my coworker throws my papers away, a fingernail conundrum, and more

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

1. My coworker goes through my desk and throws away things I need to do my job

I work part-time in a very small office of five people. I manage the bookkeeping for multiple businesses that the owners are involved in. I mostly work from home and am only in the office one day a week. Apparently, that has led one of my coworkers, Jane, to believe that it is okay to go through my workspace. Multiple times in the 10 years I have worked there, I have found my papers shuffled. Other times, I’ve learned that Jane has contacted a vendor or service provider based on something she found when opening my mail. Recently, she removed a note from my boss requesting something from me and threw it away. I only find out about these things when something goes wrong and I have to fix it. So I’m sure it happens more often than I know.

She apparently told another coworker that she needs to know everything going on at every desk in the office or she’s not doing her job. But she has no supervisory role whatsoever. Every person in the office has their own set of responsibilities that rarely overlap with anyone else, so there is absolutely no reason for this. Some of the businesses that I handle Jane has no role in, so their correspondence and mail are absolutely outside her job.

I have addressed this with her directly by saying that she should not be going through my mail, desk, or inbox. I have addressed it with my boss, who will then speak with her about respecting privacy and remind her that I handle confidential documents that are none of her business. That is effective for a matter of weeks before it starts up again. Honestly, I am at the point of turning in my resignation because I feel disrespected but also because I worry about ramifications for me from her meddling. Do you have any advice for me to address this short of quitting?

At a minimum, request a desk with locking drawers or a locking filing cabinet and store all your stuff in there. Bu that won’t fully solve the problem since she’s also opening your mail and going through things left on your desk when you’re not there. (Maybe you can get a locking inbox that people can put papers into but can’t retrieve anything out of without a key? Like this.)

But the bigger issue is WTF is up with Jane? And why is your boss settling for these gentle reminders when it needs to be a much more serious “cut this out NOW” conversation? Go back and talk to your boss again, and this time say that it’s still happening, the conversations she’s had with Jane haven’t worked, and ask what to do next. Say that Jane is making it impossible for you to do your job (she’s throwing away things you need to do your work), you’re at your wits’ end, and need a solution. Use the words, “How do we solve this since the previous conversations haven’t worked and she is throwing away documents essential to my job?” If that doesn’t stir your boss to more resolute action, she might be the bigger problem.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. My employees must have short, unpainted fingernails

I work in a field where safe handling of fragile, irreplaceable historical materials is an absolute must. Because we don’t have the money to hire enough full-time staff, I am given a small budget each year to fund a few part-time student employees each working 10 hours per week. In previous positions, I have been able to hire graduate students who have a scholarly/career interest in my field and are familiar with or willing to adapt to our weird conventions, but that is often not possible here. I have therefore been interviewing a lot of undergrad students from a variety of majors. A couple of times, I have interviewed students who I think would be a great fit, but when I meet them in person I see they have long, painted fingernails. It is common wisdom in my field that painted nails a no-go because unless you wear certain kinds of hardened polish it can smear off even when dry, which would be a serious problem. Student employees can wear latex gloves at work if need be, but most don’t like to for long shifts. Likewise, very long nails can decrease your manual dexterity, which is also a detriment to the materials we work with. I have confirmed this with our in-house conservator, who even reached out to professional listservs for me to make sure that we weren’t off-base in our assessment. A couple of years ago, I had to fire a student for, among other things, twice getting new long, acrylic nails with embedded crystals (even worse because they can scratch our materials or equipment!) after I told her her nails needed to be shorter.

The issue is, I have always been very butch in my gender presentation so I’ve never worn nail polish or had long nails and don’t have first-hand experience with any of this. It seems really icky to reject a candidate based on an aspect of their culture or gender expression, as is asking them to change it for a quarter-time minimum-wage job. I’d prefer to just head off situations like this by putting something like “must have short nails” in the job ad itself, but HR says that could be perceived as discriminatory. I also worry that if I bring up a candidate’s nails in an interview and decide not to hire them for other reasons, they could come away with the impression that I or my institution was hostile to their identity, which is unfortunately not unheard of in my profession. Is there any way to make it clear that “nails” is not shorthand for race, gender, class, etc. when femmes and, to some extent, people of color are more likely to have long, painted nails?

You’re overthinking it … and your HR rep is weirdly off-base. If the work legitimately requires short, unpainted nails, it’s not discriminatory to let people know that up-front. In fact, it’s a service to your applicants to put it in the ad so they can self-select out if they’re not interested. Include an explanation — “because we work with fragile historical materials, you must keep your nails short and unpainted while doing this work” — and it’s highly unlikely that people will read it as discrimination.

But if HR won’t budge or you don’t want to deal with them, another option is to create a short info sheet that you send to everyone you invite to interview, with the explanation about fingernails and anything else it would be useful for them to know in advance. Then you can ask in the interview if they have any questions about what they read, which will give people an easy opening to ask about it if they want to.

Read an update to this letter.

3. My job was changed after I went on leave, but no one knows what it is

I am (was?) a director of the largest department in our mid-size nonprofit, overseeing more than 100 staff and five managers. Recently, I was gone on FMLA to care for my mother, who was terminally ill. As we didn’t know how long I would be gone, one of the managers, Circe, was promoted to my position (she is extremely qualified, so no real issues there). The CEO and COO both indicated that “maybe we will have you do something different when you return.” I had directed the department for seven years.

Well, my mom unfortunately passed away much more quickly than we anticipated. I was gone for 5 weeks total. In one phone call, the COO asked me what I wanted to do so I gave some ideas, to which he said, “Sounds good.”

Since then (a week ago), I have received no assignments or direction on what is next, despite asking a few times. My former staff have started to come to me, but I have redirected them back to Circe, and they have asked, “Aren’t you our director again now?” I want to say, “I have no idea!” but have just been kind of vague. I have tried following up on a few things that have come up, only to be told it was already handled. I don’t want to do too much of that so I am not stepping on the toes of the new director.

I feel like no one here knows what to do with me! I know I returned a lot earlier than anticipated, but the whole vibe is “former worker visiting the office.” Should I be happy working on the “Penske File” until someone notices, or keep pushing the subject?

Well, they can’t really do this! The law requires that an employee returning from FMLA leave be reinstated “to the position of employment held by the employee when the leave commenced” or to an equivalent position. An equivalent position “is one that is virtually identical to the employee’s former position in terms of pay, benefits and working conditions, including privileges, perquisites and status. It must involve the same or substantially similar duties and responsibilities, which must entail substantially equivalent skill, effort, responsibility, and authority.” The only exception is if the employer can show that the changes to your job would have been made regardless of your FMLA leave.

So yes, you should keep pushing it! Go back to your boss and say that you need to clarify whether you’re resuming your position or moving to a new one, and use the words “I also want to make sure we’re in compliance with FMLA, which says I need to return to my job or one with equivalent responsibilities.”

Frankly, I’m not sure they’re going to be able to resolve this without moving you back to your old role, unless there’s another director-level position open that manages a large staff and for which you’re qualified and which just happens to be open … unless there something other than your leave was behind their idea to move you. Either way, make them have the conversation.

4. Can I borrow language from other job descriptions?

I’m new to creating job descriptions, and am wondering if it’s a faux pas to lift a lot of the language of what’s already out there?

It happens a lot but I’d recommend you not do it, because (a) it’s plagiarism, (b) most job descriptions are written terribly (dull, dense, and overly bureaucratic) and you shouldn’t model yours on that, and (c) the most effective job descriptions describe the role in plain, normal-person language. A job description is almost guaranteed to be significantly better if you write it the way you’d write an email to a friend or coworker describing what the work entails. Or imagine you’re writing a memo to your boss proposing this new position and what the person would do. Either of those would be a better starting point for an effective, comprehensible job description than 90% of the job descriptions out there.

5. Midnight deadlines

I’m hoping you can offer a definitive ruling on this small but mighty question about linguistic ambiguity. When a job application (or anything) has a midnight deadline, like “midnight on Friday, August 20,” does that mean first thing on Friday or last thing on Friday?

In most examples I can think of, midnight is at the start of the day. This is certainly the most logical way around, in my opinion: 23:59 is the last minute of the day, and then we tick over into the next day at 00:00. But with job ads and other deadlines, I would generally interpret a “midnight on x date” to be at the end of the day (even as I would be extremely anxious about being 24 hours too late). What say you?

Of course, this whole question would be moot if we all agreed to do the decent thing and always state unambiguous 23:59 deadlines…

You’re correct that midnight on Friday is the minute that comes right after 11:59 pm on Thursday. In practice, though, many, many people use it to mean the minute right after 11:59 pm Friday. In fact, I’d bet that the vast majority of people who list midnight deadlines mean it the second way, even though it’s not technically correct.

But since this is a deadline you don’t want to miss, err on the side of the earlier (and correct!) interpretation. If you’ve already missed that deadline and are hoping you have one more day … there’s a good chance you do, so go for it. But plan on the earlier one if you can.

{ 594 comments… read them below }

  1. Chc34*

    LW2: Definitely don’t reject people based on the fact that they have long or painted fingernails in the interview! A lot of people who have them that way might be perfectly happy to remove the polish or cut their nails if they get the job but would prefer to leave them that way until then, in case they don’t. Let them know it’s a requirement so they can opt out if they don’t want to cut their nails, but don’t assume long painted nails are an unalterable state without asking.

    1. Wendy*

      An info sheet is a good one. I’d suggest the same for any aspect of a job that people *could* change about themselves but might not want to – if you require natural-colored hair, for example, or no visible tattoos. It lets them self-select and moves your job from asking “do I trust you’ll do this?” to “you agreed to this when you signed on board” and simply ensuring compliance.

      1. tra la la*

        Agree about an information sheet, which could include other requirements if needed (I interned in an archives for a couple of years, and part of my orientation included a meeting with the conservator where we were told not to use hand lotion while at work, among other things) along with information about the job or the organization etc. If it’s a sheet that includes other information/requirements, that way you can get this information across without seeming to focus exclusively on the fingernail issue.

        I’m guessing that I work in a field adjacent to yours, and I know that there’s a lot of concern in both fields about appearing to be discriminatory, so I’m not surprised that your HR is anxious.

        1. BethDH*

          I also work in a very similar field and can add that I bet HR is shared and mostly works with offices/depts where something like this would absolutely be because the person writing the description thinks it’s “respectable.”
          We could (and have) pushed back on some, but when you work in a field where a lot of people already assume they don’t belong because of race, ethnicity, or cultural norms, you’re wary about sending unintended dog whistles that “your kind” doesn’t belong here.
          Add to that the hiring of students, which is a whole other level of people who might read between the lines in unintended ways, and I really don’t think OP is overthinking it.
          I like the idea of an info sheet — better yet, put it online as something for people considering the role in general along with things like hand lotion (and perhaps why we don’t wear gloves in this field anymore — there are some great memes) and you’d help not just with that role but general knowledge about the field.

          1. tra la la*

            Yes! Good idea about the website (oh, the gloves thing…) And yes, given the racial makeup of the field, I agree that OP isn’t overthinking this. I was thinking that being sure to keep the focus on *protecting the materials* and including other, less dogwhistle-ly information would hopefully keep the discussion on “what this job involves” rather than on policing appearance.

            I’ve certainly interviewed for jobs where I’ve been sent information in advance of the interview or been directed to a specific page of their website — seems like information like this could be distributed to interviewees in advance pretty easily.

      2. Nat*

        Yes this, I always have this exact situation with my hair, I change the colour regularly & it’s never particularly natural (usually it’s fine because I work in music & no one cares) but for the right job that required it I would be fine dyeing it a more normal colour, I’m just not going to do that for an interview that might not work out? I usually mention it in the interview, that it’s not a dealbreaker & I’m not THAT attached to my hair colour, & I think if the nails were mentioned either in the ad or during the interview you’d find a lot of people you might rule out because of their nails would say something similar.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I disagree strongly with your HR decision. I would treat this as a part of the dress code. E.g. “Lab staff must wear a lab coat, steel-toed shoes, and a hair net. Latex gloves will be required for anyone who has painted or long fingernails.” This is fair to students who have a latex allerg, and appealing to those of us who prefer to live without makeup.
          It’s also more fair to women who have been told that cosmetics are required for a woman to appear professional — especially for interviews–much like wearing a dress suit with pantyhose and heels.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Also I’m curious what materials you’re working with. My mind jumped to museums, or stored scientific samples. And everyone else seems to have assumed paper.

            1. BethDH*

              As someone who works with both museums and archives, I went to documents because the museums I work with use cloth gloves by default, not bare hands or latex gloves, but bare hands are now/becoming the norm in archives. I can’t speak to the scientific part though.

              1. Dust Bunny*

                Archives assistant here: Cloth gloves are more abrasive than skin and can damage some materials if they’re used often. We offer them since most of our patrons don’t spend a lot of time handling our (photographs and papers, mostly) but we are also fine with them simply washing and drying their hands thoroughly to remove oils (either natural skin oils or applied lotions), and then handling most items without gloves.

                I have to think that my supervisor would not want me to wear significant makeup, especially intensely-pigmented lipstick, etc., but since nobody in our department wears it to work, anyway, and neither do most of our patrons, it’s never been an issue.

                But this shouldn’t be that big a deal. It’s very normal for specific jobs to have certain grooming limitations. When I worked for a veterinarian we had to wear small post earrings, or remove them entirely, because a frightened animal can easily hook jewelry with its claws and really tear you up. And long nails weren’t specifically banned but they would have been really impractical and hard to keep clean, and we could have been asked to remove them if they interfered with the job (but, again–nobody was wearing them so it never came up).

                1. Dust Bunny*

                  But also–don’t rule people out based on their nails. Simply explain the grooming guidelines and let them decide if that’s not workable for them.

                2. anon for this*

                  When I worked as a student worker scanning in archival photos, I had to constant wash my hands, nails needed them to be short.

            2. SpatulaCity*

              I had a summer job during college at a precision optics manufacturer, thin-film coatings. No, not eyeglasses. UV/Vis/IR scientific instrumentation, such as machine vision, cameras, lasers, satellites. At my interview, I thought it odd to be told no makeup, perfume, jewelry, or hand lotion, thinking that it was commentary on my appearance at the interview. (Young and inexperienced female college student, but rarely used any of those prohibited items. No printed job opening, referred by phone through college job center.) But, I was told that the lotions and makeup could rub off and contaminate the surfaces of the materials I was handling (much like skin oils or spittle could), and the perfumes and lotions could also outgas and also get into/under the coatings, making the optics not work (or at least have a cosmetic blemish), while rings/jewelry could scratch the delicate optics, so these grooming rules made sense to me. Yes, we could wear cotton gloves, but those often left behind dust to clean off. Nitrile or latex gloves were acceptable, but often left hands sweaty. Most people used finger cots (we joked of them as finger condoms – rolled latex that would just cover a finger), and changed them often. (Some materials were OK to use bare fingers, but the annoyance to clean the finger oils off afterwards often meant it easier to just use the cots/gloves in the first place.) I think the main reason I thought the mention in the interview was weird was that my daily supervisor would use a bottle of hand lotion a week… (So the “rules” weren’t enforced.) (I returned after college and was there for ~10 years, btw.)

            1. Nanani*

              If it really really requires makeup, hire makeup artists to put it on the person who will on camera or whatever the reason for requiring it is.
              If it would be ridiculous to have makeup artists on staff, the job doesn’t really require makeup now does it?

          2. Clisby*

            I don’t understand why gloves wouldn’t be required of anyone handling archival material (I’m thinking of paper material here.) Wouldn’t ordinary skin oils be bad for the paper?

            1. Wendy*

              If you don’t wash your hands thoroughly enough, yes, but gloves can be bad for paper too in different ways. A lot depends on what you’re handling, what the climate control requirements are, how often things are moved and handled, etc.

            2. Arts Akimbo*

              Yes, and the acidity of human skin will also damage archive materials. It’s weird to me that they don’t already require gloves.

            3. A Library Person*

              One major problem with gloves, especially cloth gloves, is that you lose the nuances of touch that tell you how you’re handling the material. You’re more likely to cause damage by, say, squeezing to hard or ripping off a corner when you can’t directly feel what’s happening to the paper.

          3. Ace in the Hole*

            Yes, exactly.

            I work in an extremely male-dominated field. We also are constantly working around equipment that means long flowing hair and skirts are a serious safety hazard. It is not in any way discriminatory to tell people that their hair must be kept short or tied up and they must wear pants while working, even though it does put some serious limits on gender expression at work. The key thing is that these limits are not arbitrary… there is a tangible, important reason for them. The same is true in LW’s case: presumably they’re not telling employees they can’t wear feminine clothing, earrings, hairstyles, or makeup. They are only placing a restriction on the specific, narrow part of their physical appearance that is directly related to performing their job duties.

            It WOULD be discriminatory for us to reject a candidate for coming to the interview in a skirt with their hair down on the basis that we don’t allow it on the job. We also don’t allow dress shoes or neckties on the job, but people interview in those all the time. But it’s fine to clarify in the interview (with EVERY candidate, not just femme-presenting ones!) what the dress code is and be explicit about requirements for short unpainted fingernails.

            I’ll also add that there are a lot of jobs that have this same requirement. For example, short unpainted fingernails are a requirement for food handlers and a lot of medical personnel for safety reasons. It’s not an unusual rule at all.

      3. triceratops*

        I totally agree with this! I would also add, if wearing protective gloves is an appropriate alternative for folks in this role (as indicated in the letter), OP should include that information as well. I wear fake nails to prevent nail biting and would prefer not to take them off for a job, but would be totally fine to wear gloves while working with delicate materials and think it would be kind to know this in advance :)

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Yep, I’ve worked a job where I wore gloves all day, and it wasn’t a big deal to me. But I’ve also worked in a historical archive, and I would think that they could just wear cotton glove liners, which would be a lot more comfortable and less sweaty for all-day wear. Either way, the employee should be able to choose among the acceptable options.

          1. PostalMixup*

            I have a former coworker who got eczema on her hands. She wore the cotton gloves underneath the nitrile gloves. I’ve done that when digging through ultra-cold freezers, and it’s reasonably comfortable, although you do lose some dexterity.

        2. wittyrepartee*

          I’m thinking it might also be a good idea to provide a “smooth gel tip” option as well. I assume the non-transferring nail decor that people can use is a gel tip, as they’re cured and really hang onto the nail. Just say “if you want decorated nails, they will need to be gel tips with no rough edges from jewels or anything similar.”

      4. OP2 (2021-08-23)*

        Hi, OP #2 here! I agree that giving candidates an info sheet ahead of the interview containing the workplace culture section of the student handbook I wrote up (which includes food/drink restrictions, security requirements, being respectful to colleagues and supervisors, etc.) is a great system to adopt. While I have sometimes brought up candidates’ nails in the interview to see if they’re willing to change them, sometimes I chicken out because of my aforementioned worries about how this information will be taken by the interviewees. What finally prompted me to write in is an interview I conducted last week, which was with a very femme student of color who used he/him pronouns and had 2-inch pointed, natural nails with beautiful salon polish. He understandably did not want to cut them as they were a big part of his gender presentation and took a long time to grow! That amplified my worries that this requirement could be perceived as discriminatory and I had a ton of empathy for him because I am sometimes told that I should dress more feminine to get ahead!

        Also just a heads up that my pronouns are they/them since I see some “she’s” down-thread :)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It is understandable! And great idea to give the sheet before the interview – that saves everyone a bunch of time if it’s not workable.

          (Thank you for sharing your pronouns! Commentariat defaults to she if the gender isn’t known, and this comment might get buried so I just wanted to formally acknowledge your clarification)

        2. Starbuck*

          If it’s a bona fide requirement of the job to have short, unpainted nails or wear gloves (and it sounds like it is), it’s not discriminatory to bring it up as a requirement. It would be a big help to everyone to include it somewhere in the posting so that people whose long painted nails are dearly important to them don’t waste their time applying and interviewing.

        3. Chaordic One*

          In addition to sending the info sheet to prospective employees (maybe email it to them), you might consider bringing up the job requirements in a pre-screening phone call. (So many times job seekers don’t read the details of the job description and apply for any and everything.) It would give applicants another opportunity to opt out if the requirements are a deal breaker.

          Also, aren’t there a lot of other options out there for gloves? Various latex-like materials that are less likely to cause allergic reactions and that are less bulky than cotton?

          1. workswitholdstuff*

            They can still cause damage to the archival materials.

            Honestly, for most things in an archive, clean dry hands are much better.

    2. Liv*

      Yeah it’s really weird to assume people with long/painted nails in an interview wouldn’t be prepared to either cut them/take the polish off or wear gloves if they got the job. All you need to do is when interviewing say ‘this job requires X because of Y is that a problem?’

      1. Anonys*

        Yeah and similarly just because someone has short unpainted nails in an interview doesnt mean that they never like to wear their nails long and colourful. I usually opt for neutral or no polish for interviews but do regularly wear nail polish. I think this is the main mistake that OP is making that makes this feel discriminatory -she shouldnt “bring up a candiates nails” in the interview but just bring up the nail thing in general with all interviewees. I think an info sheet is a good idea but I would also mention again in the interview that this is really important just to make sure the cadidate didnt just skim read.

        1. caps22*

          I normally do not paint my usually short fingernails (toes are a different story), but for an interview, I usually paint them something neutral just to look more polished (pun unavoidable). I’d hate to be selected out for something I can change without knowing about it so that I could decide if it’s something I’m willing to do, same as if there is a dress code or similar.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            Me, too! I don’t typically wear polish anymore, my job in person requires lot of hand sanitizing and it just dried everything out and made the polish wear out quicker, I felt. But on interviews, I almost always have polish because I just feel it looks neater.

            I am perfectly happy to remove it if a job requires it. I would really hate for someone to see me for an interview and go “Oh she has nail polish, obviously she’ll never take it off.”

            I’ve interviewed for some positions with my hair down, and my hair goes nearly down to my hips. Some jobs have said “We recommend tying your hair back.” Okay, cool! That’s all I need to know!

            1. Here we go again*

              I don’t wear nails or polish because I don’t like the upkeep. And always looks like crap after a day of gardening or painting playing guitar. But so many jobs require this, such as food service or healthcare. That it’s not discriminatory at all.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Same. I usually wear short acrylic nails that I’d be happy to pop off if they were a problem! It’s not a tattoo or something hard to change like hair color. It’s very normal to change your nails frequently and I don’t think most candidates would care, especially once you explain the reasoning. And if they do they wear gloves, easy.

        2. Observer*

          she shouldnt “bring up a candiates nails” in the interview but just bring up the nail thing in general with all interviewees.

          This. 100%

          And I do mean *ALL* – regardless of gender, presentation, ethnicity etc. Put this (and related information) in your boilerplate for the email that confirms the first interview, bring it up at the first interview and if you are really worried, confirm that this is part of the package at the offer stage.

          1. PeanutButter*

            > regardless of gender, presentation, ethnicity etc.

            Yep – it’s becoming more and more fashionable for men to wear nail polish as well, I’ve seen otherwise very conservatively dressed men in my conservative area of the country wear it. If someone hasn’t grown up wearing nail polish I would expect them to make more mistakes about what sort of things they need to account for. I know “don’t wear polish if you’re working with food or delicate materials” was drummed into me and my friends as tweens/teens even when we didn’t wear polish, because we were girls. But I have the sneaking suspicion people who grew up male-presenting didn’t have that as much, and therefore might not think about it.

      2. Allison*

        Absolutely! If I come to an interview with long, polished nails, I’d so much rather hear “this job will require you to keep your nails short and unpolished, is that a guideline you’re willing to follow?” than have the interviewer act like my nails aren’t a problem, make me think I’m a decent candidate based on my experience and whatnot, only to reject me purely due to my nails.

    3. Hrodvitnir*

      Absolutely this! My background is in jobs where this is the case, and I’d never assume someone who came into an interview like that was unwilling to change it.

    4. GNG*

      Totally agree. Discuss this as a requirement in the interview, and enforce it on the job – you might need to send them home without pay if they showed up on their shift with nails outside of the requirement.

      I agree with Alison that you’re overthinking it – your personal experience with nail polish or long nails have nothing to do with this.

      1. Annony*

        Or just hand them a pair of gloves. I wear gloves for most of the day and while it can be annoying it is entirely doable. If they really want to paint their nails, they can put on a pair of gloves. If they find the gloves annoying, they can come in without nail polish the next day.

        1. FL*

          Yes. I was surprised by how quickly the glove option was dismissed in the OP. At least ask people if they’re willing to wear the gloves; don’t just assume they won’t. I used to have a job where I wore gloves all day and it wasn’t a big deal.

          1. workswitholdstuff*

            Gloves cause damage too!

            Honestly, if people want to work in the sector, I expect them to abide by the best-practice for looking after the objects.

            People might not know pre-interview, but I do think reminding them in interview is best. Candidates can self-select out if it’s a deal-breaker.

            But they don’t get to put their personal style preferences over the care of the objects…

      2. Quickbeam*

        Yes this. In my job as a nurse on a pediatric unit, nurses were sent home who came in ith acrylics or long nails. They are not compatable with the work.

        1. JustaTech*

          I work in biomedical manufacturing and we’re very clear upfront that in the clean rooms you can not wear acrylic nails or any kind of nail polish (the acrylics can damage your gloves, and the polish can flake). You also can’t wear any kind of makeup because it could flake off, but everyone is encouraged to wear lotion – to reduce skin flaking.

          When you are super clear about the reason *first* (“we can’t risk particulates in this room”) then the rules like “no nails or makeup” are more understandable. (Although they do mainly apply to women, but since the reason is the same for everyone, it’s not a sexist rule, it’s just that we live in a gendered society.)

    5. Anonymous pineapple*

      This. People also might have painted nails in the interview because they read advice somewhere that it looks more professional/put together to have pink/neutral/clear polish on rather than bare nails. They might not even paint their nails regularly.

      1. LavaLamp*

        I have long nails that I paint frequently. Mine are natural. I can just use some acetone and a nail clipper. Fake nails (acrylic/gel) are best removed at a salon so you don’t damage your natural nail and so it doesn’t hurt. I”m not saying pay to have them removed, but I do want to point out that it’s not something you can generally do yourself depending on materials used to create the artificial nail.

        I honestly would approach this in two ways. Put it in the job ad or bring it up in the interview because this while being a genuine requirement is still odd, and you want to give people the info upfront. I personally wouldn’t want to work somewhere where I can’t paint my nails, but not everyone feels that way, and I also understand why it’s a requirement.

        It also might be more feasible to just have everyone wear gloves and just mandate that nails can’t be super long.

        1. Liz*

          Oof, this takes me right back to my community theatre days! We had a wardrobe department who were an odd combination of being both utterly draconian but wildly inconsistent. (They would do things like kit someone out for a Victorian era play in a 1990s bridesmaid dress but insisted they couldn’t wear the only pair of gloves that fit because “those are Nylon and they didn’t have Nylon in 1880!”) Soneone from wardrobe discovered *on the night* of a play that I was wearing clear Shellac and started yelling at me to take it off. I explained that it was Shellac and it didn’t come off and she just kept repeating “oh but you MUST!” like if she insisted hard enough it would change the chemical consistency of the polish. Absolutely nobody else cared or indeed noticed.

          If this is a requirement for the job, it would fall under dress code, so I would see that it appears clearly in some documentation prior to people starting and/or ideally *before* accepting the job. Don’t use any gendered language as people of all genders may paint their nails – just approach it the same way you would hard hats and boots on a building site. Make everybody aware – the fact that somebody is wearing polish/acrylics in an interview tells you little, because someone may paint their nails between interviewing and starting, so put this info out there in advance, to everybody.

          1. Observer*

            Don’t use any gendered language as people of all genders may paint their nails – just approach it the same way you would hard hats and boots on a building site


          2. wittyrepartee*

            It can probably be lumped in with “you will need to wash your hands before handling the materials” and “you should avoid wearing clothing that could bleed, heavily pigmented hair dye and makeup, and strong colognes or perfumes.”

        2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          Some people have problems wearing those types of gloves for long periods. My hands get hot and swell up in them, which defeats the purpose for a job like this because then I’m rather clumsy. Plus, it’s difficult to feel some types of paper in those gloves.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            That can be affected by the type of glove that’s allowed. Latex, nitrile, and vinyl all have quite different experiences in wearing. And if cotton is acceptable, obviously that’s another experience entirely.

            1. Annony*

              Even within the glove types there is a lot of variation. Some nitrile gloves really irritate my hands while others are fine. It can really be trial and error to find a good brand but it is usually possible.

              1. quill*

                Also some nitrile and latex gloves shed a powder, which may not be any good for documents. And switching a glove supplier can be hell and a half…

          2. Lacey*

            Yeah, I can’t wear them for long either. I have super sensitive skin and any kind of latex like glove is a problem for me.

        3. Daisy*

          I don’t think it’s particularly unusual – every bar/ restaurant job I’ve ever had specified short unpainted nails in the dress code (although some didn’t really enforce it)

        4. Observer*

          It also might be more feasible to just have everyone wear gloves and just mandate that nails can’t be super long.

          The OP addresses that, though. Sometimes the hit to dexterity means that gloves are not useful.

          I find that every easy to believe. I’m not an archivist, nor anything related to that. But I’ve handled very fragile documents a time or two, and if I had been wearing gloves it would have been impossible. Also, my computer days go back to popping RAM chips into and out of mother boards. I’m not talking about the sticks with chips soldered on, I’m talking about chips with their centipede-like “legs”. Depending on the specifics, wearing gloves, even latex, would have gotten in the way as you REALLY needed every bit of manual dexterity you could get.

        5. MCMonkeyBean*

          I don’t think it’s odd at all, I’ve heard of tons of jobs where this is a pretty common requirement in fields like nursing or food services or plenty of other jobs that involve having your hands in places where you would not want a little chip of polish to end up (not saying all of those jobs require it, but it’s definitely not unusual to do so). It sounds perfectly logical and reasonable for this particular job.

      2. Bagpuss*

        This. I normally have short nails and rarely wear nail polish, but might very well wear clear polish for an interview.

        I agree that the requirement needs to be explicitly stated, with in the ad or in an information sheet. Ideally send the sheet out when you confirm the interview, that way, if the nail requirements, or anything else, are deal breakers, the application can cancel the interview nd avoid wasting their, and your, time.

        I think if it is phrased along the lines of :

        “The role involves working with delicate historical document and artifacts, and to avoid the risk of damage, while working, you cannot
        i) wear nail polish (including neutral colors) or false nails
        ii) have long nails (whether natural or artificial)
        ii) use hand lotion
        iv) etc etc
        It may be possible to wear latex gloves while handling delicate materials as an alternative to removing nail polish or false nails, or when hand lotion has been used, however, short nails are a requirement even when wearing gloves ”

        Then it is explicitly clear what the requirements are, and why, and if you are sending it to all applicants (better still, including it in the job ad / job description) then it should be clear that it is a general requirement and not in any way discriminatory

        1. OhNoYouDidn't*

          Agree. Not to mention that some men also wear nail polish nowadays. To me this has nothing to do with gender expression and everything to do with what’s needed on the job. Construction sites require steel-toed-boots, regardless of one’s gender and the way they want to express their gender. Agree to wear them, or work somewhere else. It’s the same with the nails and hand lotion. There may be a small number of

          1. OhNoYouDidn't*

            OOPS… there may be a small number of people who take offense for the reasons the writer expressed concern. But, if someone is that easily offended and unable to see the practical reasons for the requirements, that’s not someone I’d want to hire anyway.

    6. Mami21*

      Definitely agree. Also, seeing as the OP has never had long nails personally, I’m not sure why they’re so adamant that it would affect manual dexterity. Sure, Cardi-B-length talons could present an issue, but I’ve had long natural nails all my life and I’m so used to them that clipping them super short would definitely affect my dexterity in a negative way.

      1. Amaranth*

        I had the impression the issue is that long nails are more likely to brush against materials and possibly scuff or scratch them, along with the smudging of nail polish. The part that sounds off to me is OP is going by ‘common wisdom’ so its unclear if they’ve actually had problems at their archive. I agree they are overthinking though. So workers don’t like wearing gloves? Well, its required for the job. However, it sounds like wearing gloves wasn’t an option taken with the gem-studded employee?

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            I don’t think so. After all I worked in food service in various jobs and no one forgot their gloves when cooking. And I worked with 17-21 year olds.

            1. Workerbee*

              Exactly. It is part of the process of doing the job and so isn’t a step you just forget.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            Not if they work in an environment that uses them regularly. You get used to wearing them and feel naked without them.

            I’m definitely not OCD but I am a frequent hand-washer because I’ve had a string of jobs that involved washing hands after touching pretty much anything and now that it’s muscle-memory it just feels weird not to.

          3. wittyrepartee*

            Having worked in a lab all through university- no, you remember when it’s part of the job.

        1. Myrin*

          The “common wisdom” sentence goes “It is common wisdom in my field that painted nails [are] a no-go”; I assumed the second part of that sentence (about the smudging) was to explain the reason for why this is common wisdom because it (the smudging) is a thing that happened in the past. (Which I can concur, btw, as someone who worked with medieval manuscripts for years.)

        2. Anastasia*

          Gloves aren’t necessarily a good option with delicate work; some beekeepers even choose not to wear protective gloves, because they make it that much harder to not smush the bees. A similar principle might apply with delicate papers.

          1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

            You are correct. Former art handler and archive technician. What you use depends on the artwork or material. Cotton gloves are a no-fly on smooth surfaces like ceramics or wood. Many conservators don’t wear gloves but instead opt for clean hands. When I worked with a collection that was mostly onion skin (think really fragile tracing paper), it was bare hands and a micro spatula.

            Quick story for anyone who is wondering why no nail polish- someone I went to school with dragged her fingernails over a series of historic correspondence and it looked like a kid drew crayon lines on the paper. No clue what type of polish she wore. Poor handling aside (she wasn’t good at her job), such is the havoc nail polish could cause.

          2. quill*

            Yeah, when I assisted my grandpa I was wrapped up like a bee-repelling bank vault, but he just spritzed the bees and scooped them off the frames with his bare hands. I got to hold the smoker.

            Of course, he was the kind of guy who went out to swarm removal sites and just picked up the queen and put her in a bucket.

        3. LadyHD*

          Gloves are there mainly to protect items from oils, dirt, etc on your hands. The materials vary but they’re generally soft, so something hard like a gem is can scratch things perfectly fine through gloves.

        4. Colette*

          I doubt latex gloves would solve the problem for that employee – the gems would likely cut through the glove.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Only if they’re cut to a sharp edge. Decent quality latex gloves aren’t that fragile.

          2. RetailEscapee*

            I’ve never had a stone on long acrylics that was sharp enough to cut through a glove. But if I was concerned I had somehow picked razor stones for that set I would put a cotton ball around that nail before gloving up.

            1. quill*

              As someone who has worked places where you’ve gotta change gloves frequently, that sounds unpractical.

              Also disposable gloves tear pretty easily if stretched along a thin ridge: I’ve definitely torn through them before with just natural short nails from pulling too hard, so I would assume there’s potential to tear through them with acrylics that extend beyond the fingertips, especially if they’re square shaped and therefore have corners.

              1. judyjudyjudy*

                I don’t know what kind of gloves you were wearing, but I wear nitrile gloves 6-8 hours a day with natural, short nails with square corners and this has literally never happened to me.

                1. workswitholdstuff*

                  Working in museums and archives, I’ve certainly had my share of ‘fingers through gloves’.

                2. judyjudyjudy*

                  Sure…but that didn’t stop you from wearing gloves. The solution to a glove tear is to stop what you are doing and get a new glove. If the LW wants to offer options, I think it would be possible to ask the student workers to go without nail polish or wear gloves. I don’t think “gloves tear sometimes” is a reason to not offer that option.

            2. JustaTech*

              I know acrylic nails are not allowed for anyone who does surgery because the edge of the acrylic nail will wear microscopic holes through the gloves (contamination/infection risk). I don’t know if they will eventually straight-up tear the glove.

      2. MK*

        Having long nails doesn’t make everyday tasks difficult but it certainly affects how you hold things; you unconsciously accommodate your mails when you grab something. That isn’t possible when handling antiquities, you need to handle them in the safest way for the artifact, not your nails. My sister is a conservator and she immediately cuts her long nails whenever she gets s job at a lab, and it doesn’t affect her dexterity in a negative way.

        Also, the OP is working in this specialized field, and she has done her due diligence about the best practices, as she specifically mentions. She isn’t basing this on her own experience.

        1. Jessica*

          It can if they’re long enough! When I was a bank teller we had one customer with major talons, like more than 1″ long, and if you put her change down instead of handing it to her, she had a heck of a time getting it. She had to rake it off the counter with the side of one hand and catch it in her other hand, because she couldn’t pick up a coin from the counter with her nails.

          1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

            I was in the hospital several years ago and needed to be catheterized. The nurse assistant who did it had super long nails, and although she wore gloves, I could feel those claws, plus it took her FOREVER to insert it because she couldn’t get the necessary grip.

            1. MissBaudelaire*

              I remember when it used to be super popular for nurses and CNAs and CMAs to have those long acrylic nails. Then they did some study about all the bacteria and nastiness that lives under them. Shudder.

            2. Butterfly Counter*

              Oh my god.

              I would take one look at the nails and where she was going with that catheter and scream bloody murder.

              Long nails freak me out anyway, so this would be a nightmare!

            3. Donovanable*

              yeah, I was going to comment elsewhere—I’m not a medical employee but I work adjacent to the medical field in a hospital (and have at multiple hospitals in my career). It’s incredibly common for there to be limits on manicures, nail length, etc as a condition of employment.

              I dont really do my nails so I’ve never quite kept track of best practices, but I think there’s a maximum length, a hard no for acrylics, and some other kind (powder dip?) is also banned.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          We had to have short nails while working in the lab and it was pointed out right at the start that this was every bit a part of the job as being able to sit on a lab stool for hours at a time and wear a mask/other stuff.

      3. LadyHD*

        Why would anyone defer to the judgment of a student who has limited to no experience handling historical items over the standards of the field? Particularly when the potential outcome of their misjudgment is damaging something literally irreplaceable, versus cutting nails that grow back.

      4. Observer*

        lso, seeing as the OP has never had long nails personally, I’m not sure why they’re so adamant that it would affect manual dexterity.

        That’s why the OP checked with an outside expert.

        From personal experience I can say that when you need delicate handling you need to be able to use the actual tips of your fingers, not just the pad (think of the area when you take a fingerprint). Long nails absolutely make it harder to do that.

      5. JustaTech*

        I had a coworker in a clean room who wore very long acrylic nails and it was an issue for one step where she had to put caps on some very small vials. She always managed to make it work, but the one time she did it after removing her nails it was obvious how much easier it was for her.

        As with all questions of manual dexterity, YMMV.

    7. SaintPaulGal*

      The letter writer also said that “certain kinds of hardened polish” are fine. My guess is that that represents…oh…95% plus of her nail-polish-wearing candidates. Gel polish and dipping powder are both hardened with a UV light reaction. Nail salons don’t typically even offer old-school air-dry polish anymore. And every single person I know who enjoys doing their nails regularly for themselves outside of a nail salon has a home version of the UV light so they can do it the way salons do.

      If it’s fine to have the hardened stuff, just say that. It will probably make this a non-issue.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The OP presumably doesn’t want to be in the position of having to know what kind of polish someone is wearing and verifying that, given the potential risk to their materials. Let’s not second-guess a rule that she says is common in her field.

        For what it’s worth, though, loads of salons still have air-dry polish. All ones I go to do (I like to rotate through them).

        1. UKDancer*

          I can confirm my salon definitely does have traditional polish which is what I tend to use and so do the 2 spas I’ve been to this year. Shellac and gel are more popular but they do have enough people (me included) who don’t like longer lasting things. I gather given the uncertainties over lockdown a fair number of people preferred varnish they could easily remove themselves as salons have been open and shut a fair bit during the past year.

          Also I’ve never had a UV light in my life. I paint my nails, put a podcast or audio book on and sit my chair while it dries. I find makes like NailsINC and OPI dry fast enough as it is.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Every nail salon I have been to has offered rows and rows of traditional polish, which I prefer because I can remove it myself.

            Were I OP, I would definitely not view asking people to self-assess whether their polish is The Good Kind or The Bad Kind as a workable solution–people are going to guess The Good Kind. They might even be utterly sincere and working off some actual knowledge, and yet wrong.

            (I’d put this in the ad, like lifting boxes or climbing ladders–it’s a physical requirement to do the job.)

            1. Anonymous pineapple*

              Many brands market lines of air dry polish as “gel effect” and similar names when it is not actually UV-polimerized gel, which would cause confusion too.

        2. ecnaseener*

          Yeah it would be one thing for a full time permanent worker in the field to research & pay for the right kind of polish and clear that with their supervisor. It’s quite another thing to trust your random student workers with that same responsibility.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            Yeah, if I was a permanent worker, I would likely invest in the appropriate polish were it something I wanted. A student worker, minimum wage, quarter time? That wouldn’t be in my budget.

      2. Jessica*

        I also think, particularly among a student population, there might well be people who have $3 for a bottle of nail polish but not $40 for a UV drying light. Maybe not every single person you know, but are the people you know poor?

      3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        I’ve had gel polish rub off on things, so not sure it’s the exception.

        Also, FWIW I think you might be over-estimating the popularity of gel — 95% seems high!

      4. TechWorker*

        Clearly we know different people lol, I don’t regularly paint my nails but do sometimes and I’ve got friends who are similar, as far as I know none of us use a UV light…

      5. Knope Knope Knope*

        I have naturally long, strong nails. 30+ years of regular polish here and I’ll never change of buy a UV light for my hike. Regular polish is at every salon and drug store I go to and have never once encountered the slightest difficulty finding it in the US or Europe (have lived in both).

        1. PT*

          UV nail lights cause people to get skin cancer around their fingertips and nail beds, they are not great for your health.

      6. cassielfsw*

        “Nail salons don’t typically even offer old-school air-dry polish anymore. And every single person I know who enjoys doing their nails regularly for themselves outside of a nail salon has a home version of the UV light so they can do it the way salons do.”

        I do my nails myself so it’s not like I frequent salons, but I don’t think I’ve been in one that didn’t have regular polish. I use regular polish at home and am definitely not alone in that either.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          I got mine and my daughter’s nails done this summer for a wedding. I think all the polish they recommended for my seven year old was air dry? They had rows of it. I’m almost positive the glitter polish she picked out was regular air dry.

        2. Gray Lady*

          Every supermarket, non-professional beauty supply store, big box GM retailer, discount store, and even dollar store, does not have multiple rows of regular nail polish because 95% of people get gel polish in salons! It’s because that’s where most people buy it.

      7. Eldritch Office Worker*

        A lot of people don’t like UV set polish because of the UV light exposure and the damage to nails, and air dry polish is still very common. Let’s not overgeneralize.

        1. LSC*

          Exactly! Gel polish is terrible for the health of your nails. Tried it once and never will again – all my nails ended up breaking. My dermatologist very strongly recommends against it.

          1. londonedit*

            Yeah, I have used gel polish for my toenails, because my toenails are horrendous anyway and I need some serious polish to cover up my runner’s toes, but I wouldn’t use gel on my fingernails.

      8. Lacey*

        Oh goodness, not the salons I go to! I’d love to get gel polish but they charge extra for it and have only 10 color options – compared to the over 100 regular polish colors on their walls.

      9. penny dreadful analyzer*

        I don’t know what painfully trendy city you live in, but where I am this is *wildly* untrue.

        1. Gracely*

          Yeah, I get mani/pedis on the regular and go to lots of different salons in multiple cities (it’s a thing my friends and I like to do when we visit each other), and while the salons definitely push gel/shellac nails and sns and the like, they absolutely all have and routinely do regular air-dry nails. Even the ones with tons of available colors in gel/sns tend to have *more* colors available in regular nail polish.

          Some people who do lots of nail art (me) even prefer air-dry because you can so easily wipe it off; gel is hell to take off on a frequent basis. I only get gel or sns if I’m having them done for an event like a wedding or something where I don’t want to worry at all about touch-ups.

      10. Observer*

        Nail salons don’t typically even offer old-school air-dry polish anymore

        As others have noted, that is far from the case. In addition, not everyone who wears nail polish goes to salons to have their nails done. Even pre-covid.

        1. Mannequin*

          I only went to salons for acrylics, because I don’t have the manual dexterity to do them myself (and even then, 90% of the time it was my best friend who’d been working as an silt tech since the 80s.) Anything else, I did at home, and have all my life.
          I had Depression era parents who NEVER went to salons or barbers- my mom colored, set, & styled her own hair, did her own brows & nails- and always looked beautiful. She cut my dad’s hair the entire time they were married, and my brother & I too- and not a bowl cut in sight, even though it was the 70s and they were totally popular. My first visit to a salon was when I was 14 and wanted feathered bangs.
          My mom taught my how to do a proper manicure when I was in middle school, but I have paper thin nails that tear easily and that NO polish wants to stick to, so I never saw the point in paying money (that I couldn’t afford anyway) to get a manicure that would last me 2 days MAX before it started to chip.

      11. Temperance*

        Every single nail salon in my neighborhood (there are at least 5) still offers regular polish.

      12. quill*

        OP can’t tell on sight what type of polish is used, and if the problem is chemical compatibility it might not be solved entirely by UV hardening. More sensible to stick with the non-polish route, I think.

        1. thisgirlhere*

          I thought the exact same thing that no one gets air dry anymore. It must be regional. I wonder if SNS would be ok though. If so, I think OP should mention that. It does seem that this rule would overly impact women and women of color more specifically.

          1. quill*

            Yes, though stating the job requirements upfront is FAR less of a disproportionate impact than making judgements based on what someone does to their nails for an interview.

          2. Mannequin*

            I’m in SoCal, little nail salons are EVERYWHERE, and they all offer air dry polish. They often do push the gels etc hard though.

    8. Ella*

      Yeah, I thought this was weird. Why not just say to them it’s a requirement and ask if that’s OK? I might get my nails done when I’m going on holiday, have an event, or feel like I should be dressed up for something (like a job interview!), but I wouldn’t normally and would want to know if a potential job was assuming my one off was my always and not considering me because of it.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. I paint my nails when I feel like it and have the time. I can go for periods without painting them but for an interview or a posh event I probably would. If I had a job where painted nails weren’t allowed I’d be fine with not painting them. I think it’s best just to tell everyone who attends for an interview about the requirement and also send written information.

        I’d agree you can’t assume that just because someone has painted nails for an interview that they’d have a problem not painting them or cutting them. Likewise if someone doesn’t have painted nails at interview, they might paint them the rest of the time. The fairest thing is to tell everyone about this and treat them the same.

    9. Akcipitrokulo*

      This. I wear nail polish almost exclusively for occasions like interviews!

      Advice is often to be polished for interviews, more than normal, so no need to assume “interview nails” are an issue.

    10. Laura*

      They might never have painted nails except that they are in a wedding the day after the interview! Just make sure they are aware it is a uniform requirement before they accept the position – don’t reject them just for having long nails to begin with!

      1. WS*

        +1, a friend of mine was in a wedding as a bridesmaid the weekend after interviewing for a nursing job, and had gel nails on. One of the interviewers very haughtily said, “You know those nails will have to come off,” and when my friend said, “Yes, of course, they’re just for a wedding this weekend, they’re coming off straight after that!” the interviewer warmed up considerably and she got the job. But the interviewer shouldn’t have assumed.

    11. Another Name*

      While I understand where you are coming from, I spent a couple of years visiting archives examining historical documents and you had to wear white cotton gloves (long fingernails wouldn’t fit inside them), had to check your bag at the door and they would only allow you to take in a pencil that they issued you (plus your own paper) if you wanted access to those documents. No phones allowed, no photos etc as a flash can degrade the documents.

      If you are working in that field, it’s often a given if you are dealing with fragile documents that really proscriptive conditions apply. It’s also a really big red flag if people show up wanting to work in that field who don’t know the conventions as it indicates they don’t understand the field at all. This was drilled into us by the course material even at undergraduate level.

      I agree that letting them know what the conventions are is important so they don’t miss a job opportunity, however if they don’t know it before they show up, it really does show a lack of basic knowledge of the field and the job you are applying for. If I had 3 really good candidates and one showed up with long painted fingernails, all things being equal, they’d be off the list simply because they missed an inherent requirement of the job whereas the others showed they had researched the requirements before they came.

      1. Washi*

        My understanding is that these are not necessarily students looking to enter the field, this is just a work study job, so they are much less likely to know or have done tons of research on conventions like this. I had a work study job in a library and was occasionally sent down to the archives to help scan or file historical materials, and until reading this letter hadn’t even thought about the fact that they were probably relieved to see my short, unpainted fingernails!

      2. ecnaseener*

        “they’d be off the list simply because they missed an inherent requirement of the job” …or they’re well aware of that requirement and are taking advantage of the chance to wear polish while they still can, knowing that the interview isn’t hands-on! You would seriously reject them for not following a rule that doesn’t apply in that context?

        1. Another*

          These jobs are few and far between. They are highly sought after from people in the field as a step up in what is a really limited field. There are almost no entry points and it’s really competitive. In the context, the rule totally applies unless you show up saying, I just went my / my sisters wedding, but I’ll be all good when I start.

          Having the nails, no problem, not realizing you can’t keep them and not mentioning it in the job interview can actually lose you the job. You may not think it’s fair but you still wont get the job no matter how much you complain about it.

          1. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

            From your initial comment it sounds like you’ve spent some time researching in archives but are not, yourself, a practicing archivist, so please trust me when I say that this is a really harsh and not particularly realistic viewpoint. Some archives still make their archivists use gloves, which makes this a non-issue, and a lot of archivists spend a fair amount of their time working with digital materials and writing up papers and doing grant applications and doing other things on the computer, during which time it is perfectly acceptable to have nail polish on, and it would be deeply weird for an interviewer to reject a candidate based solely on the fact that they currently happen to be wearing it. (Also, quarter-time student jobs are… not the highly-sought-after step up in the field that you seem to think they are.)

            1. An archivist*

              I agree, I’m a professional archivist with a decade of experience and have always gone to interviews with gel-painted nails (not that long but long enough to extend just beyond my fingertips). I’ve never had a hard time getting a job nor has it come up in interviews. I have my nails painted 95 percent of the time at my current position for exactly the reasons you’ve outlined: most of my job is computer-based at present. When I deal with the physical materials I wear gloves because acetate negatives require gloves to prevent fingerprinting. If I need to deal with paper artifacts I can just remove the nail polish.

              If this institution’s material requires all employees have short unpainted nails at all times, then an employee handbook link or note in the job description would be useful for even seasoned archivists as every collection/ day to day job is different.

          2. MassMatt*

            If these jobs are so highly sought after, OP would not have had such difficulty filling them with grad students in the field and looking for volunteer/minimum wage undergrads.

            I get that the documents are fragile hence the nail requirements, but realistically when an employer has little to offer in compensation etc it’s going to be harder to make unusual demands on the candidate pool.

      3. JB*

        Based on the letter, it sounds like LW is in a position where many or the most viable candidates are not familiar with the conventions of the field and are not going to be pursuing it after this position, it’s just a temporary part-time job for them.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think this specific discussion came up because they have found they are hiring more people who are NOT in this field.

        But also, kind of the point of college is *learning* about your field of interest and it’s pretty unreasonable to feel like they should already know everything about a field they haven’t actually worked in yet.

      5. Observer*

        If I had 3 really good candidates and one showed up with long painted fingernails, all things being equal, they’d be off the list simply because they missed an inherent requirement of the job whereas the others showed they had researched the requirements before they came.

        Well, especially when you are hiring entry level or STUDENT workers, you’re dealing with people who are not likely to really understand the conventions that well.

        Also, as others noted, showing up to an INTERVIEW dressed a certain way doesn’t mean that they don’t understand the needs of the job, it possibly shows that they expect that the interview is not going to be the same as the actual working set up. Like, if you are hiring for a job on a construction site, but the interview is in the office, you wouldn’t conclude that someone who comes in sandals has no idea what basic safety requites.

        1. PT*

          I had a job where I could *usually* tell who would fail the skill check based on how they showed up dressed to the interview, because it frequently aligned with how familiar they were with the field. But I always did the skill check anyway, and treated them as if they would pass it up until they failed, because sometimes that initial judgement is wrong! Sometimes people get bad advice on how to dress for interviews from their school career office or parents or their old job, or they’ve been working in the field so long their skills have atrophied. You never know until you see, and when you assume you make an ass out of u and me.

      6. A Library Person*

        There’s also a massive conversation/reckoning happening in the archives field right now about how we tend to gatekeep and how we give structural advantages to people who already “know the rules” of archives going in. It is absolutely not a red flag to me if someone demonstrates a real interest in the work but hasn’t had the opportunity to work with archival material before. Why would they know how to handle rare books? That’s precisely what these on-the-job training positions are for! I’ve been doing this for over a decade and you bet I asked an expert colleague what to do when I had to deal with glass-plate negatives for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

        Also, a lot of institutions are (correctly, in my opinion) revisiting some of those other rules you mentioned. Archives are rapidly changing, and a lot of us are taking a good hard look at ourselves and the barriers we’ve been erecting since the beginnings of the field. Your impression, sadly, isn’t wrong, but a lot of us are very much working on these issues.

    12. teapot analytics manager*

      I would also not offer the option of gloves if this is work-study, but make short unpainted nails the requirement.

      I’d be concerned that people who might not understand the rule wouldn’t be as scrupulous about not taking the gloves off when no one was around to see it.Latex gloves for an entire shift are unpleasant to wear, so I could see students who don’t understand the rule might not follow it when no one is watching.

    13. Simply the best*

      And long painted nails are definitely back in style. Even I (older, seldom in make up) have succumbed to the Simply Holo Taco lure; not for length, but since I have to strengthen mine anyway, why not a bit of sparkle? But I work in food service so I’ll have to learn the peely base routine so I can pop the polish off easily for work shifts.

      1. Forensic13*

        Oh my goodness thank you for mentioning that brand; those are amazing and I already ordered some :)

    14. MCMonkeyBean*

      For sure! They feel unreasonable asking someone to change for such a small job, but it’s their decision! If they decide they aren’t willing to cut their fingernails for the job then they can just say so and not accept it, it’s really not a big deal!

      I think OP is also just really overthinking how important nail polish is to a lot of people. I’m sure there are some to whom it matters more, but speaking as a person who owns over 700 bottles of nail polish (no exaggeration I recently did an inventory) it’s still good for me to go bare every once in a while and give them a break from all the acetone. And I would bet quite a lot of people show up to the first day of the job with nicely polished nails because they believe that is part of looking professional for the role!

    15. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

      I’m an archivist, which is, if not 100% the field OP’s in, at least VERY similar to it. I’m also much more femme than OP describes herself as being. When I’m working with physical archival materials, I would never DREAM of having polish on my nails, but when I’m working with digital materials/between jobs/doing other things that don’t require handling fragile documents for a couple of weeks, I like to get my nails done. (With the stuff that doesn’t smear, mind you, but still.) Definitely agree that rejecting candidates because they happen to have their fingernails long and/or painted during the interview would be a really weird and bad idea – based on that criteria, OP would wind up rejecting me, and I’m a professional. Also agree that OP is WAY overthinking things here. Make hiring decisions based on competency, and then let people know up front that they’ll need to have short, unpainted nails – any reasonable person is going to understand why.

      1. LadyofLasers*

        Yeah especially if you’re hiring students! They may not know the requirements upfront unlike a seasoned professional, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn without training! And yes you might have some students who push back and try to get around the rules, but I’ve also worked with some students who are very meticulous and diligent once you show them what to do. Especially if you’re transparent to the why.

    16. t-vex*

      Yes! I have long acrylic sparkly nails because it’s fun and who the heck cares but if I had to get rid of them for a job I wanted I wouldn’t think twice.

      1. t-vex*

        Come to think of it, I’d be pretty annoyed to learn I didn’t get a job based on someone’s assumptions about my nails. I am not my manicure.

    17. Velawciraptor*

      Big fan of the information sheet idea. Our office has some pretty detailed policies about vaccination and COVID testing. Rather than get into the quagmire of asking people if they’re vaccinated, I just send out the policies with the paperwork I need signed and returned before interviews. It means that anyone for whom those policies are deal-breakers can know upfront and choose not to interview with us and that those with questions can ask them at the interview.

    18. Attended College Once*

      Particularly for college students! As a former college student myself, I never had the money to maintain long painted nails – so I would go have them done for interviews and other formal occasions to make me look more polished, but 99% of the time, they were bare.

    19. generic_username*

      Agreed! I participated in an activity that required me to keep my nails short and clear during high school and college, and I always had crazy nails during off-season because it was fun. Usually I would make a thing of removing the polish and clipping my nails the day before the season began. Just make sure the employee is aware BEFORE they accept the job. I think an info sheet is a great idea; otherwise, a simple “This position requires you to have short, polish-free nails at work. Will that be an issue for you?” during the interview works too. But I’m team letting them self-select before they have to prep and attend an interview.

  2. NYWeasel*

    OP5: Your question is giving me flashbacks to making a graphic for a show that aired “Sunday at midnight” and I still can’t tell you if it was midnight bt Sat/Sun, or bt Sun/Mon, lollllll

      1. Amaranth*

        I used to teach a course in time zone calculations in the military, but even though 23:59 turns to 00:00 it still confused half the class. I blame the fact that deadlines of ‘midnight Friday’ are frequently intended to be the end of Friday night so its permeated the collective consciousness.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This is similar to the end of the century or millennium. Yes, technically it’s December 31st of the year ending in 0, not 9. But in practice grouping 1900 with 1901 and 1902 feels more cohesive. If you’re going to have a big party, you do it December 31st 1899 to January 1st 1900.

          For a deadline, I would assume “midnight Friday” means “the last minute of the day Friday.” For an invitation or a scheduled broadcast, I would choose a different time.

        2. Gothic Bee*

          I used to help design online courses for a university, and this was why all of our deadlines were always 11:59pm Friday instead of midnight Saturday (or midnight Friday) because people would get them confused.

          1. Panhandlerann*

            I did the same thing when I taught online college courses: my deadlines were 11:59 pm of whatever day, just to prevent any such confusion.

        3. No Longer Looking*

          It’s a simple colloquialism. Traditionally, Midnight is the Middle of the Night, Night follows Day, and the Day starts with the Dawn (to whit “the dawning of a new day). I will be astounded if anyone has issues with any of these statements, and following them clearly indicates that Midnight Friday is, socially speaking, the middle of the end of Friday.

          You might be technically correct to argue otherwise, but technically is the worst sort of correct, as it is almost never RIGHT, rather it is solely and only “technically correct but effectively wrong.”

        4. Becca*

          I used to watch Japanese TV shows as they aired and the really late/early ones would be listed as “24:30” or whatever. I think they went up to 25:xx, can’t remember for sure. I think someone explained it to me once as having to do with when the broadcast day was considered as starting or something? I’ve used military time on my computer since middle school but that one disoriented me a bit.

          1. Catherine*

            Some industries go even farther than that! I live in Japan and my friend who runs a bar here lists his hours as 17:00-28:00 to make it clear that he’s open through the night.

    1. Purple Princess*

      A few years ago my local cinema started doing midnight showings of new releases. For the first one, they advertised the showing at 00:00 on Thursday. Of course, me & Purple Prince (and quite a few others) showed up at 23:50 on Wednesday 10th only to find a fairly exasperated cinema employee explaining that the film was being shown the following night.

      After that, the cinema then started advertising midnight showing times as 23:55 to remove the ambiguity.

    2. Aquawoman*

      My husband runs competitions and does not make midnight the deadline for exactly that reason.

      1. Sparrow*

        When I’ve run competitions like this, I’ve specifically said, “Friday at 11:59 pm,” just to ensure there’s no confusion!

    3. A Poster Has No Name*

      If it’s a program that airs at midnight, I would assume it runs from, say, midnight to 1am, so it would be very early Sunday morning (not Monday morning). Would that be the correct interpretation?

      OTOH, if a deadline was midnight on Sunday, I would assume 11:59:59pm on Sunday, because the ending point is midnight, not the starting point, if that makes sense.

      But if you don’t mention the time zone in your job ad with a midnight deadline, GTFO.

    4. HannahS*

      My old hospital tried to solve this by using military time on the schedule…and did it wrong! My shift on the calendar was “Thursday overnight–0000-0700,” by which they meant that I was to start my shift at 12:00 a.m. Friday, and leaving at 7:00 a.m. on Friday. That is not how 24-hour clocks work! I had some very firm feedback to the department after showing up ready to work a night shift the day before.

  3. nnn*

    No one should ever, ever, ever, under any circumstances, make a deadline “midnight”! Make it 11:59 p.m. Thursday or 12:01 a.m. Friday. Or, like, 5:00 p.m. Thursday, which is your actual close of business. Or 8:00 a.m. Friday, because no one is actually going to go through the applications on Thursday night. Or any of the other 1440 minutes in a day that don’t leave people the possibility of being 24 hours off!

    1. FlyingAce*

      #5 reminds me of my days working in airline reservations and dealing with flights departing ~1 hour before/after midnight. Even though none of the flights left exactly at 0:00 and we were very clear when providing the itinerary to our customers (“your flight leaves at 12:30 am on Friday, and you need to be at the airport 2 hours before, which means 10:30 pm on Thursday”), you wouldn’t believe the amount of calls we got from customers trying to check in for their flights nearly 24 hours after they had left.

      1. FlyingAce*

        Oops, this wasn’t supposed to be nested, but at least it’s attached to a relevant comment :D

      2. Your local password resetter*

        That would trip me up too!
        12:30 just reads as 30 minutes after noon for some reason, not the start of the day.

        1. Forrest*

          I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flight time in 12-hour clock rather than 24-hours, so yeah, that would totally trip me up!

      3. German Girl*

        To be fair, as a 24 hour clock user by culture, 12:30 am or pm always throws me for a loop. How can you have more than 12 when you use a 12 hour clock?!

        And I’d have totally thought 12:30 am would be around lunch time, because it’s one hour later that 11:30 am, right?! Apparently not. Today I learned something new.

        1. paranonymous*

          I have never thought about it this way and now it’s really bothering me that 12:30 am doesn’t follow 11:30 am!

    2. Ori*

      I would assume that midnight on Friday was end of day Friday. It would never occur to me that you meant end of day Thursday.

      1. Tin Cormorant*

        In my mind, “Friday” doesn’t end until I go to sleep, and Saturday does not begin until I wake up the next day, even if the calendar technically says otherwise. I would not argue with anyone about 1AM being on the next calendar day, because the number has rolled over to the smaller numbers and I’m typically asleep by then anyway, but midnight? 100% comes after 11pm and I would look at someone funny if they ever suggested otherwise.

        1. Jessica*

          YOU ARE CORRECT, Tin Cormorant. I can’t even with stickler people who think it’s tomorrow at 12:01 am! No, it’s tomorrow after you (a) sleep, or (b) resign yourself to the fact that you won’t be sleeping tonight.

          1. Catherine*

            It is only ever tomorrow at 12:01 am for the purpose of birthday countdowns and New Year’s Eve.

        2. oirishgal*

          Yep…if i was meeting someone at midnight on Friday (as i used to do back when i was cool and go to clubs) i certainly wouldn’t expect to meet them at the end of Thursday.

          1. Elenna*

            Interestingly, I feel like “let’s meet midnight Thursday” is a lot more ambiguous than “let’s meet midnight Friday”. With the latter I’d assume end of Friday, with the former I might at least check. Probably because meeting someone at midnight is more likely to happen when there’s a weekend immediately after.

        3. Green great dragon*

          Yeh, I agree! I’ve noticed when I ask my smart speaker at, say, 12:30am Friday ‘what’s the weather tomorrow’ it very carefully says ‘the weather on Friday will be’ and doesn’t even give me Saturday’s weather. I would definitely think Friday midnight to mean I have all of Friday to get it submitted, though I now realise that is technically wrong (and also now realise why all our job ad deadlines are 11.59).

          1. No Longer Looking*

            It’s worth noting that for years and years we used to get the TV Guide (either in the paper or on the Guide channel depending on the year, or the magazine if you were fancy). In that guide, a day ran from 6:00am until 5:30am, with the following day starting up at 6:00am again. I’ve never heard a good reason not to support the TV Guide’s belief that the day starts at 6am.

        4. Irish girl*

          My dad works an overnight shift starting at 8pm until about 4 am the next day. He jsut got told he last day is Sept 30th. So the argument is which day is his last? The 29th when he starts work and it goes into the 30th? Or the 30th when he starts work and goes into Oct 1st? Same thing happens when he worked the night before a holiday. I think the company bases it off when he starts rather than when he ends which seems to be the standard for people.

        5. TootsNYC*

          oh, I used to have this argument with people all the time when I was on the yearbook staff in college. It would be 1am, and I’d say, “I have to interview the golf team tomorrow, and they’d be all alarmed, “YOU MEAN LATER TODAY!”
          I’m like, “It’s not tomorrow until the sun comes up.”

          Genesis has “And the evening and the morning were the first day,” and I’m like, “Sorry, God, this is wrong; the day starts in the morning and ends after the evening.”

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I agree, I think it’s usually a way to specify that the deadline is at the very end of the day rather than at like the end of the business day at 5 or something.

      3. Librarian1*

        Same. Midnight on Friday is 11:59pm Friday to me. or I guess technically 12:00am Saturday. Time is confusing, why doesn’t the US use 24-hour time? (I ask this as an American)

    3. Cranky lady*

      Another concern is that if I’m the hiring manager I might say to HR, “let’s close applications at midnight on Friday the 28th”. There’s a 50/50 chance that what gets entered in the application system is an end time of August 28th 00:00 which would mean no applications accepted on Friday. And then there are time zones…

      1. Bilateralrope*

        Timezones offer another solution to the ambiguity. List the time for multiple timezones. If one says midnight, the others will make it clear which midnight you’re talking about.

        But I’d just go with 23:59

        1. TechWorker*

          I’m rarely up all night, but for me: obviously I know that the next day starts around midnight, but if I say ‘I was up super late on Tuesday’ that could include being up well past midnight. If you do stay up all night then the next day starts, around dawn maybe? :p I don’t think it’s a hard line.

        2. Green great dragon*

          I’d say it becomes the next day either at my normal getting up time, or when I give up trying to get to sleep. Basically it’s Friday night until it becomes Saturday morning.

        3. Well...*

          For me it was always sunrise. Also when I was pulling all-nighters in grad school, the parking permit enforcement started at 6am, which meant I had to move my car out of the employee lot. That moment usually felt like “ok, moving my car to it’s normal spot in the student lot ~10-15min walk from the building, it’s now work the next day.” Also obligatory note of how it’s garbage that grad students who do the labor that runs the university don’t get employee parking spots.

          1. Elenna*

            I agree, it’s around sunrise when I start thinking of it as [next day] instead of [late first day].

      2. Cj*

        They are actually entering exactly what you told them to. They probably aren’t giving it much thought, but just doing the data entry with in info you gave them. Sounds like you should just avoid using midnight altogether, or if you want to accept applications on Friday, tell them the deadline is at midnight on Saturday, which would be the correct way to say it.

        Using midnight when speaking or reading can definately cause some confusion, but if you are giving somebody info for data entry, they are going to correctly enter 00:00 or 12:00 am and the date, and you’ll end up not allowing applications on Friday.

    4. Allonge*

      It also does not translate well. In my first language, midnight Friday is the last minute of Friday, not the first. And this is exactly the kind of thing that is so obvious you do not check yourself.

    5. John Smith*

      In the UK, a lot of job adverts (and other deadlines) used to state midnight, but more likely now they will state 11:59 PM or, less satisfactory, “no later than [date]” or similar.

      For what it’s worth, midnight refers to the start of the day (00:00) according to ISO 8601 (sad that I know that one) but there is no universally accepted usage of the term midnight which is where the problem lies. Giving a definitive time, such as 11:59 pm is a good solution.

      1. OP5*

        OP5 here — I encounter this very issue as a job applicant in the UK all the time, unfortunately. But it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who thinks it’s frustratingly ambiguous, especially because conventional wisdom about deadlines in particular is at odds with ISO guidance, *and yet* also a completely avoidable issue, with a very easy solution!

    6. Liz*

      I agree. My university I attended for my postgrad had this unfortunate thing where a lot of the deadlines for assignment submission were 12:00 midnight. This was only a few years ago, so this was all via an online portal that also screened for plagerism – a lot of people tried to submit in the subsequent 24 hours and got dinged.

      Made me miss the system in my undergrad 12 years previously – all assignments due at 16:00 the day of the deadline, because that was when the desk closed at the main office. And you made sure you got there by 15:30 because if it was that time of the semester when term papers were due, there would be a queue out the door. Chaos and nerve-wracking, but at least we knew where we stood (usually in a long line).

      1. Let me be dark and twisty*

        We had the 12:00 midnight requirement for my master’s program too. Students hated it so much because each professor had their own definition of what “midnight” meant. I mean, we had a policy on what size and type font to use for our papers, but we couldn’t have a policy specifying the deadline? To get our degree, we took exams rather than wrote theses or published dissertations. Exams were held over a single 48-hour period and conducted online. The deadline to submit your answers was midnight Saturday. Some people failed their exams because of the ambiguity of “midnight” and made such a fuss that they forced the administrator’s hand to establish an official program policy of the 11:59pm deadlines.

        I do not miss those days at all. There were some students who hated the midnight deadline so passionately they’d hold up class to debate what midnight really meant. (I always erred on the side of early and would get so annoyed because these debates made the professors run over and we got out of class late.)

      2. Jlynn*

        When I would put due dates on assignments for college (TA for Professor) – I always made them due at 11:59 p.m. on the day he wanted them so Friday, August 20th at 11:59 p.m.. I learned this after years of taking calls for my dad who worked for the railroad. They would call him into work and the call times were always 12:01 a.m. or p.m. (depending) to avoid the whole Midnight/noon dilemma.

    7. Butterfly Counter*

      I am an instructor and always use the 11:59pm due date.

      The additional issue is that for our campus software, this means that when the minute clicks over from 11:58 to 11:59, the link to turn something in becomes unavailable. So students thinking they had a WHOLE MINUTE still to turn something in are locked out.

      Why, yes, I am VERY MUCH looking forward to teaching again this semester…

    8. hbc*

      I think the idea of making the deadline 12:01am Friday exposes the thought process that has 99% of people being sure that midnight Thursday is 12:00am Friday. Because I’m positive that if you gave people 12:01am Friday, they’d latch on to “the deadline is Friday” and not really get that they’d have to be done before they *feel* like Friday has started.

      We all kind of expect that “midnight Thursday” signals that you have to be done on Thursday, and you don’t have to futz around with when the recipient will be leaving the office. Or exactly when on Friday they’re going to start digging through the pile.

    9. whomever*

      I work for a company based in CA and live in NY, so this is solved by the fact the deadlines are actually 3:00AM EST.

      Along with the “don’t make things midnight”, Time Zones are important and often forgotten. And there is nothing more guaranteed to make a remote office feel like a colony than forgetting their timezone and, eg, always scheduling meetings at bad times for them…

    10. ScruffyInternHerder*

      The number of midnight deadlines I encounter is actually greater than 0, and is always the first RFI asked on a project of that sort!

      I just don’t grasp why, either. In my fairly specialized field, its NOT like anyone we’d be dependent upon for that midnight deadline works beyond even 5 p.m. (This is only relevant to this field, not others where it might be normal to do so. Even 5 p.m. in my field is a stretch for most…but if you try to reach anyone at 6 a.m., there’s a better than 50-50 shot of doing so!)

  4. MGW*

    For the nail polish- I wouldn’t ding them on it at the interview but at that time (or before like Alison said) make it known it’s part of the job.
    FWIW- I’m a veterinarian and I like having pretty painted nails (can’t handle long nails though) but for work when I do surgeries I can’t have them painted so I often have unpainted nails. I think for most people truly interested in the field the nails shouldn’t be a dealbreaker as long as they know ahead of time.

      1. JokeyJules*

        came here to say this! all jobs related to food at my college required short, unpainted nails.

      2. petpet*

        Yup, when I was in college student I took a quarter-time minimum wage job in a cafe where I was informed that no one could have painted nails because it was a health code violation. It was a total non-issue and I worked there happily for all four years of my degree! And that was a job making lattes and sandwiches, not anything as lofty as working with fragile, irreplaceable materials.

    1. Pipe Organ Guy*

      Keyboard player here. I don’t think painted fingernails are an issue at all for keyboard players, but we sure have to keep our fingernails pretty short. Nails clicking on keys is a distracting sound, and I would think that if nails are too long they could actually get in the way of agility. At any rate, nothing like working with fragile historical materials.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I keep mine short too….leftover habit from when I was in school as a bassoon player. You are so right, there is almost nothing more annoying than the sound of finger nails clacking on keys.

  5. Emily*

    #2 is giving me throwbacks to the 2013-2014 period during which i worked mornings at Starbucks (no nail polish permitted) and evenings as a gate agent for a European airline (nail polish required, red pink or clear only, along with lipstick, heels, and three (probably racist) approved hairstyles

    My Starbucks supervisor let me wear clear polish.

    1. Hrodvitnir*

      Nail polish required! That sounds exceptionally annoying – doubly in your specific situation (also yikes to the hairstyles.)

      1. Scarlet2*

        And so bizarre! Like clients would notice whether a gate agent wore clear nail polish or none at all?

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          Right? I’d never whisper “Look, she isn’t wearing nail polish, oh my stars!” about a gate agent or any other human ever.

        2. Emi*

          Personally I just don’t feel safe getting on a plane unless the lady who checks my boarding documents is perfectly groomed. It’s just a question of attention to detail, you know? If the airline can’t be bothered to check everyone’s nail polish, what else are they forgetting — safety inspections? refueling? They might even have forgotten to attach the wings to the plane!

      2. allathian*

        Airlines are notorious in how conservative they are regarding dress, grooming, and gender expression. Heels are an insane requirement in a job where you’re sitting or standing behind a counter and the customers never see your feet.

        1. Ed*

          Doesn’t FMLA have a carve out for high level crucial staff?

          If I’m correct about that I’d be careful how hard I pushed for old role, and would work with Sr. Leadership to develop a role.

          1. Peter Gibbons*

            You are on the right path. There is an exception for “key employees” but it is a high bar to meet. For example, the employee would have to be among the highest paid 10% of all its employees. Also, it can depend which state because equivalent state laws such as California’s CFRA does not have such an exception for key employees.

        2. JustaTech*

          Or where an essential piece of emergency safety equipment specifically and explicitly bans heels. (Why do flight attendants have to wear heels if you can’t wear them on the emergency slide? If there’s been an emergency bad enough to use the slide I want the people in charge to have shoes!)

      3. quill*

        That’s itching for someone to go to bat against the standard on the basis of health conditions and gender expression. Nail polish contains a heck of a lot of solvents that could reasonably pose irritation issues and the heel requirement is just asking for a workplace injury.

        1. Emily*

          they also had issues with banning hijab in the US, no surprise there….

          just an all around terrible place to work, I got out as soon as i could!

    2. Empress Ki*

      Were the heels, lipstick and nail polish required for all genders ? I guess not. Why nobody has sued these airlines for gender discrimination?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Courts have held that employers can have different dress codes for men and women, although it gets murkier if it places a heavier burden on one sex (which this clearly does).

      2. AcademiaNut*

        There have been successful challenge against requiring high heels on a health and safety basis – the province of BC for example, ruled that employers can’t require it.

        1. caps22*

          Yeah, we’re having the same issue over here in the UK. As a woman with a bad back who can’t wear heels anymore, I’m still perplexed why heels are considered more business appropriate than nice flats. I have some d’orsay style pointed toe flats in multiple colours for summer and very nice brogues for cooler weather that look far more businessy than most heels in my opinion. Sure, some flats read casual, but plenty of heels look more appropriate for a party, so it’s really a matter of choosing the right ones than the heel itself.

          1. quill*

            I can’t even wear most “dressy” shoes without significant pain (Bad feet) so the heel requirement still being a thing that people argue is business necessary enrages me beyond belief.

            1. Mannequin*

              I am exactly the same . Heels have been a no-go my entire life..though I love them, and have sure tried!

              I have never even bothered applying at a place where I could not wear comfortable shoes. There is literally nothing, NOTHING a job could offer that would make the excruciating, crippling pain of heels/other uncomfortable femme shoes worth it.

      3. Fierce Jindo*

        There have been lots of struggles about this. Read about airline worker organizing in the 1970s sometime—it’s really cool and also an interesting example of what was then an overwhelmingly male, very macho organized labor movement ending up in solidarity with a feminist movement on the basis of worker solidarity.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I was just a kid but remember the coverage on those protests. It wasn’t just ‘stews’ who had to look and dress like models, women ticket and gate agents did too. I worked with a few women who had worked for airlines during those times, and they said their physical and mental health took a beating.

          It didn’t help that ‘Coffee, Tea, or Me?’ had been such a bestseller in the late 60s. It reinforced stereotypes of stews being not much more than Playmates on airplanes. Worse, a lot of women thought being a stew sounded glamorous and exciting – all that male attention! the elegant uniforms! – and also practical – all that potential husband material!

          1. UKDancer*

            I think that type of book has a lot to answer for.

            I used to travel a lot on the Eurostar and sometimes went business class if I could get a good deal on the ticket. I can still remember the 2 gross men who were harassing the member of staff serving their food and making obscene remarks to her and how uncomfortable she looked. I called her over in the end to give her a way out of it and a reason to do something else. We may have been in business class where the champagne was endless but that didn’t mean she was also available.

            People who creep on service staff (who often can’t do anything about it) are beneath contempt.

    3. Valancy Snaith*

      I’m surprised. When I was a supervisor at Starbucks we kept a bottle of polish remover in the back and I’d send people to remove even their clear polish. The danger of it chipping into stuff was there regardless of the colour. And it would have been a giant pain to be digned for it on a surprise inspection, too.

    4. lilsheba*

      Yeah no I wouldn’t be standing in heels that is so bad for your feet, and it doesn’t make you perform your job any better.

      1. Mannequin*

        I’ve never even bothered to apply at jobs where the dress code would require to wear heels or any other type of dressy, uncomfortable shoe. I’ve had issues with my feet since childhood and it’s absolutely NOT worth it.

  6. Heidi*

    For Letter 5, I feel like a lot of applications put their deadline as 11:59pm on whatever date to avoid this particular point of confusion. I wish midnight deadlines would get phased out, though. Weird stuff can happen when a lot of people are submitting at the same time and if there is some sort of breakdown, there are usually a lot fewer people around who can help you at midnight.

    1. A Genuine Scientician*

      I teach, and explicitly make most things 11:59pm as a deadline simply to avoid this confusion.

      I know full well that midnight Friday is the minute after 11:59pm on Thursday, but I don’t trust that all of my students do. Choosing any minute other than midnight eliminates so much of the possible confusion. Then again, I also specify time zone (including that I am currently on EDT, not EST; some people don’t seem to realize that the actual time zone designation shifts), so I may be being overly precise.

      1. Artemesia*

        I have a frigging PhD and have always considered midnight to be the last moment of the day, not the first. Learn something new every day. It is similar to the change of the millennium or century which contrary to this position on times of day seems to be off a year in the general perception i.e. 2000 was the last year of the millennium not the first of the next millennium.

        1. Tin Cormorant*

          That’s always felt so illogical to me regarding centuries/millenia. It’s changed over to a whole new first number! How is it not the start of a new grouping??

            1. John Smith*

              If you ever watch “The Man In The High Castle” series (a rare case of the TV being better than the book imho), year 0 was used. It didn’t bode well!

          1. Pennyworth*

            Count from 1 to 10, ten is the last number, the next ten numbers are 11 to 20 and so on. The last year of every decade, century and millennium is a year ending in 0. Totally logical.

        2. Darsynia*

          What’s interesting to me is that I was always under the impression that 2:00 AM was the time of day that the day shifted over, not midnight! So it took me a few minutes to understand what the problem in the letter was in the first place, haha.

          1. Darsynia*

            ((I should add that my perspective is one that views the ‘New Years’ thing as a party convention/tradition which by necessity chooses 12:00 AM as the transition because 2 AM is *really freaking early* lol. It may also be related to night shift work))

          2. Aitch Arr*

            2 am is when Daylight and Standard time either ‘jump ahead’ or ‘fall back’.

            How’s that for confusing?

            1. A Genuine Scientician*

              Because by making it 2am, instead of any time from midnight to 1am, there won’t be 2 midnights, and there will be much less confusion about what day it is during the time change.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          It’s like the difference between US & Europe in counting building floors, or between Western & Chinese practice for stating someone’s age.

      2. WoodswomanWrites*

        You are not being overly precise–that kind of clarity is essential for helping your students, including the time zone.

        1. AGD*

          This. I tell my students 11:59 in the city I’m based in so that there’s no room for misinterpretation or attempts at bending the rules.

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        Serious question: How do you know full well that midnight Friday is the minute after 11:59 p.m. on Thursday? If we are going to go maths on this, the question of which day midnight falls on is like asking whether zero is a positive or a negative number? If we take the linguistics approach, then on which day midnight falls is purely a matter of convention, but there clearly is no consensus here. The usual argument for its being the beginning of the day is that 12:00 fits neatly with 12:01-12:59, which is all very neat and tidy and not how language works. As a matter of actual usage, it is ambiguous.

    2. linger*

      That’s not really a problem with the midnight deadline, though, but rather with people treating a deadline as the recommended time to submit.
      A fixed deadline is, by definition, the last possible moment for submitting.
      It is not recommended that anyone wait until the last possible moment, for exactly the reasons mentioned: in practice you often do blow through some softer deadlines (such as being able to get assistance) before you reach the hard deadline set.

      1. La Triviata*

        U.S. only issue – I have ongoing discussions with the people who promote my organization’s events about how to phrase the time. I always use “Eastern time” but they prefer to use “Eastern Daylight” or “Eastern Standard” … but periodically will get it wrong. If they use daylight time after the time change, we’ve had calls and complaints that those attending the event aren’t sure whether it’s the advertised time or the actual time. sigh ….

  7. Aggretsuko*

    Yeah, maybe it’s best to bring up in the interview that due to the nature of the job, you really need them to not have the nails. They may be willing to get rid of them, they may not.

    1. Cj*

      I’d find a way to put it in the ad. If you wait until the interview, you’re wasting your time and theirs if they don’t agree to cut their nails and get rid of the polish. And you’ve given away an interview spot that could have gone to someone who didn’t have a problem with the nail requirements.

  8. nnn*

    #2: When I worked in a restaurant, painted nails were prohibited on the basis that nail polish could chip off and end up in the food. (Not sure if that was a general food hygiene rule or specific to the restaurant.) Candidates were told this in interview, in parallel with information like the kind of shoes you’re expected to wear.

    So to me it seems pretty normal and no big deal whatsoever to just tell people that it’s a job requirement and state the reason why (so they know it’s not just an arbitrary dress code). A lot of quarter-time minimum-wage jobs have dress codes that are a lot more arbitrary!

    Don’t reject candidates if they show up at the interview with long nails, just tell them the requirement. (Similar to how you wouldn’t reject a candidate if they were wearing their hair down at the interview but there’s a health and safety requirement to wear their hair up.)

    It might be worth giving some clarification on when nails start being “long”. I know that when I think my nails are long, my sister thinks they’re short, so there’s some room for misinterpretation there. It might also be worth putting in writing whether artificial nails that meet the length criteria are allowed.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah. Former nail biter here. Even though I managed to stop biting my nails in high school, I still tend to think that short is the same as cut to the quick…

    2. Batty Twerp*

      “Don’t reject candidates if they show up at the interview with long nails, just tell them the requirement. (Similar to how you wouldn’t reject a candidate if they were wearing their hair down at the interview but there’s a health and safety requirement to wear their hair up.)”

      Don’t reject people who show up to interview not meeting a requirement you haven’t made them aware of either!
      Or reject someone on the basis of something that can be changed in a matter of hours, or even minutes.
      Nails, hair and shoes are not fixed aspects of a person.

      1. MK*

        To be fair, I think the OP is trying not to be intolerant, but is going overboard. I am sure that for many people self expression through their appearance is important, but for most people I know at least their nails aren’t a huge part of their identity.

        1. Mannequin*

          And if it is, the candidate can opt out on that basis…the same way they could if one of the job requirements was to be able to lift 50 lbs, people who don’t have the necessary upper body strength can opt out without it being discriminatory to ie women, people with disabilities, etc.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes. If something is a requirement just tell people that it’s a requirement. I think tell everyone regardless of what their nails look like at the interview. You’re seeing a snapshot of them and not the whole of their lives.

        Tell them the requirements, explain why these are the requirements and it’s for the people to decide if they can comply with them or not. I mean I wouldn’t take a job that required me to wear high heels because I like comfortable shoes. I’d be very happy not to wear nail varnish. We’re all different in terms of what we’d accept as work requirements. The main thing is for people to be properly informed.

    3. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Most kitchens have the same requirement for staff prepping food. It’s a food safety issue and also why the bandaids are bright neon colours not found in nature. It takes one instance of a customer finding a used bandaid in their food to things to go South very fast.

      1. Anonny*

        My great aunt used to wear false nails. One day, she did some home baking, put the cake in the oven, and found she was missing a falsie.

        No-one found the ‘lucky’ nail in their slice, but it taught us a valuable lesson about false nails and cooking.

    4. short'n'stout*

      OP’s field probably has a specific standard, but I personally think of short nails as anything that doesn’t extend beyond the tip of the finger.

      1. ShortNails*

        Hah, I cut my nails last night so they are short as they ever can be, and I generally keep them short – they are literally cut as far back as I can cut them without hurting myself. However after reading your comment I looked at my fingers from the side the nail still extends beyond the tip of my finger – I also tried putting the tip of my fingers against a flat surface and yes, the nail hits the flat surface first before the flesh of my finger. I think it’s just where my nail bed ends relative to the end of my finger…

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Thanks to an underactive thyroid, my nails split and break vertically and horizontally. If I can get my nails to reach the tip of my finger or to actually feel it when I scratch an itch, I call ’em long.

        In the 90s I wore acrylics that were about 1/4″ past my fingertips and don’t know how I managed to use a keyboard. That seems impossibly long to me now. And I cringe when I see the super-long, pointed nails that are so popular now. They just look stabby to me and I wonder if someone cleans underneath them.

        1. NOK*

          Current owner of “stabby” acrylics here. I can assure you that I do, in fact, practice good hygiene.

          1. Mannequin*

            I’m guessing a lot of people simply don’t remember (or weren’t born yet) that before all the little hole in the wall nail shops made acrylics affordable and hugely popular, and square tips ubiquitous, most women with long natural nails filed them into oval, almond, or pointed shapes. And most women did wear their nails long, or tried to. I don’t remember anyone ever having hygiene concerns about it.

            I wanted pointy acrylics in the early 90s, but the acrylic technology of the time didn’t really allow for it (they broke more easily than square tips I think?), so I think it’s super cool that they are possible now, even though I’m no longer interested in wearing fake nails or even polish right now.

        2. Mannequin*

          I have similarly splitty nails and have worn acrylics on & off for fun, when I could afford them.

          I had fairly long ones when I was a vet tech and they didn’t get in the way of my work, I’ve have quite short ones (ended just at fingertip) when I sold vintage at the flea market and needed them to protect my poor paper thin nails from being SHREDDED by the rough work.

          Everyone I know that has long nails- real or fake- keeps them scrupulously clean underneath…probably cleaner than the average person, TBH, because using a nail brush EVERY time you wash your hands is standard.

  9. Lily*

    2: no nail paint is a common requirement in health care as it makes desinfecting the hands less effective. Just tell them the reason for it and it should be fine.

    1. Pennyworth*

      Are there also rules about acrylic nails? I read once that acrylics can harbor bacteria, but I never know if I can trust what I read.

      1. KAZ2Y5*

        No acrylic nails either. Basically short nails with nothing on them are required for health care workers. I buff my nails and that is as fancy as they will get until I retire and can go all out!

      2. WS*

        This is correct – for regular people it’s not going to make much difference but in healthcare it absolutely is. Just like ties.

      3. allathian*

        I think it’s more likely that gunk accumulates under your nails, and if you wear opaque artificial nails, or something other than clear nail polish, you can’t see it and it’s easy to overlook. At least unless you have a routine of cleaning under your nails with a nail brush on the days you don’t shampoo your hair. Rubbing shampoo into your hair and scalp is an effective way of cleaning your nails, I’ve found.

        1. WS*

          It’s not that people with acrylic nails let gunk accumulate or are dirtier, it’s that there’s tiny crevices and gaps in there that handwashing doesn’t necessarily reach, and in a hospital setting (outside surgery) you’re not going to have time to clean them thoroughly with a nail brush between patients. Your hands have to be in a condition that regular handwashing will clean, because that’s all the time and opportunity you will have. For example, my brother was advised not to go into healthcare because he has psoriasis, meaning that he wouldn’t be able to clean his hands to the standard needed without harming his more easily damaged skin.

          1. allathian*

            Thanks for the explanation, that’s only sensible.

            I don’t have psoriasis, but I’ve had atopic dermatitis all my life. Most of the time I’m fine, but I do need access to hand lotions, especially now with the constant hand washing required by the pandemic. I’ve always been pretty diligent about washing my hands, but using sanitizer regularly is new for me, and even if I use moisturizing formulas when I can, lotion is an absolute non-negotiable for me.

      4. JustaTech*

        There is a famous infection-control case study of a surgical ward where patients were getting infected with a really unusual bacteria. After a *huge* amount of searching the infection control team narrowed it down to one surgical nurse who wore short acrylic nails. It turned out that her nails were creating microscopic holes in the gloves. Separately the nurse was using a hand scrub in a jar that had become contaminated with the very unusual bacteria. So she would use the scrub at night at home, and even with all her scrub-in washing some would stay stuck on her hands, and then get through the holes in her gloves into the patients.

        So the IC team asked the nurse to throw out the scrub (after they’d sampled it) and take off her nails and the infections stopped. So a new rule was instituted: no acrylic nails.

  10. Student*

    #4 –

    If you are an HR person – it is a good idea to talk to the manager and, if possible, people in this position or who work closely with it. You don’t have to actually write the job description in many fields – offload it (or a big part of it) to the supervisor.

    If you are the direct supervisor or hiring manager, it’s a good idea to talk to people in this position, as well as people they’d work closely with, as you write up this role. It’s okay in many fields to offload this to an actual person in the role to do the first draft. Break it down into needs and wants, if possible. Think about what you have and also about skills your team could use some help on. Try to be realistic about what parts of the job you could train somebody for, and what parts are absolutely core requirements.

    If you’re the person in the role that’s being described, just go through the major tasks you do over a year. Think about your major outputs and where most of your time gets spent. Think about the key skills you depend on, and maybe about skills that you need someone on your team to have that you don’t have yourself. Talk with colleagues or your boss for some inspiration. Your boss and/or HR will hopefully help tune it beyond that.

    1. OP #4*

      Hi I’m OP #4
      Thanks for the reply. I’m the hiring manager, and for my first draft I started with a few examples, but as AAM pointed out, a lot of the language just didn’t sound like me. So they were good starting points to get ideas, but def had to fine-tune.

    2. Mockingjay*

      It can be useful to look at job postings for core skills and elements – the ‘must haves’ for an industry role (degree, experience in X and Y, industry trainings or certifications). But definitely tailor it to your company business.

      Are you duplicating an existing role? New role? Junior or senior? Make a list of daily tasks, monthly tasks – a snapshot of the workload. If you provide on-the-job training, then you can cut requirements. And so on.

      One thing I would ask, from an applicant’s perspective: when you finish the draft description, please, please review its length. As a contractor I change jobs every 3 – 5 years, and I see a lot of job descriptions that go on for a page and half, sometimes two. It’s really hard to market my candidacy to a laundry list. Pick the top few essentials. The other stuff you can discuss in a phone screen or interview.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Can I add (especially pertinent given letter 2 today):
        If there are aspects of the job that require certain dress or grooming standards, make sure you make that and the why readily and easily available for candidates.

  11. Anonymous nurse*

    For #2 that HR department wrong. I’ve worked in laboratories and hospitals for 20+ years in multiple states and in every one it was clear in the job ad that nails must be short as possible and unpainted. In my last two jobs my union wouldn’t even defend someone who was sent home or disciplined for that because it was a well known health and safety rule. OP really needs to get a second opinion or push back.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think a good counter point for OP would be to mention some of the various jobs that do not allow long nails/polished nails. HR needs to see that this is not odd at all and there are jobs where it is an absolute necessity.

      This would be something that would apply to everyone regardless of age, gender, origin, or any other protected class.

      I have seen a lot of comments about mentioning it in the interview. My thought is to mention it on the phone screen, so the person can decide early on whether or not to continue the interview process.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yeah, I have to agree that this HR person is so scared of “vague problems” that they are ignoring a very common requirement in lots of industries.

    3. LadyofLasers*

      Yup. I’ve also worked in laboratories where I had to work in clean rooms. There we had to wear gowns, gloves, and hairnets all the time. But in addition to that we couldn’t wear any lotions, hair products, or make-up that might flake onto the delicate equipment. And this applied to both men and women( It’s amazing what we shed around us without even realizing it. So I totally believe the OP that all nail polish is a problem, you don’t know what kind of long term chemical reactions might occur between the document and your products!

      The op is overthinking the gender aspect of this requirement. Just make sure there is a general policy that applies to everyone, no lotions, no nail polish, trimmed nails: and when interviewing share them with everyone whether they are male, female, something else, regardless if they come into the interview with or without nail polish

      1. JustaTech*

        At one clean room where I worked everyone was encouraged to apply lotion *after* their shift, so that they wouldn’t flake dead skin in the lab. (The air in that place was so dry you would come out feeling like a mummy.)

  12. Sleeve McQueen*

    LW#2 it needs to be raised in the interview or flagged in the job ad. Definitely don’t cut people for having long nails or nail polish in interviews. I rarely wear nail polish but I might if I have a job interview and am dressing up. And given these are part-time students who may not be that familiar with working in your field, rejecting them for this feels like you are failing them for not hitting a target they didn’t even know they were aiming for.

    1. Amaranth*

      Isn’t it the same kind of question as ‘if you are hired are you willing to travel/work late/etc.? It seems to me like something you would check on if they seem like a good candidate, but not worry over otherwise.

    2. Pennilyn Lot*

      Yeah to me it’s kind of like giving people a heads up that they need to be okay getting a bit dirty as part of the job, if the job requires being in muddy/dusty/etc environments. It doesn’t mean that they need to show up to the interview in clothes that they’re willing to get dirty there and then.

  13. Ori*

    LW3 – the logical solution here is for Circe to step down, and I wonder if she or they are resisting that.

    1. Hollywood Handshake*

      It seems like the reasonable thing to do at the beginning of all of this was to name Circe the interim director until OP returned since it was always temporary, though originally thought to be longer term. The company made it harder on themselves by fully replacing OP without a plan of how to make it work when they came back. Keep pushing to get answers, OP, as is your right, and I am so so sorry about your mom.

      1. LavaLamp*

        It sounds like they maybe didn’t think the OP would be back at all and moved to quickly to replace her and are now finding out that they shouldn’t have and are hoping she doesn’t know the rules?

        It was always my understanding having used FMLA in the past multiple times, that unless someone says they’ve quit you can’t just significantly change their job.

        1. Anonys*

          But the mom was terminally ill so it was always clear OP would be back -it was just expected and hoped she would have longer that she did.

          I agree that Circe should have been made interim director – that’s so common and probably still good experience for her to leverage for a future promotion to a director role herself. This was just mishandled by the company from the beginning when they replaced OP and told her that she might return to a different role. Unfortunately its now on OP to clarify with the company that they misinterpreted FMLA rules regarding this. I think when talking to her bosses she should approach it as a given that now they are aware of the rules, she will of course be reinstated to her previous role.

          I do feel bad for Circe if she was told this was permanently her new position and if she was doing a good job they should try to promote her in some other way

          1. Pickaduck*

            OP here, thank you so much. I did end up asking what the plan was, and we are supposed to talk today so we will see!

            1. CB212*

              Oh best wishes for a good outcome! Full restoration if you want it, or a new director role, or whatever that looks like for you.

              1. Pickaduck*

                Thanks! I will come back and let you know. I honestly don’t think they’re trying to screw me or anything, I really think that everyone, myself included, thought I was going to be gone for a few months and they would have time to figure something out. It’s just pretty awkward right now!

            2. have we met?*

              Even if you update here, today, please also update on Friday in a main comment so we can find it easier. :)

              Hoping it goes well for all involved!

            3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Agreed – sympathies for your family and all the best for the meeting with leadership that full clarity comes from the meeting.

      2. JM60*

        FMLA is only up to 12 months of legally protected leave, which is not actually that long.

        I don’t get why they didn’t promote the replacement to an interim position. Most people on FMLA leave are likely to return eventually, and even if they abandon the job or are unable to return, you can just remove the “interim” part later on if the promoted person wants to make it permanent.

          1. JM60*

            Oops. That’s what I meant to say. 12 weeks is not a long time.

            I once was originally expected to be unable to work for 3 weeks due to surgery, than had plans messed up due to surgical complications. I was barely able to return before my 12 weeks was over. My employer would’ve given me more time beyond the legal minimum, but that minimum time can be very short when dealing with a major issue, and in the OP’s case, is not a long time to have someone step in as an interim, rather than a permanent promotion.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, the point where they really messed up was if they made Circe’s promotion permanent rather than a temporary position. I understand that now it would seem weird to make her step down if that’s how her promotion was presented to her but that’s really their only reasonable option I think…

        1. Just a Thought*

          Is it possible that they did make Circe’s promotion interim/temporary (or think they did) and this is really a matter of vary poor communication between the various levels? It certainly sounds like your (former?) reports thinks that the promotion was interim because they are coming to you with questions.

          You should try to find out what circe was told and what your reports were told. Maybe everyone else was told that this was temporary and that is why the head of the organization is not rushing to give you new duties. They think you are resuming your old ones.

    2. Chaordic One*

      Yes. I feel bad for Circe. She probably felt she was being given an opportunity (although for a limited period of time) to shine and show what she could do, and then it ends up being yanked away from her sooner than she expected. Sometimes life isn’t fair, though, and Circe needs to be gracious and step aside and let the OP resume her old job. And the management needs to be clear that the OP will be resuming her old job and Circe will be transitioning back to her old job.

      1. FL*

        I actually don’t think Circe needs to be gracious about this. Neither she nor the OP are the ones who screwed up. It’s not fair to expect her to volunteer to be demoted because her supervisors made a mistake.

  14. Librarian of SHIELD*

    LW1, I’m dying to know what Jane’s deal is. Does she dig through everybody’s files, or just yours?

    Honestly, I would meet with your boss and use Alison’s wording, and request locking file cabinets and inboxes during that meeting. Because I think this is a both situation. Jane needs to be told that what she’s adding has to stop, and the people in your office who work with confidential information need a way to make that information inaccessible to the people who don’t need it.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        How do we know Jane *isn’t* adding something to OP’s desk? And honestly, if Jane won’t stop doing this, and the boss won’t put their foot down, I’d start leaving sex toys in my desk if it were me. The kinkier the better. Jane will stop real quick.

    1. Mockingjay*

      OP1, how can you do accurate bookkeeping if Jane is tossing invoices?

      If you think your boss would be more receptive/inclined to action, make Jane’s interference a compliance or a dollar issue instead of behavioral: “it’s really important to have up-to-date data on expenditures and income. Missing information affects taxes, payroll, timely payments to vendors. I organize everything for timely processing so my papers and mail must be left alone.” Follow up with examples to reinforce your point: “Last quarter’s taxes were late and we had to pay a penalty.” “We paid the supplier late two months in a row because the invoices were thrown out; they don’t want to contract with us anymore.”

      This is beyond irritating; this is affecting your career.

    2. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Besides using locking drawers and/or a locking box like Alison mentioned, another thing you might try is leaving little notes where you know Jane will find them when looking through your papers. For example, “Why are you looking through my papers, Jane?” or “Hey Jane, find what you’re looking for?” or even “What kind of nosy person goes through their co-workers things??” I know it’s passive-aggressive, but sometimes things like that will stop a person like that, or at least make them very uncomfortable.

  15. GNG*

    #1 – WTF did I just read? OP, I have so many questions:

    – Does Jane do this with anyone else’s stuff?
    – Did Jane openly admit she threw away your note? How did you even find out?
    – Did you tell Boss about Janes’ behavior every single time it happened?

    The only other time a staff member threw away someone else’s stuff was to bully them. Does Jane have other behavior issues otherwise (I am guessing she does?)

    1. Sleeve McQueen*

      Yeah this isn’t “my colleague eats ramen too loudly at their desk. The slurping is gross and the soup splats fly everywhere”. Someone is actively ignoring orders to stay out of your stuff so she can make your job harder. She is looking at documents that could be confidential. Whatever channels you have to make official complaints do so. Make it clear you are putting in an official complaint and put it in writing. I would imagine some of the things she is doing could cost you customers or create legal issues. If the company doesn’t care about you, they may care about it costing them money

    2. Jackalope*

      Yeah, it’s one thing to go through someone’s desk who is out on extended leave, say, to try to resolve something urgent. It’s another thing entirely to do so regularly when they’re around, and to take unneeded action, and to throw stuff away ( !! ) without your permission. This is all so out of line.

    3. PollyQ*

      I have great concerns about the boss. To me, this is the kind of behavior where you warn someone the first time they’ve been found to be doing it, and you fire them the second. I can’t imagine what boss is thinking letting this go on. I know it’s not easy to just up and find another job, but based on the lack of action so far, I suspect that OP#1 may have to end up doing that.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes, Boss ought to have dealt with this much more firmly but I think as she didn’t, OP need to speak to Boss again and be very clear that this is still continuing, and that as well as needing locking desk and inbox, she is concerned that Jane is likely doing this to other workers as well (given her comments about needing to know) and perhaps Boss needs to be much clearer and explicitly tell Jane not to touch anyone’s desk other than her own.
        But if Boss isn’t willing to manage (or sack) Jane then this is a situation where I would start looking for a new job (and be clear when I handed my notice in hat Jane’s sabotage, and Boss’s unwillingness to deal with it , are the reasons you re leaving)

        1. Been There Seen That*

          I once had a coworker go through and open mail that was clearly marked confidential, etc. I was so mad. The boss sat on the situation and other complaints too. After multiple conversations with the boss they told me they were waiting for the jerk employee to do something egregious enough to justify immediate termination. They were correct and the employee was gone after a final situation. It was such a relief.

          OP go to your boss again, explain your concern. See what the boss says, maybe you want to stick around and maybe you don’t. Good luck and please keep us posted.

      2. MassMatt*

        Yes, this is only partly a bad coworker problem, really it’s a bad boss problem.

        You can try to bring it to the boss more emphatically, but for whatever reason the boss seems to be fine with this employee rifling through desks, taking correspondence, etc. OP says they have spoken to the boss about it multiple times and nothing changes. Multiple times +1 is not likely to make a difference.

        You can ask for locks, but that treats a symptom, the problem remains. If you had a baby sitter that stole alcohol, would locking the liquor cabinet be a solution?

        Your boss and coworker have shown you who they are. Believe them. I would look for another job, motivated by the look of bewilderment your boss will have when you give your notice.

    4. Avi*

      It sounds like she does so something at least similar to this with other people, given the comment about how she thinks that “she needs to know everything going on at every desk in the office”. This doesn’t come off as malicious to me, though. It sounds like she’s an unrestrained busybody who doesn’t know what the heck her own job is because she’s too busy inserting herself into everyone else’s. It’s baffling that this behavior hasn’t been slapped down hard by their management.

      1. JB*

        That comment doesn’t necessarily say to me that she’s doing it to other people. I have certainly heard comments like that from people who were just targeting a single person, to justify their actions.

        My thought is that she’s targeting LW because she’s jealous or mistrustful over the fact that LW is only in the office once a week.

    5. Ethel*

      Yes, she does do it to other employees. In fact, I suspect she’s done it to the bosses but don’t have proof. The paper she threw away was a note requesting I order a custom product for one of my bosses. I found out about it after she had read the note, decided she knew better what he wanted, assigned the task to an intern who did what she asked who was then scolded by the boss that what she gave him was not what he asked for. Jane then had to come to me to explain and when I asked to see the note, said she’d thrown it away. Low stakes example but makes me wonder how often it’s happening. I have told my boss each time but I’m afraid she’s actually tired of hearing it.

      1. Fierce Jindo*

        That doesn’t seem that low stakes to me! It’s astonishing that your boss is ok with this. Does she actually see Jane as some sort of quasi-supervisor?

      2. Workerbee*

        It’s your boss’s fault that she’s tired of hearing about it when she could so easily deal with it once and for all. Does she just not care if proper work gets done? (I have had a boss or two who were like that.)

        1. Lance*

          Basically just this. She’s the boss. If she’s tired of it, she needs to do something about it, not just decide that she doesn’t want to hear about it.

      3. EmKay*

        Tough kitties if she’s “tired of hearing it”. If she fixed the problem instead of ignoring it, she wouldn’t be hearing about it.

        1. MassMatt*

          Well, this is true, but she’s the boss. It seems clear the boss does not want to deal with Jane. OP needs to decide what to do from here. This situation is dysfunctional and no doubt a symptom of many other dysfunctions. I would start looking, as anyone no doubt would have to be after telling the boss “tough kitties”.

          1. EmKay*

            You’ve heard of “return awkward to sender”?

            Return problem employee to manager. They’re paid to manage, after all, not OP. So, tough kitties if she’s tired of hearing about it. If she did her job well she wouldn’t be hearing about it.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        wth. Tired of hearing it? She ought to try LIVING it, now that is TIRING.

        So basically Jane is allowed to sabotage your job and sabotage company endeavors.

        Do they want to STAY in business or no???

      5. EPLawyer*

        Keep telliing your boss, until your boss realizes it is easier to get rid of Jane than to field complaints about her all the time.

        1. MassMatt*

          Boss may well decide it’s easier to fire the OP than deal with Jane. Messengers often get shot, especially those that continue to bring the same news and don’t take the hint that the boss doesn’t want to hear it.

          1. Colette*

            That really isn’t common – particularly in this case, where firing the OP wouldn’t solve the problem with Jane.

            1. MassMatt*

              In this case, boss is showing by her actions she either does not care what Jane is doing, or perhaps Jane is untouchable for some reason. LW saying she feels like the boss is sick of hearing this indicates to me boss is exasperated with the LW. It’s dumb, it’s a stupid way for boss to react, but there it is.

              And yes, shooting the messenger is common, we’ve seen many letters and comments here that have suffered for bringing issues such as this one to their bosses. Bad bosses are often more annoyed by the person complaining about the problem than the person causing it, or expect the employee to somehow fix it on their own.

            2. nothing rhymes with purple*

              Boss doesn’t seem to care about the problem with Jane, though, at least not enough to solve it by dealing with Jane. I agree with MassMatt and if I were OP I would get a locking cabinet. Expensive but less expensive than being unemployed.

      6. Lora*

        Oh boy. Why the boss is tolerating this is definitely a question.

        When I’ve seen this type of thing before – turned out Boss and Jane had some sort of personal relationship. It could be sexual but didn’t have to be, sometimes they were just golf buddies or old college friends or went to the same church. Sometimes management went to truly amazing lengths to avoid firing their Janes, too – one place I worked at where they had a Jane stealing parts out of the warehouse, and they KNEW it was Jane because Jane admitted it in front of tons of people, they implemented a whole locking-cage thing in the warehouse – and Jane cut the locks open with bolt cutters and took things anyway, and management still didn’t want to fire their good buddy Jane!

        Managers: Your employees are not your friends. They are not potential dating pools. They are not your family. They are employees and that’s IT. You MUST be able to discipline and fire them. Otherwise you get crap like this and people quit over it. I have quit over Janes who made it impossible to do my job, where management blew this stuff off as “just a personality clash, they should figure it out on their own like adults” and those Janes destroyed whole departments. If you don’t like doing the awkward people-management personality-intervention part of managing, and you’re really into the strategy part or the budgeting part instead, perhaps consider that management is not the right job for you, because MOST of managing is dealing with people and their personalities.

      7. Observer*

        I have told my boss each time but I’m afraid she’s actually tired of hearing it.

        You have a boss problem. Kick this above your boss’ head. Document every single instance that Jane has cause a problem. If your boss is at the top of the chain, I think you need to start job searching.

        In the meantime, start moving everything to can to email, shared documents and whatever messaging system your company has. It may help cut down on the snooping. More importantly, it’s going to makeit harder for Jane to actually toss stuff out.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yup – you don’t have a Jane problem, you have a head in the sand Boss problem. Jane is going rogue, boss doesn’t care, Jane is going to continue going rogue. You can continue treating symptoms of the problem, but until boss actually cares and stops Jane the problem will keep happening.
          I would start looking at options, and honestly assess if you can continue working here if Jane never changes (which it sounds like won’t happen).

      8. Pants*

        Surely you could bring up Covid and how Jane needs to stay in her own lane.

        Also, maybe leave your webcam on? Teddycam?

    6. lockhart*

      I would go to my boss and ask that she be fired immediately. I realize that might be an overreaction but if someone interfered with my job by throwing something away on *my* desk multiple times… I’d likely do something that would come perilously close to getting *me* fired.

  16. Ëtak*

    For #2, I think you need to also clarify what is and isn’t allowed. It’s likely that that many of the people with regularly painted nails aren’t using traditional polish. You mentioned hardened polish, do you mean gel nails? Or SNS/dip powder nails? If the rule is no paint/color across the board, that’s one thing, but if not, you might want to clarify for yourself and candidates.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      For part time student employees, no paint across the board is probably the simplest way to go. With an experienced professional in the field, they can know the details of exactly what is allowed and what isn’t, but with novices, the OP would end up having to quiz people on the details of exactly what type of polish/fake nail they’re wearing, to prevent damage to the documents. Unadorned nails are much easier to keep track of.

      1. SaintPaulGal*

        It comes down to how much trust they place in the workers. Yes, “no polish ever, period, even if it’s not a problematic type” is easier to enforce by sight. But if these workers can be trusted at all—which seems like a necessary part of being able to work with fragile, important, old documents in the first place—then it should be sufficient to explain what is potentially harmful and *why*and then trust the employee to give a f*ck.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Eh, given that they’re working with fragile, rare materials, it’s really not unreasonable to choose not to take the risk that someone will get it wrong or forget one day.

          1. peasblossom*

            Yeah, and as someone who works with rare archival materials on a regular basis I can confirm that the convention the OP outlines are standard, reasonable, and absolutely necessary. To be honest they’re being generous offering the latex glove option; several archives I know (working with certain kinds of materials that might different than the OP’s) won’t even allow those anymore because of how they affect dexterity. No reason not to trust the letter writer here.

        2. Andy*

          There is always that one occasionally rules skipping employee. I am not even saying problematic, just someone who forgets here and there, says “eh nothing wont happen” or “just one time”. Or, “not sure, but this polish should be ok one, not sure, but surely” and goes on.

          If it is really really important and has consequences, management need to create rules that are easy to check and enforce. The “we trust you” need to be gauged against risk realistic risks.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Well, if a supervisor leans this way then they can offer a one-time pass. Send the person home and have them return on their next scheduled workday properly prepared for work.

            Or a supervisor could be upfront, “If you have anything other than plain short nails then you must wear gloves or we will ask you to go home for the day.”

            In a lot of food service places the person would just be sent home. This is not unheard of and not outrageous. They have to abide by health code. If an inspector appears suddenly (which happens often enough) the place can be cited for that one employee.
            Granted this is not food service, but the idea that this discriminates against people seems a bit much given that short, plain nails are required in so many jobs.

        3. Darsynia*

          I totally understand this perspective, but for historical or very rare items, I think people are capable of understanding that those items’ value and significance is important enough to overwhelm the possible chance of offending someone.

          When Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding gown was hand-sewn, the workers had to wash their hands quite often to prevent the skin oils from yellowing the white thread they were using. It wasn’t because they were considered dirty, it was because the natural body process could cause damage. There really isn’t leeway for some professions to place ‘this employee might feel like they’re not trusted’ above the value of irreplaceable historical items.

    2. Scarlet2*

      That sounds like a lot of extra work and bending over backwards just to avoid a fairly simple ask (I’m sure no nail polish or fake nails would be a deal-breaker for some people, but in terms of dress code, it’s really not much to ask).

      1. Mockingjay*

        It’s no different than other protective rules for workers: must have steel-toed shoes or boots for warehouse work; no jewelry around electronics, covered or bound hair for restaurant work, etc.

        It’s a matter-of-fact work rule.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      I have to say I’m a little taken aback at the idea that OP ought to be going into this level of detail over their employees nail polish. It’s a pretty simple ask with a straightforward justification. The potential damage caused by someone getting it wrong far outweighs an employee’s desire for acrylics.

      I mean, so many industries have rules like this! I know most people here do desk-based office work where there’s more leeway on this stuff, but minor restrictions like “no painted nails” or “must wear a hair/beard net” or “must wear steel-toed boots” are so common in so many jobs.

  17. Student*

    #2: For what it’s worth, I think your HR is correct in that you’re overly-gender-focused in how you approached this. I think you went straight past the actual job requirement to complaining about one very specific gender presentation of nails that would be unacceptable.

    The real job requirement you seem to have is a choice between:
    (1) Wear gloves at work at all times
    (2) Keep fingernails short and smooth, and hands free of chemicals and dirt, including but not limited to nail polish, grease, oil, lotion, and food products;
    this requirement is necessary to avoid damage to fragile historic materials while handling them.

    If you stick with the undergrad student approach, you’re going to have to have at least a couple of inspections before they start work to make sure they’re taking the requirement seriously, and you’re going to have to spot-check it as well.

    I’ve seen many hands in my line of work that would give you heartburn for your fragile, sensitive historical work, and nail polish is definitely not the worst thing you could run into. I am cringing at the sheer number of my hobbies (and nontrivial parts of my job) I’d likely have to give up to work in your field – none of which involve nail polish. I hope you don’t get any rock-climber applicants!

    1. MeowMixers*

      I’m confused by this comment. LW didn’t say that HR told them that they were overly gender-focused. HR is saying that it’s discriminatory to put the requirement in the ad. HR isn’t right in this case. As someone who has inspected the hands and fingernails, this applies to all human beings. Being a student doesn’t mean they can’t follow this rule. Everyone needs a reminder which can be set by clear expectations.

      Er, what does rock climbing have to do with this? Nail polish is definitely the worse as some can rub color onto the document. I mean, outside of someone bleeding on the document I guess.

      1. allathian*

        Rock climbers use climbers’ chalk so their hands won’t slip on the rocks. It’s sticky stuff and can be hard to remove completely. I suppose the same could be said of pole vaulters, weight lifters, and athletes who throw stuff (javelin, hammer, shot put, discus).

        My hands are so dry that I keep a tube of unscented lotion by my desk and use it every time I wash my hands, and it’s worse if I have to deal with paper. So I could certainly not work with sensitive documents, even if I keep my nails shortish and unpainted.

        1. darcy*

          I’ve only ever come across dry powder climbing chalk. You’d certainly need to wash your hands to get it fully off but it’s not so persistent that you’d still have it on your hands after washing them?

          1. Cambridge Comma*

            Where I am a lot of climbing walls only allow the use of liquid magnesium. It doesn’t come off totally with simple handwashing.

        2. MeowMixers*

          I’ve used dry chalk and never had an issue washing it off. I think this is a bit reaching tbh.

          1. allathian*

            I had to quit one job at a fast food restaurant that required its employees to wear gloves because the skin on my hands just couldn’t take it.

            So I’m afraid there’s no way I could work with irreplaceable documents, given my sensitive skin.

        3. cassielfsw*

          ‘My hands are so dry that I keep a tube of unscented lotion by my desk and use it every time I wash my hands, and it’s worse if I have to deal with paper. So I could certainly not work with sensitive documents, even if I keep my nails shortish and unpainted. ”

          Same, even disregarding the nail polish, I could not do a job where I couldn’t use lotion. My poor hands would be cracked and bleeding inside of a week.

      2. Student*

        I wanted to point out that OP was overly focused on one very gendered way to mess up your hands and nails in a way incompatible with the work described, and rock climbing is the best way I know to do that.

        If you rock climb frequently, not only do you have chalk chemicals on your hands and under your nails constantly, but your nails can get very torn up. Mine wear out unevenly to one side when climbing, so broken or uneven nails are a constant. For indoor climbing, your hands can also get pretty oily and/or greasy from touching high contact surfaces. I wash afterward, and clean under my nails, but I notice the gunk coming out of my nails for days. Some of the chalks have oils in them that are designed to stay around (nominally to help reduce further skin damage, like lanolin).

        Then there are the scrapes – indoorwalls are often covered with sandpaper stuff, so minor but oozy injuries are common – not just on hands. I don’t always notice a scrape until it breaks open. Real rocks are sometimes sharp and just cut you. I’m not sure if my broken callouses would be a problem for the OP’s documents, too, but I’m guessing so.

        There are lots of similar hobbies where working with your hands a lot means they won’t be in condition for this kind of job. I don’t have a machine shop now, but when I did machine shop work, one or two washes often did not cut it to remove grease, other chemicals, and my nails got pretty ragged very quickly. And, again, lots of minor hand injuries.

        My painting hobby would probably also be a no-go; most of the paint washes off but I miss spots. I’d have to get rid of my ink fountain pens, because my hands almost always have ink stains from fidgeting with them. My gardening hobby also leaves my hands and nails in a less than stellar condition, but it’s a bit more friendly to washing, at least for me.

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          …then you (and others with similar hobbies as what you describe) wouldn’t be compatible with the job and that’s fine. Not everyone is going to have a life that’s compatible with every job.

          A job description doesn’t need to cover every single possibility or even all of the likely ones; it just needs to help candidates screen themselves out if it would be an incompatible business relationship.

    2. Pibble*

      I like that framing of the job requirement. OP 2, I’d try to put that as early in the process as possible, ideally in the ad – between needing pretty nails for mental health reasons and doing a lot of inky/paint-y hobbies, your job wouldn’t be a good fit for me and I’d much rather know that before spending time applying!

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, while I’ve kept my nails mostly unpainted all my adult life, when I finally managed to stop biting my nails, I started painting them, because keeping the polish looking nice was often the only thing that stopped the biting. This was crucial during particularly stressful exam periods in high school.

        1. Irish girl*

          Me too! I finally buckled down to try and stop at 22, i wanted pretty nails all the time so i made a deal with myself to get acrylic nails an woul let me nails grow out and then start painting them.

        2. NOK*

          That’s how I got into getting my nails done, too! It’s an expensive habit but at least my cuticles don’t bleed anymore.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      If a person wants to do a certain type of work sometimes they have to forego other things in order to meet the requirements at work. Some jobs won’t let people wear jewelry. Some places want everyone to tie their hair back.
      This is normal stuff.

  18. SW*

    This is kind of wild to read when the head of our special collections public services regularly wears nail polish and in the 5 years of working with special collections I’ve never heard of the need to not wear nail polish. I knew about lotion and hand sanitizer as being damaging to materials but not nail polish.

    1. Scarlet2*

      I guess it can vary based on exactly what kind of artifacts or objects you’re handling though?

      1. Amaranth*

        It can also depend on the quality of your nail polish. I’ve used some that rubbed off on everything, or flaked, and had others that take a chisel to get off.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      It doesn’t seem wild to me at all, and there’s very little information about what sort of items OP is handling, so I’m not sure that you can meaningfully compare her work to yours.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I worked with medieval manuscripts in one way or another for about five years and what OP describes sounds completely normal to me and is 100% in line with the exprectations and rules I encountered myself.

    3. LCH*

      I also work with historical documents (archivist) and remember the days before when I was an office admin wearing red nail polish streaking papers left and right. I definitely do not wear polish now based on that experience.

    4. quill*

      It REALLY depends on the items that you’re conserving. Papers? Too delicate for any contact with pigment, hand oils, solvents.

      Dinosaur bones? Less of an issue, I have lost track of the number of times I vinac’d myself to a triceratops rib all the way through or above the glove and had to airscribe the fused glove scraps off the finish product. I still wouldn’t wear polish though because of the also-high number of times I accidentally airscribed my replacement gloves open and ended up accidentally gently sanding a fingertip. But I only did bones weekly for a few months, someone with more experience probably doesn’t use jet powered baking soda quite as clumsily as me.

      1. Red 5*

        This also brings to mind the fact that in some archival work, you wouldn’t want to wear polish because you’d just be damaging the polish left and right too.

        Any time I took a chemistry class I couldn’t paint my nails the entire time that I was in it because the stuff we used to clean the equipment would just strip the polish right the heck off. And also destroyed the strength of my nails but that’s a different story.

        Archival work isn’t something where anything is one size fits all, there’s a lot of chemicals and material science you’ve really got to know that’s specific to the type of job.

        1. quill*

          I used to work with benzenes and DCM and overall it destroyed the skin on my hands. Nail polish would not have survived there either.

    5. PT*

      It says short bare nails OR gloves, so perhaps your head of special collections opts for gloves when handling things.

      Especially if as head, they spend more time doing “boss/office” duties than “document handling” duties.

    6. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I have heard to keep nails short, but nail polish seems like an odd restriction; however, I’ve also worked in collections that didn’t allow hats (got into an interesting workplace debate on the religious implications of that one), collections that banned any sort of liquid, even in offices far away from documents, and a collection that insisted that scented deodorant was an issue. Still confused on how what people put in their armpits could possibly cause issues for anything, but whatever. I don’t think the “legitimacy” of the request is the issue (and what if patrons have painted nails? Do you make them come back later? I have so many questions…) I think it’s a matter of what sorts of requests you can reasonably put on a part-time job and I think that answer is to be upfront and give people space to decline if they want to.

      1. RagingADHD*

        There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that patrons are allowed to handle the material at all.

    7. Pennilyn Lot*

      If you work in special collections you also surely know that the breadth and variety of materials that an archivist might be working with are virtually infinite. Whatever you’re handling may well be very different to what the LW is handling.

  19. Tiger Snake*

    Okay, so I get nailpolish requirements in food or in some health scenarios; but can someone explain to me the risk of having nailpolish when handling historic artefacts?
    Long nails, I can understand a scratching risk or inability to hold something properly (especially if you need to wear gloves because the oils on your hands are bad for the artefact). But I don’t understand why nailpolish is also bad.

    1. Anonymous pineapple*

      My understanding from the post is potential chipping/color transfer from the polish onto the historical materials?

    2. LilyP*

      Anecdotally, I’ve found that if you rub the flat side of a painted nail hard on paper the color sometimes transfers to the paper. All fun and games when you’re a high schooler messing around in your notebook, but would be pretty tragic if it happened accidentally with a valuable document!

      1. Pibble*

        I’ve had it accidentally happen when the tip of my nail rubs at a certain angle – it seems to be more common with more pigmented polishes, too, so it’s a bright streak of red or blue on something you weren’t planning on marking!

      2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        I’ve once accidentally brushed my hand against my wall and a bunch of my (dried, several week old) nail polish came off and marked it. That’s happened occasionally with other items. Not often, but I suppose if I was regularly handling irreplaceable objects it would be a bigger deal.

      3. EmKay*

        Yup, all the time. My college notes are covered in little red and black marks from my nail polish.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I was really surprised the first time that happened to me, I had no idea it could do that! I used to wear nail polish a LOT and it has not happened to me very often. But the fact that it can happen at all makes a total ban on nail polish absolutely reasonable IMO

    3. Allonge*

      There may be some transfer of the polish to the material (you don’t want any extra chemicals around your old papers) or it can chip. And it makes it difficult to make sure your hands are really clean.

    4. Green great dragon*

      I once stuffed a few hundred envelopes while wearing cheap nail polish. A significant minority ended up with purple streaks on them.

    5. Virginia Plain*

      If nail polish can (as explained by various commenters) chip off into your sugar free mint choc chip unicorn nitro mochafrappalatte, it can chip off into your Donesday Book, I’d say!

    6. LCH*

      as an admin assistant, I used to leave red streaks from my nail polish on papers while filing (nbd for the most part). as an archivist now, I definitely do not wear nail polish. although it is funny when I’m working with a 20th century collection and see red streaks from prior to acquisition and immediately know how that happened.

    7. quill*

      So as someone who briefly had to formulate a nail polish, I have a few reasons why it’s bad for documents:

      – The pigment. It’s suspended in a solvent with the hardening agent when applied, so naturally some of the pigment is always going to be accessible on the surface of the nail. If you top coat with clear, probably less is available, but clear nail polish has the same solvents and hardening agents, just no pigment, so if applied when not fully dry the pigment can rise to the top anyway. (And most of the solvents partially dissolve the bottom coat anyhow. Not enough to notice with the naked eye.)

      – The solvent. Volatile organic chemicals like acetone and ketones off-gas as part of the nail polish drying process but there’s still some present, and they are, as advertised, volatile. They’re also pretty powerful solvents of organic matter, and a piece of paper with, presumably, a thin layer of human biodebris like finger oils and skin cells probably won’t like trace amounts of the solvent. We’re looking at cumulative damage after decades, rather than touching a paper with a polished nail and having it disintegrate.

      – UV hardened Gel nails, mentioned as possibly one of the things that is “safe” in the archives, may have their own chemical concerns, but especially the solvent toluene can still be present in trace amounts, see part 2 for the chemistry concerns.

        1. quill*

          Your praise is ALMOST worth all the gooey failed formulations I scraped back off my own nails with a pen cap.

      1. Red 5*

        Aha, this explains why my brain was a bunch of question marks at people having stories about leaving streaks. I was just taking the OP at their word that it was bad and not thinking about it too much but I can’t recall having left a streak of polish on anything since I stopped using cheap brands in high school. But I do also have a fairly specific process that involves waiting for the color to dry a certain amount before putting on a top coat, sealing the end of the nail with it, etc. So there would still be a chance of color transfer but it would be minimal. Also I’m very used to the fact that even a quick dry top coat or quick dry polish still is only “touch dry” and will take around an hour to really be dry all the way through, which is not well advertised by the companies that make those products.

        All that said, the chemicals involved in polish are no joke and have to be taken seriously and dealt with properly. Nail polish and remover can eat through an extraordinary amount of stuff, including car paint, and shouldn’t be handled without the caution they deserve. The risk for cumulative damage from the materials present is very real.

        1. quill*

          Yes, acetone and toluenes especially are chemicals of great concern, medically speaking, for nail techs. Because of the volatility and offgassing they’re constantly exposed to.

          But also doing your nails occasionally at home can lead to some nasty accidents with, say, painted furniture, linoleum…

      2. Tiger Snake*

        OoOOo. Science~

        Thank you Quill; that was a really interesting and easy to understand explanation!

  20. MeowMixers*

    #2 – I work in the food manufacturing industry. Nails must not have nail polish, be acrylic, have any coverings of any kind, no clear polish. Basically, nothing on them, and they must be kept short and clean. I have done fingernail audits (and yes, we check everyone, no matter what gender). In some industries, this is normal practice. It is perfectly okay to say to a candidate that nails must be clean and short with nothing on them. I don’t understand how this can be seen as discriminatory to tell people this.

    Ensure this is clearly laid out in the employee policy that you have. Go over it in the interview and again in training.

  21. Phil*

    #5 I think people are starting to shy away from midnight to avoid confusion. I noticed here in Australia, for instance, whenever states decide to do their many ever-changing covid rules, they’ll say it’s in effect from 11:59pm or 12:01am to make sure people have the right day. Hopefully it catches on in businesses…

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’m pretty sure ours change at 4am – partly so there’s no confusion, but also because it’s when most public transport isn’t running, shops are shut, shifts aren’t changing over, etc.

    2. Irish girl*

      In insurance, most policies are issued/canceled effective 12:01 am the date. This done to prevent the confusion we have here.

      1. merula*

        Yes, and the effective and expiration dates will be the same day, different years. Effective Jan 1, 2021 at 12:01 am, expiring Jan 1, 2022 at 12:00 am. Further proof that 12:00 is Jan 1, not Dec 31.

  22. GNG*

    OP3: When CEO & COO said maybe they’ll have you do something different when you return, how did you respond? Did you ask them to clarify the what and why?

    If I heard that, alarms would go off in my head. I would be extremely concerned about my job and I wouldn’t let it hang there.

    1. Myrin*

      This letter honestly has me quite confused. I feel like everyone in it – OP somewhat included – behaves like OP quit and now wants to be re-hired when it was clear from the beginning that she would return sooner or later. Like, what exactly has been the plan here all along?

    2. Harper the Other One*

      Let’s be kind to the OP, whose mother was terminally ill. Given that they decided to take FMLA, I imagine they were also providing some caregiving which is exhausting both physically and emotionally. The wording used by the CEO and COO was probably not the first thing on their mind.

      1. GNG*

        Just to clarify- I was only asking for additional info, in case OP comes to the comments section. It wasn’t meant to be an unkind remark to OP at all.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          My mistake – it reads a little bit like “you should have seen this coming” in text.

          But I’m not surprised OP didn’t notice nuances in that discussion – they were probably so relieved to be getting leave and so caught up in worry and anticipatory grief.

          1. Pickaduck*

            OP here: I did not take it that way at all! And yes I was really concentrating on other things at the time! I was assuming, and I still assume, when they said “something else” they meant an equivalent to my this and I was holding in the first place. I didn’t question it too much because frankly, I wouldn’t mind doing something else if it was equivalent…depending on what that was. They did ask me what I might want that to look like.

  23. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. From the letter, it seems like Jane is permanently in the office? Perhaps she sees herself in an office manager or coordinator role, hence the “needing to know everything”.

    It does sound very annoying though.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      Jane’s behavior sounds way beyond annoying to me and well into the realm of interfering with a coworker’s ability to do their job properly. Looking at confidential materials that do NOT concern her, opening mail that isn’t hers, throwing away papers that LW needs to act on before LW even has a chance to see them? Holy officious busybody, Batman! This has to stop.

      I am side eyeing that boss SO HARD right now. Since hitting her over the head with a clue by four is obviously out of the question, I urge LW to follow Alison’s excellent advice and strongly hope she will wake up and do something about Jane, before her snooping causes even more problems than it already has.

      1. Slipping The Leash*

        Maybe install a remote-triggered alarm and a nanny-cam. Keep the video feed open on your remote screen. Any time you see her messing around with your desk, set off the alarm. Bonus points if you can custom-program the alarm to shout “Jane — get away from my desk!”

    2. Observer*

      Perhaps she sees herself in an office manager or coordinator role, hence the “needing to know everything”.

      Even ACTUAL don’t have the need to “know everything”. In fact, in my experience, one of the most important qualifications for an office manager is the ability to know what you need to know and when to keep your eyes on your own desk.

      For instance, our office manager needs to be informed about new hires before most of the rest of the office. That doesn’t mean they get to be informed by HR what the new hire is making. And the office manager probably needs to know about any accommodations that someone might need, but that doesn’t mean that they get to know WHY the accommodation is needed, in most cases. Because they also often act as the receptionist, they also are often told about meetings that will happen – but not necessarily what those meetings are about! etc.

    3. irene adler*

      I wonder if Jane’s “needing to know everything” is her trying to conceal something from the bookkeeping aspect of the organization.

  24. Qwetry*

    Alison, your answer to #3 is very black-and-white – isn’t there a chance that the FMLA’s “top 10 per cent” exception applies here?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Based on the facts in the letter, I’d be pretty skeptical. For people who don’t know what we’re talking about, the FMLA says that you don’t need to reinstall a “key employee” — defined as someone among the highest paid 10% of all their employees — at the end of their FMLA leave if reinstatement would cause “substantial and grievous economic injury” to the employer. They have to notify the employee they are in this category at the time the employee requests the leave.

      The legal bar for what causes “substantial and grievous economic injury” is very high — it’s higher than the ADA’s “undue hardship” test, for example. The reinstatement would need to threaten the economic viability of the organization or cause significant long-term economic injury.

      If the employer wants to claim this exception, they would have needed to provide official notice to the OP, explaining the basis for the decision, and they have to provide that notice either before the leave is taken or with enough time where the OP could still have returned to work and not been denied job reinstatement.

      So unless the OP left all that out of the letter, it doesn’t sound like that’s in play here!

      1. Pickaduck*

        OP #3 again -Thanks, the box for “key employee” was not checked on my approved FMLA paperwork so I’m assuming this does not apply.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        For people who don’t know what we’re talking about, the FMLA says that you don’t need to reinstall a “key employee” — defined as someone among the highest paid 10% of all their employees — at the end of their FMLA leave if reinstatement would cause “substantial and grievous economic injury” to the employer. They have to notify the employee they are in this category at the time the employee requests the leave.

        I had never heard of that before; thank you for laying it out so plainly.

  25. Zoe E*

    LW #2: Definitely explain in the job ad and talk about this with candidates at interview – this is a valuable thing to know for those interested in a career working with historical documents! I stopped wearing nail varnish during my PhD research with medieval manuscripts because I understood this was just a requirement of the work I was doing, and it was no great hardship because it was a path to a career I wanted to pursue. Many of these undergraduates may have no idea of the damage their nail varnish can do and could be willing to make a change to accommodate work they are interested in.

  26. cncx*

    RE LW 2, I played piano as a child and my piano teacher was very particular about nail polish flaking off onto her piano and long nails clicking. She was probably more hardcore than she needed to be but as such my aversion to nail polish and long nails is pushing up on a complex at this point. What i have noticed in my friends (because this is a borderline traumatic issue for me) is that there are some people for whom gel nails or a manicure is part of being dressed up, some for whom they see it as something nice when they are really dressed up, some people who think it is too femme, and some like me who either don’t care or have other issues.

    I have a AMAB friend who also works in a library and keeps the nail polish for special occasions because he knows it is a no go at work. I have another friend who would self-select out if she couldn’t do gel nails, and then other friends who would suck it up as part of the deal for a job they like. I don’t think it is a huge dealbreaker and not big enough of an issue to be some kind of gendered problematic culture fit. I think what is important is that it is flagged in the job ad and in the interview and people can decide if they are ok with that. This isn’t problematic like expecting front desk employees to be thin and femme presenting and not hiring people who aren’t- this is about touching documents and is on par with food service or medical jobs.

    1. londonedit*

      I agree. Years ago I had an interview at a company that was sort of adjacent to the industry I’d been working in but a little different (I’d been made redundant and was applying for anything that seemed vaguely suitable!). I’d worn a patterned dress in shades of green and at the end of the interview the person interviewing me mentioned that there was a dress code that applied to all staff – you could only wear the company colours, which were red, blue, white and grey. It struck me as odd, but the reasoning was that they had customer-facing staff who wore uniforms in those colours, and while they didn’t require other staff to wear a uniform, they wanted everyone to conform to a corporate look. It wasn’t the right job for me anyway for a number of reasons, but that was definitely one of the dealbreakers – I’m used to very casual office environments, and I couldn’t imagine myself having to buy a whole wardrobe of businesswear in only four colours. But it was clearly explained at interview stage, so it was my choice to self-select out. As long as the OP in this case makes it clear that one of the job requirements is having short and unpainted nails then I can’t see a problem.

      1. BelleMorte*

        no black? that’s wild. As someone who is larger weight-wise, but also in the tall inseam range, finding bottoms in those colours would be quite a challenge (finding clothing that fits already is) as most are just standard black if not jeans.

        I probably would have laughed my way out of that interview.

        1. Annie Moose*

          What an odd reaction! Many jobs have slightly unexpected dress code requirements. It’s very common.

          1. MassMatt*

            I don’t find it an odd reaction, yes dress codes are common but dressing in company colors isn’t. Employers are free to require such things but they should be clear about them early on (I.e. not mentioned after hiring) and they should be aware that some candidates will balk. “The power of brown” may be your company slogan but that doesn’t mean everyone wants to wear it every day at the job.

            1. londonedit*

              Yep it was just those four colours – I guess you could wear navy or grey trousers or whatever. And they made a point of letting me know in the first interview, and it was very clear that they knew it was an unusual requirement. I’d never heard of anything like it – I work in publishing and most people wear jeans or casual clothes to the office. But this was a copywriting job for a company that had offices where people would come in to speak to associates, and those associates all wore a uniform (from memory for women it was a grey pencil skirt or trousers with a white or pale blue blouse and a scarf with a red, blue, grey and white pattern – similar to the sort of thing bank staff might wear). And for some reason they’d decided that they wanted all of their staff to dress in those company colours – I think it was something about wanting everyone to present a particular corporate image whether they were front-facing or not. At any rate that was their policy, and it was one of the things that told me it wouldn’t be the right place for me, but they had plenty of people working for them so I can only imagine others weren’t put off by it.

            2. Simply the best*

              I don’t find it odd either. I have never worked anywhere that had a dress code with color restrictions unless it was a place that gave me a uniform. How did they deal with shades? Red, blue, and gray can mean a whole host of things that don’t actually match your company colors.

            3. MCMonkeyBean*

              I agree, I think I’d actually rather wear a uniform then have to fill my wardrobe with clothes limited to such small colors. I would find that to be a very odd dress code and would definitely turn down the job based on that alone.

              1. MCMonkeyBean*

                *odd dress code for the non-customer facing employees at least. Obviously less unusual at some big stores like Target–but I imagine even if you went into the corporate offices at target you would not find everyone there to be wearing red shirts and khaki pants…

            4. Mannequin*

              Hahahahaha I hate wearing brown so much that I own zero brown clothing and would 1000000% self select out of the best job in the world if wearing brown every day was a requirement.

  27. Myrin*

    For #1, I wonder if this is a situation where it would help strengthen OP’s case to directly tell her boss that she’s willing to quit over this? I would think that could drive home just how serious the problem is with a weirdly lackadaisical boss but on the other hand, this kind of boss might just as well go “okay, then do that”?

    1. TheLinguistManager*

      Nah, threatening to quit over this doesn’t follow from the complaint. The conversation with the boss needs to center on the work impact, not be an ultimatum.

      1. Myrin*

        I didn’t mean it in an ultimatum/threatening kind of way but in a “this is serious enough (for me but also in general business etiquette) that I’m willing to quite over it, just so you know” way but I guess ultimately the difference might not be clear and you’re right regarding the work impact.

    2. Red Swedish Fish*

      Don’t threaten to quit unless your ready to quit. In my experience bosses take that as your ready to go.

      1. MassMatt*

        This. Better the OP start looking than threaten to quit. Boss has shown an irrational streak when it comes to this issue, and cannot count on normal behavior, but many non-weird bosses would react very poorly to this.

    3. BRR*

      Threatening to quit rarely strengthens someone’s case. I think the lw needs to go back and say that while it stops for a bit, it keeps continuing and bring it up in terms of how it’s preventing the lw from doing their job. I would strongly guess the owners wouldn’t want the lw to not be able to do the bookkeeping.

  28. SleepyKitten*

    “which midnight” is the perennial question. Especially when something starts and ends at midnight! Let’s just all agree to use 23:59 and 00:01 from now on

    1. Nanani*

      There are places in the world where events that run past midnight will use times greater than 24 hours.
      For example, a TV program running from midnight Thursday night into what is technically Friday morning will be labelled on the schedule “24:00 – 25:00” for the Thursday programming block instead of “starting at midnight”

  29. Forrest*

    Aargh, OP2, please push back on HR’s “you can’t say that” nonsense! Clearly communicated, work-necessary rules are the opposite of discriminatory: it’s so much more hostile to hold people to a standard that you’re *not* clearly communicating for fear of offending them.

    I also wanted to say that I think you’re looking at this the wrong way with “surely nobody’s going to want to remove their nails for a quarter-time, minimum-wage job”. This is a job you’ve described as a great fit for students wanting to go into conservation or archival work: it still is, even if your students aren’t necessarily on that track. IMO, it sounds like a brilliant opportunity for students who aren’t traditionally welcomed into what can be a pretty conservative field to find out more about it, as well as earning in a way that fits well around their studies. All the more reason to make sure that you’re not selecting out minoritised students without giving them the full opportunity to make that decisions for themselves!

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes definitely! Also it’s for them to make the decision whether they’re willing to remove the varnish / nails. Some may not be willing to do so and others may. I don’t think it’s right for the interviewer to decide pre-emptively that someone would find it too much trouble. Applicants may be willing to do so or they may not but it’s for them to decide. I mean some people may view having long / painted nails an integral part of their identity but others probably just view them as a pleasant diversion or grooming activity.

      I like having painted nails sometimes but I’m not so wedded to them that I’d refuse to remove them for a job I really wanted.

    2. Actual Vampire*

      It seems bizarre (and discrimination-esque) to assume that painted nails are a big part of someone’s identity just because you see them with painted nails once. I painted my nails approximately once a year in college. Usually at the beginning of the semester when I had free time, which would probably also be when the interview is happening.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Very much agreed. It’s really no different to the job I used to have in the labs stating quite clearly that people for that job HAD to be able to stand up for extended periods of time, work sat on a lab stool, have their face covered by a mask, have clean short nails etc.

      An incompetant HR department would probably have told us that those requirements were discriminatory because what if someone couldn’t wear a mask, or was disabled and couldn’t fufil the sitting on lab stools bit.

      But they were legitimately discriminatory. There was a reason why there were no alternatives or ‘bending the rules’ allowed. We made it very clear in the job description that people would have to be able to meet the conditions.

    4. Observer*

      it’s so much more hostile to hold people to a standard that you’re *not* clearly communicating for fear of offending them.

      Yes. So much this!

      All the more reason to make sure that you’re not selecting out minoritised students without giving them the full opportunity to make that decisions for themselves!

      I agree with this so much. OP, I get that you are trying to do the right thing and not discriminate. But you will be much LESS discriminatory and much MORE open and welcoming if you give people information rather than making assumptions.

    5. D3*

      I would have LOVED this kind of job in college and would have had zero issues with short plain nails in order to have that job. Something on campus that was interesting and different? Pass the nail polish remover!!
      Instead I worked fast food and janitorial. Which I hated.

    6. Red 5*

      I’m very into my nails and in college I absolutely would have kept them trimmed and polish free for this job even if it was quarter-time and minimum wage because it sounds so much better than other options like retail or food service (both of which can often require unpolished and short nails).

    7. FL*

      In fairness to HR, it would be discriminatory to say that only people with short nails need apply, which is what it sounds like the OP suggested. But I agree that including a note explaining that the successful candidate will have to either cut their nails or wear gloves would be fine. I honestly don’t think you need to go so far as to say it in the job ad at all, unless it’s been a huge problem in the past.

  30. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    Not a hiring manager, but I don’t think there’s any problems with reviewing other ads, and keeping track of what catches you eye for word choice or phrasing, and then using that plus the requirements for the job to make a good job description. (like, oh this job mentioned benifit, we have those too, so we should mention that. Employees like that.)

  31. Harper the Other One*

    OP 2, I’d try putting together a new job description that includes all the requirements for working around the documents – I’m sure they can’t apply lotion, they probably aren’t able to have food or drinks at their working space, etc. – and show it to HR again. The question about nails may have triggered an automatic “you can’t say that” (which is still silly, but, you know…) but seeing a paragraph that says “we work with historical documents and therefore employees must be willing to do the following to preserve them” will take the emphasis off the nails alone and make them realize this is an actual work requirement.

    If you still can’t do that, do the info sheet, but please send it before the interview so that people can decline if they aren’t willing/able to change something or abide by one of the requirements.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Another thought is could you do a phone interview before an in person interview. You can bring up the nails and other requirements. If you do this with all candidates you can’t say that it was discrimination against a particular candidate because you would have no way of knowing if they wear nail polish because you haven’t seen them in person

  32. Stitch*

    Te LW1: I think Jane needs to be fired as stealing your work documents is weird, malicious behavior. Plus confidentiality problems and if her boundaries are this bad, no way it’s limited to LW.

    Job searching because your boss isn’t taking this seriously is in no way an overreaction. Good luck!

  33. Tech writer by day*

    LW1: you don’t say exactly what sensitive info you handle, but since you’re a bookkeeper, could it involve financial info that’s regulated by SOX, GLBA, GDPR, etc.? If so, pointing out potential compliance penalties might motivate your boss to take the issue seriously.

    1. Retired CPA*

      Throwing away accounting documents is absolutely an internal control violation that would give any sane auditor a field day. (I found an embezzler once. It made my year.)

      You essentially have no internal controls, if non-finance personnel can intercept vendor communications. Does she also interfere with receipts or accounts receivable? Could she, even if you haven’t caught her doing so? That’s 18-point all capitals RISK for monetary chicanery.

      It isn’t clear whether you’re a small office of a larger company, or a very small company. Assuming your company actually has an internal control /segregation of duties document, please review it and discuss the IC issues with your boss or the controller (CFO? Treasurer?), preferably before the next interim audit. If you have an internal audit department, they also might take an active interest in shutting this down.

  34. Ana Gram*

    I’m in law enforcement and we have a ton of grooming standards: no beards, nail polish only in neutral colors, no more than one earring per ear, no unnatural hair colors, etc. I just let applicants know at the interview and it’s never been an issue. Granted, it’s a well paid full-time job that’s known to be conservative about appearance but I suspect that if you just explain to applicants why nails need to be short and unpolished, they’ll understand. Some may no longer be interested but that’s fine.

    Also, who are these college kids that can afford acrylics and blinged out nails?? I just starting getting mine done and that stuff is expensive!

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      They may have a friend who’s in cosmetology school. Often friends will be subjects to do haircuts, etc. It’s actually a nice way to get stuff done at reduced price

      1. Shad*

        Even without a friend, plenty of cosmetology schools have a salon with reduced prices! I’ve been on a shoestring budget lately, and it’s been great.

      2. Forrest*

        They may BE the friend in cosmetology school. If it’s community college or something, some of your students will probably be working shifts in formal salons or running side-businesses doing hair/nails/beauty informally alongside their studies.

        Lots of people do nail art creatively and the tipping point between “expensive hobby” and “just-about sustainable business” isn’t as big if you’re just looking to cover materials rather than pay yourself for your labour.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Out of interest, does your employer have any flexibility on the ‘no beards’ rule for those for whom they are a religious requirement?
      Wearing a beard is a pillar of faith for Sikh men, for instance, so I am wondering whether there is a religious discrimination issue and how your employer navigates it? (I believe that where I am, a lot of police forces limit the length of beard which are permitted but religious exemptions are available

      1. Ana Gram*

        Yes, of course. We’re in the US so we accommodate (most) sincerely held religious beliefs. We also have waivers for men who can’t shave for medical reasons. If a man had to wear a beard or head covering for religious reasons, that would be fine. As a matter of fact, we stock hijabs in our uniform supply and we have a supplier for uniform turbans.

    3. Observer*

      Also, who are these college kids that can afford acrylics and blinged out nails?? I just starting getting mine done and that stuff is expensive!

      It’s a lot cheaper if you can do any of this yourself. Which is why it’s a good bet that whatever the students are wearing is not the super hard stuff you can only get in a salon.

      1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        This. I have never been to a salon, but I have gotten press-ons at Walmart that worked just as well for my purposes as professionally-installed ones, and I do my own polish most of the time. You can definitely also buy gel polish or dip powders or anything else you can get in a salon at a drugstore or nail supply store, it’s just a lot harder to do it yourself (especially on your off hand!).

      2. PT*

        College campuses also often attract budget businesses, that offer services that are more in line with a student’s budget (or offer discounts with student ID, etc.)

    4. Mannequin*

      Where I live, there are dozens & dozens of inexpensive nail salons and acrylics, gels, etc are worn by people of all classes & demographics. I think more women here wear them than don’t.

  35. I'm just here for the cats*

    I’m my experience when a manager or director leaves for FMLA or other leave they just have an interim director untill that person comes back. I know they didn’t know the exact time frame that OP would be back, but they could still have done the interim director thing instead of having the other person take over.

    OP this isn’t going to resolve itself, you need to have a conversation now.

  36. DrunkAtAWedding*

    I’ve worked in cafes before, and it was very, very normal for unpainted nails to be part of the uniform (no one wants chips of nail polish in their food). I really think it would be fine to make that clear for this.

  37. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I’m just here for the pedantic arguments about whether midnight actually belongs to a day, or is the infinitesimal border between one day and another. In the blue corner, computer scientists; in the red corner, astrophysicists; in the green corner, historical linguists. Making popcorn, BRB.

    (for colloquial use, I agree with Alison. Midnight Friday is the last possible moment of Friday.)

    1. Virginia Plain*

      But that’s not what Alison says. She says midnight on Friday is the first possible moment of Friday.

      I’ve never seen a deadline rendered as “midnight” or noon or whatever. If you just put it in the 24 clock then there’s no confusion. And if your deadline is to the minute, you’d be better to be precise about it.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I realised that when I hear “midnight on Thursday” I think of midnight during Thursday night, but “00.00 on Thursday” is a whole 24 hours earlier, even though “midnight” and “00.00” are equivalent. So I’m a big fan of the airline convention of just not ever referring to midnight or 12am or 00.00 at all, but always 11.55pm or 12.05am or equivalent.

        Historically, days were considered to start at sunrise or sunset (culture dependent) and I’m sympathetic to the concept, as for me “Thursday night” lasts until I wake up on Friday morning.

        If server overload at deadline is a concern, set the deadline outside reasonable submission hours (assuming 24/7 SLA with the provider) – a 4am deadline means most people submit “last thing” but those times are spread out.

        1. Elenna*

          Huh. Now that you mention it, “midnight on Thursday” is ambiguous to me, but “00:00 Thursday” is clearly the start of Thursday. I guess because there’s a bunch of zeros so it must be the start? “12:00 am Thursday” also feels like the start of Thursday because am comes before pm.

          Also interesting, “midnight on Friday” definitely feels like “the end of Friday” to me, it’s a lot less ambiguous than “midnight on Thursday”. Probably because the Friday-Saturday transition* is the start of the weekend, so people are a lot more likely to talk about that than to talk about the Thursday-Friday transition.

          *a clarifying term I’ve stolen from Stardew Valley speedruns and min-max runs :)

      2. PT*

        Yes, because we all understand what day Midnight is a part of on New Year’s (it is the first minute of January of the New Year), so having this debate any of the other days of the year is just foolish.

    2. Dumpster Fire*

      Officially, midnight on Friday is the first possible moment of Friday; i.e., that moment at which Thursday ends and Friday begins. In a practical sense, though, if you’re including “Friday” in your description of a deadline – such as “apply by midnight on Friday” – then it really seems like at least part of Friday needs to be available to submit the application.

  38. MuseumChick*

    OP 2, this should very much like how museum/archives operate. It’s common knowledge in the field to make choices like short nails (and not wearing jewelry or scented product to name a few other things) for the handing of historical object. Would it be possible to head this off in the phone screen phase of the hiring process? As you go over the aspect of the job you can slip in something like, “Because this position is focused on handling X, its best practices to not have long/painted finger names or [insert whatever else]. Is that something you would be able to adhere to while working here?”

  39. JG Wave*

    #2 is giving me flashbacks to when I was EXACTLY that student employee. I had short nails but was fond of nail polish—and one day, to my horror, I brushed my hand against a document from the 1940s and left a streak of bright red nail polish. I was sooo grateful that at least it was in a spot without writing, on a document where that color didn’t LOOK like an obvious error, and that it was high quality paper that hadn’t torn—but what if it had been a fragile letter covered in spindly handwriting from the 1890s??

    I went home at the end of my shift, removed my nail polish, and have barely worn it since. But I will carry the guilt with me forever… spare your student employees that shame.

  40. Bostonian*

    Ha! #4 I’ve seen the job description I wrote for an open position I was hiring for get lifted 100% verbatim by another company. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when a candidate asks for specific examples of certain parts of the JD, but the interviewer has no clue. There’s no way their “teapot glazers” did all the same exact things as mine.

    1. Mannequin*

      I once had someone steal both my eBay photos and my description verbatim to resell a pair of shoes I sold them, which wouldn’t normally have bothered me except it contained very specific things like “wore these to walk all day on vacation in Big City X and they were so comfortable!” and a couple of the pictures showed them on MY feet.

  41. Eldritch Office Worker*

    #3 I’m really sorry about your mom. I’m sure the last few months have been a lot, and this is just one more thing to deal with, but please remember your job is legally guaranteed to you and you don’t need to take any kind of backseat because you had family things to deal with. This is exactly the kind of situation those laws are for – to protect you. Good luck.

  42. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Re #5: My experience matches Alison’s; while midnight technically belongs to the day that is beginning, I’ve only heard it meant as belonging to the day that has just ended.

  43. Delta Delta*

    #2 – A requirement to have short, unpainted nails is discriminatory? What? There may be people who like having manicures, and who may self-select out because of this requirement.

    Also, having worked with undergraduates, it seems like the others’ suggestion of a fact sheet and an explanation about what can/cannot be on employees’ hands and why would help. These applicants are young people who may simply not know until they’re told, and then totally get on board with the rules once they understand them.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s actually arguably less discriminatory than a lot of dress code items, since it’ll apply across genders

      1. Delta Delta*

        That was my thought. And it’s not an immutable characteristic. A person, regardless of gender, can choose to have polished or unpolished nails.

        1. Red 5*

          Yup, that’s my read on it as well. One of my big pet peeves is that nail polish and nail art should not be considered gendered and that anyone of any gender expression can enjoy it (or not) to their heart’s content.

          But if it’s bad for the work, then it’s bad for the work, and would be a requirement that’s equally applied which makes it fine.

    2. CB212*

      I think HR is looking at it as, that description could be a dog-whistle for “we prefer white people”. Not that millions of white women don’t have wild nails, obviously; but where I live, it could definitely read as a ‘culture fit’ phrase that suggests certain populations need not apply.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I can see that, but there’s a defensible work reason for the requirement so as long as they accompany the requirement with that explanation their collective asses should be covered.

        1. CB212*

          oh absolutely, I think it’s a normal work requirement that HR is overthinking – like they have good intentions but they’re wrong on this one. You can’t get blue streaks on the papyrus, that’s obviously a basic work protocol.

          1. CB212*

            whoops sent too soon – I just commented in the first place because it seemed like a lot of folks on the page were taking it as potential gender discrimination rather than racial/cultural. But I agree with you, this isn’t like dress codes that forbid “hoop earrings”, or similar markers; this is just a site requirement for working with the materials of the job.

            1. Nonnie*

              To be fair, there are some jobs where you genuinely shouldn’t wear hoop earrings- for your own sake! For example, veterinary offices or some health care positions.

              Agreed on the rest still.

      2. Observer*

        In addition to what Eldritch Office Worker says, as noted, it’s a lot less discriminatory to bring it up just be clear about the requirement that to make assumptions.

  44. Dr. Rebecca*

    LW2: have your students wear gloves. All archives I’ve worked in have had either cotton or nitryl/neoprene gloves (latex should be avoided due to allergies and its tendency to shed powder).

      1. Red 5*

        Oddly I actually have experience with this because I keep my nails long and I’ve worked food service off and on in my life.

        Cotton gloves wouldn’t be a problem with long nails (sharp nails, perhaps, I keep mine in a rounded shape because I don’t want to stab myself) except that they actually would wear holes in the gloves more frequently than having short nails. Probably not a problem in this instance, just something that annoys me about my winter gloves because they’ll get a hole in the index finger by the end of each season. It’s unlikely that it would really become an issue on the whole though, and if cotton gloves are reasonable for the work itself then it would be reasonable for people with some longer manicure looks.

        In food service I basically always wore latex gloves, so I’m unsure if nitryl/neoprene would be functionally that different. BUT, sharp nails definitely can cut through the end of the fingers if the gloves themselves are tight. Having a glove that’s loose enough that it’s not a danger would potentially be worse because it would affect how easily you could grip/handle items (since the OP mentioned dexterity as an issue). Long nails that are not sharp do not do this though. I’ve never had a nail go through a glove.

        I found wearing gloves all day in food service difficult to manage with my nails but part of that was the amount of sweat in the hot conditions (which an archive wouldn’t have) and also the amount of hand washing involved (again, wouldn’t happen in an archive). So it could be reasonably easy to do if they’re not filed to a point or have 3-D nail art.

        Also just as a thing to throw out there, in my experience it’s not the length of the nails that determines if it affects their hand dexterity, it’s the nail strength and how accustomed they are to the length. But in the world of document preservation, it’s probably not worth getting that nuanced about it.

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          Yes, all of this, thank you.

          Also, my nails are often of various lengths (tmi but I don’t cut them, I just let them grow until they break) and having longer ones has never made document handling more difficult. Any length is manageable if you’re careful enough.

        2. Mannequin*

          A friend of mine had 2”-3” for decades (her natural nails under acrylic) and never had an issue doing anything, including taking care of all 3 of her children as infants.

    1. A Library Person*

      I’m not sure what type of material OP2 works with, but I’m assuming it is not traditional paper archival material. Cotton gloves often do more harm than good to those types of documents, for reasons articulated in other comment threads, and are used primarily for photographs. OP’s description of their work, and particularly the fact that they consulted with a conservator and a listserv who both apparently recommended latex gloves, makes me think that they work with something like original artwork or artifacts, not documents.

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        Neoprene/nitrile/vinyl gloves can do anything latex can, and do so without triggering people’s allergies, which is why, you may notice, I recommended those.

    2. workswitholdstuff*

      Gloves can cause dexterity issues. Most archives I’ve encountered, it’s clean dry hands.

      The exception was when I was given nitrile gloves to handle some glass plate negatives I was looking at alongside the paper archival material I’d also requested.

      On this side of the pond, British Library are def on the ‘clean dry hands’ side of the debate, unless there’s additional factors that call for gloves. They’re def seen as leaders in sector best practice…

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        Yes; and I’m saying there’s a step between that and “fire them for wearing nail polish when it seems the policy was ambiguously or not at all explained.” They’re students. How’re they supposed to learn if they’re fired?

  45. Imaginary Number*

    #5 reminds me of the constant confusion over the meaning of biweekly, which is even defined in most dictionaries now as EITHER “every other week” or “twice a week” and is used so interchangeably that it’s become an almost useless term.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Try having to calculate child support. Biweekly means there are 26 pay periods, twice a month means 24 pay periods. And yes it makes a HUGE difference in calculating someone’s monthly incomes. I’ve started asking, do you get paid every two weeks or only twice a month. MOST people get it. I actually prefer folks who are hourly and get paid weekly. Soooooooo much easier to calculate.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I actually prefer folks who are hourly and get paid weekly. Soooooooo much easier to calculate.

        Biweekly pay drives me crazy; the paydays change every month, but due dates don’t. Bimonthly, weekly, and monthly pay have been so much easier to manage my budget on… So agreed on this one.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I totally meant semimonthly instead of bimonthly.

          May my coffee kick in quickly.

      2. MassMatt*

        I have had to deal with this with clients, I have banished “biweekly” and “bimonthly” from my vocabulary since clients rarely understood the difference and the terms are technically ambiguous.

        I ask people if they get paid every other week or twice a month. Sometimes they look puzzled that there is a difference, and once I had someone tell me twice a month, only to later say “what about those months where I get an “extra” paycheck?”—uh, then you are paid every other week.

        As an aside, it was very surprising to me how many people do not know how much they are paid, no matter what the time period.

        1. Red 5*

          I feel like the only solution to that might be saying “do you get paid every two weeks or on the same two dates of the month?”

          People who get paid always on the 1st and the 15th usually know that they always get paid on the 1st and the 15th, and people who get paid every two weeks realize it moves around and they just get a paycheck every other Friday (or Tuesday or whatever). It’s just depressing that we have to be so convoluted in describing it when there used to be perfectly good words to use but they got so confused it stopped working.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Normally, I’d just suggest asking “Do you get 12, 24, 26 or 52 paycheques in a year?”

            And of course, this year I’d be the odd duck who has to answer “I’ll get 27 if I make it to the end of the year” because 2021 heard that 2020 was difficult and replied “hold my beer!”

      3. Irish girl*

        My husband gets paid every 15 days… then you get Feb still gets 2 pay checks. Oh but you cant pay him on a weekend. So it changes every month.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      #5 reminds me of the constant confusion over the meaning of biweekly, which is even defined in most dictionaries now as EITHER “every other week” or “twice a week” and is used so interchangeably that it’s become an almost useless term.

      Semi-annual sales help me keep that one straight. I hear about them way more often than once every other year.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        They don’t come with the same ambiguity though: “semi” means half, so that always means there is a sale every “half” year (or twice a year). But “bi” means two, so bi-weekly can mean either “every two weeks” or “two times per week” which makes it a pretty useless term.

    3. Terrysg*

      It makes much more sense to use “fortnightly”, but I don’t think that “fortnight” is used in the US?

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        It makes much more sense to use “fortnightly”, but I don’t think that “fortnight” is used in the US?

        It’s used, but rarely, so there’s often a beat afterwards to let people process it.

    4. Tax Person*

      And then there’s the completely different meaning when used by the IRS in the U.S. for submitting your Form 941, (the employer’s quarterly federal tax return). This is the tax form where an employer reports and pays the federal income tax withheld from their employees, as well as the Social Security and Medicare tax withheld from employees and the employer’s contribution to Social Security and Medicare taxes). The term doesn’t really seem to mean anything.

      You are considered to be a “bi-weekly” payer if your taxes paid during previous tax period are above a certain level. Then you have a limited amount of time in which to pay those taxes and that amount of time is based on the day the tax liability was incurred (usually the date of the employee payroll). If you are considered a “bi-weekly” payer, you also have to include a “Schedule B” with your Form 941. Oh, my head hurts just thinking about it. Go look at the IRS website. IRS dot gov.

  46. FD*

    #1- Your coworker is not acting in a reasonable way and your boss is doing a bad job of managing. This is such a missing stair situation that I’m a little skeptical that this is going to be a tenable situation long term. In the meantime, though, have you tried to talk to your coworker directly and telling her to at least not throw out your stuff? Also, I agree with others about being the squeaky wheel with your boss.

    #2- I feel like the gender-presentation aspect is distracting from the core issue. I mean, if you worked around heavy machinery, it would be fine to tell people that they could not wear loose clothing such as skirts because it’s too dangerous around the equipment. I think this falls under general things you should go over in the interview. To me it fits in with the part where you talk about requirements for lifting heavy stuff/being on your feet/etc so that people have a good idea of the essential job requirements.

  47. tinybutfierce*

    LW2: Definitely echoing what Allison said in that you’re doing both yourself and your applicants a disservice by not being up front about the short nails as a requirement.

    A few years back, I managed an art supply store for a small chain that was surprisingly conservative for being in the arts and where we were located. A drug test was required as part of the hiring process and employees weren’t allowed to have “unnatural” hair colors; the former wasn’t ever advertised in the job postings and the latter wasn’t told to applicants until after they interviewed if we wanted to proceed with them. I can’t tell you how many great folks I interviewed who bailed after finding out about the drug test or were (understandably) not willing to change their appearance for a job paying barely above minimum wage, and how much wasted time it caused both sides. We were once STRUGGLING to fill an open position, had a great candidate I adored, but HR wouldn’t budge on “yeah, we’re not hiring someone with pink hair to work at an art store”.

    At the very least, being up front about the nail requirements will be much more respectful of both you and any candidates’ time.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Personally I only shop at art supply stores where everyone has blue hair and smells faintly of weed (I’m kidding…but only kind of)

      1. Elenna*

        Honestly yeah I feel like an art store is the kind of place where you’d expect to see people with wild hair colours!

        1. MassMatt*

          And serious eye-roll at drug testing people working at an art store. Or any retail job, really. The ubiquity of testing in this country is absurd. Especially since marijuana is far easier to detect than other drugs and stays in your system longer, while increasingly being legalized and arguably less harmful than virtually all other drugs which are harder to detect. Why Wal-mart and Home Depot are so adamant about this I don’t know. Maybe do it for their people operating fork lifts?

    2. quill*

      Minimum wage jobs have no standing to insist on anything other than showing up to work clean, dressed, and sober. That hair requirement is bonkers.

      1. Red 5*

        Totally agree that the hair requirement is bonkers (especially in an art store, like honestly, that’s just going to make customers trust them more). But I do think that there are some things that are safety issues that are reasonable no matter what the paycheck is. This only comes to mind because I’ve had coworkers who have complained about things and said “they don’t pay me enough to tell me what to wear” and I had to explain to them in detail what would happen to them if they didn’t follow the dress code.

        Personally I’m getting to a point where I don’t think any job should be able to determine your hair color at all, but I know I’ll be a minority opinion there in a lot of fields so…

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I think a lot of fields are coming around to this way of thinking! Maybe not…lawyers or newscasters, but I work in colorful hair is not uncommon in my region. Like a lot of things, it will depend on where you live and who you work for, but I think it’s getting better.

          I’m definitely on team “limit dress codes unless it’s a work requirement”. I worked in a business casual museum environment where someone showed up wearing a t-shirt of the founding fathers playing beer bong…wasn’t great, she didn’t get why it was an issue, we had to have a conversation. It was a set part of her appearance like hair and the business concern was offending patrons, but most people won’t make that mistake/it’s easily corrected so we didn’t rewrite policy over it. “Don’t wear open toed shoes because we have stuff that might fall on your feet and hurt you” is something to write down. Overpolicing just demoralizes employees.

        2. quill*

          If there’s enough of a risk that you need to change your grooming regimen or wear specific PPE, I would hope you’re being paid more than minimum wage. Though most food service positions would not agree with me…

        3. Paris Geller*

          The dress code where I work just changed to allow hair of any color. I’ve never dyed my hair an unnatural color before but once I settle in a bit more here (this is a new job for me), I’m totally going for it. It’s kind of funny though because the dress code has been pretty relaxed on things like piercings and tattoos for years. Maybe because they’re more permanent?

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Yeah I think that’s why. You can negotiate hair color. You can require tattoos to be covered, but you can’t make them go away and it’s often more hassle than it’s worth to enforce.

    3. Jelly Beanz*

      This reminds me of a small art supplies store (that also did art classes for hens parties and the like) that had opened in a quirky, inner city suburb known for its colourful, hipsterish characters.
      But the requirements for working there were stringent. You had to not only dress conservatively, but you also dress all in black, hair in natural colours, high heeled shoes for women, and had to undergo this and that test, and the requirements made you feel like you were applying to work at a high end art gallery in un upper crust area.
      Little wonder why so many were reluctant to apply.

    4. Artemis*

      I had a childhood friend I’d known since Kindergarten who had beautiful natural strawberry blonde hair, with peculiar pinkish red streaks that almost looked fake /dyed.

      As much as she had admiring compliments about her hair, it was so a pain in the ass at school as teachers would accuse her of dying her hair, and would demand her to either wash it out or dye it to a more ‘natural ‘ colour.

      I’d hate to imagine her natural hair colour hindering job and career prospects.
      It must have been the bane of her existence.

  48. Slipping The Leash*

    I word in M&A, and attorneys often solved the midnight conundrum in tender offer documents by setting the expiration date at “11:59pm on Month Day, Year” or, if they really need it to be midnight “one minute after 11:59pm on Month Day, Year.” Super annoying.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      When I was in college, and at the university, I work at now, we had to have assignments due at 11:59:59

  49. junior archivist*

    All of this discussion of gloves and careful handling reminds me of when I worked in an archive lab over the summer in university. We had to wash hands, wear cotton gloves, no food in the labs (not even in our bags), short nails and a variety of other reasonable rules with the rationale clearly explained.

    The other student I partnered with, who regularly scoffed at the rules, thought that when we were left in the lab alone when the archivists did a training session meant that he could break out the Cheetos while working. After he didn’t put them away I totally narc’d on him by getting the head director (the only other “adult” in the archive at the time). Cheeto boy got pissy with the director over this but was just reprimanded, and then was fired later that day because he called his mom who came down and berated the director for “starving a growing boy” and demanded exemptions.

    I still remember the expression on the face of the lead archivist when she came down to see Cheeto dust all over 300-year-old manuscripts. In hindsight, the archivist did say that the fact the student brought in a blue slurpee the first day was probably a warning flag. Sometimes these rules will sound totally reasonable, but to some it won’t quite land. Just do what you can to allow people to self-select out.

    1. Observer*

      and then was fired later that day because he called his mom who came down and berated the director for “starving a growing boy” and demanded exemptions.

      That is both hysterically funny and absolutely PATHETIC. Mom is an idiot (and not just for her stupid interference with Sonny boy’s job.)

  50. Observer*

    #2 – I’m shaking my head at the incompetence of your HR. You have a documented need for certain grooming standards that are directly relevant to the work. You’ve done your due diligence and checked with outside experts to make sure that you’re not going off the deep end. But your HR would rather just not hire people rather than talk to them? If you are correct that what you need tends to cluster in specific populations (and it’s almost certainly true of people who present very femme) then you are going to wind up with a bigger problem down the road. Two actually.

    Firstly, this policy is going to wind up discriminating against the groups you are worrying about – and it’s going to be much more discriminatory than talking to people about it. Think about it – if you let people know up front that this is an issue there will be some people who self select out. But there are going to be a lot who will decide that the job is worth it. So at least some of the people who could have gotten the job will lose the opportunity because you ASSUMED things about them, rather than checking in a reasonable fashion (eg using the data sheet that’s been mentioned several times.)

    Now, I don’t know if your HR actually cares about discrimination itself or not. But I’m sure that they care about what happens if the organization gets sued. And here is the thing that you and your HR need to recognize. If you ever get sued or someone complains to the DOL (or your state analogue) about your hiring practices, one of the things they are going to be looking at is your hiring numbers. And those numbers are going to be skewed by this policy. Now, you know that you weren’t trying to discriminate against women, but that may not help you. For one thing, in many cases, intent is not enough. If a policy has discriminatory impact, that’s a problem right there. And also, it’s going to be hard to defend the claim that it was all about the nails. Any lawyer with a half a brain is going to ask the obvious question – if short unpainted nails are a GENUINE need of the program why did you never ask anyone about keeping their nails short an unpainted? I mean, how are you going to explain that you were so worried about discrimination, that you preferred to ACTUALLY discriminate over giving people some possibly unpleasant information that they could then use to make their own decisions?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep. This is a common trap that overly cautious HR departments fall into. They get so worried about saying something that will offend someone that they fail to realize their actions create a discriminatory practice.

    2. LizB*

      Firstly, this policy is going to wind up discriminating against the groups you are worrying about – and it’s going to be much more discriminatory than talking to people about it.

      This, exactly. Yes, there are groups that are more likely, on balance, to wear their nails long and painted, but it’s not like that is necessarily a hard-and-fast cultural requirement. A Black woman who shows up to an interview with colorful acrylic nails with crystals on them could be completely willing to go without for the duration of the job; a masc-presenting white guy could come to the interview with bare nails and show up for work the next week with nail polish on and be frustrated when you ask him to take it off if you never mentioned the no-polish rule in the hiring process. You can’t look at a candidate and make the decision about whether or not they want to wear nail polish based on your own perceptions of them, you have to tell them about the requirement and let them make the call, or you’re going to end up unnecessarily limiting the options of the very populations you’re trying to include.

      1. UKDancer*

        This so much. I mean most jobs I’ve gone for have information about the requirements of the job. All you have to do is tell people what the requirements are so they can make an informed choice. My father uses a clear nail strengthening polish (sometimes slightly glossy looking) because he has very weak nails as a result of the medications he’s on. Nobody looking at him would assume he varnished his nails because it’s anomalous when you consider the rest of his appearance (I mean he’s of the moisturizer is for girls” school of thought) . But he technically does. You can’t always tell which people routinely wear nail varnish so you have to tell everyone the same thing.

  51. Jennifer*

    Re: long nails

    Yes, please just put it in the job posting. If someone does come on the job interview with long nails, they can address it right away in the interview by letting you know they plan to cut them if they are hired. Honestly, if I knew a job required short unpainted nails, I would go on the job interview with short unpainted nails just to avoid the interviewer jumping to the same conclusions the OP has, but that’s just me.

  52. Red 5*

    I am someone who has basically had long, painted nails since I was a teenager. While I love doing my nails and having them look nice is important to me, it’s just a thing I like to do. It’s not an important part of my identity or my gender expression (which actually leans away from femininity in most other aspects). I might understand what your HR is trying to do, but in the end, as a cisgender woman who has faced plenty of sexism, the thing is I just want everybody to be treated the same. If a woman in a job/school can paint her fingernails, I want men to be able to as well. I think boys should be able to wear dresses if they feel like and have it not be a thing, etc. Women shouldn’t have to wear heels in any situation unless you’re going to make the men wear heels too, etc.

    Because your work requires a specific thing (having short nails) then that requirement should be applied across all employees regardless of their gender. Stating in the job listing that this is a physical requirement of the job the same as “should be able to lift 10 lbs” really shouldn’t raise any eyebrows. (To be fair, the “be able to life X lbs” is frequently used in jobs that don’t require any lifting to subtly weed out candidates with disabilities, but you know, there are also plenty of jobs that will need you to lift 10 lbs). In most of the jobs I’ve had, they’ve forbidden open-toed shoes for safety reasons, and that’s usually addressed up front and enforced across the board.

    I’ve had jobs where it was either discouraged or inconvenient to have my nails long and/or painted. When I had those jobs, I kept my nails trimmed short and didn’t paint them, because that’s the choice I made that I wanted the job more than I wanted pretty nail polish. And that’s the choice your workers can make, if they’re simply informed of the requirement ahead of time in the same way you would mention any other job requirements like knowing Excel, showing up at 8 a.m., answering phones, etc.

    I would also add that you should mention to HR that painted nails are not and should not be considered gender discrimination because they are and should be gender neutral. Nail polish and manicures for men is becoming a big trend, and I’m all for it because anybody that wants pretty colors on their hand should have it.

    But not if they’re working with fragile documents ; )

  53. quill*

    LW 2: what’s your candidate field like in terms of other dress / grooming concerns? I say this because not wearing, or painting, nails is pretty standard in the lab work that I’ve done in the past, but it’s probably accepted that if you work with acetone you shouldn’t bother wearing nail polish. Is there other archival or chemical work that your candidate pool might be familiar with? That HR perhaps does not know the reality of but which has a long track record with the reality that false nails and latex gloves do not play well together?

    Also of note: if the long nails are acrylic people may be more open to taking them off than if they’ve grown them out that far. Iirc, the glue on acrylic nails only lasts a few weeks anyway, it may be a matter of not reapplying them instead of actually detaching them from the real nail.

  54. lilsheba*

    On #1, I can tell you right now the one thing I do NOT put up with is anyone going through or touching anything on my desk, ever. That would be locked up any way I could manage it. Never ever ever mess with other people’s things.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I like Alison’s lockbox advice because a) it’s practical and b) it’ll drive the nosy coworker nuts.

      But I’d be tempted towards something more like an electric fence…

  55. Susana*

    HR is way overthinking the nail thing. This isn’t like saying, you can’t have cornrows in your hair or whatever. This saying that TO PROTECT VALUABLE artifacts/documents, you can’t have long or painted nails. It’s not a dress code that’s really a code for white. It goes directly to doing the job. Like wearing a hair net.
    I like the idea of an info sheet, saying because of the delicate condition of items handled in this job, workers must have short, unpaired nails. I can’t imagine someone rejecting a job offer based on that.
    But that student who out and out defied the directive – WTF? That, to me, means (presumably) she did not really respect the potential dangers to items handled, and didn’t belong in the job anyway.

  56. Van Wilder*

    #3 – I appreciate your Penske File reference. I’ve never seen this used as a metaphor but now it will be my go-to.

  57. Lemon It's Wednesday*

    LW 2: I work in clean rooms and have worked in the biotech industry for a while as a supervisor. When I was interviewing candidates, I always asked if they were comfortable with the rules, which includes no nail polish, fake nails, perfume, make up, or hair products. For men I would ask if they were comfortable with not having a beard since they would have to wear full face respirators. These are non-negotiable parts of the job requirements, and backed up by HR. A lot of companies in my industry follow the exact same guidelines (ISO clean rooms especially have a LOT of rules).

    If it is a requirement of the job, just tell them in the interview hey these are the requirements, would that be fine with you? I’ve had candidates drop out because they didn’t want to shave their beards, which is fine.

    1. Caboose*

      Your username really got my hopes up for a second there! D:
      (“Man, what a Wednesday it’s been!” “Lemon, it’s Monday.”)

  58. Can Man*

    LW 5 reminds me of when I worked overnights at a grocery store. My manager used a different definition of midnight than the electronic scheduling system and the store manager. After I followed the store manager’s definition twice with the experience of first being unexpected and getting a call at 12:30am the next night asking why I wasn’t there, I talked to my manager and started using his definition.

    When the time clock gave me errors for not being scheduled I wrote in our error log “using night crew’s definition of midnight.” That may have passive-aggressively solved the problem, as two weeks later my midnight shifts turned into 11:45pm shifts. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  59. Fezziwig Knots*

    I would absolutely 100% think “midnight on Friday” meant FRIDAY. You can’t say one day of the week and mean another?!

    If someone said, let’s go to the movies on Friday at midnight…you wouldn’t show up on Thursday? The 11:59 thing resolves any confusion, so I think it’s more important to emphasize that. As a writer, I have submitted many, many applications and freelance pieces by strange online deadlines and I’ve never missed a deadline because of a “midnight on Friday” means Thursday situation.

    You learn something new everyday!

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Speaking of pedantic, I was just thinking of how “midnight on Friday” to me means the very end of Friday night, but 12 AM on Friday means the very start of Friday morning. I think it’s invoking “night” vs “AM/morning” that changes my interpretation even if they are literally equivalent.

    1. Caboose*

      I also assume that, and then every time I preorder a video game that comes out on a Friday, it actually comes out at 10pm on Thursday for me. I forget how it works every single time. It’s so annoying, but clearly there’s no consistency in any industry or social sphere, much less universally!

  60. Florida Fan 15*

    Letter 1: If there’s another manager above LW’s boss, I could see going to that person, especially if they’re an owner and (you’d think) would care about this. But at a certain point, if the boss doesn’t care, then I’m a fan of letting it go. They know what Jane’s doing, they don’t care enough to fix it, let the chips fall where they will. I’d classify this as “you can’t care more about their business than they do.”

    I wouldn’t keep anything personal in my desk for her to rifle through, though. Touch my candy stash and I’m throwing hands.

  61. Karak*

    LW2: food service almost always requires short, unpainted nails. One reason (amongst many) I was so relieved to leave the industry.

    I would tell EVERY candidate that short, unpainted, natural nails are required, regardless of gender and appearance. And I would add why—it damaged the items, and it damages the nails.

    It’s right there with close-toed shoes and no open drinks as an expectation.

  62. Dorothy*

    LW2: I understand your dilemma, but I think that perhaps as a person who doesn’t “do” nails, you may be misreading their presence specifically in job interviews. In many cases, long, painted nails are considered part of the “whole package” for a professionally-clad femme look, and of course it all comes at a still higher gloss when interviewing; I myself do extra body maintenance (brow threading, pro manicure, fresh haircut) for such occasions, even though I wouldn’t usually dress to that level day-to-day. It can be pricey. (I also have fragile nails that split painfully if left natural, so I’d probably have to go with gloves to avoid contaminating your samples with blood!)
    So if plain or gel nails (what I assume you mean by special polish) are necessary to do the job properly, by all means mention it that! It’s like a uniform, a tool, or a safety measure, and the applicant needs to know.
    But don’t assume that just because someone has those features present at the exact time that they feel the need to look “best” for you AND for any other hiring manager they’re potentially seeing the same week, they must automatically be unwilling or incapable of removing the things or wearing the provided gloves.

  63. FL*

    #3 — one of the worst places I ever worked used to get rid of people through constructive dismissal. It was pretty common for people to go on leave, and then find out that someone else got hired to replace them, and be told they would receive an “equivalent” position… but then the equivalent position had no responsibilities and didn’t really exist.

    Most of those people just left and didn’t sue because it felt like too much trouble (same for people who got constructively dismissed in other ways). It’s up to you how you want to handle it, but this may be progressing toward an outcome where you have to leave and your choice will be whether or not to sue them on the way out. I’m really sorry.

    1. Pickaduck*

      Thanks for that input. It would be very surprising as I have been good at my job and have a great reputation, but it’s certainly possible that they can’t figure out a new director position. Meanwhile paying me to sit there doesn’t make much sense!

    2. Mrs. Bond*

      That happened to me. I got back from mat leave and found that half of my job was being done by a different department (a downside of being away for a long leave is that a lot can happen while you’re gone) . At first my supervisor insisted this was temporary, but after about 6 months they finally admitted that it wasn’t. There were a lot of empire-building types in the other department who orchestrated this while I was gone.

      My department attempted to create a job description with half my previous work and got HR to approve it at my previous salary grade. It wasn’t worth that, and it wasn’t the job I was interested in. Once I figured out I could get severance I went for it. It was a really toxic place at the time and I was happy to be out of there with a parachute.

  64. Pickaduck*

    Hi this is LW#3. It was hard to keep up with these comments, but thank you so much for those of you that did reply! A couple of people asked for an update. Well after a few more days of staring into space, I finally had a meeting and they actually did create a new director job for me! I’m pretty excited about what I’ll be responsible for, it’s in my wheelhouse and a new challenge. So I guess the strange couple of weeks ended well after all! At least I hope so. :)

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Great news!

      There’s nothing more maddening than having a “promotion” but no idea what it means.

      Good luck on the new adventure

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