lunch meetings when I can’t eat, I’ve fired my new employee before, and more

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

1. Lunch meetings when I can’t eat

I’m about to enter an industry that encourages people to communicate with each other, especially through the grand event of “let’s have lunch.” My biggest secret is that I have a rare lifelong eating disorder that makes it very hard to eat with people. When I usually have lunch with people, I’d rather sip on some coffee and still be engaged in the conversation. Knowing that buying someone lunch is a way to show kindness, especially between professionals, I am not ready for this. The worst case scenario is for the other party to think they are doing a very kind service of ordering something for me. Insisting that I eat when I am not in the right space can be insanely triggering and can lead to me having an emotional breakdown. These “rules” do have exceptions, however. For example, I am more likely able to eat breakfast than lunch and dinner.

Having a lunch meeting is inevitable. How can I still participate in lunch conversations without having to eat nor explain my condition?

If these meals are with groups, this will be easier to navigate; people won’t be as focused on what you’re eating or not eating and you can likely get away with just coffee and something small that you push around on the plate (if you’re comfortable with that). But in a one-on-one meeting, it can feel pretty awkward to be the only person eating and it’s more likely to become A Thing. So for any meetings that will just be you and one other person, suggest breakfast or coffee. People are often glad for the opportunity to change things up (and both of those can be shorter than lunch, which people often appreciate). But if someone is really pushing lunch, try saying, “I’ve got some food restrictions that make it hard to order off most menus, but I’m happy to just have coffee if you want to do lunch.” (Then it’s up to them if they want to be the sole eater.)

It’s unlikely that someone will order something for you (that’s not something people normally do in business situations, especially if you’ve already said you have food restrictions) but if someone does, jump in with, “Thanks for offering but I hate to waste food, so I’ll stick with coffee.” Typically when someone pushes food in a context like this, they’re worried about you not having what you need or that you’re unhappy/being deprived, so the more you can be breezy and cheerful about it, the better: “Oh, I’m used to it, I don’t mind at all!” — “Any time I have coffee is a win for me!” — “Nah, I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me at all. So tell me about Work Topic X!”

2. I’ve fired my new employee before

I recently took a job in my same industry and city. In my new role, I’ll have a team of eight reporting to me in various capacities and functions. During the interview process, I got a brief read-out of the team and a high level talent assessment. Nothing stood out as an issue. On my first day, I met the team reporting to me. One of the people on the team is someone that worked for me before and who I terminated for cause due to performance at my previous job.

What do I communicate to my new manager and/or HR about this situation? It feels weird to say nothing because ultimately, this could be a management issue — I’m sure this employee doesn’t feel great about the situation. On the other hand, I don’t want to risk harming this person’s reputation at this company if they are doing a good job so far. This person is pretty new here, too, and my impression is they are either doing a better job in this role or management has not yet identified an issue with their performance.

Have you talked to the employee yet? That’s important because they are undoubtedly really uncomfortable, if not outright panicking. Ideally you’d tell them that you’re happy to be working with them again, you’ve heard good things about the work they’ve been doing (if that’s true), and while you know your last time working together didn’t go the way either of you wanted, this is a different situation and, as far you’re concerned, both of you are starting fresh.

I do think you’re right that you need to mention it to your own manager or HR. It sucks because this person is entitled to a fresh start without the firing following them to a different job, but I’d be pretty concerned if I found out someone I managed didn’t share something so potentially relevant with me. It’s relevant not as a predictor of the person’s work now but because it could affect the dynamic between the two of you, and either of you could struggle not to interpret things through that old lens. I’d keep it very brief — “I managed Jane at an old job and unfortunately the fit wasn’t right and we ended up parting ways. I’m very willing to start fresh with her and I’m hopeful the role she’s in could be a great a match, but I figured you’d want to be aware of the prior work relationship.” Also, if it’s been a while since you worked together, stress that too.

3. Visible nipple piercings at work

I work in healthcare, and one of our front desk staff has nipple piercings that are easily visible through her shirt (to the degree that it is obvious what type of jewelry she is wearing).

Although I am generally firmly in the camp of “your underwear (/piercings) are your own business,” is it appropriate to ask her to conceal her piercings more effectively? If so, how does one have that conversation?

Maybe it’s because my brain is completely burned out after Wednesday’s speed round (in which I answered 76 QUESTIONS IN TWO HOURS and may never recover) but I’m honestly not sure where I stand on this. I can come up with a bunch of justifications for saying you can’t have distracting piercings at work (no matter where they are) and I can come up with a bunch of reasons why you should leave it alone. In general, my bias is to err on the side of giving people maximum freedom unless you have a good reason not to, but that doesn’t always work when you’re dealing with front desk staff who are the face of your business. If you had a “no visible non-ear piercings” policy, that would cover this — but I don’t want you to implement that policy just to deal with this since it would ban other piercings that you might otherwise have been fine with.

Ultimately, I think the right answer is that you can/should address it, but I can’t seem to get myself all the way there … and I’m sure it’s because I’m so tired of people having opinions about how women’s breasts show up at work … even though I know this is different from those situations. Thoughts from others?

(It’s also an interesting thought exercise to think about how you’d handle this if it were a highly visible Prince Albert piercing on a man.) (Do not google that at work.)

4. Can I use a second job offer to get more money after I’ve already accepted a different offer?

Last year, I (unsuccessfully) attempted to negotiate my existing contract with my employer of five years as it was no longer working for me and my family. My boss listened to my concerns, but I was told that our industry was hurting from COVID and the changes I was seeking were not possible then. A week later, I was furloughed for several months. At the end of my furlough, my employer let me know my job was still available to me, but my contract would remain unchanged. I had a job offer in a new role in the same industry, which I accepted, and told my employer I would not be coming back. We parted on good terms.

After six months at my new job, I realized this new role was not for me. After a chance encounter with my former employer’s biggest competitor, I was offered my old role at this new company, with all the terms I was previously seeking. I accepted the position and have a start date in the coming weeks.

My industry is small, and this morning my former manager reached out to me saying that he heard I’m going to this new company and was upset I didn’t reach out to him about moving back into my old role. He mentioned that they are expanding their workforce, and asked if I would be open to talking about changes that have been implemented there and what it would take to have me return! I accepted the meeting but have no intention of returning there regardless of how good the offer is. My intention was to see what they offer and then go to my new job, tell them my old employer made an unsolicited offer, and see if they can offer me a signing bonus. In my industry, signing bonuses are very common. I was not offered one with my initial offer, but I know they have offered them in the past to try and entice people to join their company.

Is this acceptable practice, or does this have the potential of blowing up in my face? I’ve never been in this position before, and I figure it doesn’t hurt to ask, right?

No, it could hurt to ask. You’ve accepted their offer, and you’d basically be going back to them and saying, “I might not take this job after all, unless we can renegotiate compensation” — which will make it look like you haven’t been operating in good faith. (What if they came back to you after you’d accepted the job and wanted to pay you less?) You can walk away from the new job if you want (it will likely burn the bridge, but you can do it if you want to take the old job), but you can’t say, “Wait, I changed my mind and now I want more.”

Frankly, I wouldn’t take that meeting with your old boss at all if you’re positive you have no intention of returning. That would be operating in bad faith with both employers and it’s not a good way to navigate your career. (There’s usually no harm in hearing people out, but in this case you’d be wasting their time solely in the hopes of using it to get more money from someone else, and you risk that someone else telling you that you should go ahead and take the other offer, which you don’t even want.)

5. My colleague keeps canceling on me, and it’s jeopardizing a deadline

I am supposed to be trained on a particular platform for evaluating students. The person responsible for this training has said they would meet with me on three different occasions, but they have never shown up; always something came up. I have done what I can in the system by reaching out to fellow colleagues, but the next steps must involve the training person. If the data is not submitted by end of April there will be tough consequences, district and state-wide. How do I approach them with a firm understanding that we must meet? Do I go to my supervisor? Help!

Do two things: let the person know that you absolutely must have the data submitted by the end of the month, which means you need the training no later than X (to give you time to actually do the work after you’re trained), and ask how to nail down a time that they can absolutely commit to. Then give your boss a heads-up about what’s going on and how you’re handling it, so that she’s aware of the situation and so she can intervene if she wants to.

{ 556 comments… read them below }

  1. PollyQ*

    #3 — This is a case where the question could apply to any gender (along with any other mammals that might be employees). I don’t know that I’d care that much about it either way, but “No visible nipple piercings” doesn’t strike me as unreasonable as long as it’s applied equally to everyone.

    1. singlemaltgirl*

      agreed – i think this is gender neutral as my advice would pertain to anyone with nipples and as far as i know, all genders of the human species have them unless they’ve been surgically altered in some way. so i would address it particularly if it’s front facing staff and could affect the reputation or professional reputation of your biz. i would ask that they ensure the nipple piercings are not obvious.

      put it in the dress code along with any other piercings you feel might impact your biz rep only if you have to. just make sure it applies to all genders. for some more conservative biz, a lot of face piercings, for instance, could be harmful to the brand, too. as long as it doesn’t just apply to one gender, i think you can put this in your code. but i’d have a word with them first. if they’re not going to address it themselves, then you’ve got to code it. or live with it.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I work in a conservative industry where business casual dress is the bare minimum, and we address it just as you suggest – earrings (and, more recently, subtle nose rings) are fine, but no other visible piercings can be worn to work, period. The person that had to be spoken to about this was actually a man whose nipple rings were very visible through light-colored, fitted polos. We also have hair color restrictions – about the wildest that one can get away with are fire-engine reds. No blue, green, purple, etc. (I am planning to go purple if I ever get a job where it’s okay or when I retire, but it’s a no-go with my current job.)

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            They are now with subtle jewelry. We used to have a two-earrings-only rule that went by the wayside around the same time that small nasal studs became okay. (I used to joke that the rule didn’t specify where in the ears those two earrings were located, so those of us with multiple ear hole could pick and choose. I actually did this for a while so my newer secondary holes in one ear didn’t close up, but I have long hair, so I don’t think the piercing police every noticed.) I think the only verboten ear-related piercing now would be spacers/stretchers.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              I think CLEAVAGE is inappropriate in the workplace, though some still get away w/it by wearing v-neck tops that show cleavage randomly when they move.
              Wouldn’t the #3 question fall in the same zone? It’s not appropriate.

              People may claim it’s accidental, the way that someone may bend over to pick up something and expose their backside. But that’s a case of not being aware. If I’m aware that a v-neck can expose cleavage in others, why aren’t the wearers aware of it?

              People need to move when they try on clothes to see how it shifts on their body.

              1. AntsOnMyTable*

                The problem with that cleavage rule is it tends to unfairly impact women with large breasts. Usually they have to wear far more conservative clothing because they can’t help but have cleavage, especially with movement, and often when smaller breasted women have mild cleavage everyone think it is okay. Women shouldn’t be unfairly penalized because we sexual breasts.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Men of my grandpa’s generation always seemed to wear undershirts under their dress shirts or polos, and guys now don’t seem to. Have undershirts gone the way of the slip?

          1. Cookie Monster*

            If the guy was wearing a polo, then that sounds like a more casual atmosphere and no, a lot of time guys don’t wear undershirts under polos.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Maybe I am in the minority, but I would say 95% of the time I wear an undershirt with Polos and button downs at work. One of the big reasons is to prevent visible nips. If I am doing something after work with friends, I will take of the undershirt right before I leave and stuff it in my back pack. I am male in early 30’s.

              Most of my button downs are thicker and opaque but some are thinner and almost see through

              An added benefit it helps keep my polos/button downs cleaner cheaper/easier to replace plain white undershirt over polos/button downs.

          2. UKDancer*

            I think it depends what they do and how warm they are. My grandfather always wore an undershirt because he lived in a cold place and worked in a factory in fairly open and drafty sheds. He also lived in a house with no central heating. So he wore more layers. My father was a project manager working in offices and lives in a centrally heated house and tends to run quite warm so he doesn’t.

            I think as houses get warmer and people do more inside jobs men tend to wear fewer layers. Also the options for warm clothes (fleeces, thermally lined cotton and the like) have increased so people don’t need as many layers. My ex was an academic so tended to live in jeans and fleecy jumpers so his solution to the cold was to wear warmer tops.

            1. Properlike*

              I feel like I read something recently where the median human body temperature has decreased from 98.6 to something like 97.0, and it was attributed to pervasive AC/heating in homes and workplaces. This obviously indicates a degree of privilege (swathes of the world have neither), but the upshot was acclimating to ongoing temperature swings causes the body to run hotter.

              1. Student*

                The median human body temperature has really decreased, which is important because it also means the old guidance on what counts as a fever is also outdated. The respective temperatures have dropped by about 1 degree F (though the US CDC won’t acknowledge this, to many health experts’ consternation – look at guidance from other countries and you’ll find they generally use a lower threshold for diagnosing a fever than the US does).

                The old standard you learn in the US is from roughly 200 years ago, from studies of mostly men in the military in the US. There are several large studies from the 1990s up that cover large swaths of US and European folks. Haven’t seen any that cover other regions (which is relevant – it won’t necessarily be the same for different populations).

                The reason it’s changed has nothing to do with AC or adapting to changing environmental temperatures. It’s the collective effect of improvements in modern medicine.

                In the studies on body temperature from 200 years ago, a large fraction of participants had chronic (continuous, generally long term) illnesses. These conditions generally cause some low-grade constant inflammation, which raises your temperature a bit without a full-blown fever – but such conditions were so prevalent that it was considered perfectly normal at the time.

                We discovered antibiotics about 100 years ago, among other medical advances. We wiped a lot of chronic conditions out, or severely reduced their prevalence and duration. Which brought down the average body temperature.

                There are small temperature trends for men vs women, for different demographics within the countries well-studied, for time of day, and for age. Among these, the difference for age is the biggest – young kids run significantly hotter than adults, 99 F is not a crazy number to see in them even if it would be a fever for many adults. The other differences are small enough you probably won’t see them on consumer thermometers, but they’re clearly measurable in big clinical studies.

                1. Crooked Bird*

                  I learned so much! Thank you.
                  And yeah, it’s noticeable how hot young kids run. I don’t know if it’s scientific or not, but mentally I connect it with their excess of energy compared to us grown-ups

              2. Philosophia*

                A person’s body temperature decreases with age, which led me to (aha!) attribute the decrease in the median to greater longevity. Perhaps it’s overdetermined.

          3. R*

            A guy friend asked me to help him pick out some business casual clothes and I had to convince him to buy undershirts. I thought it was so weird that he was comfortable with wearing nothing under a button down shirt.

            1. Angie Baby, special lady*

              And yet in working girl, Harrison fords character seems fine with no undershirt-as are his coworkers.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I work in legal. It’s conservative, and clients’ perception of their attorneys and the teams that work with them matters, not to mention the impression of judges. Court attire is still suits and ties for me, at least in federal courts. I’m also in DC, which trends toward more conservative, and people are going to the the Hill, meeting with legislators, and sometimes testifying or preparing a client to testify at a formal proceeding.

            It’s becoming more relaxed – no more pantyhose requirement, easing up on piercings, business casual v. business formal every day (unless with clients or in court), and even the occasional jeans day. But it’s not a startup and even backoffice functions are in view, and there are (in normal times) clients, other lawyers, and others in and out of the office all the time.

    2. Drag0nfly*

      Agreed as well. Incidentally, the governor of New York is widely thought to have nipple piercings. Several articles have focused on pictures where he appears to have them, and his spokesperson was asked about it point blank in interviews. The mouthpiece claimed the governor doesn’t have pierced nipples; Dan Savage and others are calling shenanigans on this denial.

      As for the prince Albert business, I don’t see the comparison at all. A woman can wear a blouse open to expose a camisole top, which is an item of lingerie, and no one thinks anything of it. But men who wear their pants low enough to expose their underwear are not highly regarded, and neither are women who do the same.

      Bottom line, my stance is I don’t care what you pierce yourself with, or where. But when you deliberately *call attention* to a given body part, I don’t want to hear any complaints about receiving that attention. Don’t want conversations about your hair? Don’t dye it purple. Don’t want water cooler conversations about your nipples? Don’t wear prominent nipple jewelry at work.

      *Obviously* do not draw attention to your genitalia *at work* unless you’re a stripper. People at work don’t need their coworkers to make their “private parts” public in any way whatsoever. They really can get along just fine without that.

      If she can look the other way, *shrug*. But I wonder if the fact that the OP works in healthcare comes with an extra consideration I hadn’t thought about until now. Bad piercings can come with a risk of hepatitis C, so maybe she *has* to have a policy about obvious unorthodox piercings? Especially since covid has made a lot of people hypervigilant about catching infectious diseases? Maybe not, though.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        For Alison’a counter example, I’d consider it a possible issue for the thin material used for surgical scrubs, as well as the even more obvious swimsuits, workout leggings, dance wear, etc.

        1. Drag0nfly*

          Surgical scrubs are a good example of “revealing” clothes that I hadn’t thought of. And fitness instructors and lifeguards could present this issue as well. All the same, the swim coaches probably aren’t wearing sheer bathing suits, or thongs, or anything to make you notice their nipples and crotches.

          1. PT*

            I worked as a swim instructor and body piercings are something that is actually iffy for lifeguards/swim instructors. There’s such a risk of a beginner-level kid kicking you in the piercing, or them getting caught on something (even through a swimsuit) that a lot of people will end up giving up on the piercing if they stick with the job year round vs doing it for a summer here and there. Getting your personal piercing ripped out by mistake is painful and and high risk for infection if it happens during camp (there is not enough chlorine in the WORLD to keep up with the germs camp kids spew, I am sorry to say.)

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Ah…are they different from the scrubs sold as uniforms for nurses & medical support staff? Because some of the frivolous fabric ones I’ve seen worn at medical appointments were not stiff at all. (Seeing the outline of someone’s bra and being able to tell the color contrasts with skin tone…doesn’t bother me as a former theater kid, but I noticed when looking at name tag as a distraction from being poked. I’ve never had reason to look at pants.

            1. DrSalty*

              Maybe. I worked in an oral surgery office years ago and we all wore scrubs as a uniform, so everyone had the same set. This included nurses and surgical assistants as well as the front desk workers. They were thick cotton, very stiff and boxy. Someone else in this thread talks in more detail about different kinds of scrubs.

            2. Vondella*

              I think it just depends on where/what brand they buy. When I worked in a nursing home and wore scrubs, the ones you describe are similar to ones I bought at Walmart. I got better ones from Farm supplies stores because they usually had Carhart. The ones I *really* liked though came from a local place (I assume, I just Googled and there’s only 2 stores, one in my hometown and one about an hour or so away) where they also sold uniforms for police and security.

          2. Sasha*

            The ones you buy yourself are generally thick stiff material. The ones that come out of the scrub dispenser at work (that go through the industrial laundry) are typically pretty cheap thin fabric.

            Most people I know wear a tshirt or vest underneath their scrubs. Partly because they aren’t that warm, and partly to avoid see-throughness/flashing people when you bend forwards (those v-necks are quite low if you are a short woman).

      2. Schwanli*

        I have to disagree that anyone needs to put up with unwanted attention if they’ve chosen to make part of their body/hair look unusual. It’s true that if I dye my hair purple I’m probably hoping people will notice and admire, but if someone makes a big deal about it and gives me either negative attention, or obsessive positive attention (like mentioning it *every* time we meet), then I think that’s rude and they need to get over it.
        Similarly I shouldn’t have to wear bland, neutral clothing all the time just to avoid people constantly talking or even harassing me about my clothing. Yes, I wear it to give a certain effect, but other people need to keep their obsessive interest and/or disapproval to a minimum out of basic politeness.
        That said, I think it might be reasonable to avoid clothing/piercings that draw attention to private body parts when you have a job that requires dealing with the public on a regular basis. It’s a slippery slope, since how is the public going to learn to be more tolerant of alternative styles if they are never faced with decent helpful people who are there to help them, but who shock their conservative sensibilities? But I get that the business might prefer not to challenge its clientele too much.

        1. Drag0nfly*

          Rudeness is another matter, and I never said people have the right to be rude to or harass people. But if you’re sensitive to the idea of your nipples, or hair, or whatever becoming a *topic* of discussion at work *at all* then don’t invite your coworkers to *notice* your nipples or hair or whatever.

          Bland is not the other option, by the way. A lot of people manage to dress with their own personal style without being noticeably outrageous. I am also aware that in one setting anime hair would be boringly conformist, but in other venue it will draw attention. I’ve worked in both types of places. The point is that I expect an adult old enough to go to work to know which stream she’s swimming in, and proceed accordingly.

          Personally I think it’s better to be known at work for kick-ass competence than for being “that one with the weird hair” or for body modifications. The theater group friends may all have purple hair and notice the competence, because the hair is bland for *them.* Someone who doesn’t want to compromise on the anime hair should choose the environment where the anime look is bland.

          But, the people at the doctor’s office (or some other such place) might all have natural hair colors, and might not notice the competence because they only spot the weird hair. That situation is likely enough that I think it’s foolish to pull a shocked Pikachu about it happening. That doesn’t mean I think Fergus or Wakeen get to make fun of you, or keep you from promotions or projects; it just means you can’t complain about standing out *for* your appearance when you’re purposely standing out *with* your appearance.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            The problem with this sort of logic is that it’s not that far a step to go from “don’t want people commenting on your hair? don’t dye it purple” to “don’t want people commenting on/looking at your breasts? don’t wear tight/revealing clothing.” The latter places blame for the comments on the recipient rather than the commenter, where it rightfully belongs. This type of logic also disproportionately affects women, whose style options may not accommodate a wider range of aesthetics/body types than a plain dress shirt, trousers, and tie accommodate for men. (Same with hair color, too: unconscious bias often means grey hair on a man is distinguished, but women with grey hair in the workplace are somehow just old.)

            The appropriate response here is to say “we don’t comment on each other’s appearance in this workspace” to offenders, not “don’t like comments? change yourself” to employees.

            1. vlookup*

              I appreciate this point. I think this same logic is also not far removed from policing black women who wear natural hairstyles, gender-nonconforming people, etc.

              I think I come down on team no visible nipple piercings at work, but it makes me uncomfortable to blame people for how others respond to their physical appearance.

            2. mean green mother*

              I agree. This line of thought can also be extended in a really problematic way to people with visible disabilities. Someone looking different than how you would expect is not an invitation for comment or questioning from a stranger. It would be nice not to have strangers gasp “what happened to you?!” whenever I have to leave my house in a brace or with a cane. We (the visibly disabled) get really sick of that.

              I’d rethink your logic, Dragonfly.

              1. Caroline Bowman*

                The difference there is that it’s entirely outside your control. Policing people on an aspect of their natural appearance or on a disability is vile, end of story.

                Expecting not to see the modifications to the genitalia and nipples of the front desk person or a random colleague in a business environment is different.

                1. Cymru*

                  How about instead of policing whether something is an ‘allowable difference’ because it’s ‘outside of someone’s control*’ we just don’t rudely comment/judge other people’s appearances? How about some self-control on that front?

                  *because that control aspect is a really slippery slope in the disability community/history too. Because some disability is acquired, this control aspect could be extended to include disabled people who acquired their disability because of actions the outsider might consider “unsafe choices” and therefore by the same logic be blamed for their choices and their disability is now a justified punishment for their ‘poor decision’. So how about instead we don’t be judgey?

            3. pope suburban*

              Agreed. This kind of thinking puts the onus on the person who is simply trying to live their life, rather than where it belongs, on people who seem to feel that they don’t need to exercise basic manners with certain people.

            4. CommanderBanana*

              I agree – I feel like this is a really slippery slope. I have a pretty distinctive style of dressing (think: vintage clothing and hair, complete with hats and gloves) and I really don’t like commentary on my clothing. It’s entirely workplace appropriate, and actually much more modest than most contemporary women’s clothing, but some people can’t seem to stop commenting on it. I don’t think the solution should be that I start wearing leggings and tunic tops to work, I think the solution should be that people keep their thoughts and feelings about their coworkers’ bodies and clothing to themselves.

              1. Caroline Bowman*

                but can anyone see your nipples though or your genitals?

                If no, then of course people need to MYOB. You may dress distinctively, but as you say, it’s within the bounds of ”to be expected in the course of business life” clothing. It may catch the eye initially (in a good way), but otherwise, that’s it.

                1. CommanderBanana*

                  Nope, and I also don’t wear pants to work, I don’t wear leggings, I always wear stockings, my hems are always below the knee, and I don’t wear sleeveless tops or short sleeves. It’s my way of dressing frum while also dressing in a way that makes me happy. But some people just cannot leave it alone.

              2. virago*

                Commander Banana, you have my sympathies.

                I have worked in settings in which I got repeated, unwanted attention for wearing dresses every day. “SOMEBODY has a job interview today!” “Got a big date tonight?” “Guess who got a traffic ticket?” etc.

                I wasn’t wearing minidresses with sequins, full-length red ostrich feathers a la Cher in the 1970s or prom gowns with pouffy skirts. I wore dresses that were in line with that day’s weather; did not cling or reveal a lot of skin, and didn’t get in my way when I was working. So I’ve never understood why some of my co-workers couldn’t seem to stop talking about them.

                1. CommanderBanana*

                  I know, I hate it. My first long-term office job was with a notoriously stuffy federal agency, so my work wardrobe was more business than casual, and I never changed it. I work in an allegedly business/business casual office now, but the definition of ‘business casual’ seems to have expanded to include leggings, short/sheer shirt-dresses, sandals, sleeveless tops, etc., none of which I would feel ok wearing in public. (No judgement on those who do; I don’t comment on other people’s clothing and I wish they wouldn’t comment on mine.)

                2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  @Commander Banana –
                  Do you mean any comments at all?

                  I have a really eclectic style (today I’m in a knit dress with stockings, last week I wore leggings and a ren faire style wide sleeve tunic on Thursday and my 40s swing-dance style dress on Tuesday, sweaters and jeans the other two days, and tomorrow I have a vaguely steampunk outfit I might wear (but not the corset because it isn’t comfortable for long-term sitting in this office chair). I would probably compliment your outfit or say I had something similar, etc. I get that you hear it all the time (I have electric purple hair right now and ever since my son was born I haven’t been a natural color at all), but I also realize if I’m considering my outfits a ‘canvas’ for my expression, other people will…react to that expression.

            5. Caroline Bowman*

              Sure, that’s true, but if I can see your nipple piercings, that are, in any usual professional setting other than perhaps tattoo parlour or similar, unusual, then I can see a bit too much, more than I was expecting.

              Should I remain polite and not mention it? 100% yes. Do I have the right to leer and be rude or nosey, 100% no. But as an employee in a wide-range-of-customer-type-facing role, the expectation that my intimate-area-piercings not be immediately obvious is a fairly low bar. It just is.

              1. Properlike*

                Well, I don’t know… wasn’t there a letter writer who had partial mastectomy whose bosses were pressuring her to wear a prosthesis because her breasts were distracting in a customer-facing role?

                I don’t want to see anyone’s actual underwear, nipples, or piercings either. I think it’s reasonable to ask for a level of professional dress. It’s so hard to figure out how to word a rule that’s applicable to (almost) all situations and fair.

            6. Gravatar*

              The comment was. “ Don’t want water cooler conversations about your nipples? Don’t wear prominent nipple jewelry at work.”
              Nothing said against tight clothing. Just wear something to minimize the nipple rings – lightly padded bra, pasties, a scarf, a jacket, a patterned shirt.

          2. Simply the best*

            I’ve never understood this notion that gets tossed about here on AAM all the time. Why do we think people can only holdo ne thought in their head? Why do you think people don’t know me as the girl with awesome purple hair AND who’s super good at my job? (See also, the girl who’s an awesome baker and awesome at my job.) I’ve worked with a lot of different people in my career and not once did I only know them as one single characteristic.

          3. Tinker*

            You know, I think where I come down on this is:

            — Okay, fine, I’m neither terribly surprised nor can I claim complete innocence when someone reacts to some aspect of my appearance that is unconventional in their view. At this point I am aware that there are occasional people who go into spirals of conniption over such things, and frankly there is a point where such conniption amuses and encourages me.


            — If you choose to make your views about nipple piercings very visible, and note that it does not take pliers to remove words from the air, nor does your mouth hole close very quickly if it does not have a word in it, I will also form a judgment and the person in question will also likely be known to me largely for something other than kick-ass competence.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I have to disagree that anyone needs to put up with unwanted attention if they’ve chosen to make part of their body/hair look unusual. It’s true that if I dye my hair purple I’m probably hoping people will notice and admire, but if someone makes a big deal about it and gives me either negative attention, or obsessive positive attention (like mentioning it *every* time we meet), then I think that’s rude and they need to get over it.

          I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is that if you dye your hair purple (or whatever), you have to accept that a certain percentage of the population is going to notice and react. And when you’re working at a front desk, you have a lot more opportunities for that to happen.

          1. StripesAndPolkaDots*

            This is one thing I loved about living in a big city. Purple hair, tattoos, piercings, wearing a ball gown to the drug store, no one cared. The most you’d get is a compliment and then left alone. I don’t think, say, having purple hair means you’re inviting people to talk to you about it. They can pay extra attention if they really find it that odd (and you can buy purple dye in Wal Mart, so it’s not that odd) but there’s no reason to ask anyone about it. What’s to ask? It’s really no more unnatural looking than platinum blonde.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Heck, I live in a medium-sized city (DC) that trends toward conservative dress (lawyers/politicians), and most of those things wouldn’t register with me. I forget sometimes, but when my in-laws visit (they live in a conservative, rural area), they notice the unnatural hair colors, tattoos and piercings that are just part of my usual landscape. And also people speaking languages other than English on the subway, which, again, is normal background noise to me.

              One of my very favorite commercials is the Dr. Rick Progressive one where they’re in the home improvement store and the guy with blue hair walks by. This is totally what would happen if my mom/in-laws were there, whereas I’d barely notice or notice in a positive way. (Link:

            2. Queer Earthling*

              Honestly, I live in a rural town in the Southeast and purple hair, tattoos, piercings, etc still aren’t really that remarkable. Some people may take issue at certain jobs, but even so, I see it all the time. I’ve received compliments on my purple hair with shaved sides sometimes in stores, usually from people who have blue hair. And if I had a nickel for every tattooed arm I see hanging out of a pickup truck, I could buy my own pickup truck to hang an arm from.

              1. TardyTardis*

                I live in a smallish rural town and I saw someone’s blue hair (which was starting to get brown roots) while shopping this afternoon. I wish she had also been wearing a *mask* (don’t get me started) but there’s a reason the number of our covid cases here is heading up again, even with all the vaccinations. Erg.

            3. Bella*

              Also SO common. EVERYONE has purple hair now. It’s not weird anymore. Much like women wearing pants and flat shoes to work.

              1. TardyTardis*

                Mine would streaky, since my white hair would show the dye and the dark hair would totally absorb it.

            4. Nerdling*

              I just got complimented on my pink hair in the parking lot of a grocery store here in the Bible Belt a couple of days ago. I’ve seen (and complimented) women my mother’s age and older/teenagers and younger on their purple/blue/beautiful white hair. It’s really not that uncommon anymore, nor is it limited to any one age or socioeconomic group. A quick “I love your hair!” and we all go about our day happier. There’s nothing to dwell on aside from contemplating how to replicate that really lovely look you just saw.

      3. pancakes*

        “. . . I don’t want to hear any complaints about receiving that attention.”

        What does this have to do with the letter? Or anything at all? If you hear complaints you don’t want to hear that’s up to you to deal with.

        1. Drag0nfly*

          I’m speaking in terms of a manager. I am not interested in complaints from an employee if people are talking about them having purple hair or nipple jewelry if they’ve obviously got one or the other. You’re wearing something attention-grabbing, expect attention. That’s a baseline-level of common sense I expect.

          Now, if someone is *harassing* you about it, I’ll care. But short of harassment or something of that nature, don’t come crying to me.

          1. pancakes*

            No one came crying to anyone in the letter, and there’s been no complaint from the employer with the piercings. The scenario you’re responding to has nothing to do with the question posed.

            1. Drag0nfly*

              There’s a reason the OP is concerned about the employee wearing visible nipple jewelry. Did you not notice the links in Alison’s response?

              The OP made it clear, or so I thought, that her office doesn’t consider nipple jewelry normal. Otherwise, there’s no reason to write in about it. You can draw the conclusion that in the OP’s setting that would make the employee’s nipples *commented on,* or even complained *about*. Are you actually doubting this? Read the links, then.

              The point is, the OP’s decision tree differs according to where the complaints may come from. From the employee’s coworkers? They can mind their own business. From clients who think it’s unprofessional? She has to pay attention. From the *employee* about the coworkers or clients talking about it? She can shrug it off. If the idea of shrugging it off bothers you, then that’s on you.

              1. pancakes*

                Eh? The links convey that Alison has answered numerous questions over the years about breasts showing up at work. They don’t indicate that anyone has complained in this instance, let alone that the employee has complained about unwanted attention, which all of your comments take for granted. The question is whether it’s appropriate to ask the employee to conceal the piercings, not whether you sympathize with the employee in the hypothetical scenario you’ve invented.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I admit that the purple hair comment rubs me the wrong way.

            Society to women: “you have to color your hair. Natural color is messy. Gray hair is messy and unprofessional. Color it” (woman colors her hair purple) Society: “no, no, not like that”.

            1. Libby*

              Eh? I’ve honestly never seen a societal pressure for women to dye their hair UNLESS they’re going gray.

              1. Sparkles McFadden*

                I took “natural color” to mean “going gray” or “partly gray.”

                That said, I have had men comment on how I should dye my fading brown hair (which is mixed with gray) because “darker hair makes you look younger.” This from a gray, balding, old dude. I also had a younger male coworker comment “You have a lot of gray. You should do something about that.” I replied “I think you’d probably have the same amount of gray but all of yours seems to have fallen out.” I’ve had one streak of gray since I was in my 20s. I like it. When I was younger I had people telling me to lighten the rest of my hair so it would blend in.

                So I agree 100% with I Wrote This in the Bathroom. It’s crappy every time it happens and it’s not OK at any time. Tend to your own appearance, people.

                1. Anax*

                  A bit off-topic, but as an interesting sidenote – It’s sometimes a thing! There have been cases in Japan where naturally brown-haired schoolkids are required to dye their hair black, to fit in. (And yes, there’s a potential aspect of race/ethnicity there.)

                  It says some interesting things about the way divergence from the statistical average is often viewed as deliberate rebellion, even when there’s no possible way that’s true.

                2. Dashed*

                  Two days ago I had an older man (about 68) at work tell me I should wear contacts instead of glasses because I would be “prettier” without glasses. Note that he wears glasses. So I responded, “Same back at you!” He snorted and said, “Men don’t have to be attractive. Women do.” I snorted and said, “No. We. Do. Not.”

              2. Flora*

                You don’t think making yourself blonder with highlights is a thing? It’s a thing, and there exists pressure to do things that make women more blonde, but, you know, ~naturally~. This has been a thing for decades.

      4. Elliott*

        I don’t think health risks are any more relevant with nipple piercings than ear piercings. If anything, “unorthodox” piercings are more likely to be done by trained professionals who use sterile needles and jewelry, whereas more common piercings like earlobes are sometimes done with less-sterile piercing guns by people with minimal training.

        I don’t agree that nipple piercings deliberately call attention to that part of the body. Most people keep those piercings covered up most of the time, so they’re usually something that are appreciated more in private. Unfortunately, it can be hard to completely keep them from showing under clothes sometimes.

        1. Observer*

          I don’t think health risks are any more relevant with nipple piercings than ear piercings.

          Yeah. OP, if anyone says anything to you about supposed health risks, please recognize if as concern trolling as there is no more reason to think that any body piercing is going to get infected than an ear or nose ring. Which is to say that it sometimes happens, but it’s rare if someone is being careful.

          1. GS*

            Body piercings are more likely to get infected or do other bad things if you need to switch/remove jewelry frequently to accommodate work’s desire not to see them.

      5. Purple Hair*

        I uh, have purple hair. And it almost never comes up in conversations at work. A coworker who I am close to might comment positively when I’ve had my color touched up, but otherwise it’s a non-issue.

        I would push back on the assumption that people do things like dye their hair and get piercings because they want to bring attention to themselves or that part of their body. Sometimes it’s just making changes to your body in a way that makes you feel happier and more comfortable in that body. If that makes you different from what’s considered “normal” I don’t think that is an invitation for people to comment on it.

        Regarding the nipple piercings, it can be argued that no one should be looking at this employee’s nipples closely enough or long enough to notice the piercings. Unless her shirt is 100% sheer, you can’t tell at a glance whether someone has hard nipples + lumpy areolas vs piercings. You have to really look (as evidenced by all the back and forth about Cuomo’s nipples. you really can argue both ways).

        1. Joielle*

          Yeah, if you really can see the exact nipple jewelry, it seems like more of a shirt problem than a piercing problem. I’d just address that.

          1. Lies, damn lies and...*

            I’m late to the party on this thread, but yes. More likely, a bra problem. But this should be addressed the same way you’d address headlights – not at all.

        2. pope suburban*

          Same here. If people mention it, it is in a positive way. While I am sure that some of our patrons do not approve of or understand my purple hair, they don’t say anything about it, and they are happy enough with my service that my relationships with them are still positive-to-neutral. Ditto all my earrings and tattoos, frankly. I am fortunate in that working in theatre and the arts maybe prepares people for a little more freedom of expression in our staff, but still, people know me for the quality of my work more than my appearance. This isn’t a huge ask, that people know when their opinion does not need to be shared. People can and should politely avert their eyes from this employee’s breasts and then move on.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Sometimes it’s just making changes to your body in a way that makes you feel happier and more comfortable in that body.

          Exactly. When I plant flowers around my house, is it because I want to draw attention to my house? Hell no. I don’t need or want y’all’s attention. I just happen to love flowers, goddammit. When I step outside and see flowers, I feel happier. People don’t do everything they do *at* others.

        4. Lyra Silvertongue*

          +1 completely this. I think it’s also important like the commenter above to realize that self-expression is very important to people and also often a part of gender expression. We judge appearance by entirely heteronormative standards. If a man and a woman in the office are both wearing identical nail polish, is the man asking for more attention than the woman?

      6. ...*

        The term “unusual” is very vague and can change depending on culture. For example, hijabs can be considered “unusual” in certain parts of America, just as parka coats can be considered “unusual” in Texas.

        If someone has an aesthetic that is not shared by the majority of people around them, they don’t deserve to be stared at. Children stare when something is new to them because they are still learning and haven’t yet developed social graces. Just because you notice something, doesn’t mean that person is intentionally “calling attention” to their body–and even if they are, you do not need to “have conversations” about it; gossip is immature and disrespectful. You may think purple hair is unusual, but it’s quite common where I live.

        Not everyone dresses for your attention.

      7. Qwerty*

        Woah, a caminsole top is not lingerie! It’s a type of undershirt! The equivalent example would be when men’s undershirt are unbuttoned enough to show their undershirts – which happens rather often. I’ve seen enough of my male coworkers undershirts to know who prefers v-neck vs crew neck (or no undershirt) and whether than preference changes when they wear a button-down or a polo shirt. There’s no double standard (unless you want to go down the rabbit hole of how many women’s shirts are not made to able to button up fully, requiring us to wear a cami/tank top/etc underneath while still being judged immensely by men)

        I’m…rather concerned by this post, especially if it’s coming from someone with supervisory or management authority.

        1. Depends*

          I wear a camisole or tank top under all of my clothes every day because otherwise I get a TON of skin tags where my pant/skirt waistband rubs against my skin. (I also wear them because women’s tops can be too sheer or low cut for my comfort.)

          They are not lingerie, just a clothing layer worn against the skin. If some boss had an issue with seeing my tank tops/camisoles, I would probably have to go into detail about the last time I had 26 skin tags removed.

    3. Former call centre worker*

      I think the social context is what makes it different. Women’s bodies are policed in a way that men’s aren’t. Women’s nipples are considered obscene and society says they must be kept hidden in public – some people even object to seeing them when a baby is being breastfed! Social media sites won’t allow them to be visible in photos, but will allow men’s. Men can go swimming or sunbathe topless and nobody will stare. Etc.

      So what if the employee’s piercings are visible? If anyone complains, maybe tell them to stop looking at her breasts? Or ask them why they even care?

      1. BethDH*

        I agree with your first paragraph but not at all your second. Something designed to draw attention to an area can easily catch the eye of someone who is looking at the person in a general glance from a socially appropriate distance.
        You can decide whether it matters to the business or not that she has them, but it is not a fair response to accuse someone who sees them of looking at her body inappropriately.

        1. pancakes*

          Noticing something about someone’s body doesn’t make it mandatory to complain to their employer, though.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            Or to comment about it at all. Not all inner thoughts need to become outer thoughts.

            1. old biddy*

              1000% this. People do a ridiculous amount of commenting on people’s looks and clothing choices, especially women’s.. Not just overt sexist things, but random commentary when none needs to be there. My mom does it, my husband does it, colleagues do it. Sometimes it’s descriptive, sometimes it’s just filler, sometimes it is malicious. Somewhere along the line I noticed and now I can never not notice.

        2. Mockingdragon*

          It’s also possible that the person doesn’t realize their piercings are showing at work. The fact that she HAS nipple piercings doesn’t mean she WANTS them to be noticed. Maybe when it’s pointed out to her, she’ll be mortified and immediately start wearing thicker shirts.

          This is the thing in your comments that’s rubbing me the wrong way, I think. I don’t dye my hair pink because I want people to notice, I do it because it makes me happy. I don’t mind people noticing (which again, may not be the case here) but it’s not the POINT.

          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            This is a medical office, though- the OP does not have control over (by numbers) most people interacting with their front desk staff, and there’s a reason public-facing staff are often required to abide by more strict dress codes than other staff. While I think I’ve heard medical offices generally are gradually relaxing some of their more conservative standards of dress, it wasn’t that many years ago when someone working in medicine wrote in to Allison asking if their employer could make them cover their tattoo, which seems tame to me relative to visible nipple piercings.

      2. jolene*

        Nah, I know two guys with nipple piercings who wear sweaters during the winter and a t-shirt under shirts in summer because it’s not appropriate to show the outlines at their professional office jobs. In this case, it’s exactly the same for both sexes.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I wear lined bras and slips underneath all of my clothing for exactly the same reason. There are always at minimum two layers between my body and my outermost layer of clothing.

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        I don’t know, I agree with the point you’re making in your first paragraph but J think that “so what” doesn’t really apply in the same way to front desk staff. Front desk staff are usually a big part of the first impression people get of a company, and I think that – to a reasonable and non-discriminatory extent – companies have a right to decide what they want that first impression to be. I think that a “no obvious nipple piercings” rule would apply equally to everyone, and it doesn’t seem like an unreasonable standard.

      4. Gumby*

        I’m not sure that the nipple-jewelry-wearer being a woman is relevant. I don’t think it is outrageous to require that *in a professional environment* it not be obvious that either Joan or John (or anyone else) are wearing hoops vs. barbells vs. I’m sure there are other options but have not researched it in their nipples. (At home or in their free time, it’s a different issue.)

        The OP made a comment that “…I am generally firmly in the camp of ‘your underwear (/piercings) are your own business.’” This is true. But also, using the underwear example, we fully expect that whatever underwear you choose to wear, or not, that it is not generally visible at work. A bra strap here or there or an underwear waistband is probably okay in most workplaces. But if a receptionist were sitting at the front desk with pants so low that the waistband is essentially around his thighs, we would say that is unacceptable in many if not most workplaces. His underwear is his business, but he has something of an obligation to at least try to keep it only his business at work for most jobs. I’d treat nipple piercings the same way – your business entirely but should not be regularly visible at work.

    4. MCMonkeybean*

      Yeah, I think as far as questions about women’s bodies go this one is a lot easier (especially since it could just as easily apply to men… I’m actually now curious about the breakdown of gender among the population of people who have piercings there but I won’t be googling that on my work computer).

      I also agree that I think it would be fine to decide *not* to care and it doesn’t have to be a big deal, but I think it is not unreasonable especially for a customer-facing employee. I am however much less sure about literally HOW to have that conversation lol.

    5. HannahS*

      Yeah, I agree. I think that dress codes should be phrased in a a way that applies equally to everyone. “No visible body piercings” seems reasonable, and applies to people of any gender.

    6. Momma Bear*

      I’ve worked in offices where when the dress code got lax or when something came up that needed to be addressed, everyone was reminded of the expectations. Make the dress code apply to everyone and leave it up to them if they wear a different bra or an undershirt or whatever.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      FWIW: When I started reading that one, I envisioned a man, because women would tend to be wearing bras and men not.

      Also, as someone with a needle phobia, I appreciate the “distracting piercings” formulation. Like, yes, I get that how I feel about visible piercings has everything to do with exposure and conditioning. But something about visible nipple piercings would still register as GAH A SHOT and maybe not put me in the calm frame of mind LW would want for this medical visit.

      (When I need to have blood drawn or a shot administered I stare off the other direction and practice my deep breathing and make sure I am at minimum in a chair with arms so I don’t have to work that hard to remain upright.)

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Every time I just read the phrase “nipple piercings” I fold my arms over my chest.

        I am firmly in the camp of “Not my body, not my business” but, internally, I am also thinking GAH! NO! OW!

    8. Smithy*

      I think that while a dress code can approach this as gender neutral, it doesn’t change the reality that women’s bodies – and particularly women’s breasts and nipples – are far more policed around not being “appropriate”. So while on its surface would be applied equally, the reality is that in practice it wouldn’t be.

      That being said, if the receptionist in question was writing in as opposed to the OP – similar to the question earlier this week about wearing a bra – it’s hard to imagine the answer not being “you will likely be judged and have to spend professional capital on this.”

      About ten years ago, someone I was working was in a dress where her nipple piercings were visible. At time she was told that the dress wasn’t professional enough. Not that she was asked to go home or change, but essentially that this was a choice she was making that wasn’t deemed as professional.

      1. Properlike*

        So maybe that’s the way to phrase this — *clothing* that’s inappropriate because it’s revealing parts of the body in a way that is unprofessional? The same way that we can say “you must wear a suit to work” but a see-through suit would not be okay?

    9. CommanderBanana*

      If a dress code says “no visible piercings,” I don’t think I’d interpret that to include piercings covered by clothing. As in, a nose piercing isn’t ok, because you can see it, but body piercing is okay, because it’s covered by clothing. I don’t think people would interpret that as also covering the visible outline of piercings under clothing unless it was specifically stated.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Pierced ear?

        Not ok because not covered?

        Culturally, it’s ok for an ear piercing to be visible. Unless there are too many. Or it’s a plug or disk. (I’m cool with those, let your freak flag fly, but those are less acceptable in many places)

    10. Snuck*

      In the past I worked with a woman who had a breast augmentation (significant difference in size/shape – from no bra needed daily to D or E cups), and her nipples were then permanently on hard headlight. This was in a predominantly conservative male environment (about 1 woman to 30 staff, all mature aged males from conservative backgrounds working technical roles), and there was a real ‘boys club’ atmosphere. Context matters sometimes in this stuff, because this was VERY out of place in the workforce.

      But the bigger issue was this woman’s sexualisation of the workplace. She was having a well known affair with a manager, she would do things like change her clothes in her office space (glass walls with a stripe of privacy fuzz at thigh to shoulder height – so technically you couldn’t see anything, but only because of the strategic placement of sticker blurring, and yes, there were toilets, enough that we women could literally have a cubical each and not share even after giving the blokes one of the other sets of toilets on the floor plate), wear mini skirts ONLY for meetings with the manager she was sleeping with (then change back to slacks), bend deep and low over desks when talking to the staff, most of it “not my business” and “not bad enough to be bad in the moment” but collectively there was a loooooong list of small and obvious things that generally sexualised the workforce. Many of the men were intimidated by her – they felt they couldn’t speak up against her because she could then accuse them of sexual misconduct, and she was sleeping with the boss two levels above them. It was all around icky, and she was almost untouchable.

      Context sometimes matters. There’s places for nipples to show/not (and I’d suggest that front desk in healthcare where many clients are elderly it might not be best?) but also the wider context of how the staff acts, and whether they should behave that way. Another time, same workforce, I had a staff member shorten (against rules) her uniform shift dress to the point it was barely mid thigh… not an issue if she’s sitting at desks, a BIG issue given her job was to load all the photocopiers every day and she did it by bending at the waist, for all the guys to perve. After about the fifth time of literally seeing her knickers I asked her to wear something else or drop the hem (she couldn’t – she’d cut it). She was angry at me for policing her body but I pointed out that I could tell her her underwear colour for each of hte last five days and that wasn’t fair to the guys many of whom left the area when she arrived out of discomfort (and the few who stayed were NOT the ones she was parading for!).

      Yes…. people have the right to not be policed, but people also have hte right to not be confronted by knickers on a daily basis. “Headlight” nipples is a bit different, but my beef with the woman with the breast augmentation wasn’t the nipples, it was the deeper picture of her behaviour as a whole.

      Man that was a toxic work environment!

      1. Snuck*

        Oh… and then how to “manage” it?

        I hate extra rules just for one person…. they tend to then ruin things for everyone. Instead step back and have a look at the wider issues around the person. If it’s only nipple piercings showing then let it go, but if there’s other things then consider if they add up to enough?

        Another thought is that there is often specific guidelines and expectations for customer facing staff, and if this is a receptionist then it’s not unreasonable to have a slightly different set of rules for that role. It might mean you spring for some ‘uniform tops’ she (and other front desk staff) can wear, that covers the nipples more appropriately, it might mean you have a chat with her about professional standards in this sort of role and cover all manner of presentation guidelines. The front face of a company is often held to a different standard, and just saying things like “no sheer or clingy tops that show your underwear, tops should have sleeves and not be spaghetti straps or ‘cold shoulder’ or ‘peasant style’, and should be of a length where they cover your back still when you bend over, and your waist band when you stand”. Sometimes it’s just a coaching session and then giving people time to ask questions and slowly build a more appropriate wardrobe (it takes money!).

  2. Blue*

    Re #3 – I feel like breasts and genitals are QUITE different. The thought experiment works just as well wondering how one might respond if a man had visible nipple piercings (I actually know way more men with nipple piercings than any other gender).

    Either way, I’d leave it alone unless it’s easy to address by reminding the employee of an existing dress code.

    1. Kali*

      I feel like a solution might be to hide the outline, like with a thicker bra or a tissue or something, but I have no idea how you’d even start communicating that or if/when it would be reasonable to ask.

      1. MJ*

        It would be very tricky. The employee knows her piercings are visible and likes that they are. Someone asking her to cover them up? Yikes! But at least she get to bring her whole self to work.

        1. Colette*

          If the employee both knows her piercings are visible and likes that they are, that is a big problem. Yes, everyone knows she has nipples; no one should have tobe reminded of their presence at work.

          1. StripesAndPolkaDots*

            That’s a leap. I personally don’t wear a bra. Occasionally my nipples will be visible, even when wearing an undershirt, shirt, and sweater. I don’t want that, but I assume my office mates are mature enough to know I have nipples and deal with it. And, maybe because they’re mostly women too, no one has ever cared or said anything.

            1. Colette*

              If they happen to be visible, that’s not a big deal. If she “knows her piercings are visible and likes that they are”, that is.

            2. Anon for this*

              It’s not quite as much of a leap as you might think. The difference is in accidental versus intentional. It’s one thing if someone has an occasional accidental wardrobe malfunction, these things happen. If someone is intentionally wearing something that they know will show/draw attention to a part of their body that is frequently sexualized (and tbh this applies to men and women’s nipples both in an office setting) and want people to either stare or struggle not to stare, that is not nice to their coworkers.

              To me it’s similar to the time when a trans coworker wandered into my office…. then wanted to talk to me, in depth, about women who are putting pointy sharp objects in…. inappropriate places, and about how she spent way too much money on the body part in question to want to do that herself. When it shifts from person just accidentally doing something slightly awkward, into someone intentionally doing something slightly awkward, then it becomes a problem, because I am your coworker, not someone you should want to play mind games, even small, mostly harmless mind games, with for fun.

              1. Tinker*

                I think the key issue here, and I’m seeing this in a lot of comments rather than just strictly yours, is that the context you seem to be imagining is one in which the person in question is definitely exerting effort in order to create a sexual display for their coworkers for the purpose of playing mind games with them. While that can’t be completely ruled out, I think that’s a lot less likely than you imagine.

                Body piercings don’t work like earlobe piercings where one would routinely select from what could be a wide array of jewelry as one gets dressed in the morning and where not wearing the jewelry on a given day is a casual option — it’s a semi-permanent body modification more as unto a tattoo, although it’s easier to choose not to have it anymore. It tends to get somewhat integrated into one’s body image, and it is possible for it to be part of what is incidentally revealed by clothing that is not completely fully opaque (meaning: as unto men’s dress shirts, not necessarily as unto fishnet tank tops) and that is not completely nonconforming to the contours of one’s body.

                For me, with the various piercings I’ve had, I regard them in pretty much the same category as my glasses and my top surgery scars– I’m aware of them existing, I’m aware of the possibility of them being potentially perceptible, to an extent I have them intentionally and have made choices that shape their nature, but they are the opposite of exotic to me and my intent regarding other people’s reactions is generally that I would hope they treat it as something within my sphere of privacy that they should not center in interactions with me unless they have some need to tell me of a particularly striking wardrobe failure.

                If I’m looking for advice, it is probably relevant information to me that some people are put in mind of that one time their coworker told them about their genitals by the outline of parts of my chest in shirts of a certain fabric, but if you’re making a guess about what my naive intent is by existing in that shirt, it’s probably not to remind you of a thing that I didn’t know about until you went and told me.

                And about that — my initial visceral reaction is actually to be pretty uncomfortable with that comment, actually. I think probably because of what to me feels like a detailed fantasy about what someone must intend based on existing in a body of a particular sort, in combination with an anecdote that highlights a trans person in the role of oversharer who is bringing genitals into the office. When I step back to consider it past my visceral reaction, I figure you probably don’t intend that — but also, your display of words is much more clearly voluntary and intentional than most situations in which it is possible to discern the presence of a body piercing.

                How about we both extend a bit of grace with regard to each other’s intent?

                1. Anon for this*

                  Oh, indeed, I’m not actually saying the employee is doing it on purpose! I read the post I was commenting on as saying that there’s no difference between someone who is doing it accidentally and someone who is doing it on purpose, and my point was that there is a huge difference in intent between someone who has no idea and someone who is intentionally doing something to make people uncomfortable. It’s definitely most likely that this is an accident though.

          2. Elitist Semicolon*

            Then every man should wear a bra or other chest-covering garment under their work clothing, too.

            1. Colette*

              If a man has pierced nipples and is deliberately making them visible because he likes doing so, he’s just as out of line.

        2. Metadata minion*

          Where are you getting that she likes having her piercings visible? Maybe she doesn’t care, or even hasn’t realized that they’re so visible to other people?

        3. Rachel in NYC*

          I wonder if it’s more of a question of how visible?

          Sort of- it’s not abnormal for- best intentions aside- a someone’s nipples to be visible at some point at work. But is it visible because they are wearing a shirt that is too sheer to be work appropriate or because of an odd confluence of events.

          If it’s a wardrobe issue- I think it deserves a quick comment.

          Or if alternatively the issue isn’t the piercing but the nipple ring- if the design of the ring is making it obtrusive and your workplace already has rules about jewelry in the workplace, maybe you can say something about body jewelry needing to meet the same qualifications as all other jewelry in the workplace. Though I’m not totally sure how that would work.

        4. YetAnotherAnalyst*

          There doesn’t seem to be any reason to assume she knows the piercings are visible. Hasn’t everyone had a “this shirt is much less appropriate in office lighting/when viewed from a different angle/when the AC is on” moment?

          I’m actually a little curious how sure the LW is that the employee’s nipples are pierced? Like, I have a few bras which pucker at the nipple seam and shows as bumps under a thinner shirt. I’ve generally considered that acceptable human imperfection, but now I’m wondering if my coworkers think I’ve got barbells in…

    2. Cat*

      I’m relieved to see this comment here already. Breasts are NOT genitals, and personally I don’t think nipple piercings should be a problem on any person. Nor should their actual nipples be a problem, if they’re somehow visible through clothing.

      And just for the record, I literally cannot imagine what kind of work-appropriate pants might allow a PA to show!

      1. ManBearPig*

        Breasts aren’t genitals, but American society treats them the same (i.e. almost purely sexually) and thus I think the thought experiment stands.

        1. Deets*

          I’d have liked to see “I know breasts and genitals aren’t equivalent but since our society largely treats them as such, it’s an interesting thought exercise to think about how you’d handle this if it were a highly visible Prince Albert piercing on a man.” rather than making it sound equal but * shrug *

      2. allathian*

        As long as people get harassed for daring to breastfeed in public, or called unprofessional if the profile of their nipple can be seen through clothing, it remains an issue.

        I’m not saying that nipple piercings showing should be an issue, just that it is. Why would anyone want a nipple piercing if not for some kind of titillation either of themselves or others and I can’t imagine any circumstances where that would be professional, except in actual sex work.

        1. Bagpuss*

          Because they like how it looks? Same as ear or nose or eyebrow piercings, or tattoos.
          Beacuse they like how it feels / makes them feel? Same as ear or nose or eyebrow piercings, or tattoos.

        2. Lonely Aussie*

          “Why would anyone want a nipple piercing if not for some kind of titillation either of themselves or others?”
          I have both nips done because I like how it looks. I think they look pretty. This is my temple and I’ll decorate it with sparkly things, pretty pictures and pigment. Some of my partners have hated them, others found them sexy but at the end of the day I got them because I think they look nice. Much like the four studs I have in both ears or the tinted lip balm or BB cream I use.
          Know plenty of guys who got them done for poops and giggles when they were in their late teens/early twenties. Locally they were cheaper than a tattoo and easier to hide.
          Assuming it’s a titillation thing says a lot more about you than the person with a piercing.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            >> This is my temple and I’ll decorate it with sparkly things, pretty pictures and pigment. <<

            Seriously considering getting that as a tattoo.

            (No joke. Also I don’t get tattoos, piercings, makeup, clothes that enhance my figure for anyone else but me – it’s not sexual. I got a lot of tattoos…)

          2. StripesAndPolkaDots*

            Yup. I’ve also known a good number of men (and women) who’ve had their nipples pierced. None did it for “titillation.” They did it because they liked how it looked, or they were in to body mods, or they liked piercings but wanted ones they could hide, etc. assuming it must be “titillation” reminds me of people who assume women all wear makeup or dress up for men and not because they personally enjoy it.

            1. FDSnovice*

              Ah the good old “you don’t have to wear all that makeup for me” fallacy. Trust me dude it’s not for you.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                I’ve had the ‘why show cleavage/your curves unless you WANT male attention?’ one before and it pisses me off.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Having seen quite a few of male friends and acquaintances with their shirt off (in a swimming pool etc) I’ve noticed that nipple piercings on men are fairly common. I’d be willing to bet that 25-30% of my male coworkers have one. I never noticed one though, because I haven’t seen my coworkers in person in over a year, and when we did work together, I looked them in the face when we worked together. Maybe at their hands if we shared a keyboard or they were writing on a whiteboard. Not at their chest. Honestly if I saw one showing through their clothing, I probably wouldn’t care. They’d probably be really surprised to hear that people think they have them for titillation. I honestly think this is a double standard coming into play. I’ve never seen anyone expressing shock and failing to understand why a man has a nipple piercing when he’s a lawyer or a CPA and not “in actual sex work”.

        4. Tinker*

          To give one answer to your question about why someone would want a nipple piercing other than titillation, when I got mine pierced it was:

          — As a (private) symbol of self-ownership. I wanted a body modification that would be reliably hidden by clothes (obviously, this question indicates that there are nuances), had a somewhat standardized element such that I didn’t have to make artistic choices as one might for a tattoo, and that was readily largely reversible if it came to that. This pretty much indicated piercings somewhere between the shoulders and the knees, navel piercings were right out for dysphoria reasons, and I wasn’t quite bold enough to go… lower.

          — As an attempted compromise on the point of above-mentioned dysphoria. At the time I was aware that I was trans and also aware that making persistently visible changes to my body on that account would cause me no end of shit, so my plan was to acknowledge it in ways that did not rule out dressing as an approximately conventional woman if need be. It kind of worked, although not for the long term.

          Something that I think may not be obvious if you’re not familiar with these things is that there are degrees of intention to display a piercing like that.

          You don’t take jewelry in and out of body piercings like you do with earrings — they’re generally held together by fiddly tiny threads or a sort of spring arrangement that takes some focused dexterity and possibly special pliers to operate, and the holes can close quickly and get irritated with repeated removal / reinsertion. So once you get the piercing done, the jewelry is largely there except for special occasions on the order of surgery.

          And then as far as visibility — the default result of existing as a person with that particular body modification was that in lighter-colored and lighter-fabric T-shirts it was possible to tell that the outline of my nipples under said shirt and my binder included the spherical ends of a horizontal barbell, and it would also be possible — it would definitely be a thing now, if I still had the piercing — to unintentionally and possibly against my intentions select clothing that made it more visible than I intended. In order to make it fully undetectable, I’d have to intentionally cover the piercing in some way. Hence, the assumption that if someone can see that the thing exists, the person must be doing it intentionally with the idea of capturing your attention with it — not so. It’s possible likewise to tell when I am or am not wearing a packer (which, when I do, is largely for functional reasons), but that doesn’t necessarily make it your business.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            That whole thing that if they’re showing, it must be intentional, reminds me of the way it’s assumed that if a woman is wearing a somewhat sheer blouse or too-tight pants, she’s doing it intentionally to be provocative.
            It’s another way of sexualizing women without our consent, and what’s most likely is she didn’t realize how it looks.

        5. Tiny Soprano*

          It’s not uncommon as a treatment for inverted nipples. An ex of mine had them for that reason. Surgery to correct inverted nipples is costly, painful, and doesn’t have a super high level of success, whereas a nipple piercing is relatively cheap, not as painful, usually means breastfeeding is still possible afterwards, and has a high success rate even if the piercing is removed down the track.

      3. JSPA*

        This; it takes either an extreme clothing failure or a questionable clothing choice in combination with a “your crotch should not be this close to my eyes” issue, to make a PA visible at work.

        Seeing that there is something stiff ands metalic where there would otherwise be nipple–if “the type” just means, ring vs. bar–is something that can happen through a couple of layers of cloth that otherwise is more-than-work-suitable. (If the LW means, “I see the flash of gemstones” or “I can read the brand name,” that’s a different question.)

        Assuming there’s no health hazard (e.g. workplaces with a strict “no snag hazard” policy)

        I’d treat any covered body adornment that someone could choose to focus on with the same level of “refuse to make it part of my awareness” in the exact same way as any other variant of, “I see an outline of something personal that you’re not doing ‘at’ anyone.”

        It’s equally so whether that’s medical (e.g. insulin pump / ostomy-anything), a moment of passing arousal (bodies have those for all sorts of reasons), an underwear line; deodorant residue near underarms; mis-aligned butt falsie; more muffin top than you find esthetic; something privately religious (hair shirt, tzitzit, pendant worn under one’s shirt) to something that helps someone with a fear or anxiety (lucky fidget piece).

        There’s nothing intrinsically unprofessional about having the sort of piercing that one can’t easily remove. Talking about it, flashing it, wearing a shirt that has an arrow pointing at it–that’s something else. But “I have an awareness of your body being nonstandard in some way, and I want to make that your problem” is something we really should get past.

      4. Anon.*

        That breasts are not genitalia is true, but is there not a big difference between someone putting their hand on your arm and their hand on your breast? A light touch on the shoulder is miles different than a light touch on the breast. I think that while breasts are not genitalia, they do tend to be in the same category.

    3. PspspspspspsKitty*

      I would want to leave it alone. If this is common regionally, I would let it go. If she is in a very conservative area, then it might be worth a discussion. Not because I think she is doing something wrong, but because some people can be overly traditional and cause a huge fuss. I don’t know though. I think people should be fine doing whatever they want.

      On a side note, if someone complained, I would ask them why they were starting at her chest. :P

      1. Deets*

        I mean, sometimes people end up looking at chests briefly in the course of normal human interaction. And when something is unusual about them a person could maybe get a bit distracted without trying to be creepy. Things catch our eyes, even if you aren’t staring.

        I’d never ever complain about something like that, I’d just pretend I didn’t notice. I would hope other people wouldn’t complain either, but if they did it might be more professional to say “we don’t have a policy against that” or something

        1. PspspspspspsKitty*

          My last sentence was a tongue in cheek comment because I can see some sticks-in-the-mud getting really upset with this, but I get what you are saying. I don’t see this as anything different than someone bending over and accidently showing the top part of their undies or a button up shirt gaping open while reaching for something.

    4. Gen*

      I’m in a subculture where body piercings are very common and honestly the men’s nipple piercings are usually way more noticeable than the women’s because of the thin structure of masculine work clothes. A lot of men’s white shirts are pretty transparent and there’s rarely a layer between as there would be with bras. In terms of genital piercings, the trouser tightness necessary to see a Prince Albert would already be inappropriate for work but so would staring long enough to work out what was there. I don’t know what to suggest for the OP because piercings are such a nonevent in my circles so long as they aren’t bleeding or tangle on something but maybe ‘just don’t look if it bothers you’?

    5. Beth*

      Agreed–if the issue was a Prince Albert showing, the piercing element would be secondary at most, the main issue would be why his genitals are so visible in the first place! Male nipple piercings are a much better analog.

      In a very formal and/or conservative environment, my gut feeling is that visible nipple piercings (regardless of gender) would lead to the employee being told to conceal them. In that sense, I feel like asking an employee to cover nipple piercings is different than your typical breast-related issues (things like large cup sizes, prominent nipples, etc, which are usually less optional and more “my body just looks like this, what do you seriously want me to do about it?”). In a more flexible environment, though, I agree that the best course is to let it alone and not fuss about an employee’s personal expression.

      1. Observer*

        my gut feeling is that visible nipple piercings (regardless of gender) would lead to the employee being told to conceal them.

        Yes. They should be covered regardless of gender.

        1. JSPA*

          I don’t get the sense that there’s lack of coverage, only that the letter writer can tell that there’s a bar, or there’s a ring, by the area of rigidity when the shirt brushes or presses on what would, in an unpierced state, be a curve of flesh or a nipple point.

          In which case, the Letter Writer’s answer is, “Gold star for alertness to anyone who’s that observant and aware of their surroundings–but lets all focus that attention elsewhere than each other’s bodies, and the problem will be solved.”

          1. Observer*

            The bottom line is that whatever the response is, needs to be the same regardless of gender.

            But, also, that’s not my read on it.

      2. nona*

        I laugh a little, because the eponymous Prince Albert got the piercing to reduce the visible presence of his genitals (tie it down) in the tight fitting fashions at the timing.

        So, if you can see someone has a PA piercing, it kind of feels like they’re doing it wrong? (Even though I know guys prob don’t get pierced for the same reason as Albert did).

      3. Chaordic One*

        When I worked in H.R. there was an occasion where one of my co-workers (the only male in the department) was ordered to have a conversation with another male employee in which my co-worker was to advise that employee that, in spite of a very casual dress work environment, as part of his workplace attire the employee needed to wear underwear underneath his pants. I can only imagine that the conversation must have been incredibly awkward. I never noticed, but apparently several other people did and complained to H.R. about it.

    6. Name of Requirement*

      Nipple piercings are sexualizing nipples. Is this functionally different from wearing a sub collar?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        It is different. Piercings are not about sexualising anything (unless you believe eyebrows, belly buttons, noses etc are sexual) in general – any more than getting a tattoo is.

        Wearing an obviously sub collar (wear a velvet choker, seriously) at work is more akin to saying ‘here’s something I like to do sexually’, which piercings aren’t.

        Now, if I had an employee who’s nipple piercings were showing (male or female or non binary) and they were customer facing I’d have a quiet word about maybe another layer of clothing. If they weren’t customer facing I’d just not look at their chest.

        I’ve dated a guy with multiple dong piercings and unless the trousers are really REALLY tight (like wearing tights with no knickers) it’s doubtful anything would be visible, but even then the same action would apply (it’s not too hard to not look at groins).

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            For the same reason I have to wear long sleeves on site so my tattoos aren’t visible: clients can be really picky about what they consider ‘professional’

      2. onco fonco*

        Nipple piercings are piercings in nipples. Not everything that happens under clothes is inherently sexual.

        1. JSPA*

          Nipple piercings can be–and are–incorporated into some people’s sex play, so there’s that.

          Of course, diapers also can be–and also are–incorporated into some people’s sex play.

          I would not make presumptions about the purpose or meaning of someone’s nipple ring, nor make it my business, any more than I’d make someone’s adult diaper my business. Which is to say, if they made a sexual aspect evident to me without my consent, I’d be hugely offended, but otherwise, I’d double down on being hugely oblivious.

        2. Gravatar*

          And yet at a healthcare setting, at the front desk, it is not inconceivable that nipple piercings (on any gender) might make the patient uncomfortable, as they may bring up thoughts about pain, wounds, bleeding (thoughts about why the patient would not want to have their own nipples pierced, rather than whether the workers piercings are sexual or not).

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        And ear piercings are sexualizing ears? This is a very confusing statement.

        1. Munster mash*

          You can say “cute rings” about ear jewlery. You cannot comment on a workers nipple rings (cute or otherwise)

      4. JSPA*

        They can be. They don’t have to be.

        We had someone write in about going to a clothing optional thing in Scandinavia, and being self-conscious about piercings. In that case, some of the anxiety was because, for them, the piercings were sexual. But piercings can equally be done as cultural affiliation.

        People I’ve known, and people who’ve posted here when this came up before provided an extensive list.

        a) to be punk
        b) to subvert patriarchy
        c) as a shared bonding ritual
        d) “its badass,”
        e) “it’s private” [could be sex or BDSM or rope play or anything else]
        f) “really bad pain when my nipples are erect, and someone suggested this would desensitize the problem” [don’t think it worked]
        g) “we were drunk, but I like the way it looks, so hey”
        h) in memory of a friend who was pierced and died young
        i) “reclaiming my body after trauma”
        and yes,
        j) “sex, duh.”

        If you’re into it as a sex thing, they may all look sexual to you, but that’s a categorization error.

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            If I have a second thought after posting my first, I will often do it as a reply to self so they stay nested. I’m guessing this person did the same.

            1. Anononon*

              Yeah, I think I read it incorrectly initially, the second comment as a rebuttal, but now I see it’s more of a continuance of a train of thought. :)

        1. JSPA*

          There are all sorts of things that give me a frisson up my spine or skeeve me out a bit. Comparably, at least some of them are things that people work hard and intentionally to achieve.

          (Specific sets of particularly delineated muscle groups are on that list, for example. Makes me think of writhing worms.)

          But you know what? I’d be discriminatory and an asshole, if I made that the problem of every person whom I so much as suspected of displaying those traits, based on outlines seen through clothing.

          I also freak out if someone else is what strikes me as too close to the edge of a drop-off. Again, even though this often aligns with actual safety or actual regulations, the emotional inability to deal with the situation is All Mine. That’s functionally separable from the other issues, once I choose to detangle them, and it is in fact on me to detangle my strong aversion and deal with it internally, instead of making it “stuff I need to tell people and make it their problem.”

          Being easily skeeved out by piercings is absolutely real, but it’s like misophonia, or like feeling queasy upon seeing other people on the edge of a cliff. It registers on the person seeing / hearing / knowing as, “that’s wrong or obscene or dangerous”–but that sensation is entirely internal to the person having the reaction. It’s not some rule of the universe.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes I really feel the same about people who stretch their earlobes out. It just gives me a shiver up the spine far more than some other piercings do for no logical reason.

            But it’s not my business. I’d never say anything to a colleague who had their lobes stretched. It’s their business and they obviously like the way they look so good for them.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I’m tokophobic, I get really panicked if I’m close to a pregnant person. However, that’s my issue.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        There’s a letter, quite a while back, from a guy complaining that he could see his coworkers cleavage and he didn’t want to see it because it was distracting. Maybe I’ve a minority viewpoint but I see this as kinda the same: just don’t look.

      2. Le Sigh*

        Well, I didn’t want to see a dude’s butt crack at the county fair a few years back, but I did. My aunt hates the site of all tattoos (eye roll), but she sees them all the time and can just look away. I didn’t want to see so many “Kate Plus Eight” haircuts from 2006-2010 but boy were they everywhere in my town!

        Look away! We can all just look away!

    7. Ana Gram*

      Yeah, I agree. This is a gender neutral question since we all have nipples. I found the comparison to a genital piercing to be odd. I’ve noticed nipple piercings at work but never genital piercing!

      1. Chaordic One*

        You know, I once had a co-worker who asked me if I wanted to see his (genital piercing). I politely declined and, fortunately, he never brought up the subject again. I guess I missed my chance.

    8. Old Pervie Lady*

      You know of more men who you know have nipple piercings than you do women, but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually more common with men you know, it just means that you’re more likely to see their nipples.

      Likewise, I *think* it’s more common among gay men than otherwise, but that’s because of my personal history of it all, which goes back to the very early days when there was only 1 place in the US to get those piercings.

  3. nnn*

    #1: A commenter in another AAM thread a while back offered a magical script that you might be able to use or adapt: “I can’t eat until later.”

    Depending on how the situation plays out, maybe it would be useful to build on this and say/hint that you can’t always eat in the middle of the day, for undisclosed yet boring medical reasons.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      That’s my usual tactic. Not even my husband sees me eat except on very rare occasions.

      (Got a long battle with anorexia in my past and am convinced that if anyone sees my obese self eat they’ll mock/not believe I could have had an ED. Yeah I know it’s not logical)

      I got known at one place as (meant kindly) the ‘cheapest employee’ because I’d only ever drink tea or coffee at dinners. Other useful phrases I’ve used: ‘can’t eat during the day’, ‘no worries, not hungry yet’, ‘had a big big dinner last night and am still stuffed’.

    2. Indisch blau*

      There’s also Intermittent Fasting. “I can’t eat now because doing Intermittent Fasting.”

      1. Bird bird*

        I’d hesitate to use any fad or diet as an excuse, because people might suddenly want to bond with you about it. That can be an equally triggering experience for people with EDs. e.g. ‘doesn’t it feel great to lose weight’ or ‘i’ve been so good, i haven’t eaten all day’

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Very good point. Absolutely the last thing I want to hear is diet/weight loss talk. Even if it’s well intended I can stop eating for days.

          Keep things bland, generic and with a tone of voice that’s at ‘boring information’ level. Like you were stating the time of day.

    3. Bagpuss*

      Or just “I don’t eat at this time of day (but I’d love a coffeee / ice water)” which could cover all sorts of reasons

      I think mentioning intermittent fasting is possibly not ideal because it opens up the conversation to questions or comments about dieting which may be unhelpful to OP, or anyone else in the meeting with any kind of issues around food or dieting.

      1. Carlie*

        I was thinking similarly. “Oh, I get sick to my stomach if I eat at this time of day”, said breezily, could work most of the time.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Or even, “I have discomfort if I eat at this time of day.” You don’t have to say what KIND of discomfort, but most (reasonable) people wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortable!

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          For a young woman everyone will immediately think she’s pregnant with that one…

    4. Khatul Madame*

      It is not a good excuse if the OP accepted a lunch meeting. It would work for a group lunch.
      For 1×1, better to suggest breakfast or coffee “date” without going into details.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        This. If you accepted a lunch date, and then said “I can’t eat at this time of day, but you go ahead,” I’d be so uncomfortable with you sitting there watching me eat.

      2. E*

        Exactly! I’d be annoyed if I suggested 1×1 lunch, OP accepted, and then gave any reason for not eating that she could have known about in advance.

        “Still stuffed from the night before?” Well, that was inconsiderate, I’d think. “Can’t eat at this time of day?” WTF did you accept lunch then?

        There are reasons for not eating that a person could not have reasonably foreseen, but they’d be trickier to disclose. Unless she’s willing to go all the way and fake having Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis or a similar condition that has flared up, OP would pretty much be restricted to a sudden tummy upset.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          Yes, I think it’s better to address at the invitation stage rather than at the lunch itself. A former co-worker had a medical reason for not eating lunch and let me know when I was planning for a group lunch. Again, all of the provided statements are still acceptable at that stage as well with the statement: “Just know if you do want to do lunch, [chosen excuse]. I certainly appreciate the invitation!”

        2. Yorick*

          I think these are things to say when you’re accepting the lunch meeting. If they say, “I can’t eat in the middle of the day, but I’d like to come along and have a coffee if that’s ok!” then I could choose if I’d like to go anyway or if I’d rather just have a coffee or something other than lunch.

      3. Llama Llama*

        Agree agree agree. I would hate to be left being the only one eating at a “lunch date”. To me it would be extremely rude and I would rather have been turned down for lunch and offered a coffee date instead.

        Once I had a friend meet me for dinner. When she got there she told me she had already eaten but was happy to…sit there and watch me eat? I was furious (this was kind of the last straw of the friendship at the time) and I told her I would have rather she just cancelled on me than sit there and watch me eat an entire dinner. In retrospect (this happened 15 years ago, we were 19, and we are still friends now) I think she was struggling with an eating disorder. I don’t know that for a fact but there were other signs that weren’t noticed until later. Regardless – if you don’t want to eat, don’t tell people you want to eat and then show up and not eat – at least if it is one on one. Just tell the truth and ask them for coffee instead.

        1. anonny*

          This happened to me on a first date! Like OP she had some discomfort eating in front of people, which is totally not a big deal in itself, but it made it so much more awkward that she didn’t let me know…until after we’d ordered food. While I would have been happy to just have drinks, I learned that it makes ME uncomfortable to eat in front of a date who isn’t also eating.

          So I agree with not springing it on someone. I honestly think most normal people aren’t going to think anything of it if you suggest or give the option of a non-meal meeting.

    5. Nicotene*

      Also, practice the breezy rejoinder you would use if someone got more intense about it. If you say food issues, worst case scenario someone is like, “tell me exactly what they are, right now, and I will find a way around it.” Then you could say something like, “it’s a whole complicated mess, I actually prefer not to get into it. I’m good with what I have thanks” with a back-pocket escalation to something like, “please don’t continue to press me about this, I’m fine and this isn’t something I want to discuss at work.” Practicing the worst case (out loud) and knowing what I will say is my technique for making these situations less anxiety inducing.

        1. Nicotene*

          Ha I read your comment after I posted mine and thought “okay, it’s already been said well” hehe.

      1. Rowan*

        Yeah, this is why I don’t like Alison’s idea to say they have food restrictions. Some people will just take that as a puzzle to solve, and can be very insistent and determined in their desire to solve it for you.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          That’s the danger I’ve found: if I say I have food restrictions (which technically I do: it’s the restriction that you’ll never see me eat) then most well meaning people will immediately start trying to ‘solve’ the problem. It’s not objectionable behaviour on their part, quite the opposite, but it’s not the goal I’m after.

          Mind you it’s taken my parents a good few years to accept that if we meet up for coffee/lunch then I’m not gonna eat anything- lots of ‘but what about this cake? Or this apple? Or how about some toast?’ but they’re getting it.

        2. PookieLou*

          Yes. Any time you fabricate details as part of an excuse, you get stuck in a cycle of maintaining them. It can have unforseen consequences, like in this case if the boss suggests a restaurant that caters to dietary restrictions, or says they can do a brown bag lunch meeting instead. It’s always best to tell the truth where possible, even if you have water it down significantly for your own safety.

      2. meyer lemon*

        This seems like a good situation to roleplay with a therapist (and if it’s a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, they may have some insight into useful tactics as well). It can be difficult to master the breezy response when the subject is a fraught and stressful one for you, so practicing in a neutral environment can really help.

    6. Nunya*

      At my old office, taking lunch together in the breakroom was often seen as a social highlight since folks from different departments would all eat at the same time. I, however, really struggle eating in the same place at the same time as other folks because either I am always in someone’s way, or someone is always in my way, accessing the fridge/microwave/sink/whatever. (This happens at home, too; it’s a Me thing, not a Work thing). I took to eating my lunch later and later and told people who asked about it, “I’m not hungry yet. My body’s just living in a different time zone” and that was enough.

  4. Storie*

    #1–if it’s the entertainment industry, no one will care if you eat or not. Everyone is on a different diet, cleanse, or restriction, it’s just become normal. I’ve had lunch with someone who only ordered and ate burnt bacon. I’ve dined with someone who was liquids only. It goes on and on. And honestly I’ve found during some lunches where I’ve ordered a salad and just pushed it around on my plate, the person was too focused on their own food to even notice. Just be low key about it don’t make it weird and it won’t be.

    1. jenny*

      That’s good context but nah, some people will make it weird. OP1, you can “[not] make it weird” but sometimes someone else will, and that’s not your fault. I am EDNOS recovered. I understand your anxiety. Most or all reasonable people will take you at your word but as we know well here, not all people are reasonable, boundary-respecting creatures.

      I feel most comfortable entering a situation I’m anxious about with a few levels of practiced responses ready. You have your polite, breezy, no big deal replies, you have your polite and cheerful but more firm “thanks, really, but I have food restrictions. But you go ahead!” Then if they keep pushing, you are allowed to have a less cheerful or even cheerless but very firm scripts where you ask them to stop their behavior directly – “please don’t (push / order food for me /etc), that makes me very uncomfortable”, “I’d rather not get into the details, how about (weather/baseball/meeting topics)?”, “it’s very boring, let’s not talk about it,” “it’s a private medical condition.” etc. I hope that everyone takes you at your stated boundaries the very first time you state them. I don’t think it is realistic to expect this every time. You don’t have to try to maintain a perfect, cheerful facade while inside fighting down your feelings of being triggered by a “well-meaning” busybody. If someone makes it weird, you are allowed to name their behavior directly and ask them to stop.

    2. KoiFeeder*

      > I’ve had lunch with someone who only ordered and ate burnt bacon.

      You also met Steve?!

  5. ManBearPig*

    Regarding the nipple piercings I would say let it be unless they’re absurdly outlandish. As a man who constantly appears to be cold (despite almost always being hot), I can sympathize with permanently noticeable nipple. Even though mine is biologically out of my control and hers is voluntary, conceptually I view it s the same issue. My areolas aren’t on display in the slightest, nor do I imagine are hers, and having nipples isn’t a crime against nature so something that reminds people that you have the same kind of thing they themselves have shouldn’t be penalized. Noticeable ≠ visible

  6. Anonymouse*

    Re: 2.
    You’re living in Groundhog Day.
    Forced to fire the same employee over and over again.
    Just have Andie MacDowell fall in love with you and you’re out of there.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        No, no – the lesson of Groundhog Day isn’t “Get Andie MacDowell fall in love with you and you’re out of there.” It’s “Start caring about other people and, you jerk, and then you’re out of there.” (I adore movies with a redemption arc!)

        But as for the OP, I like Alison’s scripts here – and both are important. Yes, you definitely need to let your superiors know, though in a kind and supportive way, but you also need to have a “Let’s get this out in the open” talk with the employee. Who is almost certainly terrified.

  7. mf*

    #1: I’ve been there. I totally understand what you’re going through. I hope you’re getting the support you need. A few ideas to help you cope…

    *For one on one lunches, find a local restaurant that serves at least 1 dish you’d feel comfortable eating. Soup is great for slowing sipping from a spoon without actually eating a lot (a bit like coffee).
    *Lie if you need to. “Oh sorry, I can’t eat that. I’ve got a bunch of allergies and food restrictions for medical reasons.”
    *For lunches catered in office, make a plate and pick at it. Then take it with you as if going to finish it at your desk after the meeting. Of any asks about it: “yeah,I’m a really slow eater.”
    *In every office, there’s a food pusher. Just take whatever food this person wants to give you and throw it out later.
    *if you drink, happy hour is a great way to bond with coworkers. You can order one drink and nurse it for ages. Plus a lot of water on the side.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I don’t think there’s even a need to lie. “I don’t eat lunch for medical reasons” or “due to a medical condition, I eat on a specific schedule” are both true and sufficient.

      1. JMR*

        If someone said that to me, I’d think “Oh, OK, how about breakfast then?” or “Oh, that’s fine, what time do you eat?” I wouldn’t even be attempting to pry; I’d just assume they were telling me that they don’t eat their meals on the usual schedule, but maybe we could have breakfast at 10 or lunch at 3. Not to say that OP can’t use those, but they might want to phrase it in a way that shuts down the conversation completely and doesn’t invite follow-up suggestions.

        1. Snailing*

          That’s why it’s likely a good idea to follow up “I don’t eat lunch” with something like “But I’m happy to grab a coffee while we chat.”

          To be honest, if I proposed a lunch meeting and the answer was “I don’t eat lunch for a medical reason,” I really don’t think I would pry more about the time simply because it’s medical and thus private. I’d probably counter with something like “Sure, we can meet in the conference room” or “That’s fine – when is best for you to meet instead?” It’s still accommodating, but takes the focus off of the medical issue.

          1. Eviltwinjen*

            I have a friend who just doesn’t ever eat lunch, so it’s plausible to say “Oh, I don’t usually/always eat lunch”. But yeah, I’d offer an alternative rather than go to a one-sided lunch.

  8. HELENA*


    It’s in bad form to try to play both sides against each other.
    Your industry is small you do not want to do anything that can damage your reputation.

    Your old boss already showed you where you stood before you got furloughed. They never met your requests while you were there. I do not see your old boss as acting in good faith here. They called you because you got recruited by their direct competitor. If you ended up back there you are going to have issues getting proper merit increases in the future.. Cancel the meeting with your old boss. MOVE ON.

    This new employer met all your requests. The new employer might provide the opportunity for growth you never got at your old employer. Don’t be shortsighted. If they pull the plug on your offer because you are acting in bad faith you will be back to square one.

    Congratulations on the job offer.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Echoing this advice!! Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with your new employer by being underhanded about how you conduct yourself during the offer process. It WILL affect your reputation at the company – with both HR and your manager and your grandboss.

      I agree that you should either call your old manager back and say that you have reconsidered and don’t want to waste their time, as you have already accepted the other offer and don’t want to send mixed signals. If they really push you, say you’ll go for coffee, do so, and stand by your original decision. As HELENA above points out, your old company didn’t do right by you the first time, and they won’t do so this time either. They had their chance.

      Go and have a great start with your new company, and start off on the right foot.

    2. Smithy*

      I actually think the better reason to not take the meeting with the old boss is to keep both companies open as possibilities in the future. It may be that in a couple years Old Company will have an amazing opportunity for the OP that is truly impossible now. However, thanking the old boss for their ongoing support and not being seen as using them – broader goodwill and affection should still exist.

    3. Kes*

      I mean, there can be situations where the only way to get a raise is to get an offer elsewhere. But even in those cases, you’re often better off just leaving for the other position. And when you’ve just started is not the time to try this; you’ve just concluded a negotiation and accepted their offer, so then to come back and say ‘Actually…’ makes it look that you accepted in bad faith and are going back on what you previously agreed to.
      I also don’t know that you can strictly say that about the previous employer. It is possible they have resources now that they didn’t earlier. That said, it’s entirely reasonable for OP not to want to go back there, but they may as well preserve the relationship.

      1. Observer*

        I also don’t know that you can strictly say that about the previous employer. It is possible they have resources now that they didn’t earlier

        Not likely. They knew that the OP had left over pay and opportunities. And that the OP had brought this up multiple times. Three is no reason Old Manager should have expected the OP to reach out AGAIN. If Old Manager really valued OP (as opposed to just wanting to keep Competitor from getting them) he WOULD have reached out to them. And if it took Competitor’s offer to get Old Manager to realize that the OP is really worth that much, the OP reaching out would not have helped.

  9. PspspspspspsKitty*

    OP 1 – I agree that you should use the “I have food restrictions” excuse. I have food allergies and always hate office lunches. It gives me anxiety thinking about it because there’s so much to think about. I usually tell people that I packed my own lunch, I have food restrictions, or I don’t like eating out. There’s been times I just join in on lunch meetings, drinking something instead of eating. Sometimes I tell them that I already ate, sometimes I say I’m not hungry. If a lunch is set up in advance, I would tell them that I have food restrictions and will only get a drink.

    Professionally, no one asks me about it unless I mention it in detail. Socially, I got way more questions but I would just wave it off with a “Ah, that’s personal, so tell me about…”

    1. Beth*

      The nice thing about food restrictions is, if anyone pushes too hard you can pass it off with “It’s medically related” and there won’t be much they can say to that. If they keep pushing at that point, they’ll be the weird awkward one causing problems, not you–you saying “I prefer to keep my medical details private!” is all you’ll need to come off as a reasonable and polite person.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I think the only problem with this is that she may find that the other person then seeks to accommodate those restrictions, by offering to find a suitable restaurant or suggesting that you meet over lunch and each bring your own food.
      Which is great if you have actual allergies or sensitivities or can only eat if the restaurant is halal / kosher / vegan / whatever but not so much if the issue is that you can’t eat in front of other people / strangers.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, I think I’d go with a matter-of-fact tone and ‘Oh, I don’t tend to eat at lunchtime, but I’m happy to come along for a coffee!’ I haven’t had this particular issue but I’ve had to navigate similar situations with the office tea round – it’s a British institution but I don’t drink tea, and whenever I start a new job there’s always the slightly awkward time when I’m declining everyone’s offers of tea and they’re starting to wonder what the heck is up with me. So I just head it off with ‘Ah, I don’t drink tea – don’t worry about including me in the tea round! Happy to make my own coffee first thing, but that’s about it for hot drinks as far as I’m concerned’. That’s all I’ve ever needed to say – most people accept it as a quirk of my personality, and that’s that. I’m sure most people would be the same with ‘Oh, I don’t tend to eat lunch, but I’m fine coming along just for a drink’.

      2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        Yeah – I’m wondering if there is a phrasing that would make things a bit clearer. I am usually happy to work with food restrictions if they are described to me that way – I will look until I find you a vegan, celiac-safe birthday cake or the one restaurant that serves parve pizza.

        Maybe the trick is to phrase it less around things that need to be excluded from the LW’s diet – like “I can’t eat x/y/x” or “I can’t eat at this or that time” – since people will try and work around what you can’t eat. Instead it could be something like, “I’m afraid my meals and mealtimes have to be carefully planned in consultation with my doctor,” or “I have to eat a pretty specific diet according to a schedule.” There are plenty of medical issues where you really do need to plan out your nutrition very exactly, and most people won’t pry into them.

      3. Observer*

        by offering to find a suitable restaurant or suggesting that you meet over lunch and each bring your own food. Which is great if you have actual allergies or sensitivities or can only eat if the restaurant is halal / kosher / vegan / whatever but not so much if the issue is that you can’t eat in front of other people / strangers.

        FYI, that’s not exactly necessarily the case. Some allergens are airborne, which means that you can’t go to a restaurant the serves a lot of that allergen. A lot of people who are strictly kosher will not go to a non-kosher restaurant. etc.

        Which is to say if someone tells you they have food restrictions you can ASK “Is there any way we can accommodate that?” And then (try to) do as they say. For someone in the OP’s situation says “well what about X?” the OP could respond “My medical team advises me to just avoid eating in restaurants”. A reasonable person will back down.

        Now, we all know that not all people are reasonable. In which case the OP is just going have to stick to their guns as boringly as possible and deflect as much as they can. But that is NOT their fault. It’s the fault of people who can’t back off.

        1. Smithy*

          I think in addition to having the medical restrictions scripts that feel most comfortable, another way to approach this is to lean into aspects of getting a coffee, a drink, or breakfast that are interesting to the OP and/or the industry.

          It can include being super geeky about coffee and being jazzed about a place that has really unique offerings like kopi luwak or a Yemeni or Ethiopian coffee service. Or maybe it’s more about interior design/architecture or a place with outdoor seating to get fresh air. Or a place that has the most amazing bagels/pastries/breakfasts. Essentially, focussing on the fun/special sides of getting a coffee or breakfast.

          It may be that there’s a Starbucks in a beautiful (and convenient) atrium, and folks are excited to learn about the space – that who cares if it wasn’t their first food/beverage choice. Basically, there are options the OP has to make those interactions still feel special and fun, without it being about food.

        2. Chaordic One*

          Also remember that a log of allergens are common ingredients in other foods and condiments and that many members of the general public are not aware of what is in the food they eat. It’s easy to avoid tomatoes and dairy, but the pervasiveness of soy (soybean oil and hydrologyzed soy protein) in common prepared and packaged foods and condiments is my downfall. I know what to avoid and substitute and it isn’t a big problem for me, but I’ve been dealing with it for nearly a decade now and I really don’t expect others to know about it and deal with it the way I do.

  10. RG*

    Hmm, #3 is tricky. I agree with others that breasts are different from genitals, so I guess a comparison with a Prince Albert piercing wouldn’t work as well? (more on this later). I would say that, in general, for someone to see a nipple piercing in such detail that you can easily make out the jewelry also suggests that the fabric is sheer and/or stretched pretty tightly. I’d think at that point you would already run afoul of the expected work attire for a front desk position – even if it’s casual, the general rule of thumb would say that sheer shirts are paired with an undershirt, and that you’re wearing the appropriate sized shirt so that it’s not stretched so tightly. But I may also be imagining a scenario in which the piercing and jewelry are really obvious.

    To the Prince Albert thing: I’m not exactly sure what this is and I’m scared to Google it.

      1. Speaks to Dragonflies*

        Yeah, it’s a piercing that involves male genitalia, so yeah, if you don’t wanna see male junk. don’t google image search it.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I’m thinking that the receptionist is wearing scrubs which can be thin. So I don’t think it’s that she is wearing in appropriate clothing like shear tops, otherwise I think the LW would have mentioned that.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        None of the receptionists/front desk staff at any of my many medical offices I visit wear scrubs. A simple solution is to wear a blazer, shrug, or something.

    2. TeacherTurnedNurse*

      The writer mentions this is a medical office, where I’m assuming everyone wears scrubs. I’m large breasted and can testify that many many women’s-fit scrubs make it hard to avoid things like visible nipple outlines in cold weather, largely because of the type and relative thinness of the fabric. This happens even with an undershirt. I hate padded bras because they add size to an area that I already think is Too Big, and buying larger scrubs doesn’t work because either (1) I still have the same problem because the fabric is clingy even when I wear a larger size because my breasts are my most prominent body part or (2) I look like a child playing dress up in oversized clothes. Option 2 is what happens if I try to wear unisex scrubs (which typically have stiffer fabric) because I’m short and the sizes that are big enough to cover obvious breast visibility are so big that they swallow my short torso.

      I have no feelings one way or the other about the nipples rings; I say all this merely to suggest that in the weird world of scrubs it’s not always true that visible breast outline = scrubs too small.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Why would the front office staff in a medical office be wearing scrubs? I’ve only seen this when it’s a small office and the person is also a nurse and does double duty.

        1. StripesAndPolkaDots*

          Maybe it’s regional because every doctor’s office I’ve gone to except my current small one has had front desk staff wear scrubs.

        2. BadWolf*

          I also see this at various medical-adjacent places (dentist, etc). I think it’s an easy to way to have a uniform instead of having to wrangle a dress code for the front office/client facing people.

          1. noahwynn*

            As someone who used to work in a medical office (MRI center) this is totally it. We all wore scrubs and it was way easier to provide a uniform rather than fight through a dress code for front office staff.

            1. PT*

              Don’t most MRI centers require all staff to be magnet-safe as part of their dress code, in case there’s an emergency in the room with the scanner? In that case, the employee would have to take her nipple rings out for work, period, because they contain metal.

              1. Tinker*

                Pretty sure there’s non-metal nipple jewelry out there, although it may be acrylic and not so great body compatibility wise for long term wear. I had this question come up when I did Tough Mudder because some of the obstacles seemed like they would be the wrong sort of fun given metal barbells, and although I ended up fashioning a keeper out of a teflon rod, I also found some commercial offerings.

              2. PhysicsTeacher*

                Titanium isn’t really affected by an MRI (it’s paramagnetic, rather than ferromagnetic like iron. Most things a layperson would consider “non-magnetic” are paramagnetic). It’ll block the locations you want to image if it’s in the way, so patients would have to take out piercings for visibility but it won’t get sucked into the MRI machine or anything like that. So, in the same way that implanted titanium plates or screws to heal a broken bone are magnet safe, so is titanium body jewelry. And a LOT, maybe even most, body jewelry you’d buy at a piercing shop is titanium.

        3. Kimmy Schmidt*

          In every medical office I visit, from orthodontist to optometrist to OB/GYN, the front desk staff also wear scrubs.

        4. londonedit*

          Definitely not a thing where I live. Nurses/healthcare assistants who work in GP surgeries will usually wear a uniform, but doctors don’t and receptionists definitely don’t. If you’re visiting a hospital, fine, but where I live most routine medical appointments happen at a GP surgery and not a hospital, and in those environments scrubs aren’t really a thing.

  11. Laura H.*

    #3- Does the employee know that their unusual piercing is extremely visible, and that it might be weird due to their position in the office as client-facing?

    I’m not gonna say it’s not your problem, but at the same time I’m not gonna say it is. I will say that certain piercings and other modifications are still not commonly accepted in a lot of workplaces and it’s absolutely their prerogative to enforce that if it’s deemed bad optics, or could invite problems like harassment or the like.

    Treat the employee as the adult they are and bring it up discreetly if needed.

  12. Um, what did I just read?*

    Warning, be prepared to go down an Internet rabbit hole that becomes stranger and stranger if you decide to Google the type of piercing mentioned in the response to LW 3.

  13. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    My thoughts on the nipple piercing is all around work safety. Follow similar guidelines as you do for earrings or nose rings for size, and otherwise myob. At least if you work in a situation where someone might decide to pull it randomly (drunk person. really young child/toddler) , or where it might easily get caught on something and rip off.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      This is a very good point, but if you’re going to police body piercings on the grounds of safety, then you need to make sure that ear and facial piercings are subject to the same rules. I mean, if it’s unsafe for someone to have obvious nipple jewelry, it’s unsafe for someone to have hoop or dangling earrings as well.

      1. Brett*

        Long time ago while working fast food I had nipple piercings (as well as ear and belly button). Something I learned (the hard way), is that nipple piercings are by far the easiest piercing to snag. And when they snag… it’s a lot worse than snagging an ear piercing.
        This will sound strange, but the most common way I snagged them was on wall corners, something that is hard to do with an ear piercing. But they also would get snagged on random chest high equipment all the time.
        I probably should have just taken the out, but I ended up putting strips of athletic tape over them while at work (which also made it so you could not tell I was wearing them).

  14. Maxie*

    #1, big hugs. A job culture with regular lunches sounds like a nightmare for you. What about a simple script like this, “I have a medical conditions where I can only eat certain things of day” (true: times you are not at a table with other people), “but I love the coffee here.” Then transition to Work or Industry topic or chit chat: So nice to see flowers after that long winter.

    1. Janie*

      Yes, OP you could very easily say that you’re doing intermittent fasting, which is a fairly normal thing these days (at least in my city).

  15. Catherine*

    OP1, I am not diagnosed with an ED (my doctor feels I don’t meet full diagnostic criteria for ana as I don’t qualify as underweight), but I am struggling with and trying to correct some disordered eating habits that can make eating in front of other people nightmarish, especially if I feel observed. These are some of the things I do to survive meals with my colleagues:

    – I never pretend I have allergies or restrictions because my coworkers start to pry (to the point of asking what meds I was on!) so that they can “make accommodations” and I don’t trust myself to keep a long-term lie straight. This means that for spontaneous events I fall back on pretending to have eaten already. If a planned event is a standing-up affair it’s easy to keep my hands full with memo book in one hand and coffee in the other. For sit-downs, I tend to fall back on soups or salads.
    – In a large group, getting something small and pushing it around my plate can backfire badly. Odds are lower that anyone notices, but when they do, it often blows up into a bigger thing as they enlist others in a mission to find out why I’m not eating “enough” and get me something else I’d prefer, and I hate turning into the object of focused attention that way. I usually order only a drink and make vague statements about still being full from [insert previous meal] if anyone asks.
    – If I’m in a situation where I’m going to push something around my plate, something I can sort of… shred? into a more “leftovery” state works better, with small cuts of red meat being the best. Doing “stage business” of cutting it up is generally sufficient, and most restaurant steaks have a lot of gristle in them that I can point to and say I’ve already had all the good bits out of it.
    – Re: the “stage business” of eating, IME the thing that seems to make other people uncomfortable about not-everyone-here-is-eating is often feeling watched. As long as I look down regularly to cut things, etc (visibly taking my focus off the other person and putting it on the plate), the people I’m with are much less prone to noticing whether the fork actually makes it all the way to my mouth.

    Best of luck, OP1.

    1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

      I’m so sorry that your doctor is determined to ignore the volume of evidence that you don’t have to be underweight to have an eating disorder. I am glad you have developed coping skills at work.

    2. PspspspspspsKitty*

      I have food allergies. I would say that not being able to eat in a group is a kind of food restriction. I don’t think it’s a lie. If they push to be more accommodating, I would end the convo on “It’s personal, I don’t need accommodations” and then move on. I’m not saying this to argue with you, I just want to give people mental permission to use the verbiage without feeling like it’s a lie. But really your coworkers suck to push on you so much.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I agree with you. Using food restrictions covers a lot of ground from having an ED to allergies to religious or personal reasons

      2. Hazel*

        If there’s more pushing for details than I’m comfortable with, I’ll say, “it’s a long and boring list; I don’t really like talking about it” that has always worked for me but ymmv, depending on your colleagues.

      3. MCMonkeybean*

        I agree–it may a self-imposed restriction but that doesn’t make it not real or important! I think that is a perfectly reasonable way to explain not eating with others at work.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      My sincerest sympathies because I know EXACTLY where you’re coming from. By the time I got a different doctor who actually understood ‘yes you can be starving yourself to lethal levels and still be overweight’ and got me treatment for my anorexia I was seriously ill. (Age 17-20. I’ve still got problems eating but nowhere near as bad as I was. Now 40+).

      I’ve done the ‘Formula 1 race of food’ round a few plates too…

      1. Red 5*

        I had so, so, so many doctors in my life ignore so many problems and tell me to diet because I was overweight that when I had a doctor look at me and say “I know that you know you need to lose weight because you know it’s affecting this, this, and this. But be honest with me – are you skipping meals?” I actually cried. They had all just assumed that I was eating all day, every day. Meanwhile I was only eating one meal a day most of the time.

        The science about eating and weight is so much further advanced than a lot of doctors realize and they don’t seem to care to update their information.

        Eventually I started therapy for other reasons, but the therapist I chose also specialized in treatment of eating disorders. She and I both agreed that I did not have an eating disorder, but that I had disordered eating habits and an unhealthy relationship with food. And part of that came from a lot of really bad doctors giving really bad advice.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          So many doctors have told me to ‘stop eating junk food/do exercise/you’re too fat’ before reading my notes which have big warnings about never letting me hear my weight because woah do I have issues. This is part of the reason I absolutely love my current GP: he believes me, listens, doesn’t blame everything on being fat, is really big into body acceptance…etc.
          Lots of Jedi hugs to yourself and anyone else struggling with disordered eating/ED. It’s an absolute bastard to live with.

        2. Sparkles McFadden*

          The medical profession does such a disservice to everyone around the subject of weight. I don’t generally consider myself to be overweight but the doctors and charts all disagree with that assessment.

          When I actually was putting on a substantial amount of weight, and I brought that up to my doctor because I knew something was wrong. I was told “You need to do a better job of watching what you eat.” Fortunately, I went to a “health van” at a community event and they gave me blood tests that showed some serious hormone issues. I got a new doctor. Sadly, even this doctor harps on weight constantly. After I went on medication, I lost the weight I put on and the doctor congratulated me. I said “Yeah…I didn’t do anything different. This wasn’t in my control.” He informed me that I could lose more if I “worked harder.”

          So, yeah…I’m looking for a new doctor yet again.

          1. Red 5*

            YES, to both you and Keymaster!

            I have so many horror stories about doctors who have ignored or missed severe health problems I was having in the name of giving me a lecture about food and eating habits. I have a chronic illness that is common and relatively easy to treat (and another one that’s super rare, it’s fun) and I think that I probably had symptoms for 20 years and they were completely ignored by all of my doctors until it finally was causing me daily problems and my primary care doctor was so dismissive and flippant that I went to a specialist for a second opinion just out of spite. The GP insisted I was just overweight and could not stop talking about how I was gaining weight (a couple pounds in three years) and that my weight was the root of everything that was wrong with me and that I had to start restricting my food if I was ever going to feel better.

            The specialist ran a couple tests and diagnosed me within a week.

            I started therapy after that and she helped me find my new doctor and called ahead for me to put a note in my chart too that said “do not weigh her or ask about weight, she’s in therapy, I’ve got this, please stop.” The intake nurses still sometimes ask but I’ve learned to be comfortable enough in that office to say “No thank you, not today” when they ask me to step on the scale. The amount of damaging things surrounding weight and food in the medical community are staggering when you start to see it.

    4. MCMonkeybean*

      I obviously don’t know you or anything about your situation but a doctor who thinks only underweight people can have eating disorders sounds dangerous. I hope you are able to get the care that you feel you need!

      1. anone*

        It’s actually built into the official diagnostic criteria that you only qualify as having anorexia nervosa if your weight is below a certain threshold, which is so infuriating and wrong-headed and DANGEROUS. Institutionalized fatphobia and sizeism. That’s why there’s a ED-NOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) category in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which gets used a lot as an “other” category for things which should probably fit into a more standardized category. Hopefully future editions of the DSM will *finally* improve on this, but some doctors also don’t update their own knowledge sufficiently or stay on top of emerging research.

    5. Case of the Mondays*

      I just want to thank everyone for sharing your stories here. It really helps me understand what happened w/ a colleague many years ago. We had a testing event w/ a catered lunch but we all had to do this debrief thing and they were trying to fit people in during lunch. One of my co-workers, Jane, was just headed for the pizza when the boss said “wait, you can’t eat yet, you haven’t been debriefed!” Jane absolutely lost it. She tried to make it as private as possible. We were close so I followed her to make sure she was okay but apparently having someone call out in public whether she could eat or not was majorly triggering for her. To be honest, I didn’t understand the issue at the time. I said Jane, you can still eat, you just need to do your meeting first and then you can have as much pizza as you want! I thought she was upset thinking she wasn’t going to get pizza. I didn’t realize it was about public attention to when and if she ate.

      1. Jack Russell Terrier*

        She could also be hangry 0r know she will soon. I have learnt how to make sure I don’t reach that point – but once every few years or so, there are times when things go pear shaped and I Have To Eat – or I will become and monster and not be able to control it. Science is now saying being hangry is physiological – thank goodness because it really is. It’s not a matter of – oh have a granola bar, at that point I know I need to get a proper meal within half an hour or so or a physical switch will be turned on and I can’t do anything about it at that point.

      2. Observer*

        Some people REALLY need to eat on a strict schedule, so that could also be it. In addition to what @JackRusselTerrier said, that includes people with blood sugar issues. “Oh just wait a half an hour” does NOT cut it.

        Some people with IBS can’t mess with their eating schedule either. etc. And there are people who may not have a diagnosed problem but know that they just start feeling sick if they don’t eat within a certain time frame.

        Your boss was wrong. You don’t tell people that they can’t eat till is suits your convenience.

    6. Observer*

      I just want chime in with all the people who are saying that you need a doctor who actually understands that weight is not a good indicator of ED.

    7. Cactus*

      When I was younger and couldn’t usually eat in front of most people due to…anxiety or EDNOS or some other undiagnosed thing…that “becoming the center of attention” thing was my biggest fear. Because there WERE a few times when I would cut up small bites of whatever, push the food around my plate, and know that if I took a bit I would probably vomit…and then someone (one of the people I was eating with, or a waitress, or someone) would comment “you hardly touched your food!” And internally I would just be SCREAMING “DON’T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT? PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE.” This might be more of a regional thing–I don’t recall this ever happening since I left the midwest for the west coast

  16. Deets*

    Hi Catherine, from your wording I can’t tell if your doctor knows about the updated diagnostic criteria in the dsm5 or not. I’m not trying to pry, just wanted to mention. I hope they aren’t refusing to help you or anything bs-ey like that.

  17. Lady Heather*

    So nipples should not be seen at work and be covered up with a bra, but nipple piercings are totally alright?

    Yeah, no.

    1. Cat Tree*

      When has this site ever advocated that nipples in general should never be seen at work?

      1. voyager1*

        I personally found the answer that Alison gave to be pretty lazy. I mean I enjoyed the speed round, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not answer a question. She could have easily waited a day or two to answer this.

        As for nipple rings being seen in a healthcare profession. I honestly can’t think of any reason why any employer would want that.

        1. Reba*

          You didn’t like the way our host chose to write an answer on her free website?

          It’s an issue with some gray areas and Alison explored them in a frank and kinda funny way.

          To your point, it’s not really about the employer approving of the jewelry, the question is the more difficult one of to what extent the employer can intervene on employees’ choices about their own bodies and appearance.

          1. Tired of Covid-and People*

            The employer can pretty much intervene to any extent they want to barring illegal discrimination, such as prohibiting natural hairstyles on black employees. Employers can require all employees to wear hairnets, that type of thing. There are few “muh rights” situation in at-will US employment.

            1. Anononon*

              No one is saying that an employer can’t legally prohibit visible piercings. But, the question isn’t about what’s legally allowed but more what’s morally (though possibly not the best word) right for the employer to do.

              1. Reba*

                Yeah, thank you! I should have said “ought to” rather than “can” — it’s not the question of “is this legal” but more like “is this my business.”

        2. Cat Tree*

          Ok, but his is this relevant to my question at all? Did you reply to me by mistake? Or just didn’t bother to read?

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The comment about my brain was a joke. My point was that I can’t quite get myself all the way to the answer I probably should give, for the reasons I explained (see those links). But you know, I answer 33-35 questions here a week. I am totally comfortable with occasionally publishing “eh, I just don’t know” and explaining why. I don’t think that’s lazy, I think it’s honest.

          1. Observer*

            Well, I think it’s just LAZY! How DARE you not pretend to be the oracle that has all the answers! That’s why we all come here! You’re falling down on the job!

            Seriously Voyager1, if you can’t deal with the occasional “I don’t know and I don’t think I’m going to be able to come up with a really good answer” you are in the wrong place. I also hope you don’t mange people. Because this kind of thing happens, even with the best of people – in fact especially with the best of people. Because they don’t pretend.

          2. TeaCoziesRUs*

            You ARE honest and the situation IS a gray zone. You do a beautiful job on this site teaching us what the laws are and aren’t and giving us strong professional words for all sorts of situations! It’s nice to know that you’re human and willing to own it, rather than trying to be a professional robot. :) And sometimes a gray situation is simply that – a Make your own best judgment call situation.

    2. Boof*

      I think this site has pretty recently been an advocate of “nipples happen deal with it” but acknowledges it may not always be realistic / jobsafe depending on the place/industry to practice this
      A few years ago may have been more on the side of “no nipples” but never hardcore “nipples are shameful devilbuds which will strike down all who are forced to glance upon them” or anything

      1. Bagpuss*

        OK, but I’m allowed to refer to my *own* nips as ‘Shameless Deviilbuds’ and try to work out how I can get them to function as death-rays, right?

        1. No Sleep Till Hippo*

          Not only are you allowed, but please let me know when you do. I know some folks with drifty-eyes that would make excellent test subjects for the death-rays.

  18. MommyMD*

    What about having a female manager politely and kindly and privately say “we have a policy of no visible piercings under clothing”. Keep the breasts completely out of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a written policy. It’s an informal policy.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      You’ve found wording that would work IN the written policy. Universal, gender-neutral, and allows workarounds of wearing an extra layer to cover something which is intensely personal.
      I am in favor of formalizing rules so everyone is held to the same ones.

    2. MCMonkeybean*

      That wording sounds pretty reasonable! And I agree I don’t think it needs to be formally written in the handbook or anything to say that.

      1. Mostly Managing*

        This is a fabulous answer as long as the employee doesn’t decide to go topless so the piercings aren’t under clothing….


    3. Sara*

      If that info isn’t in the written policy and you said that to me, I’d be asking why the written policy doesn’t reflect what I’m being told!

      1. Lars the Real Girl*

        Because not every scenario is spelled out in policy documents. Just because your handbook doesn’t explicitly state you can’t have 17 plants in your cubicle, doesn’t mean it doesn’t fall under the “keep your workspace free of clutter” policy.

        If they have a handbook that says anything like “you need to be professionally/appropriately dressed”, they can use that to say “we don’t want to see your nipple piercing” without it being a dramatic leap.

        1. D'Arcy*

          Yeah, except for the countless historical examples of broad generalities in policy documents being abused to support mandating whatever uptight absurdity a specific manager wants and/or being selective about enforcing made-up rules against employees they don’t like.

  19. K-12 Admin*

    For letter #5, I’d actually recommend going to your supervisor first, for a few reasons:
    -State guidelines and deadlines for completion are constantly changing, so training you might be low-priority until there’s more certainty.
    -It’s unlikely that *you specifically* are actually required to give the test. (At my school we divide the load because we have so many kids who need to take certain tests, but the only official test examiner requirements are English proficiency and permanent employment status in our district.) So ultimately if the person fails to train you they’ll just have to find someone else to do it. (And as someone who’s been on the other end, there can be a cost/benefit analysis on training more people and then having to follow up on whether they got it done vs. chipping away at the incomplete tests).

    Hopefully your supervisor can either provide you some context that puts your mind at ease or solidify a training date and reset expectations about how much testing you’ll actually be able to complete.

    1. MCMonkeybean*

      Yes, I think the supervisor probably should have been looped in after the second missed training. Different teams and different employees may have different priorities. So if yours are getting dropped then I think sometimes you just need someone with more power than you to make it clear that THIS is a high priority item and people need to help you with it. And at this point the supervisor definitely needs to be in the loop in case there needs to be some sort of backup plan if you don’t have the training in time.

      And “in time” probably needs to be early enough to account for the fact that when you try to do the task for the first time after training you may find you have more questions that you didn’t know you needed to ask while getting trained!

      1. PhEw!*

        Yes, there definitely should be ample time to get an assessment completed and I would hope that in a ‘normal’ year this wouldn’t have been a problem. I had dealt with this particular colleague a few years ago and something similar happened, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised, only this isn’t just something I needed from her (as in the past) it goes beyond me.

        Not sure if you saw in the previous reply, but the trainer reached out yesterday and actually kept her appointment. I’m wondering, if it would be appropriate to bring my supervisor in on things even though she has now kept her appointment and we are on track? Your thoughts?

        1. No Sleep Till Hippo*

          This is just my opinion, but it feels to me like bringing your supervisor in after-the-fact might be a little much in this case. Since the situation is already resolved at this point, there’s not much your supervisor can do to help.

          I’d imagine if this situation comes up again, you could address it with them then – something like “Hey, I’m having trouble scheduling time with Colleague to train me on the llama grooming exam. This has happened a couple times in the past – do you have any recommendations/can you help?”

    2. PhEw!*

      The student is homebound, med/frag, has never been assessed academically, and this is my first year in this particular position – I actually only found out about the assessment in early February which is when the back and forth began. There aren’t many people who are familiar with this student, but you’re right, someone else probably could do the test and I’ll be sure to ask about that so that this doesn’t happen again.
      ~ just coincidence or not, but the trainer happed to email and follow through yesterday. Maybe my frustrated vibes penetrated the universe and she felt it. :) Whatever the case, I am glad I reached out here first instead of immediately contacting my supervisor or Bcc’ing them in another attempt to contact the trainer. We are working on the training and I should be able to get it done.
      thanks for you input :)

      1. A School Psych*

        Hi OP, So it sounds like you’re talking about IEP assessment deadlines. If so, I am speaking to you as a school psychologist who must also meet IEP assessment guidelines or else the district could be at risk for state sanctions for being out of compliance. I spent the first 10 years of my career being anxious and stressed out about meeting all the various deadlines (15 days here, 60 days there) without enough time or resources or support. I was working nights and weekends and getting burnt out. My mental health improved immeasurably once I adopted a “not my circus, not my monkeys” attitude at the advice of an older colleague. If a case is overdue because the district didn’t give me the resources or time I needed? Not my problem! It’s the district that will face the consequences, not me. If the district doesn’t want that, they need to give me the correct supports. And they did! So I no longer work evenings and weekends, and I no longer stress myself out trying to make sure everyone else on the team is on time. And it’s so much better!

        It sounds like things have resolved themselves this time, but next time don’t hesitate to loop in your supervisor when you think you’re going to miss a deadline because they’re not giving you what you need. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and all that.

  20. Lonely Aussie*

    First, boobs/nips aren’t the same as seeing someone’s penis, let alone what piercing(s) they’ve done to it. If I’m seeing someones dangly bits that’s more of an issue than the jewellery.
    I have both nips pierced and while I have made every effort to keep them discrete sometimes they’re visible due to jewellery/shirt/bra/weather combination being slightly off, if my manager felt the need to bring them up, my initial reaction would be to wonder why he’d been looking at my chest long to notice.
    Unless she’s working a job where she could rip one out (like one of my {male} cousins did) I’d leave it alone. It’s also possible she may not be able to switch to more discrete jewellery, nipples can take up to a year or more to fully heal, or she’s stretching the holes out (I was pierced with the wrong gauge jewellery and had to go from a 18g to a 14g which took a while) and switching out nipple jewellery kind of sucks anyway. Tiny fiddly balls, multiple interconnecting elements, the horrible sensation of sliding something through the piercing and the danger of the hole closing over in under a day if new or under a week in older piercings.

    1. Tired of Covid-and People*

      You don’t have to be looking at something to see or notice it. Often, we pretend not to see things out of politeness. It’s wrong to assume someone is intentionally gawking at something just because it is in their field of vision.

      1. StripesAndPolkaDots*

        Just because you see doesn’t mean you have to ponder it, or care about it.

        1. Sylvan*

          Sometimes things you don’t want to see are kind of distracting. This tends to happen when something that shouldn’t be exposed to you, is exposed to you. Of course you look somewhere else and move on as quickly as you can if you can tell it’s an accident.

          1. FDSnovice*

            It’s distracting because society arbitrarily decided it is. There is nothing inherently distracting about it unless you let it. I think some self reflection is warranted as far as if we want to continue reinforcing the current system where women’s bodies are assumed to be on display for society at all times.

            1. Sylvan*

              No, I’m going to continue having the boundaries that I have. And I’m most likely going to notice when something happens that shouldn’t.

              1. Lyra Silvertongue*

                That’s of course up to you, but don’t assume that your boundaries (which here are not really referring to boundaries so much as societal expectations, since somebody is not crossing your boundaries by wearing things they want to wear) are the correct ones and thus everybody should be using your standards. What you feel “should” or “shouldn’t” be “exposed” to you is subjective, not objective.

                1. Sylvan*

                  Yes. I know my own limits are mine, not stuff everyone everywhere shares. I’ve been sexually harassed, I’ve been flashed, and I have a pretty strong… defensive instinct? About similar things.

                  However, I suspect that many people also aren’t fans of the stranger nipple.

      2. E*


        It’s either visible or it isn’t. The manager isn’t solving a Where’s Wally-style mystery of Find The Piercing on Lonely Aussie’s body.

  21. cncx*

    Yeah for OP 2 i think it’s important to talk to the employee first, like AAM said and just really spell out that we’re all new here and it’s a fresh start and sometimes jobs are bad fits that have everything to do with context.

    I would also go higher up because this is something people need to know about. OP may also want to consider if this person is having an attitude about it (maybe retaliation issues) or if they are truly mortified about working for them again.

  22. el knife*

    Alison, the comparison to a Prince Albert feels so strange. Men 1) have nipples 2) get nipple piercings 3) are expected to cover their nipples at work?

    Genitals and breasts are different, in that genitals are actually sex organs (as in, used for sex) and breasts are not?

    1. Mami21*

      Yeah, I’m usually totally 100% on board with Alison’s advice, but… the equivalent of female nipples are male nipples, not penises. I know breasts are held to a false equivalency of a sex organ but that does not make them, in actuality, the equivalent of a penis. I think Alison really missed the mark here, and I say this as someone who reads this site daily and thinks Alison is providing a valuable public service.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Sorry, I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say here. You think that breasts are the equivalent of a penis? Because breast enhancement exists?

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          That’s kinda like saying noses are sexual because rhinoplasty exists.

          Breasts are not genitals.

        3. Lyra Silvertongue*

          Given that you can get surgery on literally any part of your body, does that make any body part equivalent to a penis?

      1. Cauliflower29*

        I agree, I think the Prince Albert comment was a misstep. It feels reminiscent of anti-public breastfeeding comments about men exposing themselves in public, which is just a wrong comparison. Even if the false equivalency of breasts as sex organ exists, we don’t need to be fueling that equivalency here or in the workplace. It’s too tangential to a much ickier argument about women’s breasts as inherently sexual because of the male gaze.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I was confused by it too. My male colleague’s visible Prince Albert… won’t be visible to me, because I won’t be looking at his crotch? problem solved.

      1. Artemesia*

        I am always amazed that in the era before antibiotics and less opportunities for good daily hygiene people risked piercings and especially genital piercings. What a think to die for.

    3. Weekend Please*

      I agree. I would prefer to compare it to a belly button piercing or a nipple piercing on a man.

  23. Darlene*

    #2, I very rarely disagree with Alison’s advice, but I have to say, don’t say anything about this person having been previously fired.

    Talk to the employee first. See how they are feeling.

    If you do want to tell management, which you really should, just say you have worked together before. Many companies will not permit people to manage friends, family members, etc.

    If that isn’t enough for your new company to ensure that you are not this person’s manager, you need to tell them the truth: you and this person worked together before in a very stressful situation and you have concerns this pre-existing relationship may have a negative impact upon the work performance of both yourself and the other employee, and that you think it’s best that this person reports to another manager.

    1. WellRed*

      I don’t think “former colleagues” falls into the category of friends and relatives.

        1. MCMonkeybean*

          It’s being included in a group of people that companies wouldn’t let you manage which doesn’t make sense. If you just say “oh I’ve worked with this person before” no company is going to be like “uh oh we better keep an eye on this that might be a conflict of interest.” Having worked together in the past would I think often be seen as a good thing–especially if this commenter is actively arguing *against* disclosing that they fired them before. Keeping it to nothing more than “I’ve worked with this person before” and sharing no other information is pretty much useless.

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I don’t think an ex-employee that was fired really falls in to the “etc” category. This person was fired and then the slashed my tires sure. But it seems like the employee was just a bad fit, and they parted ways. OP seems open to working with them and giving them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think OP needs to sacrifice themselves for the employees sake by suggesting the employee report to someone else.

          I think OP needs to tell the employer the situation just so they cover themselves incase the employee tries to spin it a different way.

          1. OP2*

            That’s exactly the way I was thinking about it, too. I don’t want it to be a thing, but if it becomes a thing, I don’t want to have not said anything about the thing…

        3. JustaTech*

          In my industry and location if you weren’t allowed to manage anyone you’d worked with before at a different company then virtually no one would be allowed to manage. There’s just too much exchange of people between companies.

          Now, if you’d previously managed someone and it went badly, then that’s a consideration. But even if you had to fire someone that wouldn’t necessarily preclude you from managing them in the future.

        4. DyneinWalking*

          Uh, no. The “etc” still only includes people from your private, personal life, outside of your work life. The common issue is that you are likely to favor them, even if unintentionally, or that people might perceive you as favoring them. It can also work out the other direction – that you strongly disfavor them, but again due to personal reasons.

          Possible bias from previous work relations shouldn’t be an issue anywhere. Judging people on work performance (and their general conduct at work) is fine and even desired in a manager.

    1. Drag0nfly*

      Why would it be illegal to divulge that the employee was fired? What law is involved here, and how do references work in line with that law? Are people legally obligated to lie if a prospective employer asks if the employee was fired? If not, how does stating someone was fired become illegal, if in fact the person was fired?

      Saying “employee was fired” isn’t even slander (a legal matter) because truth is a defense. It is a literal fact that the employee was fired, and unless the OP signed some sort of NDA, there is no law standing between her and her right to tell the truth.

      Now, it wouldn’t be *nice* to randomly tell other people the employee’s business, but not being nice is hardly the same as cops and courts and territory.

      I also don’t think citing “conflict of interest” due to “prior workplace relationship” is going to cut it. If I’m the OP’s manager, she will have to tell me what she means by “workplace relationship.” Did she *date* the employee? Was she the employee’s manager at the time? What kind of relationship is she having with her employees that would make her have a conflict here?

      People will have worked with other people, so “I worked with so-and-so before” is not inherently a problem or a conflict. It’s merely a conversation starter. The OP’s boss could naturally follow up with, “Oh, you did? Do you have a good rapport with them? Can you mentor them about such and such? How do you think they’ll do on this project?”

      Plus, dancing around the facts by claiming that working with the employee was “stressful” calls the OP’s coping skills into question, if that’s where she leaves it. Stressful how? Why? What did she do about it?

      The truth is short and sweet. All she has to do is say she fired the person for performance issues, which is an obvious conflict. She may or may not need to elaborate on what those issues were. Were the issues the sort of things we could get sued for, like sexual harassment? Something someone could go to prison for, like embezzlement?

      Otherwise, my follow up questions would center on what the OP learned from her experience. We can move forward from there. Best of all, we move forward with me having seen that OP is forthright, honest, proactive, and effective at dealing with problems. I would reserve the right to make up my own mind about the formerly fired employee; I wouldn’t need the OP to “manage my opinions” by withholding the truth from me.

      1. Starina*

        Removed. This is false. Also, please do not use multi user names here to make it appear your position has more support; that is sock puppetry and it will get you banned. – Alison

        1. Chilipepper*

          I think everything Starina said here only supports Drag0nfly’s position.

          Alison did not suggest the OP say “I fired this employee,” she suggested saying, “we parted ways.” The new employer can read into that that the OP fired the employee or that the employee quit. It highlights that the two worked together before and did not go well and the new employer needs to know that.

          INAL but I doubt there is any claim of defamation or violation of privacy here., at least not in the US. And many of the alt suggestions would likely make the employer question the OP’s professionalism.

        2. Allonge*

          Ok, one – if everyone who needs to know about the firing already does, then there is no problem with OP talking to her manager.

          Two – if you have a conflict of interest, the first thing you do is disclose it. The next thing that should happen is the level of conflict gets evaluated to determine further action, and for that you do need to say what is the cause of the conflict! Nobody will be like, oh, you have a conflict, let’s then just reorganise everything, no biggie.

          1. Allonge*

            I thought I lived in a country with strong protection of workers and personal data, but you must be living in one ten times as stong for both. I never got the sense that the US was one of those, but ok.

            For the details on the conflict: I am not talking of posting on the company Slack channel, I am talking of discussing with OP’s manager. And I agree that not all details need to be disclosed, but it’s very important not just to OP but their old-new report that the decision what to do is made with as full information as possible. Because OP could lose their new job over this, but the report being placed in a different line of reporting may well result in them being put in a job they cannot do. If they are a SME in basket weaving and they are placed in, say, IT, as there is no other department of basket weavers, they are just as screwed as with a possibly hostile manager. And so this cannot be done just on the say-so of OP.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              You are correct that the US does not require such drastic measures and that some of the suggestions in this thread are impractical and rather drastic. There is no issue with discreetly disclosing the basic facts of the prior relationship to upper management and, if needed, HR.
              Assuming the OP is in the US, there is not a need for any drastic job or management structure changes nor playing coy about the relationship. In the US, truth IS a defense to slander/libel as is the fact that you were merely stating your opinion. Having someone on your team reporting to another person is also overly complicated – if Jane is on my team but now reports to Wakeen, do I have to coordinate with Wakeen any time I want to give Jane an assignment or feedback?

              It’s also unreasonable to assume that OP is automatically biased toward the former employee. People grow and change as they progress through their career. I look back at some of my behavior when I was new to the workforce and cringe. I would hope that someone who worked with me when I was 23 would give me a chance to demonstrate that I’m a very different person decades later. (I’m also very direct and would likely ask for a meeting with the new boss to have the “fresh slate” conversation myself and proactively tell them about how whatever led to the firing is no longer an issue for me.)

        3. Drag0nfly*

          There is no defamation if something is true. It is true that OP fired the person, and it’s true she fired the person for a particular set of reasons. What is the specific law that says she CANNOT state either of those facts? The only one that comes to my mind is one where she is legally compelled to silence by an NDA.

          As for stress, yes it can mean a wide variety of things to different people. Hence, a wise person will not make the assumptions you want them to make based on vague claims; they will seek clarity instead. If I’m the OP’s boss, she will have to tell me what she considers so stressful about working with someone else that we’re actually having a conversation about it. As she’s new, I don’t know if she has a martyr complex, where she might have caused her stress by refusing to delegate. That’s one possibility. Or if “stress” means being audited by the IRS and facing court dates over what the fired employee did, which is another possibility.

          I know that “conflict of interest” covers a wide territory. You’re just restating what I said. There’s a reason I asked if there are legal implications to the conflict. If the fired employee wasn’t honest about why he or she was fired, and they were fired for reasons that may be threatening to the company, I want to know. I want to know if we’ve hired a serial sexual harasser, or an embezzler, or someone who threatened to shoot up the workplace.

          Your proposed vagueness can only work with someone who knows the OP well, and OP has proven credibility with that person. But OP has started at a new company with a new boss, so the OP cannot simply be believed, she has to earn her credibility. Easily done if she’s forthright and proactive.

    2. OP2*

      OP2 here — thank you for your comment and everyone’s below it! I’m reading all of them as I go. A couple of things to add. First off, I thought Alison’s advice was great. My fear in saying nothing was that if a problem does present in the future and this information comes out then, it feels weird that I never gave anyone a heads up. Mostly, I’m concerned for the employee and making them feel comfortable with me as their manager again.

      I’m in the US in a very employee-friendly state. Ethically, I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing more than the fact that we worked together before and that it didn’t go well which is pretty much the extent of what former employers can share in an employment verification exercise in my state. Ultimately I think sharing more would be bad for the employee and won’t reflect well on me as a professional.

      You guys are right that I’m biased! My prior experience with this person was not good and, internet friends, you’ll have to take me at my word that they were terminated for a very good reason. But I appreciate the comments that I need to keep that in check. It’s very possible this role is better suited for them and that they have grown. It’s also true to say our prior workplace was a really stressful environment. I have also grown as a manager since our time working together and I’m ready to give it another shot but appreciate the reminders about my bias here.

      Unfortunately, it’s not feasible to switch reporting lines. I’m heading up most of a department at a relatively small company. The most we could do is potentially have her report to someone else in my reporting line.

      1. Gan Ainm*

        LW #2 – in my company whenever we get a new employee or team to manage we can access all their prior performance reviews in our online system as soon as they report to us. If we’re considering an internal hire/ transfer we can request the review from HR as part of our decision making process. I would see if your company has something similar, it should help you understand their goals, accomplishments, strengths, what they’re working to improve etc… and then you’ll have a lot more information in order to have the conversation with your manager and the employee. If the reviews show the person is doing well you can say “I saw that [prior manager] gave Jane a glowing review and I’m thrilled she’s found a good fit here…. [insert Alison’s language]” and if it’s not great then “I saw [prior manager] gave Jane a lukewarm review can you provide any more context? I want to be up front that….”

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        I feel for you OP. I can’t imagine being in that position.

        The closest I came was when I accepted a new management position in another department, and one of the staff members who would be reporting to me went all over the company, begging others to apply for the management position because “I can’t work with her!” (Yes, many peers called me to tell me this. It became a running joke.) He went to the people who would be my management to say “I will not work for her. I will quit!” I was asked to explain why this guy’s reaction was so strong…but I had no idea. We had never worked together. I knew who he was, but that was about it. He quit on a Thursday, and called on Monday to try to get his job back. My new management asked me if I could work with the guy if they let him come back. I said that he was the one with the problem, not me. When the guy came back, I said “I am not sure why you have a problem with me but I’d really rather just start fresh.”

        Your situation is much more difficult. If it were me, I’d go to my manager and explain the situation. I’d do that for all of the reasons you stated, and also because I’d actually want to work with my manager on this because I would be afraid I’d hold prior behavior against the employee. In my situation, I asked my boss to make sure I was being fair to my employee because his behavior really did cause me a LOT of unpleasantness and embarrassment. Then, I’d go to the employee and say “Glad you’re doing well here, and I’m glad to be here. It’s a new situation so let’s start over.”

        Then document the hell out of anything that comes up.

        Good luck!

          1. Sparkles McFadden*

            Amazingly, the guy eventually turned out to be one of the top performers in the department. He required a LOT of coaching on “how not to annoy the other people on your project” and “Don’t write that in an email – email doesn’t convey tone” and all sorts of soft skills. He was a very prickly person: He’d offend others but feel personally slighted by the smallest thing.

            At his first year review (which was very good), he thanked me for being gracious in a difficult situation…and apologized for creating the situation.

            I never found out what his problem with me was. I didn’t really want to know. I breathed the biggest sigh of relief when he moved on. He was a lot of work for me!

      3. Smithy*

        If it wouldn’t necessarily be a demotion – I do think it may be worth asking the employee how they would feel about reporting to someone else (in your direct reporting line). While clearly they would still be on your team, it would offer some of a personal performance buffer while you get acquainted with their work on this team.

        Based on the structure of the team, it could certainly end up looking like a demotion, which likely won’t help in cultivating the overall relationship. That being said, I have known people working on a team with a more senior leader they weren’t a fan of – however, provided they didn’t have that direct reporting line, felt better about the dynamic.

      4. OneOhOne*

        You sound very sensible, OP2! I’m very sorry that you and your employee are going through this. It must be really stressful.

        I spent years in one of those sectors where you just can’t seem to escape certain people so I’ve seen variations of a similar scenario play out a few times, such as when a coworker ended up being managed by someone they had once fired. I do remember the higher ups very quickly organising a different manager for her to solve the problem, and it’s a bummer it might not be possible for you here.

        But that said, I think you’re definitely taking a far more sensible, measured approach than many of my former coworkers did. Most of these people, after some adjustment, were totally fine. Seriously. Although a couple of them, who were quite stressed, ended up shooting themselves in the foot with upper management, which didn’t help anyone.

        Definitely a good idea to let upper management know you worked together before during a really stressful time, and to let them know you’re going to keep any bias in check. Keep talking to your employee and just see how you go working together. You guys will probably be totally fine!

  24. Rain queen*

    It sounds like the nipple piercings don’t fit the dress code expectations you have. Your dress code doesn’t need to mention everything. Eg my guess is it doesn’t say you can’t wear a mankini super man style over your clothes – but your speak to someone if they did.

    Speak with the employee. Simply go with I’m not sure of you’re aware but the top you are wearing is displaying your nipple piercings, and this isn’t the first time it has happened. Please select clothes that don’t show your piercings.

    Doesn’t matter that breasts aren’t genitals. Your bottom isn’t genitals but you still shouldn’t display it at work or wear clothes that draw attention to it. Visible piercings on your nipples draws attention to your nipples. That isn’t appropriate (obviously some industries are different).

    You should apply the same rule to men as well.

  25. DrSalty*

    I don’t think you need to make comparisons to a genital piercing on a man, just consider a man with nipple piercings, quite a common occurrence. And for either a man or woman in this situation, I think it’s fair to ask your front desk staff to keep them hidden. If you can see what type of jewelry she’s wearing, then there’s a problem. I don’t want to look at anyone’s nipples at work, male or female.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This is where I fall too. I don’t care if it’s on a man or a woman, I’m not really interested in looking at nipples at work. Sometimes they appear and no big deal, that’s life, but a visible piercing calls attention to them and I’m not all that cool with it.

      Pierced ears, noses, eyebrows? Not the same thing. Not all piercings are equivalent. A Prince Albert is not a stud in the nose and serves a very different purpose.

      1. Sabine*

        I see a lot of things at work I don’t want to see. I get over it. Maybe it’s the grind of this year, but I’m baffled how a woman’s nipple piercings can cause this much fuss. Who cares! You’re an adult. Stop looking at her nipples and do your job.

        1. StripesAndPolkaDots*

          I don’t get it either. Just because you notice it once doesn’t mean you’re forced to keep looking at that specific area! People have nipples, sometimes they’re a little visible under clothes, piercings or not. Just… shift focus to her face instead!

        2. AvonLady Barksdale*

          People seem to be missing the point that it’s not about women– I would be SO uncomfortable seeing a male coworker’s nipple piercing. We’re not talking about normal body function and response (like being cold or chafing), we’re talking about an optional body modification designed to call attention to a body part that most humans of any gender keep covered AT WORK.

          I wouldn’t want to see a man shirtless in my office either. I don’t want to see anyone’s belly button at work. I don’t think I’m unusual here, nor am I especially prudish.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            We’re not talking about it being uncovered, though, are we? We’re talking about the change in profile of a nipple under at least 1 (probably 2) layers of clothing.

            If it’s truly causing issues, a discreet word abouth thicker shirts may be in order. But unless you can obviously tell it’s a dolphin or whatever, I’d vote for ignoring it.

            1. DrSalty*

              I mean, my read of the letter was this situation falls into the “you can obviously tell it’s a dolphin or whatever” category.

          2. Sabine*

            Okay, and what I’m saying is what makes you uncomfortable isn’t that important. This woman (or hypothetical man) isn’t having nipple piercings AT YOU. It’s not harassment. It’s not nudity. I don’t want to hear my coworker eat baby carrots. I don’t like my coworker’s perfume. Life is tough. At some point you gotta decide what is important, and I just can’t put nipple piercings on my list of things to get in a fuss over.

  26. Spicy Tuna*

    OK, I had to google “Prince Albert piercing” and some of the search results were NSFW! So I would say that if the attire / accessory in question is NSFW if you google it, it’s probably OK to restrict its visibility from the office!

    1. That NonProfit Finance Guy*

      Your situation brings up a good point about this situation: can Lw and the employee be level headed about all this? I mean, if I were the employee, no matter how nice my former/current boss’s overture were, I would be extremely wary. They fired me before, so why not again? Same for Lw–employee got fired for cause in the past, so why would he change?

      I’m not saying neither doesn’t deserve a fresh start–they do!! But getting past previous biases would be VERY hard, and that would potentially create a conflict of interest. Not a standard one, mind you, but still a conflict of interest. HR or upper management should be consulted on this very-gray-area matter. Of course, do it in a tactful manner :)

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I panic easily, so, if I were the employee, I’d already be looking! (granted, easier said than done in today’s economy). I don’t know what to advise in this situation. It is a difficult one.

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        I can see this point. Both the employee a d the LW can say that they will be level headed but there’s going to be that nagging feeling I. The back of their heads.
        Boss: Employees is late/called in just like before. Not going to trust him to get x done on time so not going to give him projects.
        Employee: if I’m late because there was a car accident or call in sick boss is going to think I’m slacking. What happened of I can’t need deliverables and it’s out of my control..if I explain that Jane is slow to give me x to finish project he will think I’m just making excuses.

        In one case I don’t think that the employee should be punished or moved to another team. On the other hand I don’t think it’s fair to lw to withdraw from the position.

      3. Observer*

        ! But getting past previous biases would be VERY hard, and that would potentially create a conflict of interest. Not a standard one, mind you, but still a conflict of interest.

        That’s not what conflict of interest is. At all.

        Yes, I think that the OP needs to disclose that they had worked with new coworker and it didn’t end well, but the reasons have zero to do with conflict of interest. Trying to frame it that way is really misunderstands what conflict of interest is. To the point that if a manager brought that to me, I’d be questioning their judgement

    2. Chilipepper*

      Alison never says to tell the boss that the OP had to fire the employee, she said to say they parted ways.

      1. Jennifer*

        Right but anyone with common sense can read through the lines and figure out what that means.

        1. Chilipepper*

          Right but it is a professional way to say it that does not throw anyone under the bus, its just facts, and the OP needs to reveal the prior work relationship to her manager or HR.

          1. Jennifer*

            I do get your point, but I think letting their current employer know they were fired previously, even if you phrase it in a more professional way, is still throwing them under the bus.

    3. OP2*

      Thank you so much this is very helpful!! We’re a pretty small company so I’m not sure how easy it will be to switch reporting lines but you’ve given me alot to think about. Thank you again

  27. Lotsa Opinions*

    #3 is certainly an interesting one!

    Personally, I’m with Alison: I’m so sick of women’s bodies being constantly policed. Ugh.

    Unless it’s an actually health and safety risk, I’d probably leave it alone. If there is ever a complaint made about this issue, maybe reassess then?

    1. Spearmint*

      I’m generally pro-not policing people’s appearances, but you’re front desk staff, part of the job is to be a face of the company, and so your appearance and presentation is part of the job description in a way it isn’t for back office jobs.

      1. Nacho*

        Where’s the line though? FD staff can’t have colored hair? Nose piercings? Funny T-shirts? What makes breast piercings bad but other non-traditional appearance choices not?

        1. MCMonkeybean*

          I mean, I think most of those things are pretty common rules already yes. Colored hair and nose piercings are becoming more accepted but there are certainly still many places that don’t allow them, especially for front-facing employees. And t-shirts in general would go against many, many dress codes, let alone “funny” ones…

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          I mean… I’m sure there may be healthcare-specific context to this particular question, but in principle it is absolutely normal for FOH staff to not be allowed to have any of those things. Hell, I’ve never worked anywhere that you would be allowed to wear a tshirt to work, let alone a “funny” one. FOH staff very frequently have to adhere to more particular standards of dress because they’re the first impression people are going to get of the company.

      2. misspiggy*

        Yes, and I think that’s especially important for healthcare. If I’m at a health reception desk I’m likely to be under more stress than usual, and I’d have a strong preference not to have my attention drawn to staff’s more private body areas in that situation. Sometimes bodies do draw the eye and that’s unavoidable. But this is a choice.

  28. Ana Gram*

    I used to work with a guy who had pierced nipples. Although he was good at his job, he was known as Nipple Ring Guy, which wasn’t great for his professional image. I think if I was his supervisor, I would’ve asked him to wear a tshirt under his work shirts (polo shirts- we wore uniforms)? It’s a tricky situation.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      That’s a pretty good point! There was a person in another department we dealt with and none of us knew his name because we called him Gym Shorts. During the summer months, he’d show up wearing very short, gold running shorts and he would not change for most of the day. You’d literally hear someone say “Oh I gave that to Gym Shorts” so often, I started to think his name was actually “Jim.”

      1. Ana Gram*

        Sounds like an old neighbor of mine. We used to call him The Shirtless Wonder because he’d hang out in his driveway washing his bicycle while topless. It was quite the spectacle and I always wondered if he was doing it for attention.

  29. SleepyKitten*

    I have a co-worker with nipple piercings that show through some t-shirts, and my response has always been that I shouldn’t be looking at his nipples anyway (and they DON’T show during outside meetings)

    Opacity of fabric can vary wildly in different lighting, so this person may not know that they are showing off their jewellery to everyone. Next time you notice them, look away and block your view with your hand and say “this is awkward, but your piercings are showing through your top. Could you remove or cover them please”

    1. StripesAndPolkaDots*

      You can’t just remove nipple piercings and put them back in later easily. Often you need jewelry pliers. And they may not fully heal for months. Asking to just take them out at work isn’t reasonable.

  30. Policy Wonk*

    Personally, I am fond of breakfast meetings. If there are business issues to discuss you get them set at the top of the day. Yes, people react a bit oddly the first time you counter a suggestion to meet for lunch with an offer of a breakfast meeting, but once we’ve met they see the advantages. As breakfast is not as triggering, you might want to try this. Side benefit – it’s usually cheaper than lunch and no one pushes you to have alcohol!

    1. Rain queen*

      Definitely ask. But don’t be surprised if people aren’t interested.

      People can be just as busy before work as after. For me, I’m not willing to go without breakfast to wait for acceptable work hours and don’t want to have 2 breakfasts. You could find yourself sitting across from someone just having a drink watching you eat.

      Honestly if it’sa small group I think you are better suggesting morning/afternoon coffee than going to lunch or breakfast. I’d feel uncomfortable if I went to lunch with someone and they just watched me eat. In a group, it doesn’t bother me because I figure you’re there for the group. But if there’s nobody else I’d be wondering why we are there.

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        I didn’t think they were suggesting before work, just at the beginning of the work day instead of during the middle of it. I still would probably be less inclined to accept just because I am personally not a fan of early morning meetings as I don’t feel like my brain is fully functioning yet.

        But I’d always be down to swap to a coffee date in the late afternoon instead of lunch. So for sure go ahead and ask what people would be open to!

        1. Rain queen*

          It no doubt is affected by what the workday is for you (and when breakfast is). For me, I’m usually heading in to work 2-3 hours after breakfast. Hence why, for me, it wouldn’t work because I can’t (comfortably) skip breakfast and wouldn’t be interested in eating 2. So I’d probably be sitting there not eating. OP might be ok with that.

          But everyone is different and that is why you ask. I just think there’s less of an expectation for out of work stuff than middle of work day (Although for some lunch is not inside paid hours / a workplace entitlement, which changes things).

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      I really like this idea. Plus I don’t think people would think it’s odd if the LW has just a cup of coffee. A lot of people don’t eat breakfast or, like me, can’t leave the house without eating because I have to take medicine with food.

    3. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Breakfast meetings are a great idea at conferences because it’s often the only time the organizers are free. I’m involved in the leadership of a professional society, and the other conference organizers and I figured out that this was our only opportunity to meet privately during the event without missing anything.

  31. I'm just here for the cats*

    I don’t think they should say you can’t have nipple piercings

    But they could have a conversation just like you would you just treat this as if it was a bit of nipple showing by accident? So maybe take the receptionist aside (if LW is a woman if not have another woman do it) and say something like “I don’t want you to be embarrassed, and I’m not sure if you are aware, but sometimes its obvious that you have a nipple piercing and others can tell. I wasn’t sure if you were aware that it’s that obvious.and I wanted to make you aware incase anyone makes comments to you.

      1. pancakes*

        Better to say nothing than say something disingenuous like this. If someone comments on the piercings it will be obvious to her that they’ve noticed. If you want to convey your own disapproval, own up to it rather than trying to borrow it from fictional strangers.

        1. Sylvan*


          Also, when you say “others,” that kind of sounds like multiple people have agreed that it’s obvious. You don’t want her to reach that conclusion.

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            Since the person is a receptionist there are other people off the street who could come and be not so nice about it. That’s why I think someone should say something. Just like if someone chose to wear a white shirt and the lights at the office made it look see threw, I would want someone kindly saying that you could see my breasts rather than not.
            I don’t get the impression that the employee is doing anything to display the piercings. She might not be aware that they are so noticeable.

            1. Sylvan*

              Maybe. My point is, you want the message to be “I saw this, could you please cover it?” and not “A bunch of people saw this and we all talked about it, could you please cover it?”

    1. Shan*

      Sorry, just to clarify, when you say “just treat this as if it was a bit of nipple showing by accident,” do you mean, like, a low cut shirt + no bra being seeing actual uncovered nipple (or through a sheer shirt), or just seeing the shape of a nipple through opaque fabric? Because mine tend to show through anything I wear, short of a metal breastplate, and if a manager EVER pulled me aside to let me know they could see the shape of my nips through my shirt, it would cause some real issues with our working relationship going forward.

      Also, on that note – I had mine pierced and removed them about 20 years ago, and now go full headlights if there’s a breeze two blocks away. So even if this receptionist decides to takes her out, it may just lead to another issue.

  32. Cat Tree*

    LW5: in this case I really think you should go to your boss, and not just to inform them of the problem but to ask their help. This exactly what bosses are for (among other things, obviously). A deadline is at risk because of someone else. You have tried multiple times to get what you need from this person, and have done everything else you can on the project. Now is the time to ask for help.

    I know it can be hard to ask for help, but it won’t make you look bad unless your boss is especially terrible. Requesting help before the deadline is missed shows that you are proactive and understand the timing of your project. And your manager likely has more sway to get things done, even for people in other departments. I remember when I was a lowly entry level employee, I sometimes had trouble getting very high level people to approve my documents. My boss at the time seemed like he could get anyone to sign anything in 15 minutes.

  33. Wren*

    OP #1 – you can try to say that you’re on a variation of intermittent fasting where you don’t eat between x o’clock am to x o’clock pm. You can imply it’s under doctor’s orders for those who pry. This would help explain why you can eat in the mornings, but not lunch.

    1. jenny*

      This is likely to create follow-up questions – people may be naturally interested. I think a vague excuse is better than a specific one.

      As someone who is EDNOS recovered, intermittent fasting feels way too close to an actual eating disorder for my comfort.

      1. nonbinary writer*

        Another EDNOS here — MOST diets based on restriction are way too close to an actual eating disorder for my comfort, and intermittent fasting is 100% the most egregious. Agreed that vague is the best option here.

    2. HoJu Simpson*

      Except that has the potential to spark conversations around weight loss. I’d steer clear of any sort of diet talk and vaguely allude to medical reasons.

    3. Fish Microwaver*

      I don’t usually eat lunch, I find it makes me sluggish for the afternoon. I prefer to exercise or run a quick errand. If I feel hungry later, I have a light snack. Nobody thinks it’s weird.

  34. James*

    #1: I have a sister with a Chiari malformation (part of her brain extends out of her skull) that has a similar problem. This malformation can make her occasionally forget how to swallow, which means that she sometimes can’t eat at a meeting, even if she originally intended to. Once she was diagnosed she was able to deal with it better, but she still occasionally has trouble–once she spat her coffee at her boss instead of swallowing, for example. Fortunately he has the same malformation, so he took it in stride.

    What she found worked best was to be up-front and very blunt. “Sorry, I can’t eat right now–my Chiari is acting up.” She doesn’t make a big deal about it, she just also doesn’t hide it. It’s a medical thing beyond her control. Most people are understanding, and accept that she’s not being rude, she’s just got a medical condition.

    The first few times she had a lunch meeting and couldn’t eat it was awkward for the other person. There’s no getting around that. Breaking bread together is one of the oldest human traditions, and it goes against a hundred thousand years of human culture to eat while someone else in your party doesn’t. But after the first few times it gets better. You get better at convincing the other person it’s okay, and the other person learns that you’re serious about it being okay.

  35. Emily*

    There is no sum of money you could pay me for me to have a conversation with someone at work about the need for them to change their clothing or jewelry so as to not display their nipple piercings. I’m not saying it’s not appropriate to have that conversation, but I’m not having it and if someone else asks me “hey, did you notice so-and-so’s piercings,” I am going to say I’ve never noticed. The potential benefit of – what, a customer not getting offended by the front desk worker’s nipples? – vs. me having having a conversation with a high likelihood of embarrassing and/or offending my coworker – and that’s the best-case scenario – makes this so not worth it. And the context matters here. There are times where the nature of the work relationship might mean you’d really be doing the person a service by having that conversation, like if they’re your intern or grad student in a field where this could hinder them professionally, so you’d have to at least consider that, but that is not the context here.

  36. MC*

    Regarding the thought experiment in #3, I assume if he’s sitting/standing at the front desk a Prince Albert piecing wouldn’t be visible most of the time.

  37. EmKay*

    Leave women’s breasts alone, ffs.

    I am definitely too grumpy to have a constructive conversation about this right now, ugh.

  38. JB*

    Why would the male counterpart to a nipple piercing be a Prince Albert piercing, rather than…a nipple piercing? Men also have nipples and although I know we treat women’s as inherently more sexual, it wouldn’t be appropriate for either a man or a woman to be walking around bare-chested in most working environments. Comparing a breast to a penis seems extremely odd to me.

    Anyway, I think it depends on how formal the environment is. If I’m at a grocery store I wouldn’t be surprised if my cashier had a belly or nipple piercing visible through their shirt. If it were someone at my office, on the other hand, I don’t feel like that falls into general ‘business casual’ dress standards and I would question their judgement.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      I’ll give Alison partial credit since her brain is melted from yesterday, but yeah. Men have nipples, men get nipple piercings (and all of the men I know who have nipple piercings got them for sexual reasons, for what it’s worth).

  39. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

    Like so many others, I am SO over the policing of women’s bodies.

    Once caught someone at work outright staring at my multiple ear piercings. Asked why. “Well, generally if a girl has more than two piercings per ear, I wonder what *else* she has pierced.” Eww. “That is so beyond creepy, who raised you?” (And “girl”? I was in my early 30’s!)

    My reaction to such a discussion about a third party who I happen to supervise would likely ask why on earth they were staring.

  40. Dwight Schrute*

    Ooo the nipple piercing is tricky. Are they visible because the shirt is slightly see through? If that’s why, then I’d treat it like any other wardrobe malfunction and assume the person would be embarrassed to learn they’ve been walking around with a see through top in certain lighting. If it’s just because she looks cold, I’d let it go. You wouldn’t say anything to someone who’s nipples are noticeable because they’re cold.

  41. JohannaCabal*

    OP#2 How did the employee handle the firing? Were they defensive, angry, or accepting? I’ve been fired before from a situation where I was a bad fit (they should not have hired me and I should not have accepted the offer). When they did fire me, I was secretly relieved and calm throughout the meeting. In fact, when I was promoted at the next job I even reached out to the person who fired me for some advice on managing.

    I suspect if I was to work for them again at a different job, my handling of the firing would work in my favor.

    And I’ve fired some folks before. For the most part, if I had to work with them in a different capacity I’d do what Alison said but also keep an open mind.

  42. FDSnovice*

    I am seriously over men taking way too much concern over women’s bodies. Like seriously, women’s nipples are either arousing or something to be ashamed of with no in between. It would be nice if women could just exist in public space without judgment.

  43. Sondheim Geek*

    I didn’t know what a Prince Albert piercing was so I did a Google images search. Don’t do a Google images search.

  44. Jama*

    To LW#1 – I work in an office where (pre-covid) we’d often meet over lunch and the company would buy us our meals. One of my co-workers doesn’t eat lunch. I’m not exactly sure why, but I think it’s his own type of intermittent fasting. One one of his first days he said someone along those lines and we all just went with it. Now we just don’t order him lunch at all, and it’s not a big deal.

  45. Dora*

    Dora: I’m removing most of your comments from this thread because they’re full of inaccurate statements about the law and they’re taking over the page. Please refrain from commenting further on this post. Thank you. – Alison

  46. Jennifer*

    #1 Is it possible to suggest a meet up that doesn’t involve food at all? Just a meeting at a coffee shop at a time that isn’t around lunch? The only reason I ask is because some people feel really uncomfortable being the only one eating during a one on one lunch and may have their own food issues surrounding a situation like that. “I have a really restricted diet that makes it difficult for me to order off most menus. Why don’t we meet for coffee instead?”

  47. Observer*

    #3- I think that you could reframe is she’s wearing clothes that are way to revealing. If you can easily tell what exactly she’s wearing, she’s just too close to see through. This goes well beyond someone wearing an outfit that let’s you know that she’s got curves. It’s in the camp of “what kind of lace do you have on your underwear.”

  48. voluptuousfire*

    For OP#1, why not suggest a health food restaurant with smoothies/a juice bar? This way you can have something and drink that and they can also eat.

  49. Lizy*

    on #1… I’ve often been the “party planner/organizer” in my office. I make an effort to be sure everyone can eat something. It hasn’t been a huge deal as my offices have generally been fairly small, but there have definitely been a couple of times where I’ve pushed a coworker. For example, I’ll let everyone know food is here and Sue won’t show up (or will show up but not get anything). I’ll ask Sue, and she’ll say she normally doesn’t eat because of a food allergy or she’s vegetarian or whatever. I apologize, and will ask what she DOES eat, so I can be sure and incorporate her in the future. Most of the time they’ll say “oh I’m fine – don’t worry about me!” and I do admittedly push back “are you sure??? I don’t want to leave you out!” Am I off-base???

    The one example that really stands out to me is that my coworker had type 1 diabetes and so stuck to a pretty strict diet. I would have been fine knowing she had a medical issue and stuck to a strict diet – she happened to be very open with her diabetes story (advocating and whatnot). Because she was open with it, I would often go to her before I placed whatever catering order and confirm she could eat something that I would order. With OP’s situation, I can definitely see myself asking them specifically if there’s anything I could order for them.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I think asking what she *does* eat is a bit pushy – not least because someone in that situation might be using ‘i have an allergy’ as a placeholder for ‘I have an eating disorder I don’t want to talk about’ or ‘ I’m not comfortable eating in front of other people and don’t want to talk about it’ or even ‘I really don’t enjoy eating with my coworkers and would rather have a bit of time to myself on my break’ or (if you’re gathering orders which people are paying for themselves) ‘ I don’t have the spare cash for take out / don’t feel it is good value for money’

      I think having a brief, one-off, conversation when you tell her that you’re happy to do a bit of extra leg work to find somewhere that offers stuff she can eat, if she would like you to is OK, if you keep it ‘just wanted to let you know I’m happy to do this if you decide you’d like to order in, any time we have lunch meetings’

      That way, if she does, or if she changes her mind, she knows that it won’t be an issue for you.

      I do think it also depends a bit on how well you know the people you are working with

      1. Lizy*

        Thank you! In the particular example, I did know her fairly well, and we have had many conversations about her diabetes and dietary restrictions, so I don’t think I crossed a boundary there.

        However, as you and others have pointed out, there could be many reasons why someone doesn’t eat or gives a reason for not eating. I really appreciate you taking the time to explain and give me a reality check.

    2. jenny*

      Kindly and respectfully, yes, you are off base. You need to take coworkers at their word without continuing to push back. You are are letting your desire to be a certain person (accommodating, kind, stellar party-planner) completely override your coworker’s stated boundaries. Your intentions are good but your actions are not OK.

      Asking one time if there is something you could order for them or do to accommodate? Very kind. That’s fine. Asking more than once after they say “no” or asking “are you sure???” Please stop, immediately.

      1. Pikachu*

        Thank you. This was a huge problem for me with work baby showers for a while after I lost a late-term pregnancy. I ended up either intentionally scheduling off-site meetings or using PTO days to avoid being bullied into participating. Sure, there is laughter and cake and presents but sometimes things just aren’t fun and I don’t go to work to relive my trauma.

        That is not to say I did not like my pregnant colleagues or that I wasn’t thrilled for them. I just wasn’t able to cope at those kinds of events. It also didn’t feel appropriate to spoil the fun by saying “No, I can’t come to Jane’s baby shower because mine just died and I can’t deal.”

        I don’t care if you’re trying to pick up a date at the bar or trying to drag people into non-work social events. No Means No.

        1. jenny*

          I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry for the additional traumas caused by people not respecting your boundaries. It is never OK to push someone on something so that you can feel like a good person, even if you truly believe you are being a good person and it’s not a big deal. I am glad that you were able to protect your boundaries by creating ways to remove yourself from the situation, although I again wish you hadn’t had to do so.

        2. Lizy*

          I’m so sorry, Pikachu.

          This honestly makes it much easier for me to understand. I would NEVER push anyone to attend a baby shower, or be “happy” about anything baby-related, because I’ve seen firsthand how incredibly hard and traumatizing it can be. I don’t want to be the cause of that for anyone, and I realize now how I could (do) come across.

          Message received. I will do better.

    3. Red 5*

      I would just gently caution against making it a priority that “everyone can eat something.”

      For me personally, that’s fine, I could just tell somebody a few things that I can eat or how there’s that one pizza place that always makes me sick or whatever, because I do like food, I just can’t eat most of it because my entire digestive system hates me.

      But I know a few people who have other medical conditions that restrict their food that feel incredibly singled out and upset when people continue to press them about food so that they can “participate.” They’d rather go and enjoy the party without eating anything than be hounded about food for yet another moment of their life. They’ve spent lifetimes having people ask them a ton of questions and make them feel abnormal because of their dietary restrictions and it just becomes one more thing on the list. One person I know actually subtly checks the office calendar for planned parties and mysteriously has a doctor or dentist appointment on those days every time just to get out of the conversation.

      Asking once, “is there anything I could do to make the party better for you and get something you’d enjoy next time?” If they say, “No, I’m good, thanks though.” Then just let it be, you’re being inclusive by letting them choose how they want to participate.

      1. jenny*

        > you’re being inclusive by letting them choose how they want to participate.

        This is a great way of putting it. As someone who is in recovery I am speaking from a perspective of what I personally would be comfortable with. Again you are clearly well intentioned and coming from a desire to be inclusive and helpful, but I would be EXTREMELY uncomfortable being on the receiving end of anything someone could describe as “pushed.” No one should have to share any additional information for you to stop pushing.

        I agree with Bagpuss (great name!) that even asking what someone DOES eat is too invasive – it may not be about which food so much as maybe not even being able to eat in front of other people, for example.

        It is better to say “Let me know if there is anything I can do to accommodate – I am happy to chat in advance of ordering to make sure I get food you can eat, if that would help” instead of asking anything that requires an answer other than “OK, thanks!”

        Lastly, 9 in 100 people have an eating disorder. If you have worked in an office even as small as 10 or 11 people, statistically someone has an eating disorder that they do not want to talk about.

        1. Lizy*

          Thanks to both of you. I agree – thinking about it as being inclusive by letting them choose is definitely helpful!

          Jenny, I really like your phrasing “let me know if there is anything I can do to accommodate”, and the reality check as to how many people eating disorders affect. Thank you for the time and effort to correct me.

          1. Red 5*

            Thank you so much for listening and hearing people when they gave you a different perspective! That can be pretty rare these days : )

            It seems like your heart is really in the right place and you want to make people feel welcome, that goes a long way. Just some small tweaks and you are probably good to go and plan the most amazing office parties ever : )

    4. meyer lemon*

      I would recommend switching your focus from making sure everyone can eat to making sure everyone is accommodated in the way they prefer. Maybe you could have a spiel like “We want to make sure you’re included in the event, and we’re happy to make accommodations like having a separate meal catered if that would work for you.” If they insist that they don’t want anything, you could let them know that they can always ask you if they’d like you to do things differently in future.

      1. Lizy*

        Thanks! There have been times where I’ve had caterers get a separate meal for whatever reason. I’d like to think my willingness to have everyone included made it easy for them to reach out and say “hey can you do X instead for me?”

        I do see how my insistence on everyone getting food isn’t beneficial, and I appreciate the focus-adjustment.

    5. Observer*

      Most of the time they’ll say “oh I’m fine – don’t worry about me!” and I do admittedly push back “are you sure??? I don’t want to leave you out!” Am I off-base???

      As others have said, totally off base here. If someone tells you “don’t worry about it.” They are sure. Don’t treat them like children.

      What you CAN say – once – is “OK. I’m happy to do some legwork to accommodate you, so if anything changes or you figure out a way that I can get you something you can eat, just let me know.” And then END THE CONVERSATION. Do not make the reassure you again.

      1. Lizy*

        Thank you! I have a tendency to think they are responding that way because they don’t want to be an imposition, but I’m definitely realizing that just because that’s MY reaction doesn’t mean it would be everyone’s.

  50. Jennifer*

    #2 Eh, I know Alison is right and is the expert here, but I kind of feel nervous for this employee. What if they left this job off their resume because they didn’t want to explain why they no longer work there? What if they were vague about the details? I just worry that you would be jeopardizing their current employment. A lot of people act like an employee being terminated means they are tainted somehow and would never consider hiring someone that admitted to being fired before.

    Sometimes the only way to move on is to be deliberately vague or remove that experience from your resume. Honestly, I wish you would just keep it to yourself and give this an employee a real fresh start.

    1. OP2*

      That’s a really good point and exactly the mindset that made me concerned in the first place. I definitely don’t want to mess things up if they are doing better in this role, etc. thank you for your insight.

  51. Office Rat*

    Are you 100% sure the worker has nipple piercings? There are lots of reasons that someone’s nipples might be more prominent, including scars from nipples piercings. Unless they have confirmed they have such piercings to you, I would not assume that is what it is. My spouse had scar tissue due to some nipple piercings in the early 00s, and it made her nipples look more prominent and the look changed depending on bra and shirt combo, or how they were sitting in her bra.

    I also had nipple piercings in the 80s/90s and the folks that did notice? The vast majority were creepy dudes that swore that tiny thing was a glaring notice that they could see from a football field away. I had large piercings, and even then, I had folks tell me they had never noticed when it was brought up. However, there were certain dudes that maintained it was noticed from orbit.

    Nobody that brought it up to me in the decade I had them ever did so in a way that didn’t come off as either creepy or super judgemental. It always started out appropriate, if concern trolling about what if someone noticed, then would devolve into sexist creepiness. Every. Damn. Time.

    I work in a conservative agency, and even there nobody would dream of ever broaching a subject like this. There is no way to know those are actual piercings unless confirmed, and confirming that means something else is seriously wrong.

    1. Manana*

      Truly, LW’s question is basically “I stared at my employee’s breasts for so long I am certain I determined the shape of her nipples and piercings. Should I punish her for it?”
      Stop looking at people’s boobs!

  52. JSPA*

    #1, it’s part and parcel of eating disorders that there’s a high baseline of stress / shame / negative focus on the act of eating / awareness of others being aware of your eating, and of the sort(s) of eating problem(s) you may have.

    So first, if you have not already done so, make a conscious effort to release that.

    OK: there are many reasons that people can’t eat with others or outside their home-prepared food, or at defined times. Allergies, religious restrictions, phobias, swallowing disorders, IBS, timed pills that must be taken with or taken not with food, FODMAP problems, misophonia specific to hearing people eat–the list goes on and on and on.

    Don’t claim one you don’t have (it’s not fair to people who do have it, if people then see you breaking what would otherwise be “the rules” for that disorder)…but do feel free to keep a different one in mind (for your own comfort) as you breezily say something vague (plenty of scripts, above) about it being a time that you can eat.

    Also, increasingly, meetings are done not over food (Covid / masks off) but by “taking some air together.” If you’re both mobile in any way, you can go for a walk (or a walk & roll, or a drive to see the landscape or a piece of public art). Being known as the “person who invites people to do things” isn’t a bad thing to be known for.

    “That’s my fresh air time, would you be OK grabbing your lunch to go, and joining me on the terrace for my vitamin D ritual” is at worst unusual, not off-putting or bizarre.

  53. Nacho*

    #3: IMO, businesses can require a certain level of professionalism in their dress code, but how much they can require is directly proportional to how much the job pays. You can ask your accountant to wear a suit and tie every day because he’s handling all your money and you need to have a very high level of trust in him in order for that to work, and he’s paid enough that requiring that level of trust is fair. If you want to put a dress code in place for your more entry level workers, they should be getting paid enough to show how much you trust them/how important they are to your business, and I think we all know they’re not.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I disagree with the general you can only require a certain level of professional dress code based on how much a job pays.

      Yes requiring a retail store employees, target, walmart etc… (with boutique/high end retail sales an exception) to wear a suit is crazy. But a lower paid entry level office worker being required to dress business casual slacks and a button down/polo does not mean you have to pay a higher minimum salary. Just because an entry level job is not paying as much as a middle level role does not mean the employees should be able to wear, jeans and a t-shirt.

      1. EmKay*

        I am seeing internalized capitalism shining through this comment. Probably I’m reaching, though.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Maybe a little of both.

          But my main point I was trying to argue that dress codes should be based on what is required for the job and professional norms are certainly part of that. But the dress code should not be based on how much you make. People making under 40k can wear what ever they want, 41k to 70k have to wear business casual, 71k+ you have to wear a suit.

          I agree what kind of clothes someone wears has no real bearing on the kind of work they do. But it is a fact of life that people judge based on appearances and it is not wrong for companies to want to take that into account.

          As for the pay aspects there are several policy reasons to advocate for higher pay, I just don’t think basing it on the dress code companies want to have should be one of them.

    2. FoolishFox*

      I’m not sure what wearing a suit and tie has to do with trust. If you found out that outside meeting with you, your accountant did all the work with your money wearing a spiderman onesie or nothing but a thong, would you take your business elsewhere?

  54. theletter*

    #1 – I’ve heard ‘walking meetings’ are becoming a hip new thing to do because food can be an obstacle rather than a benefit for a lot of people. When I get back to the office (if we ever go back) I plan on suggesting more of them. It’s usually an easy sell when the weather outside is nice. I once had a 1-1 meeting at a nail salon!

    For big social lunches, the old ‘Oh no I’m going to be late because I want to finish this thing’ will make you seem driven and fashionable. By the time everyone’s half-way through their pasta carbonara, no one’s going to register that you’re talking about weekend plans with the grandboss while holding a cup of tea. ‘I brought my lunch today and don’t want to waste it’/’I forgot this was the special lunch day and ate before oops/’somehow I’m still full from my late breakfast’ works too.

    Lunch meetings with a presentation are the worst, amirite? I don’t know anyone who likes to learn about server maintenance and chew pizza at the same time. ‘I want to learn as much as I can about this and don’t want to be distracted by my lunch’ might clue people into the fact that lunch presentations are terrible for almost everyone.

    1. Simply the best*

      Presentations and meetings where I’m not talking generally put me right to sleep. I’m a kinetic learner, so just staring at someone else’s power point while they talk isn’t doing anything for me. Having food there gives me something else to do to keep my brain occupied which keeps me awake and alert.

      On the flip side, I can’t imagine anything I’d want to do less than a walking meeting. How am I supposed to take any notes? I got short legs, so what’s a stroll for my tall coworkers is a jog for me if I wanna keep up.

      All this to say, there will never be a consensus on the best way to have a meeting.

    2. Willowby*

      Walking can also be an obstacle rather than a benefit! Plenty of people have disabilities, often invisible, which limit their ability to walk safely and comfortably. I hope you will take that into account when you start suggesting these!

  55. DG*

    As someone in recovery from an eating disorder/long-term disordered eating, some of the advice and comments to OP1 are super triggering.

    Advice on how to diplomatically reference a medical condition to minimize the awkwardness of work lunches? Fine.

    Discussions about pretending to push food around your plate, how to make it look like you’re eating when you’re not, what diets to pretend you’re following to avoid suspicion, etc.? All of that sounds like something you could read on some dark pro-ED corners of the internet.

    I don’t say this to shame anyone who’s going through it – I’ve been there myself and still struggle at times. I also know that many of the behaviors I used to cope and seem “normal” at that time were, in hindsight, incredibly unhealthy and not something I could recommend in good faith to someone else.

    1. nonbinary writer*

      100% agree, as someone who spent a few too many teenage nights on those dark corners of the internet.

  56. I'm sure this will get deleted.....*

    Just to be clear, advice is being given to a person on how to accommodate their eating disorder at work. How is this different than telling a bulimic which bathroom to use at work to avoid detection? This makes me very uncomfortable.

    1. jenny*

      Hi there! This question is very ….. not it. There is nothing in the letter that does or doesn’t say what kind of treatment the LW is pursuing. There is nothing in the answer that promotes having an eating disorder. This question is just about “I have a medical condition, how can I continue to have a normal work life?”

      Should people with eating disorders just… not work? Should they just get over them?? Your discomfort does not mean the answer or question are inappropriate.

    2. Red 5*

      I’m not entirely sure if you mean Alison’s advice or something in the comments, if it’s the comments then obviously I haven’t read that one yet.

      But I see the question being asked and Alison’s answer not as giving advice for accommodating an eating disorder but giving advice on how to manage their _recovery_ at work.

      The letter writer doesn’t say they don’t eat, or that they’re even still restricting their calories. They say that they don’t eat with other people at work functions (which seems to specifically be at restaurants). That seems to me to be similar to someone who is a recovering alcoholic writing in about what to do in an office culture with happy hours and beers in the break room fridge. Which is something that people have written about here a few times IIRC. Sometimes a person who is in recovery needs to remove certain situations or stimuli from their life in order to fully manage the process and get to where they need to be.

      I do not know the OP, so this is entirely guessing based on other people I have known. But it could be that she’s at a point where she’s only able to eat while in her own home, at her own table, in a space that she’s managed to associate with comfort and support. Maybe she’s at a point where she is eating the proper amount of calories but in a controlled way (recovery is not an on/off switch, it’s a process where you measure progress, not perfection). Maybe she only eats certain foods, at certain times of day, but she doesn’t feel comfortable with restaurant meals for one reason or another.

      I don’t believe that any therapist who specializes in eating disorders would say that someone in recovery should ever be forced to eat in a situation where they are uncomfortable without the supervision of their medical team. From what I’ve seen, alcoholism treatment works in a similar way in that doctors would recommend someone not visit a bar or be around people drinking until they are ready to handle that, which may be a moment that never comes. They tell you to not be around the same people you were friends with while you were drinking if they are still drinking, etc. There are alcoholics who never go into places that serve alcohol again because they know that they can’t. That doesn’t mean that helping them avoid bars is accommodating their alcoholism, it’s the opposite, it’s supporting their recovery.

      So it makes sense that recovery from an eating disorder would include avoiding specific triggering situations like restaurant lunches. I take the OP at their word that this is a trigger for them that would hamper their recovery.

      1. RagingADHD*

        We don’t even know that calorie restriction was ever part of the LWs disorder in the first place.

        1. Red 5*

          Yup, exactly. I just reached for that as a random example, but then phrased it poorly. Eating disorders can present very differently for a lot of people and it’s important to remember that a person doesn’t have to fit a specific mold or stereotype.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She says, “I have a rare lifelong eating disorder that makes it very hard to eat with people.” She doesn’t say she’s anorexic or bullemic. She might be in recovery and struggling to eat around others. She’s interested in finding ways to keep it from affecting her at work. If you don’t think that should be answered, I don’t know what to tell you.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Exactly. She’s an adult and since she says it’s hard to eat with people, we should all take her at her word. It’s not helpful at all to speculate on the specific health condition or to advise her on a treatment plan. Even if it is an eating disorder AND it would be helpful to her to eat in front of other people, that would need to come from her doctor and not from anyone here.

    4. Observer*

      Just to be clear, advice is being given to a person on how to accommodate their eating disorder at work

      Just to be clear, that is not the question nor is it the answer.

      1. I'm sure this will get deleted.....*

        Nope. Re-read the letter. My opinion stands. And as expected, I’m the bad guy here. Sometimes this place is an echo chamber.

          1. I'm sure this will get deleted.....*

            No, I’m just standing by my opinion. I love this site. It’s full of wonderful advice and I mostly agree with Allison and the commentariat. But there are times when it does not feel like a safe space to offer a differing opinion. Folks come down HARD on dissenting opinions.

            1. jenny*

              You are able to offer your opinion and others are able to respond to it. I am dissenting because the arguments you’ve presented is specious, not because you don’t agree with the advice. You say you re-read the letter but did you read and critically engage with anyone else’s replies to your comments?

            2. Insert Clever Name Here*

              Folks come down on dissenting opinions that are presented with a smirk and a knowing attitude.

              Here’s another way you could have asked the exact same question and gotten a different attitude in the responses:
              I feel uncomfortable about #1 and am wondering if I’m interpreting it differently than others. The letter writer says they have an eating disorder and is asking how to accommodate it at work and it seems like others are interpreting this differently than, for example, an alcoholic asking how to hide their drinking at work. Can someone help me understand if these are different and how?

        1. Red 5*

          Perhaps instead of just saying re-read the letter you could point out the specific phrasing that is leading you to that conclusion so that people could understand how you’re getting such a different interpretation of the situation than they are.

          Just reiterating that you are right and they are wrong, and that it’s all there if we looked again doesn’t really prompt a conversation or for anybody to think more deeply about their own responses. Which I would assume was your intent in speaking up in the first place.

          If however, you simply wanted to say you don’t agree and cross your arms and not have a conversation about it, well, that’s a choice too.

        2. HereKittyKitty*

          How would you like to see this questioned answered? “You have an eating disorder, go to therapy?” Okay, now what? That doesn’t solve the issue presented in the letter. I know lots of people with eating disorders and disordered eating habits; however, I have never heard of a treatment plan that emphasized “you must sit with strangers at lunch and eat with them in order to recover.” Like… that’s not how this works.

          I have a agoraphobia that keeps me from feeling comfortable eating in unfamiliar restaurants with unfamiliar people. I have almost a decade of therapy behind me and two different medications and… I still don’t like eating in restaurants with unfamiliar people. What would you have me do?

    5. RagingADHD*

      Just to be clear, advice is being given on how to avoid having unwanted discussions about a medical condition at work.

      You could substitute any medical condition that affects your eating patterns, and the advice would be the same: focus on the content of the meeting, thank & reassure the other person that they aren’t being a bad host, and give a bland generic reason.

      1. Shan*

        Yes! Not that this is nearly as limiting, but my office has a bowling tournament every year (or at least, when we’re not in a pandemic). I have rheumatoid arthritis, and can’t do 10 pin bowling. My manager knows, so there’s no issue with me not attending/participating, but I still constantly have to dodge questions from tonnes of other people about why I’m either not going, or not playing. It seriously sucks, and I’m not even trying to keep it a secret. It’s just really crappy when you feel put on the spot to reveal a medical condition.

    6. nonbinary writer*

      What would you prefer? Alison refusing to answer the question? Ignoring the question and listing ED resources that LW has almost certainly seen before? Avoiding eating around others =/= never eating, and helping a person suffering from an eating disorder find some comfort and peace and privacy throughout the day is not the same as enabling. Plus, not all eating disorders are restrictive. LW could very easily have binge eating disorder, which is 3x more common in the US.

  57. Red 5*

    LW #1 –

    This is a real challenge, and it’s got to be extremely difficult so I definitely feel for you trying to figure out how to navigate it.

    It’s a very different situation, but I have a lot of food restrictions because of chronic illness, and on top of that I’m just a very picky eater (probably an outgrowth of the food restrictions). But I work in an area where a lot of people really love the types of cuisine that I just can’t really eat. It’s not really great in a work conversation to be like “oh, I can’t eat there, it’ll give me gas” or even mentioning reflux can make people give you a side eye. It also sounds like a petty complaint, but for me, eating the wrong foods can mean an really miserable few hours where I can’t go far from the bathroom and I’m in a lot of pain.

    So I’ve just gotten a lot of mileage out of “oh, it’s a medical thing, super boring, but how about grabbing breakfast?” Or even “Oh yeah, that looks great, but I just can’t eat it, health stuff, it is what it is, I’ll just get a drink.”

    The more dismissive I am that it’s just a boring health thing, the more likely people are not to push on it because they realize that _I_ also don’t want to talk about it. And there are dozens and dozens of health reasons to have dietary restrictions, including eating disorders so you wouldn’t be lying, so that doesn’t give anybody enough information to be a jerk. If they push (and again, I’ve never had anybody push me on this at my current job) I just sort of reiterate that it’s boring, not really mealtime conversation, or hand wave it like it’s not that important and hey did you see that email from the boss last week what was he thinking? Food is very much a part of how my office culture operates, but it does seem a bit different from what you describe, so it won’t be a one to one comparison.

    But what I’ve learned is the more I act like I don’t care and don’t want to talk about it, the less they care and the less they want to talk about it. Mostly. I can’t recall the last time I had somebody get pushy about any of it, it was probably ten or twelve years ago. Those people are out there but there are less and less of them all the time.

    Good luck in your new job! I’m sure you’ll do great.

  58. SometimesALurker*

    I think that nipple piercings could be treated kind of like… nipples?

    Like, in all but the most conservative work environments, it’s an unspoken rule that almost everyone has nipples and sometimes they are going to show through clothing by accident. If your shirt and underclothes cover your nipples 80 or 90% of the time, you’re still professionally dressed. If your nipples are visible through your clothes 80 or 90% of the time, that’s something I can see many workplaces caring about, especially for public-facing employees. There’s some gray area in the middle, but where the frequency cutoff is would be dependent on the workplace. Maybe for nipple piercings the cutoff would be at a different place, but it works basically the same way.

    1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      This. Ignoring the piercing part of the question also avoids future letters from the other side, like “my manager told me to remove my nippe piercings at work, but I don’t have piercings.”

  59. Sparkles McFadden*

    You don’t know you cannot be an effective manager to this person. You might be judging yourself too harshly!

    I don’t see anything wrong in telling your manager that you want to guard against any unconscious bias. If you’re concerned about saying that (it is kind of a loaded statement), just give your manager a heads up about the past employment situation because you’re concerned about things becoming awkward. (“I don’t want things to be weird” is a not-uncommon way to put it.)

    This is not a great situation for sure, but it’s a really good chance to hone your management skills. I have another reply upthread where I relate that I had to manage an employee who absolutely did not want to report to me. I was able to manage him despite that because I’d do my best to make sure to treat all of my direct reports equitably. Sometimes, it was hard because the guy in question was pretty irritating. (I had to teach him how to write non-insulting emails.) He also required explanations for things one wouldn’t think would need explaining. I literally had to explain to him why it was important for him to show up on time, but once I did, he was never late. I didn’t love that the guy was there, but he did his job and I grew a lot as a manager because of him.

  60. Jess*

    “It’s also an interesting thought exercise to think about how you’d handle this if it were a highly visible Prince Albert piercing on a man.) (Do not google that at work.)”

    It really isn’t. This isn’t a visible labia piercing, it’s a detectable nipple piercing. I mean, have whatever opinion you want about whether that’s okay, but it is downright weird to be drawing any sort of equivalency between nipples and pants junk.

    1. James*

      The sexualization of the anatomy was the parallel, I think. Though I agree it’s an invalid comparison. Pants, at least in my experience, tend to be more forgiving than shirts when it comes to anatomical oddities. My experience is mostly with medical issues and a few deformed bones–it’s easy enough to hide a knee brace or an athletic support, but my deformed clavicle is impossible to hide. Pants have more layers, more folds; people carry stuff in their pockets. Someone with a genital piercing visible through the pants is pretty obviously trying to draw attention to it. In contrast, if your shirt is fitted or gets wet (bad AC, for example) even the most subtle nipple piercings may become visible.

  61. Introverted Type-A Employee*

    #3 As a (female) person with both nipples pierced and working in a professional environment, I completely empathize with Alison’s difficulty in how to answer this question. It’s a tough line to draw! I’m on Alison’s side that no one should be commenting on the appearance of anyone’s breasts at work. We all have nipples, and sometimes female nipples get hard when it’s cold and *that* issue has been decided as MYOB.

    However, I can see where the piercings can make it somehow…different from just hard/cold nipples? Gosh, I’m torn! I agree with a lot of the commentariat that the best solution may be to update the body modification portion of the dress code. I’ve worked in medical offices where the dress code was no visible/discernable piercings aside from the ears, and earrings must not interfere with patient/employee safety.

    I’ve caught myself in the bathroom mirror at work and noticed that that *OMG MY NIPPLE PIERCINGS ARE TOTALLY VISIBLE IN THIS BRA/SHIRT COMBO* and been grateful that no one felt the need to ADDRESS IT with me. I simply put on a sweater I keep at my desk and noted not to wear that combo again. The difference here is that the employee is either stuck with a uniform or making a clothing choice that makes it visible 100% of the time.

    This is why I err on the side of the “no discernable non-ear and non-nostril piercings” or whatever is appropriate for your workplace. Similar to how my last workplace implemented a “we should not be able to see your undergarments in any position needed to perform your work duties” to police the plumber’s crack and thong display issues when employees reached overhead or bent over.

    In the end this is such a tricky question! My nipples, my business – 100% agree for my own pierced nipples! But there is a line to draw in a professional setting, and I’m really wavering on where that should be. Great question!

  62. Shocked*

    I am flabbergasted by the response and then all the commenters giving tips and tricks to successfully feed an eating disorder and starve a body. If the person wrote in about addiction would you give advice about how to hide needles at the office? This behavior is destructive to the OP’s mind, body, and career. Tell this person to get help so that she can have a sandwich with a colleague, or a friend, or family member, or romantic partner, or her child. So that she doesn’t die or cause irreparable harm to herself. Here, you may as well have included a link to a “pro-ana” website. I’m disgusted at the thin-at-all-costs culture, the normalizing eating disorders, and, frankly, encouragement of navigating an eating disorder rather than encouragement to end it. I usually think the advice here is spot on, but this is gross. If this was my daughter writing, I wouldn’t want someone telling her how to hide it better. Gross.

    1. jenny*

      I have addressed this above but I would like to address it again here. I think your disgust is uncalled for.

      There is nothing in the letter that does or doesn’t say what kind of treatment the LW is pursuing. There is nothing in the answer that promotes having an eating disorder. This question is just about “I have a medical condition, how can I continue to have a normal work life?”

      Should people with eating disorders just… not work? We have lives and bills too.

      NO ONE I have seen is promoting having eating disorder. If your daughter had this illness I would hope you would show more compassion to her than you do here.

    2. Jennifer*

      Nobody here is qualified to give that kind of advice because no one here is the OP’s doctor. Plus how she chooses to treat her illness is none of our business.

    3. James*

      “I am flabbergasted by the response and then all the commenters giving tips and tricks to successfully feed an eating disorder and starve a body.”

      What eating disorder does this person have? Until you can answer this question, your assumptions are not substantiated.

      I’ve known a small number of people who OVER-eat in a way that qualifies as a disorder. Part of their recovery is to establish strict rules about eating–rules that make dining out problematic. Rules on what they can eat, rules on how long to eat (re-training their bodies to register when full), stuff like that. The LW’s rules sound like what some of these people do, honestly–an odd variant I haven’t seen before, but nothing unusual about that. Most people find timers at the lunch table disconcerting. And these people are self-aware enough to know that; in fact, they take it to the opposite extreme of being paranoid someone will find out. It doesn’t help that everyone thinks “eating disorder” means anorexia/bulimia and nothing else. I mean, how do you explain a disorder that your listener refuses to recognize exists? Not only do you have the discomfort of having the disorder, not only do you have the discomfort of addressing the disorder, but now you have the added joy of needing to convince the other person that what you’re experiencing is real.

    4. HereKittyKitty*

      That is not what’s happening here. Like I have agoraphobia that can keep me from eating in restaurants and I could have written this exact same question. I have had OODLES of therapy and meds and at the end of the day… I just don’t feel comfortable eating with strangers in restaurants. Allison telling me how to navigate that is no different than giving advice to someone with anxiety over an eating disorder trying to navigate their recovery in public.

      1. jenny*

        But wouldn’t it be helpful if someone told you your behavior was harming you and to ‘just end it’??!?! /s

        1. HereKittyKitty*

          Yes, “BE MORE NORMAL” has really helped my PTSD-Agoraphobic-ADHD self / s lololol

          1. jenny*

            Actually, it does help me … it helps me decide that person isn’t a safe person to be around and is not worth my time or energy.

    5. Cat Tree*

      You don’t know she has an eating disorder, and you shouldn’t armchair diagnose. I’m flabbergasted by your assumptions.

      1. jenny*

        They do say eating disorder in the letter. They don’t say WHAT eating disorder, so that is a flabbergasting assumption. The level of judgement in the top-level comment is not at all conducive to any type of ED recovery. People recover with support, compassion, and treatment from medical professionals. They don’t recover through reading vitriol and shame.

        1. jenny*

          Besides which, recovery looks different for everyone and it happens in phases. You never “just end” them. Maybe only eating at specific times or in specific places that make you comfortable is part of a recovery. If you know something triggers you, protecting yourself from your triggers while you continue to earn a living is smart. It’s not something you should be shamed for.

        1. Cat Tree*

          Interesting. In context, I interpreted “disorder” to mean general health condition, which could apply to various conditions. For example, I have a thyroid disorder which requires medication to treat and has nothing to do with eating or mental health. Especially because she specified that it’s lifelong, my mind didn’t go to anorexia, bulimia, or similar. Yes, I realize those disorders can be lifelong or can recur after periods of recovery. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard them specifically described that way.

          Still, I guess it would be unusual to describe something as an eating disorder that isn’t what is commonly understood as an eating disorder.

          1. jenny*

            Cat Tree, your initial interpretation is reasonable too! See comment from James that starts “I have a sister with a Chiari malformation (part of her brain extends out of her skull) that has a similar problem.” It’s very possible they meant a medical condition that impacts eating but is not an eating disorder in the DSM sense.

          2. EventPlannerGal*

            That’s not what “eating disorder” means. It does cover a number of different things but it’s a specific term used to describe a specific type of condition, and it would be really bizarre to use it to describe a general health issue that happens to affect eating. That would be like someone saying “I have a mood disorder” and commenters saying “what if they actually mean that they have a broken leg and they’re feeling sad about it”.

    6. Anon for this*

      I fail at eating the types of foods that are offered at places that are easy to go for “let’s meet for lunch!” in my area. I don’t even have an eating disorder, I just cannot eat wings, open faced sandwiches, and spaghetti neatly to save my life, and have no particular desire to humiliate myself in front of people who want to “just get to know me”. There are many reasons, not just eating disorders, that someone might not be able to eat around other people, and some meals might be easier to handle than others.

    7. Dahlia*

      Workplace blogs are not fit to give medical advice.

      Also this comes off as super concern trolling. LW’s medical issues are not your business and you do not have the right to tell them how to handle their treatment.

    8. RagingADHD*

      You know that there are other types of eating disorders besides anorexia, right? Some eating disorders don’t have anything to do with weight or body image at all.

      The LW didn’t say they don’t eat. They aren’t comfortable eating lunch and dinner in restaurants with other people. You can be petfectly well nourished without eating lunch or dinner in restaurants.

      I think you have good intentions, but a very large knowledge gap on this topic.

    9. nonbinary writer*

      You have no idea what eating disorder LW is struggling with or in recovery from, binge eating disorder is 3x more common that anorexia in the US. “Get help so that she can have a sandwich” is so incredibly condescending and misunderstands SO much about the complexity of eating disorders and recovery. I have BEEN on those pro-ana websites and nothing in Alison’s answer even gets close to that (some of the comments… are another story).

      Helping a person who has an eating disorder set reasonable boundaries about what she is and isn’t comfortable doing with and around other people is not enabling an eating disorder. You have no idea this person’s recovery plan or what they’re even recovering from.

    10. Red 5*

      The assumption is that the OP is in recovery and as such would be getting medical treatment from trained professionals to assist them with the issue. Perhaps they have a therapist who IS working with them on how to eventually get to a point where they can have a sandwich with a friend.

      But it is not our job, their coworker’s job, Alison’s job, or their boss’ job to tell them what specific goal post in their recovery journey they should be at. Telling the OP to “get help so you can have a sandwich” is the equivalent of telling someone with clinical depression “you need to just be happy again already.”

      They’re aware that this is impacting their life in a negative way, they wrote to an advice columnist about it.

      Not being able to eat with other people does not meant that their disorder is still active. It’s also entirely possible that because of their own particular life, psychology, and history that they will never be able to have a lunch meeting. Because recovery isn’t something that ends. Recovery is a journey that has a million miles in it and no one except the OP’s medical team should ever be trying to tell them what speed they should be going or what mile marker they should be at.

      But we can support them as a human being with an illness. I am a human being with a chronic illness and I can treat it, I can take medications, I can go to the doctor, but I will always be sick. There will never again be a moment in my life that I am a healthy person (if there ever was one).

      If I wrote in asking for how to deal with a situation at work where I didn’t want to talk about my illness but needed an accommodation, and everybody just said “well you should go to a doctor and stop being sick” it would be a really heartless thing to do.

      1. onco fonco*

        Yeah, I have been managing a mental health condition off and on for well over half my life. If a particular situation clashed with my particular coping methods and I asked for advice on navigating it, I would definitely not welcome a response of “That’s not a healthy way to be! You shouldn’t be that way! Get help!” As if that would never have occurred to me before.

    11. Lyra Silvertongue*

      Shockingly enough, Shocked, people with eating disorders still need to be able to operate in the world and that doesn’t necessarily mean giving themselves exposure therapy at work. Also, people who are open about having EDs…. usually already know that they have EDs and are either treating it or not treating it as they want to (and as they can AFFORD to). Not all eating disorders are about, or result in, weight loss, nor did the LW allude to that – you have read in a lot of stuff that isn’t included. This kind of reaction to the mere discussion of an ED is so uncalled for and a big part of what keeps ED stigma going.

    12. biobotb*

      So unless you think that Alison telling the LW to get medical help will automatically snap them out of their eating disorder, I don’t understand how you think that advice will help them navigate food situations at work. Unless you also think they should be unemployed until they can eat in front of others without stress? Tackling eating disorders is a generally a long process, and hopefully something people can do while gainfully employed.

  63. boop the first*

    1. This is obviously not the same level, but I don’t like eating in public areas. My dad doesn’t like eating in public areas. If someone said to me that they don’t like to eat in front of another person and thus will pack their food to go, I literally wouldn’t even bat an eye.
    I know some people are really nosy and forceful about their food opinions and might challenge you, but they’re going to challenge you anyway if you invent an unnecessary lie, even if the lie is medical. So I dunno, you could simply just… be your honest self. Don’t even have to include any disordered eating explanation, really. Are public eating hang ups that weird to everyone? :/

    1. Metadata minion*

      I mean…95% of people are going to be totally fine with it, but that other 5% can be really terrible. I can absolutely understand not wanting to risk finding out which of your coworkers are going to be terrible about it.

  64. Anon for this*

    Alison you are awful, now I’m trying to picture how a prince albert piercing could ever BE visible at work and just… ewwwww

  65. HereKittyKitty*

    OP 1, I have agoraphobia which can make it really difficult to eat with people in public. Being in an unfamiliar place or with unfamiliar people turns my stomach to knots and makes me feel super anxious. I worked with very social people and got into the habit of doing afternoon coffee for socializing instead of lunch and that worked well with me. If I really felt I couldn’t get out of a lunch I would just sip a drink or order soup at most. People typically didn’t bother me about it but if they did I would just say “eh I never feel that hungry for lunch” and take my leftovers.

  66. Manana*

    I don’t think it’s fair to compare nipple piercings to something like a Prince Albert because honestly if you can tell someone has pierced genitalia, there are FAR more pressing dress code issues happening. Breasts are not primary sexual organs and it’s unrealistic to expect they all look like smooth Barbie Boobs.

    Ultimately, people should not be looking at your admin’s breasts that closely. The reason people do, including yourself, is that we have been conditioned to objectify and sexualize women’s breasts. Your employee knows what her breasts look like. If she is comfortable with the fact that people who ogle her breasts will notice that she has piercings, that’s fine. The reality is that her breasts will be ogled regardless (while she is at work doing her customer facing job, welcome to the world of being a woman in customer service) and there’s nothing you can do about it. So be one less creep and don’t talk to your employee about her nipples. Pretend like you don’t notice and never did.

  67. Snoop2#*

    Alison, I really wish you would reconsider your response to the question about nipple piercings. It is problematic to draw an equivalence between a visible nipple piercing on a woman and a visible genitals piercing on a man. Men also have nipples; a woman’s nipple piercing is not comparable just because women’s breasts are extremely sexualized in our society.

  68. CM*

    #1, while there are lots of great suggestions here about how you can either avoid the situation or explain it at the invitation stage, one more thought — if people start asking questions or being intrusive, it’s really helpful to have a answer ready. Like, “You’re so nice to want to make me feel comfortable, but what would really make me most comfortable is if we could go ahead with our meeting and not have to talk about eating habits,” or as an answer to a question about your eating habits, “It’s a little complicated, so I’d love it if we could just pretend we’re both eating, and continue with our conversation.”

  69. always in email jail*

    LW #1- I have Crohns and Ulcerative Colitis and while not at all the same, I have frequently had to navigate not eating in work situations when other people are. Truly, I always think it’s going to be more of a “thing” than it is. People have become much more conscious of respecting peoples’ privacy the past few years.
    Things that have worked for me:
    Not explaining myself, just saying to the waitress “I’ll just have a coffee, thanks!” or “Nothing for me, thanks!”
    “I have to fast before some lab work, but please don’t mind me!”
    “Oh, I already ate, but I’d love some coffee!”
    “My doctor has me trying this new weird diet, I don’t really want to get into it, but I’m going to eat at my desk later. I’ll have coffee for now, though!”
    “I took some (allergy medicine, antibiotics, etc.) earlier and I’m feeling a bit queasy, so I’m going to hold off.”
    “I’m doing that intermittent fasting thing I keep hearing about, apparently it reduces inflammation! A friend and I are trying it together!”

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I really would recommend against overly specific excuses that aren’t actually true unless other options have failed. The trouble is that they tend to become less plausible on repetition and there is too great a chance that they’ll be exposed as lies. And even lying about things that are none of peoples business tends to rub them the wrong way.
      A simple “I have dietary restrictions” followed by a “I’d rather not get into the details” should be sufficient for most purposes. It’s even true enough if you squint.

  70. learnedthehardway*

    OP#2 – Before doing anything, I would think about the reasons why you let the employee go in their last role. From my perspective, these reasons fall into a few different categories, and I think your actions should follow from the reasons.

    1. They were not competent in their prior role – this could include making big mistakes. I would consider whether their current role requires the same skills/experience, whether it is reasonable that they got the experience since then, and whether they were well set up for success in the prior role (eg. were the properly trained, were they given the right tools and resources, etc.) It could be that the current role is much better suited to their skills and abilities. If so, I would have a conversation with the employee and let them know that this is a totally different situation and you look forward to supporting their success.

    2. They were not performing well in their role, despite being competent – this could have been because of attitude/work ethic, or it might have been a function of the culture, their health, their obligations outside of work, etc. etc. Perhaps the situation is different now, perhaps the culture is better, or perhaps the employee has resolved whatever issues they had. I’d probably have a discussion with the employee to tell them that these are your expectations, can they meet them, and tell them that you are going to give them a fair chance to prove themselves to you but that you will manage their performance. Heads up to HR to let them know that you did let the person go in a prior role, but feel that they can be successful on your team again.

    3. There was a serious character or ethics issue that makes it unlikely that the employee will be viable. I would involve HR off the bat. Eg. if someone was outright abusive to colleagues or subordinates, was highly manipulative to undermine colleagues or to avoid responsibility for mistakes, committed fireable offenses (stole from the company, falsified their credentials, etc.), or had such incredibly poor judgment that you feel they will be a net drain on your department’s productivity.

    1. OP2*

      I love the breakout so much, and you’re right, there’s a slightly nuanced approach for each. Thank you for breaking in down like this, it gave me alot to think about!

  71. RagingADHD*

    I’m having a difficult time coming up with any job other than sex work where clothing and behavior appropriate for the job would result in a highly visible Prince Albert. Even professional dancers in spandex are expected to wear a dance belt.

    It’s not analogous. The equivalent would be something like a labia piercing — also something that wouldn’t show in normal work attire.

    Nipples are standard-issue equipment for everyone. It’s not unfair or gender biased to ask everyone to keep their nipple piercings discreet at work.

    1. UKDancer*

      Professional dancers definitely wear a dance belt almost all the time. My ballet teacher said it would be extremely uncomfortable not wearing a belt because stuff would move around and might get damaged so no sensible dancer would perform without one. Male ballet dancers in tights look like they’ve a fairly decent sized package because the belt kind of brings it all together but you shouldn’t be able to see anything like a piercing because the belt fabric is quite thick and sometimes padded.

  72. Jessica*

    Coming out of several-year lurkerdom to say that, for #2, I genuinely believe the employee deserves a fresh start. We don’t know why they were fired, but assuming that it’s for genuine bad-fit reasons rather than unethical behavior, I really, really don’t understand why going to the higher-ups is necessary. Any of the euphemistic ways of phrasing suggested easily translate to, “yup, they were totally canned” and are effectively no different than stating this bluntly.

    As someone who has been fired five times from crappy restaurant gigs before I knew that I was suffering from PTSD and was maybe a wee bit on the spectrum, I was absolutely haunted by it despite the whole industry genuinely being just about the worst fit possible for me. I worked hard and acted ethically and with compassion at each of those jobs, but in the end a single night of sensory overload would undo me (once, after I retreated to cry in the kitchen and the manager’s screaming “I’ll give you something to cry about” made me cry harder, I was let go for seeming unhappy). Of course, I had no choice but to go get another of the same in the economic wasteland I lived in, and try harder and with mounting shame and despair to hide the tally against me. A couple years later, I was let go for not disclosing the prior incident to the owners of a current gig. When I say haunted, I mean haunted – I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, just desperately needed someone to let me work without the dreaded Box of Shame – “have you ever been asked to quit, let go, terminated, etc.?” ever making an appearance. It was a small town with mainly service-industry work, and I felt like the walls were closing in on me simply because I needed to buy groceries without prejudice.

    I had to move several hundred miles away and get a graduate degree, but eventually found a career where my strengths and skills are highly valued (white-collar tech). I am now a star performer and no one I have worked with the last several years would ever dream that I have the traumatic work history that I do. I will likely take it to the grave. It will never be a funny anecdote for me; it showcased how human dignity and survival can hinge on the whim of fallible people to whom having been fired is a good enough reason to fire again. I was ABLE to get a fresh start due to the geographic and industry-based disparity, but others, like the employee in Letter 2, clearly aren’t, at least not right now. I don’t know why their livelihood needs to be threatened because OP is now their manager.

    Instead, I’d advocate talking to them directly and offering a fresh start. It could be that their desire not to repeat the same mistakes will be strong enough to deal with the situation entirely, and I tend to have faith that most people don’t want to repeat the same mistakes!

    And yes, I know I’m projecting all over the place here because I feel so strongly on this issue, but perhaps my experience could help illuminate another side that OP hasn’t considered.

    1. OP2*

      Thank you for this perspective! I’m sorry for your experience and you definitely made me think about it differently. My inclination to tell my boss/HR was to give the situation light in case the employee felt uncomfortable but I hadn’t really considered that saying something would ultimately make them much MORE uncomfortable.

  73. Bella*

    Truly we just need to leave women alone about their breasts. And their appearance in general. And really everyone’s appearance in general. If folks come to work in clean clothes having bathed, just leave. them. alone.

  74. LifeBeforeCorona*

    #1 Soup? It’s food and easy to play with or sip very slowly like a coffee or other liquid.

  75. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Getting by the nipple piercings, and addressing #2.

    Yes – the important thing to do is avoid drama. If your former employee was terminated for performance reasons or something similar (absenteeism, for example) — remember that a termination can end up being the ULTIMATE performance improvement motivator. She moves on to the next job and performs well there, it’s a life experience that she grew from.

    I’ve seen things like this happen – an employee is at Acme Company, falls out and is terminated. Then moves on to Beta Company and does very well over there. Then one day there’s an announcement that Acme is buying out Beta Company.

    All of a sudden the employee finds herself working for the company that fired her. More concern for her than the former colleagues at Acme, unless the Acme management is uncomfortable with her being back in the fold.

    The best thing to do – is what AAM said – have a “come to Jesus” meeting with the employee – and adopt a clean slate.

    1. hmmm*

      I very much agree with you. I think the “clean slate” approach is the best approach. I’d follow Alison’s advice and have a quiet word to the boss, and maybe HR, but I’d say I’d worked with this person before during a difficult period at that shared workplace and leave it there. Anything beyond that could easily become its own can of worms that I doubt is worth it.

  76. blu ink*

    This appears to be an unpopular opinion, but while I agree with Alison that LW 2 should tell their manager, “hey, Fergus and I have worked together before”, I don’t see what purpose telling their boss that they fired Fergus before serves. Fergus may also have already spoken to management or HR about it.

    Like Alison says, I’d talk to the employee first and then tell management you have worked together before. Make reference to an “unpleasant” or “difficult” shared workplace but I’d keep the “I fired them” part under my hat, unless the employee is willing for you to share that.

    LW 2, you have my sympathy! It’s a sticky issue. During the GFC, I ended up as the grandboss of someone who had previously fired me, “Tony”. This firing was found to be illegal by the relevant external tribunal when they heard my case. People get fired or laid off or retrenched for a wide variety of reasons and my own illegal firing is the far end of one extreme. But some people will never look at you the same way again once they find you you’ve been fired for any reason, legal or not.

    Needless to say, this was extremely awkward for both myself and Tony. I spoke to my own boss and requested that Tony and I never be responsible for managing the other, due to having worked together previously in an unpleasant situation. I found out much later that my own boss actually knew that Tony had fired me illegally and was angry about it. But I won brownie points for myself by being discrete and professional, and won Tony a stay of execution. In the end, it worked out well for everyone, and it sounds like it will for you as well.

    If I’d told my boss the truth, Tony probably would not have passed his probation. But I would also have run the risk of looking vengeful, angry, petty, or just plain unprofessional. I didn’t know if Tony knew anyone in management, or if he had already discussed the issue with HR or management.

    1. OP2*

      I took Alison’s advice as not to directly say that I fired this person, just to say that we had worked together previously, and it didn’t go well. That’s all I would ever say, I think, because saying anything else would reflect very poorly on me. Similarly, you “said the least” in your situation w Tony – good on you for taking the high road.

  77. barofsoap*

    Alison’s advice for LW#5 is perfect, but I would add that the LW needs to make sure that all correspondence about this is in writing.

    With LW#3, unless physical injury in the workplace is possible, I’d leave the issue alone entirely. Also, a genital piercing on a man is not the equivalent of a nipple piercing on a woman.

  78. My Brain Is Exploding*

    What happens if LW2 tells HR they had previously fired the employee at another job and the new company didn’t know the employee had ever been fired?

  79. JM*

    3 – I’m a liberal 20 something but I can imagine no situation in which visible nipple piercings would be acceptable at work in an office.
    If this was a male, I think most people would be direct and say no visible nipple piercings at work so you have to react the same. Just be brusque and maybe email it so they aren’t embarrassed in case it is accidental.

  80. Reformed HR*

    LW1, I am so very sorry you are dealing with this. I suffered from an eating disorder when I was younger and I couldn’t eat in public or in front of people outside my immediate circle for years. If it is of any help, I found following advice like what Alison has provided here worked pretty well. My usual spiel was along the lines of Alison’s great suggestion of “I’ve got some food restrictions that make it hard to order off most menus, but I’m happy to just have coffee if you want to do lunch”. Variations of Alison’s excellent “Nah, I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me at all. So tell me about Work Topic X!” worked on the couple of busybodies who seemed incapable of dropping the issue.

    You could also try and see if the person or people you are meeting with are open to a coffee-only meeting, or a walk-and-talk meeting if the weather is nice. This is the other thing that worked for me when I was recovering. One of my first jobs was an entry-level admin job in local government, and whenever the weather was good, everyone insisted on having those “let’s have lunch!” type meetings on park benches. I always found it hilarious, as even when the meeting was actually about ordering new chairs for the meeting rooms, we were meeting in a park like we were exchanging parcels with state secrets inside them. But I was pleased, too, because I was never expected to eat anything.

    LW2, I feel so bad for both you and your employee. You should be kind to yourself and your employee by allowing both of you to have a clean slate. I’d take Alison’s advice and speak to your employee about it, and then to your boss or HR, but I’d just say to them that you worked together before in a challenging situation which might make both of you feel a bit awkward for a while. Management or HR should get the hint that you might have a previously decided opinion of this employee that might take a while to equalize, and take that into account.

    LW3, I wouldn’t make this a problem unless it actually is one. The employee may not actually be aware of it. If it’s needed, a female colleague might be able to have a quiet word to the employee, just something quick like, “psst, your nipple ring is showing through your shirt”. But don’t make it a big deal, or something embarrassing, and make sure that the employee knows that she is not in trouble.

    LW4, I think Alison has given excellent advice. If you have no intention of taking the other job, politely turn down the meeting. I think it’s reasonable for you to want a signing bonus in an industry where it is a standard, but I have seen people attempt this type of manoeuvre and it can result in some very badly burned bridges. I don’t know if a signing bonus is worth the risk of losing the job you actually want, or your reputation, especially if your industry has been badly impacted by COVID-19.

    LW5, that is so frustrating! Whether the training person is stretched too thin or is just bad at their job, you may have no option but to go to your supervisor, especially if you have tried to speak to the training person before about how serious the issue is. I’d have every conversation about this from now on via email so you have a written record. This way, you’ve got all your bases completely covered if the problem persists and you have no choice but to go to your supervisor, or escalate it and make a formal or informal complaint.

  81. agnes*

    LW #1 you’ve gotten plenty of good suggestions from this group. It’s interesting though–I never thought of myself as having an “eating disorder” but I can only eat around other people if they are eating. I just can’t eat if I am the only person eating in a group. This has been challenging if people ‘drop into’ my office while I am having lunch in there, or if they try to join me at a picnic table. I have to stop eating and I just cannot eat again until they leave. I am fine if others are eating too.

    So you might want to suggest coffee.

  82. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP3: Does your front desk employee know her piercings can be seen through her clothes? If you’re female, take her aside privately and let her know. If you’re not female, have a woman take her aside and let her know. Otherwise, your employee could be the subject of very nasty rumors about her sexuality and be a target of sexual harassment.

  83. WhistleWhileYouWorkFromHome*

    #3: don’t give any instruction, just give a polite heads equivalent to “hey, there is spinach in your teeth.” If they care, they’ll 100% cover up on their own. If they’d rather have them out there anyway, they wouldn’t have appreciated a directive in the first place.

  84. Paul*

    I’m really surprised at some of the replies here to letters 1, 2 and 3.

    It really is best practice to not make something into a problem in the workplace unless it has to be. Especially if life and limb are not at risk if this opinion or fact is not shared. (Obviously, it’s a different scenario altogether if that is the case.)

    Just because you are not legally prohibited from doing something (like sharing an opinion or information in the workplace) doesn’t actually mean that you should do it, nor does it mean that it is in anyone’s best interests that you do so.

    Most of the time, your own health is absolutely no one else’s business but your own, unless you choose to share it. (Again, exceptions obviously exist.)

    Sometimes, it really is best to let sleeping dogs lie. Especially if it turns out that the dog can be left to nap forevermore.


    #3 Men have nipple piercings too. And yes, it can be obvious through shirts and t-shirts what type of jewelry they are wearing. I have reason to observe this phenomenon. *Wink*

    As for the PA, I was looking back (or is it forward?) to the person going braless on Zoom calls and thinking, what if a blessed man was going commando and standing up in zoom calls? Wouldnt it be the same? Grey sweatpants and all inclusive, including going *gasp* au natural in the home. If you wouldnt do it at work, dont do it on a Zoom call.

    As a patient (and observer) I would not want to see nipple piercing on anyone in the workplace. Its fun when it happens but then I’m comfortable with it, but it lets me into their personal life a little too much and invites awkward conversations. Recommend wearing either a heavier cloth shirt or a t-shirt/undershirt/shift/vest/sports bra. Unfortunately, nipple piercings (and PAs) are not like earrings. They cannot be removed for 8-10 hours a day.

  86. anonforthis*

    OP 4 – congrats on your offer. Please do not try to re-negotiate an accepted offer, especially by bringing up that you have a counter from a competitor. At best, it will make you look inexperienced, at worst, duplicitous.

  87. RR*

    A PA piercing on a man is not the equivalent of nipple piercings. Nipple piercings on a man are the equivalent of nipple piercings on a woman. I would suggest OP consider how they would feel if the person was a man with visible nipple piercings before deciding if they deserve to have a conversation about the piercings with their employee.

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