my boss asked us to share deeply painful experiences, smelly candles, and more

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

1. My boss asked us to share deeply painful experiences

I work as a teacher at a nonprofit charter school that is strongly oriented around a mission of racial equity and empowerment. Today, our new principal opened a professional development session about mindfulness with an activity asking teachers and staff to share with each other a painful experience we have had. The examples he gave were the death of a family member or of a pet, but he said we didn’t have to share anything we were uncomfortable sharing (although we did all have to share). Unfortunately, because some people did share very traumatic or tragic memories, there was a lot of pressure to dig deep and personal to show our buy-in.

A lot of us were really unhappy about how this went, and some of us felt triggered for the rest of the day. The justification was that it made us feel vulnerable, which will help us understand our students better. I, personally, would prefer not to feel vulnerable around my colleagues at all. I know boundaries can be weird at nonprofits, but was this an okay activity? Was it justified by the explanation given?

I’m skeptical that you needed an activity about mindfulness at all, but if you did it shouldn’t have needed to rely on deeply painful, personal experiences. “It makes you feel vulnerable” is not a good justification — vulnerability isn’t an inherently valuable thing in every context, and it can be directly harmful in some (particularly in some professional contexts). It’s also a lot easier to make yourself vulnerable when you’re starting from a position of power and/or being like the majority; it can be a very different experience when you’re not. It’s true that there can be slightly different boundaries when you’re working in education and/or on racial equity issues … but you can find empathy for students in lots of other ways. This exercise was a weirdly blunt instrument for generating it, if that was indeed the goal.

You and some of your coworkers who shared your discomfort might consider giving that feedback to your principal — say it felt inappropriate for the context and did the opposite of promoting mindfulness for you, and ask that future activities be less invasive. That said, if the school’s philosophy is built around this kind of personal vulnerability, you might need to decide if it’s the right culture for you.

Related: forcing employees to talk about their feelings isn’t good for our mental health

2. My coworker brought in a horrible-smelling candle warmer

My coworker brought in a candle melter/warmer to our small office and the scent is HORRIBLE! It’s giving me a headache (I’m a frequent migraine sufferer) and aggravating my asthma! I feel like such a complainer to complain about this, but it’s awful! What should I do?

You need to speak up! When something in your work environment is giving you headaches and aggravating your asthma, that’s a big deal! Frankly, it’s not terribly considerate of your coworker to bring in a product whose whole point is to inject a scent into the air that everyone else is breathing, and you are on very solid ground in explaining it’s bothering you and asking her to take it home. Your need to work without physical discomfort trumps her interest in scenting the air around her.

It’s beyond reasonable to say to your coworker, “I’m so sorry, but I’ve realized your candle melter is aggravating my asthma. Could you keep it at home instead?” With most people, that will be all it takes. But if it doesn’t resolve it, ask your boss to intervene. You’re not being a complainer, any more than you’d be a complainer if you alerted your office to a ceiling leak dripping on your head or had a deathly allergy to a visiting dog.

3. Have I been blacklisted?

I think that I’ve been blacklisted from obtaining employment in my profession where I currently live.

Recently I had a brief contract assignment that concluded earlier than planned. My contract house contact was as surprised as I was. When asked for feedback, the assignment company gave a very cryptic response (“It is not their work performance, it is something else”).

Since then, I have been continuing to apply for many positions that match my skills and experience, through contract houses and direct applications to companies. I had quite a few that made it to the phone interview phase. However, something strange happens after initial phone interviews: Nothing. I do not mean that I receive the “position has been filled” email. All communication just ceases.

I recently had a phone meeting about a job through a contract company. We were scheduled to talk again two days later at a scheduled time, and I even received a confirmation via email. On the day of the meeting — nothing. No phone call, not even a follow-up email stating the position had been filled or that the appointment had to be cancelled. I reached out by phone and email to inquire if there had been a schedule conflict or if the position had been filled, but no response.

I have to ask myself if there has been some misinformation disseminated that is damaging my credibility without my knowledge. If so, are there any steps that can be taken to repair the potential misinformation? I know receiving rejection notices during an employment search is part of the process. But what does it mean when communication just ceases during an interview process? I would greatly appreciate understanding what has happened.

I don’t think you’ve been blacklisted; it sounds like you’re having a pretty normal job search. It’s incredibly common for companies to have some initial contact with a candidate and then completely ghost them and ignore the person’s attempts to make contact. It’s rude, but it’s so, so common. It’s not a sign that there’s a problem with your reputation or that you’ve been blacklisted. I’d be more concerned if it were happening at the end of hiring processes — if you were getting enthusiastic feedback right up until the point when they checked references.

I can see why you’re worried since this came right after that cryptic feedback. But a company ending a contract early and saying “It’s not their work performance, it’s something else” sounds like it’s something that has nothing to do with you at all — a reorg or money issues or something else on their end.

4. Why aren’t small employers covered by workplace protection laws?

I have a general inquiry regarding worker rights for small organizations or companies. Many workplace laws don’t take effect until the employer has 10-15 employees, but I’ve not come across a reason for that, nor any guidance on what protections you may still be entitled to if your employer doesn’t have that many employees. For instance, why wouldn’t a worker who is pregnant in an organization of eight not enjoy the same level of protection against harassment or discrimination as an organization of 15?

In my field, it’s not uncommon for organizations to be small (10 employees or less) and with most part-time. Other than in urban areas, it’s difficult to find employment with more than 10-15 employees in an organization.

I’d like to be able to advocate for myself and others, but finding answers has been beyond frustrating. Other than state laws that may supplement federal law, could you illuminate what protections or rights employees or workers with fewer employees have?

You’re right that federal anti-discrimination laws apply to employers with 15+ employees (except for age discrimination, which applies at 20). And FMLA covers employers with 50+ people. However, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which contains the rules about minimum wage and overtime pay, covers employers of all sizes.

When the laws were being passed, Congress was concerned about the impact on small businesses and exempted employers under a certain size from the some of them. The thinking was that it can be significantly harder for a four-person business to accommodate an employee’s long medical or parental leave than it is for a larger one. But it’s not at all clear why that same logic would apply to, say, harassment protections. (Interestingly, it’s been large businesses that have been exempted from more recent laws — like last year’s emergency paid family and medical leave law, which has since expired but which only applied to employers with fewer than 500 employees.)

Your best bet if you’re working at an employer with fewer than 15 employees is to look to your state laws. A lot of states have passed protections that kick in at much lower thresholds.

5. Should we let people make up holidays they missed?

Our leadership is currently discussing the best way to handle holidays for staff who have alternative schedules. We’re open M-F from early morning to late evening and some Saturdays to best serve our population. Some of our staff members who provide direct services are able to set their own preferred flexible schedules, for example, four 10-hour days, or Tuesday-Thursday part-time. Our issue is when the entire organization is closed for a holiday, like Labor Day on Monday. In those cases where a staff member’s schedule never has them working on a Monday, they are asking for an “in lieu” day off as their holiday.

Should we continue to offer this? The advantage to offering it is, of course, continuing an existing perk, but the two main cons are that we don’t offer this flex schedule to support staff members and we end up with less needed coverage on the “in lieu” days they take. If we do decide to keep the “in lieu” option, at a minimum, we need to put down some parameters so that people aren’t requesting this time off after their schedules are already full of clients. That has been disruptive both to our operations team and to our clients. What would you suggest for us moving forward?

Different companies do this different ways. Some employers do give employees the option of taking a different day off if a holiday falls on their regular day off. Others don’t. In a situation like yours, where people are setting their own flexible schedules, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to decide that one trade-off of that flexibility is that you’re not going to offer holiday make-up days for people who have picked their own schedules.

Ideally, though, you should decide based on the business impact. If you can afford to do it and it’s not disruptive, not yanking away a perk people enjoy is usually the better option. But you need to structure it in a way that doesn’t cause disruption to your client schedules and coverage; putting some restrictions on it to minimize disruption is likely the right compromise.

{ 562 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennie*

    In all my years of attending mindfulness seminars and retreats, I have NEVER been to one that asked people to share deeply personal experiences with each other and NONE of the mindfulness activities I’ve participated in are ever mandatory. In fact most mindfulness leaders go above and beyond to talk about things like boundaries, working within your own comfort level and being courteous to the needs of other attendees. Your new principal is totally off the mark on this one and I’m seriously side eyeing whether or not that person has any type of formal mindfulness training because what they are doing is just so awful and I’m sorry you were put through that.

    1. CorruptedbyCoffee*

      We were forced to do this in equity and racial justice training at my work. 3 separate people started crying, and one had to leave the room. I was really, really uncomfortable with it.

      1. Malarkey01*

        I think this is just going to be the reality of some of the DEI work and training. If you’re in the US, we’ve had a very long entrenched history of marginalized people and as some people are feeling more empowered to speak up and share what their largely hidden pain has been and the rest of us reckon with how we have participated in racism (intentionally or unintentionally) it’s going to be uncomfortable and for a lot of us emotional. I don’t think people should be forced to share their stories, but I think hearing from people that WANT to share how they have felt or been treated is a tremendous thing to changing perceptions around the issue.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think the main thing is to make sure people have a choice on what to share. It’s absolutely important to share what’s happened when you’re discussing inclusion and diversity but only if people want to share it.

          Also I think it’s important that staff are given the choice whether to talk about personal experiences of this sort of thing rather than just discussing how to promote inclusion in general. I’ve one BAME colleague who is very active in inclusion type activity and another who really hates being involved in it because it’s difficult for them to process and being asked to do panels on diversity just makes them feel othered. Both perspectives are equally valid. If you want to say “I’m getting enough grief for being black / gay / disabled I don’t want to spend time talking about what it feels like with everyone” then that’s a valid perspective too.

          1. anonymath*

            Hear hear!! I very much support the work of some of my female colleagues in talking about their personal experiences or doing workshops on imposter syndrome, etc. At the same time, I don’t want to do that: I will only do technical or educational presentations. At this time, I am firmly only interested in presenting myself as a technical expert who is female. I’m working out my own feelings about being the only woman in the room most of the time, and I don’t need to work them out in public or in sight of my colleagues.

            DEI work is important, and also what is the point of having your most vulnerable colleagues crying and triggered all day, not doing their best work, especially considering how disproportionately adverse events affect minoritized groups? To go back to gender or gender presentation, imagine taking a random group of people and asking them to think hard about an instance where their sexual consent boundaries were violated, or where they were discriminated against according to gender presentation. Who is going to have the worse day? What exactly was the benefit of that? The people who’ve not had really bad stuff happen along that dimension are just not going to get much out of it, and that’s who you want to be reaching, right? Everyone else is just going to be like “wow it’s pretty hard to compute this triple integral while blinking back tears….”

          2. aebhel*

            Yeah, there’s a big difference between people crying because they’re being confronted with inequality and it makes them uncomfortable and people crying because they’re being forced to share personal and painful experiences whether they want to or not. The former is just something that you have to deal with if you want to address those issues; the latter is not okay.

          3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Very much agreed. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to firmly turn down people at work who want me to be on some committee or equality forum and share my story as the disabled POC. I don’t wanna do it anymore.

        2. ophelia*

          I do think there’s a pretty significant difference, though, between asking people to sit uncomfortably (and maybe even painfully) with their privilege, vs. asking marginalized groups to relive personal trauma and pain for the benefit of teaching others. I suspect you were referring to the former.

          1. Chantel*

            “Privilege” is subjective. I’m Caucasian and Middle Eastern, though no one would know the latter by looking at me. Imagine the painful things I’ve heard once some people find that out about me.

            Privilege? Hardly.

            1. nothing rhymes with purple*

              On the one hand I hear you — I’m queer and I know the terrible kinds of things people say when they don’t know one is a member of a group they’re badmouthing, and the horrible kinds of things they say when they find out. On the other hand I’m not sure you’d hear me — I’m Black, and there are definitely times I step into someone’s line of sight and see them entirely size me up and dismiss me in one glance. Both of these kinds of bigotry get inflicted on people and one doesn’t cancel the other out.

        3. Aquawoman*

          Well, empowerment and the discomfort of white privilege is one set of circumstances that can be true. Making Black trauma into an educational opportunity for white people and discomfort at objectifying folks that way is another set of circumstances that can be true. I’m skeptical about the empowerment angle without a very safe space, and a very safe space is less likely to create this kind of discomfort. Work contexts especially have to be mindful of the way these kinds of revelations might play out.

        4. J.B.*

          In your response, who does the burden of DEI fall on? Often I would think that the marginalized group would have the more traumatic experiences to share. And no one should be facilitating that without knowing what the ever living flip they are doing.

          My trauma is not for public consumption. Particularly when it has to do with other members of my family. My coworkers don’t get to know that.

        5. CorruptedbyCoffee*

          Oh no , the stories weren’t related to dei. We were told we needed to be vulnerable around each other to truly connect and asked to share a traumatic experience from our lives.
          One woman talked about how her son committed suicide and she found him. Another talked about losing her mother to cancer, and I think someone talked about being molested by a family member.

          1. Momma Bear*

            I can see how that would be frankly traumatizing and not entirely helpful. I would be deeply uncomfortable with this.

      2. JSPA*

        Re- traumatizing people to “make them sensitive” is the emotional equivalent of kicking people in the goolies to “make them flexible.”

      3. TexasTeacher*

        Horrible training for teacher inserves is sadly the norm.
        My district alternated between one system that was reworked Eugenics garbage about different social classes (didn’t suggest killing people but had the rest just replaced races with social classes). I’m a troublemaker and on the second go-around of this garbage. I found a peer-reviewed study that showed that the author/designer had faked the data that proved her system was such a success. Basically, her researchers looked at test scores and discipline referral data and threw out schools that didn’t improve saying they hadn’t followed the program. Staff development wasn’t happy that got circulated.

        The other program was so cultish. They only wanted to do training on their compound at a lock-in retreat. I was one of many that objected. In my case on medical reasons because of life-threatening food and touch allergies. Others were religious or family situation reasons. The guy that designed it is a psychiatrist, but while based here has no license to practice in Texas. The trainer tried to give us psych tests roughly on the level of “Who is your ideal man” tests in a 1980s issue of Seventeen. I asked what his qualifications were in mental health – He said he was a football coach. Now I realize many believe them to be gods in Texas but this was a bit too far. A couple of other teachers and I started taking bathroom breaks during the tests and group therapy sessions. Others joined us. Finally, he threatened to get staff development to come to make us take the tests and do the group therapy. The rest of the workshop was canceled due to Hurricane Ike. Also, he seriously thought teachers convincing kids to go off drugs cold turkey, with no medical supervision, no parent knowledge, only the affirmation of the teacher was a good idea. I’m not allowed to say “I think Johnny needs to be tested for dyslexia.” because I’m not a doctor or a diagnostician but I can tell get kids off drugs with no medical degree. UGG!!!!

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I often opt out of mindfulness sessions/training etc because it doesn’t make me better – it makes me worse. Like meditation, it doesn’t work for everyone.

      That…forced sharing of unpleasant stuff…goddess. Even my psych team never asked me that and they had reason to!

      1. KateM*

        I was thinking… “so, we had this session to make us vulnerable, now we need therapy, will proncipal pay for it?”.

        1. Mongrel*

          Although you’ve now got a story for next time some idiot asks this question, “Well, I felt really vulnerable when out of the blue I was asked to share a deeply private and disturbing moment in the name of a mindfulness exercise”

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I had a college professor who wanted us to meditate before tests and when I said “my therapist doesn’t recommend meditation for me” she got real huffy and said “well I’d like to speak to your therapist!”

        I don’t think she meant literally, but I just sort of loled and waited in the hall during her meditations. This stuff can be so invasive and tone deaf.

      3. pancakes*

        It is really unfortunate that meditation has become associated with misguided corporate workshops and this sort of thing. People who think its purpose is to help their careers, help them bond with coworkers, etc., have fundamentally misunderstood its purpose.

    3. WoodswomanWrites*

      I’ve been a participant in a lot of mindfulness trainings as well as racial equity and empowerment work, and this activity is completely beyond any reasonable boundaries. The principal strikes me as someone who heard about different activities and then just assumed he was capable of creating and leading them without any skills or training as a facilitator. This sounds so horrible and damaging for all the participants.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I get that feeling too, especially because of the wording about how the training was supposed to make staff feel vulnerable. We’ve had letters like this before, and it always feels like the boss read an excerpt from Brene Brown about how vulnerability can be a helpful thing to feel, and then decided to MAKE their staff feel vulnerable instead of providing an environment that makes it safe for them to be vulnerable if they need to.

      2. LizM*

        Absolutely. We participated in a training about racial stereotypes and unconscious bias that was really difficult. It was a two day training that culminated in an activity that had several people in tears. But it was really, really effective.

        Our HR folks and the trainers were *so clear* that (1) people needed to understand what kind of training they were opting into, and that this training was truly optional, and (2) under NO CIRCUMSTANCES were any of us to take pieces of this training, especially the final activity back to our teams without the full, 2 week training on how to teach this course, and that in a vacuum, these activities would be a nightmare.

        This work is hard, and takes trained facilitators and trainers. And that doesn’t just mean that you read a book or watched a youtube video. If leaders really want to invest in serving underserved communities and real D&I work, they need to actually invest in the professionals who do this work and not just try to wing it.

        1. Lunita*

          I’m curious about the effective outcome of your training. We had DEI-focused sessions earlier this year. I’m very supportive of increasing equity throughout the workplace, but my feelings about these sessions were ambivalent. We had a group of about 25-30, it was all virtual, lengthy (3 hours at a time) and most people I’d never even interacted with before. There was pressure-definitely in the first couple of sessions-to be vulnerable and participate by sharing experiences. I was very uncomfortable with this. I didn’t want to share these things with my coworkers and also was concerned about the pressure being put on people who are already experiencing racism to unload their trauma for the benefit of non-Black coworkers. And, as someone who is of white and Latinx background, I felt like the sessions were not very nuanced in terms of race and focused primarily on Black/White dynamics. I also couldn’t tell where they were going with these training in terms of outcome, or how they would lead to an improved work environment, so am really interested to hear what the impact of yours was.

    4. Brightwanderer*

      One of my current pet peeves is the way “mindfulness” has become “the latest buzzword that can mean anything we want it to mean”, when it actually has a very specific definition (in a psychological context): it refers to practising the habit of turning your attention outwards from your own mind and focusing on in-the-moment sensory input from the real world. Which is why people often conflate it with meditation (meditation can be a useful tool for mindfulness, but it’s not the core of the concept, and some people – e.g. me – find meditation counter-productive for various reasons).

      All of which is to say: I am struggling to think of anything LESS conducive to mindfulness than asking people to deliberately delve back into their memories and dwell on a painful experience, feeling all the associated emotions again, etc.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yes! This absolutely is not what I know as mindfulness. In fact, dredging up past unpleasant experiences like this is the opposite of mindfulness, which is about being in the moment & an outward focus.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        All of this. Mindfulness has an actual meaning and it definitely does not include sharing unpleasant/traumatic past events.

      3. Artemesia*

        This might have a place in therapy — it absolutely does not in a school meeting of teachers. I was a public school teacher during the 60s when the EST movement was in full swing and there were attempts to foist this kind of stuff on people. You had to be equipped with things to ‘disclose’ that you didn’t mind people knowing. It is so intrusive and inappropriate. Who wants to be ‘exposed’ and ‘vulnerable’ in the snake pit of many workplaces?

        1. pancakes*

          No, and that isn’t what therapy is, either. It isn’t helpful to categorically throw all of this stuff into the same enormous stew of hippy-dippy fads that make people feel bad. The employer’s misunderstanding of mindfulness as somehow calling for people to expose vulnerabilities to their coworkers is just that, a misunderstanding.

    5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      The boss heard a buzzword, spent 20 minutes looking it up on Google, and decided to base an hours-long all hands meeting on it.

      His intent (for whatever it’s worth), is no different than “Let’s all practice radical candor!”, “We’re going to implement Agile!”, “This year we’re going to get Six Sigma certified!”, when those things have nothing to do with your actual business.

      This one is egregious because it’s very personal, and highly emotional, and has potentially serious ramifications for your coworkers.

      You have a bad boss.

      1. Ana Gram*

        Mine heard about standup meetings but our weekly meetings last about 45 minutes so he suggested we sit down for them to be more comfortable. So now we have our normal meetings and he tells people he does standup meetings. Face palm. At least we don’t have to share traumatic memories…

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            Honestly this is what I do if I’m put on the spot. I will share a story that to me strikes the right tenor (kinda neutral but in the spirit of the conversation etc) but it may not be literally … true.

          2. JustA___*

            There is literally an episode of The Office where they do this. Like Pam tells the plot of Million Dollar Baby as if the Hillary Swank character was her aunt, and Ryan tells about the death of his cousin Mufasa, who was killed by a stampede of wildebeest.

            1. pancakes*

              Pandering to the expectations of people who’ve badly misunderstood something can be funny on TV but I don’t think it is good solution to real life conflicts. Polite but firm pushback is often far more sensible and productive.

      2. Cactus*

        Oh god, do we work with the same woman? I have a coworker who suggested both Agile and Radical Candor even though the first makes no sense for us and well…it’s not radical candor if you’re just being a jerk.

    6. Vanilla Bean*

      I had one this year. I am so so lucky it was remote. The topic was diversity and inclusion, and the presenter shared a deeply personal story about his journey from being a relatively small-minded, unworldly, homophobic and racist person due to his upbringing, to being the kind of person who is qualified to lead a seminar on diversity and inclusion, then asked us to break into small groups and share our own personal experiences and what diversity and inclusion meant to us. My small group was six people, all white, and four were men. My story is incredibly personal and painful and not something I share at work or with anyone I don’t know well. The idea of sharing had me crying at my computer. I managed to get out a short, stilted, sanitized version of the story. My small group had 15 minutes of total sharing time, and we only used 5 minutes and then sat there awkwardly for 10. We were asked in the larger group, to share what we learned in our small group sessions (without sharing anyone’s personally identifying details). I unfortunately suffered some serious technical issues at that point and had to drop off the call and was unable to rejoin. I have zero interest in being vulnerable like that…can’t decide whether I hate the idea more with people I work closely with or people I barely know at work. Nobody needs to know that I sympathize with anyone who is rejected because of things about themselves they cannot control, because I experienced that myself very traumatically for most of my adolescence and early adulthood. I have nothing to gain by sharing that with people I only know in a work context.

      1. Private_Eye*

        [hope this name isn’t taken]

        I am so glad your computer “problems” stopped you from sharing. I completely agree with you that you have nothing to gain. I have been tricked into sharing things before and what I’ve shared has been used against me. And in nicer workplaces with more reasonable people, what I’ve shared has caused people to lose respect for me and treat me differently. I firmly believe work is for work and we shouldn’t be forced to do things that could jeopardise our professional standing.

  2. banoffee pie*

    Could it be some kind of weird power trip? Like I’m going to make you talk about these things, just because I can? And since when is ‘being vulnerable’ the end goal anyway??

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      “And since when is ‘being vulnerable’ the end goal anyway??”

      Yeah, I was wondering what being vulnerable has to do with mindfulness. I haven’t had any mindfulness training myself, but I thought I had a pretty good general idea of what it is….and I. Really. Don’t. Get. It.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Upon reflection (ha!) I think they’re approaching this from incredibly faulty logic.

      ‘How do we make an atmosphere where students feel able to come to us with uncomfortable situations?’ as a starting point (good), but then went off the rails to the answer ‘by forcing teachers to be open about *their* trauma!’ (bad logic, no biscuit)

      Openness and trust can’t be forced, they have to be earnt.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds like they think getting people to be vulnerable will help them build empathy for students who are in vulnerable positions. But this isn’t the way you do that!

      My husband and are currently in the middle of training to be foster parents and this is making me think about a recent unit in our training that was clearly designed to build our empathy for the biological parents of kids in foster care. They did it by having us read detailed case studies of situations bio parents were in that eventually led to their kids being removed, and asking us to imagine ourselves in those situations and answer a series of questions about them. (For example, you’re a single father of three who got laid off six weeks ago, the family’s car was repossessed two weeks ago, the kids’ mom is terminally ill and isn’t expected to live more than a few months, you dropped out of high school, you have no family in the area and no one seems willing to help you out, and now you’ve lost physical custody of your kids for neglect.) It really, really worked. I thought we had empathy for bio parents before we started the training, but this brought out such a deeper appreciation of how difficult those circumstances can be. (Obviously there are other, less sympathetic circumstances that lead to kids being removed from their homes but it really made us think differently about some situations.) At no time did they need to ask us to share personal painful experiences to get there.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        To use a probably inaccurate analogy: we get a lot of safety talks here at work, and several include a description of what happened to another person – like ‘An engineer was in a hurry and didn’t have the time to (do routine thing) so he skipped it and got hit by a train’ – to make us realise that it’s not just malicious behaviour that can cause faults but also stuff that any one of us could potentially do.

        No safety meeting has ever started with a forced sharing of how you personally broke a safety reg.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        This is just another reason for me to admire you so much. I would love to be a foster parent in future (current circumstances don’t make it advisable now.)

        I hope that the rest of the training goes well. If you do decide to bring kids into your home, they’ll be lucky to have you.

      3. Artemesia*

        We were foster parents and the training and support we got was zilch. None of our important questions were answered. I am glad you are getting some actual training. Our social worker apparently liked to shop so she wanted to keep our clothing allowance and shop for our kids (yeah, no) but she could not answer questions like ‘can we let them be with the grandparents unsupervised or do we need to be there’ and ‘how do we get permission for them to go to Scout Camp with out daughter since we can’t sign the indemnification waiver? That was hell on wheels. Those liability/permission issues are a big deal, hope they are covering that as well.

      4. EmmaPoet*

        This sounds like the empathy training we did at my library recently which focused on people experiencing homelessness. It was really helpful, because it does let you look at it from the point of view of someone who is not you, sitting in your office, but the person on the other side of the desk who genuinely needs help, but who has been slapped down by so many people so many times in life that they don’t believe anyone will actually try and aid them, so they come off as aggressive when they’re actually scared.

    4. LQ*

      I think that assuming that all bad boss things like this come from a place of malice is harmful overall especially on a site like this. Plenty of people who read this are, or will be bosses, and if you think there are only good bosses and ones with evil intent, you miss the fact that most of the time it’s good intentions gone awry. Which means folks are less likely to examine their own actions. Say for instance if someone with good intentions to make inclusion and empathy a priority they would take less time examining how it would appear to folks because they have good intentions and so they’d end up making a bad decision.

      Deciding all bad decisions are malicious, evil, power trips, or nefarious does not make people make better decisions. Stoping to revisit our own things before we put them into practice does.

      1. banoffee pie*

        Hi LQ, I didn’t mean it was definitely a malicious power trip, I said it could possibly be. It’s way too pushy in my opinion, good intentions or not. I like to think I have good intentions, but I don’t force people to tell me their painful experiences. I just can’t imagine this happening here (Northern Ireland, UK). It must be a very different work culture. Yikes. People here would run for the door!

        1. pancakes*

          Right. Even if you had, though, it is odd for LQ to speak as if power tripping signifies malice or evil. It is quite a common thing for people with ordinary flaws to do. We have seen countless letters and comments on this blog where people describe coworkers who do it frequently as “otherwise nice,” even “lovely,” etc. It’s not as if petty, misguided power trips are something only the worst of the worst indulge in.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        It’s much more likely that this came from a place of bumbling privilege than malice or a desire to have power over people.

        I’m a survivor of adolescent trauma. The other trauma survivors I interact with respond differently to my childhood stories than people who haven’t been traumatized. If you’ve just had average level bad things happen to you, it may not even occur to you that asking people to talk about a bad thing they’ve experienced can be a trigger for traumatized people.

        It’s much more likely that this was just thoughtlessness rather than malice.

        1. banoffee pie*

          I think I’m trying to say that it’s pretty extreme thoughtlessness. Maybe I’m explaining myself badly. I agree with everything you say, Librarian, about average people not realising how bad some people have had it. I suppose I just think that they should realise, especially if they’ve risen to boss level. I mean even if you’re pretty sheltered, you’ve read the papers and seen the news and stuff, you should know some people have had trauma in life

        2. Splendid Colors*

          I ran into this in my church’s small discussion groups. The prompt questions were **clearly** written by people who hadn’t lived through anything personally traumatic. At least one other person in my group shared honestly traumatic experiences and everyone else was kind to them. One week there was a question that hit me right in the feels, on a day when I had already said I was having a bad day and didn’t want to go (but was persuaded it would help me feel better to go) and I was a sobbing wreck. People were kind to me, but…

          The pastor contacted me the next day to say that the discussion groups were NOT group therapy and we were NOT supposed to discuss traumatic experiences. Well, that was NOT the behavior being modeled by other members and the instructions did NOT say “don’t use any examples that would upset you or other members.” So I was permabanned because clearly I am not a suitable candidate. And although I don’t want to participate, I hear others talking about the bonds they form with other members through these discussion groups–they meet weekly and last for years. Because I have had a harder life than the average person in the group, I’m excluded from that kind of bond formation. Which means I don’t get support when I need it nowadays.

          Now, the pastor doesn’t write these questions–they are apparently part of a curriculum that the whole faith uses. But IMHO she needs to exercise some editorial discretion. Ideally, she’d pass it up the chain of command that members of her congregation are finding these questions far too heavy for the type of discussion they intend us to have.

          Personal betrayal, people violating boundaries, something you’re ashamed about… I forget all the examples but anyone who thinks these are just “questions to understand the topic of the week” clearly has led a charmed life and needs an editor.

          1. A Passing Pastor*

            As a church leader who has been responsible for a lot of small groups….I’m so sorry you were treated like this. You didn’t deserve scolding for what you shared and you didn’t certainly didn’t deserve being perma-banned. That’s truly awful. I’m kind of angry on your behalf.

            Hoping you can find somewhere that offers you much better care and friendship.

            Thank you for the nudge to review how I do things, too. I’ve only had mild levels of awfulness in my life so far and I need to keep an eye on myself that I don’t take that for granted in how I lead things.

      3. Private_Eye*

        I think it’s also very common in polite society to give people the benefit of the doubt in real life situations. On this site and others we can quite easily say “that is ridiculous behaviour” but when faced with it in real life we can make excuses.

        I find also some people think it makes them seem more refined and intelligent to say things like “we all know there was no malice in it” when talking about people who were actively cruel and malicious to some employees and not others.

    5. Alpaca Bag*

      I already feel vulnerable as I’ve got a family member who passed away recently and another with terminal brain cancer, and even if I didn’t share, I’m in no mental place to tolerate hearing the stories others would be telling, one after the other.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        My grandboss held a meeting like the OP’s not long after I lost someone very important to me. I don’t share deep emotions at work, and thought I’d held it together fairly well. Grandboss pushed hard for me to talk about my loss, and I finally did. I was a sobbing, emotional mess after only a few minutes and had to leave the room, but not before I saw the satisfied look on his face. I had finally ‘shared’ my grief with the team, and he could lead them in helping me deal with it. That’s what Servant Leaders do, they support their team. Relentlessly.

        Had I been in my normal state of mind I hope I could have said, ‘This meeting is causing me great pain and grief, because it’s ignoring my reasonable boundaries and opening wounds that need to heal or stay healed.’

        My colleagues were uncomfortable, too. Someone told me they felt like they’d just witnessed an assault, he was that pushy and I was that vulnerable.

        1. banoffee pie*

          That’s terrible, I’m sorry :( It’s awful that no one feels they can say anything in the moment either

        2. Sara without an H*

          This is horrible and I’m so sorry you went through it.

          And I’m very sorry none of your colleagues were brave enough to push back in the moment.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Thank you both, that meeting wasn’t great for any of us. Pushing back on your boss’s boss doesn’t usually bode well, and there was definitely a power dynamic in play that day.

        3. Artemesia*

          I know someone whose office was run by someone recently returned from Israeli army training and service as an officer, who believed that the important thing was to break everyone down to a quivering mass of despair and self loathing so ‘he could build them back up’. It was such a horrifying violation of people relatively new to the workplace who could not fight back and caused so much lasting damage. I can see the smug look on that managers face who got you to cry and be vulnerable at a time when you needed privacy and respect. Horrible.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I guess I knew a version of this approach was used in the military at one point, former Marines described being ‘rebuilt’ during boot camp to behave in certain ways, etc.

            But what you describe is beyond awful and ‘violation’ is absolutely the right way to look at it. I feel especially bad for the newcomers to the workplace who went along with that manager because they thought the manager’s behavior was typical, when it isn’t. And the power dynamic would have made it hard for even seasoned employees to push back.

          2. TM*

            That’s appalling. Other than the fact that that kind of bs has very little evidence to back it up even for achieving military discipline and/or unit cohesion, the function of basic military training is to train people to kill others.
            (Pls don’t @ me anyone – of course a modern military is about much more than that, but in terms of essential purpose…)

            So, you have to wonder why someone is trying to inculcate (bad) techniques to turn out a bunch of “soldiers” in a regular workforce? Other than their being on a power trip, of course.

    6. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      > And since when is ‘being vulnerable’ the end goal anyway??

      Since Brene Brown became a thing, even though that’s not at all what her point is when she talks about “vulnerability.”

      1. Koalafied*

        Yes, it’s incredible how very wrong people have gotten her. Her work is about helping people get comfortable with being uncomfortable. At no point does she suggest that the best way to get comfortable with being uncomfortable is to be forced into uncomfortable situations where your boundaries are disregarded. The opposite, in fact: “Vulnerability minus boundaries is not vulnerability,” is a direct quote from an interview she gave on Adam Grant’s podcast.

        Her advice to leaders is to create workplaces where employees feel comfortable speaking honestly, and to do this by demonstrating that when they raise difficult topics or give negative feedback, they won’t be shut down or penalized or berated for it. This requires the leaders to make themselves vulnerable (because they have to be willing to hear critical feedback about their leadership with an open mind). Nobody is supposed to be making anyone else feel vulnerable! These are self-improvement tactics for “how to turn a situation where fear makes you feel vulnerable into a growth opportunity,” not others-improvement tactics for “how to scare other people into feeling vulnerable so they can have a forced growth opportunity.”

        1. Elsajeni*

          I often think that these misapplied vulnerability (or “bring your whole self to work” or “radical candor” or whatever) exercises are basically trying to do something backward. Someone in management has read that, at the best, healthiest, most functional workplaces, people feel comfortable speaking honestly and being open and vulnerable with each other. So if they can just get everybody to be radically honest and open and vulnerable, their workplace will be healthier and more functional! When of course, the causation goes the other way around — it’s because you have a healthy, functional workplace that you would feel safe enough to discuss difficult topics, give honest critical feedback and open yourself up to the same, share openly about what’s going on in your life, etc.

          1. miss chevious*

            YES, THIS! My workplace, which I greatly enjoy working at, has had several of these “conversations” where we are expected to be vulnerable and show our whole selves at work, and leadership has been pretty resistant to the feedback that this isn’t solving the problems they want to solve, and, in fact, is making people deeply uncomfortable, especially those with less power in the office.

            At one of these sessions, the group I was in had to endure several very personal stories, including one from the group leader, that were WAY BEYOND the level of relationship we had with each other, and the pressure to share equally personal stories was immense. Since I already have a bit of a reputation as a gadfly, I spoke up with my example (which was about a mistake I made AT WORK and how I handled it) to try to lower the heat, but it was painfully clear that the group had just had a heap of personal trauma dumped on it that none of us had any idea how to handle or address.

            1. LizM*

              We want you to be vulnerable and honest with leadership!

              Okay, well, I don’t think that making me share my childhood trauma actually brings us together as a team. I know you’re really invested in this, so it’s hard to provide this feedback, but I thought it was important.

              No, not that kind of honesty.

              1. miss chevious*

                Pretty much word for word!

                They were equally nonplussed when I pointed out that all of this sharing and vulnerability and “trust” was likely to result in challenges if and when we needed to terminate employees, whether for performance or just plain business reasons.

        2. LizM*

          Exactly. This is what I got from her.

          Like, when we made the switch to telework, I was open with my team that I needed to take some time off to deal with my childcare situation. That made me feel vulnerable, because I don’t like to admit that I don’t have it together, but I like to think it implicitly gave my team permission to also take the time they needed to deal with family issues (I had already explicitly told them they could do this, but I noticed more people came to me to work through things after I made the announcement about myself).

          Employees don’t owe their employers vulnerability, it has to be earned. It’s all relative to the work world too. I don’t need my employees to tell me their deepest, darkest traumas, but I do want them to feel comfortable telling me that I’m making a huge mistake, or they feel like our organization is crossing an ethical line, or admitting they don’t know how to do something and need help or training. That’s what I get from Brene Brown. But creating that kind of culture is really hard and takes a lot more work than a 2 hour staff meeting where I make everyone cry.

        3. ForeignLawyer*

          Workplace vulnerability is a very specific thing, too. It’s about feeling safe enough to bring up difficult workplace issues. In very few workplaces should the end goal be to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing the details of their personal traumas, because work just isn’t the right venue for that. (Support colleagues going through something difficult, absolutely. Rehashing the entire scenario, almost certainly not.)

    7. Nanani*

      Could be, could also just be the standard blinders of being relatively powerful and safe and not considering how it lands to people who can’t opt out – or at least, don’t have the confidence that they can safely opt out without repercussions. Doubly so if the person mandating these pain seminars is relatively privileged in other ways.

      But regardless of intent, it was bad and should stop.

  3. Mami21*

    Re #5, I’m kind of amazed that people would ask for an extra day off because they happened to already be off work on a public holiday. That would come across as very out of touch in my workplace. I have one set day off per week and if a public holiday falls on that day, sure, I’d prefer it to fall on the day before or after, but mostly I’m just happy that everyone else gets that day off, too.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      It makes sense to be annoyed if your schedule means you get fewer days off that coworkers in a similar role. So if you’re not scheduled on Mondays, but stat holidays are more likely to be on Mondays, you’re getting a different benefits package than they are. If you have generous vacation benefits (at least three weeks outside of stat holidays) it stings less.

      The flip side is that an in-lieu day is not the same as a stat holiday, because it can be taken at any time. As someone who is not tied to the school schedule, I’d much rather work labour day and get an extra day to take when I wanted it, than to get a day off when everyone else is off, and public venues and transport are crowded.

      1. Jackalope*

        That depends. One system that I’ve experienced that I think would be helpful here is having the in-lieu day always fall on the same day (for example, the first business day after the holiday). That way everyone knows ahead of time and you can plan around it more easily.

        1. GlitsyGus*

          Yeah, my last company did something similar for the customer service reps. In the example of Labor day, the staff that had Monday as their standard day off and the staff that had to do the minimum coverage shift on the holiday would get either the Friday before or the Tuesday after off. They could pick to a certain extent, but they had to make sure that it was basically split 50/50 so that there would be enough coverage for both of those days. It generally worked pretty well.

      2. JM60*

        Agreed. I’d be a bit upset if I got fewer days off simply because of my schedule. Though there are differences that can make denying an in-lieu day much more legitimate, it would probably feel a bit like the employee with a leap-day birthday who was the only person not getting a day off of work on her birthday technically wasn’t on the calendar that year. Both are quirks of the calendar.

        1. Jen*

          This. I’m a bit surprised Allison didn’t point this out because it definitely reminded me of the leap year birthday

          1. Medusa*

            I don’t think this is comparable at all. These people are making their own schedules, and make them so that many of the days that happene to be holidays, they weren’t going to be working anyway.

            1. JM60*

              The way I read the letter, they have flexibility to request a long-term/semi-permanent schedule, but they can’t just set their own schedule on a whim. For instance, if they had been working Tue-Sat for the last 6 months, I don’t think they could just randomly decide to work Mon-Fri right before a Monday holiday, then flip back to Tue-Sat. If they could flip-flop their schedules on a whim like this, then getting an extra day off for holidays would be a non-issue.

              This is a little different from the leapday birthday in that there is some choice. But even with some choice, I still think it’s a raw deal to lose to lose a paid day off (that everyone else enjoys) because of scheduling.

              they weren’t going to be working anyway.

              Arguably, most of the value of a holiday is having an extra day off (without losing pay), rather than not working on a particular calendar date.

              1. LQ*

                If the value of the holiday was having an extra day off it would just be PTO or vacation days. For holidays the calendar date is the point. For PTO the day is the point. And just making it all PTO is one way to handle this. Everyone works every day except the days they take off. You can take off a holiday or not. Take the number of holidays dates and add them to PTO days.

                1. Been There Seen That*

                  A friend’s workplace did this and it did not go quite as good as it should have. It is amazing what situations people will make issues with. (this reads snarky and it is not meant to). What I mean to say is that when it comes to holidays everyone wants their time. You can argue six ways to Sunday about everyone getting their time via PTO or floating holidays, but some situations do not work out as intended.

                  Friends situation was 6 weeks of PTO, that included all holidays. It was 10 legal holidays, 5 days of sick and 15 vacation days, plus flexible schedule which meant the boss called at all hours. The kicker was you couldn’t take any time in the first 90 days. The biggest issues were those hired in November because they didn’t have the “time” to take the regular US holidays. It was a mess. Mostly because of the toxic bosses making it way more of a situation than it needed to be.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                “some of our staff members who provide direct services are able to set their own preferred flexible schedules”

                1. JM60*

                  They clearly have flexibility and some say in their schedule, but I don’t think they could unilaterally change which days are part of their workweek on a week-to-week basis. Otherwise, this vacation matter would be a non-issue, since they could always change their workweek to include the vacation day in order to get an extra day off (like everyone else).

              2. Hlao-roo*

                It’s in the first paragraph of the letter: “Some of our staff members who provide direct services are able to set their own preferred flexible schedules, for example, four 10-hour days, or Tuesday-Thursday part-time.”

            2. Elsajeni*

              Right — I can understand being a little frustrated that you hardly ever get a “bonus” day off for a holiday! But that’s something to think about when you decide on a schedule like “Tuesdays through Thursdays part-time,” you know? Maybe that particular example is a real outlier and most people are actually working a “typical” full-time schedule that’s just time-shifted, in which case it does make more sense to give them the extra day off “observed” on a different day — after all, that’s what Monday-through-Friday workers typically get when a holiday falls on a weekend day. But I do feel like, if you have the flexibility to set your own schedule and have decided “I want a 3-day weekend every week,” it’s sort of goofy to argue that, when anyone else gets a 3-day weekend, it’s only fair that you get a 4-day weekend.

              1. JM60*

                But they can only set a 3 day weekend by working 4 10-hour days, rather than getting paid time off. So it’s not the same as someone who normally works 5 8-hour days instead working 4 8-hour days.

                1. Gumby*

                  Which raises the question – if you are working 4-tens, and you take a holiday, either because you were scheduled on Monday or you take another day in lieu of it, do you take a full 10 hours off instead of 8? I can see some people arguing that an extra 2 hours off for each of 10 holidays annually adds up to half a week of extra time off. (I personally wouldn’t care, but I and my co-workers are all salaried and enjoy quite a bit of flexibility. But in a more structured job, with coverage concerns, where people are paid hourly maybe?)

                2. JM60*


                  I think it would be fair to expect them to work 32 hours in whatever days they do work that week. Or if they’re hourly, only give them 8 hours of pay for the holiday and let them decide if they want to add an extra 2 hours to the days they do work.

            3. Harper the Other One*

              I agree. The benefit of having a flexible schedule is that instead if having one paid holiday off, you ALWAYS have that day of the week off. The folks who are working the four 10s, for example, get a long weekend every week. And speaking as someone who’s worked a schedule like that, that’s way more valuable than a single lieu day.

              1. GlitsyGus*

                That’s true, but at the same time, those folks working four 10s are still working 40hours a week. If a company has 9 holidays that means that all of these folks end up working up to 72 hours more than their counterparts (I know not all holidays fall on the same day, but this is the maximum possible). I would think that if there is a way to allow for some kind of trade-off situation it’s a good idea. It may not necessarily be possible for that to be a “you get an extra PTO day whenever you want” thing, though.

            4. Dream Jobbed*

              It is absolutely comparable. Your work a 40 hour week, but your coworkers work a 32 hour week simply because of how the schedule falls. And how many people are working weekends (and taking Monday off) because that is what the company needs?

      3. I should really pick a name*

        I view it this way:
        Stat holiday pay is getting paid for a day you would have been working, but weren’t because the company was closed, so if you weren’t going to be working that day, there’s no need to reimburse you for the lost pay.

        That being said, since the company already gives lieu days, I wouldn’t roll back that benefit.

        1. JM60*

          That’s a bit different from the rationale I’ve always had for employer holiday policies. I’ve thought of it more as a supplement to an employer’s vacation benefit that causes the employer to close that day, rather than wage replacement for the employer closing. The former makes sense for a lot of employers because it can be more efficient to have everyone take off on 10 popular holidays than it is to give everyone 10 extra vacation days.

          I think the latter makes more sense for certain types of businesses who would close on holidays due to loss of business on those days (e.g., a barber shop closing a Dec 25). However, those types of employers tend to not give holiday pay anyways (at least in the US).

          1. I should really pick a name*

            I should point out that I’m Canadian, so the holidays are federal/provincial policies, not employer policies (if you have to work, you get time-and-a-half or a lieu day)

            1. Morticia*

              Also, if the holiday falls on a day the business is normally closed (like New Year’s Day on Sunday), usually the following day is used as the holiday, so those employees don’t miss out. Sadly, this seldom applies to the service sector, although some small businesses do observe the practice. But it makes sense to me that if the business can do something for its employees, it should.

      4. EPLawyer*

        But by having a flex schedule — which is a perk the coworker might not have — you already HAVE every Monday off. You already have a different benefits package — the flex work schedule.

        The holiday day off is for people who would normally work that day because of their schedule. If their schedule is such they don’t work that day, then they already have the holiday off. No need to ensure they get it off.

        1. PinaColada*

          It depends on the way the business and schedule are set up, though. If the business is open Monday through Saturday, and some people work a standard Monday-Friday shift, and others work a Tuesday-Saturday shift, (and it’s the same every week) That’s not exactly a huge benefit.

        2. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

          But the flexing workers are working more hours across the year for the same pay as the workers whose schedules happen to include Mondays.

          It’s not even clear that the non-Monday-including schedules are for the sole benefit of the employees. For instance, some of the employees are working on Saturdays, because the employer needs coverage on that day.

        3. tamarack and fireweed*

          Imagine two people with 80% part-time jobs. One’s part-time job is Mon-Thu, the other one’s is Tue-Fri. For all public holidays that fall on Mondays, the first one gets a 3-day week while the other one gets a four-day week. This makes a bit of a difference.

      5. EmbracesTrees*

        But these aren’t people who “have been scheduled” — they’ve been given the perk of flex scheduling and have chosen their schedules! So if someone knows that most holidays are celebrated on Mondays, but choose a T-F work schedule, they’ve made that choice themselves.

        To be clear, I’m not against the “in lieu days”, but I do think that it’s a little like people who choose to work from hoe being mad that they didn’t get to enjoy the homemade cookies Wanda brought in or the extra long lunch the boss allowed to celebrate Iggy’s last day.

      6. Paris Geller*

        At my org, our benefits package states you get a specific number of paid federal holidays, and which holidays those are. I have one coworker whose schedule is Tuesday through Saturday. She’s always off on Monday, so her Labor Day holiday was yesterday. Otherwise, she’s getting one less paid day off than everyone else.

      7. fhqwhgads*

        Places I’ve worked that did in lieu holidays required they be the same week as the actual holiday. I can see how that might be a coverage problem if there were a ton of no-Monday people who all chose Tuesday, but it seems easy enough to have a cap on how many people can choose Tu/Wed/Thu/Fri as their replacement day to ensure its spread. And if its someone who usually works weekends, then the weekend days would be on the table for the replacement day too.

    2. Rara Avis*

      My husband HAD to take in lieu days in place of the (very) few holidays his former employer was closed on.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        This is how most government employers do it. If there is a paid holiday in the week, everyone who is qualified for paid holidays gets the paid holiday, whether they typically work that day of the week or not. A great example is Veterans’ Day, because it’s one of the only American holidays that happens on the same date every year, regardless of the day of the week. This year, Veterans’ Day is on a Thursday. I have an employee who works MWF, but they’re still eligible for holiday pay that week, so I’ll only be scheduling them for two days instead of three.

        1. EmmaPoet*

          That’s how it works here too. This week I didn’t work Monday (Labor Day) because I wasn’t scheduled for it, so instead I got Tuesday off since I was supposed to be on then.

    3. Eden*

      That sounds very normal to me! At my M-F job we all get the same amount of holiday time off even if they’re on the weekend. Like if Dec 24-25 are a weekend we’d have Friday and Monday off instead. I don’t see think it’s weird for someone with an alternate schedule to get the same.

      1. WellRed*

        I was surprised by the advice and wondered if I read the question wrong. If you offer certain paid holidays to FT employees they shouldn’t miss out because of their schedule. PT is another story.

        1. pbnj*

          I’m surprised as well, I’ve always seen in lieu of days for salary employees. I’ve only worked at large corporations so maybe that’s the difference. I would be irate if people on another schedule only had to work 32 , and I had to work 40 because of the assigned working days. When Christmas falls on a Saturday, and many companies will give you either Monday or Friday, because having a Christmas holiday day is in your benefits package.

        2. PT*

          Yes, this. I worked a Tuesday-Saturday schedule at one employer. For part of the time I worked there, I was part-time, so I did not get paid holidays. When we had holiday hours fall on a Monday, I just worked my normal five-day schedule and nothing happened. Having the most common holiday day be my normal day off was a perk, because I never lost any hours/money when we closed for holidays like a lot of the staff who worked Mondays did.

          For another part of the time I worked there, I was full time and got paid holidays. So if a holiday fell on Monday, I was expected to pick another day that week to take my Memorial Day/Labor Day/whatever paid holiday, so I would only end up working four days that week.

    4. CorruptedbyCoffee*

      As a counter point, I have Mondays off this year, and that meant I worked the first 6 months of the year without a single extra day off, because they all took place on Mondays. If I’d had Tuesdays off, I would have had 5 more days of vacation.

      1. mreasy*

        This is exactly why the “in lieu” days policy makes sense – so you don’t have some employees with significantly more PTO than others.

      2. For This Comment, Anonymous.*

        I was working Tuesday – Saturday for a while earlier this year because of workload. Company was on board with it because it enabled me to get more work done – FOR THEM. It was not one bit a perk for me, except to crank out product faster. Monday holiday comes around, and I took the prior Saturday off for that extra day thinking that it would be better than being gone Tuesday when then office is open. I detailed that information on my time card. I got an officious email from HR the day payroll was being prepared that the policy is if you don’t work on Mondays, then you don’t get paid for holidays that fall on Monday. Had I left that info off the timecard, they’d not have known. My check was short a day. Not only was I pissed, my boss and their boss were pissed. I was made whole eventually, but not before feeling my contributions really didn’t matter to the company.

    5. Green great dragon*

      Our non-standard workers get their leave (including public holidays) translated into hours and any public holidays they take come out of that. Some working say 0.6 of full time gets an allowance of 0.6 of a day for every public holiday, whether it falls on their working day or not. It works really well – everyone gets the same proportion of their working time off, the worst that happens is some people get a bit less flexibility because they’re obliged to take public holidays. Otherwise, people scheduled Mondays would get a lot more leave than people scheduled Tue-Fri.

      Eg full time workers at my company get 30 days leave + 8 days public holidays. I work 3 days/week, so I get 38 days*8 hours*3/5=182 hours a year. If 5 public holidays fall on my working days, 40 hours of that goes to cover them.
      My colleagues working 4 days*10 hours get 304 hours (same as someone working 9-6 Mon-Fri), but lose 10 hours for each day off (and of course don’t lose any time if a holiday falls on their non-working day).

      1. Green great dragon*

        PS any hours not required for a public holiday are used like any other vacation, with the usual rules for booking time off. A few people take it near the public holiday they’ve ‘missed’, most just roll it into their overall balance, so there’s no coverage problem on nearby days.

      2. Picard*

        I think this is brilliant and very fair.

        Also, I’m jealous you get THIRTY DAYS plus 8 HOLIDAYS.

        (US worker here)

        1. Bamcakes*

          My current job (which I am leaving tomorrow) has 38 days holiday, PLUS 11 bank holidays, PLUS all the days off between Christmas and New Year, PLUS for the last couple of years they’ve added the days before and after Christmas and New Year to make it up to a full 2 weeks. It’s frankly ridiculous! I have never got through my entire holiday allowance in the three years I’ve worked here. Absolutely amazing not having to worry too much about covering school holidays, though.

          1. londonedit*

            That’s amazing! I have 25 days plus bank holidays plus the time between Christmas and New Year – which gives me enough holiday to be able to take the full two weeks over Christmas anyway – but 38 days plus all of that is incredible!

            1. Bamcakes*

              I have also interviewed for four internal promotions and not got any of them, so … it’s time!

              (But genuinely that is the second hardest thing to give up! First hardest is excellent colleagues.)

    6. KateM*

      I’d like to point out that if person A works Mon-Fri 8 hours per day and B Tue-Fri 10 hour per day, then if Mon is holiday and A gets that off and B gets off Tue, then A gets 8 hours holiday and B 10 hours. So I think this needs to be factored into it, too. Will B have to work 2 hours on Tue?

      Also, so what happens if its Tue that’s holiday? A gets only 8 hours of holiday but B gets 10, that’s again not fair. Will we ask B to work those extra 2 hours some other day?

      Or maybe we just don’t do anything and expect things to even out in long run.

      1. Lynn*

        My company chooses to require everyone to revert to a regular (5 days) schedule during holiday weeks. That way anyone who would normally be off for a holiday still gets paid for it, but they don’t have an “in lieu of” holiday floating around.

        Everyone gets the same 8 hours paid for the holiday. Folks who normally work the holiday day get an extra day off. And folks who normally would be off are still off and have a shorter balance of the week.

        It isn’t perfect (nothing ever is), but it seems to me to be a fair way to handle it.

        1. KateM*

          I’m part-time teacher myself. If there’s a holiday on my off day, I don’t get to drop lessons on my workdays to even the workload out. If there’s a holiday on my workday, I won’t have to work an extra lesson somewhere during week (in theory anyway – in reality, I may need to add the lesson material to some other lesson). It would obviously get way too confusing for students…

      2. CheeryO*

        My state government agency requires people on compressed (9-day pay periods instead of 10) schedules to charge the difference to vacation or personal time when this happens. It might seem weird and overly rigid, but it does keep things fair.

      3. Lab Boss*

        Just what I came here to say. I bet the people who work a 4×10 schedule don’t complain when they get to miss 10 hours on a holiday and the 5×8 people only get to miss 8, and over the course of a year those two things will more or less balance themselves out so everyone is getting ~equal holiday pay.

        If they give people working a 4×10 schedule an in-lieu-of day for every holiday they miss, the company is giving anyone with that schedule 25% more paid holiday time than anyone working a regular 5×8.

        1. Kali*

          This is exactly my schedule, and I have to use 2 hours of vacation or comp time to make up for it. Meanwhile, I would 100% complain if I had to work 40 hours to get paid the same as my coworkers who did 32 in a week, which is a way bigger imbalance.

        2. Gothic Bee*

          Do they get to take 10 hours off? I would assume they get an 8 hour vacation day like everyone else and either make up the extra 2 hours another day, or just work 8-hour days that week or use their vacation PTO to make up the time. I’ve never worked anywhere that didn’t track holidays just like any other PTO.

        3. Lab Boss*

          I didn’t think about the idea that an employee scheduled for 10 hours on a holiday would need to take 2 hours of PTO to actually get the day off. If that’s the case, then yes they should definitely be getting 8 “in lieu of” hours when a holiday falls on a normal weekday, because the company is structuring holidays as “a day on which you get 8 paid hours off, but it has to fall on this specific day.”

          When my department switched from 5×8 M-F to 4×10 M-Th, the only options we got were “you get the holidays you work on and miss the ones you don’t, the math works out about the same” and “any week with a holiday becomes a 5×8 week, so if there’s a holiday on a Monday you still work 4 days just 4 shorter days than normal.” Forcing us to burn PTO on holidays seems like a really counterintuitive system that ends up reducing a benefit (PTO), since presumably the employee can’t choose to come in on the holiday for 2 hours even if they wanted to.

        4. Here we go again*

          I wish! I work 4/10 and Monday, Tuesday Fridays are my off days. I had to work it Labor Day and I don’t get an extra day off. Because, retail! And since I’m commission I don’t get time and a half.

      4. Dream Jobbed*

        I work 4 10-hour days during certain times of the year. If there’s a holiday I get 8 hours credit and have to make up the additional 2 hours. It’s only fair.

    7. NorahVirus*

      Floating holidays are the absolute best! It’s great for flexibility, respectful for employees who don’t celebrate federal holidays, and better for continued coverage in workplaces that necessitate it.

    8. Daisy*

      I think it’s very normal. And it’s in line with how holidays usually work on a larger scale, isn’t it? In Christmas countries, if Christmas Day is at the weekend, the country doesn’t just give up the holiday – it falls on Monday.

      1. Daisy*

        Thinking about it perhaps ‘usually’ is too strong – ‘often’. Countries are about 50/50 on this. But it’s not exactly an unusual concept.

      2. Myrin*

        As a counterexample, Germany (where I’m from) is definitely a “Christmas country” and if the 25th and the 26th (we celebrate on the 24th but the two days after are the official holidays) fall on a weekend, well, too bad – we do indeed “give up the holiday”. There’s periodically some discussion about this brought up by our social parties but it never amounts to anything. So there’s that.

        1. Myrin*

          Ah, I see that you’ve amended your answer which kind of makes my reply obsolete! And I agree with you, from what I know of our neighbouring countries, some do it this way, some the other.

        2. londonedit*

          I didn’t know Germany did that! In the UK our public holidays are predominantly on Mondays – they started out being tied to particular days but were then moved to the nearest Monday, and that’s where they stuck. So we have the first and last Mondays of May, and the last Monday in August. The other holidays in England are Good Friday and Easter Monday, New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. If New Year’s Day, Christmas Day or Boxing Day fall on the weekend then we get the following Monday (or Monday/Tuesday if the 25th and 26th of December are a Saturday/Sunday) as the public holiday.

        3. Teatime is Goodtime*

          Yes, but Germany also has a requirement that employers offer a relatively high number of vacation days, which shifts the equation significantly. Folks get so little vacation in the US that holidays are a far larger percentage of their time off.

          1. Myrin*

            Sure, and I don’t think I said anything to the contrary. I was responding to Daisy’s “In Christmas countries, if Christmas Day is at the weekend, the country doesn’t just give up the holiday – it falls on Monday.”, not commenting on the broader situation.

              1. Myrin*

                No worries! I didn’t take it that way. I was just clarifying because it can be easy to get lost in the threading and I didn’t want anyone reading thinking “oh wait, was this a reply to something else?”.

    9. Purple Princess*

      If I work Monday & Tuesday each week, but the 7 statutory holidays always fall on a Monday, that means I get 7 Mondays paid without working them – I work 97 days a year but am paid for 104.

      If my co-worker at the same job works Thursday & Friday each week instead, but no statutory holidays fall on Thursday or Friday, she will work 104 days and be paid the same as me working 97 days.

      It’s a very simplified example, but highlights the issue. If you’re regularly scheduled to work the same day as a statutory holiday and so get those days off, it can seem unfair for those who are not regularly scheduled to work those days as they don’t get the benefit of the day off work.

    10. Colette*

      I work 50 minutes extra every day so I get every second Friday off – so if a holiday falls on my Friday off, my earned time off (i.e. the day I’ve earned by working extra) moves to a different day, but I have to work an extra 50 minutes somewhere to make up the time I’ll miss on that holiday.

      Similarly, if I usually worked Tuesday – Saturday, I would expect that a holiday Monday would be bumped to the Tuesday for me since I wouldn’t work on Monday – unless the business never moved holidays (e.g. if a holiday is on a Sunday, no one gets Monday off).

    11. Empress Ki*

      Where I work we automatically have another day off if a Bank Holiday falls on a day we were already off. I find that totally normal. I am in the UK. We may have a different perception based on culture.

    12. DC Fed*

      This is how the federal government does alternate work schedules – if you’re off every other Monday and Labor Day happens to fall on your Monday off, you get Tuesday off instead.

      1. Fed, but not DC*

        Yes! And this is necessary because a lot of offices have a rule about no more than 25 percent of the office having a regular day off on the same day. You already tend to have a preference for Fridays off, but it would be really problematic getting people to take the Mondays if there was no day off in lieu of holidays. Instead, everyone would game things out and pick the every other Friday or Monday that had the fewest holidays on it.

    13. Irish girl*

      My MIL works 4 days at 10 hours. Here company will only pay her for 8 hours of time on the holiday if it falls on her day off. They wont pay her anything if her day falls on the holiday, no in-lieu… her day off is Thursday so the big one is Thanksgiving. She has the agreement with them that holiday weeks she only works 8 hour shifts for 4 days so she gets the day and also gets paid her 40 hours.

    14. Koalafied*

      It definitely just depends on business needs. For some businesses – largely those open to the public and with coverage needs – people get the holiday off because the business is closed. The primary purpose isn’t to give a vacation day but rather to free people from work obligations on a particular day so that employees can participate in community-wide celebrations of that day. If someone already doesn’t work that day, then they have already been freed from work obligations that day and don’t need an “in lieu.”

      Because the business is closed, they are actually reducing the amount of work that gets done that week. An “in lieu” day is thus difficult because the business isn’t closed on other days – and depending on how regular or variable the schedules are from week to week, the business’s only two options might be 1) be short-staffed on “in lieu” days or 2) ask people who had Special Day off to come in on an extra day to make up for “in lieu” absences, so in that scenario you’re just trading one group who didn’t get a day off for another group who didn’t get a day off.

      For other businesses, they aren’t serving the public and work doesn’t need to be performed on a strict schedule, so holidays are more about “here’s a vacation day! [Your workload won’t actually be reduced compared to a normal week, but you’ll have a day where you don’t have to go to work or respond to emails and you can just work extra the other four days in the week to make up for it.]” In that scenario it makes more sense to give “in lieu” days because the perk is as much about having a day off as it is about making sure you can attend your neighborhood BBQ on the Fourth of July or see your family on Thanksgiving. And the business can easily accommodate “in lieu” days because there isn’t a public that requires a certain level of staffing every day to serve, and everyone is getting their full workload done in 9 days instead of 10 days, regardless of which 1 day they don’t come in that pay period.

    15. Kali*

      I think a lot of people here are assuming this is a salaried position. I’m a government, hourly worker who does 4 10hr shifts. If a holiday falls on my day off, I’m working 40 hours that week while my coworkers who work straight 8s only work 32 hours that week, all for the same pay. I would lose a tangible benefit if my employer said, “oh well, but you always get that day of the week off”. Luckily, I have to take all 9 of my federal holidays, so I get my full benefits. (I sometimes shift the day I take as my holiday, and sometimes, I work 8s that week so I get the actual holiday off without losing the benefit.)

      1. Gothic Bee*

        This is pretty much how it works at my workplace too, even for salaried workers. I work at a university. I’m really surprised some places treat it as just an extra bonus thing and not a tangible benefit that’s tracked. In our case, holidays are loaded into the scheduling software we use to track vacation/sick days (both salaried and hourly workers use the same software to track holidays, but hourly also use it to clock in/out).

    16. acrossthepond*

      Reading this from the UK, this is so odd. If you work full time (so a 40 hour/5 day week), the minimum holiday allowance is 20 days plus the 8 bank holidays – if you have to (or chose to) work on a holiday, you get the day back. If you work part-time, they are pro-rata. Someone working Tues-Fri gets 6.4 Bank Holidays, and some of those will be TOIL as the holidays are often Mondays (4 of 8 for sure)

    17. Gothic Bee*

      At my workplace, holidays can either be used on the day or banked and taken later as an extra day off, but they have to be scheduled the same way we schedule any other day off. So, if you’re in a job with a different schedule and are already scheduled off for the holiday, it’s treated as a banked holiday. These are also hourly jobs, so no, they can’t just take someone’s holiday hours and still make them work 40 hours the same week (because that would add up to 48 hours), but I could see how it would be different in a place where holidays aren’t tracked by hours and the workers are exempt.

  4. Heidi*

    So learned what a candle warmer is, which is something I guess. I really wouldn’t be surprised if other people were also bothered by the smell and didn’t feel like speaking up. I would probably refrain from saying that the candle smells horrible because the coworker obviously thinks it’s so awesome that everyone would want to smell it all day. Someone should invent headphones for smell.

    1. Rara Avis*

      My employer has a scent-free workplace policy. Unfortunately, my supervisor won’t give up her air freshener. But she doesn’t like listening to me cough through meetings, so we don’t meet in her room anymore. (I had hoped wearing masks would reduce my reaction to strong chemical and floral scents, but no dice.)

      1. allathian*

        Well, at least she isn’t making you cough in your meetings.

        Still, it’s a weird stand for your supervisor to take. Sounds like the scent-free workplace isn’t actually enforced.

        My employer is scent-free, and they don’t care if you have a private office or sit in an open space. They aren’t requiring people to be completely unscented, scented antiperspirant is okay, but not perfume or cologne. When they’re interviewing in person, candidates are informed of this requirement. I know of at least one case when a candidate was turned away at the door for wearing scent, but I’m not sure if they rescheduled the interview or not.

      2. Covered in Bees*

        I’m sorry. I worked somewhere that we all shared a single use bathroom and two colleagues insisted on frequently spraying it with different combinations of air fresheners. Sometimes, they went in there just to spray. This was in addition to the timer-based spritzes that came from some machine in the corner, which all of the bathrooms had. My eyes would burn from it but colleagues acted like I was a petty monster for asking the two people to spray less. Even when framing it as me being “extra sensitive” even when I know the same thing happened to other people using the bathroom. The second nearest bathroom was a very long and annoying walk away.

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Aw man, when I was pregnant and had super nose air fresheners were the absolute worst. I would 100% rather have smelled whatever it was they were trying to cover up. Every time I heard that spraying sound I just did a big mental “nooooooooooooo!” and went super speed to try to get out of the bathroom.

        2. Gray Lady*

          You were “extra sensitive” but the people who couldn’t enter the bathroom without spraying it a gazillion times a day on top of the built in freshener system were “normal”. Sure.

          1. banoffee pie*

            Some people spray air freshener all over the bathroom when they should really be cleaning the toilet. I had a flatmates like that, they just sprayed, they never once cleaned the toilet. I had to do it every time. They are ex-flatmates ;) At work you mightn’t be allowed to clean the toilet, or there could be no brush, so I understand why these colleagues are using so mcuh air freshener, but it’s really annoying for everyone else. I wonder could so much air freshener even trigger an asthma attack for someone?

          2. Aquawoman*

            Thank you! I have had battles at work over this with people who don’t want to give up the air freshener. Without the air freshener, the “sprayers” would have to endure, what, like, 3 minutes of unpleasant smells? With the air freshener, I had to endure a day or multiple-day migraine. But I am an asshole for justice when it comes to disability stuff (mine or others), so I did not let it drop.

            1. banoffee pie*

              Good on you. I would be thanking you if I worked with you! Air fresheners give me headaches too, even car ones, which are pretty much ubiquitous :(

        3. Speaks to Dragonflies*

          Oh golly…One person sprays cinnamon scented and another sprays pine scented. Those mix with the original stank and it ends up smelling like someone crapped Christmas.

        4. A Feast of Fools*

          At the start of COVID, our team’s admin took to spraying *everything* with “Morning Breeze” Lysol. Door handles, door frames, the doors themselves, fabric cube walls, desks, chair arms, and, of course, the air. She got up to do this 2-3 times every hour. Our entire section of the floor we were on was in a constant haze.

          I started working from home earlier than everyone else because all that Lysol fired up my asthma and I could barely breathe.

      3. MissBaudelaire*

        I worked in a light fragrance place, which moved to scent free. We were all like “Oh, okay, fine, no perfumes. Got it.” that was the spirit of the rule. But we had people complain about things like baby powder/body powder, the smell of deodorant, and the smell of hairspray.

        We had to go *back* and say no strong fragrances. Then classify it as no perfume or scented lotion.

      4. AnonInCanada*

        If your employer has a scent-free policy in the workplace, does that not apply to your supervisor as well? If she thinks she’s above company policy, could you not go over her head and tell her supervisor “the scents from the air freshener in her office lingers into common areas and is making me feel ill?” I know it may cause a rift between you and your direct supervisor, but shouldn’t the rule apply to everyone?

        1. Rara Avis*

          Well, it should apply to everyone, but we’re kind of on an honor system, and she would know that it was me who complained, because no one else seems to mind. As long as I stay out of the room, I’m okay. My smell reaction is annoying to me but not as bad as many (no migraines, asthmas, etc.) but nowadays an extended coughing fit makes you persona non grata pretty quickly.

    2. Pennyworth*

      I would never have a candle burner or any source of aroma in the office. I quite like some natural aromas at home but anything synthetic gives me a headache and patchouli make me feel ill. I do wonder about people who think it is OK to inflict this sort of thing on co-workers. The same with music. I hope OP #2 has been successful in having the candle burner taken home.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this.

        I have a few scents I’m particularly sensitive to, one of them is Chanel #5 and the other is Fahrenheit cologne. If I ride on public transit, I’ll have to switch seats if anyone wearing either of those comes within about 10 feet of me. Those give me a headache within a few minutes. Generally, if I can smell your scent from 6 feet away, you’re wearing too much of whatever it is.

        That said, I have to admit that the worst supposedly pleasant scent I’ve come across is the incense that some Middle-Eastern and African families burn in their homes. That scent makes me dry heave, and I’m always afraid I’ll end up throwing up on someone. So I feel compelled to move seats on public transit, and I hate the idea that someone might think that’s because I don’t want to sit next to a POC.

        Before my office went scent free, there was a woman who wore such strong scent, I think it was Poison, that if she walked in the corridor, you could tell she’d been there an hour later because the smell lingered. When our workplace went scent free, they had to get rid of her upholstered office chair because the smell wouldn’t go away even after a month’s airing in the inner courtyard (with no public access). I think that in the end she was allowed to take it home.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Could be Nag Champa or variant with regard the incense. I burn it regularly and while I make darn sure to never wear clothes to work that have been exposed to it my hair can hold a lingering smell for quite a while. It’s really potent. I’ll hold nothing against anyone who feels they can’t sit close to me because of the smell!

        2. Bagpuss*

          Incense is one of the things which triggers my asthma – it’s worst when it is actually being burned but the residue also affects me – I live close to a town which has a very high number of ‘new age’ type shops where they sell and/or burn incense, and when I have guests who want to visit I have to explain that they are welcome to spend as much time browsing as they like, but that I will have to wait outside. Equally when I went to Italy I found I had to time my visits to churches careful as if I went too soon after a service the lingering smoke caused problems.

          It’s a shame, as I don’t actually dislike the smell, but it makes me very unwell, very fast!

          We don’t have a scent-free workplace policy but I have banned scented air-fresheners etc. from all the common areas and have made clear that while the starting point is that people can have what they want in their own rooms, they will have to take it away if it’s too powerful or the smell lingers or spreads.

          We also have unscented hand wash in the bathroom for similar reasons.

          1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

            For me, actual smoke is a trigger. I was also raised Catholic. I once had to spend an entire Christmas service outside in the parking lot because I was sneezing so badly and my eyes were swelling up to the point that it was bothering people. I actually love the smell, it’s the smoke that does it for me!

          2. quill*

            When I used to regularly walk through malls, Bath and Body works and Lush were absolute kryptonite for me. B&B because of all the testers, but also all the alcohol that carries the scents for their perfumes / hand sanitizers. Lush because what nose-masochist thought “hey, we’ll specialize in scented products that are 100% never wrapped or contained in any way!”

            1. Delta Delta*

              These, along with Yankee Candle, are mall no-go stores for me. Also, I absolutely can’t stand the smell of Cinnabon (like, to the point of gagging). Why must stuff be so smelly!

              1. quill*

                I find Yankee Candle somewhat less bad? Probably slightly lower scent dispersal than lush and B&B, because no liquids and the candles are often somewhat wrapped…

              2. A Feast of Fools*

                I used to loooooooove Yankee Candles. For years. Had them burning in my house all the time.

                And then one day I noticed I’d been stuffy for awhile. No elevated temp, tho. But my symptoms got worse and worse. Then I went on a short, four-day vacation and my symptoms went away.

                It took me longer than I’d like to admit, but I finally figure out that I had become allergic to Yankee Candle candles.

                I had unopened boxes of them and had to take them back into a store to get a refund. It was genuinely painful to wait in line and then go through the obnoxiously-long return process. I could hardly see from how much my eyes were watering.

            2. Bagpuss*

              Oh yes. I have to cross the street near Lush. A friend once (with the best of intentions) sent me a LUSH gift box at Christmas – I had to triple wrap it in plastic bags and banish into the shed (although a different friend was very happy, as I knew she used their products so I explained the situation and offered it to her, and she took it of my hands.) I was also able to tell the friend who gave it to me, and the next year they sent me Hotel Chocolat stuff instead, so it was a win all round in the long term!

              1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                I have the same problem with Subway stores. I don’t know what they’re pumping through the vents but I’ll walk on the other side of the road to get away from the smell.

                Dad can’t go anywhere near a Lush store either. I have to remember when I meet him to have a shower beforehand to ensure no trace of Lush perfume (I have a staggering number of perfumes from that shop).

                1. banoffee pie*

                  lol yeah I can tell if a Subway or Lush is coming up ahead long before I see them!! And I feel so sorry for people who work in Yankee Candle shops

              2. quill*

                Geranium oil was sent to me at work once, for work reasons. It… ooozed.

                I had to put it in a bag in a bag in a tupperware sealed with saran wrap in the farthest room of the lab. I still didn’t completely get away from the smell for months.

                If someone mentions an essential oil in my presence there is a non-zero chance I will regale them with the tale of how bad the geranium oil was.

            3. Gumby*

              I use Lush henna on my hair. I have a certain airtight glass container that I use to store it and I also take the container to the store when I buy it to try to save my car from being drenched in the smell for days afterwards. It mostly works. (Though there are a couple of days of blech when I color my hair. But I am vain and it covers my greys… At least it is just a smell that I find mostly unpleasant and not one of the ones that give me an immediate headache.)

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, the only case in which I think it’s okay to use heavily scented products in your office is if you have an anxiety disorder or another condition which might be eased by smelling a specific scent, or if it’s part of your religion.
        And even if none of your colleagues have asthma or are highly sensitive to scents, please, PLEASE think of the janitorial staff! Janitorial staff are a lot more prone to developing asthma because they have to inhale so many chemicals as part of their work. So even if all of your colleagues are 100% okay with your personal scent cloud, you may be causing horrible health problems for an underpaid cleaner who has no power to request a scent-free environment.
        Also, if you have colleagues who really won’t budge on the scented products, request an air purifier (or bring one in.) I have asthma and worked in a very dusty office and having an air purifier really helped. It may not work as well with scents, but it’s worth trying.

        1. JB*

          I don’t see how having anxiety would excuse using heavily scented products; there are ways to ‘privately’ benefit from a scent without sharing it around.

          I’m also unaware of any religion that would require one to use scents at work specifically.

          1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

            I can see how someone would burn incense or something else (smudging, for example, is important in some Native American tribes) as part of their religion. I do not think anyone would need to do so at work, though.

          2. OhNo*

            In re: anxiety, I think that would be more about making a scent available to people if they need it, rather than given them a blanket exception to a “no scented products” rule. I have known people in the past who carry around a handkerchief marked with a certain scent (whether perfume or lotion, I couldn’t say), or had solid perfume tubes that they would pull out to sniff sometimes, which wasn’t terribly disruptive.

            Something along those lines might be a more reasonable, though I think it would really depend on the sensitivity to scents of others around them. I don’t have a particularly keen nose, so I could never even tell what scents those folks were partaking in.

          3. Black Horse Dancing*

            I think it would become battling disabilities/problems. If A can’t stand the scent of lavender and it gives them headaches but B needs lavender as it calms their anxiety/mental health issue, then the company has to figure out a workaround. Perhaps A and B can be placed at opposite ends of the office or A gets a fan. Perhaps B can have a bar of scent they can breathe in from time to time.

          4. The Prettiest Curse*

            Yes, I was also struggling to think of a religion that uses scents while I was writing that post … but I’m sure that there is a religious or cultural practice somewhere that would. And if it was an inherently religious workplace or one that served a specific population, it is possible (though probably unlikely) that scents could be used in the workplace as part of a religious or cultural celebration.

          5. Julia*

            For anxiety disorder the scented products are probably lavender or mint based. I’ve worked on scent policies and that’s come up repeatedly.

            More generally some topical medical products have an odor that isn’t perfume but is still noticable.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Accommodations for religious beliefs and/or health problems do have to be reasonable and not harmful to other staff though. I couldn’t allow someone to waft essential oils round the office for their anxiety if they’re going to b making others feel ill.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            If specific scents genuinely helped someone with anxiety, I’d want that person to still have access to that option, but if possible in a way that minimized the impact on anybody whose allergies or asthma may be exacerbated by scent. Something like sniffing a small amount from a tissue, as opposed to pouring a lot of essential oils into a diffuser.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              They make essential oil solids too that you can either sniff themselves or apply to your pressure points so only you can smell them (ideally)

              1. EmmaPoet*

                I took a class where we made essential oil inhalers. They look like the Vick’s inhaler sticks, but you could choose your own fragrance. That might work. I used to use mine at work all the time and nobody ever noticed, including the person sitting 2 feet away (I asked and they said they didn’t.)

        3. Nesprin*

          While air purifiers are great, as are masks/n95 dust respirators, neither will pull small aromatic chemicals out of the air.
          I have asthma triggered by scents, and a coworker uses spray scent to cover her cigarette smell. It sent me to the ER once. When I asked her to stop, she did stop using them… but made a gigantic stink about the whole thing (to the extent of cornering my boss in the ladies room for 30 min and ranting how I overstepped/ managing scent in the office was not her job etc.).

          1. banoffee pie*

            wow if I sent someone to the ER I’d probably never stop apologising until one of us quit the job! Some people really dig into the idea that they’re right, I guess?

      3. Liz*

        Same! I am very sensitive to most scents, whether it be candles, perfumes, cleaning products, you name it, it will set off my allergies, asthma, and give me a headache. So i would be SUPREMELY annoyed and upset if a co-worker brought in something like that. I’ve found its mostly the artificial chemical scents that are the worst for me.

    3. uncivil servant*

      See, this is what scent-free environments usually mean in my experience. I know there have been discussions here about people being asked to switch to scent-free shampoos at home, but I’ve never experienced that. Just, we shouldn’t be able to smell you’ve been in a room after you leave it, and for heaven’s sake no scent-emitting devices!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yup, we’re mostly scent free here and it just means no perfume/strong scented body lotion at work.

        I got a comment once that someone hated my hair conditioner smell but other than that there’s been no problems.

      2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        In a former job, I would sometimes be trapped in the elevator with 3 or more people in the morning who I swear had just put on 3 different perfumed things each. By the end of the 5-floor ride, I’d want to sneeze so bad, and I got itching and crawly skin as well. And it’s not like I was actually allergic to that stuff – just too much of it in an enclosed space.

    4. Mockingjay*

      Every wax warmer I’ve seen in the workplace had to be removed because it was so bothersome to others. The wax cubes for the warmers are supersaturated with scent, so even something you like can be overwhelming very quickly.

      I confess that in one dingy, moldy-smelling office, I once brought in a glass holder with those sticks to release essential oils. Figured the scent would be light, unlike a warmer. Not. I gave myself a headache within an hour. I promptly chucked the set into the dumpster. (Much more suited for a dumpster.)

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Having hot melted wax just sitting out in the open seems like a bad idea overall. I’m a kind of clumsy person and I’m always worried I’m gonna knock wax everywhere. I know they had a big bump a few years ago when there was a hot MLM selling them and it seemed like they were everywhere, but I had thought they went semi out of style because they were a giant pain in the ass.

        1. londonedit*

          I can’t imagine ever being allowed to have melted wax in the office – surely it would fall foul of health and safety regulations? Either you’ve got a naked flame or you’ve got something plugged in (which would at the very least have to be PAT tested every year) or even if the thing is somehow battery-operated you’ve still got actual hot melted wax on someone’s desk.

          1. DataGirl*

            This- my workplace doesn’t allow space heaters, electric blankets, etc because of danger from potential electrical shorts/fire- I have a feeling something like a wax melter could fall under those rules? Maybe check with HR/building management or someone about policies?

          2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Remember seeing one of our health and safety people absolutely blow their lid at someone bringing in and plugging in their hair straighteners. Lighting a match or a candle at work? Hoo boy.

        2. lilsheba*

          I’ve never seen a wax warmer allowed in a work place, which again is why I’m so happy to be working from home. I have two wax warmers and I LOVE THEM. I also burn candles and incense all day long. And to the person that mentioned smudging, yes it is a Native American tradition but no it doesn’t need to be done in the workplace, it’s to smoke cleanse the area and that would be done at home or in a sacred space. Smoke cleansing is done a lot in witchcraft too for the same reason, to cleanse a home or sacred/magical space.

      2. Gothic Bee*

        Yup. I love my wax warmer at home, and I love lighting a bunch of scented candles too, but I’d never bring any of that into the office. And wax warmers are stronger than candles in my experience. If I worked somewhere there was a bad smell, I could maybe see bringing in something low key, but I’d probably start with one of those odor absorbers (fragrance free) before trying a scented product that other people might hate me for.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, don’t say you think it smells bad which will just put them on the defensive. Just stick to the fact that it is objectively a problem for asthma/migraines.

      Though subjective taste in scents is certainly a valid reason people shouldn’t be bringing something like that into the office! But the other stuff is a much better case that no one can reasonably try to argue against.

    6. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, guaranteed that the LW is not the only one who hates the candle warmer. I might not want to speak up if it didn’t bother me, per se, but with it giving you headaches & aggravating your asthma you have more than solid footing to speak up, and you’ll be a hero to your coworkers (whether they know it or not).

    7. Marketing Queen*

      My manager told me my coworker had a “right” to wear her heavily scented lotion that gave me migraine and they couldn’t ask her not to wear it. I would just have to go work somewhere else if it bothered me. So I finally got up the courage to talk to her myself (yes, I know I should have done that in the first place, but I’m conflict averse. I’m working on it.). She was so nice about it and felt so bad! Then one day she mentioned how dry her hands were because she hasn’t been using her lotion, so I bought her some nice lotion with a scent that doesn’t bother me, and she likes, so win-win. My manager said I was being passive aggressive. Like, what?! I really think my manager could benefit from reading AAM.

      1. Susan Ivanova*

        One of our choir members – a delightful retired English professor – was absolutely mortified to discover that she was the source of the unwanted scent. But she also appreciated being told – the hand cream she’d used for years had changed formulation to make the scent longer lasting, and she hadn’t realized because of course after a while you don’t smell it anymore.

    8. Ama*

      I am allergic to whatever is in those plug in diffuser air freshener things (doesn’t matter the brand or the scent — I even had a reaction when we tried a Feliway diffuser for our cat, so I assume I’m reacting to some chemical they put in to make the liquid diffuse into the air). It gives me a horrible sinus headache that gets worse the closer I am to where it is plugged in. As soon as I leave the area it affects or the freshener is unplugged my reaction stops.

      I have had to have conversations with friends, family members, and coworkers before when I enter a space and realize (because I’m developing a terrible headache out of nowhere) that they have a plug in somewhere nearby. Making it clear that it is the type of air freshener that causes my reaction and not the smell itself usually diffuses any defensiveness — I usually say something like “There’s no way you could have known this but I’m actually allergic to that kind of air freshener, would you mind unplugging that while I’m here?”

      I did have to tell a coworker whose office was immediately across from my cubicle that her office was too close and I always had a headache by the end of the day if she used her plug in at all but she was very understanding about it.

  5. WS*

    Generally, if you don’t normally work on the day of the week that a public holiday falls, you don’t get a day in lieu for it. My workplace has several permanent part-time staff and that’s always been the case under federal law here in Australia (which is usually pretty generous about holidays).

    I think you would be 100% in the right to stop that practice entirely, but if you think that will cause ill-will and you can afford it, restricting the days it can be taken in accordance with your workplace staffing needs would be perfectly reasonable.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      The challenge there is that here in the United States, benefits packages usually specify that you get a certain number of holidays. For example, you get a minimum of 10 public holidays a year, or however many. In the situation being described, if your scheduled day off is Monday, you frequently would not get those holidays, so you are getting far fewer holidays than everyone else and the business is not living up to the benefits package they have promised.

      It sounds like the solution is to schedule the in-lieu-of days far enough in advance that there are will not be clients scheduled for that person on that day, instead of just randomly taking the day after Labor Day off because you normally would not have worked on Monday.

      1. JessB*

        But wouldn’t those staff be getting more holidays than anyone else, because they’ve taken advantage of flexible working hours to permanently work 4 days a week?

        1. Jackalope*

          They’re still working full time though. If someone is working 4 10s then they are working 40 hours per week just like everyone else. Their days off are their weekends, not a holiday.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            Right. A flex day is different from a holiday. The staff who have flex days are still always working full-time hours, even if they have a day each week where they are off. They work their 40 hours in 4 days instead of 5.

            During a week with a holiday, a person who does not flex does not have to work a full 40 hours. You don’t ever have to make up the time from the day off on December 25th; you’ve worked a full week at 32 hours that week.

            That’s what the flexing staffers are asking to be able to do — have a week where they work 80% of their hours, even if that week does not coincide with the official holiday week.

        2. Catherine*

          Not necessarily. Plenty of companies need seven-day staffing, so a five-day shift pattern can shake out as Tues-Sat instead of Mon-Fri. (I used to be on a Tues-Sat schedule at a previous job.)

          1. BethDH*

            It is very common in the cultural sector to work Wed-Sun. Different orgs I’ve seen have handled it different ways when only some people have it off, but they’ve always had a way to do it. Most had some limitations — in some it couldn’t be a weekend day, in others it had to be the next working day.
            When I worked in healthcare-adjacent roles, it wasn’t quite the same because they didn’t have holidays like Labor Day off to begin with, but they did provide vacation packages that totaled the same number of days as including those holidays.

        3. Oryx*

          As someone who once worked 4 10s, it’s not the same.

          I was still working a full 40 hour week, my “off” hours were just distributed differently than my coworkers who worked 5 days. Where I had Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off, they only had Saturday and Sunday off. But they also had more time off in the evenings after work each day but I had to stay and work a few more hours to account for that extra 8 hours I wasn’t working on Friday.

        4. Gothic Bee*

          It’s better to think of it in terms of hours. Someone who works 4 10-hour days shouldn’t get a 10-hour holiday, but they should get an 8-hour holiday to use in lieu of their day off. If not, they’d be working 40 hours that week while everyone else only worked 32, which is hardly fair. Another option would be for them to just work their 4 days that week, but only work 8-hour days the week of the holiday vs. 10-hour days every other week.

      2. WS*

        Oh, okay, here you get four weeks’ holiday plus any public holidays that fall on your working days (some date-based public holidays occasionally fall on a Saturday or Sunday and only some get an extra weekday off). It’s not a benefits package as such, it’s a standard workplace entitlement and workplaces can’t mess with it until you’re earning over a certain very large amount (it used to be $100,000/year and may be higher now).

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Yeah, here, there are no standard workplace entitlements that are days off. It’s whatever the employer offers you, with some exceptions in certain states, but still nowhere near the number of days you’re talking about.

      3. WS*

        Yeah, I do in fact work Tuesday-Saturday, so if a holiday falls on a Monday, that’s just my bad luck. But here we get a lot more holiday time than is standard in the US so maybe it doesn’t sting so much!

    2. AcademiaNut*

      In Canada part time workers get money in lieu of stat holidays, scaled to the number of average hours per week. In my part time high school job, I’d get two hours pay for stat holidays (plus 4% of my salary as general holiday pay).

    3. JM60*

      It sounds like the OP is talking about full-time workers, so I think comparing their benefits to the benefits of part-time workers is an apples-to-oranges comparison. I think that it’s legitimate for an employee to be annoyed if they miss out on a benefit that’s offered to their coworkers solely because of which days they worked.

      1. OP #5*

        OP here. The added confusion is that both full time and part time employees are requesting the in lieu holidays which is partly why it’s been difficult to decide. We absolutely want to do what is right for these employees who do really difficult work, but we’re trying to figure out how to minimize disruption to operations and ensure that we can explain our decision to other staff members without the ability to make flexible schedules who might see the in lieu day as a second benefit they don’t get.

        I had suggested originally to make a special category of PTO that affected employees can access and request as long as it’s requested early enough that clients aren’t already scheduled. That’s the main problem that we absolutely want to avoid in the future.

        1. JM60*

          I think it can be reasonable to treat the full time employees differently regarding holiday policy if you want to (much like it makes sense for them to be under a different vacation policy).

          As for whether an in lieu day is fair to those who don’t have a flexible schedule, I think it would be fair if it was the next business day (or the soonest business day after the holiday that their absence wouldn’t cause a disruption). In fact, I think it would be unfair to not give them some time off in lieu. I think it would only be a secondary benefit if they could just flexibly choose which day to take off.

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It’s absolutely reasonable and normal to treat part and full time employees differently in situations like this.

        3. JB*

          Wait, you’re not applying it as PTO? That sounds like your issue.

          That ‘special category of PTO’ is called a floating holiday. It’s common in many industries. If you’re going to offer this benefit, it should be treated (in terms of approval for time off) like any other PTO.

          1. Gothic Bee*

            This is the best solution in my experience. My workplace (in the US) does it so that the holiday shows up in our PTO (in a holiday category that’s separate from vacation/sick days) a couple days before the holiday and it has to be scheduled. You can either schedule it the day of the holiday, or bank it and schedule it for a later date.

            I can understand part-time workers not getting holidays, but when it comes to full-time workers, the holidays should apply across the board.

        4. Work It*

          I have the opposite situation. As PT, I don’t get paid holidays, so I miss regularly scheduled Mondays when they fall on state holidays. I usually ask for another shift (if available) to make up for the missed day.

        5. drpuma*

          Do you have enough full-time staff that your org could dictate the alternate holiday off-days? Maybe you observe the Monday holiday, and everyone who normally has Mondays off would get either the previous or subsequent Friday off (you choose which). The DMV in my state is open Tue-Sat, and they close the Saturday prior to Monday holidays so their employees can also have a long weekend.

          Your example of the part-time employee who works Tue-Thu is a tough one to figure out how to be equitable. Maybe you could offer limited floating holidays to part-time employees only, if anything? If you’re in the US it’s pretty typical for part-time and full-time employees to receive different benefits.

    4. owl10*

      I’m also in Australia and everyone knows public holidays are not part of your holiday benefits package, they are a bonus.

      Everyone keeps saying oh you get 9 or 10 paid days a year as part of your employment in the US. It doesn’t work that here. You get 4 weeks PTO and if you score a public holiday on top that’s a bonus.

      My work is closed Monday’s so I don’t get a holiday. I work weekends and only some weekends are also public holidays for those who work in lieu of Monday. Them’s the breaks, it’s a lottery as to who gets and does not get public holidays, it was never stipulated as the entire working population must have x days a year public holidays.

      If the US gave people proper annual leave people wouldn’t nickel and dime their employer over 1 day off.

    5. Public Sector Manager*

      But if an employer offers a package that includes a paid holiday, the paid part is the important part of it. It’s not just a day off. It’s a day off with pay. If an employer has a 2,000 hour work year, and if the average employee takes 120 hours PTO a year and gets 12 paid holidays for 96 hours a year, the employee is working 1,784 hours but getting paid for 2,000. But if there are 4 Monday holidays that year, a person working Tuesday to Saturday without an in lieu of day will work 1,816 hours a year and get paid for 2,000. So the two employees are not getting the same benefits.

      If the employer is closing on a public holiday and no one is getting paid for the holiday, then it makes zero difference and I would agree that would sound tone deaf. But if the employer is paying you to stay at home on a holiday, then a person normally off on that holiday also needs to be paid for not working. Whether it’s an lieu of day or an extra 8 hours of pay in their paycheck, they need to be compensated like everyone else.

  6. Black Horse Dancing*

    For #4, the law makes sense. Small business simply can’t have someone, say, take three months off. That could end their business. If you hire someone to cover December and they say “I have to be off December for X,”, they are negating the reason they were hired.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      More challenging is probably intermittent FMLA. If someone takes a chunk of time off, for many jobs a temp can be hired (like for maternity leave – in places with national maternity leave, it generally applies to all women, not just those working for larger employers). But if someone is absent frequently, irregularly and without notice, in a small business that could really make things difficult. Someone fully using intermittent FMLA would be absent ~25% of the time. A larger business has more people and more resources to handle it.

      There’s no reason why a small business should be exempt from harassment or discrimination laws, though! The only thing that occurs to me there is that proving discrimination with small numbers can be really hard. If you have two people up for promotion, and the white man gets it, is that discrimination or is he the better candidate? If you have 10,000 employees, and the white men statistically are much more likely to get the promotions, that’s a much clearer cases of discrimination.

      1. AthenaC*

        Re: harrassment / discrimination laws – that was my thought, too, and also the possibility that arranging and paying for required training (in order to comply with the law) could potentially be too burdensome for a very-small business.

        Although what might happen in practice, if the small business were suddenly not exempt, might be that several small business co-op together and share the cost / scheduling for required trainings. So it may not be an impossible situation.

      2. Elysian*

        I’m not saying this is the best reason, but as far as harassment and discrimination, defending against those claims is VERY expensive and often incredibly burdensome for a small business. It is very easy (and common) for people to make frivolous claims of harassment or discrimination. I’m not saying there aren’t real claims – there certainly are! – but very often someone will get fired, get upset, and go right to the EEOC and claim it was discrimination, which opens up an investigation that can be time consuming and expensive for the employer. It is different than filing a regular lawsuit, because you can do it without a lawyer, and there is no penalty for truly frivolous claims. I won’t say this is the whole reason, but I’m sure it was on the minds of legislatures at least a little when exempting small businesses.

        1. socks*

          Could you share where you got your information that frivolous lawsuits are common? (Keeping in mind that “unable to prove bad behavior that rises to the level of illegal discrimination” =/= “frivolous”)

            1. quill*

              We do semi-regularly get letters where someone who is objectively wrong in the workplace suddenly spouts a transparently unfounded accusation, but I wouldn’t think there would be as many of those making it to the lawsuit stage?

              1. Elysian*

                They don’t usually get to be full-fledged lawsuits – before filing a lawsuit, the employee has to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC (or a similar state agency). The agency then opens an investigation into the alleged discrimination, and the employer has to cooperate and respond to the investigation. It isn’t an onerous as a lawsuit, but depending on the agency/division it can be very cumbersome to respond to even minor frivolous claims. I’ve spent hours preparing documents at the request of the agency, preparing and attending interviews, all when it is very clear to me what the employee just was mad they got fired and there was no discrimination. The federal EEOC is usually better at kicking out frivolous claims early, but some of the state agencies will drag them on for a long time.

      3. LilyP*

        I’ve always assumed the actual reason was that “but what about small businesses!!1!” is such a favorite anti-regulation political talking point in the US, so exceptions for small businesses get written in to make legislation political viable

    2. Nia*

      Disagree that the law makes sense. All employees should enjoy the same protections regardless of the size of their employer. If a small business will fail unless they fire John who just got cancer or Jane who just got pregnant then the business deserves to fail.

      1. Your local password resetter*

        Agreed. I’d rather some tiny companies fail then that workers lose major rights for their employers benefit.

        1. Mayflower*

          In the US, small businesses make up 99% of all businesses. When you say “businesses don’t have a right to exist, people do” it just tells me that you don’t even see, let alone value and respect, the labor of so many people around you. Your housing, your health, your children, your elderly loved ones, and most other parts of your life are (apparently invisibly to you) supported by businesses so small that they are, in fact, indistinguishable from the people who own them. These people work incredibly hard to provide services that are essential to their communities and it’s really disrespectful to say that their chosen form of labor doesn’t have the right to exist.

          1. Nothing Rhymes With Purple*

            Businesses have a right* to exist, but “only people whose demographics aren’t discriminated against have a right to gainful employment” doesn’t really follow.

            *: “a right to exist” probably should be unpacked at some point.

          2. Tali*

            ?? “their chosen form of labor”?? They could just take their labor and work for a different employer; there is no right for an individual company to exist if it can’t afford to do so.

            Businesses are absolutely distinguishable from the people who own them. That is why they are considered a different legal entity, pay different taxes, have different rights and responsibilities and roles, etc.

            What about the workers who are employed by small businesses but don’t own them? Don’t they deserve rights and protections? Don’t they work incredibly hard to provide essential services, does their chosen form of labor have a right to exist?

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        It also forces a non-diverse employee pool. Essentially selecting against people who can get pregnant, anyone over a certain age, anyone with disabilities, anyone with mental illnesses, anyone who might for whatever reason not have good healthcare etc.

      3. Therese*

        But what if you are one person looking for a full time nanny for your baby? Are you supposed to hold the job for a nanny going on maternity leave for 3 months? What if you can’t stand the thought of having a male nanny for your baby girl, will you be sued for discrimination if you don’t consider men and women equally in hiring? With overly stringent rules, what would happen is very small businesses and jobs just would never materialize, either small business owners would never expand or they would pay people under the table. And overall that would hurt the economy.

        1. Green great dragon*

          Well, I did hold a job for my nanny for her 5 month leave, but I was lucky to be able to (unpaid leave and supportive family). I guess I could have got a temp nanny/childcare otherwise.

          But I’d be all in favour of it being illegal to discriminate against male nannies. What if you can’t stand the thought of a male worker at the local childcare provider? What if I can’t stand the thought of my girls having a male PE teacher? Or the thought of a Christian being around my pre-school kids? Are we saying it’s OK to discriminate if you really can’t stand a particular group? If you are not happy with a particular man you are of course at liberty not to hire him.

        2. doreen*

          When I’ve had these sort of conversations before , the part where I get hung up is where there’s an assumption that it’s always possible to hire a temporary employee to fill in. Sure, there are a number of jobs where agencies exist to hire temporary workers – but those exist for professions where there is a fair amount of temporary work , not for every job. I’m not opposed in theory to the idea of employment laws applying to small employers – but let’s say the single employee at the corner deli has a medical condition and needs to be out for at least 8 weeks, maybe 12. If her job must be held, where are they going to find someone willing to take a job for 8-12 weeks – and suppose they can’t find anyone? Or a friend of mine who made orthotics- his company had 10 employees and he was the only person who made orthotics. If he took a 2-3 month leave , no products would have been shipped during that time ( adjustments could be made for a couple of days or weeks off but not a couple of months) and it’s unlikely that they could have hired someone capable of doing the job for a 2-3 month stint. So what are they supposed to do when he needs an 2-3 week medical leave and can’t find someone willing to take such a short-term job?

          1. LQ*

            I think part of this is a culture of those short term stints being normal and acceptable too. In countries where this is a broader thing it’s not as big of an issue to have short term roles where you filled in while someone was on parental leave, or out sick. But if you have a bunch of short term roles you’re definitely not looked on as someone who can learn quickly, fill in for work that needs to be done easily, and is always excited about new challenges. You’re a job hopper who is likely to quit before being trained and likely to flake out. That’s a narrative that makes this more complicated.

          2. Anon for now*

            Part of the issue, I think is that most temporary workers, especially for some skilled positions, are generally difficult to find and/or aren’t productive because they are there such a short time.

            Many years ago, my employer hired a contractor to cover the 10 week maternity leave that my co-worker took. It was exhausting. It was like hiring a new employee with all the training needed, but none of the promise of someone who could contribute in a meaningful way within 6-12 months. However, Canada that has a more a generous parental leave policy manages this better. One the company I don’t believe is required to continuing paying the employee on leave which frees up funds for a temp worker. The other thing I think they do well is that they provide like a year or more of leave. It’s much easier to hire someone for a year long contract than it is for just a few weeks.

        3. Nanani*

          You can hire a different nanny while your original nanny is on break.
          This is perfectly normal in a lot of professions with a lot of people who can get pregnant in them – like teaching K12. A LOT of teachers go on maternity leave and the school doesn’t pause classes, they hire someone else, often a fresh out of school teacher gaining experience.

          Stop spinning What If fables.

        4. Tali*

          “What if you can’t stand the thought of having a male nanny for your baby girl, will you be sued for discrimination if you don’t consider men and women equally in hiring?”

          I mean… you should be…? Why is it OK for a female nanny to look after your baby boy but not the reverse? That is literally sex-based discrimination and it’s not OK just because the scale is small.

      4. whistle*

        “If a small business will fail unless they fire John who just got cancer or Jane who just got pregnant then the business deserves to fail.”

        Then we would have no small businesses. That is not the world I want to live in.

        1. Nia*

          Why? What makes a small business so worthy of existing that you’re cool with discriminating against women and people with medical issues?

          1. Katefish*

            For LW4, a reason many laws are written with size cutoffs is that compliance is expensive. I work in a heavily regulated field (though not employment law), and lots of great sounding laws in the legislature’s daydreams would be astronomically impractical to implement. As an example, California once proposed a bill that banking notices needed to be mailed in whatever language the consumer speaks. In theory, this would have been great for the consumers, of course. But many of the bank lobbyists pointed out their lack of crystal balls and need to standardize forms and save printing/translation costs. The bill did pass, but the final version said the notice needed to go out in the state’s top 6 most spoken languages instead, not whatever language the consumer spoke. Did that harm some consumers that didn’t speak any of the 6 languages fluently? Probably. But I’m sure a similar negotiation goes on with employment laws trying to balance the size of the business with the needs of employees. Frustrating when you’re an employee on the wrong side of the law – I write as someone who left an FLMA- exempt start up to have a family, so I do get it!

          2. WellRed*

            Because plenty of small businesses make it work, and don’t discriminate. Also, big businesses can be equally dysfunctional as well as soulless, standardized corporations.

          3. Snow Globe*

            If the only businesses are big businesses, that means that an ordinary person is not going to ever be able to go into business for themselves (unless they have no employees at all, so they can’t grow), putting all the financial power with big business, even more than it already is.

            1. Crivens!*

              Still doesn’t make it acceptable for small businesses to discriminate, pay terribly, or otherwise mistreat staff. Every single business should have to meet minimum standards of labor rights (which should be a LOT stricter anyway).

              1. onco fonco*

                In a really ideal world, we’d provide government funding to small businesses in these situations so that they could afford to give employees the same protections as bigger companies.

                1. Crivens!*

                  Yup. But since we don’t have that world, small businesses should have to follow all labor laws and should not get exceptions just because they’ll close otherwise.

          4. JB*

            Small businesses, in general, need to exist because monopolies are bad.

            If we’re going to regulate capitalism in the way it needs to be regulated (i.e. eliminate the stock market, require all businesses to operate as non-profits and put a cap on maximum salary/benefits) then we can regulate small businesses out of existence. But until then, what you’re proposing is to remove competition for behemoths like Walmart, Disney, etc. and to remove choices for consumers.

            1. Nia*

              Ok so discriminating against women and people with health issue is cool because monopolies are bad got it.

              1. bluephone*

                You’re deliberating being obtuse and ignoring the real issues at play here in Ye Land of Late-Stage Capitalism aka these United States just to score woke points. Which is a look that’s good on no one.

                1. Nia*

                  Someone suggesting a 15 person business was all that was standing between Disney and a monopoly didn’t deserve a serious response.

                2. aebhel*

                  No, they aren’t. Small businesses are ALREADY not a competition for corporate behemoths, and small businesses that can only stay in business by mistreating and underpaying their employees are not contributing anything positive to anything other than their owner’s pockets.

              2. Black Horse Dancing*

                You’re being hardheaded for no reason. If I run a small business of say 5 people and I am hiring #6 for the express reason of covering weekends, I can’t have someone who won’t be there weekends. My business will fail. Just like if I have a business lugging hay bales over rocky land by hand, someone has to be physically able to do that. It’s not discrimination to state “If you can’t do this daily, this job isn’t for you.”

                1. Nia*

                  So what happens if one of those people gets pregnant? You’d have to let them go and hire someone else? Thats probably very disruptive to your business. It would be better to avoid hiring women altogether then yes? And people above a certain age to avoid potential health issues? So small businesses should only hire men age 20-40 because the survival of the business is far more important than the rights of women or those with health issues right?

                2. Starbuck*

                  “If I run a small business of say 5 people and I am hiring #6 for the express reason of covering weekends, I can’t have someone who won’t be there weekends. ”

                  I’m not aware of any anti-discrimination laws or protections that don’t allow you to have a set schedule that’s a bona-fide need of the business. Same with physical requirements – if there’s no way to make a reasonable accommodation, and the tasks are an essential part of the work, you’re not required to keep someone employed who really can’t do the tasks. I think you’re being intentionally obtuse to argue against something that’s actually pretty reasonable – no business, no matter how small, should be allowed to fire someone for bigoted reasons.

                3. aebhel*

                  Gosh, it sure is good that nobody said that, then isn’t it! ‘You need to be able to meet the minimum standards of the job and show up to work consistently’ is very different than ‘You need to never get sick or pregnant or otherwise need time off from work.’

            2. pancakes*

              Alternatively, antitrust enforcement is the proper way to target monopolies, and giving a leg up to small businesses has little to nothing to do with reducing monopolies. Your ideas on how to “properly” regulate capitalism are similar skewed, but let’s unpack this idea a bit before examining them more closely.

            3. fhqwhgads*

              I don’t think anyone is saying “all regulations of all kinds should apply to businesses of any size”. They’re saying specifically discrimination regulations should not be included with those that have a minimum employee threshold.

        2. JF*

          You’d rather live in a world where newborn babies, birthing parents who just had their insides turned inside out, and cancer patients are suddenly uninsured and unable to pay for treatment?

          1. Anonymous Esq*

            Yeah cause all big businesses like Walmart and Amazon are bastions of employee protections….

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                Agreed. We can’t say “Well, these people are bad, so you can just follow along. If we’re all wrong together, maybe it’s less wrong.”

                That’s not how this works!

          2. Malarkey01*

            I’d rather live in a world where government safety nets provide for new parents or cancer patients so that your insurance isn’t tied to your employer which is a crappy system to begin with. Asking a small business of 3 to carry the cost of an additional employee isn’t viable- it just isn’t.

            1. quill*

              Yeah, the problem here is that nobody in the U.S. can afford to take any recovery time, so the cost either ends up on the person recovering, or the business they’re employed at. It’s obviously worse for the person recovering to lose their job because it impedes their access to further treatment, but it’s not great for employers to have insurance and health care linked to them either.

        3. Well...*

          Maybe advocate for the government to cover the cost then. If small businesses needed to pay for maternity leave, you can bet gov assistance would get popular real quick.

          Also, like, it’s an awful argument to say a bad thing MUST exist to prevent another bad thing, as if only two options exist in the whole world. Think outside the box a little.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Yes, it would be much easier to extend all these laws to cover tiny employers if parental leave, health care, and other similar programs were funded by the government. Asking a 3-person company to have to pay 4 salaries for 3 months is a lot! Or even to maintain health insurance for 4 while paying salary to 3, if the leave is unpaid. That’s a much, much bigger disruption to the balance sheet than having 3 or 4 employees out on leave in a 100-person company, or whatever might be typical at any one time.

            Most countries that have generous paid leave policies have some sort of government assistance with covering the costs, whether it’s parental leave or longer-term sick leave.

          2. Worldwalker*

            No it wouldn’t.

            The golden rule is the one with the gold makes the rules. That’s big businesses, who would *love* to see something that crushed small businesses who might be future competitors. Or current competitors, for that matter. If my “Kim’s Corner Store” was out of business, people would have to go to the Walmart “Neighborhood Market”. Walmart would love that.

            If small businesses needed to pay for maternity leave, big businesses would freaking *cheer*. Because what would destroy a small business is, for them, just a rounding error.

            1. Nia*

              If walmart was paying maternity leave and a small business was firing pregnant employees why do you consider the small business the hero? To be clear all businesses are bad regardless of how many employees they have. But if one of them is providing maternity leave and one of them is firing pregnant employees its clear who the lesser evil is.

        4. BRR*

          If a small business can’t succeed unless its employees don’t have basic rights then it’s not a business that deserves to stay open. You should be able to develop a business plan that doesn’t require exploiting people.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            This part. If your business operates only because the employees get treated pretty crummy, that’s not really a business. That’s a serfdom.

          2. Worldwalker*

            Let’s put a name on it: Kim’s Corner Store. (this is loosely based on a store I used to live near) Kim is an immigrant who saved up enough money to open a little store. He works crazy hours. His wife works crazy hours. It’s more work than two people can do, but they’re the only store within walking distance for a lot of their customers, and the only one open when they can get there to shop. They decide they need another person to work there and spread out the load some. It’ll be tight—that’s a low-margin business—but they can do it. So, they hire Fred. He’s working out well, and Kim is thinking that maybe they can even go to their daughter’s wedding out of state. Then Fred gets a long-term illness. He can’t work. He’ll be out for six months.

            So…should they continue paying Fred even though they’re back to working crazy hours themselves? They can’t afford to hire someone else, too; they can barely afford Fred. If they’re not required to pay Fred, can they find someone else to work for only six months? It’s frequently hard to hire at all for places like this; most people who would be good employees are already working elsewhere.

            Or do they “deserve” to go out of business? Mr. and Mrs. Kim, whose “American dream”, not to mention their life savings, lost to something that the big grocery store chain a mile away could absorb without a hiccup.

            Think about it: do you agree that these two people—and yes, they’re real people I knew, though Fred is imaginary—DESERVE to fail at business because they don’t have the resources of Food Lion?

            You might argue that it’s better for society to have only big businesses, no small businesses, no start-ups, no little corner stores not owned by Walmart. (though I’d argue with you) But can you argue that two people who immigrated to the US, saved every penny to start a business, and worked literally 80+ hour weeks, year after year, DESERVE to lose it all because they don’t have the resources of Walmart?

            1. Nia*

              There is no fundamental right to run your own business. Why does a small business owner deserve more protection than their employees? The person with less power is the party that should be protected.
              And where do you draw the line on what sort of discrimination is okay? If a small business can demonstrate that they would lose business if they hired a POC is it okay for them to discriminate that way?

              1. BRR*

                Exactly. In this situation since it is either/or, I’m going to side with Fred’s right to not be kicked when he’s down over the Kim’s right to run their own business. My main point again is a business plan/model needs to include treating employees well. This isn’t even anything above and beyond.

                1. MissBaudelaire*

                  This. It’s something that the Kim’s should anticipate and plan for. It is sad that their might lose their business? Yes, totally. Should Fred be totally screwed over because they’re a small business? Nope.

                2. Worldwalker*

                  So Kim’s Corner Store closes. The Kims have lost their life savings. The people in that food desert have to have to go a mile to the grocery store when they need something.

                  How is Fred better off?

                3. Black Horse Dancing*

                  Problem is, if Kims go out of business, Fred is equally screwed. Holding a tiny company to the exact same laws as Amazon or Walmart is insane. They shouldn’t be discriminatory but they shouldn’t have to hold a job for Fred nor, if a company needs someone to work Friday, Saturday, Sunday, that company shouldn’t then have to accommodate an employee who can’t suddenly work Sundays for whatever reason.

              2. Malarkey01*

                The small business owner deserves some protection because their capital is on the line and they assume the business risk. You as an employee are not at risk of working for free and you are not at risk of going personally bankrupt to support the business. An employee works a specified time in exchange for a specified wage and takes on zero personal risk or liability.

                No one is saying businesses shouldn’t do the right thing or that discrimination is okay. The difference is that “reasonable accommodation” is very different in an office of 3 than an office of 100 and that compliance costs make oversight and enforcement of this difficult.

                1. Nia*

                  What?! No don’t be absurd. They deserve more protection because they put up capital? Absolutely not, they assumed that risk when they opened the business. If they go bankrupt they can use the same safety net everyone else gets. You shouldn’t get a better net simply because you were in the privileged position to open your own business.

                2. JonBob*

                  Not sure how “some protection” became “more protection”, but it seems like you’re saying that two entities with different things at risk should have the same outcome?

                  So by hiring someone else, the Kims take on the full risk of Fred? Seems like the Kims have taken on additional risk, beyond the reward of hiring Fred.

              3. Worldwalker*

                We’re not talking about discrimination. We’re talking about a financial burden imposed on a company that can’t afford it, and must therefore, to survive, avoid risking it.

                A big company — using Walmart for my example again — can absorb the cost of, say, 10% of their workforce being paid but not working (FMLA, sick leave, PTO, and so on), can shift people around to cover work needing to be done, can hire temporary employees easily, etc. But for Kim’s Corner Store, Fred is 100% of their workforce. (except, of course, the Kims themselves) Walmart would probably object if someone proposed that they be required to double the pay of their workers. (maybe then they wouldn’t need food stamps?) But that’s exactly what you’re saying the Kims should do.

                Let’s say you’re the Kims. You have two choices:

                1) Continue as you have done — work crazy hours, run everything with just the two of you. You won’t be able to go to your daughter’s wedding, but at least you’ve still got your business.

                2) Risk hiring someone, knowing that if something happens — he gets sick, she has a baby, they get hit by a bus coming in to work — you lose your business, your income, and your life savings.

                There are not a lot of small businesses that are going to pick option #2. The risk is just too high. Option #1, the negative payoff is that things stay the same. Option #2, the negative payoff is that you lose everything.

                So Fred still doesn’t have a job, because this small business can’t afford the risk of hiring *anyone*.

                “Nobody has a right to own their own business” … it’s not about rights. It’s about what we, as a society, want to see happening. Do we want a society where small business ownership is impossible (“just plan for that” doesn’t actually work, or people *would*) and all businesses are on the scale of, at least, a regional grocery chain? Or do we want one where people do have a chance to start their own businesses without being crushed by things that affect them far more severely than their larger competitors?

                Walmart would like that. They’d like to see potential competitors eliminated when they’re small, before they can grow big enough to become a threat. Even better if the government will do that for them. Rotarian socialism, it’s been called.

                But is that really the kind of world we want to live in?

                1. Nia*

                  Other countries seem to manage just fine with small businesses having to respect the rights of their employees. But yes if small businesses can only exist by mistreating employees then there should be no small businesses.

                2. JonBob*

                  Sounds like you’re equating “natural consequences” as “mistreatment”. So even if they paid Fred $100 an hour, with full benefits and a great schedule, dropping him after, say, a month being gone is “mistreatment”?

                3. Nia*

                  Did they drop him because of medical issues that he would have had protection for if he’d worked for a larger employer? Then yes they mistreated him.

                4. tamarack and fireweed*

                  There is no doubt that this is more of a struggle for small businesses, but a basic level of protection should be implemented through insurance. Ideally, mandatory.

            2. Guacamole Bob*

              These sorts of big, unusual events are calling out for some sort of insurance – maybe they should be required to offer short-term disability insurance as employers that would cover Fred’s salary while he’s out? Or maybe those uneven, unpredictable costs should be borne by the government through paid leave programs?

              It can be handled different ways, but we shouldn’t just throw up our hands and say “eh, too bad for Fred” any more than we should say “if small businesses can’t weather massive unexpected expenses then too bad”. There are ways to make sure both parties can come through these situations okay.

            3. Curiouser and Curiouser*

              Well, look at the alternative – does Fred deserve to lose his job because he got a long term illness and chose to work for the Kims instead of Food Lion? Why do the Kims deserve to succeed but Fred needs to be destitute because he got sick?

              1. nona*

                Why is it the Kim’s responsibility to care for Fred, just because that was the last place he worked? What about the other people like Fred with long-term illnesses that haven’t been working? What about Fred getting disability insurance in the event that he gets ill and can’t work? Why is it the responsibility of the Kim’s to anticipate Fred’s inability to work, vs Fred being responsible for anticipating the inability to work?

                Why shouldn’t the government, which is theoretically in a better position to help all people in a society, be responsible for taking care of Fred when he can’t work, maybe based in part on taxes/fees that the Kims’ (and other businesses) pay?

              2. Worldwalker*

                Does he? He can’t work … who should pay to support him?

                If the Kims lose their business (and hence *their* jobs) over this … Fred STILL doesn’t have a job. He STILL doesn’t have anyone supporting him. He’s no better off than he was. And everyone else (including the customers who depend on that little corner store, even if you think “business owners are evil and deserve to lose”) are all worse off.

                But it’s not going to happen. Because they’re not going to hire Fred in the first place. They literally *can’t* afford to take the chance that one piece of bad luck happening to someone else could wipe out their business, their jobs, their life savings, and their hope of retirement. They’re already facing a lot of risks — they can’t afford to add another one.

                Does Fred deserve to have someone take care of him when he gets sick?

                That’s a political debate I’m not going to get into here. My answer probably isn’t what you think it is. But it doesn’t matter whether he does or not — because either way, Kim’s Corner Store is *not* going to be that someone. Either they can only afford to pay people who are working (and not fire current workers because former workers want their jobs back), or they’ll go bankrupt and close. Fred loses either way; the outcome is the same for him. Just in version 2, so do the Kims and all their customers, not just Fred.

                1. Worldwalker*


                  I think we really don’t need insults here.

                  And no, you can’t just pick a temp off the shelf for a place like a little corner store in LA. Nobody is going to want to take a job there for a few months when they can get a more permanent one at McDonald’s (or Winchell’s Donuts, which was a few blocks away, and always seemed to be hiring for some reason).

                  Plus, remember, they still have to pay at the very least Fred’s insurance, and people here have suggested they should also pay his wages as well (the whole part about how it’s unfair that he should lose his income when he can’t work) . They can’t *afford* a temp on top of that. The odds are they’re not even paying themselves minimum wage.

            4. JonBob*

              Wow, a lot of people here who think that hiring someone means that you are guaranteeing their livelihood in perpetuity.

              And say that the business goes under because they have to pay for 3 people with 2 workers. Now there won’t be a business for Fred to go back to/pay him while sick. And he’ll have 2 more people competing for any open positions elsewhere.

              1. nothing rhymes with purple*

                I think some people here think discrimination is not excused by convenience. I happen to agree with them.

            5. MeepMeep*

              This is the point at which the government steps in, pays Fred for the duration of his disability, and provides free medical care to Fred so that the Kim family doesn’t have to. They then hire John, who covers for Fred while he’s out, because now they can afford to do so.

              This is why the US needs a functioning government.

              1. Worldwalker*

                We need more than a functioning government. We need to not be the only first-world country where people are bankrupted by medical bills. Where people *die* because they can’t afford health care.

                And to get there, we need citizens who realize that the system we have doesn’t work. It isn’t even equal — it benefits Walmart at the expense of Kim’s Corner Store. We need citizens who realize that “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” refers to something being impossible; who prefer the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats.” We need citizens who give a flying whistle about each other, instead of just what they can grab for themselves.

                We need a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” instead of a government “of the people, by the politicians, for the corporations.”

            6. Bagpuss*

              Not discriminating doesn’t mean they have to pay Fred at his full wage for the sick months he is out,. It means that they don’t fire him for being sick, and that they hold his job for him to return to.
              Ideally they pay him for at least some of that time, and they continue to pay things such as health insurance where that was part of his remuneration.

              But any business, largeo r small, needs to have contingency funds to cover emergencies.

              1. Worldwalker*

                “But any business, largeo r small, needs to have contingency funds to cover emergencies.”

                I think you don’t realize how close to the edge many small businesses are skating. That’s why so many have shut down in the past year and a half: they were one bad quarter from going under at the best of times.

                According to a report by the Federal Reserve, in 2018 nearly 40% of Americans couldn’t cover an unexpected $400 expense. That is very much true of their businesses as well. They might even be able to cover that $400, but they can’t cover $4000. The majority of small businesses fail within two years. (and for restaurants, it’s even higher) And for a lot of them, it’s because their cash flow can’t support what they’re trying to do.

            7. aebhel*

              FMLA doesn’t require that the time off be paid, just that the job is held open.

              It’s really interesting that you can imagine a tearjerking hypothetical about business owners losing their entire life savings because apparently it’s impossible to hire temporary store clerks but you can’t seem to conjure up the same sympathy for a chronically ill person losing their sole source of income and insurance (and thus, medical care, food, and housing) while they’re too sick to work. Because yours might be a hypothetical, but mine is something I’ve had to watch happen to too many people that I care about.

              1. Worldwalker*

                Fred is hypothetical; the Kims are real. I used to shop in “Kim’s Corner Store”. (though the names are of course changed) Mr. and Mrs. Kim were real people, and really worked crazy hours because they couldn’t afford an employee.

                And yeah, where they were, it *was* pretty much impossible to hire a temporary store clerk for a few months. Anyone worth hiring took the bus to a better job that would still be there next year. Even McDonald’s.

                I have plenty of sympathy for the chronically ill person losing their sole source of income — but it’s simply not *feasible* to make a small business owner provide that income for no benefit to themselves. It’s not that the evil capitalist would have to delay buying their third vacation home — it’s that the struggling business owner would have to close down, meaning that everybody loses, including Fred. It’s obvious that you’re cool with the Kims losing *their* income so Fred can keep his — but that isn’t how it works. Neither the Kims *nor* Fred ends up with any income.

                We’re the richest country in the world … and we load the burden of paying for medical care on the people who can least afford it. Y’know, the original meaning of the phrase “lift yourself up by your own bootstraps” was that something was *impossible*, not admirable and perhaps mandatory.

                1. Nia*

                  Its not that I’m okay with the Kim’s losing their income so Fred can keep his. Fred is screwed regardless of what happens with the Kim’s. I’m okay with the Kim’s losing their income because of their mistreatment of Fred.

        5. Bagpuss*

          You do know that other countries don’t allow small businesses to discriminate and still have small businesses?

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            Other countries have universal health care and far better social nets. The USA doesn’t.

              1. Worldwalker*

                No. Small businesses cannot exist if they are required to provide the social safety net that the government (and the “bootstrap” crowd) refuses to do.

                1. nothing rhymes with purple*

                  I kind of doubt that the “bootstrap” crowd has many members who argue *against* discriminating against ill people.

          2. Worldwalker*

            They also have publicly-funded health care, so the small businesses aren’t destroyed by having to pay for the social safety net that otherwise doesn’t exist in the US.

    3. Cambridge Comma*

      I had my children in a country with up to 3 years’ leave for parents. The salary of the employee is paid by the state and the business hires cover, whatever the size. It’s not inherently unworkable (which isn’t to say that people in other countries do or should want it or vote for parties who want to implement it, just that it can be done).

      1. allathian*

        Yup, me too, although I opted to return to work when my son was 2. I did work a 6-hour day until his 3rd birthday, though, it simply made things easier with daycare, etc.

        That said, it makes a lot more sense to hire cover for 24 or 36 months than it would for 3 months, simply because with a shorter period, the new employee is barely getting started with the job when the person they were hired to cover for returns to work.

        That said, covering for maternity/parental leave is a great way to get your foot in the door at an organization. During my 14 years at my current employer, my team has ultimately hired 3 people who started out as employees on a fixed-term contract to cover for a person on a longer leave.

        1. BookMom*

          Yes! My entire career was launched when I was a recent grad and covered a three month medical leave. They ended up finding some other short term project based work for me, then when the new fiscal year rolled over, hired me full-time permanent. And my boss at my current job came to us in a similar way.

          It does advantage people whose life circumstances allow them to take a non-permanent (probably non-benefitted), though.

        2. onco fonco*

          Yes! Longer parental leave is better for EVERYONE, so far as I can see. Parents benefit, obviously. It creates temp positions that can be just what a jobseeker needs. It means the rest of the parent’s team isn’t stressed out and scrabbling to cover their work – because as you say, it makes sense to hire cover for a year or more, but not for a few months. And it helps redress the issues that otherwise disproportionately push women out of the workforce.

        3. Bagpuss*

          Yes – I’m the part owner of a small business in the UK. We had someone who went off on maternity leave about 3 years ago, we hired in on the basis that the new person would be covering the mat. leave with a view to then remaining on as we wanted to expand the department.

          We currently have someone on maternity leave – we hired a locum to cover her seat for 6 months, but we are looking to offer that person a permanent role because they seem to be a good fit with the department and we want the capacity to expand in that area.

          Another person is currently off on mat. leave and has already said that they would like to return part time – in their case we didn’t hire cover because we had covid-related reductions in work in that particular department , at the time they were leaving, but them being off means we didn’t have to lay anyone off, either .
          having someone in for maternity cover can be a really good way of hiring permanently as you have someone who is on a specific fixed term contract and you can see them in action over an extended period before committing to offering a permanent role

      2. Pocket Mouse*

        Yes, this. We in the US often forget to look beyond our own borders for examples of how things can be done.

    4. Bamcakes*

      Why can’t businesses insure against those expenses? I just find it so bizarre that the assumption is that small employers have to be *more protected* from risk than individual workers. As far as I’m concerned, the point of the legal framework should always been to spread risk as broadly as possible and where you’ve got a choice of putting the risk on a private individual or an organisation, why on earth would you think it’s better to put it on the private individual?

      And I can’t understand why small businesses think it’s good for them when it’s going to mean that the best employees with the most options will prefer bigger organisations where they’re going to get better protections and security.

      1. Beany*

        “Insurance” here sounds to me more like health insurance than, say, car insurance — in the sense that it’s a near-certainty that a claim would happen. In cases like that, the premiums would probably work out to the same as a new salary anyway, though perhaps spread out more manageably over time.

        Perhaps the business could hedge against this by setting up an emergency fund savings account, where they can sock away enough money to pay an extra two or three salaries for six months if necessary. But that still means finding the money somewhere, e.g. raising prices or reducing salaries.

        (This is all assuming no government support, which ideally should cover the shortfall.)

        1. Bamcakes*

          But if it’s unreasonable to expect a business to cover a 3-4 month period where an employee is unable to work, why on earth is it assumed that a private individual can save or insure against it? There’s literally no argument based in it being an unsustainable or unreasonable cost for a business to assume that isn’t even MORE true for an individual!

          1. JB*

            It’s not assumed that the individual can cover it on their own. It’s assumed they’ll utelize social resources like unemployment or disability, which exist for exactly that purpose. A business doesn’t have access to social resources like those.

            1. Bamcakes*

              That would make sense if those social resources were easily accessible and covered every eventually, but AIUI, mostly those things don’t cover maternity leave, short-term illness or injury, emergency care leave, or situations like constructive dismissal, harassment and so on, and they’re not always easy to access. It’s a political choice to protect small businesses from risk and leave individuals to figure out the patchwork of entitlements which inevitably lead to some of them fall through cracks, and I just think it’s a bizarre one.

            2. tamarack and fireweed*

              The point is that the business should have access to such resources, or rather, that such resources should be organized in a way that benefits both the business and the employee.

          2. Shirley Keeldar*

            This is a really interesting discussion; I feel like I’m learning a lot. And Bamcakes’s point here is a really good one. Thanks for this.

    5. Empress Ki*

      There are countries were small businesses have the same level of obligation towards pregnant people and disabled people, and these small businesses are still in business.

      1. KateM*

        In those countries, the law about who pays the pregnant/disabled employee may be much different though. Healthcare etc.

        1. Bagpuss*

          I’m in the UK. Here, when someone is on maternity leave, their statutory maternity pay is reclaimable from the government (although if the company pays more than the bare statutory requirement, any difference e is paid by the employer)

          People are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay if they are ill for more than 3 consecutive days – this is paid by employers and is not reimbursed, but the level is pretty low – I think just under £100 a week. Many employers offer more generous sick pay.

          Of course, here, because we have the NHS it’s much less common for employers to pay for health insurance

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            While the details are different (no NHS, no single-payer health insurance, but a patchwork of insurers under a strict, statutory regime), the principle is the same in Germany. Maternity leaves, long-term disability (sickness) etc. is partially paid directly by the health care system, or for longer term government fallbacks, and partially paid by the employer who gets to reclaim it from the health care system. Financed out of social contributions that are shared between employee and employer. This is all completely doable and commonplace – and it benefits the small businesses in the end, even if they whinge about the social contributions. It’s a matter of political will.

            Also, it would also be possible for large industry federations to start a not-for-profit insurance network that does this. It’s not clear to me why this hasn’t happened in the US given that elsewhere this, along with union-driven schemes, is exactly the historical precursor of comprehensive public social safety networks.

        2. Minerva*

          Small businesses in Canada are required to pay premiums towards employment insurance which pays both after layoffs and during extended sick time, as well as parental leave. Some top up or offer additional long term disability insurance, some don’t, but claiming someone as a contractor to avoid paying to insure them against loss of income is illegal (I’ve actually had an employer taken to task for this – the government found out on their own, I reported nothing).

          So, yes, small businesses must cover the cost, but a with the risk amortized over all workers in the country.

      2. Worldwalker*

        Those countries have public health care, and public support payments for the employees in question — not the “sink or swim” approach the US has to both individuals and small businesses.

        It’s Rotarian socialism — our system is set up to benefit large businesses, not small ones. The golden rule is the one with the gold makes the rules.

    6. Bagpuss*

      Sure they can. In many countries, they do.

      I’m in the UK. Rules against discrimination, and requirements regarding things such as maternity pay, apply to all employers of any size.

      If you have someone who needs to take maternity leave, or is off sick long term, then you arrange to get in a temp or locum or someone on a fixed term contract to cover their absence.

      A person who has been on maternity leave is entitled to take up to 52 weeks maternity leave and is entitled to return to the same job and terms they had when they went on leave.*

      (*there are some exceptions, if you have been away for over 26 weeks)

      Employment contracts normally include details of what (if any) entitlement people have to maternity and/or sick pay over and above the statutory requirements – what tends to happen is that in smaller companies, people will typically be entitled to statutory maternity pay and sick pay, whereas larger organisations (especially those in the public sector or those which have strong Union membership) often offer more generous terms. For instance, my sister works for a Local Authority and is entitled to (IIRC) up to6 months paid sick leave, 3 months at full pay and then 3 at half pay. It meant that when she had to take time off work when she got cancer she was paid at full pay the whole time she was out. I’ve tended to work for smaller organisations and have never had anything that generous, although smaller companies may give discretionary support over and above their legal obligation.

      Discrimination is illegal for employers of any size, but the assessment about what is a ‘reasonable adjustment’ is looked at in context – so whether an adjustment is reasonable will depend on the size and needs of the business, and how difficult or costly it would be for them to make the adjustment – what’s reasonable for a big organisation will be different to what is reasonable for a small one .

      So if you have someone who is intermittently and unexpected off due to a chronic illness, it may be that a small business can dismiss them due to lack of capacity to carry out the job – even though in a larger business it might not be appropriate because the adjustments needed for them to be able to continue to work would be reasonable where there are more people to provide cover.

  7. Daffodilly*

    Attention companies: You don’t get to conduct involuntary therapy experiments on your employees!!!

    Don’t make them share their pain.
    Don’t make them share their current mood.
    Don’t make them feel vulnerable.
    Don’t try to force emotional intimacy between coworkers.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Heck, even my psych team who are paid to try and heal my mind don’t engage in forcing unpleasant memories out of me!

    2. UKDancer*

      This so much. I’ve never had this at a corporate level but I did have a colleague who always wanted to talk about peoples’ feelings at length and tried to get us to share our emotional states. She was the last person in the world I’d want to discuss my feelings with because I didn’t trust her with them. Every time she started talking about connectedness and bonding and sharing experiences I felt myself curling into a hedgehog and becoming more and more monosyllabic.

      I choose the people I share things with and they’re not usually the people I work with.

      1. allathian*

        The people I share emotionally difficult things with are never the people I work with. I don’t get to choose the people I work with, and likewise my coworkers haven’t chosen to work with me, but I’m certainly going to choose the people I share emotionally difficult things with…

  8. ObLaDiObLaDa*

    Re: LW #1- My partner and I have worked for 3 different charter school between the two of us, and we have many teacher friends who’ve worked at others… and there’s SO much of this type of crap… SO MUCH! And so many other problems at most charters. LW #1, if I suggest you start looking with a critical eye at the practices of your school (admin to teacher, admin to student, teacher to student, etc)… I’d be willing to bet this isn’t an isolated incident, but a symptom of larger issues.

    1. quill*

      So my mom worked at a charter school and yeeeeah. Charter schools can tend to draw principals who have a “unique vision” on how a school should work and combined with the “for the children!” mentality in schooling, you get Educators Without Boundaries.

      LW, if you’ve still got a teacher’s union, join it, and draw boundary lines NOW. Don’t wait until your charter school principal kidnaps a staff member to go to a fish fry.

  9. INV*

    LW #1 It constantly amazes me at how tone deaf some employers are about this type shit. I’d like to think that I have been lucky that I haven’t been asked/forced to have this discussion, because I think I would passive-aggressively comply with it…

    You want to hear about “deeply traumatic” experiences? Fine, lets have an in-depth discussion of combat through the eyes of an Infantryman (machine gunner) in Fallujah and Ramadi ’04-’05. I’d be filing a complaint with HR immediately, and (dollars to donuts), that discussion would NEVER be held again.

    1. UKDancer*

      Yes, we don’t know what our colleagues have been through. People are like icebergs and you usually only ever see the surface. A few jobs ago I had one colleague who lived through a war in their home country in Africa as a child. A number of their family didn’t survive. If you asked them for a painful memory you probably wouldn’t like the answer they would provide and it would be something they’d not particularly enjoy sharing. I only know about their experiences because they were venting about how the media covers news about Africa.

      It would also make the rest of us feel very superficial. I mean if you asked me for a painful experience I guess I’d probably mention the death of my guinea pig as a child which I was sad about for a time. In comparison to what some people put up with, it would sound deeply trite.

      I think if you want to know how someone handles difficult situations, then ask them in a professional context. I’ve been asked in an interview to describe a situation professionally where many things have gone badly wrong and what I’ve done to fix it. That works much better.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I doubt any of my coworkers want to know what my ex boyfriend did to me after I got a termination without his approval. That was the night I finally escaped that abusive relationship.

        (Note: I don’t want sympathy for that, it was decades ago. But I can imagine the total silence in the room if I brought it up at work)

        The professional ‘how did you deal with a bad situation at work?’ question is so much better. How *did* I cope that day that I managed to damage several (actually tens of) thousand machines with an untested patch? That was a cringe day and a half!

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yeah I’ve had traumatic work experiences I’d be more willing to share but…I would opt out of the personal crap so hard that I’d probably get in trouble for disrupting whatever the exercise was. And would not care one tiny bit.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes. Also the point of “bad situations at work” isn’t to hear about the worst thing that ever happened to people. You want something that went wrong (e.g. Keymaster’s example of damaging the machines) and then what was done to solve it. The aim is to see how the person you’re interviewing took action to resolve a difficult work situation and what they learnt from it. Anyone using it to probe the worst thing that can happen in a professional setting is just doing it wrong.

        2. quill*

          For my worst day at work I usually go with the day the sink pumps broke at the biosample lab… so I had to bleach the whole. Laboratory.

          Runner up is probably when I trusted the automatic water shut off and ran away to catch up on other lab stuff… and the water shut off did not work. It didn’t flood the lab, so we thought it was fine… until production on the floor beneath us started complaining that it was raining indoors.

        3. EmmaPoet*

          Yes, this is a much better question. “What did I do the day my boss was off and I was in charge when a customer informed me someone was watching very graphic and violent porn on one of our public computers just as several VIP’s arrive who were supposed to get a tour of our facility arrived?” tells you something about me, but it’s not in the deeply personal category.

      2. Bamcakes*

        yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Not everyone has basically comfortable and safe lives where the worst thing that happens to them is failing an exam or an older relative dying non-violently! Even amongst professional people whose lives look basically comfortable and safe from the outside! Your goal should never be to make people vulnerable unless you have some very specific expertise in how to handle *wildly* different levels of vulnerability and trauma in a shared setting.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I really wouldn’t have any sufficiently traumatic experience to meet the minimum permissible trauma. Older relative dying non-violently is about it, and it was after several years of Alzheimer’s, making the end more of a relief to everyone. On the other hand I have no compunctions about BS’ing through this sort of thing. It would be an exercise in acting skills.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Past lives: I would totally claim them, opening the flood gates to endless possibilities.

            1. Humble Schoolmarm*

              …And the water was so cold, like a thousand knives. I tried to save my true love, but there wasn’t room on the large piece of wreckage for both of us… or was there….

        2. EPLawyer*

          Yeah, anyone thinking this is a good exercise comes from a place where nothing REALLY bad happens. They don’t know what trauma is.

          the second thing is, if the idea is to teach vulnerability to help your students, you are not helping them. If the teachers are all busy protecting themselves because they feel vulnerable, they are NOT available to help their students overcome their challenges. It’s the take care of yourself first before you help others thing. The teachers need to be in a safe place before they can help others get to safety.

          1. nothing rhymes with purple*

            “If the teachers are all busy protecting themselves because they feel vulnerable, they are NOT available to help their students overcome their challenges.”

            Yes THIS. I’ve been thinking this the whole time I’ve been reading this discussion and finally you said it in as many words..

      3. qvaken*

        FWIW, my most painful experiences are arguably “worse” than yours but “not as bad” as your ex-colleague’s, and I still think losing a pet is a very painful experience.

        1. Bamcakes*

          I think it’s less about what’s objectively painful, and more about what other people can empathise with. Losing a pet is awful, as is losing a grandparent when you’re a child or losing a parent when you’re an adult, but they’re almost universal experiences that everyone can slot into a framework and understand. Whereas if someone’s worst experience is violent or traumatic or just outside the frame of reference of everyone else in the room, you’re vulnerable on a totally different level and it might even affect how people relate to you outside that training session.

          1. UKDancer*

            Definitely. Probably the worst thing that happened to me as a child was the amount of bullying I got for being a nerdy bookworm but that’s not something I’d go into with colleagues because it’s too difficult. I’d tend to use the pet example because it’s a single self contained thing and something people can relate to but which didn’t have a lasting impact on me. So I can discuss it rationally. That’s not to say that loss of a pet can’t be devastating. Of course it can but that particular loss wasn’t devastating to me.

            Also as you say if someone has had something deeply outside the norm then that can affect how people see them and be really distressing.

            I mean I visited Ukraine on business and a number of people there told me over a business dinner about the impact of the Euromaidan uprising on them. This included someone nearly being shot and someone else seeing a friend killed in front of them. This was not something I had an internal framework for processing so I found it really difficult to know what to say as it wasn’t something I expected (given most conversation at these conferences tends to be fairly professional). I think I probably said something really inane.

            I did go back to my hotel room and cry for the 100+ people killed in 2013 and then paid my respects at the interim memorials the next day.

            1. Worldwalker*

              You also wonder if the person who thought this was a good idea would rank trauma somehow. “Your experience wasn’t as bad as Fred’s, so…” and I dread to think what would follow the “so”.

              1. Noxalas*

                Unfortunately, I can easily imagine people getting judged for how “severe” the trauma they share is, and there being pressure to bring a “big” one or get thought of as “having it easy.” When my sibling died, certain dynamics… had to do some recalibrating.

    2. Chauncy Gardener*

      LOL! Heck yes. I’d love to spread some PTSD around to an idiot like that principal.
      I know that’s not very nice, but it just speaks to the cluelessness that abounds in folks like that.

  10. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    Scenery things in the office rarely end well. Scented oils are known triggers for allergies, asthma, and migraines. Sometimes scented candles can also cause the same problems. Incense, yup – again can be a trigger for allergies, asthma, and migraines. Yes, they are supposedly natural, but natural does not guarantee problem-free.

    For the OP – I would approach your colleague and in a “the sky is blue” blandness level tone just let her know that unfortunately the candle and warming plate are triggering your asthma – can she please take it out of the office? Thank you so much for your help.

    If that doesn’t work then approach the boss, with the knowledge that you tried to solve this on your own. Oh, and don’t get involved in debates with the candle coworker – that totally negates the “sky is blue bland tone” approach.

  11. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    Ugh – autocorrect. Scented things in an office.

    Tried to report the typo – but apparently my iPhone won’t open the report a typo link?

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      And that failed to nest under my first comment about scented things. Think this is the hint that’s I shouldn’t post after my bedtime.

    2. Ariaflame*

      I think the report a typo thing is for typos in the original post, not us mucking up our comments.

    3. AthenaC*

      For the record, “scenery things” in the office likewise rarely end well. So you were correct either way.

  12. Lady Scrub*

    #5 – how does your company handle pay for these holidays? Does it come out of your PTO bank if it is your regular scheduled day? If that’s the case, then presumably if you weren’t already scheduled to work that day, those hours should still be available for you to use at your discretion, whereas your coworker whose normal day to work is falling on the holiday is having to use the PTO. But if these days are covered by the company and not coming out of your PTO, then yes, you should be requesting an alternate day off so your are getting all the benefits that your coworkers are.

    Soooooo, just went back and reread the post. Some of what I wrote above applies, so I’m leaving it, but if you are going to offer in-lieu holidays, just set a certain number of available slots per day (so not everyone is trying to take the same day off), and let them request it. ☺️

    1. JustSomeone*

      Is it ever actually a thing that a company would require employees to use PTO to cover official holidays? That’s bonkers!

      1. Ange*

        Where I work it is X days plus bank holidays. However national legislation allows for companies to give X days including bank holidays, so yes, in the latter case you would be using PTO for bank holidays. I think that’s kind of crappy, but it is legal here

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I think there’s some language-divide based confusion (or if not confusion, ambiguity) entering the conversation here. In the US, we pretty much never use “holiday” to mean “vacation time”. We call it vacation. So if an American is talking about “holiday” or “official holiday”, interpret that as “public holiday” or “bank holiday”.
          But also keep in mind there’s no country-wide legislation in the US guaranteeing any paid time off, holiday, vacation or otherwise. Really the people coming at this from a US perspective are in a different universe than those who are not. The answer to any kind of “is this ever a thing” is country-specific.

      2. Green great dragon*

        We do that, and I don’t think it is bonkers. We just add the number of public holidays to the standard leave, scale it for part time workers, then all people’s time off – public holiday or not – comes out that total. Otherwise someone working Mon and Tue, say, would get a *lot* more time off than someone working Wed and Thurs (if Christmas is on a Mon, then I think 7 of 8 English public holidays would fall on Mon or Tue, and none on Wed or Thurs). Losing/gaining a bit of flexibility around timing seems less unfair than several more/fewer days holiday.

      3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        That’s how ours work, but eight hours per stat day are built into my PTO load, so I can take the actual holiday off or, with my boss’s approval, work the holiday and save the 8 hours of PTO for whenever I want. I prefer it honestly, because I’m never doing anything on Memorial Day or Labor Day that warrants time off and I’d much rather choose the timing of my own time off myself.

        1. TheLinguistManager*

          I work at a company with workers in several countries, workers who are hourly and salaried, and workers whose schedules are not all M-F 9-5. This is almost exactly what we do – a little implicitly for salaried workers, but explicitly for hourly.

          Getting a lieu day is a concept I had never encountered before my current job and it makes so much sense to me that I am flabbergasted that the practice isn’t more widespread. While it’s mostly the hourly folks who do lieu days (salaried employees don’t fill out a time sheet), it does come in handy if, for example, we need to do a weekend deploy, or an unmoveable meeting got scheduled on your company’s stat holiday (we try to avoid it but it does happen).

      4. doreen*

        I’ve heard of it, typically at employers where some employees work a M-F 40 hour a week schedule with all holidays off , and other jobs require 7 day a week coverage. The people with 7 day a week jobs get additional PTO ( or perhaps it’s a separate bucket like I have) to cover the holidays so that all full-time employees get X paid holidays, even if their regular day off is Monday.

      5. LDN Layabout*

        Why is it bonkers? I’m FT and get a set amount of annual leave and official holiday, do my PT co-workers deserve more leave than me just because they’re official holidays?

        Say FT leave allowance is 30 annual leave days+ 10 official holidays, someone works PT 80%, which means their allowance is 24 + 8. It does mean that, to take the full official holidays, they will need to take 2 days from their main annual leave allowance.

        If they got 24 + 10, they’d be getting 85% of the FT holiday allowance, which would be unfair on the FT workers.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          In the US, it is extremely common for PT workers to have zero annual leave, and which holidays are “official holidays” is company-dependent.
          So, to Americafy your example: FT get 10 days annual leave and 8 official holidays. PT might get paid for anywhere from 1 to 8 official holidays IFF those fall on days they’d normally have been scheduled. In some very generous companies, the PT might get the 8 whether it’s a normal work day for them or not.
          The FT might be more than 10, especially for people who’ve worked there a long time, but it also could potentially be something like 5. It varies. But 10 is what’s considered baseline. I’ve also known some companies that give something like 11 official holidays, but as far as I’ve encountered 8-9 is most common.

      6. Anon for now*

        Yes. I worked for a hospital many years ago, and all statutory holidays had to come out of your PTO bank, even if you had a standard M-F, 8 to 5 work week. Because so many employees worked shifts, as the hospital never closed, it was easier for HR to standardized how you requested holidays, In my case, my department was closed so I didn’t have a choice, but to work.

  13. Bowserkitty*

    #3 – I agree with Alison as usual, but what in the case of the one the LW had a scheduled follow-up interview with, complete with confirmation email?

    1. Ganymede*

      Yes, that struck me as odd. Unless there was some awful crisis at the company (like fire or mass illness or bankruptcy), I would wonder what was going on. A large number of companies are terrible at communicating, especially the “no you didn’t get the job” bit, but that one stuck out.

      1. Moxie*

        At this point, I might enlist the aid of a trusted friend to contact the last employer under the ruse of a potential employer confirming your employment. I agree that something is not right with this situation. I was ghosted a number of times while job hunting but never for an scheduled interview.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      LW, It couldn’t hurt to plug your name into Google and make sure you don’t share a name with someone who has been behaving badly.
      I think I remember a letter here where the job searcher had to differentiate themself from a petty criminal in a nearby town.

    3. BRR*

      I also think Alison’s answer is the most likely. If the LW was particularly close with someone at their last company they can reach out to see if they can get more details but there’s really no indication they’ve been blacklisted. If the LW hasn’t already done this, I would see who ended up in those positions to see what how their experience compares. That can not only tells you what the company was looking for but if you might need to work on your resume/cover letter or interviewing skills.

    4. Firecat*

      Yeah I thought it was odd that Alison hand waved that away as typical ghosting. It’s definitely not common to just bail on the interview.

      I still don’t think it’s a sign of being blacklisted, any chance it’s your contracting agency? Maybe they are not holding up their end and the result is you not landing jobs and not having any information. This happened to a coworker of mine. We found out from our own HR that the recruiter was the one dropping balls, and it turns out she was using that recruiter for her personal search. She switched and landed a job shortly after.

  14. olddog*

    It’s of course wildly inappropriate to be mandated to share private painful experiences in a workplace setting, but I’m confused about how this connects to mindfulness. Mindfulness is the conscious focusing on the present moment, usually utilizing multiple senses. Discussing one’s past personal pain and listening to that of others seems in conflict with the concept of mindfulness. Is mindfulness being used inaccurately, as jargon by this employer?

    1. allathian*

      Oh yes, definitely.

      Mindfulness can be a great tool for some, but it doesn’t work for me. The last time I tried it, at a development event organized by my employer, I had to nope out in the middle of it because it felt so unpleasant. I’ve had panic attacks before, and it felt like the start of one. I’ve found that the only sort of meditation that works for me is tai chi.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Same, I usually spend a lot of my day deliberately not listening to my body or my inner thoughts!

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes definitely. Doesn’t work for me either. When I’ve tried it at work (because people were raving about it) I nearly hyperventilated because I was so worried about whether I was breathing properly that I found I was struggling with breathing at all and couldn’t get enough air. It was awful. We’ve only had to do it once since and I just tuned the trainer out and made a shopping list in my head.

        That said it’s never involved talking about negative experiences before when we’ve done it.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          “Focus on your breathing”

          Me: *thinks* Oh I was a few seconds out from the person next to me I sound weird is my breathing too loud oh god I bet my breath stinks yes thank you brain I know I’m an idiot wasting everyone’s time…

          Then I went and optimised my character build for my favourite RPG in my head for the remainder of the time. Some brains just can’t be left to idle without panicking the owner!

          1. Brightwanderer*

            High-five of anti-meditation solidarity! I find the basic idea of mindfulness pretty helpful – if I realise I’m stuck in my own head I will deliberately try to turn my attention outwards and focus on sensory input – but meditation makes my ADHD brain scream. Assuming I don’t just fall asleep.

        2. allathian*

          Yeah, sounds a lot like my experience. If I hadn’t listened to my body and started thinking about something completely different than my breathing, I would’ve started hyperventilating, too.

    2. Well...*

      In an appropriate setting, taking time to allow yourself to feel pain associated with a past experience falls within mindfulness. For example if you keep pushing away thoughts about grief or shame rather than allowing them in, the thoughts keep coming back and triggering more intense fight/flight response for some people, escalating to anxiety/panic attacks/etc. Mindfulness can be used to treat anxiety by teaching you to intentionally recall and sit with those thoughts and experience the discomfort they bring in the moment, noticing what’s happening in your body, and showing yourself compassion without activating your threat system. Then cringe/panic attacks/shame spirals over time won’t be so severe if the treatment works.

      Obviously work is not an appropriate setting for this.

  15. Alexa*

    If they’re being that invasive and inappropriate with their employees imagine how they’re treating their students, where the greatest power imbalance exists. I wouldn’t trust anybody with my child who describes themselves as ‘radical’

    1. banoffee pie*

      Yeah, I was wondering if they’re making the students do this kind of exercise too. I really hope not. I can imagine some naive teacher from my past thinking it was a great idea to all ‘get vulnerable’ together, not realising or maybe not caring that they’re giving the bullies ammunition for months ahead. And kids can’t get away from each other, they have to go the school every day. Actually at my school they used to advise kids who were bullied to go the the bullies and tell the how much it was upsetting them! As if that wasn’t the reason the bullies were doing it! Maybe they thought it was a lack of empathy on the bullies’ part, but I was pretty sure the bullies just enjoyed hurting people

      1. quill*

        Ooooh, reminds me of my horrible elementary school councilor, who believed the only bullying worth bothering with was physical. Her motto was “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” which gives you a good idea of how competent she was dealing with anything other than kids punching each other…

        1. banoffee pie*

          Oh no! and that was a councilor, not just a teacher!! They should know better. That sticks and stones slogan is so wrong. Though to be honest my teachers weren’t always on top of physical bullying either :/

          1. quill*

            In terms of “zero tolerance for bullying” the late 90’s / early 00’s were a hellscape. Combined with garden variety misogyny (of the “boys only bully boys and girls only bully girls” and “he’s pulling your pigtails because he likes you” variety) in practice all it ended up doing was punishing kids for defending themselves. Because bullies can wait for their agenda until there’s no adult witnesses, so the person who got caught is almost always the victim…

            1. banoffee pie*

              Totally agree. My high school years were also late nineties/early 2000s!! Sounds just the same as you’re describing. When one girl complained to a teacher about being bullied, all the girls were pulled into a meeting and had to listen to a whole speech about how boys are more straightforward and bully physically while girls are ‘bitchy’ and into ‘pyschological toture’. Pretty annoying when we all knew fine well that she was being psychologically bullied by the boys as much as the girls, and a lot of insults and nicknames for other kids were invented by the popular boys and then caught on among the ‘followers’.

              1. banoffee pie*

                Served with a large dose of ‘don’t fight back/defend yourself or you’ll be just as bad’. I guess you were just meant to trot off to hospital and get patched up if it did get physical :/

              2. quill*

                Same hat, but elementary school.

                I just got good at fighting like a wild animal if physically cornered, because THAT tended to happen where there were no adult witnesses.

  16. LemonLyman*

    OP #1 – Yikes! Requiring everyone to share their personal trauma with colleagues does not equate to vulnerability! This was an opening activity, which makes it even worse. What a terrible icebreaker!

    This administrator feels like someone who read a synopsis of a Brené Brown YouTube video but didn’t read any of her actual work and research.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I also thought of Brene, whose writings seem to be behind a lot of misunderstandings in the workplace!!

  17. Heffalump*

    #3 – Some years ago I had a contract assignment that was expected to run several months, and then it was abruptly cut short. The contract agency couldn’t or wouldn’t give me any real explanation.

    A few years later a different contract agency told me there was a requirement at the same company, and I told him I’d contracted there before. My contact called back a couple of days later and said, “Your work was fine, but someone there didn’t like you.” There’s something to be said for straight answers, but it certainly didn’t make my day.

  18. Seriously, my name keeps getting deleted*

    I obviously don’t know if LW3 was blacklisted, what I do know is “it’s not their performance, it’s something else” might be a good way to land your company in TROUBLE. Like what if the LW had concluded that it was discriminatory and filed a claim??? There is such thing as too vague!

    1. Lucious*

      I agree with Alisons conclusion that it’s not an organized blacklist ( although there are industries where That Is Very Real, see Hollywood). My read- either the LW is experiencing a typical job search, or one of their “solid” references is actually a snake in the grass presenting a negative view of their work history to employers. Even if the references’ interpretations are off base, few employers will bother to research further besides just crossing the candidate off the list immediately.

  19. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    #5 Holidays on Days Off: I used to work in a company where about 25% of the workforce had a set Tues-Sat schedule every week. So for the several Monday holidays each year, they never got that extra day off or extra downtime. It was a new company with managers who didn’t even think of this as an issue or problem, but the Tues-Sat employees sure did, and rightfully so. They all banded together and approached the managers together to petition for them to be allowed to take an extra day off between Tues-Sat during that same two-week pay period, and it worked, managers gave in. There was a calendar sign up so that all shifts were still covered, and so that everyone was able to get at least one holiday day off just like all the Mon-Fri folks. Treating people right and with fairness and dignity takes so little effort but pays off in big ways; too bad it doesn’t happen often enough.

  20. Jenny D*

    LW #1: If that happens again, I’d hope someone talks about how hard it was for them when they had to share a painful experience with people at work…

  21. Time not Day*

    #5 Time in Lieu

    It doesn’t make much sense that they’re asking for a whole DAY in lieu. It would be fair to offer them the TIME in lieu. For those that work 4×10, for that week you could offer 4×8 (or any combination of this) and that way they get the usual 8 hours off.

    To give them 10 hours off when someone who didn’t work their standard 8 hour day on that holiday isn’t equal.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Yes, I think that’s fair.

      I’m used to a system of “time off in lieu” because in my country you’re entitled to a certain amount of PTO. It applies to people who work part time, and people who work shifts that aren’t 9-5 M-F, including key workers who work on public holidays.

      Administratively, the simple way to do it is to allocate public holiday PTO in hours – if there are ten a year, 40 hours for full time, and pro rata for part time – and require all employees to spend their PTO accordingly. Most people allocate eight hours on those ten days, but some will allocate ten hours eight times, and so on.

      When I went back to work after maternity leave, I was part-time, and swiftly realised that I would be disproportionately hit by public holidays if I worked on Mondays – UK public holidays are nearly all Mondays, and you have to pay childcare on public holidays even if they’re shut. So I didn’t work Mondays.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Yup, my friend’s just been dinged by this post-maternity leave and didn’t understand why she needed to use leave to fully cover off her bank holidays, because it’s not just your leave that gets pro-rataed, it’s the bank holiday allowance too.

        It’s one of those things that feels really wrong but once we sat down and went through the numbers it makes sense.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        My part time member of staff doesn’t work Mondays and one of the key reasons is UK bank holidays always falling on that day and her not wanting to try and hunt for childcare (the nature of our industry is that it stays working on ALL holidays).

    2. ecnaseener*

      But what do you do if some people’s normal schedule includes 8 hrs on Monday, and some includes 10 hrs on Monday? (And both are part of a 40-hr week) Do you give the 8-hr workers an extra 2 hrs in lieu?

      1. Colette*

        The way it works where I am is if you work 8 hours, you get the day off. If you work 10 hours, you make up the additional 2 hours elsewhere in the time period, or you use PTO for the extra 2 hours.

  22. LilBean*

    LW #2, I have bad asthma and allergies, and I understand the impulse to “pick your battles” asking people to accommodate your health issues. People do balk at some requests, but in this case, I think you’ll be fine and not expend any important amount of social capital.

    Candles and perfumes are an easy battle because employers have a lot of good reasons to make blanket-bans on them anyway. Scents irritates people for a lot of medical AND non-medical reasons. Most employers ban anything that’s a possible fire hazard (even candle-warmers that people think are not fire hazards because there’s no open flame are, in fact, fire hazards!) because it’s not worth it to them to risk setting the building on fire just because one of their employees thought it’d smell nice. Normal people will follow these rules without protesting because they’re extremely common office rules. I’d say most people expect that they CAN’T burn candles in the office and this person was just taking a chance to see if anyone would say anything about their wax-warmer.

    If your coworker balks, or continues using it when you’re not immediately present and the lingering particles still trigger your asthma, go to your boss or office manager and ask them about making a blanket-ban on burning/wafting scents (candles, plug-in air-freshers, incense, etc.), and specifically say it’s not about any one person but use the scented-wax-warmer as an example (and for good measure, ask that they don’t name you when they inform people of the ban because for this kind of allergy ban no one needs to know who the specific sufferer is and sometimes managers let this information slip without realizing you’d prefer they not).

    I think you’ll be OK with this one! Good luck.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Very much agreed, it’s not a huge ask to not have potent smells wafting round the place.

      Peppermint, menthol, any kind of ginger give me migraines like whoa. I do burn incense at home, but never wear clothes to the office that have been exposed to the smoke. Can’t imagine the colour of our health and safety person if I tried to light some in the office!

      Anyway, there’s no better smell than computer hardware :)

      1. Lizzie*

        Keymaster, What about the smell of toy electric trains?? That’s a pretty evocative smell (probably only for the over 60s)

        1. allathian*

          Oh, I love the smell of ozone in the morning!

          Incense is a trigger smell for me, though, it makes me dry heave…

          I went to a Russian Orthodox wedding once, and while standing for 2 hours for a religious service was bad enough, the incense almost made me faint.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Hey – some of us under 60’s are nerds and know that smell. Also- they have started making model trains that are reproductions of those older trains that have the same smells and sounds.

          (Yes I’m one of those dorks – I miss the model train shows – there haven’t been any in my region in two years because of Covid.)

  23. PlainJane*

    LW #1: That is grossly inappropriate. No employer in any form ought to be asking people to dredge up deep, personal memories in front of their colleagues. You should simply never be expected to do that, and maybe one good way of advocating for your students is pointing out that they, also, should never be subjected to that. I think we need a new category for this. Emotional harassment.

    LW #5: Everywhere I’ve worked, Monday holidays are covered in some way for the Tues-Saturday crew. If the place is usually closed on Mondays (a regular Tues-Sat schedule), then in one of my jobs, those locations would be closed for the holiday on Tuesday. The other option is allowing the the employee to bank those hours to be used at a future time, as a category of PTO, at a time that is convenient for the employee and the business.

  24. Nope nope*

    #1 makes me so angry. My most painful experience would be childhood sexual abuse. Why the f should I share that with a bunch of random colleagues?

    1. ecnaseener*

      For what it’s worth, the letter says they were asked to share “a painful experience we have had” not the MOST painful experience ever. Still not good or helpful or appropriate!! But not as bad as specifically asking for the MOST painful experience.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        People with PTSD may (in my experience LIKELY will) be triggered by that question and have a hard time finding a moderate event to share once they’re in that space. It’s a bad approach.

      2. The Dogman*

        I would be inclined to describe, in gratuitous and gory details, the 2 or 3 worst car accidents I have helped at, then the time I was part of a group who forced entry to a missing persons house and found them decaying after a week or so in a hot house…

        I think then they would leave off the nonsense! And my more sensitive sisters and brothers might be able to avoid upsetting themselves too.

    2. MissBaudelaire*

      Even my less painful things aren’t things I want to share with my coworkers. Especially in that setting. My trauma is for ME to process, and that’s not how I do it. I get that it’s to try and build empathy or show everyone is vulnerable and all that jazz.

      But like. No. Just… No. Not today, Hannibal, not today.

      1. Speaks to Dragonflies*

        I agree with what you mean Miss Baudelaire. I believe the trauma and painful things that each of us experience are our own, to share or withhold at our choosing and no one else’s. The painful events become as much a part of us as the joyful, and shape us into who we are just much. I consider those traumatic parts of myself personal and private, not to be shared with anyone that I don’t feel safe with sharing that knowledge with. There are things that I’m comfortable sharing here, some things I’ve shared with only my wife, and something that only I will ever know, and will take to my grave. My point is that none of this is appropriate for discussion at work, and being forced to share anything painful is greivious and may be traumatic itself.

      2. quill*

        Probably for the best if you don’t go into the entire Series of Unfortunate Events.

        (Sorry, but your username!)

  25. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: definitely not suggesting anyone do this, but my favourite response when asked something inappropriately personal is to just be as bizarre as possible. Someone wants to know where the scars on my arms come from? Robots from Jupiter. My most painful memory? Being forced to attend the secret meeting the plants had one year about how they were going to take over the world from animals.

    Hoping this gets a little laugh, because your experience in that meeting was absolutely horrible. Take care :(

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      my favourite response when asked something inappropriately personal is to just be as bizarre as possible.

      That’s where my mind went. I’m reasonably good at making things up on the fly, so I would be tempted to weave a tale that includes my own death 5-7 minutes into the story.

  26. Storm in a teacup*

    My old workplace had a system where your annual leave and statutory public holidays were added together at the beginning of the year as your ‘leave bank’. For part time staff this was pro-rata’d. Then all public holidays were automatically adjusted for if they fell on a day you worked and if not they were still a part of your leave so no one felt they didn’t get the days they were entitled to in their benefits.
    I think the only issue with this was a staff member of mine who worked 3 days a week and 1 day was a Monday, which in the UK is when most public holidays fall. She ended up having to use some personal annual leave hours for Mondays as not fully covered by her statutory leave hours available. However before this was introduced it had meant she got more leave than she was entitled to and another colleague who didn’t work Mondays used to miss out.

  27. Speaks to Dragonflies*

    For OP 1, I think I’d have to say “Being here and sharing a painful experience is actually the most painful thing I’ve had to do in a long time.”

  28. Speaks to Dragonflies*

    For OP 2, now I wanna know what the scent was. Im imagining one called “Microwave Seafood Medley” or “Aromatic Potty”…

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*


        Now it’s time to clean up the coffee I just sprayed everywhere across the table…..

  29. Bamcakes*

    LW3, it’s almost certainly just One Of Those Things, but as a minimum precaution I’d open an incognito window and google yourself. It’s highly unlikely you’ve been blacklisted, but it’s not impossible that there’s something connected to your name online (or, more likely, someone with the same name as you) which is causing concern to employers.

    I doubt it’s that because most employers would simply ask you to explain or confirm that the alarming social media person isn’t you but someone with the same name, but it’s easy and quick enough for you to check.

  30. Introvert*

    My go to response for anything resembling the vulnerability question is to say that the exercise itself is making me feel vunerable.

  31. Little My*

    Question for Alison about #5: Why wouldn’t this be seen as part of someone’s compensation package and therefore wrong to take away? My offer letter listed the 10 paid federal holidays we take as part of my time off.

    Also, in a business that needs to be open to serve clients on Saturdays, does taking away the “in-lieu” days disincentivize people from working other schedules than M-F?

  32. Bluesboy*

    Where I live, holidays are almost all linked to a specific date (I think the only exception is Easter) and so can fall on any day of the week, including weekends or days when you aren’t scheduled to work.

    The way it works is this: effectively, what is a holiday, but an extra day’s pay? In the sense that you are getting a day’s pay for a day you aren’t working.

    So if you miss the holiday (because it falls on a weekend for example) they give you an extra day’s pay instead. That way you always get either the holiday, or extra pay. I quite like not getting my days off! (Although we have more than 30 days a year so it’s a bit different from in the US where I imagine you value your holidays more highly).

    Could this be an option for your company? (Although I do realise that then you might just have the people who are currently getting the day off complaining that they would prefer to work and get extra pay…)

    1. OP #5*

      OP here. Thanks for the suggestion! It’s a good one. I also like an earlier suggestion to think of it as time not days, which also solves another logistical problem that I didn’t originally outline.

      I’m a longtime reader but this is my first time writing in with a question. It’s great to hear so much thoughtful feedback.

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

    At my work if a holiday lands on a weekend (most people are m-f except maybe janitorial & security) we get a floating holiday. This kind of sounds like what the LWs job is doing. I think they just need to make it more understood that you have to schedule it in advance so it doesn’t affect clients.

  34. Let me be dark and twisty*

    #2, this is probably the nuclear option but consider getting an accommodation for your asthma that requires a scent-free office, meeting room, desk location, etc. I would only suggest going this route if talking with the coworker doesn’t work or your management isn’t helpful.

    A coworker at my last job had one of the most severe fragrance allergies I’ve ever seen. Most of the people in our office didn’t have an issue but there were 3 colleagues who refused (one bathed or washed his clothes in cologne, the secretary got into Scentsy, and another manager ran an electric essential oils diffuser constantly). Her manager sent monthly email reminders to the office group of our scent policy – no lingering cologne or perfume, air freshener, and certain cleaning products. It took the allergic coworker threatening complaints to the EEO and the union that forced these colleagues to start complying with the scent-free policy, which was only successful because she had the documentation and approval with our EEO for the accommodation.

  35. agnes*

    Re #5 everyone in our organization gets 8 hours of holiday pay for a holiday or 8 hours of time off, regardless of their work schedule.

  36. So pissed right now*

    Ugh. I don’t get the mindfulness BS at ALL. Like, even a trained psychologist likely wouldn’t drag that out because of the potential to trigger someone. I tend to forget anything that isn’t extremely painful, so I’d have nothing unless I want to share something that would DEFINITELY make everyone uncomfortable. And I totally get OP feeling extra pressure because a few people came up with good (painful) examples. And who’s to say that other people aren’t judging your responses?! Just all around no. What a really good way to force everyone to mentally review every painful experience they’ve ever had in a few minutes to assess whether each one is “work appropriate”. I hate whoever came up with this idea so much. Also, I hate mindfulness stuff at work, because I feel like the underlying message is “it’s your fault if you’re not mindful enough / too stressed / sick / not at the top of your game. Want me to be more present? Give us more paid time off and arrange someone to look after my kids every week. Because I’ve had them all day every day, 7 days a week, for the vast majority of the last 18 months. If I can focus for more than 3 minutes at a time, it’s basically a miracle at this point. Forget being mindful.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yes, thank you. If you have enough of a cultural mental health problem that your employees need a set mindfulness exercise, that’s a burden to take on and re-examine your workplace, not place the blame for it on them.

      That doesn’t seem to be *exactly* what’s going on with the OP but it has the same roots. Bad understandings of psychology and appropriate group exercise.

  37. Person from the Resume*

    The federal government has a good “in lieu of” holiday policy for people working non-standard schedules and my agency publishes what the in lieu of days will be each year for the holidays before the start of the new year. That way it is not confusing, everyone can make plans and mark their calendars so as not to schedule things on what will be their in lieu of holiday. These are set non-standard (M-F) schedules and not randomly changing schedules which are different

    For example Christmas this year fall on a Saturday. It is observed on Friday, December 24, 2021 (that’s the federal holiday). If your regular day off is Friday, December 24, 2021 your “in-lieu of” holiday will be Thursday, December 23, 2021.

    They does go by full days, not hours. If your schedule has you working 10 hours on Thursday, December 23, 2021 you get the whole day off whereas someone with a normal M-F 8 hour a day schedule will only get 8 hours off when they take the observed holiday off on Friday, December 24, 2021. That seems fair because almost a whole day off but not quite is definitely not the same as a day off.

  38. TX Lizard*

    I work in education and my school org does a lot of mindfulness work. We do mindfulness activities during inservice with the expectation and intention of building a mindfulness toolbox to use in the classroom with students. I do think that in an education setting mindfulness can be appropriate and useful. HOWEVER, this is not that. Our activities involve things like guided breathing/meditation, body calming/grounding techniques, active listening, etc. The most personal it gets would maybe be asking people to think about a calm, happy place and describe it if they feel comfortable. Mindfulness has to be trauma informed and what y’all are doing is like the opposite of that.

  39. Katie 410s*

    I work four 10hr days with Mondays off. On holiday weeks, my company has us treat it like a “normal” week. So, if the holiday falls on a Monday, I have Monday off as usual and because it’s paid, I only work 8hr days for the rest of the week. If the holiday falls on another day besides Monday, then I work the Monday and whatever other days for 8hr days and get the holiday day off (again paid). Most of my “holidays” are just getting off early all week.

  40. Jam Today*

    For the candle-warmer person: get your facilities person involved, I can all but guarantee that’s a fire hazard.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      And valid question time – are they turning it off when they aren’t at their desk?
      Ine place I worked banned all essential oil diffusers and candle warmers because one person wasn’t turning theirs off when leaving their desk and when janitorial services came by and plugged in a vaccum the circuit blew and fried all the equipment in their office (shocker – they also weren’t using the provided surge protection equipment – because it was too much hassle and prevented them from plugging in the warmers/diffusers). The decision was made to prevent a future recurrence and just ban them all now.

      1. EmmaPoet*

        And have they doused the flame if it’s a candle, because I can guarantee that someone went out and left it burning (happened several times at my dorm in grad school, which was supposed to be candle free, but there was always someone who just had to burn their big pillar candle and set off the fire alarm. Once at 2am, she’d gone to her BF’s room and left it burning and bang went the alarm.)

  41. Construction Safety*

    If my company offers 10 paid holidays/year and I’m a full time worker, I’m expecting paid time off or in-lieu days for any holidays that fall outside of my scheduled work week.

  42. Cat Lady HS Teacher*

    OP#1: I had an upstart principal try this once.
    I volunteered to go first and said, “This entire exercise is a painful experience; the mere thought of having to tell my coworkers something that traumatized me is traumatic. Therapy belongs in a therapists office and professional development for learning belongs in a school.”

    It pretty much ended after that.

    I don’t know how much capital you have; I’ve just been around forever and outlast all of these principals with their grandiose ideas so I just don’t care about things like this. But, sometimes standing up and saying something like that will show them how ridiculous the concept is…

  43. MissBaudelaire*

    OP 3, I sincerely doubt you’re blacklisted.

    It is dumb common in my area for places to arrange interviews and disappear. They over schedule interviews in case the person they really want to hire doesn’t work out. They will interview until the very moment the position is filled and that person has their butt in the seat.

    There are a few companies that I suspect don’t actually have openings, they just want to get resumes in case there is some really great talent out there they could snatch up.

    It is super rude, and I could never dream of doing it to someone. But even my company is guilty of it. I’m working to change that, but it likely isn’t a reflection of you as an employee. It’s just that somewhere along the way, that became acceptable.

  44. Scorbunny*

    LW2, don’t feel bad, stand up for yourself, and let them know you can’t breathe with their warmer there! I used to have a coworker who could never remember that hey, whatever perfume or scented lotion she liked would trigger my allergies and we were stuck working in close quarters, and you best believe every time she “forgot” I was asking her to cut that out. I stopped feeling bad after the third or fourth time, I was so miserable with the smell. I could feel my entire sinus cavity itching. (Our supervisors didn’t want to get involved, it sucked.) Most reasonable adults will understand! Others…will possibly act like a martyr over the whole thing. It’s worth dealing with it to be able to, you know, breathe.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – up above I suggested making it all about the asthma. It’s way harder to argue that your right to smell a candle/oil/perfume trumps another person’s ability to breathe (though sadly some people will still try it).

  45. Maggie*

    LW#2 I had the same problem except it was my boss that brought the smelly air diffuser in! I told her multiple times it bothered me, but if she was in the office before me for the day she would still put it on. I finally told her she’d be finding coverage for me a lot because I would be calling out with migraines if she insisted on using it…that solved it! Lol

  46. Vagina Talk*

    After reading here about things like #1 in many workplaces, I have a plan should I find myself in a situation like that. My go to response is going to involve my vagina. I will adjust for the setting but my goal will be to make the leadership sorry they asked.

    Example: “well, my painful experience is my vagina is really dry right now so when I try to have sex my vagina hurts. Then I was feeling really vulnerable about talking to the vagina doctor, er the gynecologist. I was not sure I could say to him, my vagina is dry, what can you do to help me with my vagina. It is both emotionally and physically painful to have a dry vagina.”

    1. ButITooCommentHere*

      Or if you’re not a vagina owner, could you go on at length about a (real or imaginary) female dog? The poor bitch, you’d never knowingly put a bitch in that position again, you didn’t realize bitches were prone to that problem, you now know that bitches need to be selected by professionals experienced in evaluating that particular problem in bitches of that breed. Of bitches…

  47. Driscilla*

    #2- I would bet that the candle warmer is Scentsy brand. Scentsy is a multilevel marketing company. This could be an attempt to drum up sales, which would make it extra annoying.

  48. anonarama*

    LW #2 I’m very allergic to lavender. I’ve had to have this conversation many, many times. I’ve never had anyone intentionally continue to be a problem. The biggest issue has been people who like smells so much they process lavender as a neutral scent and literally don’t notice that their moisturizer (or whatever) is lavender scented. Just explain what’s going on and most people are going to be reasonable.

  49. You are King*

    Ugh, I feel for LW1. We had to do something like this in drama class in my last year of high school, and I’m still bothered by the memory. Our teacher asked us all to share something along those lines, but made it clear we shouldn’t share anything about abuse at home or suicidal feelings if we didn’t want her to be obligated to report it (…yeah, oof). A LOT of kids cried talking about serious personal losses, so I felt like I seemed less committed or willing to make myself vulnerable because I didn’t cry (I rarely cried in public back then). The experience I talked about WAS very personal for me, and still is, but because it was less dramatic than a death in the family or something, that also seemed like maybe I wasn’t giving my all. But looking back, I think the whole exercise was kind of inappropriate.

    Of course, this was the same teacher who once asked me to help her tell a fiction to the rest of the class that a nonexistent freshman had gone missing in order to “make [my classmates] feel something real for five minutes,” which I immediately felt DEEPLY UNCOMFORTABLE with and refused to go along with.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      That feels emotionally abusive. The part about the missing fake classmate. “Make them feel something real.”

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

        I hate that “Make them feel something real” stuff. Makes it sound like someones feelings arent real which is bogus. It doesn’t matter if someone is upset because they got a b on their test or not. Their feelings are valid. What the teacher really means (or anyone who uses the phrase) is “lets make them feel something extremely traumatic.”

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          “Allow me to traumatize you for no real reason other than my pleasure. Dance, puppet, dance.”

  50. Firecat*

    #2 I wish you luck. I have had absolutely 0 success getting people to not scent the cube farm. People I’ve asked nicely have been really nasty about it.

    Even on this site just a couple of years ago many commentators were against asking people to not wear perfume etc. as an overstep on their personal lives.

    At one point we had 4 competing scentsy’s and each managers office had one of those stick based essential oil diffusers. The office reeked like a fermented Christmas wreath. It took a VP visit to get them banned, and then the managers enforced it for the farm but kept their own diffusers in their offices.

    Seriously the last time I asked someone I shared a pod (group of touching cubicle desks with no walls) with to please not wear the floral perfume they not only continued to wear it while swearing they weren’t but they then flat out harassed me once a bouquet of flowers was sent to me.

    I thought you were allergic to floral? What do you mean it’s only the synthetic that doesn’t make any sense! Oh I tossed those flowers for you, can’t have your headaches triggered can we?

    And anytime anyone had a bouquet of flowers they would go around and tell them that they better take those home otherwise I would get the boss to throw them away claiming allergies. So many people were pissed at me about flower bouquets that I never asked to have them take home.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      The biggest problem with perfumes is that people go nose blind to it so they bathe in it. And even when they aren’t renewing it everyday, I feel like it can cling to clothes and hair if they do it every day.

      1. quill*

        Even after a wash it can cling! Hair and fabrics are highly porous and aromatic scent chemicals are pretty good at adsorbing to even things like sand and clay… I did a whole college research project on it…

        1. dbc*

          I love buying thrifted items, but I have to count on a week in the sun airing out, alternating with about 6-8 unscented launderings (really!) before the scents are removed enough for me to wear them.
          And I can use hardly any leave-in hair products. Even if I’ve sniff-tested the scent, once I close myself in a car with it I gag.
          Yet there are some scents I can enjoy that others are more sensitive to than I am.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Yeah, there’s a reason I don’t try to donate my old clothes. I burn incense a lot at home and there’s no way that smell is getting completely out of an item of clothing!

            (This is also why my work clothing – standard office attire – is kept in the car!)

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I think the forum here is generally a-ok with ‘no putting perfume on or body spray before going into work/while at work’. That’s to the best of my knowledge not got much push back.

      The extreme version is where there’s problems: like a past coworker complaining about a lingering smell of hair conditioner from when I’d washed my hair (black almond oil I think). Or stating what you have to wash your clothes in/shower with/wash your hair with to be truly scent free.

      To the best of my knowledge there’s no workplace that’s tried to impose something *that* strict.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely, that’s where I land.

        I’d be very happy not wearing perfume at work / going into work. Also quite happy with a ban on scented candles / incense in the office (although that probably would be banned under health and safety anyway).

        I would be less happy with a policy to try and make people remove all vaguely scented products from their lives. My shower products are my business. There is about one type of shampoo and conditioner that I’ve found that works for my dandruff and they have a slight scent to them. I would not be happy with a company trying to apply a scent policy that prevented me from using the care products that work for me and the laundry products that I need.

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        I mentioned in another comment we had someone at my old job that wanted those rules. As in, no baby powder, which a lot of us used for chafing/not to be so sweaty. No scented deodorant. Saying that hairsprays still smelled.

        And I had a lot of empathy from her, but everyone can’t change every single product for that. Can’t walk around smelling like a Lush store, obviously, but–well, even some fragrance free products smell like *something*.

        1. quill*

          Sometimes it’s even “the things that they are made of.” (I have coarse curly hair. The amount of coconuts harmed to maintain it is not zero.)

      3. Firecat*

        Yes it definitely is now. It was not 3 or so years ago. They were strongly – personal products are personal and it’s an overstep.

        That’s part of my point. This is probably one of the most liberal workplace communities out there. They take others needs into consideration way more the most work places do

        But even here the – it’s ok to ask them to use unscented shampoo due to migraines – is not universal and is rather recent so the thinking at a lot of workplaces is still behind on that.

  51. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    For OP #1, I think it’s not only deeply invasive and inappropriate, but also counterproductive. If you already have similar personal experiences to your students (e.g. you both experienced the death of a parent), then you don’t need to share that in order to gain perspective – you’ve already got that perspective! The only times you might need to think carefully about your reactions and put yourself in the student’s shoes are when you haven’t experienced the thing yourself and so need to think more deeply about how it must feel.

  52. School librarian*

    I feel for OP 1. We might have worked for the same school. I HATE staff meetings, team building meetings, end of the year retreats. All touchy-feely stuff. The pressure to “share” was huge. To be open. To demonstrate your engagement. Your understanding of privilege. Of diversity of learning styles, of deficits, of etc, etc, etc.
    What helped- this is a job. They pay me to teach. They pay me to do my job. I engage in professional development. I have an understanding of child development, educational theory and practice, I am current in my classroom management, I ask for help, I am humble and acknowledge my deficits, bias, and privilege, I am willing to learn, I am well versed in the social and emotional development of children, pre-k through 8th grade, I continue my professional development, I give service. I am current in research practices and my subject specialty.
    That said, I do not share. I do not share my feelings, my insecurities, my fears, my anger, my petty jealousies, and my opinions of others.
    When it is my “turn” to share, I may reflect on the topic with one benign sentence (or my favorite…when it looks like we are breaking into small groups or coming to my turn, I have a need to excuse myself for a pressing library matter or a phone call to return)
    I learned never to “overshare” My private life is on a “need to know ” basis. No one at work needs to know. Period.

  53. JelloStapler*

    #2- I used to use a warmer ( I have my own office but apparently it was strong enough to spread out to the hall) until someone mentioned how strong the scent was and it was giving them a headache. While a little embarrassed, I was happy they told me and now only use a quick spray of the Febreze air fresheners.

    Say something! They may not realize how strong it is to others.

  54. Twisted Lion*

    OP1 I wonder if this is a new thing for schools because I have a friend who just started college and she had two classes do this! As a part of the “ice breaker” and meet and greet on the first day of school! She was triggered for the rest of the day as well and Im like what in the world! Id push back so hard but Im a trouble maker LOL

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

      If your friend’s school has a counseling service please have her reach out and talk to one of the counselors. Not just for counseling but so she can report that this is happening. A licensed counselor or therapist is going to understand how these type of exercises are damaging. They could then reach out to the professors and explain how to appropriately do mediation or what other type of exercises would be a better fit. I work for a counseling center at a university and I know our director would want to hear from students if this was happening and they do talk with professors who cross those types of lines.

      Another option would be a diversity and inclusivity office as the professor is not being inclusive in these activities.. Please have your friend report it!

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

      Please tell your friend to go to the schools counseling (personal not academic) center if they have one. Not just because it would be a good to help her process this, but so she can report to the counselor that these professors are doing these practices. I work for a university counseling center and I know my director would absolutely want to know who is doing something like this so that they could reach out and give better direction to the professors. The great thing about reporting it to a counselor is that it cannot come back to the student because of confidentiality (HIPPA is the main one).

      If there isn’t a counselor perhaps their is a diversity and inclusion office that could help.

  55. Anon to Avoid Outing*

    OP #1 – The charter school that I worked for did things like this, and the other charter school employees that I have known have had similar experiences. Because of a lack of school district oversight, they can get away with stuff like this. Be very careful – other boundaries might be blurred as well. I was regularly told that I had to volunteer my time for things that had no relevance to my job description – think lightly disabled white collar employee being told to volunteer to do plumbing and electrical repairs. The charter school even had a minimum mandatory donation amount for employees.

    1. The Smiling Pug*

      Yikes, sucks to hear about your experience with charter schools doing this kind of thing. I went to a charter school for the entirety of high school, and while they may have been off the mark on other things, at least they never made us do the kind of thing that LW #1 went through.

  56. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    LW #4: If your state laws do not provide useful protection for you as an employee of a small organization, work on changing the laws! Talk to your state legislators and get the names of people and organizations who are focused on worker protection, and then talk to those people and organizations and see how you can help. You have the advantage of an education and communication skills, and you can use those things to help make the workplace better for others who aren’t as fortunate.

  57. Don't Know*

    OP 5 – are the flexible schedule still considered a set schedule? Does the employee say every week they will work Monday – Thursday 10 hour days OR is it this week they work four 10 hour days, but next week may be three 12 hour days plus one 8 hour day? Do these flexible schedules vary from week to week? If they are the later, is it reasonable to say the holiday week they only have to work 32 hours instead of 40 and they can get it in however they want in the remaining 4 days? They will know this ahead of time and be able to schedule their meetings/clients accordingly.

  58. Alexis Rosay*

    #1, I hope you will consider speaking up about how these practices can be harmful. In my experience, people who think these kinds of activities are okay with staff may also think it’s great to have students share their trauma—forcing sharing in an even more vulnerable population, in other words.

  59. MaureenSmith*

    #5 – holiday pay
    Well, I’ve learned something new today! In my juristiction (Ontario) most employees are entitled to public holiday pay for the mandated 9 statutory holidays in the province. Even if the employee is not scheduled to work. They can choose to take a different day off, or simply get a bump on their pay cheque. How hours & amounts are calculated can be complex for erratic schedules.

    When a public holiday falls on a day that is not ordinarily a working day for an employee, or during the employee’s vacation, the employee is entitled to either:
    – a substitute holiday off with public holiday pay;
    – public holiday pay for the public holiday, if the employee agrees to this electronically or in writing (in this case, the employee will not be given a substitute day off).

    I had assumed that a system like this exists in other juristictions! While most public holidays are on Monday’s, not all are. Canada Day, Christmas, New Years move around, and most businesses ‘move’ the holiday to the next regularly scheduled working day (often Monday).

    As an Employer, I assume I’m paying a full time employee to work 241 days a year. (260 – 9 stat holidays – 10 vacation days). Why should this calculation be any different if the employee works Wed-Sun vs Mon-Fri? As an employee, I’d be highly annoyed that I was expected to work 250 days for the same pay, while someone else only has to work 241 days.

  60. jj*

    I would think a fair way to handle #5 would be number of holiday hours – so if your calendar gives a standard schedule employee who works 2000 hours a year or whatnot 80 paid hours of holiday in a given year, alt folks should also get that. That also might help even out for example if someone work for four 10s and wants an alt holiday they shouldn’t necessarily get to take a 10 off the next day whenever regular employees got 8 and they designed their schedule. You could also make a rule that the alt time off has to be within a week of the original. But with a time off tracking system like AESOP or something it shouldn’t be that hard to just make a rule that everyone gets the same number of hours?

  61. Dream Jobbed*

    I rarely disagree, but I’m going to on this one. If most of the team is working a 32 hour week, everyone should get it regardless of schedule. So many people work Saturdays and Sundays for the good of the company, why should they miss out on a day off (which they need too to rest and relax) because of a different schedule? So very, very unfair. And guaranteed to build ill will amongst team members.

  62. Echo*

    For #5 – my partner’s job works like this, in a role that is salaried and requires more or less 24/7 coverage. He is on a Sun-Thu schedule to ensure Sunday coverage, and he gets a floating holiday when a firm holiday falls on a Friday. The floating holiday has to be taken in the same pay period as the holiday (maybe even the same week?), can’t be a Sunday, and has to be approved by a supervisor who can turn it down if the day doesn’t have coverage.

    This is a private-sector firm but we are in Washington, DC so it’s not shocking they handle it similarly to the federal government!

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      The floating holiday has to be taken in the same pay period as the holiday (maybe even the same week?), can’t be a Sunday, and has to be approved by a supervisor who can turn it down if the day doesn’t have coverage.

      That’s a wordy way to say he doesn’t get floating holidays.

  63. recentlymediated*

    LW#4 — or anyone else really

    Sometimes a company with fewer than 15 employees can be subject to discrimination laws.

    I am not a lawyer. But I recently had to file an EEOC complaint when I was let go from my employer with only about 5-6 employees. While we have a separate EIN and operate independently, we are associated with a national organization. (Think, working for a local McDonald’s franchise that only has 5 employees). I was so worried that it would be dismissed immediately, but it was not. I went through the whole process and mediation and even received a settlement.

  64. Jennifer Juniper*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the principal asked for them to be vulnerable so he could use it against them later. I was honestly surprised that the people weren’t berated, yelled at for being privileged, or told they deserved the painful experiences due to racism/sexism/homophobia/whatever they had committed.

  65. Elm*

    You’d be amazed by how often teachers are forced into situations like this. It’s assumed we can’t possibly have trauma, mental illnesses, learning disabilities, etc. and people lose their jobs if those things come to light far, far too often. (“Budget cuts,” and then the position reopens.)

    Honestly, being a teacher put me so on high alert that I would have assumes this was entrapment or the admin planned to weaponized it.

    Since this a charter school, the teachers *might* be unionized. If they are, they need to contact the union like yesterday. (Use your personal email addresses–your boss can read your work email.)

  66. Fiddle_Faddle*

    LW3: It’s probably fine, but on the other hand it can’t hurt to periodically Google your name and see what pops up. Data breaches and identity theft are unfortunately common, and people who don’t have unusual names can easily get their data confused with others’ by search engines. Another option is to sign up with one of the data monitoring services and let them check for you. If you haven’t had your data stolen yet, it’s probably just a matter of time.

  67. mkl*

    LW #3, it’s probably just a coincidence but it is a little odd that you’re getting consistent, total silence after phone interviews. Silence in response to applications, totally normal. Silence after phone interviews, not quite as common. After half of your phone interviews, sure maybe. But all? I would try a few low key sleuthing efforts if this continues….

    1) Do a very very deep internet search on your name. For $15-25 you can get an online criminal background check. Confirm there’s no one with a scandalous arrest record or bad press who matches your name. If there is, address it directly at the end of each phone interviews. “By the way, not to alarm you, but there’s an individual who shares my full name who’s been arrested for some unseemly stuff. I can assure you we’re not the same person- when the time comes for background checks my social security number distinguishes me from them.”

    2) Since the issue began after your last gig, something might have gone south with someone at that office. If you had anyone in your last contract role you were friendly with, ask if they could give you five minutes for a networking call. Explain that you’ve never had trouble finding work but you’re suddenly getting ghosted after interviews and wanted to know if anything had happened at work that you should be aware of. Again, it’s unlikely but not unheard of for someone to go after an ex-colleague. If that were the case, a visit to an employment lawyer to get educated on options for addressing slander would be a helpful first step.

    3) You mentioned that you’re in a close-knit professional community. Since that’s the case, set up several 15 m minute networking coffees or zoom catch ups with ex-coworkers in your area. Keep it light and professional but, after catching up, explain what’s been happening and ask if there’s anything that you should be aware of.

    4) If you have a friendly colleague in a hiring position or working for a contracting firm ask them if they would give you a heads up if there is anything concerning coming from your references. It’s rare but not unheard of for someone to poison the well by being an unfriendly reference. It’s not likely the case here since this just started happening but if this continues and you can’t get to the root of it any other way, that technique has worked for others.

    Again, this isn’t the most likely scenario. If your industry’s unemployment rate has ticked up and employers are getting a deluge of resumes or recruiters are suddenly having to do double duty after layoffs they may be cutting corners on the process.

  68. Eclecticism is a Virtue*

    LW #4, this certainly is not the case with all of the laws (such as harassment), but with some of them one reason for a minimum number of employees is basically so the law won’t bankrupt the company. I think FMLA is impacted by that. If you start a new company and hire let’s say three people, there is a decent chance nearly all of the income goes into paying company bills and employee salaries, unless the business is wildly successful from the start. For yourself as the owner, you are probably paying yourself enough for rent, food, and essential bills, and nothing else during the first year or two. Now imagine you have to spend additional money due to one of these laws that could run you thousands of dollars, money you don’t have. You could be laying off the employees and struggling to keep the doors open. Various studies have estimated that FMLA costs employers in the US billions of dollars per year in total.

    I’m not at all suggesting we should get rid of FMLA, but when you only have a few employees and FMLA is going to cost you $10,000-20,000 over 2-3 months, your business may not survive. (That amount is trying to account for hiring and training a temp to cover some of the work over the 12 weeks, lost productivity, and possibly needing to turn down some new work because you can’t overwhelm the temp with additional work the regular employee could handle.)

    Given the US is economically based on capitalism, I believe many of these laws tried to take encouraging new businesses into consideration. They try to make it easier for very small companies that may not survive otherwise.

  69. Kim*

    About the electric candle warmers and plug ins, they are generally considered a fire Hazzard by the firemarshal. I find that people are so enamored with perfumed air that they don’t care if it gives you a headache or flares your asthma. You need to tell the person twice. Tell your supervisor. Then go to HR. Every one deserves an environment free of perfume.

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