my boss is throwing a maskless team Thanksgiving dinner, company says our coworker who quit is actually still here, and more

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

1. My boss is throwing a maskless team Thanksgiving dinner

I work on a team of 15 people, all fully vaccinated. My boss has decided that we should all get together at her house for a Thanksgiving dinner this year. I’ve been very Covid-cautious (I have a kid too young to be vaccinated and a higher-risk friend who I see occasionally), but I was considering going because I do miss seeing my team in real life, and I feel a little work pressure to attend. But last week, my boss pulled me aside to politely tell me that people most likely won’t be wearing masks and will be sitting close together at her dining table. My team had a happy hour party a few weeks ago that I didn’t attend and I guess everyone was inside without masks for most of the event, so it seems like they are comfortable with something like this.

I’m frustrated that my boss is putting all of us in this position for a non-essential reason, and I’m torn on what to do. Should I go to the event and be the weirdo wearing a mask and not eating the whole time? Should I accept that Covid counts are down in my area and risk going to this event maskless, so I can get some face time in with my coworkers? Should I decline going altogether?

A Thanksgiving work dinner? Has it not occurred to your boss that many/most people spend Thanksgiving with their families? If there’s any expectation that you attend, that’s an enormous imposition.

No, you shouldn’t go. The event violates the safety precautions you’ve been taking for your child and your friend. Also, it’s Thanksgiving. Tell her you have plans with your family that you can’t break and so you can’t be there.

Updated to add: Commenters have pointed out there’s nothing indicating the dinner is actually on Thanksgiving! The gist of the advice stands though: decline the invitation. You can cite family obligations or safety precautions (and it sounds like your boss may have pulled you aside for that conversation specifically because she knows that might be prohibitive in your situation).

2. Management says a coworker is working from home when she actually quit

For the past five months, most of the people I work with have been scrambling to keep clients. I was finally able to get one major client to whisper to me that they were afraid the our company was going under. When I asked why, I was told “think Tracy.” We have a senior team member with that name who’s been working from home. I haven’t spoken to her in about four months, although I occasionally get an interoffice email from her.

After digging around, it appears she quit five months ago. (I asked HR and was told she’s not on the payroll, and I found that she’s now at another company.) The emails being sent from “her” could be coming from anyone in the company. Should I tell coworkers what I know? Should I just bail out and not say anything?

Assuming no one has told you that you can’t tell others, I’d just go ahead and share the info. “This is weird — did y’all just get an email from Tracy? She left the company months ago; is someone emailing from her old account? Should we look into this?”

But whether or not to do that depends on how much you care. It’s also fine to just ignore it and continue on (while mentally noting this very odd piece of information about your company).

It sounds like the bigger issue is what’s going on with your company’s clients … and thus its revenue stream … and thus its stability. That’s what I’d try to figure out.

3. Employee left work because of the background music

We work in an large, open format office space. There are about 100 employees on the floor, plus private offices. As part of a recent remodel, overhead speakers were installed that play background music and the system was turned on yesterday. We have similar systems in our other office buildings and have never had an issue. The music selection is typically low-key popular music played at a low volume, nothing edgy or even remotely explicit.

This morning, we had an employee inform their supervisor that they found secular music offensive to their religious beliefs. The employee promptly packed up their items and left the office, advising their supervisor that they’d be working from home until further notice and would not return to the office until the music was disabled. Thoughts?

If she has a religious objection to having to listen to secular music, legally you have to try to find a way to accommodate her (presumably either by giving her a music-free workspace or letting her work from home) unless doing that would pose what the law calls an “undue hardship” to your business. Asking for no music at, say, a recording studio would be an undue hardship, but you’re going to have a hard time arguing it’s a serious hardship in a regular office.

For what it’s worth, a lot of people don’t enjoy working with music in the background and find it distracting or irritating, especially when the music isn’t in line with their tastes. You’re probably not going to have a massive outcry if the music goes away.

4. Communication when tech fails and you’re working remotely

I have a question about communication when you’re freelance and remote, as I’m having some real problems right now!

I have a client who I work with over email, as we’re based in different countries. This is never a problem usually, but over the last few days they are clearly not seeing any messages I send them. I keep getting emails about projects saying, “Please confirm you can do this” and I reply and say I can, but they aren’t seeing it. The emails are sending, I’ve checked my sent folder and they are going through. I suspect they’re having issues with their email client.

What do I do when tech fails like this? I’ve been trying to get through with no luck. They have a phone number, but that just goes to answerphone when I try it. I’ve made a new email account on a different platform and sent a message that way — no answer. Have I done my due diligence? It’s incredibly stressful when I’m doing everything I can, but I just can’t get an answer!

Have you tried texting that phone number too? Social media? If you’ve done that plus the calling (and leaving a message, yes?) and the emailing from a different account, you might be out of options. If you know anyone who works with them, you could try to send a message through that person … but short of buying billboard space outside their office, there’s not much else you can do! I’d say you’ve done your due diligence and at some point they’ll figure it out. (I’d try all these options again in a week though, just in case anything has changed.)

Readers, please chime in via the comment section if I’ve missed another avenue.

5. My boss has ignored my email asking to work from home one day a week

I wrote to you back in August about my boss, who asked me to wait a few months for our team to settle in before considering my request to work from home one day a week.

Our team had a busy start back in the office but we’ve definitely settled into things and I felt it was a good time this month to revisit my request with my boss. I sent her a short email reminding her politely of my request and asking if she’d be willing to revisit the topic and chat about how to best move forward.

It’s been over two weeks and she hasn’t responded. She’s very quick to respond to emails and I know without a doubt she saw it. I’m guessing she probably saw it and put it to the side to deal with at another time, but now I’m in a weird position and don’t know whether I should bring it up again. Bringing it up a third time seems like it might cross over into annoyance territory, but I’m frustrated that I’ve worked hard, respected her initial request that I give it some time, and she couldn’t at least give me a short response indicating when we could revisit the topic. I’m aware that no answer could just mean “no,” but that seems like poor management and conflict avoidance.

This isn’t something I’d quit over. I’m overall very happy with my job. But if I’m going to stay, I’d like to see more flexibility, especially since that’s becoming more of the norm and there doesn’t seem to be a solid reason to not consider it. Not to mention that the company overall created a work from home policy and encouraged supervisors to consider requests. I don’t know why a policy was made and encouraged if people aren’t going to be allowed to use it.

Since you’re working in person, don’t rely on email! At the end of your next in-person conversation with her, try saying, “Do you some time either now or later on to talk about the email I sent you a few weeks ago about working from home occasionally?” If she tells you she still wants to give it more time first, you could say, “So that I don’t keep asking about this before you’re ready to consider it, when makes sense for me to check back in with you?”

{ 978 comments… read them below }

  1. Anononon*

    I didn’t read letter 1 to mean that the dinner would actually be on Thanksgiving, rather just a typical Thanksgiving dinner on another night. (Of course, OP can still have plans whatever night that is…)

    1. RitaRelates*

      Same. I read it like how some people have “Friendsgiving” on a day that’s not actually Thanksgiving. OP1: do whatever you’re comfortable with.

    2. castles*

      I feel like anywhere within a week of Thanksgiving gives you a perfect out to claim family obligations, no matter which day the dinner is actually on. OP can easily claim they have a family tradition to make paper mache turkeys the Tuesday of thanksgiving week or something.

    3. Cmdrshpard*

      I agree back when we were in person 5 or was it 10 years ago now before covid was a thing. Our team use to have a “thanksgiving dinner” lunch in the office.

      I think boss gave OP a heads up because they know OP is being careful and would likely understand if they didn’t want to come.

      While I understand it is still a risk, a 15 person get together where everyone is vaccinated is not the riskiest possibility, so people will have different risk tolerance for an event like that.

      I can understand why you might feel pressure to attend, but sometimes pressure is imagined or we put it on ourselves while thinking it is coming from others.

        1. kittymommy*

          Ehh, I enjoy it (we do one here on Wednesday for those of us working). Some of us don’t have family so this is one of the few times we get to celebrate it. I’ll probably spend my Thanksgiving day the same way I do every year, eating take out, binging on Modern family and looking at sale ads.

        2. bluephone*

          Because different people enjoy different things and in some workplaces (blue collar, white collar, hands-on, staring at a keyboard all day, direct patient care, robot assistant to other robots, etc), a Thanksgiving-adjacent gathering might be something that’s looked forward to and even–gasp–enjoyed???
          Coming together, especially over a meal, is sort of ingrained into humans, since we first started having those concepts. The default may be that we break bread with family but it’s not unusual to enjoy that sense of connection and camaraderie with your coworkers.

        3. Amethystmoon*

          Ours had a Christmas lunch and unless you had a really good reason, you were expected to be there. Granted the food was free, but it was basically a Thanksgiving-type meal served for Christmas with the option of beef or Turkey. They also played cheesy Christmas music, did trivia games and so forth. COVID was the only thing that ended it so far.

        4. Stephanie*

          Hard disagree – my work did a beautiful Thanksgiving lunch (company provided turkeys, each dept got a side) and it was my favorite event. I missed having it last year :/

        5. Cat Lover*

          Because people like free food? Office potlucks are fun! I work in healthcare so we never went remote so we do something like this every quarter.

          1. Cat Lover*

            Or even non-potlucks. We used some leftover office money to buy Panera and decorate for Halloween.

        6. Dream Jobbed*

          And for some of us it may be the only Thanksgiving meal we have. Singletons not near family face this. And yes, people are very welcoming to others for the Thanksgiving meal, but unless I know a majority of the people there (rather than just my coworker) the meal is extremely uncomfortable for me. (Thus I talk about “plans” in the office so no invites come my way. :D) But a potluck shared with coworkers I really like? Love it!

        7. Elizabeth West*

          Better to have it in the office than outside the office. OldExJob held their holiday party in the evening at a local venue. I went twice and ended up at the bosses’ table both times. They always had crab legs and I never got any because there were a few people who would knock you over to get in line and then hoover them all up before anyone else could even get to them. It sucked, and I did not want to spend my off-hours time with people whom I spent all day with anyway. I would much rather have just had an in-office potluck where I could take a plate back to my desk.

          1. Denver Gutierrez*

            I agree. We usually have our holiday potluck at work and it’s always been pretty fun, even last year when it was just tables set up with food and we helped ourselves, then ate socially distanced.

            But if it was off hours and somewhere else, I probably wouldn’t go either. I like the convenience of just bringing my dish to work with me, then still getting to go home on time. I don’t want to work all day, go home, then have to get ready and go somewhere else.

      1. Smithy*

        This is both very true and a very kind way of thinking of it. I think that the OP’s boss had that private conversation to give the OP information they would feel was very relevant and make a decision that was best for themselves. And unless there are other unfortunate dynamics in play at the office around social gatherings, I would hope that this heads up was read as the boss as giving the OP a soft “if you don’t feel comfortable attending, it truly is fine if you don’t”.

        A week or so ago, a former colleague of mine was in town for work – and asked if I was comfortable meeting up and if so, indoors or outdoors. When we saw each other he asked what level of greeting I was comfortable with. Sure, it was a little awkward rather than defaulting to how we’d normally say hello – but every step of the interaction allowed for us to say what felt best.

        If relationships be they work or more friendly don’t have other issues that you also are aware of, I do think that people really are trying to navigate different levels of comfort. And are coming to places where there’s less judgement for a wider range of responses, even if a given individual is either no longer taking all precautions themselves or isn’t yet comfortable doing everything their otherwise likeminded community is.

    4. bunniferous*

      I skipped a similar dinner last year. A bunch of people got you-know-what there. I’m not doing non essential dinners like that, mask or no mask-I know of fully vaccinated people who have gotten Covid at small gatherings even recently. Why risk it?

      1. ThatGirl*

        You’re well within your rights to skip any event you don’t feel comfortable at. That’s always been true, and everyone has their own risk assessment and tolerance.

        But a group of fully vaccinated people are by definition about as low risk as you can get right now. And some people do like those sorts of events. So there’s no need to judge people who are willing to take a calculated risk.

        1. Ginger*

          This.

          All vaccinated, optional. Why is this even a discussion? At what point do people start gathering again without judgment?

          And yes, of course masks are going to be off to eat. *face palm*

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            I’ve been on the side of very cautious throughout this pandemic, but I agree. My understanding is that current guidelines are that you do not need to wear masks for small gatherings of fully vaccinated people! My husband and I are currently not eating indoors at restaurants as we don’t know the vaccination status of others in the room, but we did just attend a small fully-vaccinated wedding last month and are very excited to attend a small fully-vaccinated Halloween party this weekend.

            I’m also a little confused about the fact that it sounds like OP knew this was a dinner, but is surprised to learn people won’t be masked???

            All that being said, of course some people are still taking all of the extra precautions and that is totally fine! If they are not comfortable then they shouldn’t attend, and it seems like their boss is expecting that may be the case and no hard feelings! But as their plans don’t go against the current CDC recommendations I think OP should try not to feel frustrated with them about it. They are not doing anything wrong even if you don’t want to join them.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          “But a group of fully vaccinated people are by definition about as low risk as you can get right now.” Well, that’s as low risk as you can get for a group gathering of people who aren’t wearing masks. “By definition,” it is not as low risk as you can get. After all the deaths, the people disabled by long covid, and the economic hardships, I don’t think you get to tell others how to feel about people who choose to take completely optional, unnecessary risks. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t gather at all, and I know how hard things have been for extroverts. People get to make choices. But it is definitely still taking a risk, and for a work dinner. If people want to make that choice–which they totally get to do–they can deal with other people’s negative feelings about it.

          1. ThatGirl*

            Look, I’m happy to judge people who take dumb risks; the same thing last year before vaccines would have been a LOT riskier. I’m in a state that still has an indoor mask mandate and I fully support it. But like… people get to make their own choices. I wouldn’t judge someone for skipping the dinner; I don’t think it’s necessary to judge someone for going.

          2. kitryan*

            Yes, not having the gathering or having an outdoors thing where people aren’t all seated close together would both be lower risk. While a group of fully vaccinated people, in close quarters, unmasked is not so high risk that I would be worried about their sanity or anything, it is not as low risk as you can get.
            People are allowed to have different risk thresholds indeed and it’s valid to have this be higher risk than the OP or anyone else is comfortable with.

      2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        I’m glad Boss gave OP a heads up so she can opt out. And I think it’s nice that Boss is trying to do a We Are A Team activity. Boss seems to have good intentions. But at the same time I’d be leery working around coworkers that I know hung out unmasked in large indoor group.

    5. Mm*

      Same. But still, I have been very cautious with Covid and wouldn’t attend an event like this. I’d also be really frustrated that I’m being asked to/missing out on a work opportunity. It may depend on where OP lives, but in my area (Houston) the numbers are still such that a 15 person, indoor, unmasked event is a little reckless.

        1. Lynca*

          Where I am cases went from 1000+ to 700 per day and thats still higher than where we were before the Delta surge started. So “cases are down” varies too much across the US to be a reliable indicator on whether a large indoor gathering is a good idea.

          I personally wouldn’t go but that’s more to do with it being hosted at someone’s house rather than the office. But I understand completely the impulse of wanting to go.

        2. shedubba*

          Yeah, I’m just south of Houston, and numbers are down, true, but they’re down from 300+ cases a day to 30-60 cases a day. That’s still much higher than I’d be comfortable with.

      1. Roscoe*

        I feel like you can’t be mad that you are missing a work opportunity when its your choice not to go. Like, no one should be forced to go, but if you don’t feel safe, you are still making the choice. That doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t be able to do what they like

        1. mlem*

          Nah, people can be mad that they’re being pressured to choose work opportunities over basic safety precautions, and that coworkers are rewarded for choosing “unnecessary work opportunity” over “safety”.

          1. Clisby*

            There’s nothing in the letter to indicate co-workers will be rewarded for going to this dinner. Unless you consider the dinner itself is a reward – I wouldn’t.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              Many people consider the opportunity to informally get face time with management, and time to network with co-workers, as a work opportunity. Even at non-work events will colleagues, business gets discussed, connections are made, projects are launched and teams are formed.

              Think the many many years previously (or just last year in the office of the VP of the USA ) where male employees had the opportunity go golfing, out for meals, out for drinks, out to the latest Elks/Kiwanis Club event etc with the boss, with upper managemen, with important clients and prospects, while female and minority employees were not given that same informal access. It wasn’t considered a perk because of the free meal or free round of golf, at least not primarily … it was because of the opportunity to schmooze, build relationships which led to career opportunities.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                I personally suspect this is more like the work Christmas (or inclusive-ish December Holiday party) party than like the work golf outing/drinks with the upper management, though; I’ve never been at a work Holiday party where networking/business talk wasn’t actively *dis*couraged. I may just have been lucky in which businesses I’ve worked for and other places are more punitive.

                1. Roscoe*

                  Exactly.

                  Like, this is no different, to me, than the department having a holiday party and OP choosing not to attend for whatever reason.

            2. shedubba*

              But isn’t this the kind of thing we talk about being an issue with “men only” golf or hunting trips? Systematically giving certain groups of employees more access to socialize with management isn’t a good way to manage if the groupings don’t have anything to do with how well they do their jobs. That’s a problem whether the additional access is given to men or to people who have a higher risk tolerance for covid.

              1. Roscoe*

                I think having a dinner a person chooses not to go to is very different than a men only golf trip. The latter is saying “Only X people are invited”. In this situation, everyone is invited and she is, for her own heightened sense of safety, is choosing not to. That is her right, but again, its also her choice.

                This isn’t systematically offering certain groups something and not others.

                In my office most of us are back (all vaxxed). We occasionally will do a happy hour. One of the guys still doesn’t feel comfortable being in the office or indoors, so he doesn’t come. But he isn’t being “excluded”, he is making the choice.

                1. Splendid Colors*

                  I agree with @shedubba.

                  “Lower risk tolerance for COVID” might not be an officially protected group per se… but it definitely includes:

                  People who have specific disabilities or who associate closely with people with conditions that increase their COVID risk.

                  People with children under 12 who can’t be vaccinated yet.

                  It may also disproportionately include Black, Brown, and Indigenous people who (at least in my city) often live in more crowded housing and thus are at higher risk of spreading COVID at home than people whose housing is more conducive to isolating from other household members.

                  The reasons that would make “I can’t afford to risk catching COVID at a dinner party in close quarters” a reason to “voluntarily” decline the invitation are mostly reasons that apply to people in protected categories. Not to say that there may be non-disabled single people without young children or disabled family/friends who live by themselves who figure “not being exposed to COVID means I won’t be the incubation site for the next big variant” but the strongest reasons, but apparently in this workplace, not many people fall in that category.

              1. Roscoe*

                Yeah, but she also says the manager pulled her aside to give her a heads up. I’m wondering if the “pressure” is all pressure she is putting on herself, not that others are actually putting on him

                1. MCMonkeyBean*

                  Yes, it seems like the boss was pretty explicitly letting her know that she doesn’t need to feel pressured if she is not comfortable

                2. Anonymeece*

                  Yup. If I were the boss in the scenario, the only reason I would be pulling someone aside to say that is *specifically to offer them the opportunity to say no*. I can’t imagine someone doing it to be like, “Haha! We’re deliberately going to make you take a risk!”.

                  And possibly everyone else is excited and talking about it, so OP feels like he/she/they must go, but it’s just normal people being excited about something.

          2. Anononon*

            But, they are following basic safety precautions. They’re all vaxxed – this dinner is statistically reasonably safe. It makes sense why OP has a heightened standard for safety, and I think it’s fine that she’s not going, but I think it’s important to note that, based on CDC guidelines, her standard IS heightened.

            1. bunniferous*

              Statistics are one thing. But here locally such a dinner-everyone masked-wound up with half the attendants coming down with Covid with one-a local newscaster who wound up reporting on it-in the hospital for over a week. Since OP has vulnerable people in her home she is well within her rights not to want to go.

              1. Anononon*

                Yes, that’s why I literally said, “It makes sense why OP has a heightened standard for safety, and I think it’s fine that she’s not going”.

        2. Worldwalker*

          So, if the opportunity is, say, a day of skydiving — or BASE jumping — it’s someone’s choice not to go, and they shouldn’t be upset?

          1. Roscoe*

            I mean, those are very extreme examples. But if you choose not to go to an activity, I don’t think you should be mad about it. If you are feeling sick the day of the work holiday party or have your kids holiday recital, should no one be able to do it because you are choosing not to?

            Like, I understand that certain activities are exclusionary by nature. But it sounds like OP just doesn’t want to do ANYTHING that isn’t outside or something. I don’t think its fair to just expect no one else to do anything either.

          2. Loulou*

            Are you seriously comparing a Thanksgiving dinner with a fully vaccinated group of adults to skydiving? For the record, the event OP describes is also outside my comfort zone so I would just decline the invitation. But you really lose credibility when you make absurd comparisons like this!

            1. Worldwalker*

              True. It’s not a good comparison. With a death rate of something like 1 in 500,000 jumps, skydiving is safer.

              Colin Powell was fully vaccinated. But immunocompromsed. And now he’s dead, probably thanks to an asymptomatic carrier.

        3. myswtghst*

          While I agree that everyone should be able to make the choice for themselves, I do think if the manager knows not everyone will feel comfortable with the event they’re planning for team-building, they might want to consider how effective the team-building will actually be.

          It doesn’t have to be intentional, or done in bad faith, to have a negative impact on a specific employee population, and given this isn’t the first “team-building activity” OP has been left out of, a good manager would probably consider other options.

          1. Puzzler*

            If the manager actually used the word “team-building” to describe this event, my guess would be that they were just trying to make it sound fun. It really just seems like a normal office potluck type thing. I’m sure there will be other team members who can’t make it because they have other obligations that day or myriad other reasons.

          2. Clisby*

            Nothing in the letter even implies the manager is doing this as a team-building exercise. That would be weird.

      2. HigherEdAdminista*

        I feel this! My friends have started doing things that I think are too risky, so it isn’t like I want to do those things right now, but I also still feel sad to miss out. It sucks to have to make a practical decision sometimes!

        1. Another HigherEd Person*

          My friends have started to do a lot of things without me as well and it is hard. And sometimes people don’t tell you until after how they have exposed you to a large circle of germs.

          One of my friends asked me to take her to an eye appointment. Thinking of being a good friend, I did take her there. It was only after we were on the way back that she told me about all of the dinners she was having (with some mutual friends), the hobby meetings she was having in her home and the unvaccinated person near her at the eye doctors. Then she had the temerity to be unhappy when I looked sideways at her coughing in my car. I nearly asked her why she didn’t ask any of these social people to take time off work to drive her to the eye doctors.

          Did I mention that she didn’t wear a mask? And I had to wait in the car for 2 1/2 hours?

          I have a feeling that I will end the pandemic with a much smaller (but better) circle of friends.

      3. BabyElephantWalk*

        What gets to me is that an unsafe work party is being planned and OP can either attend unsafely, or be left out.

        I get that many people are comfortable maskless in their personal life. But vaccinated people can still catch and spread COVID, and for those of us who need to take all precautions, a work dinner just won’t fly because of the masks.

        Plan work events that are either well distanced or completely masked. Doing otherwise in the meantime isn’t fair to anyone.

    6. JelloStapler*

      Same here, not on Thanksgiving. But I would still not do this if I was hesitant due to COVID reasons or because I just don’t feel like spending the time outside of work during a busy time. Is this in ADDITION to any holiday parties in December?

    7. lilsheba*

      Personally I’m not going to anyone’s house for a gathering of any sort, it’s STILL too risky for me. The pandemic is far from over.

      1. CalypsoSummer*

        I’ve been vaccinated and while I’m fairly sure it would be okay, “fairly sure” isn’t good enough. I’m waiting on my booster shot, for one thing — and for another, I really do NOT want to take chances on infecting anyone else. I may be carrying virus particles that aren’t affecting ME, but I surely to God do not want to pass them along to someone who might not be as fortunate, or who might pass them along to someone else.

        1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

          This. I’m limiting in-person interactions because 1) spouse is in a profession where infection even with vaccination is higher probability (cases are dropping but there’s a lot of covidiots too which spouse is likely to encounter, thus making me a possible carrier with higher probability, 2) children under 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated and I won’t risk carrying it to them, and 3) I have asthma and I don’t need a respiratory infection of any kind.

    8. PizzaQueen*

      OP1 here! You’re correct – the dinner is supposed to be 2 weeks ahead of Thanksgiving, so it gives 10 days before family Thanksgiving in case anything is wrong. But I still don’t expect I’ll go.

  2. 36Cupcakes*

    I’ve been debating what to do about holiday work events this year myself. Still don’t know.

    Also, I’m assuming the Thanksgiving dinner will not be on Thanksgiving day?

  3. Maggie*

    I’m kind of surprised that OP is surprised that a dinner would be at a table with masks off. I think it’s nice the manager pulled her aside as well, but dinner being eaten at a table without a mask on seems like a given. With everyone being fully vaccinated this is something I’d definitely do but would totally understand if someone didn’t want to. You can always have another family holiday event that day! Lots of people celebrate over multiple days! (As I assume it’s not ON actual thanksgiving)

      1. Splendid Colors*

        Eating outside socially distanced with masks on when not eating or drinking is how our church handled its ice-cream social 2 weeks ago. Completely different risk scenario than indoors shoulder to shoulder.

    1. Oodles of Noodles*

      Yeah with everybody being vaccinated, the chances of breakthrough cases are fairly low. An event like this wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, even with it being a Thanksgiving event. My (remote) team does group dinners at conferences and such, this seems like the same deal, only it’s being hosted at the bosses house instead of a restaurant.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah, I can’t fault the boss for planning a gathering of fully vaccinated people, especially when no one has to travel and they already share an indoor masked space at work. This would seem well within CDC guidelines.

        It’s okay for OP to decide her own lines are different and skip! And boss seems sensitive to this and is offering her a heads-up she might want to skip.

    2. Well...*

      Also many types of masks aren’t going to help a group in one room for several hours so much. Good ventilation (like keeping the windows open) would be way more helpful. Plus then you can eat freely.

      Still OP gets to decide their own risk tolerance and not go if it doesn’t feel right. I would also add that with everyone vaccinated, I tend to worry about breakthroughs more in hotspots than in areas with low case numbers. But still it’s always a risk.

    3. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

      I interpreted the manager pulling her aside to tell her this as a way of letting her know what the event would be like so that the OP could decide whether to go or not.

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        I’m also surprised at the reaction and response to OP1 letter.
        It reads to me as Thanksgiving dinner but not on the actual day and the boss pulling OP to the side is showing consideration for her level of comfort so she doesn’t have to feel pressured to go. If the rest of the team are comfortable with the level of risk for them then I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask them not to hold it because you are not attending.
        However if you do want to see your colleagues maybe suggest an activity you are comfortable with, for example a coffee and cake catch up outdoors?

        1. BethDH*

          I think that’s a great idea. If you’re okay with it, you could also arrange to visit the dinner briefly (say, during appetizers or coffee/dessert), keeping your mask on, and get a lot of the benefits of being present. It sounds like your boss is trying to help you do what you’d feel comfortable with given your situation.

          I personally probably wouldn’t go to this because of who else is in my household, but I’m in an area with low cases, and everyone who works for my employer (the only major one here) is not only vaccinated, they’re still testing us all once a week.

          We also have a lot of colleagues who are single and very far from family, and a lot of students in similar situations. In our area, we are at the point where the mental health crisis is starting to outweigh (the local, current) Covid cases. I don’t think someone having an unmasked dinner with close colleagues is a sign that the boss is ridiculous or dismissive of health.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I also like this suggestion of showing up for just part of the meal – when everybody may not yet be eating (or done) and it would be more normal to have the mask on. Just plead “other plans” when you leave early/show up late. It’s similar to how we’ve in the Before Covid suggested going to a happy hour for 15-30 mins and talking/being seen but then leaving.

            But OP – only do this if your comfort level with the health risks feels it’s worth it. I agree with others that your boss was probably giving you a heads up to signal if you aren’t comfortable it’s okay to not be there.

            1. Zillah*

              Masks are only so helpful, though, if only one person is wearing them. They’re certainly better than nothing, and less time is obviously less dangerous than more time, but unless the OP is wearing an N95 or something, I don’t know that they should rely on their mask to protect them from unmasked people.

            2. Storm in a teacup*

              Yes I think the showing up for part of the dinner is a great suggestion too.
              Maybe you could suggest to your boss you’ll pop in for the first part before they eat?

      2. RB Purchase*

        I interpreted it this way as well. I think it was kind of the manager to “warn” OP that this is what’s happening. It seems like the boss at least understands why OP and maybe other employees might not be able to take the risk even if everyone is vaccinated.

        Something we’ve all learned this past almost 2 years is that you have to do what’s best for your own comfort level and safety and you can’t fully rely on others to agree.

        1. Clisby*

          For all we know, the boss warned everybody who was invited. That would have been a good thing to do.

      3. Steggy Saurus*

        Exactly how I read it, which to me makes the boss pretty great. The aside to the OP makes it clear it’s an optional thing and that the boss recognizes the OP’s concerns about masks. I say bravo to the boss.

      4. BuildMeUp*

        If that’s the case, I think the boss is in the wrong for planning a work get-together that she knows one of her employees is unlikely to feel comfortable attending. I don’t really understand the comments who are labeling this as kind.

        1. Cat Lady*

          Agreed strongly. Adding to that she knows that the reason this person would feel uncomfortable is their parent status and is still choosing an event that would exclude them, in addition to the happy hour and other events.

          not sure where OP 1 lives, but outdoors is also an option that doesn’t seem to have been discussed. would make it much safer and unclear why (unless weather) this was discounted by the manager.

        2. Anononon*

          But for how long will get-togethers be a no-no? Unfortunately, I think the pandemic will be lingering for a long time, so people with heightened risks will be self-excluding from more social-geared get togethers for a while.

          It’s highly unlikely to expect that there will ever be a social activity that has 100% buy in, and I’m not sure why this is being seen as any different, when taken into account that everyone is vaxxed.

          (And, to preempt this, no, I do not think the other option is “no social activities”. I, and many, many others, LIKE social events at my work place, and I think it would be an extreme response to ban something that’s extremely common and often popular.)

          1. BuildMeUp*

            My personal opinion is that the Delta variant should be causing everyone to be more cautious, but I know that’s not everyone’s mindset.

            I think this is different, though. The OP prioritizing the health & safety of her unvaccinated child is different from someone not wanting to attend because they are busy or don’t want to spend time with coworkers outside of work.

            1. HoHumDrum*

              This is actually why I think it kind of matters where the LW is. In my area we have over 70% of adults vaccinated and less than 1% of covid tests coming back positive at this point, so even the most cautious folks I know are mostly back to “normal”. That wouldn’t mean LW needs to feel comfortable with attending an indoor dinner, but I wouldn’t necessarily think the boss was out of line for thinking about organizing such an activity. But if they’re in a location where things are not looking so good my opinion changes a lot. I assume LW is in an area like the latter, so perhaps the boss is out of line.

        3. myswtghst*

          Exactly. Planning an event for team-building that you know at least one of your team members will not be comfortable attending for health/safety reasons doesn’t seem like the most effective way to encourage team-building.

        4. Puzzler*

          Any social activity you plan will probably have people who can’t go for this that and the other reason. My team went to a happy hour last week and a number of people couldn’t go because they had to pick up kids from school/had to work late/etc. I really don’t see how that makes it unfair for the rest of us to go enjoy ourselves.

        5. Eden*

          I disagree. It’s okay to plan events that don’t work for everyone – in fact most events won’t work for everyone, probably. What’s important is not excluding the same people every time. So I think as long as they also do some social things virtually/outdoors/masked then it’s fine if some events are not that.

          1. BabyElephantWalk*

            It’s different planning an event that Martha can’t go to because she has pre-existing plans, versus an event Susan can’t safely attend because of health concerns.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              Exactly. Or a group that always goes to happy hour at a pub even though they know Bill is in AA and Hannah is Autistic and can’t hear anyone over the noise so neither will attend.

    4. The Other Dawn*

      Same here. I’d very likely go, too, if everyone is vaccinated and case counts are low. I know a few people who wouldn’t even though they’re vaccinated, but that’s fine. Everyone has a different risk tolerance and comfort level.

    5. Red Sweedish Fish*

      Agreed, If everyone was unvaccinated I would have a different response but going to a dinner at someone’s home with other fully vaccinated people is not something I would have an issue with.

      1. Clisby*

        I wouldn’t either, if it were people I genuinely liked and wanted to spend time with. A work event at a boss’s house? No. I’d most likely have noped out of that anyway, and spent a happier evening eating takeout in front of the TV.

        1. Loulou*

          Okay, but a lot of people genuinely like their coworkers and want to spend time with them. I myself am feeling genuinely sad about missing the Thanksgiving dinner some coworkers traditionally hold.

          As long as people are free to decline, being invited to a work social event is not an outrage!

        2. Eh*

          It has nothing to do with whether you like them. I’m fully vaccinated but high risk with high risk relatives. One of my best friends works in healthcare. We would love to eat together! and with other vaccinated friends! But that low risk is still risk. And this boss setting up a dinner like this is not fair.

    6. Sandi*

      I travelled to a place with low cases, and the obvious choice for eating was in person in restaurants. I live and spend time with people who are vaccinated and don’t have severe chronic illness, so I was lucky that the consequences of my being sick are relatively minimal. For me it was worth the risk, and it will also be worth the risk to meet up with friends and coworkers indoors this winter as our local case counts are very low and I know that my coworkers are all careful. If the rates change then I won’t meet up without a mask.

      I also like the idea of going at the start and wearing a mask, and I think it would be reasonable to stay the entire time with a mask if OP ate ahead of time. OP wants to see people in person, and I think it’s healthy to be social. Mentally it was hard for me to overcome my safety precautions the first time that I met up with friends outdoors, and when I went indoors to buy coffee, and when I ate in a restaurant, but we will have to be around people again and it is all about balancing risks and reward, and sometimes the reward is worth it.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        While I understand that logic and calculus, I also remember things like the Fourth of July outbreak in Massachusetts this year. That was one of the events that got the CDC to take the possibility of breakthrough cases seriously and issue cautions about that.

        New England, Massachusets and local Cape Cod, Provincetown case counts were all low and trending downward. Vaccination rates were super high. And yet vaccinated people who gathered socially with other vaccinated people caught COVID. Personally, I wouldn’t risk an indoor maskless meal with people not in my bubble right now.

        If it were an outdoor meal, I’d consider it, but indoors? I’d pass. Now, I have people in my bubble who are in their 90’s or are too young to be vaccinated or have chronic conditions which put them at higher risk of serious illness or death if they get infected. Someone with none of those considerations might make a different choice.

        1. Provax*

          You left out the fact that almost all (if not all) those breakthrough infections in Provincetown were mild and did not result in hospitalization. This is how we know the vaccines work.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            True, yet OP needs to protect people in her life who can’t be guaranteed to have a mild infection.

          2. Sandi*

            Yes, exactly. I typically only interact with vaccinated people while wearing a mask, and I was careful not to visit vaccinated vulnerable family members during the 2 weeks after I returned from my trip because a mild version could kill them. I’m lucky to have that option, although vaccines for younger kids are on their way, so hopefully that will help OP in future. If their child is vaccinated then they could do something social and then isolate from their friend for the next two weeks, if that event was worth it. I probably wouldn’t go maskless indoors for a work meal, but at some point there will be other events that are worth the effort.

    7. Lady Blerd*

      I don’t see the issue either if the group is fully vaccinated. Mind you I’ve been flashing my vaxx card to eat in restaurants following the local COVID guidelines so this scenario feels no different to me. So the idea that the boss’ dinner (or lunch) isnt a bad plan in itself IMO.

    8. Joielle*

      Yeah, I’d go to something like this but wouldn’t judge someone who didn’t want to. The OP is welcome to have a lower risk tolerance than most people! But I hope they’re not judging those who do choose to get together – at least where I am, this would be perfectly fine according to health department guidance.

      1. Ahdez*

        I agree. This is well within the CDC’s recommendations. The letter absolutely implies that the OP is judging their coworkers and boss for choosing to get together by referring to it as “putting all of us in this position”. Everyone has the right to make different choices regarding risk management, but the OP expecting others to not get together in person or saying that they are being excluded when they are actually making a choice not to go seems unreasonable to me.

    9. Eden*

      Yeah, I completely understand OP not feeling comfortable but I do think their framing is odd. Like earlier in the pandemic I’d have agreed “15 people gathering indoors” is irresponsible full stop, no further details required, but now I don’t agree anymore. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable even to hold as long as people are respectful of others’ comfort levels.

    10. Gothic Bee*

      Right, I assume OP meant they thought it would be masked except when eating/drinking, but I don’t feel like the risk is really any different considering how long it generally takes to eat a full thanksgiving meal with all the socializing involved. Personally, I’d be okay with a dinner with fully vaxxed individuals BUT if I were in the OP’s situation (unvaxxed kid/high risk friend) I’d skip the event. I feel like the fact that the boss pulled OP aside confirms that she’s not obligated to attend, and OP shouldn’t feel bad about skipping.

    11. prismo*

      Yeah agreed. They could also ask everyone to get tested in advance — it’s certainly not foolproof, but could help put OP at ease!

  4. Sami*

    Letter 1: I’d skip it too. My own health wouldn’t permit to healthfully be in such an environment.
    But more importantly, why does your boss think no one on your team of 15 WANT to have Thanksgiving dinner with her? That’s the really strange thing to me. Really, do none of them have family and/or friends they’d rather spend the day with?

    1. Free now (and forever)*

      I’d skip it, too. I wouldn’t get together with 15 vaccinated people indoors, unless I personally knew exactly how careful they were. And even then, 15 is just too many. I have decided that I will have indoor at my house luncheon dates with people I’ve been having outdoor luncheon dates with over the last six months. But we’ll sit more than six feet apart and it’ll just be with one other person at a time.

    2. Your local password resetter*

      Heck, just the idea of dinner with all my colleagues puts me off. I don’t like them so much that I want to spend my private time with them, even outside a pandemic!

      1. Loulou*

        A lot of people feel differently and a lot of people would happily accept this invitation (or would only turn it down because of Covid)! Good grief.

        1. bluephone*

          Seriously, this. We spend A LOT of our waking life at work/around our coworkers (whether virtually or in person) and it’s not crazy to think that we get along so well with them that a holiday gathering would be a crazy idea. I’ve been working remotely since COVID started and although my team members and I are all vaccinated, we’re scattered around the country, and may have differing levels of risk comfort (i.e. children who are too young to be vaccinated yet, immunocompromised relatives that are vaccinated but still need to be careful, etc). So I haven’t physically seen them (outside a zoom camera) in nearly 2 years. And I miss hanging out with them in person. Same with my close friends and family members. And yet I still consider myself a fairly shy, introverted person. But there’s a biiiiiig difference between “likes some occasional alone time” and “I am the reincarnation of Celestine V–aka the Hermit Pope–now get out of my cave because I am way behind on precious alone time!!”

          1. pdr77*

            Yes- I have had some outdoor gatherings with coworkers this summer, and I was so dang excited! I miss being with people in person

        2. Anononon*

          Welcome to the AAM comment section! 99% of the time, it’s full of really great and helpful insights, but every so often an echo chamber of “I dislike any and all socialization with my coworkers (and others should too)” pops up.

          1. Persephone Mongoose*

            I’m so glad someone pointed this out. I don’t know if this is was a trend pre-COVID/newly working remotely, but the increasingly misanthropic comments regarding spending any time or having any non-work interactions with coworkers is…weird.

            1. Anononon*

              Yup, it was definitely a thing. Whenever holiday party season rolled around, there was always a contingent of commenters who’s position was “Just don’t have any parties, and that will solve everything.” I’m curious to see how much stronger this will be this year, now that COVID’s a factor.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              It seems some places have too much forced socialization and there are lots of legitimate complaints to be made there, but it does seem a lot of times to swing too far in the other direction as though any social activity is a total outrage.

              My personal take is that most social work events are best when held during work hours, which is something my company has been pretty good at at least pre-pandemic. We would have quarterly socials that started around lunch time and most people would stick around for a few hours and then take off around 3 or 4 and it’s like a bonus that you get to leave work early. The occasional happy hour is scheduled for 4, usually when someone is leaving the company. One time a boss hosted a Christmas party in the evening and that’s honestly the only outside-working-hours social event I can think of. If things like this Thanksgiving dinner are a rare occurrence and it seems to be complying with CDC recommendation, then I vote “No Assholes Here.”

            3. Anonymeece*

              For the longest time, I kind of felt guilty about being friends with my coworkers, like it was unprofessional, largely due to the general tenor of some of the comments here.

              Now I just thank my lucky stars that I work with amazing people who I love to spend time with, on the clock or off it.

          2. Marillenbaum*

            Yes! My tolerance for folks getting the vapors about any form of socialization with coworkers is low.

      2. Clisby*

        That’s where I come down. I wouldn’t want to attend this dinner even if Covid-19 disappeared tomorrow. If this were a lunch catered during work hours, sure – but not something impinging on my personal time.

      3. Annie Moose*

        To each their own! I work with some very pleasant, interesting people, many of whom I’d consider friends, and absolutely would be interested in spending a nice meal with them. Disliking your coworkers is not universal!

        1. After 33 years ...*

          Yes, I miss the after-hours social interactions (entirely optional) with my colleagues and friends (the same people)!

        2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          I’ve had jobs where (non Pandemic) I’d be happy to hang out with coworkers for a Thanksgiving meal and even prefer their company to the extended dysfunctional family’s. I’ve also had jobs were even if this was mandatory I’d find a way to somehow be unavailable that day. There have been several jobs where coworkers became friends and we hung outside of work frequently and years and jobs later are still in touch. There have been jobs were we were strangers who just shared the same space 8 hours of the day.

      4. Denver Gutierrez*

        I know! If it was a potluck thing at work during working hours, I’d be all in. But outside of work during off hours? No thanks. I like most of my coworkers but I already spend 40+ hours a week with them. I don’t feel the need to spend non-work hours with them too.

    3. PizzaQueen*

      OP1 here! The dinner is supposed to be 2 weeks ahead of Thanksgiving, so it gives 14 days before family Thanksgiving in case anything is wrong. But I still don’t expect I’ll go.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Before covid, our office always served us “Thanksgiving dinner” in the cafeteria a day or two before the holiday. It’s pretty common. I don’t see that this is all that much different.

  5. Office sweater lady*

    I don’t really understand the benefit of the background music in the office. This would drive me nuts, as I have a job that requires intense focus sometimes. Even in other times, it would probably lead me towards headphones/sound silo to avoid the sensory onslaught. This seems like a case where you can easily give this employee what she wants with no complaints from others. Plus it’s such a new system no one will have gotten used to it and now feel its loss. If it’s about making a space feel less echoey/library-like, you could always play some white noise or ambient sound over the system instead.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Constant music in the background would be intolerable for me at any job. As a musician myself, I can’t tune it out. Whether I liked it or hated it, it would still be an enormous distraction and I wouldn’t be able to work there.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        Same. I can do with lo-fi beats and that’s it. Nothing with words, nothing with an interesting chord structure or melodic line. My brain just grabs on to it.

        1. Galadriel's Garden*

          Same! Also musician, also lofi for working. I do enjoy a video game soundtrack spliced in there sometimes as those are composed to be background noise but still pleasantly ambient, but some of them end up being too melodic and beautiful to ignore…ha.

      2. KateM*

        I share home office with my husband who likes background music. He turns it off when I have to concentrate. If I have to concentrate only for a shot time, I stick fingers in my ears. :P
        *takes hands off keyboard to stick fingers in ears to continue reading AAM*

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          When spouse and I had to share a WFH space, I had background music through headphones, and he had multiple Zoom calls per day. I think I only once accidentally sang along. He threw scrunched up paper at me and I stopped.

          I work best with the right kind of background music. Uncoincidentally, I have been 99% WFH for eight years.

          1. Snuck*

            Yup. Why can’t music be an ‘opt in’ thing – where people can wear headphones at their desk?

            Background music just makes everyone talk louder and irritated.

      3. V. Anon*

        I hear the lyrics, always, all of them, so attempting to write anything while music with lyrics play is like trying to count while someone stands next to you intoning random numbers.

        I did get a raise once when I temped in a place that piped in Muzak (no lyrics). It was the syrupy all-string Octopus’ Garden that put me over the edge. I called my agency and told them more money or I don’t come back from lunch.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Same. I don’t like it when they play it at the gym, either. I’d rather listen to my own music or nothing at all.

        It is not necessary to have sound on all the time. Or a TV, everywhere you fricking go. Sitting in the front office waiting for an interview—a TV is playing banal daytime schlock, or worse, Faux News. In the dentist’s office—every single pod has a damn TV plus one in the lobby. At the mechanic, another inescapable TV. Enough already.

        1. Oakenfield*

          Hard agree! The last gas station I went to was piping James Taylor over the loudspeakers which was competing against the outrageous pump TV adds. Why do we have TVs on gas pumps?!?! I don’t care what Maria Menounos thinks I should do!
          /rant

          1. Windchime*

            This drives me NUTS. I hate the TV’s on gas station pumps. Supposedly there is a button you can press to turn it off, but I’ve never been able to get it to work.

            At an old job, we had piped-in music. We would stand on chairs and turn the ceiling speakers off, but then we couldn’t hear overhead announcements so we had to turn them back on. They were juuuuuuuust loud enough that you could hear the high points. Nothing like quietly concentrating, only to be interrupted by Whitney Houstin……..”I-i-i-i-i-i-i-iiiiiiiii will always love youuuuuuuuuuuu”. Multiple times a day.

            1. Insert Clever Name Here*

              The gas station closest to my house has the button that mutes the TV marked — I am now that person that pushes every button at other gas stations until I find the button that mutes it. If I don’t find it, I seriously avoid that gas station unless I’m running on fumes.

          2. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

            They put TVs on gas pumps? What the actual what? I currently live in Oregon, where self-service gas is illegal. Having grown up elsewhere I’ve always found it a little silly, but apparently it’s saving me from this capitalistic nightmare.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              We pump our own in the UK but don’t have these. Our screens might at most tell us that Pepsi Max is 2 for £2.50 inside, and remind us of the pump number when we go in to pay.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          The TV in the breakroom at my office is visible from my desk, out of the corner of my eye. Usually there’s a constant battle between the worst of the faux news channels and literally anything else (I put it on the Weather Channel when I walk by and it’s faux news). Sometime in the last two months someone just…turned it off. It’s mostly stayed that way since and has been *so* nice.

        3. Hrodvitnir*

          Haha, my friend and I used to unplug the TV from the wall at the gym (playing pop music videos) when we were alone in there. No remote available.

      5. It's Growing!*

        Not a musician, half way to tone deaf really, but constant background music would cause me constant irritation that would affect my work output. I love music, but I can’t think for long stretches even with music I like. After the first hour of forced music, I’d be exceedingly cranky, but not sure why. Cranky doesn’t make for good work relations or work product.

    2. Bayta Darrell*

      Sometimes I play music for myself when I work from home, and then I’ll get to doing something and I’ll decide that *my* music that *I* picked is too much distraction, and I turn it off. That is to say, I don’t even want my own favorite tunes playing sometimes, let alone a playlist made by someone else.

      Some people like me need quiet sometimes to really focus. And some people need quiet all the time to focus. It’s much easier to have no music and let the people who want it to use headphones. Religious objections or no, cut the music.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I’ve been lucky enough to only have worked in a cubicle farm with loud neighbors for a short time, but in that time, I realized I couldn’t play my favorite music in my headphones while I worked, it had to be music I just liked OK. Because otherwise, I was enjoying the music instead of working!

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Ha! Same! I’ve found a couple of mostly-instrumental playlists on Spotify I like. If it’s lyrical songs that I enjoy, I have to try really hard not to sing along in my head! Some of the songs on the playlists have lyrics, but they seem to be sang in softer tones and I don’t lose my concentration.

        2. Worldwalker*

          Look into sound generator apps. I like myNoise, because it can do everything from simple white noise to random music-like sequences. It’s great for when you want something to drown out distractions without becoming a distraction itself. I probably would not have survived having my husband WFH a few feet away from me, or at least not gotten anything productive done, without it. And noise-cancelling headphones, of course.

        3. CalypsoSummer*

          I can’t listen to music with words, even if it’s instrumental with the words left out. Strings — classical guitar, medieval lute, Irish harp, et al — are fine. Soft rock? NOT fine. Bird song? Wonderful. There’s a 3-hour tape of a nightingale in a forest with a brook that I plug into when I’m about to pull a coworker’s head clean off for good reason, and it’s kept me out of jail every time.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        I agree with this.

        Also, I’ll add the comment that places I’ve been which have piped in background music often have volume control issues or that one wonky speaker, speaker wire that picks up interferance so that every time someone walks by, or runs the pencil sharpener or gets an incoming cellphone call, there’s static … or the bass or treble notes come through scratchy on a speaker that’s blown. Or the whole system screetches everytime someone uses the paging system.

      3. Ace in the Hole*

        Yes, exactly. I have ADHD and I just cannot focus when there’s music playing. Doesn’t matter how much I like the music, it’s distracting. LW may have a lot of people in the office who are bothered or distracted by the music, but haven’t been comfortable saying anything about it.

        1. Mannequin*

          I have ADHD and am exactly the opposite – I can’t concentrate in an environment that is too quiet. Too many in-brain distractions. Same with bare white walls. Nothing to look at hurts my brain and makes me anxious & restless.

          Also, I can’t STAND the sound of talking as background noise, it’s more irritating than nails on chalkboard, and completely mentally draining to try to block out. Background music or decorated walls are things that keep the distractible part of my brain busy so I can focus on the important stuff.

      4. Peachkins*

        Yes, I agree! I work from home and can play music anytime I want. I rarely do because I need to concentrate. It would be irritating to have it in the background constantly, and it’s very hard for me to ignore.

      5. FrenchCusser*

        If I’m doing something repetitive like data entry, I like some music of my choice, but I’ll turn it off if I need to concentrate.

        Piped in music would drive me up the wall, too.

      6. Mr. Shark*

        I’m the same way. Even music I like sometimes bothers me too much when I’m working. I’ll turn on music every once in awhile while I’m doing a specific project, but usually that only lasts for 30 minutes, and then I’ll need to shut it off to concentrate.
        Overhead music, even if it was exactly my taste, would get tiring to me. I don’t think I could deal with it.
        I don’t see the need for most industries to have music piped in just for background noise.

    3. lyonite*

      Absolutely this. I like pop music, I listen to it all day on my headphones, and I would go absolutely batturds if I was stuck with it playing in my office. Can the music, and save the sound system for when you need to tell people to evacuate ahead of an impending Godzilla attack.

        1. JustaTech*

          I worked in a lab where the lab phone was programmed to sound like Chewbacca, so that people would actually answer the phone (usually to let in the delivery folks). Very effective.

      1. MsClaw*

        Right?! The idea of having to listen to the kind of generic sound track that plays in the grocery store or chain restaurants while I’m trying to do my job is appalling. I live in headphones to block out the various sounds of my coworkers, but then *I* get to pick the music and can skip over anything that I hate. If I was forced to listen to Sublime at work, I might lodge a religious exemption too.

        1. Kaitydid*

          Seriously. Especially if the loop of songs is short enough to hear the same song 3 or more times in a day.

          I hated the music when I was a cashier, and now I would hate it even more. I’ll play instrumental music or office sounds now that I’m working from home, but not all the time.

          1. Worldwalker*

            I have a booth in an antique mall. (I mostly sell uranium glass, aka vaseline glass) At one point, when I was tending my booth, they had one short sequence of Christmas carols on repeat that eventually drove me out of the store. My booth could look the way it looked; I had to get away while I could still do so with some dignity instead of fleeing screaming.

            1. MsClaw*

              Ha! I remember years ago doing some Christmas shopping in some store in the mall and some song came on. The gal in line in front of me said to the cashier ‘this song is really fun’ and the cashier was like, ‘I thought so too. The first time I heard it’.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                I helped a friend with a two day craft sale where the convention centre had ONE CD on repeat. I suppose it’s better than one song, but…

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Imagine working retail for the month of December.

            At (otherwise lovely) $StudentJob, we had to play 3 CDs the entire festive season. The first two were classic Christmas easy listening such as Bing Crosby, and the third was a recording of the Nutcracker.

            We didn’t even have a shuffle mode on the player, which means your brain learns what leads on from each song. We used to save the Nutcracker for when we simply couldn’t bear the easy listening, because it was a blessed relief. But customers would complain that we weren’t playing festive music, and the manager (who was in the back office and couldn’t hear it) would change it back to Bing.

    4. allathian*

      Yeah, I second the white/pink noise suggestion. I write for a living, and I really can’t listen to music with lyrics in it. Some instrumental stuff might work, but it’d have to be movie soundtracks or something, because if it’s just an instrumental version of a song I know, the lyrics will start playing in my head anyway.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Fellow writer here and same! If I listen to music with lyrics while I’m working I will find myself typing portions of the lyrics, mixed in with my actual thoughts.

        1. feath*

          Same! If it’s music with lyrics and I wanna really concentrate it has to be in a different language than the one I’m thinking in.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        I’m the opposite. Music’s fine for work sometimes (my music, that I choose), but instrumental stuff puts me to sleep every time. It’s embarassing and I never understood why my system is like this, but unless there are words I WILL nod off, even for songs I love. I have to opt out of music in video games FFS, forced instrumental music at work is my personal nightmare.

        OP, I guarantee you more people than just the one coworker are upset about the new speakers and just quietly steaming.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          I have a handful of songs I had to take off my phone playlists, because if they happened to come up in the rotation while I was driving, I would get very very very drowsy.

      3. Tessie Mae*

        Since working from home, I listen to classical music on very low in the background.* It works fine for me, but I get that it would not work for everyone.

        I do turn it off when some classical aria comes on, though. I am 1) not an opera fan (unless I’m enjoying
        Looney Tunes doing the Barber of Seville), and 2) yes, lyrics are distracting.

          1. cat servant*

            haha! As a student trainee many years ago, the lead/mentor always had a radio playing classical music at a low volume at his desk. He was trying to introduce us to some culture but the students would love to drive him nuts by discussing the cartoons that went with the music….

          2. Elizabeth West*

            That’s “What’s Opera, Doc?” when they’re doing Wagner, which is equally silly and delightful. The fat horse always cracks me up.

      4. MusicWithRocksIn*

        The problem with movie soundtracks is they can be designed to make you feel tense or on edge at certain points. You don’t want to suddenly get stressed out at work because ‘The killer is behind you!!!’ music is playing in the background.

        1. alienor*

          I’ve had a boss in the past where it would have been helpful if that music had actually played when they were approaching, to warn me. :-P

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I like video game soundtracks – they tend not to have discernible lyrics, and maintain a “important but not urgent/drastic” mood throughout.

      5. LCH*

        although this would also drive me up a wall if it was the same instrumental over and over. even if it was a cycle of the same 30 songs every day, I might kill someone.

        1. Jay Gobbo*

          This. I can’t listen to the same 30 songs every day, and I can’t do muzak. My office building pipes in music — in the hallways / bathrooms, but not in our office itself thank god. Still, I would put in headphones every time I went to the restroom because muzak absolutely drives me up the wall.

          …Now I work from home and I can pick whatever music suits my fancy each day :3

        2. Elizabeth West*

          That happened to me with a soft rock radio station at a previous, short-lived job. I get anxious just thinking about it.

        3. Worldwalker*

          This is why I can’t stand Billy Ray Cyrus.

          When I managed a Tandy Leather store, the company required us to keep a country station on the radio at all times. There was only one in my area. And the DJ had an absolute *obsession* with Achy Breaky Heart.

          After a month or so of hearing that song every 15 minutes, over and over and over again, all day, every day, I grew to loathe it with the fire of a thousand suns. Even if it had started out as a favorite song of mine, it wouldn’t have been by the end, let alone one that was just “meh”.

          Yeah, I had some very evil thoughts regarding that DJ. Suddenly, one day, they never played the thing again. Not just playing it less and less, but from playing it constantly to not at all. I wonder if someone else acted on, or at least announced, similarly evil thoughts?

          And I can’t stand Billy Ray Cyrus (well, his music; I’ve never met *him*) to this day. Just the sound of his voice makes me hear that song again. I’d rather listen to “Never gonna give you up” all day than “Achy Breaky Heart” even once.

          1. raktajino*

            When I was 11 or so, I was a fan of some local “just for kids” radio station that, like most radio stations in the 90s, liked to feature listener calls. At one point, they played Achy Breaky Heart so often that I actually called in and sang a parody of the song asking them to stop playing it. (Don’t play that song, that achy breaky song, I might blow up my radio)

            It worked.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            So, on the plus side, you just cleared Baby Shark out of the songs stuck in my head. On the minus side…

      6. Elizabeth West*

        I mostly listen to soundtracks anyway. When I’m editing, it has to be ambient music. Mark Morgan’s Vault Archives soundtrack for Fallout 1 and 2 is perfect for that. When I’m writing, I pick something that conveys the mood of the piece. I wrote a lot of Tunerville while listening to Hans Zimmer’s Angels and Demons score.

        I don’t know why it needs to be anything at all. Just let people wear headphones.

      7. Worldwalker*

        I like music with lyrics in languages I don’t know. Russian, Gaelic, Quecha, Greek … they’re all on my playlist, because not understanding a word of what they’re singing turns the human voice into another instrument.

    5. Jackalope*

      Yeah, that’s where I land too. When I moved to my current office I managed to train myself to work with music and headphones (I’ve generally found music distracting as background noise) because there was too much noise from co-workers otherwise (and they weren’t being overly loud or anything; I just had a hard time with the conversations going on near me all the time). I can now focus with instrumental music, or with singing in a language I don’t speak, but it took some work to get there. And that’s 100% with my choice of music so I could exclude things that distracted me or that I just plain disliked. Having something chosen by TPTB, that I could have no significant say in, and couldn’t pick the volume level…. that would make it SO much harder to work unless they just happened to choose something that overlapped with my personal music taste. I would say ditch the music altogether.

    6. learnedthehardway*

      I have recently discovered that I can concentrate much better and for much longer if I have music in the background. (ADD workarounds for the win!!) Mind you, that doesn’t mean I want to listen to anyone else’s music. And I don’t want to listen to anything with lyrics if I’m trying to write.

      So far, I’m doing well with classical music

      1. OhNoYouDidn't*

        Fellow ADD person here, and I concur. Classical music, being quietly played in the background works for me, too. Anything with lyrics? Forget it. I’d have a really hard time working with pop songs constantly playing in the background.

      2. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Amazing, isn’t it? (I’ve learned that I do best with instrumental, something in a language other than my own, or soundtracks/Broadway)

        Yet my child, also with ADHD, can NOT do music and concentrate, to the point of rage.

        At some point can we all agree to ban open plan offices? They are he!!.

        1. SarahKay*

          I am not a fan of music being piped into the whole office…but I confess I actually like my current open-plan office – sorry! I’m sure it helps that it’s generously spaced but I actually prefer the background noises of other people around me.

          1. noahwynn*

            Same. I hated my private office most of the time. Felt so alone. I enjoy my cubical and the flow of work around me.

          2. Lady Meyneth*

            Yeah, I don’t mind open plan offices, I can tune out background noises most of the time (not music though).

            But I’ll gladly agree to ban hot-desking, and have left a job over it. Who the heck thought that was a good idea?

            1. Worldwalker*

              The same kind of people who thought making “temporary” cubicles permanent was a good idea.

        2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

          ADHD here. Music is a mixed bag for me. Sometimes it helps me concentrate and really get in the zone. Other times I end up making the cat dance to Everyone Was Kung Fu Fighting and keep getting distracted by favorite songs popping up on Pandora.

        3. Ace in the Hole*

          I’m one of those people with ADHD who absolutely cannot concentrate with music on.

          On the other hand I like my open-plan office! It helps that it’s pretty small… only 6 desks. But it feels much friendlier than working in a separate room and having other people around gives me some subtle but much-needed pressure to stay on task.

      3. Elenna*

        I find that for most things, I get less distracted if I have music with lyrics playing. The part of my brain that wants a distraction latches onto the music, which leaves the rest of my brain free to actually work instead of getting distracted by, say, AAM. But if it’s something that requires a lot of thought, I do sometimes have to turn it off.
        I’m fine with writing and having music with lyrics playing, as long as I’m not singing along. My writing speed slows way down if I’m singing along, though.
        (I’m just not at all interested in music that doesn’t have lyrics. It doesn’t catch my attention the same way, so it wouldn’t work for me. Maybe because I’m slightly tone-deaf?)

        Possibly ADHD although I haven’t talked to a doctor about it.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          ADHD-adjacent (My mom has it, my brother has it, my son has it, and at least two of my friends… I have tendencies in that direction but suspect not enough to have been diagnosed even as a kid).

          I work *much* better with music in the background or ideally on headphones, and can put up with generic pop music if it’s piped in or a group radio, but much prefer it when I can pick it. I also work better with lyrics, or at least vocals, something about the sound of singing works better than instrumentation. If I know the songs well, they don’t bother me while writing at all (Unless I sing along, agreed there!), but I did learn to save new albums with unfamiliar lyrics for filing, or scanning, or bus trips, or home-time, and not while doing work with a lot of words or numbers.

          1. Jay Gobbo*

            I definitely agree. Familiar music is my standard choice for my home office soundtrack, so to speak. Something unfamiliar like a new album, podcast, etc — I can only handle those when I’m doing a very mindless task (some of my work includes mindless tasks tbh). On the flip side, as Elenna said above — if it’s something that requires a lot of thought, I often have to turn all music off.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              I listened to Hamilton for the first time while reorganizing entire sections of a file room. I got to get my mind blown AND make it easier to find everything AND make room for new documentation, all in one.

              1. Jay Gobbo*

                That’s awesome!! It’s a good feeling to get a work thing done AND really enjoy a new album at the same time <3 (Smash cut to me silently bawling at my desk the first time I listened to Come From Away…)

      4. MeleMallory*

        Yup! I need background noise in order to work, whether it be music or TV at a low volume. But it has to be something I choose. I can’t stand ads, so I can’t listen to the radio. At an old office job, we used to listen to the local radio station during the day, but the station had a lot of commercial breaks, and played the same ten songs over and over again during the day. It was way more distracting. Now I listen to my own Spotify playlists with my headphones. I can do lyrics because my job is mostly doing math, not writing. I haven’t tried white noise, I don’t think that would distract me enough. Plus I listen to white noise when I have trouble falling asleep, so it might put me to sleep at my desk! :)

    7. GingerSheep*

      Please, please, please no white noise! I really don’t get how people find it useful and are able to sleep with it on – it drives me absolutely bonkers! If most of you would be driven up the wall with background music, please be aware that some of us (I must not be the only one, am I?) have the same reaction to white noise. Why add in an inescapable background sound for everyone ? Just let people choose whatever they want to listen to be it music white noise or nothing at all on their own headphones.

      1. PollyQ*

        Same, it drives me right up the wall! I have to think it makes it harder for anyone with any amount of hearing loss (which is actually a good portion of the population) as well.

        1. PostalMixup*

          Yes! There’s an air vent over my desk and I cannot hear people when they come by to talk to me! My good ear is full of the sound of whooshing air and my bad ear just hears *mumble mumble mumble*

      2. TechWorker*

        +1 for me white noise is worse than music. But playing anything in an office (vs a retail space or something) sounds very unusual.

      3. Blazingsuth*

        It’s quite useful for those with tinnitus. My tinnitus is bad enough that the ringing in my ears will keep me awake at night. White noise (especially brown noise) is necessary for me to sleep over the ringing sound.

        But it drives my husband bonkers, so I definitely understand your frustration!

        1. Jaid*

          Sleep headphones. Amazon sells Bluetooth headphones that also double as a sleep mask, as well as the wired kind.

          I love my White Noise app, but I have an MP3 of pink noise downloaded from YouTube on my old Zune and that helps me deal with the squeal at night.

          1. Le Sigh*

            May I ask, are you talking about the headband-style ones? I’ve been toying with this idea to block out snoring, but a lot of the ones I’ve looked at had mixed reviews and/or looked hard to sleep in comfortably.

            1. Nikki*

              I have Bluetooth sleep headphones, the headband style ones, and I absolutely adore them! I wear them almost every night. The ones I have are called “Lavince” on Amazon, if that helps. :)

            2. BP*

              I bought one of the headband-styles (Fulext Sleep Headphones on Amazon). It’s comfortable, even for a side-sleeper like me. Not sure I’d recommend it, though. It says one size fits all, but it’s large enough on me that I can’t get both speakers in the right place over my ears, so I end up hearing only out of one. Also, my husband says he can hear sounds from it. Perhaps that’s related to the ill-fitting speaker; I’m not sure.

              Still, it’s helpful and comfortable enough that I’m going to try to find a similar product that has some kind of adjustable fit.

            3. Joielle*

              I have several styles (my spouse snores, lol) – the headband style works really well for me. As long as I have a soft pillow they don’t hurt my ears at all. I also have a set of super tiny earbuds, which are really comfortable except that they have a cord, which is sometimes annoying (ATECH brand on Amazon). And for the worst snoring nights, I just wear regular old over-ear active noise cancelling headphones, which block out everything but you can’t sleep on your side.

            4. Worldwalker*

              I have SleepPhones from Acoustic Sheep (they have the cutest logo!), or at least I did until they recently vanished behind the bed somewhere. (I blame the kitten) They’re really comfortable, and they link via Bluetooth with my phone, so I can use myNoise. Fall asleep to quiet rain, or maybe crickets. The only problem is that the battery is only good for 6-7 hours, and I’d like to have them run all night, because the dumpster-dumping trucks show up at the shopping center not far from here about 5 in the morning, and slam the dumpsters on the ground to shake the contents loose; that tends to wake me up. But I would unreservedly recommend these. (I have the fleece fabric)

        2. Koalafied*

          Same. I have HEPA air filters running in low or low-medium speed all over my house to keep the air clean and reduce any doggy smells that might otherwise linger, so most of the time I don’t notice the ringing. Then a power outage comes along once in a while and the silence is literally deafening until it kicks back on.

        3. Old Woman in Purple*

          I have tinnitus as well, and HATE white-noise! It’s like a non-stop ‘battle of the bands’ to me. The tinnitus-noise is bad enough on its own; add ANY background noise (white-noise, low music soundtrack, whatever) and I have a very difficult time hearing what I *need* to hear to do my job, or to ignore while trying to sleep.

      4. BubbleTea*

        I’ve had to get used to white noise because it is the only thing that keeps my baby asleep, but I’m very glad when I can turn it off. I sleep through it okay but when we wake up it becomes extremely obvious and intrusive on my ears. I couldn’t work like that.

        1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

          The white noise to help my baby sleep drove me NUTS for a very long time.

          And then the day came where we didn’t need to keep the monitor on at night because she was old enough to be able to come get us if she needed to and… I can’t fall asleep without it now. My kids now sleep in peace and quiet and I’m asking the smart speaker to play rain sounds so I can fall asleep.

          Brains are so weird.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            I can see enjoying the ones that are actual sounds (rain, birds) but the ones that are closer to electronic imitations of those sounds, or the like, or just tinny because of the bad speaker, drove me bonkers. I preferred to play the music on the more melodic of the kids’ sleep devices.

      5. teacher*

        A couple years back I lived in a thin-walled, noisy apartment. Sleeping was very difficult. At first I tried headphones but that wasn’t really working. Then one night I loudly heard my neighbor being intimate and was about ready to move out until my husband brought home a white noise machine. The first night it seemed so loud and annoying, but lo and behold, it drowned out ALL other noise. We used it every single night when going to bed.

        I do agree with you though, there really is no way to choose sound/music for a group of people. Let people choose what to listen to with their headphones.

      6. DataGirl*

        White noise drives me nuts too. I can’t stand fans or a/c and those white noise machines are worse. I’m currently working from home and the cats have a water fountain- I even have to unplug that sometimes. The other night I was driving with my kiddo (she’s learning) and she had the rear wiper on but it wasn’t really raining hard enough so it was making that shoosh-shoosh noise- I asked her to turn it off because it was making me crazy and she couldn’t even hear it!

      7. Koalafied*

        Agreed, I don’t understand why people think it’s reasonable to pipe unnecessary sound entertainment into an office. To be it’s no more reasonable than putting on a permanent laser light show on the ceiling. It’s an unsolicited sensory intrusion, and while some people will enjoy it, not everyone will, and nobody needs it enough to justify overruling the people who don’t want it.

        1. Windchime*

          LOL, don’t give the managers any ideas! A laser light show sounds like something that a new manager might think is a GREAT idea.

      8. Not playing your game anymore*

        This is me. I can listen to “good music” (i.e. music to my taste) but it needs to be loud enough to actually hear it, (and for me that’s rather loud) or I can listen to a podcast or an ebook again at a higher volume… but white noise? No, OMG. It just drives me up the wall. I would hate to work with any kind of not quite audible sound droning on at me, I’d have to use earphones…

      9. Rusty Shackelford*

        Some types of white noise sound too much like my CPAP and put me right to sleep. Others are good for covering my loud neighbors. But yeah, nothing works for *everyone*.

      10. A Library Person*

        The right kind of white noise can really help me (waves and hockey sounds…odd combo I know), but the wrong kind can ratchet my anxiety up to 11 in no time. My therapist’s office (of all places) had a white noise machine that almost sounded like old tv static and all it did was make me nervous; I couldn’t work in an environment that had something like that on all the time.

      11. GrooveBat*

        That’s why, for me, I’d vote for “no music.” If people want to listen to something because it helps them focus or concentrate, that’s what earbuds are for. That way there’s no conflict over what folks have to listen to; everyone gets to choose.

      12. Observer*

        Just let people choose whatever they want to listen to be it music white noise or nothing at all on their own headphones.

        This. Totally.

      13. SpaceySteph*

        I always describe white noise as something that makes my brain itchy. Why would anyone want to spend their whole day around the aural equivalent of a scratchy sweater?

      14. Name Required*

        I love white noise at home and frequently sleep with it, but the white nosie at work drives me INSANE. I put tape over the white nosie speaker above my desk so that I feel don’t like crawling out of my skin daily.

      15. Windchime*

        Certain frequencies make me crazy. White noise and pink noise make me feel very anxious. I do fine with brown noise (at least that’s what the app on my phone calls it). When we were in the office, I would put on my noise-cancelling headphones and the brown noise app and I was in my own little cone of silence.

      16. Worldwalker*

        For what they paid for that sound system and its installation, they could probably have afforded to issue cheap noise-cancelling headphones to everyone.

      17. RB Purchase*

        I need it to sleep but if I hear it during waking hours I am pulling out my hair! I would HATE this in an office

      18. Adds*

        White noise is the worst and I kind of hate it. I office in a building that used to have a lot of therapists/counselors in it. And they would all put their white noise machines in the hallway and run them at full volume. Sometimes it was dueling machines and 2 or 3 of them would all be running right next to each other in our little 3-foot wide hallway. It was So Loud on some days it was hard for me to think in my office. With the door closed. It was exhausting.

        This office building is also just down the street from a high school and I’m currently listening to their marching band practice, which I enjoy. I missed it last year.

    8. Anonys*

      I have a question reg. the “religious objection to secular music”. I totally agree the music should be turned off, as it’s one of those things where, unless absolutely everyone is on board with hearing low volume pop songs all day, it should just be skipped.

      However, can you really have a religious objections to secular things bascially just existing in the workplace? Is it true you legally have to accomodate that? I fully understand a religious employee objecting to many of the themes and attitudes depicted in modern pop songs but objecting in general to all music that isn’t explicitly religious seems like it has quite far reaching implications for other areas. For example, couldn’t an employee, in the same vain, object to any secular decorations (eg. office plants, Halloween pumpkins, picures and knick knacks other employees have up on their desks)? Or object to celebrating any “secualar holidays” such as administrative assistants appreciation day (I know its often objectionable for other reasons) or even having something like a little fourth of July celebration at the office?

      I do understand how music, which usually has some kind of message, is different from plants which as a whole are quite value neutral. I’m just wondering about the legal situation and surely the default in a secular office is that things are secular and that if any music is played, decorations are put up, etc they should be secular so as not to offend and push religion on people in the workplace? (Again, totally agree that no music should be played at all if it offends anybody for any reason)

      1. Virginia Plain*

        Hallowe’en pumpkins wouldn’t be secular; it’s not a secular holiday. It’s All Hallows’ Eve, the evening before All Saints [=hallows] day, where the evil spirits and demons are roaming about before they are kept at bay by the Saints, and people are trying to ward them off and scare them away with Jack o’ Lanterns etc. I guess a devout Christian might object to the way hallowe’en is marked in some countries in the same way as they might object to the way Christmas is marked but that’s a different thing to what seems to be going on here.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I’m going to an “autumn event” tomorrow because it is hosted in a church and can’t be called a Halloween event. So no scary costumes or skeletons I guess, but pumpkins are okay. Since it’s a baby group I imagine that would be the case anyway but I thought it was interesting that the church specifically ruled out Halloween celebrations.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            My kids have a fall festival party tomorrow at school, probably for similar reasons. If even a few kids/families have religious objections to Halloween it seems better to just have fall/harvest type decorations.

            (I’m very grateful that the kids have a parade where they make costumes in class based on a book they’ve been reading, and aren’t expected to bring/wear costumes from home. My kids love Halloween and trick or treating, but the school thing just takes it over the top, highlights income disparities, and poses problems for kids with religious objections.)

        2. Pixies' Dust*

          Would that case be the difference between the seasonal greenery of a plain pumpkin and a jack-o’-lantern?

      2. Your local password resetter*

        It does seem like a big stretch. Unless they object to lots of individual music and just threw it under the catchall “secular”. I’ts so broad would want an explanation before I changed anything.

      3. Catnip*

        I wonder if it’s truly a situation of “all secular music is offensive” and more “a lot of it is, and it’s easier to say it all is than to get in a debate about what is/isn’t offensive”. Case in point – OP3 does seem a tiny bit defensive when they say the music isn’t “in any way edgy or explicit”. I’m a Christian, and in my own experience a lot of mainstream music is offensive to some of my beliefs without being “edgy”; for instance, lot of songs reference sex or partying in a relatively tame way, but are still contrary to my beliefs about sex and alcohol. Often, if I try to explain this to a non-Christian (or even some Christians!), people start trying to argue that I should be okay with it, or insinuating that I’m being sensitive, which is exhausting. Personally, I’ve just learned to tune music I find objectionable out in most situations, but that won’t work for everyone, and if this employee is in a similar boat I can see why they might just object to all secular music rather than risk an argument on what is and isn’t objectionable.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I just spent a week listening to Baby Shark on heavy rotation because the little one loves it. Some songs are earworms and just hearing the opening lines can put it in your brain for hours. Apologies to anyone who is going to hum do do do do do now.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            I already had two OTHER songs stuck in my head*, so now I also have do-do-dos…

            *Well, bits of them.

        2. Snow Globe*

          I agree with Catnip that it is likely that certain songs are played throughout the day that include references to sex, cheating, alcohol, and that is enough for some religious people to find it objectionable (not just Christians, and not all Christians). If they don’t usually listen to that type of music, they wouldn’t be able to identify specific songs when asked, so “secular music” gets the point across.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            About relationships and break ups. Plus you get the outliers, which are about nuclear armageddon.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                And here I was just thinking of 99 Red Balloons and Shades of ’45. Nice to know there’s more of them.

        3. Gothic Bee*

          I was thinking the sexual aspect might be an issue. I think when you’re used to it, it can be easy to kind of tune out/forget how much of pop music/top 40 stuff is sexual. It’s not something that bugs me (though I’d hate listening to pop music all day), but I can imagine other people might be bothered, even from a non-religious standpoint. And that’s not even getting into the point that not everyone wants to listen to music all day full stop.

          If they wanted to get into the nitty gritty and find music that wouldn’t be objectionable, I imagine that’s possible, but at the same time, I really don’t see why it’s necessary to have background music at all? Maybe instead, offer headphones/headsets to people so that they can listen to their preferred music or podcasts (and make sure no one’s going to get in trouble for pulling up youtube/spotify/other streaming apps on their work computers).

      4. tamarack and fireweed*

        That’s where my mind went too. How much evaluation goes into assessing someone’s religious objections, and who is qualified to provide the assessment? Leaving aside the entire can of worms of whether background music is annoying – what exactly is ok to object to for religious reasons? What about secular wall art? Or sculpture? Probably not other people’s dress, right?

        I was also thinking about evaluating religious exemptions for vaccination requirements (or masking, for example). Does it just have to make sense in a roundabout way? As in “I believe that $DEITY determines whether we get sick, so I don’t believe in preventative drugs”. And then if that person does take a vitamin, or has had a polio vaccine, does this invalidate their exemption? If someone is Catholic and the pope said something about the duty to get a vaccine if we can medically speaking, does this mean a Catholic can’t get a religious exemption? Do companies get theology consultants for that?

        1. L*

          I think that music is in a different category than the other possible objects of contention you mention, because we can’t just not listen to auditory input. People can choose not to stare at a piece of art that they don’t like, but it’s a lot to ask them to ignore the sounds being pumped into their ears all day without their consent. Regardless of the grounds for someone’s objection, it seems like anyone should be able to request to not be bombarded by unnecessary sounds at work.

          1. Elenna*

            IDK. My sister and mother both claim that they are entirely capable of deciding to ignore auditory input and then just… ignoring it. Which seems strange to me, since I have to have something else to focus on in order to tune the first thing out, and even then the first thing might catch my attention again. But apparently it’s possible.

            Anyways I agree with your general point.

          2. tamarack and fireweed*

            I’m pretty good at tuning out background sounds when I’m focussed and in the zone myself. But sure, to a degree you’re right. I doubt though that it’s very relevant for religious objections – I mean *I* would object to certain pieces of wall art (and I’m sure so would you). For example, just to take a safe and blatant one, if someone started to hang Nazi paraphernalia or pornography. “You don’t have to look at it” wouldn’t be a viable objection. (Of course, if that happened, the stronger argument would be that clients and business partners might react negatively…)

          3. Worldwalker*

            I’m wondering if the person who objected is like some of us (myself included) who simply can’t work effectively with *any* constant music because it’s just too distracting no matter what it is — secular, religious, instrumental, whatever — and figured that if they just said that, nobody would do anything, but maybe making it a religious issue would make TPTB turn it off.

        2. Littorally*

          The problem with that kind of evaluation is you’re essentially wading in the murky waters of one person (or a committee, so multiple people) judging the legitimacy of someone’s religious beliefs, and it’s pretty hard to create an objective way to do so. To put a member of HR in the role of saying “well, Jane’s religious beliefs make sense to me, so her religious accommodating is approved, but I think Sarah’s beliefs are nonsense, so hers are denied” would create nothing but drama and discrimination.

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            Indeed. This sounds entirely untenable to me.

            You could require something written down, but you still would ask people to evaluate the scriptures of a religion they have no qualification in.

            You can require a note from their priest/spiritual leader, but what if there isn’t one.

            1. Littorally*

              Yep.

              I had to have a religious accommodation when I was in college, and we got documentation from our church confirming the religious issue. It wasn’t anyone’s business whether our interpretation of the Bible made sense to an outside observer, just that this was a sincere belief and a documented part of our faith.

          2. Wintermute*

            The problem is that people use religious accommodations in bad faith all the time, so there must be some kind of gatekeeping. One I’ve run into fairly often recently at a legal advice group I participate in (and a few letters here have come close to as well) is people that try to use religious or disability accommodations to put their employer in a catch-22 situation where they have to put up with them behaving in discriminatory or otherwise problematic ways (one claimed, no kidding, he was a Buddhist monk and thus could not be required to be in the company of women without other men present, this despite the fact he was being paid– handling currency of any kind and owning currency privately is a major transgression for a monk– and many other things about their work that were fundamentally incompatible with the rules for monastic life). If you can’t have anyone say “wait, you’re not following ANY of the other monastic rules, so sorry, you don’t get to try to use one of them to get something like that” then that just opens that door even further.

            We just don’t have good answers right now, but as this kind of behavior goes on I anticipate the courts will clarify things, because the law is generally hostile to catch-22s.

        3. Siege*

          A football coach in my state tried to claim religious exemption on the vaccine for his catholic beliefs. He is now an ex football coach because of Francis’ statement on the vaccine. Conway Health Systems in Arkansas is granting religious exemptions as long as the grantees understand that their objection to the use of fetal cells in development of the vaccine means they also don’t use more than 30 common drugs ranging from Tums and Tylenol to Lipitor and Prilosec, which were also all developed with fetal stem cells. The exemption is invalidated if they do. Religious exemption is no longer quite a blank check at least in the case of COVID, and in the face of a bunch of exemption-driven disease outbreaks.

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            Yeah, in this very specific case a rational argument can be made, and the evaluation is about the objectors’ own claim in terms of scientific and medical methods. But even though I agree, and even though I think the whole fetal cell issue is a straw man, and even though I believe that more vaccination is better for all of us in the long run … deep down, privately, it still sounds a bit like a gotcha argument to me and I wouldn’t want to generalize it.

        4. Observer*

          ow much evaluation goes into assessing someone’s religious objections, and who is qualified to provide the assessment?

          Legally, there is very little assessment allowed in most cases. The only time that changes is when the accommodation requested could be significant. When the accommodation in question is literally a matter of someone else’s preference that has zero net positive business effect? Doing any sort of “assessment” is going to put you on very thin ice.

          I was also thinking about evaluating religious exemptions for vaccination requirements

          Given how consequential that issue is and the burden this could be considered to be placing on the workplace, it really doesn’t make any sense to bring it up in this context – you simply cannot treat something like this the same way as the question of music in the workplace.

          But, FYI, in the US, it doesn’t matter whether you think the objection is “reasonable”. It merely needs to be a “sincerely held belief” and you can look at whether the person’s behavior is consistent with that belief in general.

          1. Gothic Bee*

            Not to mention, there’s existing precedent for limiting religious freedom when the religious belief harms others. A vaccine exemption is a public health issue, so it makes sense to treat it differently than simple background music.

      5. MuseumNerd*

        The church where I grew up would have considered both *any* secular entertainment (movies, music, etc) and any reference to Halloween off limits for members (framing it as All Hallow’s Eve wouldn’t work for this denomination, as they don’t believe Catholics are real Christians and think that any reference to saints is sin). Having said that, it was usually preached more like members should self-select out of situations that required these things, so I don’t know about how it would play out legally or even if any members of the church would try it. Related/unrelated: it was common in the high school where I attended for teachers to play music in their classrooms and it was also common for them to only be allowed to play Christian music. It’s always interesting to me when I stumble over an idea that just sounds normal to me because of where I grew up, but that strikes other people as really odd.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          As a point of information, All Saints Day is not just a Catholic thing. I won’t bore you with a recitation of post-Reformation ecclesiastical history. Suffice it to say that while some strains of Protestantism reflexively reject stuff like All Saints Day, others do not. The strains that are most visible in America today tend to be from the first category. That being said, what exactly “Saints” means here is a subject of discussion. The word has broader meanings than people canonized by Rome.

          In fairness, I suspect the church you grew up in would consider those other strains of Protestantism nearly as bad as Catholicism.

          Also, I am curious when this was. If you go back to the 1970s or so, most American Evangelicals celebrated Halloween pretty much like everyone else. It was only about thirty or forty years back that they collectively decided that Halloween is an evil and/or pagan and/or Catholic holiday that good Christians shouldn’t touch.

          1. All the words*

            I think the switch to “Halloween is an evil pagan holiday” attitude happened around the same time Wicca gained more public visibility and acceptance as an actual religion.

            Coincidence?

            1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

              Yes and no. There have always been sects that object to Halloween in this country. A few even object to all holidays. Christmas was not celebrated in the early Massachusetts colony, as the sect of Puritans that founded it thought the holiday sinful, despite its very Christian observance.

              Halloween actually became popular somewhat despite itself. Even if you ignore it’s “Pagan Origins” (in quotes, not because it doesn’t have them, but because almost every Holiday has them), it was always primarily a Catholic holiday. Anti-Catholicism was a much bigger theme in US life when the celebration of Halloween first started to get popular.

              All that said, the most recent blow back against Halloween is definitely related to the rise of Neopaganism and New Age type beliefs, and the “Satanic Panic” of the late 70s/80s. Lots of things that many religious groups considered “evil” were suddenly getting accepted and even popular, so there was backlash.

              1. tamarack and fireweed*

                Even in late 20th century Germany, dominated by mainline Catholics and mainline Protestants living without major frictions side by side, I grew up knowing that All Saints’ Day followed by All Souls’ Day was a pair of Catholic holidays (and my family went out to maintain family graves for them), and that right before came Reformation Day, which was a Protestant holiday. In our area these were regional, and would be public holidays depending on a town/district’s majority. In our (2/3 Protestant) town, Reformation Day was off, and the next town over, All Saints’ Day was off.

            2. Hannah Lee*

              I think it has more to do with the rise of the so-called Moral Majority, and a bunch of people who insisted that their belief systems should govern the laws of an entire country.

              In order to keep up the level of engagement, moral outrage to keep the donations flowing, there was an unending parade of “things ‘God’s people’ should be outraged about if the are true followers”

              (That’s my dirty lens anyway)

            3. Koalafied*

              I think what we actually sat in that time frame is the death of mainstream liberal Christianity. It had become so indistinct from just being the ethos of a moral person in a secular culture that the big old Lutheran and Methodist churches lost members in droves who no longer saw much point in going to church or reading scripture etc.

              Some of the disaffected who realized there wasn’t much difference between “Methodist” and “American” were fine with that and just did away with the religious pretense that suddenly felt superfluous – some still call themselves Christian nominally but no longer really do anything that could be considered practicing religion, while others became “not religious (but not atheist either).”

              At the other end were people who wanted a real religious practice distinct from mainstream American secular culture. Some of them became pagan or got into New Age. And the rest left their mainstream churches for evangelical ones who promised a moral standard that would set them apart and above non-believers.

              So it wasn’t that any church or other unified body suddenly declared Halloween off-limits – it’s that Americans suddenly flocked in droves from the churches that didn’t mind Halloween to the ones that did.

          2. MuseumNerd*

            I appreciate the clarification, but you’re right that it wouldn’t matter. It’s pretty much one of those “you’re with us or against us” denominations. Maybe needless to say, but I’m not a member. It just doesn’t strike me as odd that someone would consider that a valid religious belief.

            I’d reiterate though that in the church where I grew up, the onus is on the believer to remove themselves from the situation, not on the business to change their policy. But I’m sure there are other churches that differ.

            1. Shad*

              Which could be exactly what the employee did. We only have a second hand account of what they said on their way out, so we don’t really know whether their tone was a matter of fact explanation of why they were leaving and how long they’d be working from home or something more combative. Alison’s advice leaning towards turning off the music seemed to me to be based more on an overall calculation about music in the office (just with a little bonus weight from this employee) than anything about what accommodation the employee would prefer, and did acknowledge that work from home would also generally be an acceptable accommodation for this religious need.

      6. LC*

        I’m Muslim, and for many more conservative/literalist Muslims, any music with instruments (other than a simple drum beat) is not permissible to listen to.

        There’s a lot of diversity of belief; many Muslims follow the opinion that it’s fine listen to any music so long as the lyrics aren’t explicit or referring to sex/drink/drugs etc – but it’s not at all unusual to find observant Muslims who will only listen to vocals + drum (which typically just means listening to Islamic religious music produced specifically for this audience!).

        It’s impossible to avoid music in shops and so on, so people suck it up in those situations, but some of my relatives will avoid attending events (e.g. weddings) if they know music will be played. I can well imagine that if music suddenly started to intrude upon their previously music-free workplace for 8 hours, 5 days a week, and without it being an actual requirement for the work they do, they wouldn’t be best pleased about it.

        This doesn’t mean they would then object to other secular objects in the office (pot plants etc) because there aren’t specific religious rules around those, unlike with music – though I suppose if someone did follow a religion that forbade keeping plants indoors, that might be a different story.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          Your comment provides a much more useful framing than simply “secular music”. Here’s the religious restriction someone lives under. How can we make it possible for them to observe it. No one’s rights are infringed by the job not having non-stop music, period. “No secular music” sounds like the employee would want only music compatible with their particular religion (I was imagining Christian rock-pop music), which would be likely to be unpalatable to even more people.

          Allowing employees to create their workspaces in a way that allows them to avoid things that they have eliminated from their environment – be it for religious reasons, or medical ones – as long as it doesn’t burden the co-workers unreasonably and is compatible with the overall mission of the job, sounds like a good guideline to me. (I imagine a Muslim who observes this rule wouldn’t be able to work as a stage manager for a symphony orchestra, for example. But there’s no reason they should have to put up with music as an accountant for a construction company.)

        2. Elizabeth West*

          That’s just it; it’s not a work requirement at all. Since it’s so contentious and the religious employee probably isn’t the only one who doesn’t want to listen to it all day (for whatever reason), I feel like the office should just ditch the music altogether.

          I’m also really intrigued by Islamic religious music that’s only vocals and drums and must go fall down an internet rabbit hole.

        3. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

          I was coming here to point this out. While I am not Muslim, my large multicultural corporation publishes recommendations for team building activities, and not including music in these activities is included for exactly this reason (which is how I learned about it). As this thread shows, even for those without a religious objection have widely differing responses to the same music. There’s absolutely no business requirement for adding piped in music to this office, and it should disappear as quickly as it came.

        4. Timothy (TRiG)*

          Indeed, I have heard a version of “Rock Around the Clock” created with only drums and vocals, for precisely this reason.

          On a similar note, traditional Jewish modesty laws say that men are not permitted to listen to women singing.

      7. RagingADHD*

        The problem isn’t that the secular thing exists. The problem is that it’s mandatory and inescapable.

        Having a 4th of July party, fine. Not allowing an employee to opt out for religious reasons, that’s a problem.

        Pumpkins at reception, fine. Requiring every employee to decorate their own desk for Halloween, that’s a problem.

        Coworker eating non-kosher or non-halal, fine. Making an employee work through dinner and not providing appropriate food, that’s a problem.

        When the music is piped through the ceiling, the only way to opt out is to leave.

      8. Observer*

        However, can you really have a religious objections to secular things bascially just existing in the workplace?

        Even though that’s not what you are going for, this is actually a bit of a straw man. Because Music that’s playing over a building sound system cannot just ever be something that’s “existing in the workplace”. It’s a lot worse than a single display in a highly public area, but with a single display, staff still have the option of mostly ignoring it. With music? No. It’s an intrusion.

        objecting in general to all music that isn’t explicitly religious seems like it has quite far reaching implications for other areas

        Sure it does. And those are things that any workplace needs to recon with. Keep in mind, though, that the amount of effort required to accommodate is low, so it’s not like the presence of a monk for instance is suddenly going to create an obligation on an employer to run the workplace like a monastery of that faith.

        For example, couldn’t an employee, in the same vain, object to any secular decorations (eg. office plants, Halloween pumpkins, picures and knick knacks other employees have up on their desks)

        Highly unlikely. What is on your desk is your business and doesn’t get into my space, especially if you have cubicles or give someone the ability to change their desk when dealing with an open office.

        Or object to celebrating any “secualar holidays” such as administrative assistants appreciation day (I know its often objectionable for other reasons) or even having something like a little fourth of July celebration at the office?

        Again, it would depend on how those celebrations are handled. Mandatory “fun”? Absolutely non-starter. “Hey, there are red, white and blue frosted cupcakes in the break room for anyone who wants them”? Almost certainly not something someone is going to be able to block.

        I’m just wondering about the legal situation and surely the default in a secular office is that things are secular and that if any music is played, decorations are put up, etc they should be secular so as not to offend and push religion on people in the workplace?

        I’d say that this is generally a good starting place.

      9. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I was brought up in evangelical Christianity, and yes, there are some church leaders who teach that any entertainment that was not made by Christians for Christians is a temptation that will lead you down the path to sin. At Bible camp in the summers, we were encouraged to go home and throw away all of our CDs that weren’t specifically Christian music. Some churches I know of actually made a big event of bringing in your non church music and destroying it as a group.

        I 100% believe that this employee thinks it would be sinful for her to listen to non-church music all day every day. Whether you or I think that’s reasonable, it’s her sincerely held religious belief and it should be accommodated in the workplace.

        1. Worldwalker*

          And the complainant will probably be a hero to everyone else in the office, who just wants that intrusive music to *stop*.

      10. Temperance*

        I was raised evangelical. I definitely knew some families who restricted music to Christian artists only; some evangelical “colleges” actually ban Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, who I wouldn’t call even a little controversial or sinful, because anything not Christian is considered “worldly”. It’s a very niche view, but it’s out there.

      11. PT*

        It’s illegal discrimination to ban employees from displaying religious objects on their desk, though. So unless the display on someone’s desk is so over the top that it has come around to being offensive , you can’t ban an employee from putting up a religious or holiday decoration unless you ban personal items on desks period.

      12. AptNickname*

        There was a woman who wasn’t in my department but was in the same general lab area. We aren’t allowed to wear headphones so any music has to be played out loud. She wouldn’t listen to anything that WASN’T explicitly Christian, so that ruled out most music anytime she was in the lab.

        1. Saradactyl*

          I wonder if an atheist/anti-theist person who works in any place (retail especially) that plays xmas carols unceasingly around the holidays could make a similar objection and get similar results… as in, all religiously-linked music being removed from the playlist. The cynic in me says it’s highly unlikely, at least in the US.
          It would bother me hugely to be forced to listen to christian music at work, if I was unable to or not permitted to drown it out with headphones the entire time it was being played.

    9. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Maybe I’m spoiled by my Spotify account but my music is selected by me or recommended from the service. Having to listen to other random generic genres would raise my stress level. I know exactly what I’m getting with each playlist. If a song was playing that I detest, it would break my concentration. Noise-cancelling headphones are a suggestion if you can’t quit because the music is too distracting.

      1. AnonInCanada*

        Same here, except replace Spotify with YouTube (formerly Google Play) Music. Smart playlists are awesome that way in the fact the music it picks will likely be something I’d like. And if I don’t, I thumb it down and skip it and I’ll never hear it again.

        If I were forced to listen to music in the background, I’d object to it as well, simply because I didn’t choose the music being forced into my ears and thus I’d lose focus grumbling about how lousy the music is.

    10. Hotdog not dog*

      I hate background music, of any genre, because I have partial hearing loss. It can be very difficult to separate out the sounds I need to hear when there is too much background noise. Also, I wouldn’t be able to hear it as music. It just muffles and distorts all the other sounds.

      1. English Rose*

        Yes, this is what I came here to say. I have partial hearing loss also and it’s bad enough in an open plan office with multiple conversations going on all around. Music on top of that would be a nightmare!

    11. Perfectly Particular*

      We have an office area that is more open and has white noise in the background all day. It gives me such a headache! Since it’s not my area, I don’t know if I would get used to it over time, but I find it miserable when I have to visit.

    12. Richard Hershberger*

      I am in the contrary camp, at least for this group of commenters, in that I like background music, though I prefer to choose my own. But in an open office layout? Not enough background noise is not the problem here. Starting with a baseline of ambient sound to a room full of people and you end up having to shout at each other to be heard.

      1. RagingADHD*

        Right? They’d do better to install acoustic material to dampen the room. Layering more noise just makes everything worse.

        1. Kaitydid*

          It does! I have ADHD and unilateral deafness, and rooms that echo a lot, are filled with chatting people, or both are a nightmare. I can really only talk to the person on my hearing side, because everyone else’s just melds together in an indecipherable din. Background music can do that, too.

    13. Ted Mosby*

      This was my thought. I worked a brief temporary job in 2017 in an office that played top 40 hits- that I generally enjoyed- and to this day I cannot hear any of the most popular songs from that summer without being aggressively reminded of that job. Fully ruined a lot of pop music for me, and it was only three weeks.

    14. SlimeKnight*

      I worked retail many years ago and there songs I still cannot stand hearing because they were played ad nauseum in the store. This was generally the blandest, most-vanilla music you could imagine, but hearing it day after day is still grating. There was a brief period in which a pair of rare birds was nesting on the store’s satellite. The nest blocked the signal and the store couldn’t legally remove them. Blessed silence.

      1. Random Bystander*

        I would have tried to find what was needed to attract the birds to nest there, so they’d keep coming back!

        Yes, I have playlists (and a selection of podcasts I regularly listen to), but they are my choice, and I wouldn’t enjoy having to listen to someone else’s playlist, because it’s unlikely to be both congruent with my choices and conducive to my work getting done.

      2. noahwynn*

        I loved the blissful quiet of the store in the morning before we turned the background music on. When I opened I could generally make it through the first hour or so before someone noticed and turned it on.

      3. JustaTech*

        Oh you’ve reminded me of the time I worked Christmas retail. Thankfully it was for a reasonably funky bookstore, where the employees did have control over the sound system, but the requirement was that 1) Christmas music and 2) it had to be something a patron could purchase (even if it meant taking the CD out of the player right that moment). We pushed the boundaries by playing a lot of ballets (started with the Nutcracker, then added Sleeping Beauty and maybe the White Swan?), but the folks who worked closing just gave up and played metal (which they got in trouble for).

        If we’d been stuck with standard pop Christmas music? Everyone would have been bonkers inside of a week.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I was a Target cashier and had a lady in my check lane throw an absolute TIZZY the week before Christmas because we weren’t playing Christmas music. “Not HOLIDAY music, GOD’S HONEST CHRISTMAS MUSIC.” It hadn’t registered up to that point that Target doesn’t play music. At all. I thanked my lucky stars that day, both for the lack of music and the manager who came to get her screaming fit out of my check lane.

    15. DataGirl*

      In my building, the background music is played in the exterior hallways and cafeteria, but not in the office suites. It’s a super weird mix- going from Nirvana to Dolly Parton to Madonna to Blake Sheldon back to back. It’s not terrible to have when walking the halls or having lunch, but I’d hate to have it playing while I was trying to work at my desk.

      1. Cold Fish*

        Throw in a random piece of classical or 80’s hair band and that sounds like a playlist I’d put together :P
        I like background music but get tired of the ear buds. I find conversations over the wall to be more distracting than even music I don’t like.

        1. Worldwalker*

          Yeah, that sounds a lot like my “the good stuff” playlist. But I don’t play that when I want to work — I like it too much, and I listen to the music instead of getting things done.

    16. Falling Diphthong*

      Oh yeah. Just from the headline I was ready to nope on out of there. Anything with words and I cannot not hear them.

      Also my request at doctor’s offices. I brought a book! No need for whatever someone’s idea of an inescapable pleasing soundscape of lite music would be.

      OP, the pleasantness of adding extra constant background noise is not the universal plus your letter suggests. Just get rid of it, and let people wear headphones if they work better with specific music which they can then curate themselves.

    17. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Ugh. This is the exact kind of decision that is made by upper upper management who never really sit down and think about what it would be like to actually experience it. I bet anything that the private offices don’t have music piped in. Because the people who decided music should be piped in don’t actually want it in their own office.

    18. the Mansplainer*

      Totally agree. Why is it that a lot people can’t seem to function anymore without music on, all day every day? Unless your job is digging trenches all day that can’t possibly be good for your productivity or the quality of your work. Personally I think the solutions to a lot world problems would already have been found and technological progress would be decades ahead if a lot of people just worked in silence.

      1. Broadway Duchess*

        You’re welcome to choose silence if it works best for you or if you just don’t like music or whatever, but let’s be real, here. People can often function without music just fine*, but perhaps simply prefer music while working. For example, I might go classical in the morning or something lyric-heavy for rote tasks. It’s not some conspiracy by Big Music, it’s that music can inform how we feel and we like to feel good. I love music, have it on quite a bit (podcasts, too), and I’d hate this office.

        1. Broadway Duchess*

          *Though, sometimes neurodivergent people, like my niece, have found that it dramatically helps her function since she has pretty severe ADHD.

      2. Mockingdragon*

        Er, yeah, I’ve always needed some kind of noise to help quiet my brain down. I don’t have an ADHD diagnosis but my understanding is this is VERY common among people who do. When I try to work in complete silence I get highly distracted by my brain wandering through thoughts. Music (or an appropriate podcast or TV show) gives that part of my brain something to focus on, so it will shut up and the rest of my brain can concentrate on what I’m doing.

        1. heynonynonanon*

          Interestigly enough, the opposite is also true for some of us with adhd. I find it incredibly difficult to work that requires focus if there’s noise around.

        2. Splendid Colors*

          And this is why headphones are so popular these days. You can choose whatever playlist works for you without having to negotiate with your coworkers.

      3. JLP*

        Wow! Your brain is way different than mine. I know that if I work in silence, I will lose focus and jump from thing to thing, which is not how you finish anything. A TV show I’ve seen a bazillion times playing (on a face-down phone connected to headphones) is the perfect thing to keep my brain busy enough to focus on one thing at a time. If I don’t have something on, my brain plays part of a song on its own and then I spend time trying to remember all of the words. Which is not what I’m paid for.

        Ultimately, different brains need different things to function best. Headphones are amazing…building-wide speakers…NO! :)

        My headphones are charging right now. Ask me how many times I started and stopped on this comment.

        1. Cold Fish*

          I am very similar to you, I lose focus more in silence than with background noise. I think that is why I find over the wall conversations so distracting.
          Growing up, my brothers always had music playing (like watching a TV show and listening to a CD at the same time, always playing). I think I just got used to it. At home I have the TV on even when I’m doing other things, just to have that noise in the background.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          When working from home, I used the TV show I’d seen a bazillion times to simulate office conversation. My neighborhood was super quiet during the day; at that time, the loud dog invasion had not yet begun. I could easily ignore Kitchen Nightmares because I’d seen them all, and it kept me from falling asleep.

      4. JustaTech*

        I’ve worked in clean rooms where the music was really beneficial, as we couldn’t leave the room and there were often long periods of just waiting for a thing to heat up or cool down.
        You did have to have ground rules about what was played on the radio (music only, no talk radio of any kind, no sports, no news, no opinion) but it helped pass the time, and when everyone needed to concentrate we could just turn it off. But that was also just like 3-4 people, so it was easier to manage. (It also was a great way to cover really awkward silences when one person wasn’t speaking to the rest of us.)

      5. Pam Poovey*

        That’s not an “anymore” thing. People have always had different needs. The only thing that’s changed is how much easier it is to listen to music anywhere.

      6. Worldwalker*

        One big reason for me is that the part of my brain that focuses on the music would otherwise be listening to, and trying to interpret, all sorts of other sounds. You know how you seem to half-hear music in random noise, like a TV between channels? That’s because your brain is trying to make sense of what it hears. For me, it locks on to any random noise it can find — the AC coming on, a car driving up the street, whatever — and evaluates it to determine if that means I’m about to be eaten by a leopard or something. So all sorts of random sounds are kind of a continuous subliminal distraction. I function much better with music (instrumental or in another language), or crickets, babbling brooks, etc. I’m much more efficient without either constant minor distractions or just listening to my tinnitus.

      7. Lenora Rose*

        Because, no joke, I’ve found myself humming improvised tunes based on the common office ringtone and/or tapping to the rhythm of the scanner if there isn’t actual, substantial music playing. YOU work better in silence. Many people don’t.

        Isn’t it a common theme around here that not everything works for everyone?

    19. The OTHER other*

      I find music distracting, and if I want to listen to it I most definitely want to listen to MY a music, not someone else’s or a radio station. I’m always surprised when I see letters about music in the office, not to music players—none of them are talking about how delightful it is!

      IMO this employer is spending money to reduce productivity and annoy the staff. The

    20. A Library Person*

      White noise wouldn’t work for me, and I suspect that the type of desired white noise is different for everyone. For example, I enjoy rain, waves, and hockey sounds but routinely went to an office with a white noise machine that almost sounded like tv static and ratcheted up my anxiety. The best option in the vast majority of work environments is going to be silence, with appropriate opportunities for people to use headphones/play music in private spaces.

    21. Paris Geller*

      Yeah as I was reading that I was thinking — does anyone actually want this? There are workplaces where you generally will hear music all day (a lot of retail environments) and anyone who’s worked in one knows it’s generally annoying! When I worked at a drive-in movie theater my coworkers and I all would gripe about the music, and that that at least had a purpose to set the ambiance.

    22. lilsheba*

      Working from home I play music during the day quite a bit, sometimes lo fi sometimes regular rock music. I love it. But I can do what I want in my own space luckily. Frankly I think anyone who objects to secular music has no fun in life. They need to get over it, cause it’s not going anywhere.

    23. CJ*

      Add in that I’m one of _those_ people who unconsciously sings along (usually sotto voce, sometimes…not) and every office is going to have one of me, music in an office space is a Choice.

    24. Cold Fish*

      I like the thought of white noise/ambient sounds. I often put in ear buds and listen to thunderstorm or night sounds when I’m concentrating. I find it very calming. Unfortunately my ears get tired of the ear buds :(

      1. Lenora Rose*

        I’ve fallen for my bone conductor headphones, which bother me a lot less AND technically leave my ears free to hear needed sounds like a coworker asking me a question (In the first week or two, or on a really long stint, they do put a bit of pressure on the temples, but I found it easier than ear buds or my current work-needed headset, or mask elastics.

    25. Some internet rando*

      I think it depends… my dentist’s office plays music and it relaxes me while I get my teeth cleaned. Classical music in the waiting areas of some doctors offices has the same effect – it helps with anxiety.

    26. Office Hamster*

      I’ve had two offices do this, one because the boss thought “we should be a COOL workplace and COOL workplaces play MUSIC” (nevermind most people were writing, researching and interviewing people over the phone all day, aka quiet activities!)

      The other was maybe something the person who quit would have enjoyed: ENDLESS, NONSTOP Christmas music the moment Thanksgiving was over. I find Christmas music repetitive and thus grating (why can’t we write new songs?? Seems like the same 20 or so just keep getting covered) so this was a particular torture. Thank goodness for headphones!

      1. Lenora Rose*

        I love Christmas music (I start in DECEMBER, dammit), but…. there’s a reason none of the ones I enjoy are ones you hear on the radio or in most stores. If it’s a song darn near everyone sings it pretty much has to be a not-usual rendition.

    27. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      It is literally not possible for your brain to listen to music and think about something else at the same time, so I’m really not sure why anyone would need music in an office.
      People might claim to enjoy listening to music as they work, and if they’re doing something very repetitive, they can do that and listen. But it’s highly unlikely that everyone in that office is doing grunt work.
      Those who claim to be able to think and listen at the same time, are simply much better at tuning stuff out. My partner can tune stuff out very easily, he can barely hear all sorts of background noise and is often unaware of stuff that can drive me up the wall. I can’t tune stuff out, and would be singing along to that music and crossing my fingers that the most annoying tunes wouldn’t stick in my brain as an earworm.

      1. Worldwalker*

        “It is literally not possible for your brain to listen to music and think about something else at the same time….”

        You are wrong. If you were right, business in everything from that office to practically every retail store would screech to a halt the instant they turned on the music.

        I am very productive. And I have some form of music on nearly all of the time. I think that is true for many of the other posters in this thread, as well. And this is not because of a lack of comparison — I’ve worked both with and without music, and I’m more productive “with” than “without”. It is not possible for *you* to listen to music and think about anything else, but that says nothing about what is possible for *me*. Or anyone else.

        As an analogy: Although I have an unusually high pain tolerance, I am incredibly sensitive to itching. If you want to torture me, bring out the itching powder — I’ll tell you everything I know, and everything I can make up. It would be silly of me to assume that because I have to react to an itch (and I have scars from a no-see-um incident to prove how badly I can react) that you do, too. That’s no different than you needing absolute silence or you can’t think, while other people find silence more of a distraction than music is.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        It is literally very possible. For some people. For others, like you, it is impossible. Please don’t assume experience is universal, or make declarations in absolutes.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          And I mean, I don’t agree with piping music into any office, it’s a nightmare. But now I’m imagining you seeing coworkers with headphones and assuming snobbishly that you are more productive than they are. You might not be. They might genuinely need what they hear.

    28. Anon for now*

      Seriously. I once asked our team admin to buy headphones, because the music she played was audible in my office and nuts. I need quiet to work.

    29. two snakes*

      I’ve been in an office where they quietly played the radio all day and it was awful. Music with lyrics at a just-barely-audible volume is the most distracting thing for me – it’s like trying to listen to someone talk very quietly, the words get my attention because they’re words and I start straining to make them out. Tuning them out takes a lot of focus that could go to my work. The level of music a lot of people consider ‘background’ music makes itself very much foreground music for me.

      Every time since then that someone’s suggested bringing in a radio I’ve struggled to be polite while making it clear that I wouldn’t be able to work. My first instinct is always to go ‘I would literally rather put pins in my eardrums’ but I’ve managed to suppress it. My coworkers have been decent about it but if the office literally added speakers to make sure it was happening all the time you can bet I’d be finding a way to work from home as well.

    30. curiousLemur*

      I like instrumental jazz when I’m working, but I don’t inflict it on co-workers! (I work from home.) The thing is, music that may seem perfectly innocuous to the writer can include songs that just get on my last nerve.

    31. 2 Cents*

      Our office switched to everyone having to listen to top 40 all day, all the time. Guess what happened? Our open office “for collaboration” became a showroom for noise cancelling headphones so everyone could tune out the music above and listen to their own (or nothing). Please shut off the music.

    32. Myllamapeggyhill*

      I might suddenly find religion just to try and avoid it. Joking aside though, how does this employee get though life? Lots of stores play music. No secular music was very much a thing when I was a young evangelical but that didn’t apply to music one hears at the mall or at work, carpooling, at the dentist, etc.

    33. DrRat*

      In this situation, I would quite possibly go down a list of religions and pick one out that allowed me to keep freaking Muzak out of the office.

      Boss: “I thought you weren’t religious!” Me: “Well, I converted to Pastafarianism a while back, so now I can only listen to music about pirates. Also, I will need an exemption to speak like a pirate on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Other than that, I try to be pretty low key about it.”

    34. Hrodvitnir*

      Yeeeeah, like “the music selection is typically low-key popular music played at a low volume, nothing edgy or even remotely explicit” just means I would low- to high-key hate the music, haha. Especially if there are any repeats over the workday.

      Please don’t make me listen to music I have no input in if there’s not a good reason.

    35. Denver Gutierrez*

      I am the opposite. I prefer to work with music on and find it hard to concentrate in total silence. That being said, I also prefer to listen to music I choose. I’m lucky because I work in a small department where each of us is in a different room, doing our own jobs. So I can listen to Spotify or the radio without bothering anyone else.

      I once worked somewhere that had centralized music and it was the local station that played current hits. The problem was they played the same 8 songs over and over, so by the end of the day you would have heard them a million times. That was annoying and not a benefit at all!

    36. Jonquil*

      Agreed. This would annoy me too. If you must do music (and really, must you?), make it instrumental only.

    37. Finland isn't real*

      My old job had loud music blasting all the time. The majority of the team were salespeople who worked over the phone, their microphones were noise canceling. The music was to keep everyone ‘energised’ so they’d make more calls and not get distracted by other people’s calls. The room was open plan too, so big shared tables rather than cubicles. They rang a bell every time a sale was made and we’d all have to stop what we were doing (unless it was a sales call) and stand in a circle whilst the person who closed the deal did a lap and gave everyone in the office a high five. On closing days this would happen several times per hour.

      I got used to it but since I wasn’t in sales I’d always have to mosey off to a conference room if I needed to have a phone call because otherwise whoever I was talking to would get treated to loud hip-hop/techno/hits of the 90s in the background OR a loud bell and a big round of applause. Needless to say, my focus was nonexistent…

  6. Middle Name Danger*

    OP3, background music in the office is a nightmare to many different people. Including those with hearing problems or ADHD. I’m both and I about had a breakdown when a supervisor insisted on a “shared” speaker for our open office while I was trying to make work related phone calls. There are enough competing noises in any given office.

    Your employee could have handled it more – the reaction makes me doubt religious beliefs against secular music are the only thing driving them. (Definitely not suggesting they’re lying about religious beliefs! Just thinking it’s one piece and there are others.)

    Others will probably breathe a sigh of relief if you can nix the music.

    1. castles*

      Same here. Even if it’s music I might choose to listen to on my own, the fact of it being played in a way that I can’t control it would drive me absolutely up the walls. I’m not sure if I would walk out on the spot, but it would significantly impair my ability to work in the office and I’d probably leave sooner than I would otherwise.

    2. darcy*

      One of the main reasons I ended up quitting my old job was that they played very loud music with a heavy baseline in the office all day and wouldn’t even consider my request to have it turned off one day a week, which I specifically requested as a disability adjustment. I now hate background music even more than I did before that job!

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        That would cause me to quit as well, for some reason my ears hate heavy thumping baselines. It feels like I’m under constant attack.

      2. Kaitydid*

        Oh my god. I’d have quit, too. Faint low bass with no other audible music drives me to rage so fast. It’s completely illogical, but my brain just cannot deal. It becomes an auditory sore spot I can’t stop probing. The more I try to ignore it the worse it gets. There’s no way I could get any work done with faint low bass sounds all day.

    3. Nea*

      There are so many work-related reasons to want music turned off that I’m mildly surprised that “religious objection” was the go-to here. Perhaps to force the music off as a form of accommodation, when just saying “I can’t hear clearly enough to work” might not be taken as seriously?

      1. cassielfsw*

        The fact that the employee went with “religious objection” raises my hackles, to be honest.

        “I find the music very distracting and it impedes my ability to concentrate” – perfectly reasonable. The reason it’s so distracting could be anything, including “because it’s secular”, but that would be irrelevant.

        “Listening to secular music offends my religious beliefs” – this just makes me angry. Even if I don’t like the music either! Your religious beliefs are not a valid basis for policing other people. At all. Ever. Period.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          I had a similar reaction at first, but re-thought it in the light of other comments. If the situation is “in my religious practice, only certain kinds of music/instruments are permissible and I avoid all other kinds” then mandatory music is a lot more like mandatory non-kosher meals with no option to bring in your own.

          The alternative to mandatory secular pop music isn’t mandatory Christian pop music (GAH! I would very much object to that…). It’s letting someone opt out of it. Presuming the music is not a core requirement of the job and presuming other people can still enjoy their preferred music, either using earphones or during socializing.

        2. Loulou*

          It makes you angry? Well, you should work on that! That’s not an appropriate reaction.

          I think a lot of people would have a hard time asserting a *preference* about something in the office (especially if you think it might be something a lot of people feel differently about) but when it’s a religious mandate, that’s another story. So I am not surprised that they went with the religion angle rather than the personal preference one.

          1. cassielfsw*

            Your religion (and how you interpret what is against it or required by it) is personal to you, and I do frankly find it offensive to try to make/change rules that apply to *everyone* on the basis of something that only applies to you. Music in the office is a difficult example to have this discussion about because it’s particularly intrusive and there are zillions of reasons to object to it that have nothing to do with anyone’s personal beliefs (see: this entire comment section). But that’s partly why this annoys me so much. There are *so many reasons* to ask them to not play music. Why was “it’s against my religious beliefs!” at the top of the list?

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Probably because it’s against her religious beliefs.

              I don’t know why people are assuming she’s using religion as a cudgel to get her way here when there are known religious denominations that are particularly strict when it comes to what media followers are allowed to engage with. I know people who are in these kinds of religious groups, and they genuinely believe that listening to non-church music will be harmful to them. It’s not about getting their way or forcing people to do what they want, they really do believe this.

        3. Gothic Bee*

          I mean, I get the knee jerk reaction, but if the person has a religious objection to it, the company is legally obligated to accommodate that in some way; it’s not about policing others. I grew up in a really religious background, and I’ve definitely known people who would feel that listening to secular music all day was wrong for them (while they wouldn’t have a problem with other people doing so). Policing others would be if the employee was trying to force them to change the music to religious music or something.

        4. Littorally*

          The fact that you regard “please don’t play music over loudspeakers” as policing other people — especially given that the employee opted to WFH, changing her own behavior instead of asking other people to change theirs — is a you problem, and you should work on that.

          1. cassielfsw*

            “Could you please turn the music off” is a reasonable request.

            “I demand that you turn off that Satanic pop music because my pure Christian ears are not to be sullied with that trash” is offensive and ridiculous.

            I don’t have a problem with her not liking the music. I am very annoyed that she jumped straight to her religion as the basis for the objection.

            If she were my coworker and were playing a Christian radio station at her desk, I would ask her to turn it down or wear headphones because it’s distracting. I wouldn’t go straight to complaining that she’s offending my religious beliefs by playing something that doesn’t agree with them where I can hear it. That would be uncalled for.

            1. Hrodvitnir*

              You may want to consider that Christianity is not the only possibility here. As pointed out above, Islam very clearly does not allow listening to music with instruments other than a simple drum beat. For particularly observant Muslims, this means literally no secular music. For some Muslims this just means trying to avoid music featuring sex, drugs, and alcohol – which will most likely also rule out this generic pop playlist.

              1. cassielfsw*

                Just to be clear? I am not insisting the music stays on. I am not on Team Music. If I were in charge of the music in the office, she wouldn’t have to ask me twice to turn it off. She wouldn’t have to ask me once because I wouldn’t have turned it on in the first place. Okay? Not sure if that was clear to everyone.

                As to the Muslim example, I am 100% certain that any Muslim in this situation would ask politely instead of instantly going straight to “my religion says so”. And if asking politely didn’t work for some reason, they would have an actual leg to stand on for asking for the music to be turned off. Music being forbidden in Islam is an actual thing. Music being forbidden in Christianity is *not* an actual thing. Listening to popular music is not actually against this coworkers religion, she just doesn’t approve of the music being played. I can sympathize with that, but I can’t sympathize with coming out with all guns blazing like she is. Like, seriously, did she try asking like a normal human being? Or is that against her religion too?

                1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  You seem pretty certain that this employee was rude and snotty in their interaction with their boss about this, but we don’t actually have evidence of that. All we know is that she told them that the music was a violation of her religious beliefs and that she was going to be working from home for as long as the music was playing. We don’t know she was confrontational or angry or rude or mean. She may have been very polite and matter of fact, just like you say you believe a Muslim employee would be in this case. You don’t know she came in guns blazing. You’re assuming that because it fits your preconceived notions of how christians behave.

                  There are, in fact, christian denominations that restrict what kind of music/movies/books their members are allowed to access, so your assertion that this can’t possibly be a real religious issue is not true.

                2. Lenora Rose*

                  Please produce evidence she came in the way you said, and not the way you imagine a Muslim would.

                  And Christianity is not one religion, but hundreds of different denominations with varied rules. For example, some denominations demand wine for communion, some forbid wine for anything and are very attached to interpreting wine as “unfermented grape juice”.

                  MY denomination doesn’t forbid secular music (or wine, though we’re respectful of being in an inner city and possible issues with alcoholism, and therefore do communion with grape juice). That doesn’t mean no denomination ever has made a different rule, or that a denomination that does forbid secular music is faking it.

                3. Littorally*

                  You are making up so much stuff that is not in this letter. Take a deep breath, put your seething hatred of Christianity and your conviction that you know exactly what “actual” Christian practice looks like on a shelf, and reread what the letter actually says.

        5. Worldwalker*

          No, but those religious beliefs (sincere or not) might get the music turned off when “I find it distracting” would not.

          The music (and the choice of music) sounds very much like “mandatory fun” and the people who demand such a thing won’t back down for anything but legal reasons — hence the religious angle.

        6. Lenora Rose*

          It sounds like you don’t think religion should be respected at all, or a protected class for human rights.

          In other words, this is not coming across well for you.

        7. Douglas*

          It could be that in the past, this co-worker has asked for other things to be stopped/done differently because otherwise it would be distracting and would interfere with her work, and was rebuffed. Maybe she was looking for a way to force the issue without having to prove it.

      2. Observer*

        Given the response of “we’ve never had a problem before”, I would not be shocked. For this to be a required ADA accommodation, the employer could require documentation that the person has diagnosed hearing issues and proof that it affects “activities of daily living”. You can’t do that with religious beliefs.

        1. Kaitydid*

          Yeah, I could get and provide that documentation, but I’m privileged to be able to spend money doing so. I’d go that route because I’m an atheist and the religious angle would make no sense from me, while the medical one would.

      3. Thursdaysgeek*

        Because work related reasons can be ignored – look at all of the ignoring of valid reasons we read about on this site! But a religious accommodation must at least be listened to.

    4. I take tea*

      Adding my voice to the choir – please, please, please, no background music! I am absolutely convinced that most of the workers would much more prefer as much silence as possible in an open plan office. Take the system back to the store and invest in some acoustic panels instead.

    5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah, I think that the religious claim is rather far-fetched, does that woman refuse to go into shops with piped music? Does she never watch any films or TV shows with music? Are her children home-schooled so they never hear any non-religious music? What about music in ads? How is it possible to avoid non-religious music?

      And anyway it can be annoying as hell without mentioning beliefs, there’s really no reason to invoke religion.

      1. Gothic Bee*

        To be fair, there’s a big difference between listening to music for 30 minutes while you’re shopping or hearing it in a 2 minute ad versus listening to it for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

      2. tamarack and fireweed*

        Well, it may just be religious, not annoying. I can totally understand that someone might put up with something minor annoying – especially if they are part of a group that may have some dietary or other restriction already. But if it’s important enough from the religious angle, that may be a reason to bring it up. I don’t really agree that if there is a non-religious angle imaginable, everyone would of course go for it before asking for a religious accommodation – some would, but others wouldn’t, and that’s fine.

      3. Lenora Rose*

        I can see there being a rule that you can respect it, or tolerate it, in a public space someone else controls, while still giving you the right to ask it to not be in a space you are obliged to stay in for 8 hours multiple times weekly.

    6. Elizabeth Bennett*

      YEEEEESSSSSSS. I could have been the employee that was threatening to quit over the music. I absolutely love music, and often use music to keep me focused when I’m working. But taste in music is so varied and influences people differently. My department had a speaker that played music non-stop from the time the self-appointed DJ started working until I turned it off after 5pm when most everyone had left. It was ANNOYING. I know of at least three other coworkers who were as annoyed as I was, but were not willing to speak up with me, even in a group. The damn thing was finally turned off when a neighboring department complained about it disrupting them too much.

      Toss the music and play white noise if the office noise is too much.

    7. prismo*

      Yes, I would hate this. I’m a journalist working in an open office and I can’t read or write (so basically my entire job) while listening to anything with words. I listen to instrumental music to help me focus or block out office noise. Persistent pop music that I have no control over would drive me absolutely bonkers.

  7. Prefer my pets*

    #3…do you hate your employees? Because forced piped in music I can’t escape sounds like hell on earth to this atheist.

    It is *possible* that long, long ago I may have been involved in an “accident” the sound system had at a retail store I was the night manager of. If I never hear another pop Christmas tune again it will be too soon!

    Just let your employees work in peace & those who want music can wear headphones.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Same! I’m thinking especially one retail gig I worked where the Christmas music loop was two hours long… and they wanted to keep it secular so their choice of songs was very limited. As I recall, there were four versions of “Let It Snow,” three versions of “Santa Baby,” and FIVE versions of “Chestnuts Roasting” in that two hours.

        1. DataGirl*

          Oh yes- working 8 hour shifts in retail with a music loop that was only an hour or two long… total nightmare.

          1. KRM*

            The worst! Our loop at CVS was 4hr, and we routinely had 5hr after school shifts. When the loop rolled around you did know you only had an hour left!!

            1. Phony Genius*

              Funny you mention CVS. I usually don’t like in-store music. But at my local CVS, I often hear songs I haven’t heard in 20 years. Good ones.* Maybe it varies store-to-store.

              * – And I can’t stand it when they interrupt a good song with a store promo. They seem incapable of putting them between songs.

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                oh yes! and sometimes they just speak OVER the song which drives me nuts.

                But, I’m just remembering a film-worthy scene in the supermarket on 2 January one year (not this year, nobody celebrated enough) where they played a well-known French song with “I don’t want to go back to work” as the refrain, and we all started singing along to it in the queue!

        2. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

          “Christmas in Killarney” was rock-bottom for me in my own two-hour version of that.

          1. Stargazer*

            Toss-up between The Chipmunks’ Holiday recordings (all discs, all tracks) and “Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey” here!

            (“Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” for honorable mention.)

        3. Your local password resetter*

          Ye gods, the christmas music. I still have a reflexive dislike of christmas after a part-time retail job where they kept the same five or so songs on repeat.

        4. Slow Gin Lizz*

          OMG I would die. I have a hard enough time in retail stores between Thanksgiving and Christmas, even when I’m only there for 15 minutes. I couldn’t possibly survive working retail then.

          I’m sure there’s research about how customers buy more or stay longer when there’s music in stores, but tbh, if I’m in a store without music I am likely to stay longer. I am a musician too but prefer to have absolute power over my listening choices.

          1. Pointy's in the North Tower*

            It was terrible. I disliked most Christmas music before I worked retail, but after that stint I straight up loathe it, like insta-rage level of loathing. It also triggers my anxiety, so I’m this lovely mess of anxiety and anger when I have to shop in a store from now until the beginning of January.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I expect they play the kind of music that will appeal to their ideal customers… but since so much of it is commercial crap, what does that say about their ideal customers?

        5. AnonInCanada*

          It could’ve been worse: if I ever hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You” ever again, I’ll pity that speaker when it’s coming from!

          1. AnonInCanada*

            …where not when. Y’see what happens when you even think about that song, it turns your brain’s ability to conjugate a sentence into mush.

        6. two snakes*

          I’m really glad I never worked retail over Christmas because the regular season pop mix that constantly cycled at the teen-oriented store I worked at was bad enough. I still have a hostile reaction to a lot of the songs that were on those CDs.

        7. JustaTech*

          I am so grateful that the one time I worked Christmas retail they let us space out the pop Christmas songs with classical music like the Nutcracker (which we stretched to “any ballet”).

        8. Elizabeth West*

          When I skated, we’d start picking our music for the Christmas show around Halloween. Of course, we all had to listen to other people’s programs during practice; you couldn’t escape repeated playings of them during their lessons when choreography was going on. The children’s coaches would recycle songs so their newer, younger students would get the cutesy stuff their older students had skated to previously.

          “Suzy Snowflake” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” can go DIAF.

          1. Worldwalker*

            I’ll trade you “Hippopotamus” for “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”.

            1. Evan Þ.*

              “It’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas
              Everywhere you go
              Pop your ears in the five-and-ten
              Hear it once again
              The Christmas songs you always wish to veto.”

        9. Denver Gutierrez*

          One of our local radio stations does a 24 hour a day Christmas music format. I like Christmas music but the problem is they start this format sometime before Thanksgiving. Even with both traditional and more secular holiday tunes, the selection is still too limited to play 24 hours a day for over a month. Fun fact: There are way more versions of “Do You Hear What I Hear” than you ever imagined.

    1. John Smith*

      They’re already playing Xmas tunes over here in the UK in some shops and Xmas goods have been on sale since late August. By the time it gets round to actually being Christmas, you tend to get pretty sick of it.

      1. Obscure*

        Back when I was a student I worked in a supermarket travel money bureau right by the entrance. As anyone who has lived in the UK may know their is a tendancy to have small brass bands playing Christmas tunes while raising money for charity in the run up to Christmas, all very pleasent etc. not so much when they play the same four or five pieces on a loop for about 4 hours. Part of me is impressed by their endurance the other part of me wanted to throttle them by the end.

      2. SuperAdmin*

        I used to work in a well known coffee chain in the UK, where every October we were sent 4 CDs – one with 25% Christmas songs, one with 50%, one with 75% and one entirely Christmas music. We were mandated to put the 25% one on immediately despite it being early October. I may have been responsible for hiding the other three CDs in a decorative biscuit tin and shortly thereafter changing jobs, prompting the coffee shop manager to come find me in my new job down the road when December rolled around, begging to know where the CDs were because corporate wanted everyone to be playing nonstop Christmas music all month. I like to think my actions spared my former colleagues two months of extra Christmas music.

      3. BubbleTea*

        I walked past several hotels this week and one was fully decorated for Christmas, tree and all. It. Is. October.

        1. JKB78*

          My highschool job was working at a greeting card/knick knack store and I remember it was nearly my birthday (late August) and I was talking to the manager who was putting up Christmas ornaments. I once saw a picture of a cartoon turkey holding a knife in Santa’s direction saying “back off! It’s MY turn now!”

          I was just commiserating with my current co-workers that our background music is on a loop and I despise about 85% of the songs playing and in LESS than a month it’ll be worse. Because then it will be the same TEN songs sung by about 15 different people over and over and over again. I wonder if the OP#3’s co-worker would be happier then.

        2. PT*

          I’ve been getting all sorts of Christmas ads left and right too. I get we’re having supply chain problems this year and we have to Shop Early for gifts and decorations, but there is no reason for me to be getting Christmas ads from the grocery store on TV. Soft cheeses certainly will not keep from October 25 to December 24. No one wants two month old brie in their stocking.

        3. Denver Gutierrez*

          I went to the ATM yesterday and peeked into the bank lobby and they have Rudolph decorations everywhere already. Halloween hasn’t even happened yet!

      4. SarahKay*

        Trust me, if you work in retail you get very sick of it by about 2nd December, especially the music. It’s 15+ years since I left retail, and I’m only just now starting to find the usual pop Xmas music bearable, after way too much exposure to it in the 15 years before that.

      5. EPLawyer*

        I;ve always wondered when the UK marks the start of the Christmas Season. In the US, its the day after Thanksgiving. But UK doesn’t have Thanksgiving, so when? Don’t derail the thread, but if you can pop an answer into the Saturday open thread I’ll try to find it.

        1. londonedit*

          I don’t like Christmas to start too early but I start thinking about it and Christmas shopping etc after Bonfire Night (5th November) because that’s the last event before Christmas.

        2. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

          It’s variable but the shops seem to start putting out Christmas stuff as soon as their summer ranges get put away. There isn’t a good marker as far as I know. I haven’t been anywhere that is actually playing Christmas music yet, fortunately, but there have been mince pies, chocolate coins, and fancy frozen main dishes in the supermarket for several weeks now and I already bought a frozen roast for dinner.

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            I’m an August bank holiday baby, I always expect to start seeing the stuff right after my birthday’s gone.

        3. EvilQueenRegina*

          It’s quite common to see Christmas and Halloween stuff next to each other on the shelves here. Music seems to be slowly starting here now but will increase nearer the time (I did once hear a song played in a department store in Edinburgh in August but that was a mistake and was removed half way through when someone caught on!). The Christmas lights (at least in my city) tend to go up early November and switch on later that month.

      6. Ally McBeal*

        I LOVE Xmas music but I hold off on listening to it in my personal life (i.e. whenever I control the music, stores can’t be helped) for as long as possible because the overload is real. I actually have two separate playlists, one with “Advent music” (mix of secular + “baby Jesus is coming soon”) and one with Christmas music (secular + “baby Jesus has now arrived”) and that does help a bit due to the variety.

    2. Ginger Baker*

      Truly. As I read this all I could hear was the sound of my internal screaming. Listening to my own music choices: yes, sometimes great! Listening to music picked for me? PLEASE, PLEASE NO. Ability to turn off the music – even music I like and chose! – is also KEY to my ability to work at all. Sometimes music helps me focus, and sometimes it leaves me feeling like I need to somehow escape from my own skin (again, even with my own music!). I cannot fathom working somewhere that decided to pipe in music that isn’t like…a supermarket (and I really really would not want to work there either…)

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. I’ve never imagined an office piping in music before and can’t think of anything worse if you’re trying to concentrate. The places that have background music are usually places like bars, shops and restaurants or maybe a factory with a production line. I’ve never known people having centralised music in an office environment.

        Sometimes I find music helpful but it has to be the music that I choose. This is mainly classical or occasionally easy listening. To be honest quite often I prefer an audio book (currently listening to Michael Hordern reading MR James ghost stories) but the voice has to be right.

        1. New Job So Much Better*

          Agree it does not belong in an office, unless it’s a dental office, where I imagine they blast music to diminish the sound of the drills.

        2. Your local password resetter*

          I’ve had multiple places do it, but usually because there was a customer-facing part in the company building. But then they also play it in the backoffice and magazine, so you’re still subjected to it.

        3. KRM*

          Yeah, our building pipes in music, but you can only hear it in the common areas and the restroom. Not in any of the office suites! It would drive me insane if I had to listen to music I didn’t pick for myself while working.

        4. Sc@rlettNZ*

          We did in my first office job out of school. I hated it – not because I found it disruptive, just because it was a boring loop of the same songs over and over and over again. From memory they used to start xmas songs in October. I was always sneaking into the file room to turn the volume down.

          If I was the Prime Minister of New Zealand I’d make it a hanging offence to even mention xmas before Dec 1st lol.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        Yes, this. There’s also a limit to how long I can listen to even my favorite music (usually 2-3 hours) before I need a break. And if I can’t shut off the music, I start getting *real* annoyed. By the end of one workday at OP’s place, I’d be craving taking a hammer to the speakers (or whoever thought they were a good idea), and giving real thought to finding other work.

    3. TheSüperflüoüsUmlaüt*

      ^^^^ ALL of this. Being forced to listen to someone else’s taste in music – or frankly ANY music – while I’m trying to concentrate and do my work is hellish (even music I would normally like), and I know this from bitter personal experience. Why in the name of all that is holy would you want to pipe music into a large office space???

      I remember working in the toys area of a department store in my student days, and the days when (for a few blissful hours) the floor manager forgot to put on the usual CDs were wonderful … and the weeks on end when we had to endure dawn to dusk Christmas carols were enough to make all staff want to stab management in the neck with the nearest Barbie doll.

    4. Lab Boss*

      I never worked holiday retail, so I’m fine with pop Christmas tunes- but I worked at a college town bar when “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas was big. Round about the 8th play of the evening I would have cheerfully lit our DJ on fire.

    5. Jack(ie) Straw*

      Years ago I was a retail manager in a large, flagship department store. My first holiday season I was warned about “Suzy Snowflake” and it truly was an awful song. The spoken, explicit agreement between the area managers was that whoever was nearest to a phone would pick it up, dial the overhead paging number, and leave the phone sitting on a desk until enough time had passed to get to another song. 20+ years later I still remember that song.

      1. two snakes*

        I have only listened to that song as a customer (or maybe it was Sally Snowflake?) and it is my #1 least favourite song of all time. Whenever I hear it while shopping during the season my heart goes out to the staff because I can’t imagine anyone actually ENJOYING it.

    6. Full anon for this*

      I worked two summers at Sesame Place (a theme park for little kids based on Sesame Street), so we got to listen to a loop of Sesame Street songs every single day. I’ll still randomly get a bit of one stuck in my head.

    7. Mim*

      There are still Christmas songs that bring me right back to the most miserable retail job I ever had, almost 25 years ago.

      Honestly, whenever I walk into a store and hear Christmas music playing over the speaker system, my first instinct is to feel bad for all of the employees.

    8. Smithy*

      Honestly…..while my retail periods were largely during the summer….there was no way to avoid hating the music. I don’t care how appealing it might have been to members of the public who apparently bought the store cd mixes, it all would eventually drive me batty.

      And even when I’m picking the music that’s perfectly to my work concentration tastes, it will inevitably change over time very specifically to me. There can be two weeks where I’ll listen to the same piece on repeat, and then won’t want to touch it for years. God forbid another person have to accommodate that…..

    9. Rusty Shackelford*

      The dealership where we get our cars worked on has such loud “background” music that I can hear it over my earbuds and whatever ASMR I choose to try to drown it out. I wish you worked there.

    10. Empress Matilda*

      Funny, the store I was at – for some reason every single one of the the Christmas CD’s fell on the floor and got all scratched up one day. Never did figure out how that happened…

    11. vanilla bean*

      In my teens, I worked a retail job in Florida, and I had a store manager who insisted on oldies music because our local population included a lot of older residents and studies show that people shop longer and buy more when the store plays music they like. She also had a policy that once the store opened, the music could not be changed…she didn’t like the jolt of switching to a different type of music with customers in the store. I’d sneak into the computer room and switch the music right before opening, in hopes that I could listen to something besides B-side 50s and 60s music that shift. I finally stopped when she threatened to fire the person doing it if she figured out who it was.

    12. JelloStapler*

      I worked at a retail store with the Christmas 8 track pop music track and it got to the point if I heard one of the songs on the radio, my brain would fully expect to hear the song that wold come next on the tape.

    13. Indy Dem*

      Oh the canned music. I worked retail at a music store. Our play list was 2 half hours of the same songs for a month – we had to flip the cassette after the first half played (yes, I’m old). I was there six months when I was fired for a silly mistake that ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. Even songs that are now still acknowledged as pretty good from back then make me shiver. La Bouche, Fugees, etc. At least I never tired of Alanis!

    14. MapleHill*

      This thread reminds me of the episode of Superstore where Garrett is driven crazy by the song Halloween surfboard playing on a loop LOL!

      I’m not religious, but I LOVE Christmas music, but I’m sorry to those retail workers who have to endure the pain.

      But to the letter, I would HATE having to listen to any kind of music piped in. Having to listen to songs you don’t like, even in the background at work, drives you crazy!

      I’m a little confused though. The letter said the employee said the secular (meaning NON-religious right?) music was offensive to their religious beliefs. So they are offended that non-religious music is being played? I feel like the comments are assuming religious music is being played, but I’m not grasping that from the letter. If it was religious music, that would be bad and annoying because it’s not even that great of music. And do you have to accommodate someone who doesn’t want to listen to non-religious music? I could see the other way around, but this is confusing from Alison’s comment. Am I misinterpreting something here?

    15. Worldwalker*

      In my misspent youth, I worked for Radio Shack for a while. Now, the thing you need to know about Radio Shack is that the home office sent out various Christmas gift items — the store didn’t order them; they just got cases of the things and had to sell them. (I’ll have to tell you about the electronic firecrackers that we couldn’t even get people to steal, at some point) And the particular Christmas I worked in a mall store, we got a kids’ electronic drum set. It wasn’t even a *good* electronic drum set — it was a cheap, tinny thing that you’d give to an 8-year-old. That you didn’t like. The home office mandated we had to have one set up for customers to try. After the first week, I would gladly have put that thing in the trash compactor. First day, even.

      Well, shortly after that, the drum set ceased working. I’m a tech, so I gritted my teeth and went to repair it. I quickly discovered that the wires to the speaker had been *cut*. Not pulled out, not broken, but cut with a wire cutter. No store employee would have risked the wrath of the manager by cutting it themselves — which meant that the person who cut those wires *was* the manager. I decided not to risk the wrath of the manager by fixing it. :) Blissful silence, at least from that wretched thing, returned.

  8. Heidi*

    For Letter 4, is the client on LinkedIn? I’ve sent messages that way when I haven’t been able to locate an email for someone after they left our employer. And if nothing else works, you could mail them a letter (or FedEx overnight). You can also light a beacon in Gondor and wait for Rohan to answer.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Yeah, it’s hard to tell what the root problem is at the client. Is it all telecommunications or just their particular email and phone service? Lack of reliable power?

      Physical mail is probably the most reliable at this point.

      A slightly unconventional solution (assuming they have internet and electricity) is to setup a shared doc in a cloud system and communicate by writing messages to one another on the shared doc.

      1. Kella*

        But how would they get the notification that they *have* a new shared doc if they can’t get the emails?

        1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I was thinking it would help if the email/phone service continues to be unreliable, but internet/power is fine.

        2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          As in, get in contact somehow, send the link, then go from there (rather than relying on email). Then again, LinkedIn or other social media would probably be more efficient.

          1. Willis*

            Yeah, it just seems like that first “get in contact somehow” is the part the OP is having trouble with at the moment. I think social media is a good way to go. Or if the client is part of a larger company rather than an individual, maybe try reaching out to someone else in the firm by email or phone/text (even if you don’t know them at all) and see if they can forward a message.

      2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        #4, also create an alternative email account from a different provider. All my work emails to a consultant were getting blocked so I emailed through Gmail and it worked.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          THIS — We had a vendor whose email to us was always sent to the junk folder because their email service had been generating so much spam, so many phishing attempts. We found out when they showed up with a delivery and Security called us to the lobby. Over the years I’ve seen it with Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail even.

        2. Hacker For Hire*

          The OP said they did that already and they didn’t get an answer. At this point it’s clear the problem it’s somewhere in the mail system on the client’s side. Until the client realizes there’s a problem and fixes that, there’s not much the OP can do. This, or they just aren’t answering e-mails for some reason.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            I recently had an issue that took me quite a while to notice where I was somehow getting emails on my work account from other people in my company, but any emails from an outside source didn’t come through. I think I only noticed because I tried to email myself from my personal gmail and it never came through. I realized it must have been happening for a while though because there was a vendor I had been really frustrated with as they hadn’t been responding to me, but then it turned out to be on my end. Oops!

            I wonder if it’s something like that happening here?

        3. Sloan Kittering*

          That’s funny, I have the opposite issue – when I use the gmail platform and the clients are using Outlook, it frequently sends my emails to their spam. Sometimes even mid-conversation it does this, which is really disorienting for everyone. I always kinda assumed it was Microsoft getting their dig in.

      3. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        If I had to guess the LW is on a block list with their clients email server. The server is either eating or quarantining all messages from LW’s account (or possibly LW’s entire domain). I’ve heard of this kind of thing being a nightmare at companies that are really crazy about spam or really worried about phishing attacks. Stuff like, “Oh, this external account sent us more than five emails in a week, clearly it’s spam!”

        None of which helps LW actually contact his client, but it’s probably what’s going on.

      4. Sharon*

        Yes, unless they live in a country where the mail is very unreliable and takes months, send them a letter by post and ask what the best way to contact them is! Also leave a message on the voice mail informing them of the problem. I would definitely employ both of these before social media (used to be the only options), but maybe I’m just an old fart.

    2. PinaColada*

      Agreed, i’ve had great luck with LinkedIn when there are issues with email or phone. You can also flag it with the client and ask them to keep an eye on their LI messages due to these issues.

    3. Barbara Eyiuche*

      Try looking for them on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. I used to have to ‘find’ people at my job, and I would look everywhere online I could think of. My colleagues would even phone people with the same surname, asking if they were related to the target.

    4. Anima*

      Oh, no one in for the innuendo? It’s a nice and funny innuendo! Made me chuckle.

      But yes try LinkedIn, Instagram, all that. Don’t forget to explain why you contact them this way. (I once did this with my old boss and it was confusimg at first until she knew why.)

    5. Meara*

      I work for a large company and recently had an issue where I was emailing someone outside the company and getting no response and very frustrated and left a couple phone messages…eventually a coworker of hers emailed and said “I’m forwarding this, you were on her response” and for some reason I got that. I talked to IT and they managed to suddenly get all of her emails to appear in my inbox but they weren’t in junk or spam….just hadn’t come through for some mysterious IT reason! If she had told me she wasn’t getting my emails but her coworker was I’d have not really believed her! Very very frustrating and still no idea what caused it, but making me paranoid for sure. Would’ve helped if she’d called and left a message…but oh well.

      1. JustaTech*

        I had a problem a few years ago where suddenly one day I couldn’t get any emails from anyone in France. Which normally wouldn’t matter, but I was in the middle of a bunch of work with a vendor in France when they just stopped responding. Finally one of their folks stateside called me and we figured out the problem was on my end, so they had to send emails to my personal mail for a week before IT got it fixed.

    6. Mockingjay*

      Send a letter, then drop it. OP 4, you’re not responsible – and quite frankly it’s impossible – to solve a client’s tech problem. Unless you work at Best Buy and make Geek Squad house calls.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        It’s a client, not a vendor. It might well be worth OP’s time to jump through a few hoops and thus keep the income from client jobs.
        I’d drop a client who insists on a 90- or 120-day payment cycle to pay me… not one who has a problem with their spam filter.

        1. Mockingjay*

          Being a client doesn’t mean absolving yourself of the responsibility to manage your own email or contacts. If the client expected to hear from OP 4 and didn’t, logically they should reach out to the OP as well – “hey, haven’t heard from you about X.”

          Communication works in both directions. I don’t understand the expectation that someone labeled “client” becomes a completely passive partner in business dealings. OP 4 tried quite a few mechanisms to reach out but there has to be a point where it stops.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Agreed at a certain point it wouldn’t hurt the client in this case to reach out through a different method of communication to see if there are IT issues on either end.

            For the OP – I would try a letter they have to sign for (so that you know it was received and who signed for it) as well as a few more phone calls (with voicemails if they don’t answer) as well as trying to text the phone number as well.

    7. marvin the paranoid android*

      I was wondering if it’s possible that the client has switched to mail server that’s aggressively blocking emails from unknown domains. If you haven’t tried sending an email from a gmail account, I’d try that, since those usually go through.

      My other advice would be to check with coworkers to see if the issue might actually be on the employer’s side. If others are having the same issue, I’d look into it.

    8. LunaLena*

      I was thinking OP4 should consider a Slack or Discord channel (or whatever chat program is cool these days) for their client. Something where they can just drop a quick “just emailed you, let me know if you don’t get it” message and get a fairly quick and simple response.

    9. JustaTech*

      Seconding LinkedIn. When one of our vendors got hacked and lost access to all of their email we ended up contacting them through LinkedIn (mostly to find out what was going on and when they expected it to be fixed).

    10. AVP*

      I have a shared Slack workspace with most of my clients for quick approvals and check-ins – that might work better than using email for all of this stuff anyway? And it almost never goes down!

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      And a SUBSTANTIVE message, not simply “Please call me” or “I’ve been trying to reach you.”

      1. SpaceySteph*

        People who leave generic messages like “call me back” are the worst, and in this case OP is shooting themself in the foot if that’s all they’re doing. Please please leave real messages.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Oh – I would love to leave a detailed message – but I’m calling from a Hospital system so our corporate policy leans toward that generic message. Oh – and it’s completely scripted for me and I’ll get in trouble for deviations from the script.

          “Hello, this is XYZ Health System, and we are attempting to get in contact with you. Please call us back at your earliest convenience at 555-867-5309. Again that phone number is 555-867-5309. Thank you.”

          (Hopefully most of us know it – but 876-5309 is the infamous phone number from Tommy Twotone’s song Jenny.)

          1. valprehension*

            Hospital systems leaving generic messages makes sense for privacy reasons! You never know if it’s a shared phone line.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Yeah – that’s exactly why I have to be generic. I can’t even say which department I’m calling from (we have primary care, specialist- like orthopedic, ENT, ophthalmology, etc, laboratory, billing) because two years back someone complained about getting a message stating “This is the XYZ health system laboratory calling, please call us back at….” That one being a problem stumped me, why is it a problem to say specifically what department needs to talk to you? I’d think especially if the phone number got garbled and you had to call the main line it would help the directory person get you to the right place.

          2. junior*

            I think this makes sense, though. I wouldn’t expect my hospital to leave a detailed message, and you still provide a lot of detail.

  9. my 8th name*

    For #3, would instrumental music without lyrics still be considered ‘secular’? If not, that may be a solution.

    1. Observer*

      No. Just get rid of the music. For one thing, without knowing this woman’s background, it’s hard to tell what her exact issue is.

      On the other hand, the whole idea of having music being pipes into the workplace all day is seriously problematic anyway.

      1. R*

        I glanced and misread “being pipes” as “bagpipes” and I thought, of course, I too would feel I’d fallen among the damned.

      2. Expiring Cat Memes*

        Yep, for all we know something as inoffensive as Chopin could be against her religion anyway because of his womanising ways.

        I do want to tip my hat to this employee though… objecting to forced office music on the basis of religion is kind of genius when you think about it.

          1. Lady_Lessa*

            Tidbit from yesterday. (I listen to classical while I drive to and from work.) Yesterday (10-27) was his birthday, so they had a fair bit of his music.

            I also liked it very much when they had a lot of Apollo’s Fire right when the orchestra is starting its 30th season.

        1. AnonInCanada*

          There are some fundamentalist Muslims who would object to any music that wasn’t a prayer hymn. Including anything with instruments of any kind. I’m thinking about the Taliban in Afghanistan: in the mid-90s the regime completely banned music and dancing in the country.

      1. Shakti*

        Hahahaha yes, this comment wins, silence is the best choice literally no one wants the overhead music pumped in, I still have horrible responses to songs on a play list at a store I worked at 14 years ago

        1. snack queen*

          I will leave any place where “Shiny Happy People” is being played, and pretty much refuse to go shopping during Christmas season for this very reason.

    2. Tali*

      A lot of classical music, if you look at the title/inspiration/dedication/intended opera/etc. is actually quite religious! I can’t imagine getting into the weeds of which Beethoven songs are OK, never mind Wagner or music from outside of Europe…

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I am going to go out on a limb and guess that, at least in the American context, all music that is not “Christian music” is secular, with “Christian music” used here as a marketing category, not a content category. This is in the same way that White American Evangelical Protestants routinely use the word “Christian” to mean “White American Evangelical Protestant.” “Christian music” here means what is more accurately called Contemporary Christian Music, which in turn usually means a Christianized version of whatever is popular at the moment, performed by technically able musicians of middling musical talent.

        1. Lab Boss*

          Your analysis of what “Christian Music” means in modern America reminds me of one of my favorite lines from the TV show King of the Hill: “You’re not making Christianity cooler, you’re just making rock music worse.” :D

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            It also has the bizarre implication that the large body of Western art music that was composed expressly for Christian worship doesn’t count as “Christian music.”

            1. Lenora Rose*

              I can see it now: “This Kyrie is too secular! How dare you play Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring!”

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Like that South Park episode where Cartman takes loves songs and makes them about Jesus.

        3. Lenora Rose*

          True thing: I know a bunch of these songs even though my own church was much more high choral music (And the best a bunch of majority white folk in a “sit politely during the service” tradition can do at Gospel), because when I was trying to learn a musical instrument, several of these songs were perfect for practicing basic strummed chords.

          Some of them are even not bad as music, but I am very very glad they aren’t all I have to listen to…

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That sends you down a slippery slope of WHICH religion. Western classical music was often sponsored by the Catholic Church. That’s no fun for your employees who are Muslim, Jewish, atheist, pagan. It could also be problematic for some Christian sects.
        I’ll also point out that piped-in pop station is probably going to convert to Christmas music in a month or so.
        Shut it down now before you’re all subjected to repeats of the Little Drummer Boy, or Wham!’s Last Christmas.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I enjoy the “Great Courses” DVDs. I’ve watched dozens of them, and gotten survey courses on everything from astronomy to World War I. The one I’m watching now is “How To Understand and Appreciate Great Music” — it’s basically a history of music from the Renaissance through the early 20th century. One section was about specifically Protestant music. Cantatas were a regular part of Lutheran services, and both oratorios and cantatas were written for both Catholic and Protestant audiences. And a lot of the most well-known classical music was written for entirely secular patrons, usually of the aristocracy.

      3. londonedit*

        In England if you have a civil wedding service (basically if you’re married by a registrar in a secular venue, rather than by a vicar in a church or religious building) the service has to be completely secular to the point where you’re not allowed to have any music or readings with religious content. I’ve had so many friends fall foul of that because their favourite Shakespeare sonnet mentions God or they want to have a piece of classical music that’s traditionally associated with a hymn, like Ave Maria or whatever.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Could they play an arrangement of the Ave Maria (Schubert’s of course, because that is the setting of the Ave Maria everyone knows) without words?

        2. Hrodvitnir*

          WHAT? That is disturbing. I haven’t been to that many weddings, but the two secular ones I’ve been to were done by friends of the couple who were registrars, and they did whatever they wanted. (NZ here.)

          One was at a venue, one was at a park, both had music!

          1. Hrodvitnir*

            Er, can’t actually remember if there was anything that could remotely be considered religious, but still. The idea that anyone gets any say over your ceremony except you is just beyond bizarre to me.

    3. Lady Meyneth*

      Not a good solution. Instrumental music puts me to sleep, every time, even when it’s music that I love just without lyrics. I’m the weirdo who removes music from games because otherwise I fall asleep over the controller. Having it in my workplace would be a nightmare, and such an unnecessary one.

      Just let people use headphones, and then they can listen to whatever they want, nothing included.

    4. RagingADHD*

      If you look upthread, there is an example of longstanding religious tradition that specifically eschews any instrumental music. Only vocals and drums are allowed.

      I once worked in an office where my boss requested I not play certain music when specific clients were in, because their religion didn’t allow them to listen to female vocalists. This tradition is thousands of years old.

      Music and religious tradition are intertwined in many different ways. It all depends on the religion.

  10. mark132*

    Is the religious exemption really that powerful? It seems like a near absolute get out of jail free card in a case like this. (And for the record I would be going nuts with background music playing all day.) I mean how absurd can the accommodations get before it meets the “undue hardship” test. Because this seems fairly absurd to me.

    1. Not A Manager*

      But what is the undue hardship in a regular office environment? I could see if you had, say, a retail toy store and you chose to play Welcome to Our World of Toys all the time, it might be a hardship to stop playing that. But for regular office work, it’s difficult to make a case for a business necessity.

    2. Cmdrshpard*

      It is not, but I’m this situation there is no business need for the music.

      In a non-work setting it may not seem reasonable to take music away from a bigger group of people because of one personas objection. But at work it is both that big of an ask.

      The reasonable accommodation in this case is no music on the overhead speakers. If the employer wants employees to be able to listen to music then they can let everyone wear headphones, or have a small radio/speaker.

      Some people might enjoy listening to music they like, but not to music they have no control over.

      I much prefer headphones because I can listen to the “explicit” versions of songs without worrying others hearing.

      1. Not A Manager*

        No music might be a reasonable accommodation, but so is permanent WFH, a private office, or moving to a different location. The company *can* choose to turn off the music, but if everyone else wants it, it’s good for morale, or whatever, there are still ways to accommodate this person. (Unless those don’t work, for some legit business reason.)

        1. haxwell*

          I’d put money down on not everyone wanting it in the first place. There would be people who want music (and headphones would address this), people who don’t but can tolerate it, and then the people who absolute hate it. The last two groups may or may not speak up about it depending on how secure they feel in their jobs. There’s just no upside to playing music to a whole office by default.

        2. Loulou*

          I would find it way more disruptive to business to give a low level employee a private office, or WFH privileges not everyone has, rather than just turning off music. And as others have pointed out, this employee can’t possibly be the only person who doesn’t like the music.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            And even if they don’t care about the music, once they see someone get an office/WFH privileges to avoid it, I suspect several of them are suddenly going to care about the music.

        3. Observer*

          The company *can* choose to turn off the music, but if everyone else wants it, it’s good for morale, or whatever, there are still ways to accommodate this person

          Sure. But let’s be real. It is almost certainly NOT the case that it’s something that EVERYONE actually wants, and that is universally good for morale. So, really turning off the music is probably the company’s best response, assuming people’s egos don’t get in the way.

          1. Gothic Bee*

            Not to mention, there was no background music in this particular area until just recently, so it seems obvious that the employees were able to cope without it.

    3. PollyQ*

      You may think it’s absurd for the employee to care about secular background music, but turning it off, especially given that was only recently introduced, is barely any hardship. I’d be hard pressed to think of an accomodation that would be easier for a business to meet.

    4. Observer*

      Why? What is the hardship in getting rid of something that no one likes?

      If the company were offering a benefit that people actually LIKED (eg a monthly $5 Starbucks card) that someone objected to on religious grounds, then taking that away would be a problem. And I’d bet that the company would not have to do it. But this? How much lower cost can you get than this?

    5. nobp*

      consider that religious exemption is considered equally important (legally) to disability exemption- if an employee was hard of hearing and wanted to turn off the background music, in an office setting which have any business reason for music, would you consider that a reasonable accommodation?

      1. Recruited Recruiter*

        “consider that religious exemption is considered equally important (legally) to disability exemption”
        This is inaccurate – Disability exemption’s undue hardship has a much higher threshold than does religious exemption. Under ADA, undue hardship means significant difficulty or expense, whereas for religious accommodations, the threshold is “de minimis cost or burden.”

        Neither are likely to apply in this case, but there are significant differences in how the laws are applied.

        1. Kaitydid*

          That’s really interesting. I had no idea the thresholds were different between religious and ADA accommodations. Thanks for commenting!

    6. Pipe Organ Guy*

      For me, even though I work for a church, it would drive me absolutely batty to have religious music playing all the time, especially certain types of Christian music. (My preferred musical language is that of European and European-influenced art music, aka classical music. That would be guaranteed to drive some people nuts.)

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        It would not be all that hard to come up with a playlist of Christmas European art music. The problem–well, one of them–is that the vast majority wouldn’t recognize, for example, Bach’s Weihnachts-Oratorium as Christmas music, even though it explicitly is.

    7. Barbara Eyiuche*

      It’s absurd, but it is no hardship at all. I bet most or maybe all of the workers there would prefer no music.

    8. Kella*

      I actually think the thing that makes it absurd is that this so low of a hardship that they don’t need to frame it in terms of religious accommodation. They could just say “I can’t work with music playing in the background. Do we need to have this? Because I’m gonna need to work from home while this is a thing.” Making it about religion does come across as a bit overdramatic. But, it is their right to do that. It helps if I try to imagine what it would be like if I worked somewhere that played exclusively Christian music all day. I don’t know if it would drive me out of the office entirely but it might and I’d definitely ask it to stop and use religious accommodation if I needed to.

      1. John Smith*

        If Masses were being played, which involve recitation of liturgy and doctrine (think of the Credo for example), I’m sure someone of another faith (or no faith at all) may not be overly thrilled. Personally, I love the Latin Mass though I’m not religious. On saying that, I once heard someone playing in public (think teens on a bus) what sounded like the Muslim Call to Prayer set to some kind of electronic house style beat. It actually sounded quite good and I regret not asking about it because I want to download it.

      2. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

        I suspect she might have already brought it up with someone else (not OP) and got rejected. Making it about religion might look to her as a credible way to be considered seriously.
        Or she might be overdramatic, of course. Employees can be overdramatic, but management can sometimes be weirdly clingy towards petty, low-key ideas.

        1. Alice*

          That was my impression as well,especially if the attitude to a request to turn it off was “but what is the problem with nonstop low volume popular music”. Or it could genuinely be a religious thing! But honestly here the bar for reasonable accommodations is so low that there is no need to wonder which it is, just turn the music off and most people in the office will be happier. And the rest can use headphones.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Or it really is religious. Pop music has had strong innuendo and coded sexual references for decades. Recently they have gotten extremely explicit and the coding has really stopped being subtle.

      4. Littorally*

        It might come across as overdramatic, but to me it makes perfect sense — if she were to say “I can’t work like this because the distraction makes me less effective” the employer is more likely to tell her to suck it up. Making it about religion means they can’t brush her off like that.

        Would it be less dramatic to make it about ADA compliance if someone with sensory processing issues objected to the music? To me, it’s similar. “I can’t handle this music, and you can’t ignore me on this.”

      5. Observer*

        They could just say “I can’t work with music playing in the background. Do we need to have this? Because I’m gonna need to work from home while this is a thing.”

        In theory? Sure. But when the first response that comes up is “But we’ve never had a problem before” I suspect that the person actually knew that it wouldn’t fly.

        And it is also quite possible that it IS about religion for this person. I suggest that you read, just on this thread, some of the issues that come up in many faith traditions.

    9. mark132*

      obviously I’m in the minority here, so I’m just going to make a general response rather than try to respond to everyone individually. (And again for the record I wouldn’t care for music like this.) It’s the IMO absurdity of this. It’s music in the background, not satanic rituals. If the large majority of the group wants the music on, one person’s religion can get it turned off, but if I, as non-believer, were to demand this I wouldn’t have the force of the law to force my desires on everyone else. That’s why this is absurd (again IMO). This isn’t an individual choice like religious headgear. This is applying an individual’s religious choices to the group.

      And in this case everyone pretty much hates the music, so if we change the demand from say music to coffee pots, and someone’s religion finds the drinking of coffee sinful (and my former religion does) and I put a coffee pot on my desk and a demand is made to remove the coffee pot because they find the scent offensive to their religion. So now coffee pots are banned?

      1. Tali*

        No, as everyone has said, you look at the feasibility of the demand. In your example, consider moving the worker’s desk farther from yours. If the demand is “nobody can use computers around me”, then that’s not likely to be feasible and the demand is refused, so the worker can either deal with it or quit. In the letter, the demand of “don’t play constant secular background music” is incredibly easy to grant with no hardship to the business or other workers. Maybe not if the worker is an old-timey elevator operator?

        1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

          For what it’s worth, protections around religious accommodation do also apply to non-theistic beliefs that “fill the same role”, as I understand. So if you worked in an office that played gospel music all day, you could request religious accommodation for your sincerely-held beliefs, as well. And you would be entitled to “reasonable” accommodation, just as this employee is.

          1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            While this how a pleasant theory, as a working atheist, I can assure everyone that our non-theistic beliefs are almost never accorded the same deference as ‘actual’ religous beliefs.

        2. Clisby*

          Right – turning off the piped-in music isn’t stopping people from listening to music if they want to. At least, there’s nothing in the letter to indicate people can’t listen to whatever they want if they use headphones.

      2. Not A Manager*

        “It’s the IMO absurdity of this.”

        You know, in all seriousness, the central tenets of almost every religion sound pretty absurd to people who weren’t raised with them in their cultural background. You can say “secular music is an absurd religious objection,” but so are a lot of religious objections.

        And it’s just not true that if the large majority of the group wants the music on, one person’s religion can get it turned off. One person’s religion can get that person a reasonable accommodation. In this woman’s case, one accommodation that clearly works for her is WFH. If the company chooses to let her work from home, everyone else can listen to their lite pop music. Or she can have a private office.

        The problem with reductio absurdum is that just because you can come up with a silly coffee pot example, that doesn’t mean that the principal of religious accommodation is silly. It just means your example is silly. And even in that case, there are other options than banning all coffee pots – like moving the objector to a new desk where they can’t smell the coffee.

      3. Midwestern Scientist*

        But you aren’t being forced to drink the coffee in your example so it isn’t infringing on your religious beliefs. We have several Muslim employees (who do not drink alcohol per their religious beliefs). When we have social events that include alcohol (like happy hours) their “accommodation” is the business also purchasing their soda. Theoretically not serving alcohol would also work as an accommodation but that would demoralize the greater majority.

      4. Tst*

        I don’t believe you’re in the minority. The Satanic Temple and Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster have both been formed to give non-religious people similar protections.

      5. RagingADHD*

        Please read some of the comments upthread about different religious traditions and their beliefs about music. It’s a real thing in many different religions. The fact that you were not aware of it until now doesn’t make it absurd or unreal. It just means you haven’t been exposed to people from different cultures or faiths.

        The religious employee isn’t forcing their beliefs on anyone. They are being forced to consume/participate in something that violates their beliefs.

        Your example about coffee is not equivalent at all. The equivalent would be if the boss were force-feeding coffee to the workers, or if they removed access to water so there was nothing but coffee to drink. This isn’t a disagreement between coworkers. It’s a change in the overall working conditions, imposed by the employer.

        The religious employee wants to opt out, and the boss has set up a situation with no options. That’s the boss’s problem, not the employee’s.

        And by the way, if the majority wanted to listen to worship music or evangelical sermons over the PA system, and you as a nonbeliever didn’t, you would absolutely have the right to have them shut it down. It goes both ways.

      6. Guacamole Bob*

        One person’s needs changes what the group can do all the time in workplace accommodations, though.

        Most of the group is happy with this second-floor walk-up space? You still may need to move to a new location for someone with a mobility impairment. How many letters do we see here about a company having to modify a golf weekend or “guys trip” or whatever to make it more inclusive, or to stop basing team building around extreme sports? Or the classic stories of old boys’ cultures having to move the meeting out of the strip club when they started hiring women? What about the dog-friendly offices that have to change their policies based on allergies? Or the one that has to stop doing events at restaurants and instead have food brought from multiple places in to accommodate allergies and religious dietary needs? Most people can meet at that time of day, but one coworker has a pumping break or needs to pray at that time? Move the meeting!

        If doing “what the group wants” was always the right answer, we wouldn’t need workplace accommodation laws in the first place.

      7. marvin the paranoid android*

        I would say that with something as potentially disruptive as music, which an individual can’t easily opt out of, if one person objects to it, that’s reason to turn it off. (I suspect she’s not the only one who doesn’t like the music.) Personally I feel this way about other office “perks” that tend to be annoying for others, like bringing dogs in.

      8. Librarian of SHIELD*

        A person who has a religious objection to drinking caffeine is unlikely to object to the office coffee pot, they just won’t have any themselves. You can’t really do that with something like piped in music, though. If it’s playing, you’re hearing it. So yes, one person’s religious objection to the music is enough to get it turned off. In fact, I think there was a letter here a couple years ago that went the other direction. A non religious workplace was playing the Christian music radio station all day and an atheist employee objected and asked for it to be turned off. Both are valid reasons to ask for a religious accommodation.

      9. Observer*

        It’s the IMO absurdity of this. It’s music in the background, not satanic rituals

        That’s not a determination you get to make. You do NOT get to decide what is acceptable to other faiths, and you do NOT get to decide what faiths need to be accommodated.

        This is applying an individual’s religious choices to the group

        You have it backwards – this is forcing a group’s preference on to someone how has a significant issue. Just because YOU don’t see it as a significant issue does not make it so. Just like if it were a disability issue.

        And, that assumes that everyone else actually DOES “want” it. That is also something that is highly unlikely.

        coffee pots, and someone’s religion finds the drinking of coffee sinful (and my former religion does) and I put a coffee pot on my desk and a demand is made to remove the coffee pot because they find the scent offensive to their religion. So now coffee pots are banned?

        Yeah, not a good faith argument at all. It’s been pretty much beaten to death, so I’ll go with the short version – what you do at YOUR desk which does not affect others and which others can avoid is totally different than something that someone CANNOT avoid, which piped in music is.

      10. LilyP*

        Well, yes. Our society has decided to treat religious observances differently from individual preferences, and I think that’s right. Making a commitment to live your life in a certain way because of your faith or community or tradition *is* something more serious than just liking or disliking something, and a religious observence is something more than just the personal preference of someone who’s religious. And ultimately, this is a *legal* issue because we want it to be illegal to discriminate against members of a minority religion, and refusing to accommodate their observances would be a very effective way to force them out of the workplace.

    10. Mannequin*

      This absolutely seems like an overreach of the religious exemption. Someone can use their religion as an excuse to control the music EVERYONE listens to? Nope, that doesn’t fly with me.

      1. Amazed*

        This person is not objecting to what music their coworkers listen to. They’re objecting to being forced to listen to it themselves.

      2. sagc*

        Amazed makes a good point – it would be a perfectly acceptable solution to provide airplane-style piped Muzak to all the other employees, for example.

      3. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        Did they demand that the music be changed to something that conforms to their religious views, or just that it be turned off? If they would only accept everyone else listening to their choice then that is a problem, but if it’s just asking that there be no piped in music at all in a situation where it isn’t necessary then I think that is reasonable.

      4. ecnaseener*

        The accommodation doesn’t have to be turning off the music, it could be providing noise-canceling headphones, a quiet space, or WFH. But yes, it could be turning off the music that everyone was previously being *forced* to listen to. It doesn’t prevent anyone else from bringing in headphones with their own music.

      5. Starbuck*

        How is this worse than the employer controlling the music that everyone listens to every day? Music that no one has a choice in? This way everyone is free to pick their own music, via headphones. Win/win.

    11. Well...*

      I mean, whether the request that’s easy to accommodate is absurd is a matter of opinion. There are some who think any religious observance is absurd, or some who think practices foreign to their religion is absurd. If it’s not interfering with business, live and let live.

      I guess there are corner cases where accomodations can be annoying but not a hardship to which generally agreed upon absurdness might be a valid reason for eye rolling, but this ain’t it. Background music is the annoying thing here.

    12. Riley and Jonesey*

      I’d say that unescapable pop music has the potential to be as offensive to the ears of (say) a Christian or Muslim person as papering their cubicle walls with pictures of Miley Cyrus in some of her more revealing outfits without their permission. It’s not a horrifying thing you’d be doing by most people standards, but completely unnecessary and insensitive.
      I’m definitely not a delicate flower but some pop music can be really icky (hello Blurred Lines) and ridiculous to impose on people in an office setting.
      Oh and I’m severely hard of hearing so forced piped music would be a nightmare for me. It was bad enough when I was working at an ice cream parlour over xmas time. I couldn’t hear people properly over Nat King Cole roasting his bloody chestnuts on an open fire for the 8th time that day.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Yes! I can’t hear normal conversations when music is playing because everything just sounds like noise and my ears can’t tell the difference between “I need this report by 5pm” and “Jolene, please don’t take my man”

    13. Mockingjay*

      While I’m not debating the validity of religious exemptions, I think the coworker seized on the strongest argument they could find to get away. I’d flee under any pretext I could think of too; I loathe pop music and the annoyance would destroy my focus. I have curated playlists to help me focus and for really technical work I prefer silence.

      Stop the music. For the sake of all employees.

    14. ecnaseener*

      Uh, this is miles and miles away from undue hardship. I just don’t get what’s so absurd about turning off the music. The part that feels absurd to you is the existence of a minority culture that rejects mainstream secular culture.

      1. Littorally*

        The part that feels absurd to you is the existence of a minority culture that rejects mainstream secular culture.

        BINGO

      2. Worldwalker*

        Yeah. The office functioned just fine without the forced music, apparently for years. So go back to the way it was — i.e., turn the music back off.

        Nobody has fun with “mandatory fun” except the people imposing it.

    15. Librarian of SHIELD*

      “Turn off the radio” would not be an undue hardship in a business where the music isn’t integral to the business itself. If this was a radio station or the business office of a music production company, then turning off the music would be an undue hardship. But if it’s just a standard office where people are sitting at computers typing stuff all day? The music is not a necessary element of the work and turning it off would not legally be considered an undue hardship.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah. And if it WERE a music production company, for instance, the issue would probably not come up because the person would not be able to work there anyway, probably.

    16. tamarack and fireweed*

      I think we all should be aware that inclusiveness means we can get confronted with requests for accommodation that we didn’t anticipate. If we react with haughtiness or sarcasm or condescension or dubiousness then chances are we’re really contributing to the problem.

      When I read the question I thought of someone who would have wanted to listen to the Christian music radio all day and objects to regular soft-rock. But I might have been wrong.

      What would you say if one of your reports, who belongs to an ethnic background that you’re not super familiar with, comes to you and explains to you that in their religious practice, casual listening to music with instruments, or human singing, or something else that’s common in everyday muzak, is not something they can do, and it makes them uncomfortable to be exposed to it at work with no way of opting out.

      I think it would be discriminatory not to take them seriously. I don’t think it’s absurd at all.

    17. Starbuck*

      Well there’s absolutely zero hardship in turning off unnecessary background music, so this seems fine.

    18. Lenora Rose*

      Well, it can’t violate any of other human rights (so no “I can’t work with a person of this gender” nonsense), it can’t create undue hardship on others, they have to be able to do the work they were hired to do, even if with an accommodation, and in some cases you can ask for confirmation that it’s a religious condition (this basically means getting a minister or religious leader or equivalent to write the religious version of a doctor’s note, and like a doctor’s note does not require invasive personal questions.)

      That’s a pretty low bar to clear, really. And yeah, turning off piped in music in an office that didn’t have music before and where the other employees did not request the music would be an easy accommodation. So would work from home.

  11. Been there*

    I’m quite sure the Thanksgiving dinner is not on the actual holiday.

    Every place I’ve worked has had a catered or potluck lunch sometime around the holiday. Pretty normal in an office setting, in non pandemic times.
    Just say you can’t go, and move on.

  12. Pipe Organ Guy*

    For #3, I can’t work with music playing unless the music is directly connected in terms of work. It doesn’t matter what the style is or whether it’s religious or secular, it takes up brain power that I might need for non-music work. I regard it as a quirk of being a trained musician; if music is playing, my brain is at some level processing it for what is going on in the music. If I know the music well, it takes over my brain even more, and so it’s not helpful to me.

  13. Observer*

    #3 – Just get rid of the music. There is NO genre of music that *everyone* likes and that anyone likes all. the. time.

    I play music in the background a LOT. I LIKE music. Yet, I would go nuts if I could never turn off the music – even though it’s the music *I* chose. And you would be surprised at how many people actively dislike “low key popular music” or some sub-genres.

    I’m not saying that having this music is a terrible imposition or anything like that. I AM saying that it’s probably not making life a lot better for a significant proportion of your staff. And, as Alison said, you’re just not going to get too many people all upset at losing the music.

    I realize that you are taken aback by the idea that it could be a problem, but don’t assume that she’s just pulling this out of her own head. There are religious traditions that ban secular music. There are religious traditions that accept secular music but their idea of appropriate is very different from the rest of society (eg a lot of love songs, a lot of marches). There are faith traditions that could easily have a problem with a lot of culturally Christian songs, as well.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      A co-worker places a pop music radio station with the most grating ear burning DJ who believes that they’re a comedic God. He is not. So many unfunny jokes which are worse than the music.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      I am definitely a music-in-the-background guy. I also am the only one coming into the office nowadays, so I can play whatever I want at whatever volume I want. I also get the entire mini-fridge to myself. Life is good! But back to the music, I turn it off whenever talking on the phone. Telephone communication is iffy under the best of circumstances. Added background noise is decidedly not helpful. Forcing this on people makes for a terrible sonic environment.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This—it’s distracting when you’re on the phone.

        I also listen to music on a channel where the queue is composed of either requests from other listeners or a bot picking music from the collection, that someone unfortunately reconfigured to lean toward frequent requests. And people will choose their favorites over and over and over and over. I often find myself hitting mute because if I have to hear “Fratelli Chase” from The Goonies one more time, I’ll scream.

    3. Musereader*

      Yeah, my taste runs to metal and alternative music, I have a handful of bands that use traditional but atypical instruments as part of metal (think hurdy gurdy, bagpipes, harp, bodhran, dulcimer… all the way to Mongolian throat singing), I think Patty Gurdy is an absolute delight but when I played her instrumental track in the office… they did not love it.

      We don’t all like the same thing and I would object to music that was not mine played because I don’t like half the chart stuff, and most people would not like the sometimes growly, mostly symphonic metal I listen to. I would absolutely be asking for an accommodation in this office to have headphones or WFH where I could listen to my own music without bothering others.

    4. Worldwalker*

      There is NO genre of music that *everyone* likes and that anyone likes all. the. time.

      Quoted for truth.

      I doubt if OP#3 would like my playlist — why should I be expected to like, or even merely tolerate, theirs?

    5. Hrodvitnir*

      Yep! I listen to music most of the day, but sometimes you want silence. And also really despise insipid pop music – I can cope for the duration of getting a lift from someone or something, but all day? Yikes.

    6. Lucy Skywalker*

      “There are faith traditions that could easily have a problem with a lot of culturally Christian songs, as well.”

      And some Christian denominations have a problem with music for other Christian denominations. For instance, Catholics tend to frown on evangelical Christian music.

  14. raida7*

    #1 I’m frustrated that my boss is putting all of us in this position for a non-essential reason, and I’m torn on what to do.
    Sorry, but your boss isn’t ‘putting you all in this position’ – they have seen that everyone is already comfortable in this environment socially. And letting you know, as someone who hadn’t attended and has clear boundaries with masks, what the environment is going to be so you can decide if that’s alright.

    You (understandably) feel this is a risk and wrong – most people don’t. So you are out of sync with the other people in your office and ***NEITHER GROUP IS WRONG***.
    So, sorry again, but you can’t expect everyone else to not enjoy their social time because you hold a different opinion on this. You can, however, suggest that there are social events planned which would not mean being side by side and eating/drinking and therefore maskless. So that you, as someone taking additional precautions, are not excluded. I would think that, since your boss brought this up with you, that it would be welcomed.

    1. Not A Manager*

      “Sorry, but your boss isn’t ‘putting you all in this position’ – they have seen that everyone is already comfortable in this environment socially.”

      Maybe. Or maybe they have seen that everyone acts like they’re comfortable when the boss has a clear preference. When the boss invites people to do risky things, that creates a pressure to do risky things.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I’m lucky to be working in a very egalitarian environment where we’re allowed to express our disagreement with decisions and managerial suggestions, pretty much always without repercussions as long as the dissent is expressed professionally (and as long as one employee isn’t constantly negative), and even in those circumstances managers need to account for the fact that some employees are more comfortable expressing dissent than others.

        That said, in any job that I’ve ever been in, it would’ve been absolutely unthinkable for a manager to ever invite an employee to their home. This is simply *not done* here, except maybe in tiny private businesses with a handful of employees, especially if the business was originally started by people who were already friends before they started the business. But even those tend to rethink things once they grow and start employing people outside the friend circle.

        1. UKDancer*

          I’d agree. I’ve never had a manager invite people to their home as a group and it would be considered weird. Also I don’t know anyone with enough space to entertain 15 people comfortably. But then I work in London so property is small and everyone is massively spread out. We tend to meet up in cafes or restaurants for things like the Christmas party or in a park for a summer picnic. I’ve a couple of friends I’ve met through work where I’ve visited them and vice versa but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

          1. londonedit*

            Yes, same here. Work parties are always held somewhere in central London, usually near the office, so people don’t have to go out of the way of their usual commute. I’ve been to one party at a boss’s house, but a) it was quite a small and dysfunctional company and b) it was a huge party they were having to celebrate a big birthday and an anniversary and various other life events, with about 200 guests, and the 15 or so of us from the office were all part of that. It was also way before Covid and all outdoors.

            1. Storm in a teacup*

              Yes same, work events tend to be somewhere in Central London or just outside London where it’s easy driving distance for the team with ample parking.
              Having said that pre-Covid when I worked in the NHS I’d been to a few consultant houses for dinners / garden parties for the team and it was often much more informal and a good bonding experience.
              Since COVID we’ve had a work meeting F2F offsite and the hotel room hired was huge to enable us to social distance and with private dining. We’re all double jabbed, we had to have a negative Covid test pre-event and provision was made for zoom dial in (and FaceTime buddy) for those who couldn’t or didn’t want to attend in person.

          2. LDN Layabout*

            Cultural differences, on a lot of levels. I would imagine the whole team of 15 going to your boss’ place for a sit down dinner in the US would be a lot rarer in NYC or other major metropolitan areas than it would be somewhere where housing stock makes sitting 15 at a single table more reasonable.

            Whereas higher levels of personal privacy in the UK aside, pretty much no area in the country has housing stock of the size that standard middle-class housing in large parts of the US achieves.

        2. Bagpuss*

          Inviting people to a dinner party in manager’s own home feels odd to me, too.

          I’ve been invited to a couple of BBQs in the gardens of people I worked for, but it was very clearly voluntary , and in the context that the company organised a couple of social events every year and there was never any pressure to attend, so it wasn’t ‘you are invited to lunch with the boss’ it was more ‘ last month’s pub quiz went well, the next social event is a BBQ which will be on [date] at [address] – partners and children welcome, let [social committee member] know by [date] if you plan to come and how many will be in your group so we can cater for the right number.’

      2. TechWorker*