my employee keeps staying late even though I’ve told her to stop

A reader writes:

I have an hourly employee who is scheduled to work from 8:30-5:30 p.m. We have found out that she doesn’t always leave at 5:30. She says she stays until about 6 because she wants traffic to die down before heading home. We have told her several times that she has to leave at 5:30, but we have evidence that she is here sometimes as late at 9 p.m. She doesn’t have much of a personal life and I know that is part of the reason why she stays here.

I’ve told her that if I know she is staying after 5:30, I’m obligated to pay her since she is an hourly employee and she can claim overtime. Do you have any advice as to how to get this person to go home on time?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My pregnant coworker is throwing up at her desk every day
  • Coworker is using our guest office as her personal phone booth
  • Maximum number of applicants?
  • When job postings are looking for “energetic” candidates

{ 306 comments… read them below }

  1. generic_username*

    I feel for LW #1’s employee. I often sit at my desk doing personal stuff after it’s time to leave to avoid rush hour or to wait out dinner/drinks plans in the city. However, I’m also exempt so there’s no worry of overtime.

    OP – could you also speak to your employee about whether a different schedule would help her out? Maybe if she was able to work 10:30-7:30 instead that would solve your issues. It sounds like a terrible schedule to me because I like my evenings, but it does avoid rush hour and she may function better at those times anyway

    1. Annony*

      Maybe she can do something like log out of her computer to make it clear that she isn’t working if she just needs to wait a bit for traffic to let up. If she brings a book or other visible sign that she is occupied in something other than work then it’s clear she isn’t working unauthorized overtime.

      1. Caliente*

        This is what I was wondering – is she working or is she just there? If she’s clocked out say, does she need to be off the premises?

      2. tink*

        My mom used to do this after her work refused to let her shift her schedule 30 minutes (7:30-4:30 instead of 8-5) during fall/winter so she wasn’t driving into the sunset and having to contend with the way the mix of bright but less sun + some headlights affected her own eyes. She’d sit in the breakroom or her car for 15-20 minutes with a book, then leave.

      3. DrMrsC*

        +1 That is what I was thinking. There was a time when my husband and I were commuting together and it often meant that I was hanging around my office for an extra hour or so. I’d have a book or something else to entertain me. Just because I was in the building did not mean that I was working. It was just more comfortable to pass that time in my own office than sitting in my car in a parking lot. I don’t thing OP’s employee being IN the building is inherently a problem, it’s more about figuring out WHAT she’s doing while she is there and then deciding it if is still an issue.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, I’ve done this on days when, say, it’s pouring rain and I don’t feel like getting soaked trying to get to my car. I’m clocked out, though, and I’m not doing any work, so my employer doesn’t owe me anything.

    2. Rayray*

      This is what I was going to suggest. I hate heavy traffic but I am lucky to have a position at a company that allows flexibility so I go in early so I can beat the rush.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Not uncommon here for people to get to work by 6AM so they can beat the afternoon rush home. I would suggest that she change her schedule if that was allowed. Sounds like part of the problem is that she’s remaining long after anyone else so no one knows if she’s working or not? Were it me, I’d go to a coffee shop or something instead of hanging out at the office after I’d been told to leave. It can also be a security concern if someone works late – as in no one to see them moving files, making copies, etc. Not that she is doing this, but it’s on the list of “things to mention to your FSO”.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think the genuine question of what is she doing – and the fact that occasionally she’s still there at 9pm is the problem. Also, some states have much stricter laws with regards to overtime, so to make it easy to say yes or no to overtime boards there is a you must be gone from the workstation by x amount to of pack up time.

          In my office we’re hourly shift workers – and you share your desk with a person on the other shift – so there is no ability to “hang out at your desk” after the end of your shift.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I will also say a lot of us commute by bus/train/ride share and there used to be a break room available for us to hang out in. It got closed because of Covid – too many people were refusing to wear masks in that room – and the room belonged to the building (we’re rental tenants), so the building closed it up. The downside is that the building drink vending machines are also inaccessible (water fountains on all floors working still) because they were also in the building break room.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Realized I hit post too fast – I was going for if it’s just wanting to wait for a few minutes for traffic – is there a break area she can stay in as opposed to at her desk?

          2. Glitsy Gus*

            Yeah, this was my question. Is she working late or just still there? I do the same thing, and did when I was hourly as well. I’d clock out, then hang out and read a book, or check my personal email or something like that until 6:30 or so and then head out. It made life SO MUCH easier, especially when I was going to night school and could finish up my homework at my desk before popping over to campus rather than trying to find somewhere to waste and hour and a half because going home took too long. If that is what she’s doing and it isn’t hurting anyone having her hang out in the break room for an hour or whatever, I would let her keep doing it, just make sure she is clocking out.

            If she’s actually staying clocked in and continuing to work, though, then I am 100% on board with Allison’s advice.

    3. Midwestern Scientist*

      But further in the letter it says she’s sometimes there until 9pm. That’s way too long for simply waiting out traffic! Additionally, depending on local work laws, just sitting at her desk could open up the company for issues. I’ve worked in places where just answering a quick question would legally require you to be on the clock.

      1. Cj*

        I’m exempt, so it doesn’t matter in my case anyway, but I’m often at my office way later than normal hours doing personal things like paying bills, etc. because my desk at work is a much more convenient place to do this than anywhere at home. Or doing on-line shopping because the internet is faster at work. I’m on my computer, but am logged out of work applications (which are in the cloud and show log-in/log-out times).

        Yes, if you are hourly, you would need to be paid for even answering a quick question, but if asked something, she should just say she is off the clock, and as she is hourly, she is not allowed to do any work at all.

        I agree with commenters suggesting she should ask for a later stop/start time, but a lot of hourly workers are admins or similar that need to answer phones, be available when other staff is there to take care of their requests, etc., so this might not be an option.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          That opens a separate can of worms about whether one’s employer is actually cool with one using a work computer for those personal things. Officially, none of mine have been. Would they come down on someone for doing it if said someone weren’t the source of a virus or other caught-security problem? Probably not. But if someone were to asking if it were OK before doing it, the answer they’d get from any manager is No.

      2. Teapot Repair Technician*

        I don’t know about the legality, but I sort of get why someone might want to hangout at work until 9pm.

        Many days after work I have literally nothing to do between arriving home and going to bed. And it’s not because I “don’t have much of a personal life.” It’s just the reality of living alone.

        Given the choice between sitting in an empty apartment for 4 hours, and hanging out at the office (with air conditioning, fast internet, and maybe people nearby) for 4 hours, it’s kind of a tossup.

      3. kay bee*

        Generally agreed, but I think it can also depend on the commute. One commute I had was on a mountain road with no good get-arounds to avoid traffic or backups due to collisions or mudslides. Staying that late at my office or in the area would not be out of the question some days & one year I ended up staying overnight with a friend in the area multiple times because getting home wasn’t going to happen easily. This is definitely NOT the norm for the vast vast majority of commuters, though.

    4. cassielfsw*

      At my last job I had a 10:30-7:00 shift for a while (it was a call center and they had to be staffed until 7). I freakin’ loved it. If I had the chance to do that kind of schedule again I would jump at it. I’m not a morning person.

      1. Rosalind Franklin*

        As a morning person, I love my 11:00-9:30 (4×10) shift (we’re 24/7). I get the whole morning to bounce around, play with my kids, start my day, etc. Then I get into work that has very set expectations, so I can use my best hours to be “unscripted” around the house, and then my chaos hours to do my “scripted” stuff at work. Which, with ADHD, is a really valuable way to set things up!

        I am not looking forward to if and when I have to go back to business hours…

    5. Eye roll*

      I feel like some info is missing. I’ve often logged out and just hung out in my office for 30-45 minutes to wait for the next bus, or wait out a violent weather event, or avoid gridlock, or give my advil a little time to kick in. I’m not working. I’m not even engaged to wait. And the only questions I’m willing to answer are those I can field without looking up from my book. Why does LW#1 think the employee must be paid OT for being inside the building? Is the employee actually working or not?

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I wonder if it’s related to local or state ordinances that we aren’t aware of?

      2. fhqwhgads*

        It sounds to me like OP either can tell the employee was working (timestamps in systems, etc) or she cannot tell if the person is just physically there hanging out vs working, or if the nature of being there might mean some people are asking her work questions so even if she intended to not be working, she kinda is so the liability is there that this is really OT so ethically she has to pay the employee, and it’d be more clean cut for the OP if the hourly employee removed the ambiguity by leaving when her shift is done. I don’t think the employee would do this but they could be trying to protect against some future “my word against theirs” where one is saying “you were clocked out and waiting for traffic, that’s not OT so we’re not paying that” and the other is saying “I was coerced into clocking out and continuing to work til X o’clock; I’m owed the OT”. Or some sort of “I didn’t authorize the OT but you did it anyway so now I have to pay it, so please stop doing the OT”.

        1. Amaranth*

          I think the first step is to ask the employee if they are working or not. One concern with her being there for several hours and late at night might be a question of liability if something happens.

          I don’t think whether she has a personal life is relevant but there can be many reasons for a person to want to avoid going home, from strained relationships to the water being turned off.

      3. Polly Math*

        Wondering also if there is some security concern with the employee being there at 9 pm, perhaps she would have unsupervised access to confidential material? In this day and age with security cameras it seems less likely, but still a possibility.

  2. New Job So Much Better*

    Years ago I would hang around the office due to traffic also– not working, just being there. As long as I was signed out for the day it didn’t cause a problem.

    1. Firecat*

      Yeah that was a major point ai felt wasissed. Is she working and not clocked in? Problem. Just chilling and reading? Not a problem as far as ao can see?

      1. TooTiredToThink*

        That’s what I was wondering too. In OldJob, I found it easiest to hang around for awhile – sometimes even an hour – but I wasn’t working – I was checking email, borrowing the internet, maybe doing homework; just chilling. But also; for some strange reason I would always get urgent issues between 5:00-5:15 (My hours were 8-5) – so I’d still be there if there was an urgent issue, but I wasn’t working unless an urgent issue popped up (and then I’d just let the boss know).

    2. Yvette*

      Depending on the type of job/workplace, just being on the premises may present some sort of liability issue.

      1. Cj*

        Just curious as to what type of job/workplace that might be. I can’t think of any, except maybe a manufacturing or warehouse environment where there may be a risk of injury, but if she is in and office and not on the floor, I don’t see a liability issue.

        To be clear, I’m not saying you are wrong. Like I said, I’m just curious because I can’t think of any.

        1. LizM*

          My office deals with a lot of confidential files, checks, and cash. I recently took our internal controls training, and having an employee who frequently stays after hours alone in the office is one of the indicators that fraud may be happening. I’m not saying that’s what OP’s employee is doing, but we try to avoid employees being in the office late at night alone, especially if they have keys to the mail room or access to the safe. Even if they aren’t doing anything wrong, if something goes missing, it puts them in a difficult position.

        2. New Jack Karyn*

          Maybe financial stuff, or confidential stuff? Could be as simple as tripping over something–is it covered as workman’s comp? Even if she was clocked off and not working?

          1. Cj*

            As a CPA, I work with financial/confidential info, but we don’t have physical files anymore. Everything is printed or scanned to a client’s on-line folder, and if you are logged out it is obvious that you didn’t access them. We’ve been paperless for so long, I sometimes forget some place still have physical files!

            That said, there is nothing I could do with this info after hours that I couldn’t do during work hours. Somewhere like a bank where there is actual cash involved would be different.

            I am curious about work comp. You’re off the clock during your lunch break, but may still be there in a breakroom or cafeteria. Although in that case, I suppose you have an actual reason to still be on the premises as opposed to when the office is actually closed.

          2. Eye roll*

            But if you trip walking out, you still have to walk out whether it’s at 5 or 6. That doesn’t really increase the risk.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              It’s not about the risk but the circumstance. For example, say you’re supposed to leave at 5. The cleaning crew comes and mops everything – intentionally when everyone else is supposed to be gone. They finish making the floor all wet and slippery just before 7, at which point you leave, slip and fall.
              I’m not saying it’s worth arguing over this, but I can see how the company might be like “this isn’t workers comp you weren’t even supposed to be there then and we had protocols in place to prevent this” but the employee’s like “I still got hurt at work”. So it’s more like the company just wants that situation to be not possible.

              1. Freya*

                Yeah, having someone there by themselves can be an OH&S issue – if they get hurt, can they get to a phone to call for help?

                I also once worked at a place that was conscious that there were occasionally creepy people wandering around outside. Never in the building, but vulnerable-looking people were all requested to ensure that they weren’t in the building by themselves so that they never had to walk to their car alone if there was someone in the car park. And it was part of the end of day protocol if you were last out in your area to say goodbye to the other areas, so they knew whether or not there were still people in the building.

            2. New Jack Karyn*

              I meant tripping while walking to the bathroom or to the microwave, sometime during the 3-4 hours between clock-off time and when she actually leaves.

        3. Allypopx*

          I’ve been told this in retail jobs – it depends on the risk sensitivity of the company.

        4. KaciHall*

          Banking would be a place where staying late is highly frowned upon and absolutely not allowed if no one else is in the branch for liability, though not for physical harm. At least all of the banks I worked at would not allow an individual in the branch after hours unless it was for work and there were two people.

        5. Not Today Satan*

          Warning…Violent Incident
          At an old job we had a policy that no one could stay behind by themselves without big boss approval. The preference was for people to go to their cars in at least pairs. This came from an incident when someone stayed late and was sexually assaulted and murdered on the way to her car. The area was well lit, lots of people in the area, security cameras, etc. All reasonable precautions. But, the perpetrator realized that this person frequently stayed late and was alone. This person had no personal connection to the victim.

          1. Cj*

            Two doors down from my office is a motel where recently released convicts are temporarily housed. In the middle of tax season, when one other woman and I were usually working the latest, we received a sex offender notice that a parolee who had been in prison for raping two women was living there. We made sure the last guy to leave locked the door, and if at all possible, us two women there the latest left at the same time so we didn’t have to walk to our cars alone.

            That guy is gone, but the latest sex offender living there (moved in two weeks ago) was in prison for molesting young boys. Probably not a danger to house, but still pretty creepy.

            This is in a small town with very little crime at all, let alone violent crime, so I have no idea how the end up at this hotel. Cheap, I suppose.

            1. Hamburke*

              Cheap, rents by the week, word of mouth or maybe part of a program for reintegration – sometimes those have guaranteed payments for the landlord.

            2. New Jack Karyn*

              If there are distance limits on where they can live–not within 1,000 feet of a school, for instance–that may leave very few geographic places they can stay.

        6. Vienna Waits for You…*

          I do medical claims processing and medical record filing. We’re not allowed in the office more than 15 mins before or after the end of our shifts (hourly employees) from an access to files tracking standpoint.

      2. Mango Is Not For You*

        Yep. I don’t allow my employees to stay alone after hours in our building because if something happened to them there’s no way we’d know until the next day, as we don’t have overnight security or janitorial services. I’ve been in the unfortunate position of coming in early and finding someone who’d had a seizure alone and was totally incapacitated. I decided that we’re never allowing that again.

        It’s a workplace, not a clubhouse.

        1. Cj*

          But does that make the employer liable in any way?

          In the seizure example you gave, if they live alone (which the OP’s employee may very well do, since the OP says they don’t have much of a social life), they would still have had the seizure at home, with no one to call for help. They would probably have been found and gotten help even later than when you found them right away the next morning.

          When they didn’t show up for work the next day, you would no doubt have given it a couple hours before calling their emergency contact or calling the police for a wellness check, and they wouldn’t have been found until the contact or police actually went over to their house. And I watch enough true crime shows to know that with a wellness check, police often don’t (can’t?) enter the home unless there are signs that something is wrong (see them laying on the floor through a window, etc.)

          1. hbc*

            I think what it comes down to is that it’s risky to be seen as endorsing people hanging out. All the examples people have of problems come more from being alone than being on the premises early/late, but *allowing* people to stay alone could potentially give some lawyers a chance to point fingers.

            Yes, you’re actually safer having a seizure at the office at 7pm rather than in your home alone because someone will find you by opening the next day, but there is basically zero chance your employer will be held liable for your seizure at home. It looks a whole lot more like a workplace incident if a worker is at the workplace with the boss’ knowledge and approval.

          2. Mango Is Not For You*

            The short answer to that was he could sure try to hold us liable. I called an ambulance, his insurance didn’t want pay for it, and he came after us. We ended up settling outside of court.

            As cold-hearted as this sounds, if he had a seizure at home alone that would suck but it would definitely not be my problem to deal with. Since we found him at work there was a LOT of paperwork – did we know he had a seizure disorder? Yes, he had disclosed it previously. Did I attempt to reach out to his emergency contact? No, he wasn’t my employee and I had no access to his emergency contact info and HR wasn’t in yet. Was there a way for him to reach out for help during this episode, such as an emergency line that would route to a facilities manager? No, if there was an issue people just called our facilities manager. And so on.

            It was a total pain. He was ultimately okay but after that we enforced a “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” policy. Last manager of the night would do a sweep and kick anyone left out.

            When you think about it, this is not terribly dissimilar from the case of a burglar who injures himself breaking into a house. He could absolutely sue the homeowners.

    3. Charlotte*

      Yeah, seconding this — I’m an hourly employee and I stay late not-working all the time and I don’t think the mere fact of being in the building compels them to pay me, haha. Truthfully I would be very annoyed if I were told I had to leave right at my end time as sometimes I have another activity that doesn’t start for a bit and I don’t have time to go home in between.

      If the issue is that she’s staying late *and working*, can you be clear that the issue is the working, not the staying late? Do you have a break room or a reception area or something she could sit in to make it clear that she is Not Working?

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      How far does this go? Suppose she sat in her car for half an hour in the company parking lot? Would that be a problem?

      1. Vienna Waits for You…*

        Where I work it is the you can’t be in the building (so the in your car in the parking lot would be just fine). Back before Covid we had a break/lounge area you could wait in, but because of the Delta Variant surge it has been closed again.

    5. Autistic AF*

      I worked for a butts-in-seats org that resulted in me arriving almost half an hour early instead of 2-3 minutes late – there were no coverage issues in the morning but my request to make the time up from my lunch was denied. I’d sit at my desk eating breakfast and reading on my phone until my shift started. This was a place where eating lunch at one’s desk was normal, so the liability issues other people mention weren’t a factor… adding even more arbitrary “you have to do things this exact way because we say so” would have magnified my frustration.

    6. Bazinga*

      That’s what I was wondering. If the person just hung around and read a book, and didn’t work, until traffic settled, would that be ok? I mean 9:00 is weirdly late but a half hour or so doesn’t seem unreasonable.
      Some people get to work super early because of their commute and it’s a similar issue. They’re there but not working.

  3. Lucia Pacciola*

    LW#1: Is the employee *working* late? Or *staying* late? It’s not clear to me how killing time in the office waiting for traffic to die down creates an overtime pay obligation for the employer. On the other hand, if they’re putting in extra hours of work, for which payment is normally required, the issue seems obvious: Tell her to knock it off. But it’s not clear to me which of these things is the actual issue.

    1. Jo March*

      It could absolutely create an overtime pay obligation. I’ve worked for an employer that ended up owing thousands. Generally if an employee is hourly, it’s a best practice to not allow them to stay in the building if they aren’t supposed to be working. All it takes is an audit where they are asked if they ever read an email, answered their phone, put a file away, etc and suddenly those hours of hanging out are OT. It’s the same reason non-exempt shouldn’t be able to access work email outside the building unless they can enter worked time every time they log in to it.

      1. Charlotte*

        But break rooms exist? That’s like saying that all hourly staff should be forced to leave the office for lunch lest they accidentally glance upon a piece of work.

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            You can check it from home too. Hourly staff usually don’t have their emails on their phones.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              A surprising number of professional employees are paid on an hourly basis. The exempt/non-exempt divide is not as simple as I used to think.

              1. Polly Math*

                Seconding this. I work for a public school system, I am technically classed as nonexempt even though I am salaried and my total compensation is over 60K USD. I also regularly work at least an hour past scheduled time at least four days a week, usually every day. I am legally entitled to overtime for that work, plus all of the work I do while at home in the evenings and on the weekends. However, the culture is such that it “just isn’t done” to record overtime. District management gives a token talk to school leaders that their nonexempt staff shouldn’t be working over 40 hrs/wk because overtime, but it is pretty much done with a wink because they also know that due to staffing cuts, in order for the system to operate it is necessary for office staff to work more than 8 hrs/day. And I 100% have my work email on my phone, and write and answer emails between say 5:45am and 10:30pm.

        1. Jackalope*

          Yeah, at my job I had awhile when my public transportation got me there early (and it was that or being late); it wasn’t too much (maybe 20 minutes, depending on the day), but I was still in the office before starting. I just brought a book or something and read. It was obvious to anyone walking by that I wasn’t working, and I made sure not to start before my starting time on the dot. It’s a similar idea. It would have been a much worse situation had I needed to sit outside (especially in the winter) when we didn’t have facilities for that and there wasn’t anywhere within walking distance that I could go hang out for awhile.

        2. lilsheba*

          right? I have said it before and I’ll say it again…just me being in the building or even at my desk does NOT constitute working. I am working when I’m logged in and working, period!

        3. Mango Is Not For You*

          I have been a party to lawsuits where hourly employees claim that they never get a lunch break when in fact the employees make a decision to hang out outside of breakrooms and chat with customers, maybe answer some questions, etc. No one is asking them to do it, no one is giving them permission to do it, and in fact we expressly forbade it and fired someone over it. One employee’s explanation: “I like helping people! Is that so wrong? I eat at my desk and then if I see someone in the waiting room who needs help I just try to help them? What do you mean lunch breaks are mandatory?”

          1. Freya*

            There’s a reason why I flag to clients if the timesheets I’m processing don’t have documented lunch breaks and suggest to said clients that they ask their employee to comply with the terms of their contract and Award and take their mandated breaks. And document that they asked, and that the employee was warned that working through unpaid breaks that are legally mandated is unpaid volunteer work and it’s Not Allowed.

            Wilfully putting the employer at risk of a lawsuit, after being repeatedly warned not to, can be a fireable offence.

            1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              Yes, while I agree with many people that it would be nice to accommodate the employee in this letter by allowing her to stay if she makes it clear she’s not working, it is the case that the employee is now in the realm of insubordination, regardless of whether what she was told to do was reasonable (unless, as Alison said, LW has not been direct enough). I’m sure LW will consider whether her employee can stay, but I find it more likely that she already has considered this as the path of least resistance, and found that the employee either IS working, or due to policy must leave either way.

      2. PT*

        This is pretty ridiculous. If you have hourly employees and you tell your employees to be ready and on time for their shifts, you are going to end up with people in the building before they are supposed to begin working. Especially if you have employees who take mass transit, are reliant on rides, walk/bike where safety considerations might change trip length, or need to take time to change their clothing before punching in.

        If you say “no one can be in the building unless they are working” you’re going to end up with people scheduling their commute with no buffer, so that when their train gets stuck in the tunnel behind a medical emergency or three buses pass their stop saying DISEMBARK ONLY before they’re allowed to board and then they will all be late.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I think most places are open to a 10 or 15 minute window before and after a shift. Or have a chat about it if there are extenuating circumstances (such as an hourly bus).

      3. MicroManagered*

        I was involved in a situation where an hourly employee was involuntarily terminated and during the termination meeting with HR, he said “How could you do this to me?! I’ve worked countless extra hours that I didn’t even ask to be paid for!” Yeah, he was fine answering emails or whatever off the clock for free… until he wasn’t!

        Our legal team was so freaked about a potential Dept of Labor audit that we ended up going through his email and counting the hours between the first and last email he sent each day and paying him for all hours in between. I can’t remember how far back it went, but it wasn’t cheap!

    2. Elysian*

      Yeah, all it takes is for the employee to think “Well, while I’m here waiting for traffic to die down I might as well fold some shirts” (or whatever). There is also the chance that someone sees her there and assumes she’s working and asks for help with something, only to find out later that she clocked out an hour ago. Either way, it is easy for that waiting time to become working time that the employer has to pay for. The best practice would be for her to wait elsewhere, if she needs/wants to wait.

      1. hbc*

        But it’s pretty rotten to tell people “I’m sorry, you can’t sit in the air-conditioned breakroom killing time for your ride to get here because I don’t trust you to follow my instructions on not working.

        This is one area where the option that technically covers you the best legally is not the smartest move for the company.

        1. SentientAmoeba*

          This is one of those thing where there is strong precedent. And many employers who have paid out millions in lawsuits can become draconian about this.

      2. I'm just here for the cats*

        I can see someone working in retail having the problem of a customer coming and asking for help. But it sounds to me that this is more of an office setting. Unless she is at the front desk or something where a customer would come in this wouldnt be a problem.

        I say if it’s only 30 minutes or so, let her be. if its longer find out why. It could be that she is waiting for someone.

  4. Annie J*

    Lw 1: have you considered offering her a later start time, or more flexibility in her schedule, I don’t know if you have the power to make those decisions but certainly, I can see why she might want to stay in a bit longer if there is a great deal of traffic.
    Presumably she drives a car and so can’t just walk around somewhere, I suppose she could stay in her car for half an hour or go to a restaurant or café but I can see why she would have the impulse to stay in work and continue to do bits and bobs around the office.
    But I also understand where you’re coming from.

    1. jm*

      offering to change her hours is a great suggestion. i was thinking the same thing. she claimed she needs to stay late because of traffic, and traffic’s not a one and done situation.

    2. Firecat*

      It doesn’t sound like OP is involved in pregnant employees chain of command at all and thus should not be seeking an alternative schedule for her. It’s not his business to change her routine.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        They are talking about the first letter, where the employee is hourly but keeps staying late.

  5. BessMarvin*

    For LW#4: I work at a company that has internships three times a year. We have a maximum number of applicants because if we didn’t we’d be sorting through 700 applicants for each period.

    A qualified intern for us is still or just left our industry trade school, so nearly anyone who would apply has similar skills and education. We are extremely likely to find someone suitable in the first 50 applicants. The first 10, even!

    As a result, it makes no business sense for us to task HR and managers with sorting through 700 applications.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I agree with Alison when it comes to actual jobs, because I want to see as many resumes as possible. (Especially now!) But with an internship, I understand things are different. Companies are basically doing students a favor, no?

      1. Autumnheart*

        No, an internship should be a mutually beneficial relationship. An intern gets experience and a company gets necessary tasks done, and also has a pool of future experienced employees to draw from for future jobs. It’s not a favor.

  6. RosyGlasses*

    Definitely important to be very clear LW#1 and document it and then follow through on the consequences, as unpleasant as it feels. I worked in an office where we had an admin do the same thing, and then turned around and filed a wage and claim with the state and had documented all the time she worked after being told to go home and the employer had to pay it. If an adjusted schedule is available, great, but also make sure that the rules are still being followed appropriately.

    1. doreen*

      I discovered that someone I supervised was working extra hours when I received an email from her at 9pm although her workday was supposed to end at six pm. She was still putting 6pm on her timesheet. There was a lot that happened after that – she had previously had some flexibility so that if she came in 30 minutes late she could stay 30 minutes late. That ended unless she had my specific approval to make up time on that particular day , because I didn’t trust her to work only 30 minutes late and not three hours late. Her work schedule was changed to conform to the office operating hours- when she was supposed to be working until 6 pm, there typically no supervisory staff to see is she actually left at 6 pm so she began working 8:30-4:30 like everyone else . The pre-disciplinary counseling process began regarding her submission of inaccurate timesheets.

      All of this wasn’t brought on because I received a single email at 9 pm – that in and of itself would have been a conversation. It was brought on because of the conversation I had with her after receiving that email. She told me she routinely stayed until 8 or 9 pm and documented how late she stayed by sending herself an email right before she left each day. The only possible purpose for that email would have been to document that she had worked those hours. I’m not clear why she wanted to document them , but can only assume it was something she wanted to have available so that if she got suspended due to her poor attendance * , she could retaliate by complaining about the unpaid overtime.

      * yes, the same person had poor attendance and worked unauthorized overtime

      1. pepper*

        I can actually see how someone might have poor attendance and work unauthorized overtime if she’s trying to make sure she gets all her work done despite the reasons she calls out so often.

  7. I'm just here for the cats*

    Is the employee doing work or just hanging out? I could see waiting 30 minutes and just reading in the break room or something quiet. I’ve had to do the same thing when I was either car pooling and the other person’s hours were a little later than mine, or I had to wait for the bus and it was cold so I stayed in the lobby. But if she is working that would be a problem, especially with staying so late.
    If it was just a matter of waiting until after rush hour I could see maybe adjusting her hours, so that she came in a little late and worked late. but I don’t know about everything else.

  8. James*

    I sympathize with #3. We have a “quiet room” in our office, and a few of us use it because it’s the only place to have some peace and quiet in Cubicle Land. I get that personal phone calls at work aren’t ideal, but when the daycare calls up threatening to report you to CPS because your kids have miss-matched socks (something that happened) you take the call. It’s also a quiet, dark place to wait until the migraine meds kick in (several of us get them).

    The other thing is, what works for an established group may not work for a new person. I’ve seen offices where everyone knew about X, Y, and Z–but no one thought to tell the new person, and it resulted in confusion. This can be a spur to revise your methods, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; we use that to fight complacency.

    1. Rayray*

      Now I’m super curious about the CPS and mismatched socks story.

      Amazing you could work in a daycare of all places and mismatched socks on a child would worry you that bad. You’d think they’d know better than many that it can be a fight just to get kids dressed and ready to go.

        1. SentientAmoeba*

          I felt this in my soul. I am a POC and I had CPS called on me multiple times when my son was in daycare for minor stuff.
          One day, he had a red mark on his cheek. CPS showed up at my house.
          Another day he was playing with a friend at home , tripped, fell and split his lip. Another CPS call from the daycare.
          Ran away from me in the mall because he was upset about not getting a toy. Was never out of my sight. I don’t know what 2 year old version of the story he told at daycare but once again…..

      1. James*

        This is a bit of a derail, but:

        The mismatched socks thing was the one that caused the call, but there were other things leading up to it. My kids came into the daycare dirty a few times, and once one kid’s spare change of cloths (these are pretty young kids, spares are necessary) was dirty. That was it; that was everything on their list.

        I had to take this call at work because they’d already brought my wife to tears. I on the other hand went into “professional dealing with a hostile subcontractor” mode. I was at work, so I had to behave. Fortunately I work with engineers who taught me to go into that mode; this isn’t an unusual tone in our office. Professional, but very much NOT friendly.

        I explained that the socks were due to the kids picking their own cloths, and they like mismatched socks. Whatever; I don’t care, as long as they WEAR socks. The spare change of cloths being dirty happened once among three children over two years, and was a brain fart on a particularly busy week, six months before the call. The kids coming in dirty was the daycare’s fault, because they let their parking lot degrade. It had mud puddles, and if you put a 4-year-old near a mud puddle guess what happens? They were clean when we got out of the car. Doesn’t help that I had just reviewed the standards for parking lots in my state that week.

        The daycare decided they didn’t like talking to me anymore. We couldn’t pull the kids immediately, and there were a few good teachers, but yeah, we didn’t hang around very long after that. No one did. Before Covid the place was almost empty.

      2. Hamburke*

        I literally bought these socks for my girls when they were little that can in a 3 pack called Little Miss Matched. Additionally, I hate folding socks so we had a sock basket and pulled socks from there. My kids still rarely wear matched up socks and they’re teenagers!

    2. Observer*

      when the daycare calls up threatening to report you to CPS because your kids have miss-matched socks (something that happened)

      I think I would have moved heaven and earth to pull my kid from a place like that. And I’ve only yanked my kids from current care on two occasions. One of those occasions was a caregiver complaining that one of my kids came home too early! Not as in “Kid is cutting school” but “Kid didn’t stay at the voluntary after school program”.

      Why in heavens name would they do that.

      1. quill*

        Seriously annoys me that some districts can’t manage to get anyone to deal with actual suspected abuse and neglect but this daycare managed to go nuclear about small kids getting messy. (It happens, children and puppies spontaneously generate mess.)

    3. Teapot Repair Technician*


      “…the conference room has only a speaker phone…”

      Install a desk phone in the conference room. Problem solved.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Which is a request OP can make but if the private room is supposed to be there for work related privacy, someone should spell that out to this person. That OP and this person are frequently in need of that space at the same time says there’s a disconnect.

        1. Teapot Repair Technician*

          Agreed, there’s definitely some disconnect if the new employee can’t or won’t observe the rule about how the guest office is to be used.

          But it’s worth observing that the workplace could be more accommodating to employees if there was a phone in the conference room. I’ve worked in open offices with no quiet, private place to make phone calls, and it’s miserable to have to stand in the parking lot to make a doctor’s appointment, or to have to plug your ears and shush your officemates when talking to a client.

    4. Simply the best*

      Sure, but that’s something that happens once or twice, not…what did OP say, seven times in like three weeks?

    5. Nessun*

      We have phone booths and conference rooms, and all are meant first for client work, then for personal calls if needed (since we’re open concept). You have to book the conference rooms, so it’s easy enough to say “I have this booked for a client” and boot people out – I have done it, including to Partners. And if people have booked the room for personal reasons, they still have to leave if a client issue comes up that requires the room. These are standard rules! There should be a policy for use of the phone spaces, and the ability to punt people who are just chatting on their cell phone.

      1. James*

        Exactly. You can’t stop personal conversations–but you can take this as an opportunity to establish boundaries on shared work spaces, and to set some norms on phone use.

    6. Jessica*

      When my brother was in about 3rd or 4th grade, Mismatched Sock Day somehow became a trend in his class. It was Fridays, and everyone wore mismatched socks. I thought it was hilarious and when I went in to volunteer with his class, I also wore mismatched socks. If a kid forgot and wore a pair of socks, as soon as she realized (or someone pointed it out) she’d get a friend to swap a sock with her. Nobody was oppressed about it, it was just zany fun.

  9. Allypopx*

    A lot of people have brought up accommodations for the employee in #1 and I think that’s missing the point a little. I have also hung around work waiting for a ride or traffic to die down or whatever, but not after being told not to. If she needs to stay for whatever reason, it’s on the employee to bring that up. Otherwise she’s just quietly disregarding an instruction. That’s an issue, and as RosyGlasses pointed out it can be a big issue unchecked.

    1. Crabby Patty*

      Yes, this. A workplace is not a second home, and it is not up to the boss to make it so. It’s one thing to arrive a few minutes early to ensure being on time, or stay a few minutes late off the clock (especially when it’s cold outside) to wait for a ride or to avoid very heavy traffic patterns, but until late into the evening? There’s a backstory there.

    2. Alternative Person*

      I agree.

      I’ve got sympathy if this worker has reasons to stay at work late, but she needs to explain them to her boss. And even then the answer might be she has to find somewhere else to hang out.

      Depending on the building, this could also be an issue because of how the building’s insurance works or if the building is staffed by a concierge or similar, it could mean they can’t go home until she does.

  10. anon for this*

    One of the sub-questions on our performance evaluation rubric (under some interpersonal skills category, I think) asks if the person in question is “lively” (good) as opposed to “laid-back” (bad). I’ve never been sure what this means. If it refers to working with a sense of urgency, then it’s just a really bad word choice. One of my favorite managers here is someone who gets a lot done but exudes a zen-like calm. His whole schtick is basically: no matter what the problem is, we can solve it together and it’s going to be OK. I kind of want to be just like him when I grow up.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Yup. This is the problem with using code words. And yes, “energetic” is a code word. If it weren’t, Alison wouldn’t have had to explain what it meant. Frankly, I take stuff like this to be meaningless filler. “Fast-paced office” is my classic.

      1. Allypopx*

        I was really worried about my new job being listed as a “faced paced environment” but it’s really not. In addition to being vague or coded, these words are incredibly subjective.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Fast-paced, high rev office. What they omit is that it’s permanently stuck in Neutral.

      2. Editor*

        If the ad is for an entry-level journalism position, it may well mean the employer is looking for someone they can overwork. Small newspapers looking for “go-getters” or “high energy” or something similar are indeed looking for someone who will do the work of two people in the time allotted for one. The journalism overlords have not lost their conviction that hourly workers are underachievers and salaried workers owe management more than 60 to 80 hours a week or they’re letting down the team. There are some reasonable employers, but generally not not at small, undercapitalized papers or at papers that have had encounters with venture capitalists who loaded the newspaper up with debt.

      3. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        I think “code word” is exaggerating a bit in this case. Alison just defines the word. Synonyms are not code words–code words obscure the topic. “Deep Throat” had nothing or little to do with the media source in the Nixon case. Energetic is not a code word, it’s just a slightly misplaced description. Instead of saying they want someone who CAN work with energy, they say they want an energetic person. If you think they want that because there’s too much work, you can investigate that in your interviews.

  11. Liz*

    Re LW4, the most sought-after graduate entry level job role in my industry is notoriously over-subscribed. They are usually only live for about 1-2 hours before they close due to reaching maximum applicants.

    The only way to apply is to set up instant alerts and keep your previous application form saved on the site, and keep some common supporting statements saved on your computer. There really isn’t time to do any major edits, because the applications will get pulled. There certainly isn’t time to fill out a new application form from scratch so you have to save drafts.

    There was at least one occasion where I responded almost immediately, used mostly old application materials, but decided to edit one of the supporting statements to reference a recent project. The listing expired before I finished.

    It sucks, but some jobs just receive too many applications to leave open for long.

  12. Cant remember my old name*

    For LW4, for internships that are popular, I think this is a really wise policy. Some internships can get 200+ applicants, and I doubt it’s the best use of company time review them all to find the “best”. Maybe for executive level, but it’s an internship meaning it’s likely entry level (or below) work that many applicants are qualified to do. The LW should put their hat in the ring for Spring now. At least that way they are guaranteed to be in the first 50.

  13. The New Normal*

    Letter #1: I think having a private, extended conversation with your employee would be helpful. Ask if a different schedule is better and make it clear she cannot be working.

    But also have grace because you don’t know the real reason why she’s in the office late. She may not have secure housing or a safe home life. She may be overwhelmed by a situation in her personal life and stays physically in the office to avoid it. When I was at the deepest part of my last depression, I would find reasons to stay at work until 7-8pm so that by the time I came home, I didn’t have to cook dinner, do laundry, do homework with the kids, or anything but kiss them goodnight and crash myself. I often wasn’t even working – I was reading a book on my phone, but it was something I couldn’t do at home.

    Your employee may not want to tell you what her situation is, but be aware that it seems likely that there is a personal situation keeping her from going home. You can certainly tell her that she has to stop work at 5:30pm, but offer the break room as a waiting place rather than her desk where she can get roped into work.

    1. Andrew*

      This was my thought as well when I read the letter. Had a coworker that was salaries but working really long hours in the office to avoid his home life. Come to find out he was not in the right state of mind when they found multiple animals dead at his house and he was going through martial problems with his wife and kids being living away during the separation. Company had fired him because of the press related to the news it received locally…

  14. Cake or Death?*

    I am a woman who endured “morning” sickness (ha!) with both of my pregnancies.
    I have complete and total sympathy for the pregnant coworker and I don’t like the idea of making a woman work from home because of morning sickness if she doesn’t want to
    BUT literally NO ONE wants to listen to, see, or smell someone throwing up all day. And we while, yes, it’s likely she is throwing up in her trash can because she can’t make it to the bathroom, that doesn’t really change anything. I think it’s more reasonable to ask the vomiting employee to work from home than to tell all the other employees to work from home if they don’t want to listen/see/smell someone vomiting at their desk. (Plus, work is literally the last place I want to be throwing up at, especially if it’s continuous! I’d be much more comfortable dealing with it at home.)
    Honestly, I’m surprised no one else has thrown up as well. While I haven’t seen too many people through up in public, every time I have, someone in the vicinity either threw up as well or started involuntarily gagging.
    Evolutionary biology is strong lol

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      The letter doesn’t say she’s only vomiting at her desk, just that she vomits several times a day and some of those have been at her desk. It’s possible only two or three times have been at her desk and the rest have been in the bathroom. Rather than foisting WFH upon her (when that could potentially impact her unfairly) why not try something like seeing if she can use a desk closer to the bathroom? Or even seeing if there’s an empty office where she can be set up for a couple of months.

      1. Autumnheart*

        It’s just bizarre to me to see people defending someone’s right to be in the office and throw up at their desk. We live in a society. You have to protect EVERYONE’S right to work in a non-disruptive office and/or exposure to someone’s illness. Not just the sick person.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          As I stated above, there is nothing to indicate that she is always throwing up at her desk. The OP only says she is throwing up several times a day and that some have been at her desk and others in the bathroom. It could be that two or three happened to be at her desk and the others in the bathroom.

          What I find bizarre is to see people defending someone else’s right to dictate whether or not a co-worker is allowed to come into the office. The OP can (and should!) bring this up with their boss and let them know how it is affecting them. If it really is affecting others in the office they will likely do so as well. But they do not get to say “Co-worker should not be allowed to come into the office”. That is not their right. The boss gets to decide what accommodations are made, especially when, as the OP says, working from home is frowned upon, and could affect co-workers reputation with higher-ups at the office (to be clear, that’s a problem with the higher-ups, not the OP, but it does likely indicate why WFH has not been suggested for the co-worker).

          As I said, other accommodations could mean moving the pregnant co-worker to a desk closer to the bathroom, or – if there’s an empty office – letting her use that until the illness subsides. Or it could be that they ask her to work from home. But that’s not OP’s call to make.

          1. Sylvan*

            It’s not bizarre that people want to avoid puke. While their boss gets to decide which accommodations are made, of course, coworkers actually do get to say “that should not be happening around me.”

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              I didn’t say it was bizarre that people want to avoid puke? I said it was bizarre that people seemed to think others (not the co-worker and her boss) had the right to dictate whether or not co-worker is allowed to come into the office (they don’t). And I specifically say that OP (and others) both can and should talk to their managers about how the situation is affecting them, just that they cannot dictate the solution.

          2. MusicWithRocksIn*

            Closer to the bathroom would probably help. It can happen so suddenly, with no warning. Expecting her to only throw up in the bathroom might mean that she is throwing up in her mouth and then just holding it there while she runs to the the bathroom (which is super unpleasant). When I was pregnant I threw up a lot when I was eating – everything would taste totally fine and good, then suddenly it was all coming back up. I would hold it in my mouth and make a dash for the bathroom, but I always made an effort to sit near the bathrooms at that time.

            One time I came super close to throwing up on someone – two people were chatting and totally blocking the narrow hallway that led to the bathroom of a restaurant – and for some reason a lady with a huge baby bump running full speed at them with her hand held over her mouth was not cause to move. I couldn’t ask them to move (without vomiting on them) so just had to push my way past. But any time you are throwing up in one place and moving to a different place to release it, you are chancing vomit getting on the walls/floors/ coworkers/ rude people in a restaurnt.

        2. pepper*

          Pregnancy isn’t illness, and as something restricted mainly to one already disvalued group of people, it causes many people to despise those undergoing it in order to reinforce their own status.

          Many of the same people who would judge someone for having morning sickness would also judge her as a less competent worker for taking WFH and decide it signaled the start of her “mommy track” and the end of her career progression. It’s not that people want to be working while throwing up (fun fun) but that they may find themselves punished at work for doing anything besides showing up in the office every day.

          1. Fieldpoppy*

            As another emetophobe, I wouldn’t be judging her for being pregnant but I would literally be frozen with anxiety and vigilance that it might happen again. It’s not just “gross” to people with emetophobia, it’s highly anxiety provoking.

            1. Fieldpoppy*

              Cross posted with Australia. Like I literally could not work in that environment. I would be far too anxious. And nothing else causes me that kind of anxiety.

          2. SuperDiva*

            Pregnancy is a medical condition, and it can be legally classified as a disability. So it’s not quite so cut-and-dry to say it’s say “it’s not an illness.” Pregnancy has a huge physical impact and workplaces can and should respect that. It’s not promoting equality to ignore the pregnancy and tell a pregnant woman that she has to come to the office despite constant vomiting, any more than it is to bar her from the office if that’s where she prefers to work. Management should work with the pregnant woman to find a solution that suits her – private office, desk close to the bathroom, hybrid schedule, etc.

        3. Anonymoose*

          Yep. Sometimes the commentariat here gets stuck in some absolutely insane stance about something.

    2. Momma Bear*

      Firstly, love your username.

      Secondly, I think the company could also consider the policy of WFH for anyone’s illness. Do I want to hear you cough? Not really. Are you able to work, but you ate something bad and would rather be near your own bathroom? WFH! We had that policy at a previous job and as long as you didn’t abuse it and let everyone know, you were golden. It really cut down in illnesses and lost project time. If you really couldn’t work, you still had your PTO.

      1. Cj*

        Yes, they should. My job would much rather have us work from home than expose other people to whatever we have (the cough in your example), or be able to do what we can from home rather than not work at all.

        1. KRSone*

          The difference is, pregnancy is not a contagious illness. And morning sickness could last months. It would be really problematic to ask the employee to WFH the entire time. I think they need to offer an accommodation but displacing they woman ain’t it.

          1. Mannequin*

            And forcing people to work with someone who vomits at their DESK multiple times a day ain’t it either.

            1. Australia*

              Exactly! Nor is forcing a person with emetophobia to be exposed to something that causes enough distress and anxiety that it effects their ability to work.

    3. Lorelai*

      As a recently pregnant woman who experienced morning sickness throughout my entire pregnancy it was such a relief to work from home. I actually had my own barf bucket at my desk because it was never a guarantee that I’d make it to the bathroom in time – sometimes it would just hit me without any warning. OP says the office culture discourages WFH but in this instance if they offered it to her I bet she’d take it. She probably feels really self conscious!

  15. ElleKay*

    LW#4 There’s also a big difference between being the 51st applicant and the 900th.
    If you had applied earlier and been something like 51st they proabably would have glanced over your application for exactly the reason you state: “just in case” you’re awesome.

    But it’s been long enough that they’ve update the website! You’ve waaaay missed that point. 50 applications means that they know how much time their staff has to spend on application review and interviewing and that they’re making sure the workload for their staff is reasonable (which is actually a good sign!)

    This is why I spend so much time tell students to apply as soon as they can and not just focusing on the deadline! It would have been just as easy for them to not tell you they stopped reviewing applications at 50, let you waste your time applying, and then send a rejection (if you even got that much)

  16. June*

    If she’s trustworthy and NOT working, why can’t she hang around until traffic dies down? Maybe set a must be out by 6:30 policy.

    1. Allypopx*

      If she’s staying late when she’s been told not to and not discussing issues that might be impacting that choice, she’s not trustworthy.

      It’s not just about traffic if she’s staying until 9. I am incredibly sympathetic that a lot of things might be going on to make her want to stay at work, but she either needs to have a conversation with her manager about why she can’t follow the instruction, or she needs to do it. There are plenty of examples in this thread about how employees do this kind of thing for reasons that hurt the company, and until she provides context otherwise the manager has to assume that’s happening – there isn’t trust here.

    2. Iron Chef Boyardee*

      Regarding the employee who stays late: has it been established whether or not the employee actually claimed they were working late? Or is it just an issue about the employee physically being on the premises after hours?

  17. June*

    No one in the world wants to be around vomiting. That’s not a disorder. But pregnant women cannot help it. It comes on suddenly and at times just can’t be controlled. Head phones maybe? Thankfully over time it usually subsides.

    1. generic_username*

      No one in the world wants to be around vomiting. That’s not a disorder.

      That’s a little unfair and unnecessary. “Severe emetophobia” is different from simply not wanting to be around vomiting; it looks different for different people obviously, but it most certainly goes beyond simple discomfort. We’re told to take LWs at their word, but regardless, Alison’s advice doesn’t really depend on whether LW has a disorder so there’s no need to tell LW her feelings and phobia aren’t valid. This is an unfortunate situation for both LW and the pregnant person, so hopefully Alison’s suggestion of finding a workspace in the office not near the pregnant person works.

    2. Liz*

      Emetophobia (or indeed any phobia) is classified as an anxiety disorder and if severe enough can be hugely debilitating. I was affected by emetophobia as a child and it was so severe I struggled to go on car journeys, be in crowded places, or even eat in case I or somebody around me was sick. My school attendance plummeted, I lost a significant amount of weight, it became almost impossible for my parents to take me anywhere, and I was eventually referred to a child psychologist for intensive therapy for six months.

      This is a very real disorder and can make life very difficult. I’m much better than I was, but I can just imagine the state of constant panic the LW must be in in this environment. It’s not fun to live with.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I have it. I can’t be around someone throwing up. If someone barfs in the office I have to leave.

    3. Sylvan*

      Nobody wants to be around vomiting, but emetophobia is a specific phobia as defined by the DSM. It’s not much fun, sometimes people with it become anorexic because they’re that scared of vomiting what they eat.

      1. kay bee*

        Yes! This is me! Some years ago, I lived with a partner who ended up vomiting for two full days a week apart from each other. I could not eat consistently for the next 6 months (because I could only think about the possibility of vomiting it back up) and lost about 30 pounds in the process, falling underweight. It took me over a year to get back to a healthy weight.

        I’ve gotten a LOT better with it since then, but being in the environment described in the letter would be incredibly triggering for me and I would have had to leave work and not known how to return.

    4. pepper*

      That’s not a disorder.

      Unfortunately, it can be. In fact, I think the issue could be seen as one of competing access needs, an issue often talked about when planning accommodations for disabilities, where what one person needs rules out what the other needs, and vice versa. While the people who would solve the issue by throwing pregnant women out of public life horrify me, we cannot solve the issue by dismissing the actual needs of either party.

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        I am a highly functioning human with normal person anxieties except for the emetephobia I’ve had my whole life. Being around someone vomiting or liable to vomit causes a near panic attack. I become like the guy who ran from the bird and pushed his colleague in front of a car. Like I can run out of the room involuntarily or freeze or cry (I hope I wouldn’t push a colleague in front of a car but it’s the same state of mind).

        If it’s a kid I’m in charge of I can cope, but another adult is like lizard brain distressing.

    5. IEanon*

      Yes, it is an anxiety disorder. No one wants to be around someone who is being sick; not everyone passes out, or scratches their own arms until they bleed, or has panic attacks. All things that happened to me before I went to therapy. I still, even after therapy, passed out when someone close to me was sick.

    6. JoyMonkey*

      Emetephobia absolutely is a disorder. It’s affected my life in numerous ways, like having roommates, tolerating being on long car rides with people, pursuing the medical field, the decision to have children. It’s debilitating. I be gotten a little better where I can kind of be okay with myself vomiting, but when I was younger, I could hardly eat because of the constant fear of having food in my stomach to vomit up. In hand with this, I constantly felt nauseous and anxiety ridden with any stomach noises/feelings. It is an overwhelming state of panic and being on edge if it seems at all like someone may vomit and if there is an escape route available. Running for your life and being jumpy around potential imaginary scenarios is embarrassing and alienating. It’s pretty insensitive to write off a disorder just because you don’t have the same experience.

  18. Darth Brooks*

    I have emetophobia also and cannot imagine having to deal with someone vomiting at their desk (!) all day. My anxiety would have me fleeing the building.

    1. Allie*

      My good friend had hyperemesis so I’m sympathetic but they have got to change something up here. Like if work at home is at all possible, the pregnant employee needs to be allowed to work from home ASAP.

      1. Observer*

        ONE of them needs to be allowed to work from home. I really roll my eyes at companies that actually HAVE the ability to allow people to work from home, but won’t allow people to do so when it makes sense.

        And lets face it- In an open plan office stuff IS going to come up.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I will say I was once adjacent to a situation where to anyone who just saw the current situation, it was a no brainer – let “Julie” work from home while they figure out what is wrong that she keeps throwing up at work, but I had been there longer than all the people just seeing the current situation – and knew why Julie was banned from WFH (no I never said anything to anybody, this was a situation for my manager to handle – and she did).

          In a nutshell, Julie had been granted emergency work from home in the past, and abused the situation both times, leading to the WFH being revoked (by abusing I mean no deliverables being turned in, going MIA for half a shift or more, blatantly vaping for the entirety of a training meeting on teams, and it frequently appearing like she was watching movies on the clock – which the employee handbook explicitly bans). After the second time it was revoked she was told she was banned from further WFH – I know because she spent 30 minutes complaining about the ban to me (I just kept working while she was spewing). Then she got a kidney stone, and it took a bit to diagnose it and get a dr who took her insurance and could treat her sorted out. So she was in the office, puking all the time, for about a month from start to solution. But even though it made sense from external to send her to work from home – no she couldn’t because of her previous poor choices while working from home.

          Oh – and I just dodged all comments/questions/conversations about this, it was very much not my circus, not my monkeys.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I agree. Vomiting so badly/often that you need your trash can needs an accommodation. I’d talk to my manager about it, as respectfully and sympathetically as possible. I can’t even deal well with my own child being sick, let alone a coworker *at their desk*. If WFH is an option, sounds like a good case for allowing it.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        Yep. Dealing with this right now. Spouse has hyperemesis, so even though whole office got called back to in-building this week, she’s got special permission to remain remote. She expected tons of pushback since the big boss seemed hell bent on no exceptions, but as soon as it came down to vomit, immediate approval.

    2. Forrest*

      I don’t have emetophobia, did have pretty bad pregnancy sickness myself, and I ALSO cannot deal with the idea. The sound! The SMELL! This is ghastly, and I feel for the employee but wow that’s not sustainable.

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          My mum was an elementary school teacher for decades, and she would always tell the kids, on their first day, that if they thought they were going to be sick they didn’t have to ask or even let her know, and to just go to the restroom, lest she’d throw up afterwards herself. She was not exaggerating. She’d usually get a couple of students saying they couldn’t stand vomit, either.

          When I briefly worked as a teacher myself, I implemented the same rule although I’m not disgusted by bodily fluids or byproducts– let me know if possible, but if not, feel free to go, last thing I want is someone getting sick in class or getting their clothes dirty or something.

    3. Firecat*

      Then in the case above – wouldn’t you ask to work from home?

      For me that’s what annoys me about the OP. They seem to think that their needs should be accommodated at the expense of their coworker (wfh is frowned upon). If you have such a bad issue take the hit and wfh. About 50% of the population can get pregnant so their needs should come first.

      I also think the trash can thing is a red herring. If the woman is also vomiting in the bathroom it see likely she is making the attempt to get their vs choosing to vomit in her trash can.

      1. Allie*

        I mean what kind of nutty employer thinks it’s better to have someone vomiting at their desk instead of working at home? The manager needs to tell pregnant lady they support her 100%.

        I mean jeez, can this lady even drive in safely if she has hyperemesis?

          1. Allie*

            If she’s puking uncontrollably at work a few times (plus potentially when she’s NOT at work) she’s having severe symptoms. That’s well beyond normal morning sickness. Women need to know this. My friend ended up hospitalized and severely dehydrated before she realized what was going on with her was beyond what was expected. There are things that can be done to help.

            1. Atalanta0jess*

              Eh, the line for hyperemesis is pretty darn high. You could definitely be vomiting a few times a day and be well within the boundaries of “normal.”

            2. Sarah*

              Vomiting several times a day for up to 4-5 months is actually well within the bounds of “normal” pregnancy symptom. Hyperemesis can be vomiting 10+/ a day for the entire pregnancy.

        1. It's Growing!*

          I had seriously vomit-y pregnancies – forget 6 weeks, more like 7 months. I did once (but only once!) vomit all over myself while driving. Fortunately, I was on a back road where I could pull over at a moment’s notice. So not fun.

        2. Cj*

          The OP didn’t say the co-worker has hyperemesis, just that they vomit several times a day, which I don’t think is that unusual in early pregnancy. However, I don’t think there are very many people who would be OK with a co-worker vomiting at their desk, whether it’s several times a day or once a week. I don’t think it is out of line to want to pregnant co-worker to work from home instead of the OP, especially if it is once a day or more.

          And if it is actually hyperemesis, it is my understanding that this lasts throughout the entire pregnancy, not just the early months, so the problem isn’t going away in a month or two.

        3. LizM*

          You’re assuming the pregnant coworker wants to work from home.

          If I was already worried about being put on the mommy-track, the last thing I would want to do is tell my boss that my morning sickness was so bad I needed to work from home, especially if everyone else was back at the office and WFH was frowned upon in the workplace culture.

          I had morning sickness, it would come in waves, but once it passed (usually about 10 min and I made it to the bathroom all but one time), I’d be fine. I wouldn’t have wanted to work from home when I was fine 90-95% of the day. It sounds like the coworker is making it to the bathroom at least some of the time, and I do think that LW has standing to say something to management about vomiting in the open office, and hopefully management can show some empathy when they explain that can’t be happening frequently, but I don’t think they have any standing for vomiting in the bathroom.

      2. Ginger*

        The trash can piece stood out to me too. The coworker is most likely trying to do everything she can to *not* throw up at her desk but can’t help it sometimes.

        1. MsClaw*

          That would be my guess as well — and I’m not sure how much standing the LW has to complain about this woman vomiting in the restroom. (Assuming that she’s cleaning up after herself). I wonder how much the pregnant woman is actually throwing up in her trash can versus how much LW is bracing for it to happen again so they’re constantly keyed up.

          Perhaps it would be possible to temporarily move coworker closer to the restrooms so she can more reliably get there in time. Or the LW could temporarily move to another part of the open office so she’s not so close to the noise.

          I’m sure LW isn’t the only one bothered by this but probably most people are just doing their best to pretend it isn’t happening, recognizing that this is a temporary situation. It sucks for everyone, especially the pregnant coworker.

          1. Darsynia*

            I didn’t read it as the LW was complaining about her throwing up in the bathroom as much as making clear that she’s throwing up often enough that she doesn’t make it to the bathroom sometimes. If that were left out of the story, I imagine that people might be supposing that the pregnant coworker was being impolite by not heading to throw up in the bathroom if they could manage it.

      3. meyer lemon*

        I don’t think the LW should have a say in the coworker’s working situation, but puking in a trash can at your desk multiple times a day sounds pretty miserable to me. If I were the pregnant employee’s boss, I’d want to see if there was a better solution for everyone.

        1. Susie Q*

          There is no evidence that is puking multiple times a day at her desk. Just that it has happened and she pukes multiple times a day.

          1. Cj*

            The headline says they are, but I’m not sure who writes those, and it doesn’t say it is several times a day at her desk in the body of the letter.

      4. Darth Brooks*

        I personally would beg to work from home if this was happening. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do any work in this environment.

        1. Observer*

          What makes you think that the pregnant coworker didn’t ask? The OP seems pretty certain that their manager’s first reaction to a WFH request is going to be no.

      5. Firecat*

        And yeah I agree if the pregnant employee wants wfh that should be accommodated. But that’s between her and her manager. OP should not ask for pregnant employee to wfh.

      6. Jennifer Strange*

        That was my thought too. The LW brings up working from home (and even says they are able to do it) but then only suggest it as an option for the co-worker.

      7. JB*

        I feel like someone vomiting at their desks multiple times a day would be distracting and unpleasant for most people, not just someone with emetophobia.

        1. WellRed*

          Yes. Op can’t be the only one grossed out here. Does she clean the Dan after or does it sit there and linger. Pregnant coworker WFH makes more sense. As to the comment that 50% of the population can pregnant? Um, what?

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          We don’t know that the co-worker is vomiting at their desk multiple times a day, just that they are vomiting multiple times a day and some of those have been at their desk (it could be that one or two have happened at the desk and the rest in the bathroom). I’m pregnant and am very glad I’ve been working from home through most of it for that reason, but it has to be a discussion between the co-worker and their boss, not a choice by the OP.

          1. Cake or Death?*

            OP doesn’t have a say in the matter of having to listen/see/smell someone vomiting at the desk?

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              Sure they do;. they can bring the issue up with their boss and let them know how it’s affecting them, but they can’t specify work from home for the co-worker as the solution. That has to be the choice of the boss/co-worker.

      8. Ace in the Hole*

        If someone can’t avoid vomiting at their desk, they should not be at work. Period. It’s not just horrible for LW, it’s horrible for the person vomiting and everyone around them. It’s a health hazard. It’s loud, distracting, and smelly. The argument that this should be permitted because 50% of the population can become pregnant just doesn’t make sense. 100% of people poop. That doesn’t mean someone with explosive diarrhea should be allowed to come to work while routinely soiling themselves at their desk.

        Pregnant Coworker should be accommodated… but this situation is not a reasonable accommodation. Since working from home is an option, the manager should tell vomiting coworker to work from home with full support at least until her nausea subsides, with the option to continue WFH during the rest of her pregnancy if it’s more comfortable for her.

        Even if WFH is normally frowned upon, it is likely to be seen as much more valid choice for someone with such a visible medical issue as the vomiting coworker. In contrast, LW has an invisible mental health condition – even if they do disclose it, they are still likely to face a lot of stigma.

        1. Firecat*

          I disagree because of the disproportionate effect it will have on women. If women are forced to work from home if they have morning sickness when they are already fighting the “mommy track” that just makes it worse.

          If a women wants to work in the office through this they should be allwed to. I don’t think a blanket – you vomit even though we know it’s not contagious or because you are I’ll – you go home! policy is remotely fair. There are many more accomodations that can happen! Maybe pregnant coworker gets an office near a bathroom for a few months? Maybe the vomit phobic op pits his big boy pants on and asks of he can wfh. There are so many options beside – ban the pregnant woman from public.

          Not surprisingly no one bitched and moaned about my bosses frequent indigestion vomits after he got his lap band. But a pregnant woman vomits in the bathroom and she’s a problem to all her coworkers.

          1. Gatomon*

            This isn’t about all pregnant women, this is a pregnant woman who is ill multiple times during the work day on a regular basis and isn’t always able to make it to a more appropriate location to do it. No one is suggesting every pregnant woman should be kicked out of the office because they might throw up occasionally.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            This is not about pregnant women in general, or even about pregnant women suffering from morning sickness. This is about the very small percentage of pregnant women who have such intense/frequent nausea that they are vomiting repeatedly at their desk. I would say the same about vomiting due to chemotherapy, gastroparesis, food intolerance, gastric surgery, anxiety, or any other cause. She’s not just puking in the bathroom… she’s puking in the trash can AT HER DESK.

            I’m shocked no one had a problem with your boss vomiting at his desk repeatedly. Or was he? From what you’re saying, it sounds like he was probably doing it in the restroom. Which is unpleasant, but appropriate.

            A pregnant woman vomiting in the bathroom is not a problem. A pregnant woman vomiting at her desk is a problem for all her coworkers.

          3. alienor*

            I mean, apart from the fact that not all women are or plan to get pregnant, the majority of women who are pregnant don’t vomit as much as OP’s coworker apparently does. I’ve worked in an office for 20+ years and have never witnessed a pregnant coworker throwing up in her trash can at her desk, and when I was pregnant myself, I was queasy a lot, but actually threw up at work a total of one time (and it was in the bathroom). There are certainly issues around pregnancy and parenthood that can unfairly impact women, but uncontrollable public vomiting isn’t common enough to be at the top of the list.

        2. Darsynia*

          I wonder how far away the pregnant coworker is from the nearest bathroom? Perhaps there’s an accommodation that could be made to move her closer to the bathroom out of deference to the fact that she can’t always make it and chooses to vomit in her trash can when there’s the option of being in the hallway instead, you know? That kind of option would be a kindness, IMO, not a punishment.

      9. Pyjamas*

        I suspect co-worker is having dry-heaves when she uses the trash can. No difference to OP of course

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          I think it’s possible that because OP is anxious about the vomiting, their brain will interpret any vomit-like noise as vomit. Over-generalising is really really common with anxiety disorders, so it may be that the co-worker vomits a few times over a few days and maybe dry heaves in the trash can once a week, or makes some uncomfortable sounding noises, or takes the trash can with her to the bathroom in case she doesn’t make it. But OP’s brain weasels interpret every single one as vomiting.

          I get where OP is coming from, I’ve beaten a phobia before (fear of hypodermics) and they’re not fun. But if my colleague had diabetes and needed to inject themselves at their desk that would be 100% my problem to manage. Exposure therapy is extremely effective and widely available, and this is probably not the last time someone’s going to vomit at work.

      10. Mockingjay*

        When pregnant with my second child, I threw up everyday at lunchtime for 4 months. Like clockwork. Most of the time I could make it 1) home – my office park was next to my neighborhood so I often went home for meals or 2) into the office restroom.

        In a way, I was fortunate because the onset was so predictable. Most women are not like this during pregnancy. But 30 years ago WFH was rare, so I had to figure out a solution. These days (this is an older letter, but it’s within the last decade) there is no excuse for companies not to offer at least a temporary solution of WFH or altered schedule while coworker is experiencing severe nausea for several months.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Mental health also doesn’t trump pregnancy. It’s not a matter of one over the other, it’s a matter of finding a solution that can accommodate both. That may be having the pregnant person WFH (if an option), but that has to be the decision of the manager, not the co-worker.

        2. Rach*

          Literally not a contest. Each employee needs to speak to their manager and figure out a solution that works for them. Pregnant coworker may want to WFH and they should be allowed to. If WFH would negatively affect their career, another accommodation needs to be found (there are many already stated upthread). I have severe mental health conditions and I have worked with my employer for reasonable accommodations (headphones, a desk in a more quiet area, etc). It would not have been reasonable to say my coworker had to WFH because their behaviors were distressing to me (and they were).

    4. Tracy*

      I’ll be frank about this. No one, at all, wants to hear anyone else struggling with morning sickness in this way. It makes me uncomfortable thinking about it, and I am not necessarily phobic. I am definitely sympathetic and hope that her symptoms subside soon, but it’s too much to deal with in a semi-public setting IMO.

      The pregnant employee really needs to find a workaround, whether it’s having the option to work at home in the mornings, or until the morning sickness subsides – she has to realize this is uncomfortable for everyone ….. right??

      1. Allie*

        “Morning sickness” is a bit of a misnomer. I would personally often get nauseous around 11AM and 2 PM for instance (I was lucky, I just felt bad, I never actually threw up).

        With hyperemesis, which it wounds like this woman might have, you can be vomiting constantly. My friend had to have an at home IV pump.

        1. Tracy*

          Ok I can take that. My understanding with hyperemesis is that it can truly be severe to the point of needing medical attention, like the IV. Personally if I was experiencing that – I would not want to be around other people!

          1. HoundMom*

            Actually I did have this and was nearly hospitalized. I threw up from conception into the delivery room, multiple times a day. But, I did not feel sick all the time. I would throw up suddenly and then feel fine. We have no way of knowing how the pregnant person feels — she did not write in. Personally, I did not feel sick — I would just suddenly throw up. So, it did not distract me from my job.
            I sympathize with the OP, but she is the one who needs to ask to WFH. Her condition will not result in her potentially being sidelined as pregnant women often are (the number of women I know whose careers stalled or stopped after pregnancy is mind-boggling huge). If the OP wants an accommodation, she should ask and it would be reasonable to accommodate her. But, the OP has no right to ask her company to have the pregnant woman work from home.

        2. Yorick*

          It doesn’t really sound like this woman has hyperemesis. She’s pregnant and pukes a few times a day, which for many people is normal.

          1. Allie*

            The few times are just at work and just what the coworker is noticing. It’s not actually normal to vomit that much during pregnancy.

            1. Lalala*

              Lots of vomiting, even at work, was normal for me. *shrug* There’s a wide range of “normal” for pregnancy symptoms.

      2. Observer*

        whether it’s having the option to work at home in the mornings

        Except that the OP says that she does this throughout the day.

        she has to realize this is uncomfortable for everyone

        Not as uncomfortable as she is! I get the problem for people. But it’s just SOOO weird to complain that she’s not being considerate of other people because she’s getting sick around people. You think she WANTS to be in this situation?!

        1. Autumnheart*

          It doesn’t matter if she wants to be in that situation or not. She’s doing something highly disruptive to the entire office. That’s a problem. It’s not within her ability to control, per se, and yes, people have sympathy but it’s still a problem for EVERYONE. Not just her.

          1. pepper*

            If it’s a problem for the whole office shouldn’t the manager help her find a solution? Being punitive isn’t going to help at all in this case.

        2. Cat Tree*

          Yeah, it’s like when my baby cries around other people. I *know* other people are bothered by it. I don’t like it either! But it’s not something I have complete control over. What do others expect us to do? Women of childbearing age should just never participate in public life?

          1. OhNoYouDidn't*

            Sometimes, yes. PARENTS (not just mothers/women) of childbearing age sometimes need to give up certain activities so as not to interrupt others’ enjoyment. I didn’t take my babies and toddlers to adult restaurants. I didn’t take them to Movie theaters (unless it was a kids’ movie). I didn’t take them to my friend’s opera concert. People pay money for those activities and they don’t want my kids screaming, chatting, and disrupting their experience. If I was in a restaurant or public place with my baby or toddler, if they started fussing, crying, etc, I took them out. It’s the considerate thing to do for a short phase of life. With regard to this woman, she deserves compassion and empathy for her situation, but she also has a responsibility to be empathetic to those around her as well, and realize that most people would be highly uncomfortable, and maybe even ill, from hearing and smelling her vomiting at her desk. It’s a phase. She should ask her supervisor to help with some sort of a solution for this phase. Consideration in the workplace is a two way street.

      3. hormone overload*

        I’ll be frank about this too. No one, at all, wants to barf all day in their desk trash can. It of course makes everyone uncomfortable, but I can tell you as someone who is just coming around the other side of a tough go with morning sickness (mostly at work, because morning sickness doesn’t distinguish between work and home hours), that pregnant co-worker is more uncomfortable than anyone else around them.

        Unlike the coworker written about in this letter, I did not have an option to work from home. I’m lucky enough to have an office with a door, but many people in this position are not. I would have jumped at the chance to work from home during my first trimester, so I’m glad to see that is an option here. But as you think this is “too much” for others to deal with, what do you think I should have done to avoid making everyone around me uncomfortable? Should I have used sick time that I need to cover my maternity leave (my leave will be unpaid, aside from any PTO I cash in to cover it)? Quit my job? Gone on FMLA, again reducing the amount of time I have at home to recover from the birth and take care of a newborn?

        There’s really no good answer for many, many people in this situation. It sounds to me like the coworker bothered by this has an option to work from home, so they should take the initiative on this instead of pushing at someone who, I can almost guarantee, is just struggling to get through each day right now.

        1. Roja*

          Yes, this. It’s obviously a difficult situation but as someone else who’s pregnant (who luckily hasn’t had as bad a time as this poor woman), there’s limited options here. I took a day off awhile back because I felt so miserable, but I can’t do that every day; that cost me a lot of money. I’m a contractor, so no work, no pay. I can’t just not get paid for months because I might throw up. That’s not feasible.

          This is really on the company–if they’re really that resistant to WFH then perhaps there’s a spare office she can use so there’s more privacy. I can’t imagine many things more hard and embarrassing than throwing up that frequently at work. Anything to make her life (and everyone else’s, because of course listening to it is no fun either) easier right now should be utilized.

        2. Kella*

          I think people are misplacing responsibility for the situation on the pregnant employee. We don’t know what workarounds she has available. It’s on her *managers* to find a workaround.

          But, driving home that having her vomiting around others all day is both distressing and unsanitary for *other* people is not irrelevant or unethical to point out, even though she is the one who is likely suffering the most. It means that having her continue to work in office isn’t a good option for ANYONE including her and if the managers are the road block here, they might have more luck advocating for a change in a group.

        3. Formerly Pregnant*

          SERIOUSLY. And I had all day nausea and at least 1x a day, usually more, vomiting through all 3 trimesters of my pregnancy. So it isn’t even as simple for some people as avoiding mornings or limited to first trimester. I promise no one enjoys this situation, and while I agree it can be disruptive and gross for others, the burden of coping with it is inconvenient in multiple ways for the pregnant person who, as you note, will really need to preserve their PTO as much as possible unless they have more generous than typical leave benefits.

      4. Pony Puff*

        I agree with Tracy. Yes, the pregnant woman must be miserable but that doesn’t mean other people aren’t uncomfortable too! If you’re vomiting you should not be at work, end of story, the reason doesn’t matter. It really is inconsiderate to be loudly vomiting in the office where everyone can hear and smell thinks. Yikes!

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          The problem (by the OP’s words) is that WFH is frowned upon. That’s not the pregnant co-worker’s fault, and I don’t blame her then for choosing not to do so since it’s her reputation (and potentially her career goals) that will be affected. Also, can we please not use terms like “inconsiderate” when referring to something that person 100% cannot control? It’s gross and unpleasant, sure, but there’s nothing inconsiderate about it.

    5. Archaeopteryx*

      Is puking into a trash can not a sanitary issue? I’m not sure how much of morning sickness is dry retching rather than actually vomiting (which would still trigger a lot of people into gagging/retching themselves, even without a phobia attached – it’s a contagious phenomenon), but I would think some type of cleaning situation would need to be put in place. It seems like if it’s severe enough that she can’t get to a toilet each time, something different needs to be done rather than just have her use a trash can at her desk.

      1. Autistic AF*

        Thinking about it with the lens of COVID 19, being in close proximity to someone with those symptoms is a big health issue too. It wasn’t as much when the letter was written, of course, but I can’t see LW’s situation being allowed in current circumstances.

      2. alienor*

        For me it was mostly feeling like I was going to throw up without actually throwing up–but on the handful of occasions when I did, it was definitely full-on vomiting and not just dry retching. I think if there’s a trash can involved, then it’s probably significant enough to require cleanup. (And even if there were a plastic bag in the can, where do you throw out a sack of vomit in an office without creating a health hazard or a terrible surprise for the maintenance staff, who certainly didn’t sign up for that?)

    6. lilsheba*

      Me too…and I’m a huge believer of vomiting is NOT a group activity dammit! Seriously that person needs to work from home.

    7. Cake or Death?*

      I can’t imagine how bad that office smells. The smell of vomit lingers…and is she cleaning the cab out every time, or just leaving it and keeps throwing up in it?

    8. Strahd*

      Fellow person with emetophobia here, and if I were forced to share an office with someone vomiting _at their desk_ that frequently, I would have quit my job on the spot. Yes, my job that’s sponsoring a visa for me to remain in the country I’ve resided in my entire adult life. Yes, my job in a super competitive field. I just…holy freaking cannoli, Batman.

      1. Firecat*

        Then you would have handled the situation for yourself vs trying to I sent your will I to the pregnant woman’s schedule.

        OP is free to ask to wfh, decide to find another job, ask for an office away for a while – but it crosses a boundary to write in for advice on what can you make your managers due to a pregnant employee for your convenience. That’s very much systemic sexism at work.

        1. HR & Cats*

          No it’s not. This person has a medical condition and under the ADA their employer needs to accommodate them.

      2. kay bee*

        Same here. Though I would probably just nope out of the office after the second time in a day and tell my manager I’d be working from home for the next while. Being around a vomiting person for as little as a day can cause me to stop eating regularly/enough for (sometimes) months and I have lost severe amounts of weight from it. And I’ve gotten a lot better with my phobia over the years, but this is still where I’m at, generally.

        Agree with the folks who say OP should request WFH and hope that by providing what emetophobia does to me, folks will understand its severity as well.

        1. Fieldpoppy*

          This. It is an anxiety disorder. That’s what people aren’t getting. Imagine your desk were covered with snakes and cockroaches. That’s what it does to my brain. Something needs to change.

        2. Rach*

          That would be an appropriate response to the situation, not asking the pregnant woman to WFH (which should be her choice).

    9. JoyMonkey*

      I have it too. Lol, can only imagine having the involuntary reaction to run for my life in the office everyday.

  19. staceyizme*

    For the LW working in an open-plan office with a colleague who vomits into her own trash can several times a day- I don’t think the issue to manage is anything other than the fact that her colleague is vomiting. It’s irrelevant that her coworker is pregnant or female (except insofar as it can’t be helped). But for the love of lunch and hygiene, she’s got to either work from home or be given private space. (Who cleans this up? I can’t even imagine that most janitorial staff would want to do this daily/ multiple times daily. Even if the trash container DOES, well, contain, most of it, there’s going to be some spew.) If a gentle nudge to management doesn’t address the issue, would your conscience allow you to specify a “generalized anxiety… that’s come up…. , for which a short course of working from home and receiving support (you can use this time to see a therapist about your phobia, if you so choose). I don’t know that this is the best direction. But, honestly, you’ve got to be able to work without major distraction and you are the only variable that you have a modicum of control over in this situation.

  20. Former Retail Lifer*

    Not sure if the job allows flexibility, but my co-worker has an hour-long commute and he negotiated to work 7:30-4 with half an hour lunch instead of 8-5 with an hour lunch. That slight shift helps him completely avoid rush hour traffic.

    Not that the OP should be this mean, but I’ve worked at places where I’d be written up if I got overtime that wasn’t pre-approved. Don’t start with that, but it could be an option if more reasonable methods don’t improve things.

  21. Alexis Rosay*

    I have emetophobia, and I might quit if I was put in OP’s situation. It doesn’t matter if someone’s not constantly vomiting, the knowledge or fear that someone *might* vomit around me would make me dizzy and nauseous enough that I couldn’t work.

    I also say this with sympathy for the pregnant woman–I tried really hard to get pregnant during Covid WFH because getting from my desk at work to the bathroom required retrieving a set of keys and then unlocking *two* doors, and I knew I might not always be able to make it. So it’s worth asking if there is something about the bathroom at work that could be made more accessible. I seriously doubt a trash can is her first choice.

    But WFH can’t be the only solution–there might be offices close to the bathroom, offices with doors, empty conference rooms.

    1. PregnantPeople*

      So your going to quit every job with a pregnant coworker since they may vomit or gag near you?

      Good luck with that.

      1. Delphine*

        If you read their full comment sincerely, you know their solution isn’t to force pregnant coworkers to quit.

      2. Sylvan*

        I suspect they meant that they’d quit any job where someone vomited near them repeatedly. Which isn’t super unreasonable! Most people don’t like being around vomit, even without emetophobia! This comment section is making me feel insane.

        1. pepper*

          This comment section is making me feel insane.

          As someone who’s been pregnant it’s reminding me viscerally and horrifyingly of how harshly people judge pregnancy, so maybe we match?

          1. OhNoYouDidn't*

            I’m a woman. I’ve been pregnant, with sickness, excessive sleepiness, tachycardia and pre-eclampsia, etc. I’ve been there. I feel for her. But her bad side effects from her pregnancy shouldn’t be meted out upon her co-workers. It’s not “judging pregnancy.” It’s not wanting to be around a vomit/vomiting, no matter the cause.

            1. Rach*

              It sucks to be around non-contagious sick people but it is part of life. Can you imagine saying you don’t want to be around your *insert whatever disability* because it is unpleasant? Yes, medical issues are often unpleasant but we have to deal with it. If there are competing medical issues (as is the case here), each employee needs to find accommodations that work for them.

          2. Mannequin*

            People aren’t judging pregnancy, they are judging someone who has vomited into their open office trash can MORE THAN ONCE.

        2. Mannequin*

          I am right there with you. It’s insane. People are literally excusing gross & unsanitary behavior under the flags of feminism & pregnancy.

      3. IEanon*

        Some people with emetophobia do struggle to hold down jobs, because the fear of seeing someone ill or being near someone ill drives them to never leave their homes. Agoraphobia commonly goes hand-in-hand with emetophobia.

        Your rather rude response ignores the fact that emetophobia is an anxiety disorder, and this LW has the same right to accommodations in the workplace that the pregnant woman does.

      4. Archaeopteryx*

        They’re saying they have a phobia. That level of reaction is pretty much in line with the effects of phobias.

      5. Alexis Rosay*

        Your comment is rude, Pregnant People, and I suspect you intentionally misinterpreted what I said. I’m a mid-career professional, I’ve worked in many open office spaces, and I’ve never seen anyone vomit in a garbage can. I’ve worked with plenty of pregnant people and none of them ever vomited in front of me either.

        1. Autumnheart*

          In truth, the fact that the vomiting employee is pregnant isn’t really relevant, except for what management has leeway to do about it. This would be the same problem if it were a man vomiting. The problem isn’t the pregnancy, it’s the vomiting.

  22. Beth*

    LW #2, thank you for the term “emetophobia”. It never occurred to me that the word would exist. I have had that same condition for as long as I can remember, and my entire body is cringing in sympathy with you.

    1. Sylvan*

      If you use Reddit, there’s a subreddit named after the condition. Very helpful place. :)

  23. My Brain is Exploding*

    I feel for the pregnant woman, but unless barfing at the desk is a very rare occurence, I think she should stay home (or move her closer to the bathroom if possible, as a reasonable accommodation?). Barfing is one of those bodily functions that should be confined to the bathroom; I think most people would feel compassion, but have a difficult time dealing with it! And yes, barf is considered biohazard waste, so there would need to be specific procedures used for cleaning the trash can.

    1. Cj*

      From what I could find, vomit that doesn’t contain blood (and therefore possibly AIDS or hepatitis virus, etc.) isn’t necessarily a biohazard. It becomes one when you are actually sick with something like norovirus or samonella because then those are present in the vomit. But that isn’t the case if you are vomiting because you are pregnant.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I don’t know where you looked that says vomit isnt a biohazard. Everything I found shows the oppoite: In general, vomit is considered to be a biohazard. It is the bodily ejection of stomach matter as a result of bacteria from an illness or external influences (e.g. motion sickness).,influences%20(e.g.%20motion%20sickness).

        So even if she is throwing up because of morning sickness and not becaue of illness its still gross, full of germs and bacteria .

      2. Raida*

        True, however partially-digested food and saliva are also not really considered hygenic anyway so while we do avoid the normal issue that vomit = illness you can catch, we still have the more basic don’t=get-your-slag-on-anything-at-work.

  24. A Person*

    > I’ve told her that if I know she is staying after 5:30, I’m obligated to pay her since she is an hourly employee and she can claim overtime.

    I know this is an old letter. I wonder if this writer ever told their employee that they’re not just obligated to pay overtime as a moral or ethical issue, but rather that it’s an actual legal requirement.

  25. LizM*

    I work in government, and we will set certain positions to close after we reach a certain number of applicants, especially entry-level positions. Across our organization, we hire for these positions dozens of times a year, so we have a pretty good sense of the applicant pool, and are pretty confident that if we do reach the max number of applicants (usually 75), we’ll have enough highly qualified applicants to make a selection.

    As Alison said, it’s not always a great system, and LW is right, applicant #76 may be the greatest applicant of all time, but we have to weigh that against our limited HR and hiring managers’ time sorting through resumes, and the pool just isn’t that much better if we have 150 resumes vs. 75. We’re pretty up front in the announcement that the announcement will close once we reach a specific number, so applicants should not wait until the last minute if they see that.

  26. ExceptionToTheRule*

    I have two employees similar to LW #1’s: one who comes in early & another who frequently stays late. It took me a long time to boil down what the deal was, but… neither of them has a computer at home (there is one whom I’m not sure even has internet at home) & we don’t have work laptops.

    I let it go, because I have the flexibility to do so. There are no fraud or security implications & if they do ending up working while they’re here before or after their shift, I make sure they get paid for it. We don’t pay the greatest and I’m willing to give a little on it.

    LW 1 might not be able to do that & the situation probably isn’t the same, but as others have mentioned there’s probably a lot that’s going on under the surface.

    1. Cj*

      I’m not sure why anybody would have internet at home if they don’t have a computer at home and you don’t have a worklap to take home.

        1. Freya*

          Or doing stuff on your phone when hone internet is cheaper than phone data (which it is for me, the unmetered home internet is cheaper than my husband’s and my phone plans combined and we both use much more metered phone data than calls or SMS). But sometimes you need a big screen to do stuff effectively.

  27. LizM*

    LW1, are you sure she’s not working while she’s hanging around the office, and that her workload is reasonable for the number of hours you’re paying her for? Is she being rewarded (implicitly or explicitly) for increased productivity? I’d make sure you’re not applying any pressure for those extra hours before you have a clear, explicit talk with her about leaving early. I used to be in an hourly position where there were a lot of deadlines, and the people who fudged their timesheets while the managers turned a blind eye were rewarded. It wasn’t uncommon to be handed a 10 hour project at the start of an 8 hour shift and be told to “do your best” to get it done by the end of the day.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      This is almost exactly what I was thinking. Are we sure she isn’t trying to keep up with an overburdened queue by working off the clock and blaming traffic to cover it?

  28. PregnantPeople*

    Some of y’all need to repeat this mantra and take it to heart.

    Pregnant women have agency over their bodies.

    That means they can ride a plane, drink coffee, or even work in an office. It’s not your place to try and tell a pregnant woman where they can work or travel. If you are bothered by an environment seek accomodations for yourself not for the pregnant employee or on her behalf unless she specifically asks you too. Oh and y’all probably need reminding not to touch a pregnant belly either since you feel entitled to suggest a pregnant coworker shoulnt be driving or working in an office either!

    It’s not your place and it’s sexist and gross.

    1. My Brain Is Exploding*

      Taking out the pregnancy aspect, still no to the barfing…if it were an employee with a different medical condition that caused frequent barfing AND an inability to make it to the bathtub (more than just occasionally), I would still have a problem and I think most people would. (Also: biohazard waste).

      1. LizM*

        But don’t we have letters all the time where people are told to mind their own business over other employees’ health issues?

        It’s not clear from the letter that the barfing at the desk is “all the time”. The barfing is several times a day, “sometimes” at the desk, but also the bathroom. It’s also not clear from the letter that she’s not emptying out the trash can after using it.

        I’d argue that farting in an important meeting is also gross and people shouldn’t be subject to that, but no one advised excluding the farter from the meetings in that letter. It was about adjusting the environment to give the farter the opportunity to get to the bathroom and getting fans, and politely pretending it wasn’t happening. The answer can’t be to exclude this woman from the workplace because she’s dealing with a medical condition just because her’s is caused by pregnancy.

        1. LizM*

          Sorry, nesting fail. This seems aggressive when directed at you, it wasn’t meant to be. It was more generally to the idea that the pregnant coworker should have to telework. I agree that if she’s really frequently throwing up *at her desk*, other coworkers have a right to go to HR or their boss. But from the letter, it seemed like the LW was also complaining about just knowing it was happening in the bathroom.

    2. Delphine*

      Any person who is vomiting that much would be causing a disturbance, not just pregnant women. There are reasonable ways to handle this.

    3. Sylvan*

      Other people don’t want to be around vomit. I’m sorry this is offensive to you, but vomiting outside of a bathroom isn’t likely to become socially acceptable just because someone has taken it, of all things, up as a feminist cause…

    4. Former Retail Lifer*

      Vomit is a biohazard. If it’s a regular occurrence, other accommodations need to be made for her. It can’t be pleasant for her to be puking all day, either, and something needs to be done. For both her and her co-workers.

    5. pieces_of_flair*

      I have emetophobia and also had hyperemesis during pregnancy. (Not the best combination, but at least the “exposure therapy” experience of hyperemesis actually improved my emetophobia!) I was fortunate to be able to work from home in the mornings when the nausea was worst. Even so, I often vomited in the office but was always able to make it to the bathroom. No way would I have expected my coworkers to just put up with me vomiting at my desk in an open office! That is horrifying!

      It’s not a reasonable accommodation if her coworkers are suffering. What about that letter where the guy with OCD wanted his coworkers to accommodate his illness by lining up in a certain order? No one accused commenters of being ableist for objecting to that. Because it wasn’t a reasonable expectation. Neither is this IMO. (Personally I would line up by gender all day long rather than be around someone vomiting!)

      That said, I don’t think the LW can request that the pregnant coworker work from home. I disagree that it would be sexist and gross (seriously, where is the sexism in having a disorder that makes it excruciating to be around vomiting people? OP has no issue with the coworker’s pregnancy/gender), but I agree it would not be her place. She can ask for accommodations for her own needs, which might be moving to a different desk or working from home.

      I suspect this thread is divided based on different reactions to vomit. I guess to some people it’s not that big a deal to be around it? I can’t relate to that at all.

    6. Archaeopteryx*

      Needing there to be a solution besides having to frequently be in the vicinity of anyone puking for any reason is not remotely comparable to touching a pregnant woman’s stomach. It’s no one’s fault that the situation sucks so much, but vomit is a health hazard and if the trash can thing happened more than once, maybe she needs a desk closer to the restroom for the time being, or wfh, or something.

      The phobia-level reaction to it is individual, a need/desire to not be around puking people is universal. Their work needs to figure something out for everyone involved.

    7. Raida*

      Any co-worker that needs to vomit regularly is, at my workplace, offered accomodations to be closer to the toilets, work from home, come in later/go home early if it happens at the start or end of the day, have a more private desk location where other staff unbothered by vomit are invited to sit, other staff offered a more private desk location if the minority are bothered by vomit.

      Nobody says “oh it’s a pregnancy, I can’t tell her what to do” we say “This is a problem, what are the viable options?” and immediately include the person that’s throwing up in this process as the person with first dibs on solutions.
      But I work in a finance, reporting, risk, governance and analysis area – we’re very much a group that simply looks for solutions instead of wringing our hands and blaming ourselves for how we feel. Either it’s an issue for me or an issue for you, let’s identify which and find options.

    8. Sarah*

      Here here. You can absolutely tell who has suffered terrible morning sickness and who hasn’t from these comments.

  29. introverted af*

    As far as #3, is there any other space in the office for them to take a call? Your employee may be used to having a space for these kinds of things, and that norm might need better explanation for her.

    I know I go use our conference rooms (we have about 150ppl in office and conference rooms on all 3 floors) for calls sometimes. We have glass doors (or a full glass wall in some cases) with the middle grayed out, but you can see through completely on top and bottom. I try to keep any eye out if anybody is coming to the door, or waiting in the hall so I can get out of the way, but if someone was just breezing by I would assume they didn’t need in, so that might be something to think about.

  30. k*

    The “doesn’t have much of a personal life” comment makes me very sad. Who cares how much of a personal life they have? I would be horrified if I knew my employer was judging me in that way. And I suspect the OP would not be nearly as bothered if they thought their employee was a social butterfly.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I found that odd too. How do they know she doesn’t have a personal life? Maybe she just doesn’t talk about her plans or activities that much. Maybe she waited until 9 pm because she was meeting people for drinks and didn’t want to commute twice.

  31. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    Simply tell her, “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”

  32. StillLearning*

    My first job out of college I used to stay late at work — until 9 or later — usually just playing solitaire on my computer; my boyfriend and I were going through a bad break up, and though I never really admitted it to myself at the time it was just too painful for me to go home. I wonder if maybe the employee here is going through something similar? Or maybe I’m just projecting…

  33. Tofu pie*

    I do not have emetophobia yet I would not want to hear a colleague vomiting regularly at their desk. I can’t imagine how this is tolerable for anyone else in the office.

    I had hyperemesis during my pregnancies so I am sympathetic towards the pregnant coworker. However, if an employee is throwing up multiple times a day at her desk in an open plan office it seems reasonable to raise WFH as an option.

    1. Sara*

      I don’t think the pregnant coworker should be punished for something out of her control. We all know how important face to face can be especially in a culture that looks down on WFH. She’s going to have to additionally deal with not being around using her maternity leave. I puked all 40 weeks of my pregnancy. I would’ve been annoyed if I was told I couldn’t come in anymore.

  34. Raida*

    I’d offer the employee the option of staying until 6pm, perhaps logged out of her work computer if you can’t give her 30mins of extra break during the day, to wait out the traffic.
    But make it clear that *unapproved* overtime will not be paid, I’m responsible for her taking breaks, I’m responsible for her not working more than x hrs in a day, and I will get her account locked at 6:01pm if need be.

    Also cover the question of – does she need to work that long? Is there too much work, not enough time? Too many interruptions? all of that, to make sure she’s not putting pressure on herself to do more work for free because ‘it has to be done’.
    If it’s not important, she needs to leave the bloody office. If it’s important but she’s inefficient in work hours, that needs training. If it’s important and there’s not enough time in the day, time to review the workload.

  35. Crissy*

    Have you thought about sitting down with her and asking if everything outside of work is going okay. You mentioned you know there have been times she has been there as late as 9pm. Could it be that something is going on at home, maybe it’s not a safe place for her to be. If she doesn’t take public transport or doesn’t have her own car she may be forced to wait for someone to pick her up. Lastly, we forget how many people have no choice but to live in their cars due to whatever circumstances. Staying in the office a few extra hours could be the difference between having somewhere to at least go to the bathroom and get office coffee. Maybe so others don’t have to see her leave and get into her car that may be obvious she lives in.

  36. Sara*

    As someone who puked all 40 weeks of my pregnancy (HG), you literally cannot control where you puke sometimes. Just like with anything else, sometimes you know you’re not going to make it.

    1. Anonymoose*

      Sounds like WFH would be a good solution! You’d be comfortable and be able to go to a private bathroom

  37. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I would be concerned about an employee in the building well after quitting time for reasons of security. If no one else is around, this could be a risk either to her, or (if she’s inclined) to the company’s property and information.

  38. Sarah*

    LW2- She is throwing up at her desk because she can’t make it to the bathroom every time. It is completely unreasonable to expect someone who is vomiting plan it in advance and asking her to go to the bathroom every time risks having her throw up on her way on herself and the floor. This is the employers fault for putting you all in open office hell. There are potential adjustments that can be made. Have a reasonable WFH policy that doesn’t penalize people for doing so. Move pregnant employee closer to the bathroom. Ask to move yourself farther away from pregnant employee. Wear some headphones.

  39. nothing rhymes with purple*

    After reading this whole discussion, I really hope the pregnant coworker recovered fully from her pregnancy and had a lovely child with whom she has a great relationship, and is experiencing a minimum of the judgement mothers get in our society.

  40. WonkyStitch*

    IMO “energetic” can be an ableist word to use in a job posting. Depending on the particular position, of course.

    I have a medical condition that causes multiple hormone deficiencies that I manage with medication. Sometimes the meds need to be adjusted. The deficiencies all cause fatigue to some degree; when my numbers are wonky on all of them, I can barely drag myself out of bed. I’m also autistic, which tends to make me quieter and more introverted so I can watch people I work with for clues on how to behave.

    I’m also a beast at administrative work, especially if I can work from home and take naps when I need to. I go at it hard and get a huge amount of work done, because I’m killer at managing my own time and I don’t procrastinate. I’m not “energetic” but IMO I’m a great employee.

    Now, if the position was for a journalist or on-the-go reporter, sure, but I’d never apply for that anyway.

    I have seen positions that were in my wheelhouse but I didn’t apply because they said “energetic.” I would have rocked the job though.

    I can totally see my old boss (that thought I was too laid back and wanted me to be more energetic, when it wasn’t needed) putting that in a job ad. IMO too many people want energetic employees when it’s not needed for the role.

  41. bopper*

    Guest Office:
    Seems to me this is an office problem. You need more “phone booth” rooms. What you have is not working for your office. Otherwise she is disturbing others with her phone calls.

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