look at that’s not my own dang house.

                From a listening comprehension standpoint though, I’d rather see plain backgrounds.

          2. Insert Clever Name Here*

            I second following @ratemyskyperoom (you can also search that handle + Twitter in a search engine and scroll through the feed without a Twitter account). It’s mostly good natured and sometimes the people whose rooms are rated reply back with things like “yes! my score increased!” or the pet’s name.

          3. Unicorn*

            As long as they don’t see anyone with rainbow-organized books it’s all good! When they do it’s instantly “this person is an idiot who hates books, OBVIOUSLY”. Like, ok? It really bothers me when people do this. You can like rainbows AND books. You can like two things.

            1. pleaset cheap rolls*

              Though I often group books by color on my own shelves – by general topic and size on a particular shelf, and then color within. For a collection largely used by one person (me) it works well in finding things. And looks good.

              I have an MLIS.

        4. MK*

          I chose colours I like to look at, not ones I look good in. My most flattering shades are pink and peach, but I don’t actually love these colours.

          1. UKDancer*

            Likewise. I always paint my bedroom yellow because it feels like the sun and makes the room feel warmer. I’d never wear yellow because it makes me look really sallow and a funny colour.

            I pick my walls to be colours I enjoy looking at. I don’t decorate my house to make me look good as a backdrop but to make me feel good being there.

          2. Person from the Resume*

            Me too! Although I’m 46 years old and I couldn’t tell you what colors look good on me so clearly I don’t give that consideration at all. Also my selfie quality is terribly inconsistent because I don’t really know what makes me look good.

          3. miss chevious*

            Same. I do NOT look good in blue, but my walls in my office are Sherwin Williams Blue Cruise, because its a gorgeous color. I don’t have to look at myself in it! I also look good in pink and purple, but I don’t like those colors. I look great in orange, but orange walls seem like . . . a lot.

        5. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Nah, not the only one mate. When we got the sofa, I repainted the walls in a complementary shade (probably should have done it before the sofa was delivered but oops). Before purchasing the sofa I checked what I’d look like on it, whether my skin tone would be okay with it…

          My parents used to have a 70s yellow sofa. Fashion at the time but every single one of us looked ILL sitting on it. To this day I can’t have that colour in my house.

        6. Asenath*

          It never occurred to me to choose my furniture colours to flatter my hair and skin colours. I’m not even sure what colours they would be! For clothing, I tend to choose materials I like and then, if I can get the colours I like in those materials, that’s what I choose. The only reason I have anything in pink, although some people say it suits me, is that it was the only colour available in my size in a garment that I found comfortable. For furniture, I also look for comfort, and then pick a colour that seems nice and practical – nothing white or off-white.

        7. DistantAudacity*

          Oh no – I did that too!Why oh why would I want a yellowy beige wall that makes me completely washed out?

          My sofa (purple) and colourings are the same cold colours that I wear in clothes!

          1. Tired of Covid-and People*

            I love red clothes but would never have a red room in my house, I need my sanctuary to be calm and relaxing. I choose wardrobe and paint colors entirely differently. I change hair colors too, so no matching there.

        8. June First*

          That first photo!!! Love it.
          And the caption:
          “You have: Red to auburn hair, with green, hazel or brown eyes; or freckles.”
          I sure do!

        9. Jam Today*

          I apparently have very specific taste in colors. I dyed my hair (just about a year ago, gee I wonder what was going on then?) and took a photo of myself in a cotton blouse. When I looked at the picture I realized my hair and shirt colors were two of the three “theme” colors of my living room, and were well-represented in the framed poster that was behind me in the picture.

        10. Rebecca1*

          Absolutely not. I pick colors that are close enough to my cats’ fur so that the shedding doesn’t show as much.

          1. Empress Matilda*

            This! Although currently I have a black cat and a white one, so the hair shows up on pretty much everything.

        11. SyFyGeek*

          “look in your closet” My clothes are black, leopard print or purple (the purple is because of work). I think I need a jungle background?

        12. Rusty Shackelford*

          I remember someone saying she didn’t like one of the designers on the old Trading Spaces show because “I don’t want to limit myself to colors that look good on a redhead” and she was right! I started paying attention, and the designer (who was a redhead) always chose colors that would look good on her! So, um Alison, you might want to see if it’s on Netflix. I don’t remember her name, but I’m sure you could figure it out. ;-)

          1. Chance of thunderstorm*

            Was her name Lori? Curly red hair, southern accent? Now I want to watch trading spaces!

            1. Just a PM*

              Yes, it was! She was also the one who always removed the ceiling fans, and often against homeowner wishes. :)

        13. Dust Bunny*

          I chose the paint color of my bedroom based on what flattered my collection of horse figurines. I favor buckskins, palominos, various shades of dun, and pintos of all description, so I went with green. Very green.

        14. Renee Remains the Same*

          That first photo is GORGEOUS. (But would make me look like I was on the verge of food poisoning. I have some olive undertones, so green REALLY brings that out in my skin tone)

        15. Lil Fidget*

          I admit, this never would have occurred to me in a thousand years. I just pick soothing colors for walls. Now I worry I clash with my house!! It probably washes me out.

          1. Properlike*

            I guess, since I’m an introvert, this would not occur to me. And now that I think around to the walls of my home — as a textbook “winter” (remember Color Me Beautiful, folks?) — my home does NOT frame me well except for the doors and some accessories.
            Bookshelves and plants are my Zoom background. A friend of mine uses a folding screen she got somewhere. I think anything that looks “lived in” in a nice (cozy, professional?) way is fine.

        16. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

          Oh my gosh, that is a beautiful room in the first photo. I love murals, books, jewel tones, wood, big windows and low seating. I want this room.

        17. juliebulie*

          I love that Tissue Pink color to look at it, but it certainly wouldn’t flatter me. I am rather pale, and my skin would look really sad next to such a pretty color. (Not that I am hideous, but it would be a cruel juxtaposition.)

          I definitely do not choose furniture/decoration colors based on what flatters me. (Maybe I should!) On the other hand, I do avoid colors that actually make me look terrible. Otherwise, I choose colors based on what I like to look at (and what is easy to match accessories with), because most of the time, I can’t see myself! I am more careful about colors that I wear, though.

        18. An American(ish) Werewolf in London*

          What, what if you’re blonde hair and hazel eyed (fairly fair) and your partner is dark haired and bearded with a red face (it’s a gift) and green eyes? What do you choose then? Who wins the complexion flattering wars?

        19. Blarg*

          I choose couch color based on my cat’s fur color. Gray couch = way less obvious “this is the cat’s.”

    5. just some IT guy*

      #5: The big telepresence companies have done studies on what color schemes work well with videoconferencing. I seem to remember one even doing studies on which background colors use the least amount of bandwidth.

      If you search “Cisco TelePresence TX9000-9200 Design Palette Guide”, it’ll give you an idea of what the people who sell systems with six figure price tags think are the best colors for your room.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        This is VERY interesting. However, all the palettes are quite neutral, and clearly designed to not interfere or compete with the skin or even clothes of participants. But they also give a very corporate/bland vibe, and if I was on a call with someone calling from a space they lived in (or even worked in as a personal office they could control, and not a multi-user meeting room or borrowed space) it would come off as weird. It might work with a prominent art object or big plant. But as a home office for a regular person, it’d be bizarre.

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*

            Did you look at the colors in the document? In a home they’d be weird. Maybe you’d like it – your choice of course – but it would project a strange image to most people.

            It’s also weird that you’re ostensibly defending a design document by saying “Not everyone cares abut design.” And stating a design preference (“Plain is good”) while saying that!

            1. Cee*

              This is interesting, I love neutrals ( grays, beige, neutrals with tints of green or blue etc) and do not think that the colors in the Cisco document would be strange in a home at all.

              I guess I’m surprised to hear people think of neutrals like the ones suggested in the document as plain or not design-y. In fact, most of the colleagues I zoom with are modern architects and designers and their homes are a sea of neutrals. I think of grays and neutrals as “Design” with a capital D, its just a more minimalist aesthetic.

              1. RussianInTexas*

                I like neutrals too! My preference is for the walls, blinds, big pieces of furniture, and kitchen finishes to be neutral. I add color in pillow covers, throws, accents, that can be easily changed. Although even they tend to be grey/blue/green/silver, nothing super bright.
                My furniture is either grey (for upholstered) or black/espresso (for the wooden pieces). When I redo my kitchen, it will be blond/grey too.
                Scandi design is my gem.
                But, I wear jewel tones and black. They look good on me. My clothes and my interior design aesthetics are very different.

                1. pleaset cheap rolls*

                  “I add color in pillow covers, throws, accents, that can be easily changed.”

                  That makes a lot of sense, and it’s not what’s happening in the CISCO document. It’s almost totally neutrals. There is one bright drawing in one example.

                2. RussianInTexas*

                  If you got on call with me, you would absolutely not see any accents.
                  You would see an off-white wall behind me, with no art, furniture, window, shelves, etc. Just the wall. It would be no different, and probably even blander than one of those CISCO conference rooms.

              2. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

                The “light and airy” colour scheme is pretty much my house right now. I add colour through clutter. Even a lot of my art is black and white.

            2. JJ*

              I think plain is in right now…the latest Crate and Barrel catalog was alllll beige. I mean like ALL BEIGE.

            3. Rusty Shackelford*

              More than half of my home is in those colors – taupe and (unless my monitor isn’t reading it right) a sagey green. Neutrals are great backdrops that don’t have to be repainted if you decide to go with a different colored couch. (My daughter’s room is Tiffany Blue. It’s very hard to work with.)

          2. HotSauce*

            I agree. I’m looking to do something very neutral for my home office. Right now the walls are a soft yellow, as the room used to be my nephew’s nursery. I really like the Benjamin Moore Adagio in their Luxurious & Calm palette. I think it’s a nice soothing grey which would go great with my light wood toned furniture.

        1. Qwerty*

          Bizarre is a really strong word for someone having a neutral wall color, especially after we’ve been video chatting with people at home for the past year. Why are you being so judgmental that it would be “weird” to be on a call with a coworker who had a neutral wall behind them?

          Apartments tend to come with neutral wall colors. All of the apartments I’ve lived in (several apartments across the US) have color schemes approved by that document. I have seen all of those color schemes during my last apartment hunt. I’m a bit baffled that you would find it “bizarre” to be on a call with someone living in an apartment and judging them for not being able to paint their walls.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            I actually really like the colors in the “Luxurious and Calm” and “Modern Warmth”, industrial carpet excluded.

          2. pleaset cheap rolls*

            “I’m a bit baffled that you would find it “bizarre” to be on a call with someone living in an apartment and judging them for not being able to paint their walls.”

            Sorry to not be clear – I’m saying a home in which the only visible colors were those in the CISCO document would be bizarre. It’s more than neutral walls – it’ll all colors.

            “I have seen all of those color schemes during my last apartment hunt.”
            Sure. And would you add equally neutral items as well to keep it all in that color scheme in your home? Nothing bright or colorful – art, pillows, plants, etc – at all?

            1. Cee*

              “And would you add equally neutral items as well to keep it all in that color scheme in your home? Nothing bright or colorful – art, pillows, plants, etc – at all?”

              I mean, yes, I would. Many people choose monochromatic neutral color schemes. If you google minimalist interior design you’ll notice that many of the image results are rooms that overwhelmingly feature blacks, whites, grays and beiges.

              If your argument is that its bizarre to not have plant or something in your zoom frame, id also say that’s a minority opinion. Mostly, because lots of people have monochromatic rooms and your zoom location is generally determined by where your desk / decent light is, which may or may not include something colorful.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          One of their chosen colors is Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter, which is literally all over Pinterest and “influencer” blogs.

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*

            As the only color or only with gray?

            I’m not saying any specific color is bad. I’m saying that look as the totality of color in a home is bizarre.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Believe it or not, the Big Thing over the past few years has been gray and white with very little color at all. I’m not a fan. But you also seem to be assuming that if you can only see someone’s Revere Pewter wall, the rest of the room must be colorless. That’s not necessarily the case. If you sat it on one of my Zoom meetings, you’d see a taupe wall with white woodwork because that’s what I chose to show you, but there’s more beyond your view.

              1. miss chevious*

                I’m a big fan of gray and white — my living room is Sherwin Williams Reflection, which is very light gray — but the key for me is to showcase things NOT on the walls. I like the gray because it’s different enough to not be white, but neutral enough to allow for decor changes without clashing.

    6. Apt Nickname*

      Is anyone else seeing “Tissue Pink” and thinking body tissue? I’m assuming the name is meant to refer to tissue paper, but it seems a little unfortunate!

      1. 10Isee*

        That was my first thought! It made me picture the dark salmony color that used to be in the master bathroom of our house. A room with no windows should not be painted the color of a lung.

        1. Quill*

          My primary referent for lungs is kind of taupe, due to high school dissections, but I’ll take your word for it!

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Nope. A house around the corner from mine once got painted a color I could only describe as “healthy stomach lining”. I guess that color must have been on sale.

        The new owners painted it slate gray.

      3. yala*

        That was exactly my thought! Like…when I think of pink tissue, I think of viscera before I think of tissue paper.

        I think now I understand how some people feel when they hear the word “moist.”

    7. TerraTenshi*

      I’d say “whatever color you’d want to paint your walls normally” since I don’t believe in letting work dictate something like my home decor, although if you plan on working remotely for a long time going forward and keeping the same workspace that might be a different issue.

      That being said, my office setup is in an alcove so I have some neutral solid gray curtains behind me that I can close if I don’t want anyone to see the rest of my bedroom.

    8. Liz*

      I literally just had my living room painted Tissue Pink three months ago! (Landlord was overdue to repaint and let me pick.) I like it fine, but I wish I’d gone a little bolder. In certain lighting it just looks beige rather than pink. But it does set off my green couch nicely!

      1. CurrentlyBill*

        Two of my walls are crimson red. The other two are a light people that I think was called something like Paris mist. I really like it, but if I knew last February how the year was going to go I probably would have made one chroma key green.

    9. Shhhh*

      NOT the dark periwinkle my sister and I chose for our bedroom when I was in 7th grade, that’s for sure!

      I’ve been working from my parents’ house since the early pandemic because my apartment was too lonely. So my coworkers have had the pleasure of seeing my childhood bedroom. It’s actually not that bad – just a little dark for Zoom calls.

      Personally I’d probably go with a light blue or grey. Those are colors I’d paint my walls anyway and wouldn’t feel weird about people seeing.

      1. kicking-k*

        Yes! I have dark periwinkle in my spare room/home office and although it’s a colour I’d love in a T-shirt, it’s no good for this rather dark converted attic with only one rooflight window. I’m itching to paint it white.

        I love intense colours for clothes and could probably do it for furniture, but all my walls are the palest pale. I live in Scotland and in winter we need all the natural light we can get. We once painted our hall pink and although it was very faint pink, we soon regretted it.

    10. river*

      One thing to think of is colour reflection. Take for example a blue wall. If you have a blue wall behind you it might look great, but if all the walls are blue, it could reflect blue onto your face. A solution is to paint the wall behind you blue, but all the other walls white, to bounce light.
      It would depend on the room, of course.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Not a fan of that tissue pink, but I was reading an article about choosing lipsticks based on skin tone, and “cool” skins suit blue tones and “warm” ones yellow/orange/copper tones.

      2. Birch*

        Yeah, this. Also think about the lighting already in the room–does it have windows, or is it all artificial light? That “tissue pink” comes off really orangey in artificial light, which gives it that MySpace bathroom selfie vibe on camera! IMO cool tones (but light ones, to minimize those weird reflections) are better because natural bright light is cool toned. The best solution is to just get a $10 ring light. Honestly it helps so much and then doesn’t matter as much what the background is. Though I do tend to think completely blank walls are weird no matter what the colour is, and on the other hand, really busy backgrounds are distracting. As are those virtual backgrounds. I saw one that was like a white void with a metal shelving unit off to one side with a single plant on it. It was so distracting! Why did anyone think that was a good idea?! My Zoom background is a neutral wall colour and the frame shows half a bookshelf and half a framed botanical print with flowers on it. And I use a ring light.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I tried a ring light but you could see the reflection of the ring in my glasses, which made it obvious I was using a ring light, and I was afraid people would have Opinions about it.

          1. Bored IT Guy*

            Having (long ago in a former lifetime) done lighting for TV (mostly seated conversations, with 1 host and 2-3 guests), a ring light is pretty much the last thing you want to use to make yourself look good on camera. The best would be a 3 point light system. Picture a letter V. Your Key and Fill lights would be at the top of the V on the lines, the talent (you) would be at the bottom, and the camera should be right between the key and fill lights. Then add a back light behind you.

            However, since most people don’t have a professional studio lighting setup, your goal should be to have the room lit pretty evenly all around, with the primary light source not in the same plane as the camera. (So the light shouldn’t be head on to the talent)

    11. allathian*

      The white hair definitely means that you should probably go for a color other than white. Our house is surrounded by trees on two sides, so I prefer white walls. If our walls were any other color, I’d need to keep the electric lights on all day even in summer. I do that in the home office anyway to avoid eyestrain.

      That said, I’m not overly concerned about how I come across on camera, because I don’t have to make any first impressions… I might do something about my background if I had a more public-facing job or for any job interviews. My team doesn’t care and neither does my boss. My only concession so far has been the SAD light so I’m not showing up as a dark blob.

      1. Kristina*

        I’ve been a classroom teacher for many years and have seen rooms in nearly every color there is. Students seem to really thrive in the worlds of eggshell blues, sea grasses, and light/citron-y greens (which doesn’t read as “green screen”), and I recommend these colors highly. They’re somehow calming and energizing at the same time. Yellows, purples, and oranges are all hard to get right, beige is uninspiring, and red can make people hungry and antsy. Good luck!

        1. Kristina*

          For a specific example of what I’m describing, see Benjamin Moore’s Palladian Blue HC-144.

          1. 30 Years in the Biz*

            Sea glass colors! That Palladian Blue is beautiful; thank you for the example.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          Yes, there’s been so much research on this. It’s why you see similar colors in schools, clinics, hospitals, etc.

          And I think there’s an interesting distinction here, between what paint color makes you comfortable vs paint color makes you look good. For example, I use a very dark green Zoom background because it does great things for my complexion and makes my eyes pop. However! I wouldn’t want to actually work in a room with paint that dark; I usually like paint colors with an LRV of 60-65.

    12. Amey*

      We repainted our office space a dark blue. It felt a bit daring while we were doing it but it looks great and it looks very professional on Zoom. Both my husband and I have had compliments on it on video calls. My colleague painted her home office a dark grey and that also works really well.

      1. Doug Judy*

        We painted what was our formal dining room which became my office a plum color in November 2019. I love it and get many compliments on my walls too. I think deep colors actually work best for video conferencing vs lighter colors.

      2. Joielle*

        We recently painted a bathroom a dark-ish blue (Sherwin Williams Georgian Bay) and I love the color so much I was thinking about doing it for my office too. Glad to know it works well on Zoom!

        1. Kammy6707*

          I painted our bedroom Georgian Bay! It is the most gorgeous color, somehow both bright and dark!

    13. Roci*

      I think any color you like is fine. Any light muted color seems pretty safe, avoiding anything too close to white so there is contrast for your hair. A bright color might be distracting but also might bring you joy.

      The only reason I would recommend caution for dark colors is that some cameras automatically change the white balance. With a very dark background, the camera will hopefully match to your face, but if it matches to the background it will lighten your face and make you look too white and ghostly. Or if you duck offscreen for a second and come back, there might be a flare as the camera adjusts to your face.

      If you do go with a dark background, higher quality cameras can tweak that and make it work, so that shouldn’t be a deal breaker either. Dark statement wall away!

    14. Nessa*

      In what universe is that depressing shade of beigey-yellow pink?! Pink tissues were actually a delicate shade of pink. I hear they don’t make them anymore but you can find some on eBay and they look nothing like that weirdness.

      1. pancakes*

        Do you mean Papier Poudre? Those have been around since the early 1900s. Beautyhabit sells them. I think the shade Alison linked is quite close and I don’t find it at all depressing. Maybe your monitor needs adjusting.

    15. Virginia Plain*

      I would take your cue from your clothing in finding a flattering shade. Which shirts/tops/dresses/scarves are your favourites because you feel they make you look nicest? If this requires holding up a bunch of clothing to your face in front of the mirror, go right ahead.
      Then when you have an idea for what sort of colour families suit you – maybe you look best in cool blues and lilacs, or maybe a warmer coral or peach flatters you, etc etc. – look at the options in that colour range. Handily, paint chips (which I am sure you can get online or at least look at) are arranged like this. Then pick how light or dark you’d like the colour – I wouldn’t go too dark but equally a very pale shade can make lighter skinned/haired people look washed out – and any shade preferences, eg you prefer a yellow toned peach rather than a pinky one, or a greyish blue not a greenish one.
      If you wear very dark clothes or hardly any colour that’s not an obstacle – suppose you look great in black; a cool silvery grey may flatter. Emerald green? Try a light sage.
      Tl:dr – your clothes may hold the clue to what flatters you.

      1. Quinalla*

        Agreed, whatever clothing looks best is a good place to start.

        I haven’t done anything with paint in my work area, but I do have a very nice Vera Bradley blanket I hang on my boring office chair which puts some nice color behind my head on Zoom/Teams. That always brings me joy to see that :)

        Having said that, paint it whatever color you are good with having in your home, don’t go crazy adjusting your home for work if it isn’t something you like!

    16. Allison K*

      I have several rooms with accent walls – deep blue and deep green have both made good zoom backgrounds. I also have a cheap coatrack that I can throw a sheet or a piece of fabric over for a change. My number one helpful thing is to sit closer to the wall or with the rolling coatrack backdrop quite close to my chair. If I’m presenting, showing up against a uniform dark background makes me easier to spot in a gallery, and looks professional in a recording. (And if you want to be less conspicuous, put more elements in the backdrop and sit farther from it :) )

    17. AM*

      I’m a librarian and I have a big tablecloth in a print that looks like a wall of shelved hooks, so I pin that up behind me when I need to Zoom. It’s attractive, a bit cheeky, and doesn’t look weird like a Zoom background can.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I definitely read that as books, saw your comment on hooks, misread that as “hooks not books”, and was rather confused.

          Apparently it’s early for both of us!

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        My desk is situated so I have my bookshelves behind me. My boss asked me to take a picture of the whole room because he was curious as to what it looked like. He started the next meeting by saying “Am I crazy or are your books in Dewey decimal order?” Well, yeah. How else would I find anything?

        1. Falling Star*

          Our front door opens into our living room. ( hate that! ) Opened the door to a group of trick-or-treaters and was asked “Is this a Library?” I answered “Well, it’s our private Library.” They thought it was “cool”.

    18. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Top rules for painting a background for zoom calls:

      1. Not the same colour as your hair, skin or eyes. It creates a really ghostly image!

      2. Nothing fluorescent. The gamma settings on your screen will thank you.

      3. Not poop colour.

      4. If you can, go for something that a) flatters you and b) works with your house. The second point is important – I have a lovely terracotta wall…but it’s in the room that gets the most heat and dear gods that room gets unpleasant in summer.

    19. DarthVelma*

      I totally understand you wanting to change that paint color, Alison.

      I would not look good in a room painted that color. Mostly because it isn’t really pink. It’s just another beige-y color with just enough yellow in it that I’d look like I have jaundice.

      Plus I’ve worked in too many government buildings at this point where the walls, floors, and cubicles were beige/tan/putty/etc. That entire part of the spectrum makes me want to stab my eyes out with a spork.

    20. Name Pending*

      My favourite background wasn’t actually a paint colour at all – you can get peel and stick wallpaper which is really easy to install (and remove), and I got one in a light grey brick which looked really nice on calls. It had enough texture to be interesting without being overpowering.

    21. Emilia Bedelia*

      This is probably a given, but if you’re going to the effort of repainting and finding a flattering paint color, make sure you fix your lighting and camera setup first. There is lots of info available online on how to set up the most flattering lighting for video. If you are looking down at a laptop camera while bathed in blue light from a multi-monitor setup, the background is not going to help much.

    22. anony*

      I’ve been playing with the “blur” feature on zoom recently as well as with making my own zoom backgrounds. Solid colors for the more professional environments, fun patterns for the friend-zooms. No specific color recommendations (what works best depends on your face/hair/clothing), but with a new computer this is working quite well for hiding my actual setting — and it’s a MUCH cheaper way to experiment than painting an actual wall a color you don’t like.

    23. Peacemaker*

      Personally, the walls in my home office are painted a “hunter green,” which I like a lot. I’m not about to repaint something I like for the sake of a (hopefully) temporary situation for which everyone should know we are all making various accommodations. So instead, I make sure the lighting is good enough that I can be clearly seen, which seems to work well enough. At least, I’ve had no complaints.

    24. boredatwork*

      I need to paint a nursery pink, and I wanted something soft and neutral. Thank you for saving me some time googling!

    25. Watermelon lip gloss*

      I love the Tissue pink, think about painting one wall a different complimentary color. I would consider my zoom wall being black magic by Sherwin Williams that would look great with tissue pink or Navy Blue or a medium to dark gray.

      We use photography backdrops they come in different solid colors or scenes, and they are not permanent. I do photography as a side job so we had a few and now we have lots.

    26. MeTwoToo*

      Amazon has the huge stick on window decals. You can have a window with the beach, mountains, Hogwarts, etc.

    27. Just a PM*

      I painted my home office Valspar’s Palisade Blue, which ended up being kind of a blue neutral. It’s blue without being too blue and can look grey in the light. I needed something to look at that had more depth than builder-grade white. I’ve gotten good responses from a lot of colleagues about the color choice.

      1. Windchime*

        One of my favorite colors is Valspar’s Shark Fin. It’s a blue-gray that (to me) reads more blue than gray. I used it as both an accent wall and my bedroom color in my last house, and it’s just so pretty. I may paint my current office in that same color.

    28. pancakes*

      I haven’t ordered any of the paint yet, but what I really like about Backdrop paint is that you can order samples and they’ll send you 12” x 12” easily repositionable squares you can stick on the wall to get a sense of how the color will look with the light in your room.

      Remodelista has some helpful posts in the archives – expand all the categories and there’s one for Palettes & Paints.

    29. Volunteer Enforcer*

      My dad painted the toilet walls this tissue pink and it’s gross in a boring way. There are such colours that are neutral and pleasant, like bright white, pale blue or green. If you want a cheaper, quicker option though: Googling painted wallpaper or neutral wallpaper brings up nice results. A device with reasonably high specs (I’m not sure exactly) and Zoom can set a saved image as a virtual background.

    30. Juniantara*

      My stepdad takes nature photography and they made a huge vinyl print of a nature scene, and they use it for Zoom backgrounds. It’s a local picture, so anyone they deal with in town recognizes the backdrop and it makes a pretty setup. You can have it done with any picture you own the rights to for around 200 and it’s totally removable if you live in an apartment.

      1. JJ*

        I did an abstract mural (painted) of a natural landmark in my home state, and it’s a great “waiting for everyone to join the meeting” conversation starter. People who know the landmark often get pretty excited to talk about their experience there too.

      1. Rock Prof*

        In the early summer, I painted my wall a really bright teal, and I think it’s great, too. My walls and ceiling were this awful yellow-offwhite before, and now it’s white ceiling and teal. It’s much brighter overall and looks a lot better for zoom.

      2. JJ*

        Love teal and emerald! Pretty current right now too I believe. Navy walls are also usually *chef’s kiss*

    31. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I have a dedicated home office now (yay!!!). The walls are 2 toned – top is cream, bottom is a green. One of my bookcases is directly behind my chair. You can kinda see the sewing machine (temporary location) with the printer on top of it (permanent location). I chose the colors long before COVID times and never planned to make it an office. Until I needed an office and it made sense.

    32. Mandi*

      My bathroom is a golden-beige in a satin finish. The lights are just normal soft white bulbs. Not sure if it’s the color, size, lighting, or a combination, but my skin and hair absolutely glow when I take pictures in there. There is a corner with no decor and no plumbing, so I’m able to take selfies with a plain background (for those who may picture me taking traditional bathroom selfies…ha).

    33. ellex42*

      Various shades of white, off-white, and cream are always good. Dutch Boy’s basic white is much, much brighter than Glidden’s (as I found out last fall to my great unhappiness), and as it happens I can tell you that a really bright white wall in a sunny room can create a glare or glow effect onscreen.

      The room I’m working in has walls painted a kind of taupe color (beige with a hint of mauve) and cream trim, and that comes off as a nice, neutral cream if the sun is shining, or beige if it isn’t.

      From what I’ve seen on the online meetings I’ve had in the last year, if your skin and/or hair is medium or darker, go with paler colors, and if you’re all over pale, go with a darker color for contrast, unless the room you’re in doesn’t have good light, in which case go for lighter colors. Make sure lights are in front of you rather than behind you if possible. Don’t worry about decor on the wall behind you, per my coworkers a lot of people find it distracting.

      As for Tissue Pink, my living room was painted a color very close to that, and I was never happy with it. I wish I’d gone for the very pale yellow I used in the dining room (note: living room doesn’t get much light, dining room gets a lot of light). Last year I repainted both rooms white with cream trim and they look fantastic.

    34. Beancounter Eric*

      Grey. RGB 132,132,130

      Nice, neutral color.

      Or if you want to jazz things up a bit, Aerospace Orange, RGB 255,79,0

      Have fun!!!

      p.s. – I’m colorblind, so take my suggestions with a large grain of salt…Cheers!!

    35. JJ*

      Since you have white hair (very cool!), if you want the wall color to flatter you, you should consider your skin tone (if it’s more yellow, pink, olive etc) and/or what colors of clothing you often wear. In fact, choosing a wall color based on what clothes you feel you look good in is probably the simplest choice. I would reckon jewel tones are usually your friend?

      My office is Clare’s “Make Waves” which I highly recommend, it’s a dusty blue-green and very complimentary to me, a light-skinned person with red hair and pink skin undertones. Any internet paint company like Clare will have a limited/curated selection, making your choice a little easier. I also have a mural on one wall and gallery frames on the other (my camera shoots into a corner) so lots of interesting stuff for people to look at when the meeting is boring.

    36. Alexander Graham Yell*

      The top half of my wall is a creamy off-white (your basic rental not-totally-white kind of white) and the bottom half is Satin Black by Benjamin Moore. Unfortunately I have beige trim (similar to Accessible Beige by Sherwin Williams) and beige doors – including one right behind my head – but I get a lot of compliments on the paint. I think it’s just different enough to catch people’s eye, but since they’re neutrals they’re not really distracting.

    37. EngineerMom*

      A warm medium gray is not distracting, will go with anything you pick to wear, and your white hair won’t blend into it like it would with a white wall.

      What’s more important, though, is angling your camera correctly (NOT looking up your nose!), clearing the background of the image of excessive clutter, and adding a few items so it doesn’t look too stark. And making sure your ambient light is shining on your face (so you should face the window, not have it behind you!).

      I’ve found adding colorful books on white bookshelves, plus a plant or two, to be most effective at creating an interesting background that isn’t too distracting.

    38. Chance of thunderstorm*

      Would it make sense to focus on good lighting instead? I know ring lights are a thing for a reason.

    39. Happy*

      My office manager one time painted her office bright turquoise. I found myself holding my breath everytime I was in there … probably because it felt like being under water!

    40. interrobang*

      My office has four mint-green walls and a purple ceiling that’s visible in video calls (it was that way when I bought the house). I once commented on my ceiling color to my coworkers on a video call and all said “…huh, I hadn’t noticed.” But I would love to repaint it all a nice pale blue.

    41. caniyu*

      I have fair skin and very blond hair. My office is painted a dark navy blue and the art behind is bright to keep things from getting too dark. I get tons of compliments on it. Get good lighting if you don’t already have it–that matters WAY more than the background color as far as being flattering.

    42. RH*

      I recently used an online paint color consultation service for my office space that was amazing. It’s called the Color Concierge – you send them pictures of your space and talk to them about what you like/dislike and they’ll send you suggestions!

    43. DameB*

      My “office” (Aka my living room) is painted a bright, sunshiney yellow. I also have many many pictures in a gallery-wall layout behind me. That and the natural light from the south facing window make it work well. (I’m fair and have grey hair.)

      As others have said, I suspect that good lighting is going to do more to help than a paint job. There are several excellent articles on how to do this — a ring light is very helpful. You can also buy programmable LED lights to shift the color tones until it matches your skin. (This is advice from my teen daughter.)

      For a gallery-wall I suggest cheap matching frames at Michael’s on sale in many sizes. You can frame anything — pages from magazines, found objects, photos, old maps. As long as the frames are all matching, it looks like a compelling collage. I gets tons of compliments on it.

    44. yala*

      ok I just want to say that “Tissue pink” sounds like the most disgusting name for a color. Does anyone else immediately think of viscera?

  1. LavaLamp*

    #2 – I don’t have a gallbladder, among many other fun digestive issues. Bathroom trips can take some time, sometimes, and that’s not considering the time required to deal with the other fun things that come with owning a uterus.

    I can’t really control that I need to use the bathroom a lot sometimes, and if you care how much time someone spends in the bathroom then you need to take a step back. Several steps. If they have trouble meeting goals or being productive, address that.

    Pestering someone because they have go to the loo a lot is ridiculous, and makes you (general you) look like the administrator in HS who asked me if I fell in, and was embarrassed when I loudly opened my kotex packet and said, no but I did have my period. It’s like people forget that there are legit reasons to spend time in the restroom that don’t involve goofing about on a phone or vandalizing things.

    OP you’ve got the right idea, but I’d be wary of this person who thinks this is the right way to manage.

    1. Dodubln*

      Another person without a gallbladder here. It has been 26 years since I had mine taken out, but the situation remains the same to this day…when I have to “go”, I HAVE TO GO. Should I not be able to get to a restroom in time, or be able to spend the time in there that I need to…the end result is not pretty.

    2. Uldi*

      ~raises hand~ I take furosemide daily and will hit that number of restroom visits in the first two hours after taking it. It’ll slack off over time, but never much below needing to use the restroom every hour and a half or so.

      1. willow for now*

        Oof, I took furosemide for a while. You have to plan your day around your dose. Driving to another office across town? Can’t take it. Going to bed? Too late to take it.

        1. Malloy*

          Me too. I didn’t realize it’s a water pill (it was prescribed for something else that I don’t recall ATM) and when I found out that it is a water pill, my travel plans got so much easier.

    3. 10Isee*

      Yes please. I have no gallbladder, pancreatitis, and now to cap it all off I’m newly pregnant. Toilet breaks are just not negotiable.

    4. Quoth the Raven*

      I don’t have a gallbladder, but in my case it didn’t really affect my digestion (I mean, if I eat something drowned in fat, yeah, but that’s about it); however, I do have colitis. When I have a flare up, and I have to go, I have to go and I’m probably going to take a few minutes.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      My bestest friend has had her gallbladder removed and has exactly the same type of grossly malfunctioning uterus as me. Put it this way: scheduling a video call between the two of us has never, ever gone without a delay.

      I long for the day I can put my brain into an android body or something that actually works. The meat sack that currently houses my intellect is unreliable.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        I thought I was the only one who feels like this!! (Chronic pain and fatigue issues)

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Also chronic pain sufferer so can I join you with a ‘robot bodies 2030’ platform? ;)

          1. Blue*

            When my body visibly malfunctions (I faint or just fall over a lot, plus prone to choking, plus dislocations which sometimes have to be relocated with gruesome sound effects) I like to say “These flesh vessels are so fragile. The time is coming when I must seek a new host.”
            Gets a range of fun reactions.

    6. Cat Tree*

      I have IBS, plus three distinct medical conditions that make me pee frequently. And more I’m pregnant. Restricted access to bathrooms would be a deal breaker for me. I’d be hesitant to take a job like that even if I was destitute and unemployed in a bad economy. I wonder how many of these employers would change their tune if someone peed on their floor because they were denied a bathroom. My aunt used to have a saying, “if it’s not in your hands you can’t hold it.”

    7. Jackalope*

      I have a Favorite Hobby (FH) that I have engaged in for decades, including for many years taking classes and lessons in FH at a specific location a few times a week. Once I was in class with a teacher who had been there for awhile, and knew me reasonably well. I ran out of the class to the bathroom, was gone for about 5 minutes, and when I came back he gave me the most awful stink-eye. I remember thinking, “Dude, if you don’t know me well enough by now to know I almost never run out of class, and if you can’t keep from giving me stink-eye when I leave to go to *the bathroom*, what on earth are you thinking??” This was years ago and I still can’t forget that moment (although I’ve moved on from the annoyance).

      1. Batgirl*

        I work for these people. They (think) they know how everybody’s digestive and urinary system works because they only go once in a 24 hr period. They run schools and don’t allow us to let students go whenever our judgement would allow it, because the bathroom areas aren’t staffed. They’re not staffed because these all-knowing people think only going at break and lunch is adequate. Unless for previously approved doctors notes (which are usually only granted AFTER an issue happens at school, but whatevs). One time they scheduled me to supervise students over break times as well as class times and the look on their face when I asked when I would be able to pee was priceless. They simply hadn’t considered it and clearly felt I was being a bit wimpy!

        1. Rainy*

          When I was in 5th grade, the teacher I didn’t have had a zero tolerance policy for washroom breaks outside of scheduled break times. In my elementary school, we did big blocks most of the day so his main class was a 3 1/2 hour block with no scheduled passing time or breaks.

          Multiple of his students ended up with bladder infections, and one with a kidney infection requiring hospitalization, because he wouldn’t let kids go to the washroom at all, ever. After the kidney infection, the parents of his class clubbed together and tried to get him fired and he stopped doing that.

    8. Momma Bear*

      I was thinking same – there are SO MANY legit reasons someone might need (and urgently so!) a bathroom break during a shift. OP is right and their manager is wrong. As long as the employee can do the work, I would treat the employee like a capable adult and not track their toilet habits.

    9. MistOrMister*

      There are SO many medical conditions that can cause people to need frequent bathroom breaks and I am really surprised the trainer is upset by 3 bathroom breaks a shift. I am assuming 1 shift is approximately 8 hours. When my insides are functioning properly I generally need to go at least twice during a workday, possibly more. I’ve had a couple of recurring issues that mean #1) I am in the bathroom many more times than usual and #2) I’m in there longer than usual. Not because I’m playing on my phone, but because things are painful and not doing what they should. The trainer sounds like a complete boob to not realize that some people have digestive issues. I would be thrilled to never have bathroom issues! Frankly, I don’t know anyone in the world who would prefer to have constant issues. Even if it’s just a matter of peeing often, these things are annoying at best and hugely disruptive at worst. And god help you if you have any sort of bowel problem. Not only that, but it is embarrassing when people track your bathroom usage.

      1. Jack Malfoy*

        I spent an unfortunate 6 months or so hitting the bathroom 4-8 times daily. Work SUCKED as I’m in a customer facing field. I ate a lot of pepto. If my boss had had issues with bathroom breaks, I’d have been screwed.

    10. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I doesn’t even have to be a digestive issue! I’ve got severe allergies and the only antihistamine that works well completely dries out my body, so I drink about a gallon of water during a typical work shift (that’s not an exaggeration, I keep track). You can’t drink that much water without it having to go someplace eventually, so yeah, I take hourly bathroom breaks.

      The only job I’ve ever had where I needed to ask permission to use the bathroom was at a preschool, and even then it wasn’t really asking permission. I just needed another person to come take my place in the classroom for a few minutes because we had strict rules about the teacher/student ratio.

    11. A*

      I don’t even have a medical condition that comes into play here, but I do have a small bladder and try to stay hydrated and I run to the restroom at least 5-6 times throughout the course of the day. Collectively probably not that far off time wise from OP’s employee. This really isn’t excessive or indicative of anything.

    12. Antisocialite*

      It’s funny how none of your doctors ever tell you that losing your gallbladder means you’ll have bathroom issues for life. Or at least, none of my did. But everyone I’ve known since losing it in my early 20s has experienced the same issue.

      And now I have the same issue at work, and had to get a doctor to write up formal accommodations for it, because my company is just like this company.

  2. Dodubln*

    LW # 2: I have an employee who has to go to the restroom twice every hour, or more. She did disclose to me after she was hired that she has a medical condition that causes her to need to use the restroom often. Even if she hadn’t disclosed that to me, I would have NEVER thought to question her restroom breaks. I made it clear to her that she never has to ask permission to use the restroom, she just needs to let someone know she will be away from the front desk (her position) temporarily so another employee is aware and can step in and answer phones/greet patients as they come in, until she is able to return to the front desk.
    I have to add…your trainer sounds like an awful person. While I never wish ill upon people, I can’t help but feel that if they were suddenly to be struck down with a condition that made THEM have to use the restroom frequently, it would be most fitting.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I can accept a “have to notify someone” before leaving a coverage area situation, but requiring permission to go to the bathroom is not okay.

      Hard disagree with the trainer – you can’t and shouldn’t ever consider banning an adult person in the workforce from using the bathroom.

      1. allathian*

        You can’t and shouldn’t ban a child from using the bathroom either, at least not in normal circumstances. A kid who regularly asks to go to the bathroom to get out of a class is one thing, but if they really need to go, they need to go.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          All too vivid memories of that one teacher who refused to let any of us go to the loo during class. ‘Should have gone at lunch’ doesn’t work when your monthlies are exceptionally unpredictable.

          I still have this problem (worse now, hi menopause you incredible tosser) which means at irregular times in my workday I can need to go to the loo a LOT and not reappear until the crippling pain has died down. And one boss took note of every occurrence and told me off for ‘wasting time in the loo’.

          Bodies suck.

          1. BubbleTea*

            “Should have gone at lunch” doesn’t even make biological sense, especially with the short lunch breaks some schools have. If you get 20 minutes to eat and drink, the digestive consequences of that eating and drinking won’t have occurred by the end of the break.

            1. 'Tis Me*

              “Can you wait 5 minutes while i finish explaining what we’re going to be doing?” (in a pleasant, conversational tone) is a reasonable question back to a kid at school (and if somebody needs to physically take your place, asking if you can quickly finish off X first, likewise) – but sometimes the answer will be no, and arguing with that isn’t OK.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                My teacher: ‘can’t you hold it in?’
                Me: ‘well, it’s a period so no’
                My teacher: ‘can still hold it in’

                (Flippin science teacher too)

                1. Chilipepper*

                  Kindergarten (!!) teacher used to mock us if we only realized we needed to pee when we saw someone else go. She’d chant, “monkey see, monkey do,” when we had to go at the same time. I thought monitoring a kid like that was pretty rude. I cannot imagine monitoring an adult’s toilet use.

                2. Rebecca1*

                  I used to get in so much trouble as a teacher for letting students go to the bathroom “too much.” They would say they were going to the bathroom but then they were running down the hall making mischief. I liked when we had a classroom bathroom but not all classrooms have that. Of course it could also be a security issue when bathrooms could be used for gang initiations. Some things about remote teaching are way better than in-person!

            2. Momma Bear*

              Our kindergarten classrooms had attached bathrooms because little kids just can’t wait. I thought that was very smart.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Have you had the ‘I don’t have a fever, that’s a hot flash!’ convo? Man that was fun with the forehead thermometer at the exact wrong moment.

              (On the upside, extra heat during a uk winter is nice)

              1. Hazel*

                Except when the hot flash passes and your clothes are wet from sweat, and now you’re freezing.

                1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                  Nobody told me that the sweat from hot flashes can make your skin and scalp itchy. Or that after hot flashes your body kind of re-sets and you shiver a little – or a lot. Or that you may need fragrance-free products like body lotion, detergent, and fabric softener, because fragrance can make your skin react. Or that there is no dry shampoo on the market to make your hair look presentable after a series of hot flashes at work and, if there is, you’ll just sweat through it anyway.

                  No, I don’t miss menopause at all.

          2. EPLawyer*

            I had a LAW SCHOOL Professor pull this. The class was right after lunch and she said we shouldn’t need breaks at our age “unless there was something wrong with us.” Literally.

            When she fell walking her dog and missed a couple of classes due to broken ribs I might have muttered “gee a fall like that shouldn’t have broken ribs at your age unless something is wrong with you.”

            1. pancakes*

              As if people who do have “something wrong” would love to gratuitously announce it to the class! Ugh.

              1. EPLawyer*

                Or you know having to go the bathroom after lunch IS A PERFECTLY EXPECTED THING TO HAVE HAPPEN.

                BTW, this was a 90 minute class. So yeah expecting us to hold it that long was NOT reasonable.

              2. Gray Lady*

                Or as though “having something wrong” is some kind of failing that should be denied or shamed.

              3. Environmental Compliance*

                *raises hand as a people with ‘something wrong*

                Ah, see, I have no shame. I do not care. I will embarrass the HECK out of whoever tries to give me grief.

                Should we need to? Absolutely not. Will I if I get pushed? Absolutely yes.

                I recently verbally thwomped a supervisor during a disciplinary review for being overly concerned with an employee’s bathroom breaks. You get to be concerned about performance, not with that they had to pee two more times than anyone else during their shifts. *eye twitch*

                1. Campfire Raccoon*

                  Same. I’ve been accused of “only being about the shock factor”. Why, yes, yes I am.

                  Let me tell you what three Kool-aid man births of giant babies did to my ability to hold my tinkle. Hold on, I’ll draw you a diagram.

                2. Environmental Compliance*

                  @Campfire Raccoon – YES. I love me some diagrams!

                  Want to get up in my business because I have a heat pack on my abdomen? Oh boy, are you in for a treat today! Let’s talk about endometriosis and how badly scarred up the inside of my abdomen is! Aren’t bodies amazing??? :D

                3. snoopythedog*

                  Yup. I have IBS-D. When I gotta go….I gotta go. I have no problem announcing it loudly if someone wants to give me grief. I consider my condition one of the less stigmatized/medically sensitive (at least to me), so I’m happy to shame others so that someone who is not as comfortable sharing their issues may not have to in the future.

                  I’ve never understood shaming kids for having to go to the bathroom. If I’m in the middle of something the phrasing is “if you need to go now, go ahead; if it can wait, we’ll be done ‘x’ activity in ‘y’ minutes.” It’s all about giving the kid the info and the choice.

                4. Anon For Today*

                  Word. I’ve had half a foot of colon removed and when I have to go, I have to fricken’ go. I lost any shame about it when I was in the hospital for almost a month and had a pee bag that I had to drag around with me post op.

            2. Tisiphone*

              The “something wrong” is proper hydration and having enough fiber in one’s diet.

              There have been times when access to a restroom was spotty at best, and the solution was complete fasting beginning two hours before going to work – including water. Reasonable people know this is a very bad idea.

              1. Yvette*

                I had to schedule a pit stop during my commute, despite having nothing to drink between waking up and leaving for work.

              2. snoopythedog*

                Yes! Back when I worked in an office, I had to stop drinking water an hour before home time….or I’d get home desperate to pee. It’s just part of being well hydrated!

        2. C*

          I have a muscular myopathy one of the symptoms being that my pelvic floor muscles are pretty weak, and they were worse as a kid. If I felt the need to go it was a matter of minutes at best before it was urgent. I had a couple of accidents in primary school before my parents had to get a meeting with the teacher and demand that I would always just be allowed to go. I was a well behaved kid who was never disruptive and did well and they still wouldn’t let me go during class. The frustrating thing is I had to have the same discussion again in secondary school! Thankfully my job is great and normal and no one would ever question or look into anyone’s toilet breaks.

      2. Spotted Kitty*

        I worked at a large bookstore chain in the late 00s in the music department. If the music dept manager was working, I had to request permission. I’d wait until I couldn’t hold it any longer and try to make sure there was only one or two customers in the area before asking her, and her response was always to screw up her face and say, “Can you wait? It’s busy right now.” No I cannot wait. I need to go. I’ll never forget the first day one of our music employees switched over the book floor and looked over the wall at us and said, “I can go to the bathroom any time I want now!”

    2. WS*

      +1, there’s coverage issues at my workplace so we just let someone know, go to the loo, and come back. There’s been staff members with IBS (four sisters who all had it), pregnancies, menopause, PCOS and I have Crohn’s, so I feel you on the wishing bathroom-deniers to be suddenly struck down with something that makes them run for it!

      1. lilsheba*

        I worked at a call center for a bank, and they tried to pull that “you can only use the restroom on your breaks and lunch” crap and I didn’t comply. I was talked to about “phone adherence” because I had to log off to use the restroom more often than my breaks…whatdya know. I refuse to allow a work place to bully me over restroom usage. Now I work from home, and not for a call center so I no longer have any hassles. But in situations where I do I stand my ground, I refuse to be miserable when I am a grown woman and will just go to the restroom when I need to go. Which may be a lot due to diabetes, and medications.

        1. Harvey 6'3.5"*

          I think this sort of bathroom enforcement should only be used when the job is really coverage critical. A bank call center like lilsheba is not critical, but a 911 operator might need to get coverage. A bookstore clerk (or really any retail job, probably) like Spotted Kitty is probably rarely, if ever, critical, but an ER nurse might need to get coverage. Other jobs like power grid or station operator, ship navigator in crowded water, or airline pilot might need to ensure coverage, but most jobs probably don’t.

          1. Llama face!*

            I am now really wondering about medical staff. What happens when you are 3 hours in on a critical surgery and your bladder goes “DINGDINGDING! Time’s up!”? It’s not like you can necessarily just switch out- especially if you are the surgeon. Do they wear adult diapers in case?

            1. PEEPEE*

              The most important pre-op prep is using the restroom before scrubbing in. You can scrub out, but it’s easier to use the restroom, avoid caffeine, skip Mexican or Indian food the day before, and be efficient. Really long procedures may require someone to relieve you while you take care of business. Tampons plus XL pads for ladies, Depends if absolutely have a medical issue that can’t wait.

            2. Sweet Christmas*

              I think they do actually switch out, or take a break. When the surgeries are really long, I believe the surgeons do rotate/switch out so that no one is performing surgery alone for many hours (which also can be dangerous). Surgeons can also scrub out if they need a break or to go to the bathroom.

              I was curious so I searched for this, and there are a few really interesting articles that cover this. Sounds like surgical teams sketch out the timeline of the procedure ahead of time and schedule in time for breaks and staff rotations when they do so, especially on long or complex procedures.

        2. Anon For Today*

          Some car dealerships pull this crap too. My friend worked at one part time and they would cater in lunch on the weekends rather than give you a lunch break.

          God forbid a customer has to wander a little bit while you run and pee (or…gasp…one of the dealers have to greet the customer).

    3. I hate regulating breaks.*

      There are jobs requiring you to be able to work for 2-3 hours without a break. After many years of no policy and the past 3 years of people disappearing every hour on the hour for 10-15 minutes I had no choice but to make a policy about it. It is not specific to bathroom use but it does cover being gone from your workstation because it impacts our ability to provide care.

  3. SoCal Kate*

    I would disagree with Alison’s advice to OP 3. I had been following this advice — setting up my laptop twenty minutes early, checking the placement of the webcamera, and then only logging on to Zoom a few minutes early. But I had technical issues and it was so stressful.

    One of my recent interviews, Zoom refused to open. I’d already tested Zoom, but for some reason nothing worked. Zoom wouldn’t open, Task Manager wouldn’t open to do a forced shutdown. I had no direct contact information for the people I was interviewing with.

    I ended up calling in to the Zoom from my phone and explaining that I was having technical issues while re-starting my laptop. Luckily they were running fifteen minutes behind, so they only had to wait a few more minutes for me to sort out my technical issues.

    Because Zoom is much more prone to technical issues than other options, I think that waiting until just a couple of minutes before the session starts is asking for trouble. I’ve been logging on closer to ten minutes early because sometimes you don’t know about technical issues until you try to join the meeting.

    1. ambrosia*

      If you log in 20 minutes early, you can end up disrupting your interviewers talking among themselves when they don’t want or expect you to be there yet, like if they’re planning the meeting. Not everyone knows about or uses waiting rooms on video calls. Or if they have another meeting just before, it may still be in progress (with platforms that use the same link for all your calls).

      1. Marika*

        Honestly, it kind of feels like “It’s been a damn year. If you don’t know about waiting rooms, and waiting to be let in, and setting meetings to private … LEARN already”. Seriously, my kid goes to a WALDORF school (about as anti-technology as they come… the irony that we sent kiddo there still boggles my mind – we’re total tech heads…) and my kiddo’s teacher is, I kid you not, a PROUD self-declared ‘Luddite’. The woman LITERALLY owned a flip phone and a 10 year old laptop and only answered email on school hours. We were on March break when the lockdown started, and then the school was closed for three days while they figured something out. Two weeks after lockdown started, there she was, on Zoom, on a new computer she had bought and paid for herself. A month in and she was running a document camera, a website, and posting video recordings of the daily songs/story/play they were memorizing…

        1. ambrosia*

          OK? I’m not sure that’s relevant to the question. Not every video program offers a waiting room either.

          1. Kristina*

            I see and agree with both sides here. If you’re conducting interviews, you should be giving each interviewee an individual link or using waiting rooms by now. That being said, Google Meet does not have waiting rooms, and I don’t have a choice in the platform my employer mandates. The best advice I can give is to update zoom regularly (mine gets cranky every time I have to switch between work and home emails/logins) and do a test call with a family member prior, and then show up to the interview right on time.

            1. Brooklyn*

              For Google meet, any attendee who isn’t signed in with a Google account that is invited to the meeting is asked to wait until someone lets them in. As long as you don’t rely on using Meet/Calendar to invite interviewees, and write the emails/calendar invites by hand, you can use this as a waiting room.

            2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

              My Google Meet at work does have a similar feature – you can turn off “quick access” and then you have to admit people individually even if they’re from within your organization (mine always asks me if I want to admit from outside the org, but that might be an org-level setting). This might be one of those “depends what level of Google your org pays for” features, though.

          2. Confused*

            That’s fair but there’s really no way to mitigate some tech issues unless you DO try to join early. People either need to be ok with that and set up a waiting room or be prepared for a possible interruption, or they need to tell people please don’t join until X time AND not hold any tech issues against someone who would have tried to be there earlier to mitigate them. Either be patient on the front end or the back end, but you can’t be mad at people for their technology not working exactly the second you need it to. If you don’t want people to join until a very specific time, you cannot be mad at them if they’re delayed due to tech issues. That’s unfair.

            1. GothicBee*

              Yeah, I recently thought I had everything set up to use Microsoft Teams for an interview. But then when I opened the meeting, it suddenly told me I needed to download something else to get it to work. Thankfully it only took a minute before I was able to get it open, but I do feel like giving someone at least 5-10 minutes leeway to get in touch if technical issues come up is decent. And problems joining are pretty common, especially in a job interview setting where the person being interviewed may not have as much practical experience with virtual meetings as someone who regularly performs them for their current job.

        2. Blaise*

          Teacher here- any teacher with boundaries will only answer emails during school hours, Waldorf or not. I probably learned that lesson my first year of teaching… boundaries are key!!

        3. pleaset cheap rolls*

          Hmmm, I think more along the lines of Why TF do you need to show up 20 minutes early. It’s bizarre. If someone is worried about the tech on Zoom or Skype or Google Meet they should test it themselves with a free account. Seriously – 20 minutes early? That aint’ right.

          Check it yourself – don’t arrive that early. Sheesh.

        4. melonhead*

          Sure, Marika, if you’ve been using Zoom
          for a year, that makes sense. I have not. My office operates by conference calls, and I go in twice a week. So “You should know how to use Zoom by now” doesn’t actually apply to all of us.

          1. Brooklyn*

            I think this is in response to someone who sends you a meeting link for an interview but is for some reason also conducting a different work meeting on the same link that you could interrupt. You do not need to be proficient in video chat programs to, I dunno, exist as a human in 2021, but if you are organizing and running interviews over a platform, AND doing other meetings through it, I feel like it’s not unreasonable of the interviewee to expect that you have basic proficiency with it.

            As the person from outside, I might not be familiar with the software and may very reasonably sign in a bit early to test it. As the interviewer who chose the platform (whether actually, or your company did), you should be proficient enough in it to not have technical issues. I believe Maria’s point is that if you are running the interview over a platform and don’t know how it works, despite a year where clearly every interview is online, it’s because you having cared enough to learn and that’s not okay.

            I’ll also say that if all of your social interaction has not been through a computer screen, I am incredibly jealous.

        5. lizanotlisa*

          I hope she still stays off email during non-work hours! Sounds like she’s been doing a lot and you don’t want her to burn out.

        6. Nanani*

          Sure, the pandemic has been going on a whole year, but not everyone has been using Zoom all year. If they didn’t use it until they needed to start doing interviews, then it is new to them.
          Or they could have been using different software for remote work until the company made everyone switch/upgrade to a different version/something weird.

          It’s been a damn year, but not the same way for all of us.

      2. PspspspspspsKitty*

        Everyone online interview I’ve done says to test the link out before joining. Skype, Zoom, and Microsoft teams all use waiting rooms. Could she interrupt someone for logging 20 minutes early? I guess but I haven’t seen that in most of my online interviews. It wouldn’t be her fault either if she did interrupt. All she has to say is “Just testing out my equipment. Sorry for interrupting.” If someone gets angry at that, then it’s someone that you shouldn’t work for anyways.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          [[ All she has to say is “Just testing out my equipment. Sorry for interrupting.” If someone gets angry at that, then it’s someone that you shouldn’t work for anyways. ]]

      3. Antilles*

        I don’t think that’s really an issue. First off, the “same link for all your calls” is a pretty rare thing; most software programs actually make the link when you prepare the meeting request so it’s actually more difficult to re-use it than to simply get a new link. And if your company does use a software like that, then you’re almost certainly used to people joining early or staying on late.
        Besides, worst case scenario. If you click join and they’re surprised, you calmly explain it as “oh, I just wanted to verify the link worked, sometimes these links have technical issues and I wanted to make sure everything was operational”. I’m pretty sure everybody has had at least one issue where a Teams/Zoom/Skype/etc link ended up being busted, so no sane person is going to have an issue once you explain it like that.

        1. Colette*

          You can set up Zoom to use the same link for every call. I’m not sure about other programs. (And I believe waiting rooms are enabled by default in Zoom.)

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            This is how my kids’ remote school setup works – always the same link for everything, including parent meetings. The art, music, and gym teachers have to keep things straight to log into the right class at the right time, but all the first graders can just always log in with the same info. Thank goodness.

            So it’s an option, but probably better for recurring meetings and not something that most people who have a lot of different meetings with different groups of people would choose to use.

        2. Half-Caf Latte*

          FWIW, bluejeans goes out of its way to try to use “my personal meeting link” for everything always and I have to actively change it to get a meeting-specific link.

      4. Momma Bear*

        All the more reason that the interviewer needs to learn about waiting rooms. If teachers and churches can learn that function, so can a business.

      5. Elementary Fan*

        Yeah, I have a lot of 30-min zoom meetings (not interviews) and it stresses me out when someone joins 20 minutes early. That’s almost the length of our appointment, so I often wonder if they got the wrong time, and it’s distracting to my current meeting. A few minutes early is just fine.

        1. Sparrow*

          Yeah, I don’t like when Zoom sends me a “Your participants are waiting for you!” email 20 minutes before a meeting is scheduled to begin. They’ll just chill in a waiting room until I start that meeting, but there’s always a second where I think I’ve lost track of time and am running late before I realize they’re just super early.

    2. pleaset cheap rolls*

      When an event is really important, it’s worth rebooting your computer sometime in advance, or at least making sure not many programs are running and system resources are not stressed.

      I run online events a lot, and when I’m the tech lead I clean everything out so things work as smoothly as possible.

      And for other people’s events, I open Zoom ten or 15 minutes out, start a brief test meeting to check everything is working, run a final sound and lighting check, then leave that test meeting. Never had a problem not related to bandwidth on the web in general.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Oh hey, I should start rebooting my computer. Last summer I had to replace my computer because it was freezing. No problems SO FAR (knock on wood) with the new one, but rebooting before a hearing sounds like a brilliant idea.

      2. BadWolf*

        I host a meeting every week and I’m obsessively checking for Windows updates and Zoom updates so I can run them before/after the meeting to try and avoid Windows deciding to push a big update in the middle of the meeting. I reboot often and try to having nothing else running. Boot everyone else in the house off the internet as much as possible.

        1. Persephone Mongoose*

          For Windows updates, you can set up Active Hours so that Windows doesn’t run updates while you’re using the computer. For example, my Active Hours are between 7:30 AM and 5:00 PM, so updates don’t install until before or after those hours.

          You’ll need to remember to leave the computer on so that the updates actually install, but otherwise you’re in the clear!

    3. lizanotlisa*

      I get everything set up a good 20-30 minutes early, which includes opening Zoom (or WebEx or whatever) and testing the camera, mic, and speakers. I make sure the visible area behind me looks tidy and as profesh as possible (I’m in a studio apartment, so this means making sure my bed is neatly made behind me, surfaces are clear, and my dog has a path to get on and off the bed without my help so he doesn’t interrupt me) and check how I look on screen. I do literally everything except log into the actual meeting. I do that 2-5 minutes beforehand, but no earlier. It seems awkward to be in there before that, especially if there’s more than one interviewer who may need a minute to get on the same page before we start.

      1. lizanotlisa*

        When I say opening Zoom, I just mean the program. NOT the meeting. I go into settings to check on the sound and video but still don’t click the meeting link until a few minutes beforehand. Hope that’s clear.

    4. LCH*

      my Zoom always freezes up when initially joining a meeting so i always need to join about 10 min early and hope it unfreezes in time for me to try again. or that i can get the computer to force quit the program in time to try again. and also that it works the second time. it usually does, but you never know.

    5. Sparrow*

      Getting Zoom pulled up early is a good idea, but I wouldn’t recommend logging into the meeting itself that early. When I’ve ran Zoom interviews, the ideal was someone entering the waiting room like 3 minutes before the start time, and I left them there until the exact start time. I think you did the exact right thing by phoning in – I think it’s a really good idea to have that information (and, ideally, a direct contact email) handy in case something goes wrong.

    6. Sweet Christmas*

      As a hiring manager, I chalk that up to just the vagaries of the technical environment, though. Our interviews use waiting rooms, but I wouldn’t hold it against someone who hopped on 5 minutes late because they were troubleshooting videoconferencing issues. It is what it is these days.

  4. Over here*

    #3, are you using the waiting room function in Zoom? It’s much easier for people to enter and wait in the waiting room – but it does take time for the host to get the notification, so it might appear they are late, when they are actually on time.
    It also makes it easier for you, especially if there is a panel interviewing. You can have a quick chat before bringing the candidate in.

    1. Chilipepper*

      If you are going to an interview, you dont know if they are using a waiting room. And yes, argh to being left waiting for someone to let you in the room! We are using zoom for out HOA mtgs and we have had to text each other to get someone to ask the manager to let us in. So frustrating.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        Also, the person who set up the meeting might get an alert.

        20 minutes early is too much. Five at most, but I think running tech checks in a test meeting 10 or 20 minutes out, and then actually joining a minute early or spot on time is better. If the tech is familiar to you and your own setup works well, you can cut it close.

      2. Over here*

        Zoom can be set up with a message to people who arrive early and are in the waiting room. Candidates should be sent an appointment – that appointment email can include the fact that they will be in a waiting room prior to being interviewed. The waiting room is a default security setting for Zoom. It has to be actively opted out of to not use it.
        The person who is the host gets a notification that “Job Candidate” has entered the waiting room.
        If you have a host who is not letting people in, the host needs to start paying attention!!

  5. Carol Lynn*

    #1: Situations like this can make it feel like there’s no room in the working world for parents. With the pandemic still raging, telework and teleschool are continuing. At what point can we ask for flexibility from employers instead of parents? Not in terms of sharing the work with other employees, but extending deadlines and accepting appointments to work with employees’ schedules. I understand it does depend on the type of work, but parents and mothers especially have been left behind during the pandemic. Accommodating should mean more than delegating, in my opinion.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed that the pandemic and school situations are making it harder to juggle both family and work – and that disproportionately Women are falling behind. I think companies need to be flexible – but being flexible needs to be extending out deadlines, hiring extra people to make the workload workable. And it also needs to include in a compassionate way holding people accountable for their work output. It is never fair to everyone who has to pick up the slack to just say – oh you have to accommodate Steve, he has so much to do with his kids – while making Sally who also has kids pick up all the slack.

      1. A*

        Agreed, although I don’t know how it could be achieved without a macro level overhaul. In my line of work the only way we could push project deadlines is if our customers pushed their deadlines and category reset dates. Unfortunately the Walmart’s and Amazon’s of this world have NOT been accommodating (heck, even the smaller channels haven’t been). Our hands are completely tied unless we are willing to let the company go under from lack of buy in. It’s not great, but it is what it is. The behemoths would need to accommodate first to allow for a trickle down.

        1. Quill*

          Overall, I think this is one of the things where many problems go back to the same root: that most workplaces are overworked and understaffed, with the employees underpaid, and Covid has sledgehammered all the ways we’ve been covering that up.

    2. Kloe*

      How do you get that from the letter? Mary – the parent – was accommodated all the way by what’s given in it.

      1. Forrest*

        I don’t think she was, really. If my employer’s idea of “accommodating me” is simply to make my co-worker do twice as much work and make them massively resent me, that’s very much not accommodating me.

        1. Chilipepper*

          But from your perspective, they said yes to you. So they did accomodate the parent in this situation.

          1. Forrest*

            I really disagree, actually— proper accommodation should be as far as possible without detrimental. If they’re just saying, “oh, you don’t have to do that— or that— or that”, you’re missing out on opportunities and practical experience that might further your career, as well as (obviously) destroying your working relationships. I don’t think that’s “accommodation”, I think it’s rubbish!

          2. pancakes*

            They didn’t, really, because the situation was not sustainable at all – it was set up to fail.

          3. EngineerMom*

            I read this letter very differently.

            I’m a working parent, who works with several working parents, including a single mother.

            Accommodation is a two-way street. I need to be clear about exactly what I need and can do, and my employer needs to be clear about exactly what they expect of me. It doesn’t sound like either of these things occurred in this situation.

            It’s perfectly reasonable to ask a working parent to make themselves available for scheduled onsite training that starts at 8:00am. That’s something you can plan for ahead of time, arranging childcare, get up early that morning, etc.

            It’s not reasonable to expect a working parent to be available for last-minute meetings outside their normal working hours. Yes, I can accommodate a 4:00 meeting (I normally stop work at 4:00). I cannot accommodate that meeting when I receive the invitation at 3:30.

            It’s perfectly reasonable to work out, with your manager, a schedule that accommodates childcare responsibilities, and may include hours outside normal working hours. Given the prevalence of Outlook calendars, it’s not that difficult to just mark when you’re not available, and folks can schedule meetings around that.

            It IS unreasonable to just “float” through the week without communicating your schedule to coworkers whom it may impact. If Mary’s working hours are from 10am to 4pm, then she and her manager need to be clear about that with the rest of the team.

            If Mary’s workload is beyond what she can do during those hours, it is up to HER and her manager to figure that out, not just turn around and dump additional work on her coworkers. Maybe Mary needed to be moved to part-time status to make it clear she’s not available for a full-time workload. Maybe Mary needed to figure out how to accomplish additional tasks during evenings or weekends in order to keep up with reasonable full-time expectations. Ultimately, Mary decided what she needed to do is leave, and the manager is now handling that just as poorly as they did when Mary worked there.

            It’s not reasonable to use the fact that one is a parent as an excuse for poor planning/organization/communication skills. Yes, stuff happens when you have kids, and you have to work around that. But unless you have a medically fragile child or one dealing with a lot of medical/mental health issues, parenting and working are not incompatible with good communication.

            1. Just Another Zebra*


              Like OP, I work in a department with 1 other person. Our work is such that we are required to be in the office during the work day (8-4:30 for me, 8:30 – 5 for them). I have a young child, whose schedule is set and routine until it isn’t – like the daycare shutting for 2 weeks because a teacher was sick, and now I’m driving an extra 40 minutes round trip to get to my back up daycare. He has an elderly father, whose schedule is set and routine until it isn’t. I would be mortified if I get “special privileges” just because I have a small human. There has to be a middle ground.

            2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Engineer, this is where I as a working parent fall as well. I can accommodate a schedule change if given advance notice (preferably at least a week). I can’t accommodate a schedule change you throw at me at the same day. This is why I’m going to say that at least in the before times at least some of OP’s problem was indeed a Mary problem (in the sense that Mary is portrayed as not being a team player and ever figuring out how to slightly change her schedule to balance out the workload). What OP now has is strictly a manager problem – and it’s up to the manager to solve without crushing another employee the way he is currently crushing OP.

              Yeah life happens, but I have a life also applies to coworkers without children or elderly relatives that depend on them for care.

            3. Forrest*

              >>It’s perfectly reasonable to ask a working parent to make themselves available for scheduled onsite training that starts at 8:00am. That’s something you can plan for ahead of time, arranging childcare, get up early that morning, etc.

              Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t! There were very long periods when my children were very small when that simply wouldn’t have been possible– we didn’t have nearby family, we only moved here when I was pregnant and didn’t know many local people, and our nursery hours were fixed and didn’t have a pre-8am option. We’re much more embedded in our community now and I can think off the top of my head of several local people who we could ask to do something like that, but it wasn’t always the case.

              (obviously, assuming there wasn’t a pandemic and we were allowed to speak to people outside our household.)

              1. EngineerMom*

                Then that’s definitely something to communicate to a manager!

                I had a similar issue when just a few years ago – I couldn’t drop my kids off any earlier than 7:00, so there was no way I could be at work before 7:30 due to the commute. The job I was interviewing for normally had hours from 7-3. I let the interviewing manager know I wasn’t available until 7:30 for the first month because my husband was overseas in Germany (for work) for a month, and the school wouldn’t take the kids before 7:00.

                The hiring manager adjusted my hours to be 8-4 for that first month.

                Communication is such a key part, and being honest about what you can and can’t do, without apology. Like was said earlier, everyone has life stuff. Mine happens to (mostly) be kids.

        2. Myrin*

          I mean, it is accommodating you in the strictest sense. “Now everyone hates me” certainly makes it uncomfortable for you and maybe there’s a wider sense of “accommodation” which also includes secondary points like the feelings of others towards you but in general, if you get to reduce your workload in such a way, even at the expense of your coworkers, of course you’re being accommodated. That it’s a massively bad way to accommodate is a whole different topic entirely.

        3. Emilia Bedelia*

          It sounds like Mary wasn’t even able to do the work with the accommodations, also. Maybe that’s her fault, maybe the accommodations weren’t enough to help her – either way, there are more options than “coworker picks up the slack”.
          At the end of the day, Mary and OP are both worse off at this point (Mary had to quit, OP has a terrible job situation) and it seems like the company didn’t do much to figure out a way to help them both.

          1. Gray Lady*

            Not sure where you’re getting “Mary had to quit” and is “worse off”. She took another job, it could have been a win-win.

            1. Momma Bear*

              Agreed. Sounded to me like Mary’s truncated hours were chalked up to childcare and were overlooked before the pandemic. Mary was not held to her own deadlines and her work was offloaded to another employee. Mary got way more consideration under the guise of parenthood than her coworker. The scope of her lack of work wasn’t fully revealed until it was passed to her coworker, who is now drowning in Mary’s deadlines. It is hard to be a working parent, nevermind in a pandemic, but sounds like Mary was taking advantage by the end.

      2. Batgirl*

        Getting a colleague to accommodate your employee is not accommodating them yourself.

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          Yes, if you asked to be accommodated by say, leaving early on Friday to get to your friends wedding, and your employer turned around and said “Sure! Trevor, you are working late tonight to accommodate your coworker! Be sure to finish all her work!” that’s not really accommodating you because you didn’t intend to put an extra load on Trevor.

      3. The Rat-Catcher*

        Alison is pretty good about defending working parents here when it’s called for. But she also is good about separating out the personal issues from the things that actually affect the work. Other than the last couple of sentences, the whole letter would still apply if Mary was skipping out for her other job as a resort mystery shopper.

    3. Kella*

      It sounded to me like the work was coverage-based and time-sensitive, and that really what they needed was another employee to help cover the volume of work. Implementing longer deadlines doesn’t help if your volume of work continues to renew itself on the same schedule. Otherwise, they could’ve just given *OP* a longer deadline and OP’s workload wouldn’t have grown to the point of being unmanageable.

      It also sounded like the accommodations that Mary received were all examples of what a company *should* do to be flexible for parents. If the accommodations Mary received during the pandemic were not enough and that’s why she was so behind on her work, it sounds like she didn’t communicate that to her manager. No one can fix a problem they don’t know about.

      I do think it will be useful to OP1 going forward to frame this kind of issue as a management problem rather than an employee problem. Mary wasn’t doing something wrong in asking for a flexible schedule, and OP was not doing something wrong in saying she cannot take on all the additional work. The employer was doing something wrong in giving flexibility to one employee, and not the other, when both needed assistance.

      1. A*

        I don’t think we should assume deadlines can be pushed, this is very industry dependent and often out of the hands of the employer depending on whether they have deliverables to another party.

        As much as I would love to tell Walmart to go suck it / accept a delayed launch… that would just turn into me being unemployed.

      2. Becca*

        Exactly — if I plan my maternity leave with my manager and then the manager’s solution is actually to dump all of my work on a coworker, that’s a management problem. Ditto for the articles we’ve seen about (some) parents being accommodated because of virtual school, but little support for those navigating elder care during a pandemic.

    4. AcademiaNut*

      The OP says that this situation predated the pandemic, when it was a matter of Mary having kids meaning that the OP had an unreasonable workload to compensate.

      Good examples for flexibility from employers can include good leave policies, options for part time work and flexible schedules. But a good employer can’t offer these things by dumping the extra work onto the employees without kids. If you’re giving someone a part-time schedule, you need to hire someone to make up the difference, not have Mary work 2/3 time and the OP work 1 1/3 time, particularly if they’re exempt employees (ie, the OP isn’t getting overtime for the extra work).

      We get similar letters regarding ADA/FMLA accommodation, where the employer’s solution to one employee’s health related leave is to increase a coworker’s load to the breaking point. It’s not a sustainable solution.

      1. pbnj*

        Agreed, essentially you have a part-time worker if at most they work 30 hours/week (assuming no lunch or other breaks). It’d be one thing if it was just occasionally or due to the pandemic, or if the other employee was able to get their jobs done due to being super-efficient, but that’s not what’s happening here. The manager didn’t handle this well at all.

    5. Wendy*

      A better way for the company to handle it would have been to look at the OP’s workload, Mary’s workload, and which tasks overlap. Then if OP ends up having to take on some of Mary’s responsibilities – due to hours or whatever else – then *hopefully* their boss would help facilitate Mary taking on those of OP’s tasks that can be done remotely. If Mary has to cut back on total work done, then the extra load needs to be shared and/or the OP needs to be compensated for taking on more than their job description. Unfortunately, most companies are quick to assign extra work and much slower to match it with extra pay :-\

      1. Tamer of Dragonflies*

        Sharing the extra workload would be great, but it seems there’s no one else to share it with. The employer would need to hire more people, which may not be in the budget. (Yes, there could be money available for more help but getting them to allocate the funds is a letter for another day.)
        On OP being compensated for the extra workload, I think that can only go so far. An employer can offer $1000 per hour, but that doesn’t make the workload sustainable in the long term or, if there are hard deadlines to meet, even possible in the short.
        In general, OP’s employer is a buisness who’s goal is to make the most profit with as little cost as possible. More employees increase cost and if the work is being done with one or two workers, the employer is fine with the situation. I would be surprised if OPs employer hires a replacement for Mary.

        1. Colette*

          Yeah, I’ve had short periods of time where I’ve worked a bunch of extra hours – and I don’t think I actually got more done, because my ability to solve problems went way down. No amount of money would fix that.

        2. Batgirl*

          That’s why Alison suggests strong boundaries on what’s actually reasonable for OP to cover. Of course some (bad employers) are going to be fine with what seems like “the work is being done”; if they don’t care/ask how the magic happens. But so many employees are astonished when burnt out employees leave because they are stretched too thin and it isn’t sustainable.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Not a parent, but a disabled person well versed in asking for accommodations.

      If one cannot truly do the same amount of work as other employees, then there needs to be a discussion with the boss as to what accommodations can help them to reach that level. Extra time, specialist hardware or software, working from home or out of hours are all sometimes viable.

      But in cases like the letter, where the hours were drastically shorter and the level of work they were able to do with also shortened a lot the only real accommodation I can think of is to reduce the pay conversant to what’s actually worked and use the remainder to hire a part time person to fill in the gaps. Because, in the best will in the world, if I could only work part time due to my disability and produce much less work I’d have to expect to not be paid full time/full production wages.

      I firmly believe that everyone has the right to ask for accommodations if they need them. As a manager I also believe they have to be reasonable accommodations.

      What was in the letter wasn’t a reasonable accommodation. The OP really does need to tell their boss that dumping an entire other person’s work on them long term isn’t reasonable, nor is expecting the next person in the role to not do the job full time. It’s not a question of parents v non parents or disabled v able bodied or such. It’s just what constitutes reasonable accommodations.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Basically I think the whole parent thing is a non issue. The boss effed up, it seems that a lot of work got let undone anyway and then dumped when the other person left, and it’s this kind of poor management that creates angry feelings in the workforce.

        (Apologies for rambling. Still at home resting up a very very pain wracked body)

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I agree. Mary being a single parent is a red herring – she wasn’t getting things done even when she was working.

        2. Moonhopping*

          Very much agree. I was a little shocked Allison glazed over the working parents in her answer. As a working parent of a disabled child I can clearly see the issue was not Mary being a parent it was her being a bad employee. She saw the opportunity to exploit her employer and did. My last employer came down on me for not being able to answer my bosses text while making dinner for my children and helping them with their math homework at 7:30 at night. (Flex schedule was Core hours were between 10am & 2pm) an old team member offered me a new position and I took it, that night was the straw that broke camels back. Still friends with people with work there and the new policy was anyone they hired had to be available 10am to 10pm. They passed much of my work on to existing employees hired someone new and in six months still had to hire another person to help with the work load because they weren’t as productive and efficient. All said my coworkers think they were placed my 30 work hours with 90. I also work with a new mom who was given the accommodation of flex hours and does most of her work in the evening after the baby goes to bed. This means I am assigned any of her high-priority tasks that come up and are time sensitive. However in those four hours she’s on in the evenings she gets as much done as I could in six or eight so it lightens my daily load and evens out. That’s how true accommodations should work.
          Advice I would expect to of been given to the letter writer is to be very clear what you’re asking for. I can no longer be the only person available from X to X time. I need the new hire to also be available to help with courier tasks. I also need the new hire to able to do X percentage of this work.
          Saying I don’t want the new hire to be a parent because they won’t be as available could get the letter writer and employer in a lot of trouble for discrimination. And also honestly rule out some really great working parents. (Letter writer clearly tiptoed around this but did not explicitly say that don’t want to be accused of putting words in their mouth)
          The main point of the story Mary was a very bad employee that took advantage. Be clear and upfront of what help you need with a new hire regardless of their parent status or outside work obligations.

          1. Letter Writer #1*

            Moonhopping, you are absolutely right in that I don’t want to exclude parents. I have single (and dual??) parents on my team and they are ABSOLUTELY SO AMAZING. They are so patient and loving and are sort of the team’s mom/dad too. The main difference in the other parents on our team and Mary was that Mary had a pre-K ish child and the other parents have a second grader or older.
            That’s why I was mostly asking if it’s a terrible ask for flexibility especially in regards to early mornings/late evenings.
            I’ll be sure to be more specific when/if manager asks for input.

            1. A*

              Definitely a reasonable ask! Not every job / work schedule will work for everyone, and this might be an example where the job requirements cannot be met without more hours being put in. Some parents of young kids may be able to make that work, others not. You aren’t being exclusive, you just need the needs of the job met – which regardless of parenting status – Mary was not meeting. It’s entirely possible that someone could come in to replace her that IS able to meet those requirements without putting in more hours, but that shouldn’t be the assumption going in.

              I think it’s more than fair to say you have accommodated as much as possible, but have to set your own boundaries as well. The position opening back up is a perfect opportunity to re-assess the business needs and ensure the hiring is done with those in mind.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              Oddly enough, a pre-Kish child might actually have a more flexible schedule than a school age child. At least in my experience, daycare dropoff/pickup allows much more flexibility than school dropoff/pickup. Unless the child was actually in a pre-K program, and not just daycare?

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Whoa, that is a major misinterpretation of what I wrote! Of course the OP wouldn’t be saying she doesn’t want to work with parents! What I wrote was that she say the new hire needs to be available to work normal hours, and that she needs to be clear about what she can and can’t do herself.

        3. Valentine Wiggin*

          I agree. Mary gives working parents a bad name. I’m on a “reduced schedule” due to having young kids, which, in my industry, means 40-50 hour work weeks compared to everyone else at 70+. Yes, I took a huge reduction in pay and willingly backburnered my career trajectory. But more importantly: I get stuff DONE during those 40-50 hours. If my firm and my team are giving to me by providing accommodations, I am giving back by giving the best work product I can during my limited time. The issue here was Mary wasnt getting ANY work done – that would be a problem regardless if she were a FT employee or not. She used her kid as an excuse to not get things done. She’s the reason why working parents fight an uphill battle to be taken seriously.

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        I agree, in the letter it sounds like Mary was basically being paid full time wages for working a part time job, and OP was being paid for one job while being asked to do a job and a half. Not being accommodating to Mary is far from the problem in this situation! Being flexible with parents is great, but this is far beyond what is reasonable.

        1. A*

          Exactly. It very much sounds like Mary was essentially part time. Ultimately it’s up to each individual employee to assess if they can meet the requirements of their job – the reasoning for not being able to is largely irrelevant. Same way that if I couldn’t/didn’t want to work Mondays, I wouldn’t apply for a job that requires me to work Mondays.

          Sounds like the single parent bit was a red herring, this comes down to one workload not being fully covered/managed and the trickle effect.

    7. Well then*

      That’s an… ‘interesting’ read of a situation where the working parent got endless flexibility and was apparently accommodated to the point of doing virtually no work and dumping it all on someone else to deal with when she left. o_0

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I actually completely agree with all of Carol Lynn’s points but I don’t really get how it fits in with advice to the OP – I’m assuming it was just meant as a general comment on situations like the one described, but as a response to OP’s letter, it reads a bit like “stop whining, you still don’t have it as bad as parents” which seems misplaced.

    8. Always a blessing*

      Extending deadlines is great! Some other examples:
      If I order an item off of Amazon or what not and have paid $100 per year for prime, let’s extend the two day delivery deadline I’ve paid for, because parents!

      If I need to get my second dose of Covid vaccine, let’s extend the window beyond 28 days, because parents!

      If there’s a breaking news story in my community, like there was recently in Texas, who cares if I hear about it on TV two days late, because parents!

      1. Emilia Bedelia*

        This is a strawman argument. No one is saying that every deadline should be tossed out the window. Some other examples, to balance out the hyperbole:
        – Analyst at Amazon is expected to write a report on some data received from other teams in 5 working days. Let’s extend that to 7 days and tell other groups they need to get their data to her earlier!

        – Nurse at vaccination center is scheduled for 5 opening shifts, which conflicts with her kid’s school dropoff time. Let’s switch her schedule with someone who needs to pick up their kid in the afternoon!

        – Breaking news story! Let’s send the reporter who is “on call” based on the plan that the team has talked about and agreed upon in advance! People who can’t take last minute breaking news stories have already discussed this with management and are in positions where there isn’t any need for last minute coverage!

        Some jobs are truly always time sensitive, and people in these jobs need to understand the expectations. But not every job is like that. Managers should be able to triage what is truly time sensitive and figure out how they can accommodate in other ways. Flexibility in the things that aren’t important enables deadlines to be met when they cannot be moved.

        1. Jim Bob*

          -Other Amazon teams sending the data also contain parents and also want their deadline extended, not shortened.

          -Nurse needs to pick up AND drop off her kids, because one-way transportation isn’t a thing. Every other parent is in the same boat, leaving the same few people to cover all the morning, evening, and weekend shifts. Turnover skyrockets.

          -Childless reporter who takes many “on-call” shifts unsurprisingly finds all the juicy breaking news stories. Parents on the team complain of favoritism, but still refuse to work on call. Childless reporter is forced to do the legwork and give up the byline in the interest of “fairness,” and soon leaves for greener pastures.

          1. Always a blessing*

            +1. And guess what, Amelia Bedelia processes are not such that you always extend them. If a client has paid big bucks for a consulting deliverable in five days, you can’t just say, “welp, let’s make it seven, because parents.”

            1. Emilia Bedelia*

              Thank you for proving my point! In situations where the deadline cannot be extended, the manager has a clear reason for why that is the case. Doesn’t mean that this is true in every single case.

          2. Emilia Bedelia*

            All of these are conversations that managers can and should have with their employees. Again, it is about understanding expectations on both sides – your examples just show that lack of communication/inflexibility can go both ways. It’s simply not accurate to say “Work deadlines are always firm and there is never any room for negotiation or adjustment”. If it is truly impossible to allow for flexibility, then it should be obvious that there’s a mismatch between what the employee needs and what the employer can offer, and the employee should be told “here is what we can do for you, take it or leave it”.

            I work in a regulated industry where deadlines are firm, set by regulatory agencies, and have the potential to cost millions of dollars if missed. I am not envisioning some magical world where nothing matters and time is an illusion – I’m saying that flexibility is, in fact, possible in many cases, and it’s a manager’s job to figure out what that looks like for their company specifically (ie, manage).

          3. Sweet Christmas*

            Well, no, not necessarily.

            In the first example, if that’s the case, then they can ask too. And then the two teams work out a timeline and deadline that works for them. I have communications about timelines and deadlines all the time with other teams.

            For example, the nurse in the second example may not actually need to pick up her kids – maybe her partner does that or she has a service that takes them to after-school care. Or if she does, maybe she balances it out by taking more undesirable days or taking a weekend shift or something like that. The point is not the actual example – the point is that as humans who work with other humans, we strive to arrange our work fairly but flexibly so that we expand access.

            Your third twist doesn’t even make sense in the context of the example given. First, the key here is the plan that the team has talked about and agreed upon in advance. Which would mean that reporters who do not wish to be on call would understand that this may limit their ability to chase certain stories. But surely not every juicy news story needs to go to the intrepid reporter who is always available at a moment’s notice – there are lots of other ways to cover news that don’t rely solely on being on-call (investigative journalism?), and does breaking news always happen at 3 am? No. If the only reporters who are getting the best work are the ones who are always available, I’d question if that wasn’t a workplace issue (or a societal framing issue) rather than a characteristic of the field.

        2. onco fonco*

          This! Part of the wider problem is that our expectations all still date from the time when professionals generally had wives at home to do all the time-critical childcare stuff. So companies gear themselves towards that level of availability. Some jobs genuinely require that kind of cover, and some jobs just expect it because it’s been the norm for most of human history. We’re beginning to get our heads around the need for flexibility but we’re not very good at doing it yet, so you get situations like the one in the letter – an organisation that wants to offer Mary flexibility but has made *no plans* for doing that other than dumping everything on OP. That’s wrong, but it’s not a parents-in-the-workplace-suck problem, it’s a management problem – and specifically a Mary problem, because it sounds like she wasn’t coping with the work and failed to communicate that, leaving OP an even bigger mess.

      2. Jim Bob*

        Thank you!

        Sometimes the work has to get done, and extending deadlines or shuffling your work off onto someone else is not a reasonable accommodation.

        I guarantee that subset of parents saying “I can only work at half capacity for the foreseeable future, and it’s your job as an employer to accommodate that” would be up in arms if the response was “Fine, but we’re only paying you for half capacity work.”

        1. Pannafan*

          As a parent, I would love this option. I would gladly take a paycut if I could go down to part time or cut my hours. Unfortunately many jobs do not offer this as an option – it’s either full time salaried or nothing. I wish more employers would have part time or job sharing options.

          1. onco fonco*

            Yes, I specifically negotiated reduced hours before accepting my last job because I had small children and I could see it was going to be difficult. I was ecstatic when they said yes. I know loads of parents desperate for part time work. And of course you expect to be paid pro rata.

        2. Shenandoah*

          God, I would have loved that.

          Yes, there are unreasonable people out there, but your assumption that all of these parents would be “up in arms” to their employer offering them options is not a fair one.

        3. armchairexpert*

          You think there’s a significant contingent of parents out there who believe they should work part time and be paid for full time work?

          I’d suggest that moving through the world with the belief that A Group To Which You Don’t Belong is somehow more entitled, more likely to want things they don’t earn, or just generally don’t adhere to the same social contract as you is …not good. It’s not good for your spirit, it’s not good for your mental well being, it’s not good for society.

      3. hbc*

        Yeah, but I would say the majority of people and businesses have deadlines that are mostly self-imposed. We treat our accounting month-end close like it’s sacred, but no one will actually be harmed if it comes in late. We have a schedule that involves launching our new software in March, but our company will survive if it’s April.

        1. Always a blessing*

          Yes, someone will be “harmed” if your month-end managerial accounts come in late: your investors. (You know, the people who are financing your operations.) They expect monthly or quarterly reporting, and it’s unacceptable to say, “we’ll get to it manana, because parents.”

          1. comityoferrors*

            Oh, come on. They aren’t “harmed” by that. They may be annoyed but they aren’t materially harmed by getting a report late. Investors won’t drop a company for something like that if money is still rolling in.

            To that point, except in some really fringe cases re: medical stuff, you’re not “harmed” by getting a Prime delivery in three days instead of two. Current vaccine guidelines indicate that you’re not harmed by receiving your second dose a little late, either, though I haven’t actually seen any examples of people in that situation. You’re not harmed hearing about the news in Texas two days late (although, again, that would never happen) unless you’re in the affected area, and if you are I imagine you could figure it out by the fact that you lost your power and had a sudden snowstorm. I’m not sure what good hearing that news would be when you’re living it.

            Obviously these aren’t ideal situations, but the world is in an unideal situation right now. Would you extend a little more grace to these extended deadlines if the reason was “half our staff is out with Covid” or “we laid off most of our staff because of Covid-related financial problems”?

          2. Becca*

            I mean, what’s your alternative? Everyone being an automaton? Nobody with kids working? There’s a balance to be struck and a lot of times imbalances are a management problem.

          3. Sweet Christmas*

            I seriously doubt that investors are “harmed” by getting a quarterly accounting report a few days later than they expected.

        2. Wintermute*

          Will you survive if it launches in April, though. Businesses rarely do things for totally arbitrary reasons, will a competitor release in late march that you would have beaten but now lose out to, and your product is superfluous before it’s out the door. Month-end accounting is how you know where your money is going and coming from, and you do not want to know the IT-related chaos that happens when that is delayed because processes never designed to “look backwards” suddenly have to– or may not even be ABLE to– your legal document retention systems have fits, it’s really ugly.

          Where I work had a month-end delayed once because of a system issue, the very serious business impacts went on for **weeks**.

          Your examples very much strike me as “I don’t see why it’s important so it must not be important” when there’s usually reasons that touch other departments this stuff has to happen in a timely manner. Now it is true you could make the norm a mid-month “month end” if you designed it that way up front, but it’s not something you can just be rubbery on.

          1. Sweet Christmas*

            This is really going quite far. No one is arguing that every deadline is unimportant. Most businesses have different kinds of deadlines: some deadlines that are regulatory and can’t be moved; deadlines that can technically be moved, but might be bad for business (like your example); and deadlines that are completely internally imposed and can be moved. And probably many kinds in between that.

            The point that most of the commenters here are trying to make is that where possible and applicable, it often makes a lot of sense to have open, clear communication about needs and seek out flexibility where necessary. If delaying your process by even one day would break a lot of other stuff, of course there’s a business reason not to delay it – so the solution may be to swap in someone who can make it work, or to pull in some support, balancing it out by giving the parent in question other tasks. But in a lot of cases deadlines can be delayed, and that can relieve a lot of strain and pressure on good employees that you presumably want to retain.

            I mean, come on guys, we are in a literal global pandemic right now. We are entering year 2 of that global pandemic. Parents are in a lot of no-win situations right now.

        3. Emilia Bedelia*

          It also comes down to planning in advance and the ability to manage projects across an org. Does your project plan require 15 people to be 110% allocated for 5 weeks straight, with no buffer? Do you have 2 concurrent projects that require the same SME group at the same time? Are you unwilling to pay for contractors or temp support if you need additional resources? That is how you get nightmare scheduling, emergency all-nighters, and burnt out employees.
          This is why Alison’s point about the COMPANY making an effort to support people is important – it cannot be one rogue manager of one team who is saying “yes, you can leave early, that’s ok”, because at the end of the day, the work needs to get done, and delays need to be compensated for somewhere.

    9. Amy*

      I have three kids under 5. If the normal work schedule is 9-5 and Mary is only required to work 10-4, I think this is frankly excessively accommodating. Are there no other parents on staff? Most of my colleagues are also parents to young kids and I don’t think many of us would find this reasonable on a long-term basis.

      1. A*

        Ya, it is essentially a part time schedule. Pre-COVID when we were in office we had several parents with flex schedules to allow for pickup/drop off etc. but they would be available again in the evenings to catch up.

        But we are in global positions and deal with all time zones, so it’s known going in that there are no hard set ‘business hours’. We have definitely had job candidates walk away from offers because they knew they couldn’t accommodate the requirements of the job, which is totally fair! We have tried to be as accommodating as possible throughout the pandemic, but cannot push deadlines so ultimately it is what it is.

    10. Malarkey01*

      I wouldn’t even consider Mary to have an accommodation for children, I think she was a part time employee with set hours and that wasn’t clear to LW. So, yes pre-pandemic LW carried more of the work but that was because the position had 1 FT and 1 PT employee. That might be under resourced, but the reason Mary is PT is irrelevant.

      The big issue here is that you’ve been given an unreasonable workload and need the position filled ASAP and would like it to be filled FT.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yes I’d be very interested to hear if Mary was actually paid full time or part time. It’s a common scapegoating technique with employers either way. They can’t afford proper help to cover the work, they only pay for partial. When the full time person complains they’re overloaded the boss blames Mary’s family status as a reason she can’t go full time rather than admit that’s actually the deal they wanted. Or they are paying her full time but her parenting status is such good leverage against the non parent it “all gets done”. What they worked out with Mary should have nothing to do with OP.

        1. Malarkey01*

          But even then, her work hours are negotiated with the manager and she was working PT hours.the issue isn’t on parents it’s hey I need someone with 40 hours of FT work.

    11. LQ*

      I don’t understand how this ends up at “oh poor parents have it so hard” when the situation was that the parent did no work for well over a year and dumped it all onto the OP.

      What should they have done here? Promote Mary into a job where no work was expected of her at all and give her a giant paycheck because she’s a parent?

      The parent got ALL the flexibility and did not do the work and the response is “parents and mothers have been left behind”…this mother successed so hard she didn’t have to do anything.

      1. Batgirl*

        Because it’s patronizing and not the kind of management which helps parents succeed any more than it helps non parents. This attitude of “Welp, I guess they can’t do the job but what are you going to do, because.. parents” is not what most parents want and it’s definitely not the reference they need. It’s not actually that hard to allow parents enough flexibility to actually get the work done and succeed in terms of achievements.

    12. NinaBee*

      It definitely depends on the company’s handling of the accommodating as others have said. I worked at an agency in London that would always force the non-parent staff work over weekends and make them stay evenings on pitches, which bred a lot of resentment and tapped into our ‘unfairness monkey brain’. Having a company decide whether your non-work life is important or not made the people who didn’t have children feel disposable and undervalued. Companies should not be so cheap and hire extra staff if work cannot be done during normal work hours, or allow parents to work part time hours to accommodate their schedules.

    13. MegPie*

      As a single parent who worked full time starting when my kids were 2 and 4, I’m not really seeing how this mom could never come in before 10. I guess it could be like her kid(s) was/were in a half day kindergarten or something like that, but if that’s the case you have to find before and after care. I understand how hard it is (believe me) but you can’t expect to keep those hours and a full time job.

      1. Malarkey01*

        Maybe she could have, but she negotiated different start times and a 6 hour workday. I have someone who negotiated every other Friday off. That’s his agreed work schedule. He isn’t snacking off on those Fridays, he’s not suppose to be working then. The reason he wanted off doesn’t matter.

        1. Letter Writer #1*

          Her negotiated hours were 9-5, or if necessary 10-6. Mine are 7-3, but as we work in healthcare, occasionally I’d come in at 5am and instead of being able to pass it off at 3pm, I’d end up staying until 6 because she would leave the office.

          She also had an arrangement for her pre-school aged child to be dropped off at a sitter/teacher’s house pre-pandemic.

    14. brandibeyond*

      See, it’s situations like this the frustrate me as a single person expected to pick up the slack. In this letter the single person was complaining that they were given all the workload because the company wanted to accommodate the parent who refused to do much and the parents in the comments STILL somehow feel they are the ones being victimized.
      Sure, in a good office everyone picks up slack when necessary, and I absolutely believe reasonable accommodations should be made for anyone who needs it, but it is not fair to expect child free people to consistently pick up the slack and then claim they can because they don’t have kids. I have hobbies and commitments that make me unable to always do this and frankly, I don’t WANT to. If I wanted to have to worry about juggling work and kid stuff I would just have a kid of my own.

      1. comityoferrors*

        I think Carol Lynn was making a general point about parenting in a pandemic, and she specifically put the responsibility on employers, not on other employees. But lots and lots and lots of comments from working parents, in this very thread, are saying this isn’t a reasonable accommodation.

        This always becomes such a heated topic. Most people, parents or not, don’t want to screw over their coworkers. The issue in this letter isn’t that a parent needed accommodations, it’s that the employer foisted that responsibility on a child-free person instead of making a plan to cover the person who was out. OP has every reason to be frustrated and this is a terrible example of how child-free people are sometimes treated in the workplace, but the blame isn’t on the parent – it’s on the employer. That’s where we should direct our anger. Having compassion and flexibility for employees is a good thing, and if it’s not offered across the board, we should push back on *that*, not on the idea of compassion in general.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          I find it hard to believe Mary didn’t know the work or was unaware she was slacking.

  6. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    Feeling the need to tackle #1:

    Be very data driven and work impact specific about what this trebeled workload is doing. Take deadlines to your boss and specifically say things like X is due Tuesday of next week, will require 20 hours to complete, and the deadline is non-negotiable. Which tasks do you want me to not get done in order to make that happen. If they insist on everything being accomplished, then ask them for approval for overtime in writing. Make it clear that you cannot get it all done, and make your boss take some responsibility for altering priorities.

    The point of this is to get you your evenings back, so that you can hopefully find a job that appreciates you – and doesn’t try and run you into the ground to “accommodate the parents” in your company. Alison is correct that a long term workable strategy for accommodating parents/people with outside of work additional family responsibilities isn’t to pile more and more work on the employees you think don’t share those responsibilities. All this does is burn out and run off the people actually doing all the work.

    1. Radical Edward*

      I took exactly this approach with a difficult manager when I had just started in a previous job – their habit was to pile work on all of us without a thought for what any employee was already doing. By constantly putting it in front of them in writing (and where the HR person, who was extremely sensitive to anyone working unnecessary overtime, could see it), I also proved to them that I was organized and understood how to prioritize aspects of each project. They learned to consult me directly before dropping potentially-conflicting deadlines in my lap… and if it happened anyway, they had to justify my overtime pay to their boss at the end of the month, instead of just blaming me for being careless (which was the first excuse they always tried).

      Even if I hadn’t had that particular problem, it was a good approach to take to safeguard my time and facilitate future conversations about hiring part-time help (which ended up being absolutely necessary after about a year). All that documentation made it pretty impossible for my manager to insist I could just continue doing everything myself if I worked harder or faster.

      1. Anon for This*

        My ex-CEO would wander through our offices where developers were killing themselves thrying to implement his constantly moving targets, vocalizing gems like: “Work smarter, not harder!!” :-(

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ve both been a dev and managed developers and phrases like that are a fantastic way of getting multiple computer peripherals launched at high speed into nearby walls.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes, exactly. It’s not really about the coworker. It’s about the boss.

        When I was in a situation where my boss kept piling work on me because one of my peers could not meet deadlines, I would send a weekly “Priority list” outlining what could be done by the end of the week (barring complications) and what had to be pushed back. I made my boss feel my pain, each and every week…and each and every week, my boss would explain how my coworker was stressed and worried and upset that the work wasn’t getting finished, and couldn’t I just be more understanding and work a little extra to help out a great person who was having a hard time? I’d point to my list and say “This is what can get done by the end of the week. Let me know if you want to reprioritize something or if you can get me more resources.” I never made it about the coworker…I made it about the workload and the choices my boss was making.

    2. Mockingjay*

      OP1, agree with being data driven. Start with a list of ALL tasks, yours and Mary’s. I mean everything including the kitchen sink. Then denote due dates (if any) and status: late, on time, not started. List mitigation for each – what it will realistically take to complete this task.

      Give this monster list to Boss. “Boss, here’s the current work list, including the backlog of overdue items Mary left. Please assign priorities. I’ve indicated what I think I can complete and what should be assigned to New Person.” Make it clear that you cannot (and will not) fix all – this is a workload for two people.

      I would go even further and inform Boss that, “due to changed personal circumstances, I am no longer available for overtime.” This Boss thinks OT can fix everything, because up until now that’s what’s happened. Don’t fix it for Boss like this anymore.

      Reinforce periodically. When Boss throws another task at you, use Alison’s proven strategy of throwing the decision back to Boss: “I can do A, but B or C will have to slide. Which two should I prioritize?”

      Good luck.

      1. MassMatt*

        This would work for a decent or reasonable boss, but what we have here is only partly a coworker problem and mostly a bad boss problem. The boss has so far allowed the coworker to come in whenever they felt like it, exempt themselves from work, not complete work or meet deadlines, because children. His idea of “flexibility” and “making accomodations” was to have the LW do all this work while the coworker works 6 hours a day, at best. This is a major failure to manage.

        Maybe the boss is redeemable, but IMO handing a bad boss a list of tasks and telling him you can only do 1/2 of them is likely to result in his saying “you can do those” or “they are all top priority” and the bizarre double standard in his mind will result in your firing because “you are unwilling to help the team”.

        1. Mockingjay*

          I don’t think it will come to firing; OP1 has too much value as a productive employee (which is why Boss dumps so much on her). And of course my suggestion can be adapted to OP’s unique circumstances. Write out the list, then pick a few main tasks to go over. Sometimes showing workload in print provides the reality check a manager needs. I work in a shared support group which can easily get overloaded with competing priorities, and our favorite ‘trick’ for managing up is a variation of this. Show the problem, explain the paths forward, and let Boss choose.

          If Boss doesn’t prioritize or manage the workload better, then OP1 can refuse the overtime and use those free evenings and weekends to job hunt. But I think it’s worth trying to see if a job can be salvaged before jumping into a hunt.

  7. Not A Manager*

    Regarding #4 – Am I the only one who sees this as a covert invitation to have your clergy(man) vouch for you? Honestly, after work and school, what’s the next institution in line to provide an authoritative, trustworthy assessment of someone’s character?

    This requirement just screams “culture fit!” to me.

    1. Filicophyta*

      That’s what I thought as soon as I read it.
      (If pressed on this, I guess I would provide my landlord.)

    2. Lionheart26*

      Oooooh I did NOT think of that, but now you’ve pointed it out, I think we have a bingo

    3. Felis alwayshungryis*

      Not if you don’t belong to a congregation! I can’t think who I’d use to fulfil this requirement – I guess a friend who owns a business, or someone I volunteered with for a few years who also happens to be a JP? It could be quite tricky for a lot of people.

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        Ohhh, I see now! Making it hard for anyone who doesn’t have a friendly member of the clergy onside? Maybe.

        (Sorry, I misunderstood what you were getting at.)

      2. Chocolate Teapot*

        Or somebody from a club or association you belong to or are involved with? (Friends of local historical site, Scouts, Rotary Club etc.)

        1. Felis alwayshungryis*

          I mean, the difficulty is that by the time you’ve looked after your kids, been to work, and done your laundry, there’s not always a lot of time to be involved in clubs etc., and employers who assume everyone is are coming from a clear place of privilege.

          Also, the stuff I personally like to do is pretty lone wolf, so there’s an extra layer to it.

          1. BHB*

            Not to mention the fact that a reference from (e.g.) a doctor is likely to hold more weight with the employer than a reference from Jim who works at the supermarket down the street, meaning those with the “right” connections to middle class professions are more likely to be favoured than those who don’t know anyone “respectable” on a social basis. It’s just another way to keep the poor and disadvantaged in their place.

            1. Nanani*

              This was my thought, too.
              Are you the kind of person who knows (or whose parents know) Resoectable(TM) people?

        2. Tired of Covid-and People*

          Why not just a friend period? The only restrictions are family and employers, I don’t see the problem. I’ve been asked to provide personal non-family references, not weird at all.

          1. Mhmm*

            I seriously see this all the time and just always assume it means non-supervisory colleague. All of these seem like ludicrous leaps and assumptions from incredibly paranoid people.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Solitary Wiccan, antisocial, don’t belong to any clubs, don’t volunteer…..I’d either ask my doctor VERY nicely (my regular one and I get on great) or get one of my mates to pose as from the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    4. Morning reader*

      Maybe, but would it work to get a reference from your librarian? I’m in my library (or at curbside) almost every week. It would be cool to have a reference like “always returns books on time, never has to be shushed, leaves shared computer station clean when finished, comes to library fully dressed, and never monopolizes librarian’s time with chitchat.”

    5. Jaid*

      I’d ask my shuttle driver, It’s only a five minute ride with him, but ten years + five days a week, ya get to know each other…

    6. Mockingjay*

      I have a lot of “friends” on Facebook who seem to like me. *shrugs*
      (Actually, I would have done the same as OP 4, listed coworkers.)

      Hiring just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

    7. Asenath*

      When I needed something of the sort, a justice of the peace was on the approved list. I’m sure the one I tracked down knew almost nothing about me, but he let me use his name. Government officials can be a substitute for work, school, religion. (At the time, I could probably have dragged up contacts for all three, but they would have been from years ago, far away or both.) But the only time I’ve seen such requests is where they want to know if you’re respectable. In my case, the job involved working with children, and nowadays, they’d undoubtedly request a certificate of conduct from the police instead. That’s just another governmental authority, though, like the justice of peace I actually used.

    8. asgard*

      I would have never thought this in a million years. Sure, if one is a church-goer they might reach out to someone they know through the church, but my first though was all the people I know in other ways – through volunteering, through parent groups, through hobbies (organizing and participating), regular friends. I’m surprised church is assumed to be the “next” logical thing and therefor “must be” some kind of code for whatever.

      1. Lunch Ghost*

        Yeah, I was pretty involved at my old church and would never have thought of the priest as a reference. Maybe my supervisor for the specific activity I worked on, but, ironically, I probably wouldn’t use him either because it’s clearly a religious activity– not, like, “soup kitchen staff” or “festival committee”– and I’d be worried that would be a mark *against* me.

        Maybe it’s a regional thing?

    9. Maude*

      This is what I came here to say. There is a very well know radio personality, advice guru with thousands of employees in my area that is know for questions like this in his interviews. It is designed to weed out people that do not have the same beliefs that he does. This is not even the most intrusive part of the interview process. As you can imagine, it is not a very diverse company.

      1. Temperance*

        I have a strong hunch that I know exactly who you’re talking about here, and working for that guy is my actual worst nightmare. Even the wording that he uses is just barely cloaked evangelical terminology. (Like ‘good financial stewardship’).

        1. Ralph the wonder llama*

          I don’t even think he is bothering to “barely cloak” it any more. Of course this is the guy who is having huge, maskless work functions during a pandemic.

    10. Charlotte Lucas*

      I thought the same thing! Many years ago in a small, conservative town, I was interviewing for a job (at a Thomas Kincaid gallery of all places – but I needed a job), & the guy kept pressing for more of an answer on “What’s important to you outside of work?” A week later, I realized that the response he wanted was, “Jesus.”

      I did not get the job. (FYI – I was raised Catholic. If I had mentioned BVM, I probably would’ve been shown the door.)

    11. Sparkles McFadden*

      Oh, interesting. I would never have thought of that, but that would explain it.

      The closest thing I’ve ever seen would be a questionnaire I filled out for an attorney friend who had passed the bar exams and needed a personal character reference. Lots of questions regarding morals and ethics.

    12. Temperance*

      I do a ton of volunteer work and would absolutely use that. The clergy aspect of it wouldn’t even cross my mind, to be totally honest, because I don’t have those people in my life.

    13. LW4*

      This is basically my problem: Rural area; I don’t belong to any churches; my hobbies (before moving, that is) require special equipment so I can’t practice at home. Because it’s a rural area there aren’t studios giving classes, so I don’t meet people that way. No kids, so not part of any school community. I tried to volunteer at an organization that matches my skill set when I first moved here, but no one got back to me so I gave that up. Really, the only person locally I know outside of work is by beau because I moved here for the job. The coworkers whose names I gave live hours away, so there wouldn’t be any small-town name-recognition there, either. (We travel to the job site, if anyone’s wondering).

      1. pretzelgirl*

        I applied for a job once at a small company that wanted a personal character reference. I found it quite odd and didn’t know who to put. I put a friend from church bc thats all I could think of. I didn’t end up getting the job. Personally I would just use a friend.

        I often struggle with references and often just use co-workers. As a true elder millennial my early job history is patchy due to a bunch of lay offs. I have one job, that managers are prohibited from being references, one job where I lost touch with my former manager (she has no social media), one job where it was not a great for and wouldn’t feel comfortable asking for a reference and another where my boss was fired shortly after I left.

    14. the cat's ass*

      Dang, this was an odd one. I don’t have a friendly member of the clergy at hand.
      My fellow GS leader?
      A former co-worker who’s still a friend?
      My older neighbor who i drive places and grocery shop for?
      The fab barista at Peet’s who serves up my Friday morning treats?

    15. Kimmy Schmidt*

      I definitely got some “good ol boys network” vibes here. An unspoken idea that this non-work reference had to come from a local fraternity, church, club, or from someone high up in the local town politics.

    16. PT*

      I can explain this. This was a requirement at one of my jobs where everyone was expected to have access to children (even the clerical roles, children were in the building.) You had to have one “personal” reference that was a friend or family member. The interviewer would then read that person a list of questions like, “Have you seen this person interact with a child? Would you trust this person babysit your own children? How would you characterize their behavior around children? Have you seen them discipline a child? Can you describe what you saw?”

      The idea was that often, people who behave suspiciously around children display “off” behavior warning signals around their friends and family before they offend. Or their first offenses are likely to be around family, before they offend outside the family So if they’re the creepy older cousin who’s not allowed to be around the younger ones unsupervised, it might slip out in the answers, and the hesitations and the pauses between answers. You’d get a bad “vibe” from checking Aunt Martha as a reference, that you wouldn’t from checking two previous colleagues at work.

      1. Temperance*

        That’s still super weird to me. I get the logistics of it, but I would probably give one of my friends from law school or work over one of my relatives or super close friends for a professional or volunteer reference. My sister and one of my friends who could vouch for my aunting skills wouldn’t even occur to me without some tip off to the reason why.

    17. moql*

      I think this can be it, but I wanted to push back with an alternate example.

      I gave contact info for a long term friend who could speak to my reliability and character as well as some colleagues whom I had worked adjacent to several years before (same boss, no work in common, but occasionally asked each other for feedback on a report they had not seen so I could have fresh eyes). The woman who interviewed me was very impressed that I had managed to keep in touch and have such strong longitudinal relationships with both sets of people despite geographic problems and no longer working with those people.

      It was still weird and probably biased in lots of ways, but it wasn’t that they were looking for church membership in particular. In fact, I am very different demographically and culturally from most of my coworkers.

    18. Nanani*

      I was thinking a privilege screen – like seeing if you’re the kind of person who is golfing buddies with the mayor, a judge, etc. (or the kid/nephew of someone with that kind of connection)

      Indirect religion check is also possible.
      Either way it’s worthy of side-eye and at least an orange flag for this employer.

      1. Disco Janet*

        Eh, depends on the industry. Every public school I’ve ever applied for has had a request for personal references included in their standard application.

  8. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    Bathroom Denier:

    This trainer is going to get in trouble (well they should in a perfect world anyways). You have the right idea OP, focus on productivity and address that if and when necessary, but leave the bathroom out of it.

    I once had a job that required always having a person at the front desk, and we worked in teams of two so that you could still have coverage while allowing the ability to be human and use the bathroom. Unfortunately one busy night while I was pregnant, my coworker just vanished, and with no warning. When she had been gone for almost 90 mins I had passed the point of being worried about where she was to angry to be doing the whole workload to desperately wanting her to come back because I need the bathroom NOW. Oh, and this was a closing shift, management had gone home for the day about 45 mins before my coworker pulled her vanishing act, so there was literally just me at the desk (with one or two other staff scattered thru the Hotel). I was saved by the arrival of one AGM (who was also the head housekeeper) who was friendly with the barkeeper that night. She came over to me first to say hello, saw I didn’t look good, and covered me for a bathroom break.
    (Took two other disappearing acts for that person to be fired, but she eventually was. That however was the last time she was assigned to a shift with me.)

  9. Not Just The Mrs*

    OP#1 – As a working mother myself I can understand your coworkers time needs. If part time work was arranged at the time of hire, it is not the coworker’s fault the work isn’t getting done. If they gave clear boundaries then it’s on the manager to adequately hire additional people. If you need specific boundaries, then you need to let your manager know. I actually commend the former coworker for advocating for herself. I hope your manager can see that a future hire needs to be full time.

    1. Viette*

      Right? I do agree with this — I don’t think Mary is the core problem.

      “I was voluntold to take on additional pandemic-related tasks, but Mary would state that she did not have time and therefore couldn’t take on these tasks. Because of this, my workload tripled and I spoke with our manager to offload some of my projects to Mary — since many could be done remotely with a training session at the office. The issue was that this would mean that we’d need to be there at 8 am — which Mary couldn’t do, so it never really got offloaded.”

      OP #1 and their boss have been operating with the perspective that Mary is the problem and the solution, when Mary was obviously never going to solve this for the OP. She never did, she never said she would, and when she was asked she said no. Now she works somewhere else and she’s really not going to solve the problem. It sounds like Mary set hard boundaries, and was probably extra firm in her refusal because she did have child-related time commitments and therefore absolutely could not take on those tasks. This sucked immensely for the OP and their boss didn’t do anything to help.

      “Then Mary quit and I’ve been given all of her responsibilities.” Not by Mary, though! Your boss gave them to you because your boss is going to keep dumping work on you until you hard-line refuse (a la Mary) and/or get a new job (once again a la Mary).

      1. Lonely Aussie*

        It’s frustrating when you push back and don’t have kids you’re seen from certain management positions to not have a “valid” reason for it and are therefore not a team player. I don’t have kids, I will never have kids and I hate being put in the position where I’m the bad guy by management because I’d like to be able to take a week off during the school holidays (roughly 13 weeks of this year) or would like to have the option of not working Xmas day because the parents get dibs on all that. I wasted so much time and capital fighting for one week off during school holidays this year and was told I’d not be able to do that again. It was mentioned in a meeting about performance that I was not a team player and inflexible because of that.
        There’s no winning in that situation. You push back on it and you’re not a team player or you’re selfish or you don’t care about supporting parents or get told “just wait until it’s your turn” (I’ve had stuff shoved through my cervix expressly so it’ll never be my turn, Brenda). If you don’t push back on it, then you get dumped with a bunch of extra work, miss out on holidays and get dinged if you can’t suddenly do the job of two people.
        I’m not mad at parents, I’m mad at management for creating the divide and making it really hard to push back like that.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yep, that all sucks.

          Still a management issue – who benefit from framing it as a colleague-with-kids issue.

        2. BHB*

          Yep, it sucks. A previous co-worker of mine was particularly screwed by the holidays thing – they were married to a school teacher, but they didn’t have kids. Their spouse could only go away on holiday during the school holidays as they’re not allowed to take time off during the school term. Co-worker worked on a team with 3 parents, and as they didn’t have kids themselves, were expected to work the school holidays so the parents could take the time off to look after their kids whilst they were off school. Co-worker & spouse didn’t have a holiday together for at least three years, until co-worker quit, citing the holidays situation as the only reason.

        3. lizanotlisa*

          Yes, it’s complete BS when people act like your time is less valuable because it doesn’t include offspring.

        4. Batgirl*

          I’ve worked for those people too. “You all have to work late! Every day! Except Kate because no way do I want to speak to Kate’s kids school calling here or deal with Kate feeling forced to walk out without notice rather than abandon her kids at school with no pick up today.” I mean, it’s pretty short sighted to blame Kate who would happily let you go food shopping/the gym/in a date or the many other important life things we all do. It’s simply that the boss doesn’t give a rats arse about ANYONE; the only line in the sand they respect is something that would make people quit on the spot. Short sighted, because people WILL quit without a life even if they don’t have the immediate emergencies of a small human. One of my single coworkers used to say: “”How exactly am I supposed to become a parent on this schedule?!”

      2. Willis*

        Yes! Mary doesn’t even work there anymore so I don’t think it makes sense to frame this situation as being her fault. It’s an issue between OP and her manager.

    2. Green great dragon*

      Can we not jump to the assumption that Mary needs to be replaced with exactly one full time person? Flexibility is a good thing. Mary needs to be replaced with someone/some people who can do at least some of the early/late work, and the replacement(s) need to produce more work than she did.

    3. Cat Tree*

      Yes, this is an exploitative boss problem dressed up as a working parents problem. That boss wants OP to blame someone else instead of realizing that the boss is doing a bad job. Mary is apparently quite good at setting firm boundaries. OP shouldn’t *have* to set hard boundaries, but this boss is clearly willing to get away with as much as they can. And the boss is pitting employees against each other so they won’t cooperate and realize the real problem is the boss.

  10. staceyizme*

    OP#1, you don’t have a Mary problem, you have a management problem! (AND a YOU problem, because you should have been resisting this and sabotaging it to the best of your own ability all along. It’s worth revisiting this with your boss. (Was she Mary’s boss, too? If so, she’s been MIA and it may be harder to get her to own the magnitude of the failure here.) Undone work at that level means that there’s been no effective check-in or management. Use that to your advantage. Slow your own work pace. Document the HECK out of everything that was left and prioritize your own work first. Management and systems failures made this mess. It’s on them to fix it. Don’t own it and don’t be more invested in fixing it than they are. (And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look for a better opportunity elsewhere!)

    1. Cat Tree*

      I should have kept reading because I replied with a similar comment above.

      I think OP should leave Mary out of it, and set some boundaries. If some work doesn’t get done, that’s the boss’s problem and they get paid a lot more to figure it out. The boss is just using Mary as an excuse and benefitting from society’s resentment towards working mothers.

      1. Lady Meyneth*

        Not always, and not when that someone asked for advice on how to change their situation. OP may really have a “you” problem in that she need to learn to set better boundaries for herself, stick to her working hours/load, and go to her boss to define priorities inside those hours. She very definitely has a management problem for I think obvious reasons.

        I honestly don’t think Mary was any part of the problem. It sounds like she was part time pre-pandemic, and remained part time. The fact that OP’s boss made her work load insane (and OP allowed it) does not make Mary wrong for not taking on extra tasks or extending her hours. And the fact she quit and OP was pressured into doing her work is in no way her fault.

        1. DerJungerLudendorff*

          Its still not a good way to frame that though.
          Telling people that they are the problem for not stopping other people from mistreating them is both weirdly accusational and blaming them for other people’s actions.

        2. I'm just here for the cats*

          yes, it sounds like mary was part-time but maybe LW thought of her more as full-time. Or maybe Mary was given full-time work but only working part-time?

    2. Letter Writer #1*

      In regards to management, yes – she’s what I’ve recently learned is a “toxic positivity” person.
      Additionally, I work in healthcare, so I can’t really sabotage the project without actually potentially harming patients – or trust me, I would have.

      I also love the work I do, so looking elsewhere is a very last choice. And had I received her workload (that had been up to date), I would have been still very busy, but fine. Our deadlines are also not imposed by our manager, but rather physicians, patients, and other clients. I have had multiple conversations with manager about my to-do lists, but always feel like I’ve wasted time instead of just working on tasks, as everything requires more training for others (that are not at my location) to help.

      We had a potential replacement interview and manager asked if I would be okay with this replacement (as the thought is that we would be working much more closely than Mary and I did) but that the replacement wouldn’t come until June. I said that “if I have a voice in this matter, absolutely not.”

    3. My cat is the employee of the month*

      I strongly agree that Mary should be left out of this altogether. Mary was not the problem; management was the problem. LW1 needs to reframe the situation in their mind before bringing it up with management. Otherwise management will just hear that Mary was a problem. Mary is gone, and so is the problem! Ta-da!

      And I also strongly agree that LW1 should try to understand why they were okay with this for so long and work on that.

  11. Viette*

    OP #2: People are commenting about urgency (“when you gotta go you gotta go”), but it sounds like urgency isn’t even the issue here. Even if you have absolutely no digestive issues whatsoever, going to the bathroom 2-3 times in a working day is not exactly unusual. What does the trainer do, hold it for eight hours? Certainly some people CAN hold it for eight hours, but that’s hardly recommended or necessary.

    Similarly, 10-15 minutes in the bathroom is not exactly approaching forever — maybe she’s committing the cardinal sin (!!!) of checking twitter on her phone, or maybe she’s, I don’t know, washing her hands? Getting in and out of pantyhose? Human person stuff? This is such an incredible non-issue. The trainer is an OSHA violation waiting to happen and also staggeringly unsympathetic.

    1. Kloe*

      It becomes easier to hold it for right hours if you don’t drink anything or eat something. That’s just a waste if time anyway.


      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        ‘Why don’t the staff just wear nappies?’. Aaaand now I’m horrified because there’s likely an employer out there who has suggested that in all seriousness.

        1. ratatatcat*

          Iirc, I believe some reports about Amazon working conditions came out that were of this nature

              1. Malarkey01*

                Not to be incredibly gross but there are products, one called “she-pees”, that help women to um enjoy the convenience to pee like men so to speak. I learned about them on a month long safari research trip when you wouldn’t see an actual bathroom for 14 hours and there could quite literally be a leopard behind that bush. They are nice for campers or women who might work in remote locations.

              2. pancakes*

                I would say it doesn’t really work for men either, it’s degrading and unsanitary, but yes, sexist and ableist too.

        2. Apatosaurus*

          Once my partner phoned in sick with diarrhea, and their manager was like “that’s okay, I’ve got some immodium here you can have!”

    2. BHB*

      This whole thing reminds me of the news story a while back about an employer who designed sloping toilets which were uncomfortable to sit on, purely to deter employees from spending too long in the bathroom. Because God forbid people attend to bodily functions on company time.

      If I can dig out the link I’ll post it in a reply.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Oh I remember that! Remember thinking how much chance I’d have of getting my disabled arse on and off one without some kind of messy accident.

    3. Retail Not Retail*

      One of my coworkers is a former teacher and she tsk tsks at our rehab guys going to the bathroom “too much” because she treats them like her students.

      She also now has a health problem that can be exacerbated by holding it in (she told us) and has a tendency not to drink enough (or any! In summer!) water so we remind her regularly to take breaks.

      Anyway my job is scattered throughout the site and sometimes the bathroom is a five minute walk away! And in winter? You got thermal leggings, you got like a heavy coat… give me time dangit. And um to the urgency issue… eat lunch, walk around, about 45 minutes after eating… oh crap. And depending on the type of work it can be more urgent than not. (Using backpack machinery!)

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Ugh. I’m not saying that all or even most former teachers are like this, but in my experience some bring a lot of dangerous classroom management baggage to new careers and struggle to adjust to anything that isn’t butts-in-seats all the time.

    4. Pretzelgirl*

      I drink a ton of water and probably use the restroom every 2 hours. After having 3 kids, I can’t imagine not being able to use the restroom when i needed to. It would be awful.

      1. Alex A*

        I drink a moderate amount of water, have never had children, and need to use the bathroom every 70-80 minutes. Let people go when they’ve gotta go!

      2. Fashionable Pumpkin*

        Yeah, I worked retail, banking, and fast food for the first 12 years of my adult life. I’ve had to call people over to cover a register or storefront, but I NEVER had to ask “permission” to use the bathroom. Ask for coverage, yes. Ask permission, no.
        And I can’t think of any time I was ever denied said coverage, though sometimes my coworkers had to pry themselves away from needy customers to give it.
        This manager sucks.

  12. CouldntPickAUsername*

    the trainer is ridiculous. Let people poop in peace. If they’re still getting the work done then leave them alone. You hired an adult, not a toddler, everyone’s plumbing is different, if they need to go they are the judge of that.
    This is a great way to alienate good workers. I know for me personally I stopped asking permission to pee when I left high school and this would lead to two things. First a conversation about my diabetes meds side effects and how I’ll be contacting a lawyer if they bring this up again and second me looking for a job that treats me like an adult.

  13. PspspspspspsKitty*

    LW1 – You have a management problem, not a Mary problem. I’m okay with companies helping our parents, especially single parents during this weird time. I say that as a childless, single person. The issue is that they expect you to do all her unfinish work without any kind of extra pay, benefits, nor extra help. There are way better ways of managing her work (extended deadlines, better appointment control, changing schedule…ect.) and yet the company chooses to use you. Go to your manager with what you found and make a strong case for better support.

    1. 'Tis Me*

      Also, if chunks of work have been undone since September, is this all internal checking that has no real cost benefit to the customer or company and can those tasks be summarily dropped?

  14. Creepy Paper*

    #2, I have Crohns Disease and let me tell you I’ve quit jobs in the past over ‘rules’ regarding bathroom breaks. You can’t police people’s innards! If you suspect them of going to faff with their phone then fine, but 10-15 minutes really isn’t much.

    You also run the risk of forcing the employee to disclose a medical condition they might not want to, if you start making fuss about their bathroom breaks. I’ve always been up front about my problems if people ask but some people are massively ashamed to have The Poop Disease.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      One of my former staff had Crohns and I remember, with delight, the time she snarled back at the new senior boss who’d tried to put in a hard limit on the number of loo breaks allowed per day. Think graphic descriptions of what the senior boss would have to clear up off the floor/desk/walls/ceiling.

      So wanted to give her a raise.

  15. M.*

    Regarding #4
    Could that be a simple typo? As in, “Please provide references that are not from your family. References should be from former employers.”

      1. Disco Janet*

        I wish the advice for number four included that this can depend on the industry. It’s super common in many areas for public school districts to ask for personal references in addition to professional ones. I wish the advice for number four included that this can depend on the industry. It’s super common for public school districts to ask for personal references in addition to professional ones. Literally every school district in the county I work in does this.

        1. LW4*

          Huh. I don’t work in schools or for districts, but my career up until now has been working with kids outside of school. The references for this organization don’t specify “personal” or “professional.” Even for our seasonal employees (mostly college students), the suggestion is for supervisors or instructors/professors, so still in “professional” territory. This position itself doesn’t work directly with minors, though it is plausible that it might serve some 17-yr-old clients on the rare occasion.

        2. ATM*

          Yeah, I was applying at one point to be a 911 dispatcher – didn’t get the job – and this was a requirement. I know some folks up above were saying it was for discriminatory reasons, but it really really depends on the job.

    1. Annony*

      Or could it be related to a background check? For my last job I had to give both professional references for the interview and personal ones for the background check.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I have had to do that as well for a very comprehensive background check, they wanted professional references for the job part, but personal ones for the background check.

      2. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, when I worked for a non-profit that worked with vulnerable populations, they asked for both professional references (to prove I could do the work) and personal references (to make sure I was someone who wasn’t a horrible human being,) They also did a very detailed background check, required finger printing and the whole nine- yards. It was intense, but they were a great employer and their work was really important. It was also in a small rural area.

      3. Mitzii*

        That’s what I interpret it as. My husband just completed one for his job and needed 3 non-family, non-work references.

  16. Oh. No.*

    #2 – I sadly feel companies monitoring everything from coffee breaks to bodily functions is becoming the norm.

    My wife (call centre) used to have to log every bathroom break and was only allowed a certain amount of minutes per day to use without getting in disciplinary trouble. Similarly, up until recently, I worked for an employer that required everything logged – the moment you got up, eg to walk to another department with a letter, you had to note it in the system or risk being told you’re underperforming.

    I feel like trust is a major issue. You mention playing on the phone in your letter, and that’s an example of a concern that some firms seem to have and then use as an excuse to deny their workers basic rights. In their eyes, every employer “steals time” and they want to curb this to the minimum. Definitely push back! Even without considering potential medical issues, sometimes people just.. need to go! At different rates.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Once we got a senior boss who decided that all the women in the office were spending too much time in the bogs and started first logging all the breaks, then trying to ‘reduce’ them. His stance was that women were obviously spending time ‘chatting to their friends’.

      I got reprimanded, then several of my staff, for ‘excessive use’. That’s when the excreted matter hit the circulatory air device. Picture a lot of very angry IT staff, quite willing to give graphic details of what would happen to office upholstery if the toilet policing continued.

      There was a great outcome: HR found (okay, we in IT passed it along..ahem) that he’d been keeping a spreadsheet on his machine of every woman, every time she’d left the room, how long for….and they really came down on him hard for that. Creepy, not what his job was and funny how the men weren’t mentioned anywhere….

      (Do not annoy IT. We can see your hard drive)

      1. misspiggy*

        That is horribly creepy. But useful to have evidence that some people really do take it personally that women exist in their space.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          He’d tried to hide it by putting it below several nested folders….but it showed up as his most updated file (even outpacing several system files). Definitely a creepy dude though, we found other stuff that I legally can’t talk about but eeeeeek.

      2. Nanani*

        And discriminatory – not just the sexism, but also potentially leading to “she must be pregnant, better fire her” scenarios.
        Shoot him into the sun for the sake of all humanity.

    2. Jay*

      I’m a doc. When I was in primary care practice, I once had to write a letter so a patient could go to the bathroom whenever they needed to because their employer only allowed them to use the bathroom during scheduled breaks – three times in an 8-hour shift. This rule landed my patient in the hospital. I was horrified that I had to write the damn letter and it was all I could do to be civil.

      And don’t get me started on the school that decided their zero-tolerance for drugs policy meant that students with asthma couldn’t carry their inhalers in their backpacks. Their solution to my patient with exercise-induced asthma was that I should give her a medical excuse to not take PE at all.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        …they couldn’t carry their own inhalers? Seriously? A medication that is needed in acute situations can’t be with the patient?

        I’m sorry but that just broke my brain.

    3. Dr. Rebecca*

      This letter was giving me huge “call centre” vibes; I’ve worked in a few, and they absolutely DO NOT want you out of your seat a second longer than “necessary,” even though there’s a hundred other employees placing/taking calls, and being away from your desk only hurts you because you get bonuses for how many people you process per hour.

      1. NotSoAnon*

        I’ve worked in call centers and that’s the feeling I was getting from that letter as well. Most call centers are toxic places that are so “butts-in-seat” mentality.

        I run a small (less than 10 agents) contact center for a financial services firm and I could never imagine policing people for their bathroom breaks. I mean hell, more than half of my team is compromised of single mothers who are acting as zoom teachers as well. I’m happy to say we’ve found a system that works for us (allowing employees ample breaks, notifying the rest of the team if they need to step away to take care of anything, ensuring that I have lots of one on one coaching sessions to make sure everyone knows exactly where they are at currently and what steps we can do to improve if necessary). I get that this type of work makes a lot of accommodations unreasonable due to the time constraints, but employers can have some grace and make sure they are adequately staffing their teams so the work can be completed.

      2. BHB*

        Yes, I thought call centre too. I worked a call centre job where they calculated idle/off-the-phone-time and it couldn’t be higher than a certain percentage of your logged-in time. I don’t remember all the specifics, but we calculated that on a typical 8 hour shift you had an “allowance” of 6 minutes for bathroom breaks.

        Well, this was a pretty big call centre, and the bathrooms were at one end of the office. If you happened to be sat the opposite end, it could take a minute or so to walk there. And there were frequent queues (at least in the ladies bathroom), meaning you could have burned through your 6 minute allowance before you’ve even entered the stall. It was horrendous.

    4. NeonDreams*

      I currently work in a call center and the limited amount of minutes we have on breaks is one of MANY reasons I want to leave. Not only do we have scheduled breaks, we have to take it at this certain time or it reflects badly on our metrics. Human bodies don’t care if my break isn’t scheduled for another 45 minutes. If I have to go now, I will.

    5. PT*

      I’ve rarely had a job that didn’t require coverage/restricted bathroom breaks. You put someone in a coverage gig and then make it impossible for them to get someone to cover for them to go to the bathroom. It’s very common.

      Those of you who are saying “Well I never” ought to check your privileges, hard.

  17. Akcipitrokulo*

    Re: Mary’s sticking to her agreed times –

    It was not Mary’s fault you got dumped with extra work.

    Mary had boundaries she told management about, and they agreed to them. She then stuck to those boundaries.

    If mnagement then decided to pish the overflow onto you, and you were unable to set your own boundaries, then that is between you and management.

    She was right not to allow herself to be drawn into that. Your problem was with management. Not her.

    1. CTT*

      But the LW says that Mary had deadlines she was not meeting, which to me means that she may have had agreed-upon boundaries with management, but she still was not accomplishing what she said she would within those boundaries.

        1. JelloStapler*

          If Mary was still there and she was not meeting deadline agreed upon within her work hours, it should be fixable as a PIP or a discussion about re-addressing her workload and position.

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, this is an issue. I do agree though that Mary is gone, so it’s not really useful anymore to be upset at Mary.

  18. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: I get the frustration believe me. We’ve had a year of lockdown (god, March 2020 to 2021 is a long time), nerves that aren’t frayed are in serious risk of being so, and the absolute last thing anyone needs is to be overwhelmed by work being inconsiderate bellends.

    However, and I’m saying this as a vocal childfree person, your blame is being slightly misdirected. Your coworker has left, it’s not her fault any longer. Your manager IS at fault.

    Clear communication needed. Managers aren’t mind readers (thank Cthulhu, I’d never get anything done if I could read people’s minds). I’m far more likely to listen to someone saying ‘I can do X, Y and Z during the workday but if you add A B and C on then I’ll have to let other work slide’ than ‘I can’t do all this!’. (Not saying you’re saying that).

    Facts. You can’t do 2 people’s jobs at once. You’ve been carrying an additional workload for a long time but it is no longer sustainable. Point out clearly the extent of all the additional work, detail exactly what you CAN reasonably do ongoing in your role and let the boss decide if they want to hire a full time, part time or whatever person to replace. You’ll have made it clear that dumping it all on you simply won’t work.

    And maybe book some time off for yourself if you can? I know all too well that intense strain of carrying way too much of other people’s workload and I really, really, needed to get my head clear for a few days before I’d calmed down from anxiety level burnout.

    1. Talia*

      I’m not sure it was ever Mary’s fault. If she took a part time 10-4 job around childcare she has no responsibility to show up for 08:00 training or to stay late and may well have told them when hired that she couldn’t. Also, why did the training require a 08.00 start? Why couldn’t it have started at 10 and gone over two days?

      The issue here seems to be that management hired 1.75 people (based on a 40 hour week and Mary doing 6 hours a day) for a job that required 100 (guessed figure) hours a week and their solution was to dump 70 of those hours on the OP. Does OP even know if Mary was hired full time? I suspect she wasn’t but for some reason management didn’t tell the OP.

      Mary not doing the work is a different issue but if she did have a child at home due to the schools being closed rather than being able to go along with a usual practice of working around school hours (which is what 10-4 sounds like to me) that’s at least partly a management fail too – they should have stayed on top of things. If Mary was being told not to worry about the work, it’s *wholly* a management fail.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Ah okay, on reread one sentence might have given that impression. Poor wording on my part, apologies. It’s not Mary’s fault at all is what I was trying to say and OP’s blame is misdirected (which I did say), it’s basically time to drop this onto management’s lap and tell them that their ‘let someone else do all the work’ plan just isn’t feasible.

        2. Talia*

          Well you said in you second paragraph it wasn’t Mary’s fault “any longer” (because she had left) which I assumed meant you thought it was at least partly her fault when she was still working for the company. Sorry if I misunderstood.

          1. Talia*

            And I missed your clarifying post because I hadn’t refreshed the page. Sorry about that – it looks like we agree that this is a manager issue not a Mary issue.

      1. Myrin*

        I feel like I might be missing something even after having read the letter three times now so maybe you can help me out – many of the comments say that Mary was part-time but I don’t see that anywhere in the letter? I actually read it as Mary should have been in the office roughly the same time as the OP but because that overlapped with childcare responsibilities she simply, well, wasn’t, and because management wanted to be accommodating, the just let it slide. Am I terribly misreading something here?

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Not just you mate, I read it as she had a full time job but was given accommodations to work fewer hours but management simply didn’t think what shunting that workload onto someone else did.

          ‘Course, I could be wrong!

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            That’s how I read it. The job is full-time, but Mary was working part-time hours with the responsibility for the extra time falling on the OP.

            I’ve been in the situation of an “accommodation” essentially being other people doing someone else’s work for them. It sucks, & it’s definitely the fault of management.

          1. Talia*

            My comment was on the basis that the OP seems to have assumed Mary was full time but doesn’t specifically say she was ever told that is the case. The manager is so poor, I think it equally likely Mary was hired part time but no one ever bothered to tell OP as that she just decided to show up over an hour late every morning and leave over an hour early every evening.

            Of course, the latter is more than possible – I don’t think either conclusion can be drawn from the letter.

        2. asgard*

          I agree. This was my take as well. Mary was full time but not putting in 8 hours because “parent!”. She was given a pass, but if you are single and childless you don’t get the same pass.

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          This was also my read. I said above that OP needs to be analytical and data driven in pushing back that I just can’t do all of this. I also included a bit about if necessary or wanted getting approval for overtime pay in writing (if they won’t approve overtime pay – I’m not working overtime). Management helped to create the mess – management gets to figure out how to fix the mess (and just dumping it all on OP isn’t the solution).

        4. The Original K.*

          That’s how I read it – that Mary was supposed to be full-time but only worked part-time hours, and management just let it slide in the name of being accommodating.

        5. Malarkey01*

          I’ve latched on to PT reference, because at 6 hours a day, she was PT. Even if the position was originally slated for FT. Her management negotiated PT hours with her, and that’s just the reality. It wasn’t like she was suppose to be scheduled for 40 hours and just didn’t do it and management was unaware.

          1. Letter Writer #1*

            Unfortunately that’s exactly what the situation was. I had previously read advice that if I had time to complain about other people’s hours, you don’t have enough work… so I never brought it up.

  19. pleaset cheap rolls*

    On #3

    On #3.

    Here’s how I’d do it in terms of arrivals.

    Run a test meeting on the same platform the interview will be on. If it’s a platform you’re comfortable with, five minutes ahead if enough. If you rarely use it, do it 10 minute before AND test that platform as soon as you learn you’ll be using it – even days before.

    Leave your test meeting a few minutes early, then connect about one minute early or the instant the meeting is scheduled to start.

  20. NewYork*

    OP1, I doubt they will stop dumping work on you, and you will need to look for a job. I would document everything going on. Many states have laws against different working conditions based on family status. I suspect there will be lawsuits on this after the pandemic is over.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Not an expert on US law at all, but don’t see how this is lawsuit worthy?

      1. NewYork*

        If you were working substantially more hours without compensation, you might see it differently. Many i the US are exempt from overtime laws. Try it this way, if one race had to work longer hours than another, would that be lawsuit worthy?

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I am not seeing anything in OP’s letter that is even remotely comparable to the very severe and real issues of racism?

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Race is a legally protected characteristic in many countries (that is, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of race) but family status typically isn’t. The analogy doesn’t hold.

            1. Sylvan*

              NY is one state in one country. If you’re only talking about the US, then family status isn’t a protected class at the federal level, and it’s not protected in many states.

            2. Spencer Hastings*

              Isn’t it more the other way around? Like making sure people don’t get punished for taking maternity leave and that kind of thing?

            3. Temperance*

              For housing on a federal level. Not for employment, and typically, when used, isn’t about childless people getting treated worse, but people with children.

          1. Clisby*

            In the US, as far as I know, there’s no federal ban on discrimination based on family status. States can have those protections, however.

            I’m in SC, and state law forbids housing discrimination based on family status, but I can’t find any indication this protection applies anywhere else (like employment.)

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I think the point NewYork trying to make is that in a state where familial status is a (state) protected class, they think this could rise to the level of OP1 being discriminated against due to familial status? IANAL, but I imagine you gotta have a heck of a lot more than “my employer accommodated a parent” to make that case.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Fair. I guess it’d be like my coworker claiming discrimination because she picked up my work when my disabilities put me out for a while. It…wouldn’t really rise to a discrimination claim legally though unless the behavior was severe and pervasive. I think.

  21. Wrench Turner*

    For #2 As a service contractor (HVAC, electrical, plumbing, etc), I’m furious with any employer in a fixed environment that stands in the way of bathroom breaks. I don’t always get them. Sometimes people just don’t want me using theirs in their home or business (sucks but oh well), sometimes they’re simply not functional (under construction or terribly broke), and sometimes pandemics close restaurants, libraries and every other place I might find to stop while I’m out on the road for 9+hrs a day. It’s one thing to have no bathroom available at all, but another to be prohibited from using the one that’s right there entirely. Don’t be that manager, and don’t let your manager be that manager either. This is absolutely something I would change jobs over, voluntarily or otherwise.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      My nephew is a builder and has showed me a news article recently about councils having serious problems cleaning up human waste from parks, footpaths etc due to so many businesses closing, people being unwilling to let contractors use the facilities in their place of work, really restrictive ‘you can’t use the loo here if you’re not an employee’, public loos being shut etc. Ashamed to admit I’d never even thought about the impact on people who go from place to place for work.

      Gonna have a chat with our facilities manager and make darn sure we’re providing loo access for our electrician/engineer/etc. Thank you for reminding me.

      1. Tidewater 4-1009*

        Last summer some activists and I had a meeting in a park, following the rules of outdoor meeting, social distance, etc.
        There was drinking of beer, soda, and water at this meeting. I was there for at least two hours and it was about an hour from where I live, so it had been a while when I arrived.
        There was a field house in the park – and it was fenced off and locked and had tarps over it.
        We ended up going into some trees off the side to pee. One of us had been to this park before and knew of people doing this. As we were leaving the tree area, others were coming.
        I don’t know what else they expect when they lock down the only building and no open businesses for a few blocks.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Wow, do people really refuse to let service providers use their bathroom? I get it that sometimes one literally isn’t available, but I can’t imagine denying my functioning bathroom to anyone who is in my house.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I read on a AMA once that many service providers are explicitly prohibited by their company from asking if they can use your home’s bathroom, but they can accept if you offer it. Since then, I’ve made sure to offer use of the bathroom to anyone coming into my house to do work!

        1. Phony Genius*

          I had a plumber replace a toilet and refused to use it before he left. He felt the owner had “the right of the first poop” (his words, not mine).

        2. the cat's ass*

          That’s good to know. If you’re in my home fixing something (and we had a fire 3 years ago so there was a LOT of fixing), I always have coffee/tea/nibbles and sometimes lunch available for crafts/electric/HVAC roofing/plumbing people. And if you get food and drinks, you’ve GOT TO offer the bathroom, too! You’ve just explained to me why some of those lovely people looked startled with my, “the bathroom’s right there, next to the kitchen.”

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I’ve done this as well 99 percent of the time. There was only one service contractor I refused to allow in my bathroom – because he acted like he should have had full run of my house for an entire day, I was a pest because I didn’t leave my house the minute he arrived on property, and then wanted to argue with me about what he was doing (he was a plumber and was sloping the drain lines totally wrong for the new laundry room – sorry bub, without an Archimedes Screw water does not flow uphill).

            Every other contractor has gotten tea, coffee, water and snacks and directions to the half bath off the kitchen.

      2. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        Yep. They exist. As a summer-intern level newbie who had to do residential field work for quote proposals, the number of times I was denied permission to use a loo was on the order of > once a week. I was in the field roughly 30 hours a week, usually hit 20-ish quote proposals per week. So 1-2 out of between somewhere on the order of 20.

        And if we’re going to consider demographics of the asker – young (looked younger than I was), white, and female. I was typically asking fairly well-off suburban women in a very well educated and fairly wealthy area.

        1. Kitry*

          That’s so bizarre! I am sorry you had to deal with that. Did they ever give any reasons for refusing?

        2. Tidewater 4-1009*

          If you’re a man, it’s reasonable for women to be cautious about letting men they don’t know into their homes. That’s the only good reason I know of.
          This doesn’t apply to a tradesman who is already doing work in the home, though.

      3. Phony Genius*

        Pro tip: If you’re working a job in somebody’s house, ask to use the bathroom before you start work. My last electrician did this. It crossed my mind that “what would he do to my wiring if I say no?” If others think the same way, you’ll get a lot fewer denials.

      4. Wrench Turner*

        Yes. Generally speaking mine and others I’ve heard of discourage it. Some customers have entirely refused. I try not to ask unless I really mean it. It’s a blessing if you offer. Pandemics do weird things to people, let alone class attitudes.

    3. I'm just here for the cats*

      I wonder if the reason why some people don’t let workers into the bathroom is because they are afraid the worker will snoop through their cabinets looking for meds. I remember reading something a while ago about how this has gotten to be more common (not specifically with workers but in general people coming to others’ houses). However, if that’s the case the simple thing is to KEEP YOUR MEDS ELSEWHERE! For a lot of meds its actually not good to keep them in the bathroom because it gets too hot with the shower steam.

  22. KatieHR*

    LW #2 Do you work in a production environment? I work at a meat manufacturing plant where production workers are on a line. A worker is not able to just step away without asking for permission because it would mess up the whole line. We have supervisors and line leads that a TM is able to flag down so they can go to the bathroom. Most supervisors and line leads are pretty good about this. Every once in a while we will get someone that comes and talks with HR about bathroom breaks. Sometimes it is an accomodation conversation and other times the supervisor just needs some additional coaching.

    1. NoWeeWeeForYou*

      Same with auto factories. I used to be work on the assembly line putting trucks together, and you can’t just step away. You have to ask your manager for someone to cover for you.

  23. Roscoe*

    #3 While I’m not doing interviews, I do a lot of external meetings on zoom. Basically, I start them no more than 2 minutes early. At 2 minutes past meeting time, I’m calling them. Assuming I get voice mail, I’ll say I’m leaving it open another 6-7 minutes (usually until no later 10 after meeting time). I understand you may not want to wait that long. But I do think a bit of a grace period is nice, even if annoying. As many interviewers as I’ve had to wait on over the years, I can’t bring myself to get to upset about interviewees not being right on time.

  24. Emilitron*

    On #4, maybe they intended to draw the line between between former colleagues/managers who know your work, versus former employers, as in the HR dept or owner of a small business that you worked for who they’d be contacting anyway in their background check – i.e. avoiding the “please don’t call my boss since they don’t know I’m searching” avoiding that thing where HR can only confirm dates of employment and job title. It’s terribly worded, but not necessarily intended as stupid as it sounds.

    1. SpecialSpecialist*

      That’s how I read it. “Don’t give us a reference to the person who employed/managed you.” It seems like co-workers would still be ok.

  25. Welder*

    LW#2 sounds like they work in either a factory or fast food. If a factory, I know we had scheduled breaks because a stop in the line would be an issue. But y’know, they would still let us use the restroom if we needed to!

    1. Grim*

      Or they work for Amazon ina ‘fulfillment’ center.
      Time to hand out diapers to the new hires!

  26. Noncompliance Officer*

    LW#1: So there was recently a similarly themed article in Dear Prudence on Slate about a coworker with ADA accommodations. If you approach this as, “It’s not fair that Mary has X accommodations due to Y circumstances in her life,” the conversation with your employer is never going to go well. The correct way to approach it is to talk about what you are experiencing in your own work. Maybe that is due to Mary’s accommodations, but you shouldn’t point that out. That just gives your employer the opportunity to write you off as bitter, jealous, etc. instead of initiating a real conversation about your workload.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Mary’s gone, so it’s very unlikely it’d be brought up in that manner now anyway. The point OP needs to make about hiring Mary’s replacement is the importance of the candidate being able to work the normal schedule for coverage reasons.

  27. Lacey*

    I mean, OP 2 is the shift lead at a fast casual restaurant, right?
    They probably do need their employees to ask before using the restroom or they could end up burning food or something, but in a normal situation it would be, “please finish x first” or “wait till we’ve taken care of these two customers” or what-have-you.

    Could also be a small retail store, but those usually don’t have the same frantic feeling if someone stays in the restroom for a little bit.

    Because this wouldn’t happen in an office. In an office you don’t start getting upset at people until the develop the habit of occupying the only restroom for an hour every day for a month.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      — Because this wouldn’t happen in an office

      Read upwards! It does. It absolutely does.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      I got big restaurant vibes from this, yeah. If that’s the case then the boss can tell the employee not to just leave without telling anyone, but they can’t just forbid her from taking bathroom breaks. (I mean, if it bothers them that much then just say it’s a smoke break and see if that’s any more acceptable…)

      1. Lacey*

        Yeah, it makes sense that they wouldn’t want people just disappearing during the dinner rush, it’s absurd that they’d expect them not to go at all. Also a good point about smoke breaks.

      2. Tidewater 4-1009*

        In my restaurant days you were expected to use the restroom and whatever else you needed before the rush. Back then my colleagues took drags off their cigs in the back room when they went to get the food… :p
        Whether restroom or smoke break, wouldn’t they still expect it to be done before the rush?

    3. I'm just here for the cats*

      I took it that maybe its some type of production work, like factory, or maybe a warehouse type of job. But I could also see this at a call center. Had a job where we had to sign in and out from bathrooms with the time.

  28. Alex*

    “That is now how you treat adults.”

    I just want to put out there that that shouldn’t be how you treat children, either, even though I know it often happens in school. Everyone, no matter their age, deserves access to a restroom whenever they need it!

    1. Campfire Raccoon*

      Seriously. When a kid says they have to go, it should always be treated as the truth and a semi-emergency.

  29. AndersonDarling*

    #1 There may be another piece to the Mary puzzle. She was likely looking for a new job for a while and probably had mentally checked out of work. In that case, it doesn’t matter if she was or wasn’t a parent. She asked for flexibility from management for a reason, they gave it to her, she took advantage of the arrangement and slowly stopped doing her work because there wasn’t much accountability. Or maybe she was being reprimanded by management but she didn’t care because she already had a foot out the door.
    So there isn’t any reason to bring up how much of a disaster Mary’s work was. Personally, I may gripe a bit about it just so my manager knows how long it will take to get things in order, but I wouldn’t make it a formal complaint.

    1. Letter Writer #1*

      That absolutely was a contributing factor, as I know she was looking prior to the pandemic.
      I guess, the reason I brought up her being a parent was because that was always the reasoning that management would give us, i.e “I understand that the training is at 8:00am, but we might have to push that back if possible. We all have to show a little bit more understanding since she’s a single parent.”

      Also, this is also a manager that exudes what I’ve come to learn as “toxic positivity”

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Ug, sympathies mate. Toxic positive people are an absolute nightmare to deal with (no, my disability isn’t a ‘opportunity to excel!’).

        Make sure you get some time to chill between exposure to such people. It can do a number on your stress levels.

  30. I'm just here for the cats*

    #2. Does anyone know if an employer can doc the time used in the bathroom from your required breaks (not unpaid lunch but paid 10 minute breaks)? I had an employer where we had to sign in and out to use bathroom and put down the time. I had to get FMLA because I was having stomach issues. But they still diced your time. So like if you were in the bathroom for 5 minutes you had to take 5 minutes off your break time. Does OSHA make any requirements for that?

  31. I'm just here for the cats*

    Also #3 make sure the person your interviewing has a phone number for you, not just an email to contact you. If they arent on the zoom call because if internet issues then they won’t be able to email you. Give a phone number where they can actually reach you. Not just a generic switchboard phone number.

  32. TotesMaGoats*

    #2-Don’t police your employees bathroom activities. I had a colleague at my same level we called “Crazy Karen” because she did that. Her staff (professional adults) ask permission to go to the bathroom, she also made them cook and bring her food and generally terrorized her staff to the point that people quit without notice who had long tenure.

  33. Brett*

    Is the OP certain that there is not a conditional background check involved for this job? The language sounds identical to what local and state government often uses for background check references, and it is very common in those jobs to ask for the reference list on the application. If there is also any authorization to check tax records or credit records, then it is almost certain for a background check if a conditional offer is extended.

    In that situation, the references should be people who the OP knows personally who are not family, i.e. friends. And these need to be people the OP can trust to give solid references, and the OP should coach those friends because one of the questions asked of them will be, “Do you know additional people who could provide a reference on OP? Do you have contact information for them?” Those additional people should be OP’s other personal references.

    1. LW4*

      From what I read on their site, they have a criminal background check component, but I don’t think it’s a position that requires any kind of clearance. I didn’t see anything about checking tax or financial records.

      1. Brett*

        It is not a clearance, that is pretty much just the realm of federal government. If there is a criminal background check, then those are likely personal references for the background check. Normally the financial check goes with the background check for local, but not always. If there was a release of financial records, I would say it was certain there is a background check too.
        If you want to find out for sure, ask HR if there is a background interview after a conditional offer is extended. (If you want to make it seem benign, ask if there is an interview and how the interview is currently conducted, which is a legitimate question for anyone.)
        If there is a background interview, then they are going to use those personal references to investigate your background. It will be simple things like if they know if you have ever been arrested or charged with a crime. From previous job, I learned that sometimes people give exactly the wrong person for personal reference and next you know you have a reference saying, “Oh, they have never been arrested, but they should have because they did XYZ!”
        Again, not the same as a clearance, but the interviews are similar in structure.

        What kind of organization is this btw? Government? Quasi-governmental? Non-Profit? Highly regulated industry?

        1. LW4*

          It’s a tribal college, so a non-profit higher-ed institution and very much a governmental gray area. Obviously, it’s overseen by the local tribal authorities but I don’t know this particular tribe’s autonomous status or relationship with the federal government.

  34. Grim*

    #2 could be an Amazon fulfillment center. The workers job is delineated by their handheld scanner, and there is no barcode to scan for bathroom break.

    BTW, the bathroom is a 10-15 minute walk away. Strong bladders and colons required.

  35. CountryLass*

    #2, the only thing I would add here, is rather than the employee requesting permission, is it possible she is alerting you to the fact that that area/department may be short-handed for a brief period of time? Where I work, usually you just go when you need to, however if there is only two in, or if one is going to be tied up with something which means they cannot answer the phone, deal with visitors etc, then it is common to hear “Can I nip to the loo before you X?” Usually met (from most of us) with either ” of course!” or “Nah, wet yourself!” followed by a chuckle, friendly insults and the person going to the loo anyway.

    But you cannot stop someone from going to the loo!

  36. Ash*

    We do have a problem with workers taking excessive amounts of time in the restroom, to the point where lines form as people wait for the 4 individual bathrooms that we have for 2 floors of people (probably about 50 employees total). I definitely hear videos and such playing through the door at times. I get that in an open office floor plan, it’s hard to find places to be alone for a moment, but the bathroom should not be that place. It doesn’t sound like the employee in question is screwing around in the bathroom, and that’s precisely why people who don’t have medical conditions or otherwise need the bathroom for extended periods of time *should* finish up as quickly as they can–they are making it challenging for other people to access the restroom when they need it.

      1. Ash*

        I don’t think so. My company generally speaking is really hands-off about stuff like this and believes in adults being treated like adults. I think putting up a sign saying “please try to finish up quickly, especially if people are waiting” may be helpful. But I don’t know how much anything would actually change.

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        I’m sorry, but when I have an IBS flare-up I can be in the bathroom for 10+ minutes. And instead of staring at a blank wall I will do something on my phone.

        The real problem is that your company doesn’t have enough bathrooms for everyone, especially if a large amount of people take breaks at the same time.

    1. Nanani*

      What’s wrong with watching a video while constipated though? Or just wanting to hide the sound of whatever their business is?
      You “hearing video” does not mean they aren’t also using the toilet for toilet reasons.

      Insufficient toilet availability also isn’t your employee’s fault.

  37. NeonDreams*

    I currently work in a call center and the limited amount of minutes we have on breaks is one of MANY reasons I want to leave. Not only do we have scheduled breaks, we have to take it at this certain time or it reflects badly on our metrics. Human bodies don’t care if my break isn’t scheduled for another 45 minutes. If I have to go now, I will.

  38. TootsNYC*

    re: paint colors.

    The article that was linked says this:

    Tissue Pink “reflects beautifully on the skin, especially when paired with warm lighting,” she says. “This makes it a go-to color for a powder room, dressing room, or master bathroom, where we want to look in the mirror and feel great.”

    A little while ago, I ran into a comment about how medical indicators like “turning blue” or “pale” often aren’t helpful when your patient is a person of color, specifically a Black person, and especially if their skin tone is darker.

    And so I wonder here–has this person checked this out on people with non-white skin? It might be just fine–we all have blood, which is red, and that has to influence our skin tone somehow. I’ve personally had Black colleagues who looked great in a pink shirt.

    But I’m hyper alert to the term “skin” when paired with appearance judgments.

  39. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    OP #3:
    Set up a Google number that only allows text messages and goes to your phone. You can give that number to interviewees to use in case there are technical issues with Zoom. That way, they can reach you in real time without you providing your personal number.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Why would the interviewer have to go to such lengths for a phone number. Even working from home their should be a phone number (that’s not the OP’s personal number) that can be given to interviewees. For my job we have Jabber. I know some places have something similar.
      I mean, if this was normal times and the interviewee was coming in person to the interview wouldn’t they give an office phone number?

  40. Gawaine*

    #4 – My mind goes to jobs that require security clearances. When you go to get a clearance, you need to provide a variety of references, and some jobs will ask for the names ahead of time just so they can make sure you’re ready to answer the question. They may not call them, themselves, but want to see if you can list anyone so they’re ready to go.

    I’ve also seen something like that for jobs related to after-school activities, where they do want to call them, because they’re hoping to get a view into who you are off the clock. Some horrific stories revolve around people who’re able to hide themselves from their manager, but everyone who knew them knew they weren’t suitable to be around people after work.

    1. LW4*

      I can understand asking for character references, but the position/institution didn’t mention anything about a security clearance. It’s also an office/clerical role with standard business hours that is not geared towards minors (though, plausibly, there might be some 17-year-old/end-of-high school clients).

      Not related to this role, but I have a significant positive track record of working with youth, and all of my references are from that particular service. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked for personal references to work with kids through that employer.

  41. Letter Writer #1*

    Thanks Alison, and thanks commenters on your feedback.

    A few things I want to clear up: Mary was hired on as FT which is why her hours bothered me so much initially, and which is why her status as a parent came in. We are also at a satellite location, so our manager is not in the same building as we are (which is where my concern for being the hours police came in). We are also non-exempt (no OT). Without getting into the specifics of my job, we work in healthcare, so even though both Mary and I were managed by the same person, we had other people from other companies and departments to answer to. A majority of our early mornings and late nights were due to patient timelines, so not something that is easily rescheduled.

    Additionally, when I first started working with Mary, we were each others back ups on our projects and when I would have downtime, I would try to help her workload. I was explicitly told by her that this was her responsibility and that she didn’t want me to mess things up (my opinion is that it was really so that she could pad her time with other items and have no one any wiser). As my workload increased, I didn’t have time to push back on that statement and I actually preferred her not to be on my projects as it would consistently have to be redone. This was something that was documented with management (there was a consistent pattern of other coworkers not wanting her on their projects and a spreadsheet of instances as it takes a LOT for anyone to get fired in this field). As the pandemic happened, our project paths were in completely opposite directions, so I didn’t have to work with Mary as often and as I was so tired from working a 7-7 M-F week, I didn’t have the bandwidth to worry about Mary or her work or her hours.

    I’ve spoken with our manager multiple times about my workload and have a very extensive to-do list, which I have shared with her, but due to the pandemic, our hospital had a hiring freeze for all departments that’s not directly working with COVID patients, so even though we are looking (and can hire) a replacement, we can’t get any additional support.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I think you meant to say that you are exempt, since only exempt employees are ineligible for overtime. Non-exempt employees are eligible to overtime. But the reason I am bringing it up is to make sure you really know what your status is. Allison has addressed this question multiple times, and generally a lot of people who are salaries assume they are exempt, but quite a lot of salaried jobs are non-exempt.

      Here’s a good post about the differences: https://www.askamanager.org/exempt-and-non-exempt#:~:text=Ask%20a%20Manager,-Menu&text=Non%2Dexempt%20workers%20must%20be,(See%20below.)

      It is worthwhile to check your status, because if you can prove you are in fact non-exempt, you can force your employer to start paying overtime, and they will have to cut down your workload, or pay. I am guessing your manager will change her tune if that happens!

      1. Letter Writer #1*

        Oops, yes. At our company, all salaried (both PT and FT) fall under exempt employees.

    2. Becca*

      It sounds like you had a bad coworker and a bad manager and the bad manager was content to dump extra work on you rather than manage bad coworker (or hire another person). It sounds like there would be a lot of practical constraints on getting this solved right away, which sucks. FWIW I’ve had luck using Allison’s strategies like saying “I have xyz tasks and X hours, what would you like me to prioritize?” with both meh and good bosses because it seems to remind them that my hours are finite and I get more direct answers than when I used to say “I can’t finish this all.”

  42. Scott D*

    This comment is coming in a bit late, but, rather than painting a room, I would STRONGLY recommend investing in a GOOD key light. It will cost about $100 but will make you look fantastic in meetings. The one I have lets me adjust the light color so I can pick the one most flattering to my complexion. A key light also takes YEARS off your appearance–just ask most actors. It will do *MUCH* more for you than painting a room and cost a lot less money.

  43. YRH*

    #4, could they be asking for a co-worker reference? To me, a previous employers reads your old managers.

  44. Retired Lady*

    One of my pet peeves is having to wait outside the handicap stall (that I need due to age and some mobility issues) at the store that starts with W and ends with mart, and the person who eventually comes out is a young employee holding her phone!

    1. hey_nonny_annonnymous*

      Young people with phones can have mobility issues as well. Or other issues that required them to use the first available stall and be in there for a while. Let’s try to have some grace with each other.

  45. Black Horse Dancing*

    I’m kind of surprised with Alison’s answer to #2. Getting permission for the bathroom os very common in line work/manufacturing/meat plants/processing, etc. I’m also more acutely aware of how white collar/no manufacturing background this site is. If you have a line running, the workers absolutely call their supervisors and state they need a break. There are regularly scheduled breaks where it is expected people use the bathroom. And if you have an emergency, you tell your supervisor that so the line can be covered.

  46. OPof#2*

    Hello, I am the OP of #2 and wanted to try and answer some of the questions others have asked. Somebody asked “what kind of environment this is where you have to ask to use the restroom?” The work environment is a warehouse environment. The type of work this person does is a box line worker which requires somebody to be there. Somebody asked if she is away if it makes a problem. Kind of but not really. There is a “trash line” where boxes go if they don’t get scanned properly and that fills up quickly if she isn’t there to do her job. Once that line fills up it will stop her line and everyone before it until it gets cleared out.

    Somebody asked if my trainer holds it in all night. No, she does not. She is a hypocrite. She will go usually once between actual breaks. We have two breaks in our 8hr shift. She will go either once or twice a night between breaks.

    Her and I used to do the same work of the girl she is complaining about. My trainer would disappear from her spot for up to half an hour sometimes while I’m left working. She has moved up in the workplace faster than I, she is younger than I am. I am a more patient person whereas she is very impatient. Impatient as in calling out people on the intercom by name for the rest of the building to hear if they don’t respond or acknowledge her. It’s embarrassing. I feel like her age might have something to do with her attitude towards the situation. This is not to paint her in a bad light but so other readers get an idea of the type of person she is. I feel like she gets away with some of her behavior because she has multiple family members in higher positions of authority. I feel like she lacks empathy.

    More about the workplace: there is favoritism, osha is a joke(I see safety violations all the time), certain rules aren’t enforced and some are, there isn’t a union, there is lack of employees so management is “afraid” to fire any problem people because it is hard to replace them unless their job position is easy to fill.

    Lastly, I wanted to say thank you for everyone who commented and shared their perspective on the situation. I have never been in this situation or had this “authority” over somebody. I wasn’t sure if I was in the right or in the wrong. A coworker who is higher up than me told me “you are in a leadership position, people look at you as a leader.” Which is true in a sense. The job position my trainer does and what I was being trained to do pretty much runs the entire building. If she doesn’t show up, my supervisor has to fill in, and he hates the job. Now since I am training, I will be the one filling in. But before if she didn’t show up and my supervisor had the day off, the building couldn’t run, meaning loss of progress, leading to overtime to get caught up. That’s how crucial this position is. Having “authority” and a leadership role, being human is more important to me. How can you be a leader, or in a leadership position, and not be human enough to deny somebody bathroom privileges?

    Thank you all again.

    1. Richard*

      Yeah, that all adds up. I hope you can push back against her where you can and generally be decent when you’re the one supervising.

  47. Ciela*

    #2 I used to have a coworker who spent far too long in the bathroom every day, but he wasn’t in there doing bathroom things. He was having loud cell phone conversations with his girlfriend, every day, for half the time he was on the clock. People would ask “did Wakeen show up today? I haven’t seen him.” Because of where the bathroom was located, you could only hear him having these animated conversations if you were in the warehouse. So yeah, there was a talk about having very long personal calls while on the clock. NOT about using the bathroom as often as one might need.

  48. Hunnybee*

    I’ve logged into interview calls early and found myself zoom bombing another meeting. : ) Since then, I only log in at the exact time of meeting start, although I’m ready for the interview much earlier.

  49. bbee*

    As someone with lifelong ulcerative colitis who regularly had accidents as a child because of controlling teachers who thought I was making up my needs despite being told otherwise by parents/doctor notes, #2 has me quite incensed. That’s not a problem I should have dealt with even in elementary school and it’s certainly not a problem an adult hired to do a job should have either.

  50. Jennifer*

    Re: bathroom breaks

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this were some sort of call center. When I worked at one, any time spent not taking calls was monitored, and if the bosses felt the time you spent away from the phone was excessive, you could be reprimanded or even fired. You’re just a number there and not treated like a real human being that needs to eat, drink water, and use the restroom. I don’t think they seem to realize that this policy actually hurts people that have medical issues that require them to take extra bathroom breaks, not to mention people that deal with menstruation. Or maybe they don’t care. Either way, OP, continue to stand up to your trainer and don’t require adults to ask to use the bathroom.

    1. Jennifer*

      I just saw it’s a warehouse job. Still think this is a terrible policy. Kudos to the OP for pushing back.

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