my coworker takes too many smoke breaks, applying for a job when you can’t afford their products, and more

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

1. My coworker takes too many smoke breaks

I work in a small office of about 15 people. I’ve become friendly with a woman (Jill) who works in a different department than I do. Our kids are involved in the same extracurricular activities so we spend time outside of work as well. Jill is the only smoker in our office, and therefore the only one who takes smoke breaks. About half of our staff is eligible for two 15-minute breaks in addition to their lunch and these are generally taken about 10 am and 3 pm. I would understand if her smoke breaks would coincide with these break times. Often, they actually do. The problem is Jill takes a 10-15 minute smoke break nearly every hour, often while she calls her friends and complains about whatever drama she has going on currently. She also takes an extra break after her lunch hour to smoke. I handle payroll and Jill is over our hourly employees (she is also hourly). I know Jill has the ability to adjust the time clock, which worries me. I am also concerned about the fact that this leaves me covering the phones for Jill for quite a bit of the day. I will transfer a call to her and immediately get a text “can you take a message please!” because she is outside smoking.

Jill’s direct supervisor is quite busy managing the hourly employees while she handles the administrative portions of the department, and while he knows about the smoke breaks I’m not sure if he knows about the extent of them. How do I handle this? I am not only annoyed but again, concerned about the ethics of her being able to adjust her own time card.

Tell Jill you can’t cover the phones that frequently — “I can cover the phones for you at lunch and during your two 15-minute breaks, but I can’t do it the rest of the time because of my own work.” If it continues after that, which it probably will, you need to loop in her manager about what’s going on. Since you’re friendly with Jill outside of work, you might prefer to give her a heads-up about that first — something like, “I’m going to talk to Niles about what we can do to keep the phones covered when you’re not at your desk because I can’t do it as much as you need me to.” And then do talk to her boss about it.

On the timecards, do you have any reason to think she’s wrongly reporting her hours? If you do, it’s worth taking a closer look at whether her reported hours match what you observe; if they don’t, that’s something to raise to her boss as well (while being clear that it’s possible you don’t have the full story). But look at what she’s actually reporting before you do that, since it sounds like your concern is more “she could do this” rather than “she is doing this.”

2. Applying for a job when you can’t afford the company’s products

I’ve been casually job hunting for a bit now, and there’s a clothing company in my area that occasionally has openings that fit what I’m looking for. The problem is, their job postings always say that they’re looking for applicants who already own and love their products. That sounds great, except that their products are really expensive. Not couture-level, but $200 skirts, $250 trousers, $30 underwear, etc. This is wildly outside my budget! It’s all really lovely stuff, but there’s no way I could afford to shop with them.

I have two questions: 1) Is it worth applying if I am only a fan of their products from afar and don’t actually own any? I’d be looking for positions on the marketing team, so on some level I can see why they’d want people with personal experience with the products. 2) Doesn’t this limit their applicant pool to people who are already fairly well-off? Their sizing also skews small, so it would limit them in terms of body size and shape as well. This seems unwise to me (and possibly shortsighted, given how many clothing brands are looking to be more size inclusive), but perhaps they don’t care or they wouldn’t have included this in the job postings.

Go ahead and apply and see what happens. There’s a good chance that owning their products isn’t a strict requirement, but more an expression of an imaginary version of their ideal candidate that they won’t hold every applicant to. That said, be prepared to show you’re familiar with and like their clothes, and come prepared to knowledgeably reference some favorite recent items from them.

But yes, even if it’s not a strict requirement, by including it in the ad they are indeed screening out people who, like you, will assume they shouldn’t apply because they can’t afford or fit in the clothes. If you end up interviewing with them, it’s worth paying a lot of attention to what their culture is like and how homogenous it appears to be.

3. Employee is using disability protections to do whatever he wants

We’ve been having major issues with a very young, 21-year-old employee I’ll call James. We hired him knowing of his disability, gastrointestinal issues, and have made all reasonable accommodations. He works by the bathroom and he calls out if the issue is too bad.

A year in, it seems that James has started bragging that he can take all the time he wants off without repercussions. He can’t be fired so he will do what he wants and such. In the year he’s worked here, he’s called out for three and half, maybe four months.

As per James doctor, he shouldn’t be drinking soda or fatty foods. We watch him chug one can and grab another right after. He parks next to me so I see the energy drink cans all over his car. So he’s not actively trying to manage his condition but making it worse.

He’s become a poison in our company and has begun bossing around newer employees and stated he would stand outside with signs and protest vaccine mandates. We have had multiple meetings about him and would love to fire him. He’s all around bad but he’s swinging the ADA like a sword rather than using it as a shield, and we feel firing him for any reason will cause legal problems. Any advice?

You can’t fire him for his disability, but you can absolutely discipline and fire him for his behavior with other employees. The ADA isn’t a shield that allows him to do whatever he wants; it just protects him around the disability itself. Start documenting everything you’re seeing (aside from how he does/doesn’t manage his health — that part is fully none of your business, regardless of your private thoughts on it) and talk to a lawyer to help you navigate exactly how to proceed.

James might decide to sue regardless. But as long as you have a well-documented case for firing him that demonstrates it wasn’t about his disability, he’s very unlikely to prevail. Could that cost money and time? Yes. But that’s true of any employee, and it can’t be a reason you hold on to someone who’s causing so much disruption in your workplace. Dealing with occasional legal pushback is part of employing people, not something to be feared so much you don’t act when you need to and can do so legally.

Read an update to this letter

4. Should I tell my new HR person about my obsessive, emotionally abusive ex?

I started a new job — which is very exciting. I love the team and they seem to love me. I’ve kept news about my job and activities in general on the low, as an ex I dated for a brief time (less than a year) continues to behave in creepy, obsessive ways — using his platform to smear me after breaking up with him, etc etc. I ended up holding him accountable — at one point, we were in a shared professional network that he was kicked out of due to his harassment, and I’ve been pretty openly vocal about his behavior leading up to this moment. He is still acting out obsessively and passive aggressively, and I’m concerned that he may reach out to my boss to try and pull something.

Is it worth it to give my HR person a vague heads-up about this? I don’t want to give a poor impression or seem like I’m overly dramatic at a new gig, but I also am worried he may try to mess with my opportunities here.

Yes, HR and/or your boss. You don’t need to go into detail; it should be enough to simply say something like, “I want to mention that I’ve been being harassed by a man who I dated briefly. He was kicked out of a shared professional network due to his harassment, and while I don’t expect him to cause any issues here, I wanted to give you a heads-up about the situation in case he does try to contact the company if at some point he learns where I’m working.” A good HR person will ask if there’s anything you need (like his name or photo circulated with security, banning him from the building, keeping your own info off the company’s website, etc.). If you do want any of that, say so but it’s also fine to say that, at least for now, you really just want them to have the background info.

You’re not going to look like you’re overly dramatic! It’s clear you’re not the issue, he is. Delivering a calm, professional heads-up about something like this is the opposite of dramatic.

5. Should staff change announcements be in-person?

I work in a 35-person office that has most of our staff on staggered schedules due to Covid. For those folks who share an office, they take turns working in-office; others occasionally work from home or at ancillary sites, but there are usually 20 or so people in the office each day.

Just this week, we’ve had two major staff announcements: we’re losing one director, and our accounting director is stepping down to a supervisory role. Both of these announcements were done via email, rather than gathering folks together to address the shifts. I understand that those remote employees may not hear about these transitions as quickly if they are first announced live, but a follow-up email would suffice.

Our VP is in the office every day and could easily have done a quick stand-up meeting with on-site employees to announce these two impactful events, but he only sent an email about the director’s resignation; the other email announcing the shift in accounting came from our corporate headquarters.

What is your viewpoint on this? I find myself feeling irked by the way these things were announced, but I don’t know if I’m just projecting what *I* would do, rather than acknowledging that this is an acceptable way to manage announcements across a team that is somewhat scattered.

Doing it by email seems pretty reasonable to me, especially when you have people on staggered schedules. Even without the scheduling issues, though, it’s not terribly unusual to announce staffing changes by email.

{ 521 comments… read them below }

  1. LifeBeforeCorona*

    James presumably has no standing to be bossing around newer employees. Make it clear to them that he has no authority over them and they are free to ignore him. Stating outside your place of employment to protest vaccine mandates when he should be inside working? That has nothing to do with his health and it is worth documenting, disciplining and if necessary firing him.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Fire James right now. When asked why say that he has been bossing around newer employees when he has no standing to and is threatening to protest vaccine mandates in front of the office. He’s a disruptive employee and presumably bad at his job.

      Neither of those actions are a reasonable ADA accommodation or has anything to do with his illness.

      Like, I don’t understand why your company is putting up with him. He might sue and claim we fired him because of his illness. Then you hire a lawyer and fight the suit with your own evidence of his disruptiveness. An illness/ADA accommodation doesn’t mean someone can never be fired.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        ‘But you have to let people with disabilities do no work/act like arses to others/spout antivax conspiracy stuff because they can’t help it!’ guys like that say.

        Meanwhile, muggins over here with a lot of disabilities sits and fumes because this does nothing to improve the situation of disabled folks at work. I dare say there are a few people who’ve interviewed me and thought ‘oh, we can’t hire her, she’s disabled and we’d never be able to get rid of her even if she regularly told everyone to eff off’

        1. Nene Poppy*

          Employers ignore the affect their inaction with people like James have on the rest of the staff.

          I’m in the UK and work for a local council where it is very difficult to dismiss people.

          We have a Jane, who was an incompetent employee before recently developing a disability that requires accommodation. For years she has been described as an emotional vampire, plays the ‘I have kids’ card while throwing others under the bus as a way of explaining away why something went wrong due to her incompetency.

          She was moved to our service rather than managers dealing with the problems at the time. Our manager didn’t deal with the issues either and now it is worse as Jane believes she cannot be removed because of her disability. She is now demanding that service be completely re-organised and managed to suit her which includes work scheduling to the detriment of others and she is hinting at legal action. She could be moved to another council service that would be able to meet all reasonable accommodations, however, nobody wants to take her.

          Evidence is now being gathered to remove her but it is much more difficult clearly identifying failings due to general incompetence as opposed to failings due to disability.

          Ironically, she’s a friendly, chatty person and cares about job.

          Because we are reasonable human beings we feel really bad that she is going to be dismissed, because her disability means she probably won’t find another job but we are stretched so thin that unless she is replaced soon, we are going to collapse.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            It seems contrary to human nature to shut off the ‘but they’re nice, but they won’t get a job anywhere else’ instinct and it’s one of the hardest lessons I learnt becoming a manager.

            Instead, focus on the impact to others. The work isn’t getting done, or it’s having to be redone, means other staff have to take it on and invariably leads to delays and unhappy clients.

            Civil service in the UK though, I feel the pain. There’s a lot of shunting incompetent staff around instead of actually telling them ‘look, I know you want to but you can’t actually do this job. You really need to find another career’.

            1. Nene Poppy*

              If I was the manager, she would have been gone a long time ago, unfortunately, our manager avoids conflict and this is especially problematic as she doesn’t work in the same location as we do. Because of this the rest of us who have to work daily with Jane have to report back on her performance. This causes additional strain as nobody wants to feel like a snitch but it has now come down to worries about our personal safety.

              Let’s say we are llama wranglers bringing in escaped llamas or collecting them from bad owners who don’t care for them. The llamas usually come along with no trouble but other times they cut up rough so we always go out in pairs. Jane either stands back citing disability or calls in sick meaning another wrangler has to come in or a lone llama wrangler has to deal with it alone.

              Our manager’s way of addressing a problem is sending pass-agg emails to everyone on rather than just Jane. We had one incident when something went dreadfully wrong (Jane’s fault) and we were all called into a meeting. Jane showed up to the meeting with her kids in tow! What kind of manager would give an employee a bollocking in front of little kids. Funny thing is, one of the other wranglers spoke to the eldest kid who was puzzled about why they were pulled out of school for the day and had to come to the llama centre!

              We have had to threaten our own union action if the Jane problem is not addressed. It is that bad.

              (No llamas were harmed in the writing of this comment!)

              1. EPLawyer*

                She … brought her children to a work meeting???!!!!! The boss didn’t kick the kids out of the meeting? My mind it is boggling.

                1. Nene Poppy*

                  Yep. Nobody else in the office, so three kids under the age of 8 would have been left alone in the building. One of my kinder colleagues went and got the kids paper and markers. That is how she found out that they were pulled out of class. Kids sat outside the conference room which had the door propped open. Jane was put on a PIP and on warning for that little stunt.

                2. Observer*

                  I don’t care. No one else really needed to be in that meeting anyway, to they caould have been sent out with the lowest ranked employee (who I’m betting would have been VERY happy – as much as no one wants to be the baby sitter, they want even LESS to sit in a meeting called to harangue everyone over the misbehavior of one person.)

              2. Some Lady*

                I really love the image of llamas “cutting up rough.” It’s getting me to think of llamas up to all kinds of trouble. Llamas wearing leather jackets acting like surly teenagers. Llamas involved in underground dice games. Llamas starting drama with each others’ boyfriends…

                1. Former Admin Turned Project Manager*

                  Llama would never cause such a ruckus. Alpacas, on the other hand, might very well create a street gang.

              3. Observer*

                . Jane showed up to the meeting with her kids in tow! What kind of manager would give an employee a bollocking in front of little kids. Funny thing is, one of the other wranglers spoke to the eldest kid who was puzzled about why they were pulled out of school for the day and had to come to the llama centre!

                She pulled her kids out of school to protect her from being reamed out?! I know that you probably can’t fire her for that, but that DOES tell me that she is NOT a nice person! Who does that to their kids?!

                Your idiot manager should have sent the kids out of the room, and then sent everyone else out as well and REALLY raked her over the coals.

                1. Nene Poppy*

                  Her trying to be a clever boots is starting to backfire. We have public engagement days several times a year. She calls in ill on set up day, comes in for the event but calls in ill again the next day when it is clean up. She’s been doing this for years. The rest of us complained about what she was doing as it was every single event and therefore not a coincidence, but those higher up only took an interest when we started requiring additional help, which hit their budget. That’s local government.

          2. Anon for this*

            I’m baffled by the idea that someone who is intentionally eating things they know will take them out of commission isn’t abusing their disability. I have some food sensitivities, and I would never deliberately eat food that triggers my symptoms to get out of work.

            This seems less like “not managing symptoms” and more like “deliberately triggering an attack”.

            1. Op 3*

              That’s what i thought too. I’m a smoker if i had COPD and claimed it as a disability is it null and void if I’m outside smoking knowing I’m not making it better? It’s crazy honestly.

              1. NoviceManagerGuy*

                Yeah, but you have enough to fire him without getting into his self-destructive personal habits at all. So why open that can of worms?

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  This. Keep the complaints (to HR and whoever else is involved with firing) clear and streamlined and laser focused on how he is doing a bad job at work. Which you have a lot of evidence for, in multiple ways.

                  Derailing to his medical condition is playing on his ground–that isn’t the reason for this firing, and it’s only to his advantage to drag it in.

                  As a thing to rail about to your friend over coffee, you can do “Bob, who I think is actively triggering his IBS to get out of work–that forking guy.” To the people you need to fire Bob, you focus on the bad effects on deliverables and the surrounding employees.

                2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  And bringing in ANY comment on his medical condition gives him an opening to say you fired him because he’s sick. Just leave every piece of that out. He’s an incompetent bully, and I’m confident you’ve got more than enough material to work with to fire him without brining that in.

                3. The OTHER other*

                  OP3 I completely sympathize with your frustration, it does sound as though he only cares about his disorder in order to get out of work but please don’t focus on or even mention that at all when dealing with this. Alison and other commenters here give excellent reasons why, and I can tell you firsthand that getting into the medical issue vs: the work is a BIG mistake.

                  Years ago we had to fire an employee, Dave, that was becoming increasingly unreliable, likely due to alcoholism/addiction. Head manager was very clear in the dispute that it was about performance, unreliability, absenteeism, tardiness, etc. A witness (not me, but I was there) let slip that problem employee was drinking too much, and Dave tried to drag his whole medical history, pain meds, etc into it. He lost, but that one slip up gave him a foothold to drag things out for weeks.

                  That said, your company has got to get rid of this guy, you can’t let someone bully you with a disability issue. Having a disability is not an excuse to act like a jerk.

                4. Observer*

                  And bringing in ANY comment on his medical condition gives him an opening to say you fired him because he’s sick. Just leave every piece of that out. He’s an incompetent bully, and I’m confident you’ve got more than enough material to work with to fire him without brining that in.

                  I’m repeating this because it is 100% exactly the case.

                5. quill*

                  Yeah. Don’t go there. Addiction keeps many people doing things that are objectively bad for their health, and frankly? Him not taking care of himself is the least of your worries as a company.

                6. pope suburban*

                  Agreed. We’ve got someone like this who doesn’t do her work, terrorizes junior staff, speaks to everyone with contempt, lies on her time sheets, frequently causes problems through deliberate refusal to share information, and calls out so frequently that even our patrons know when she’s not going to be here. She, like James, has more or less weaponized her health problems. While I might personally *feel* very much “stop hitting yourself” when I see her engaging in harmful behaviors, at the end of the day that’s only my personal feeling. The real issue is her skiving and stealing, and the negative effects that has on our unit, our relationships with other units, and the public. It doesn’t matter *why* she’s not around or doing her job, it matters that she’s not doing it and hasn’t for ten damn years. The health stuff is a total red herring and I wish that management would look at someone who’s been on probation for half the decade she’s been here and said, “You know what, enough, this person can’t hack it and she needs to go.”

                7. Not So NewReader*

                  @Pope: Lies on her time sheets? That stands alone as a dismissible offense. Don’t even need to add in any of the other stuff.

                8. pope suburban*

                  @Not So New Reader: One would think! I’ve drawn it to our supervisor’s attention more than once and other people have backed me up (and other people reported it before I worked here), and yet…crickets. HR here is notorious for being malignantly ineffective, though. They will always accommodate a bully if the bully is threatening them with something like this. That’s actually why my predecessor quit- the former HR assistant bullied her to an egregious degree for a long time, and everyone was afraid to do anything because she threatened them with a lawsuit. Which was absurd on its face by every account I’ve heard, but…we don’t have the best people in charge here and this kind of thing happens as a result. We incubate some really problematic people and behaviors, and that’s a contributing factor in why I’m looking to leave ASAP.

              2. Boof*

                As a provider who has in the past dealt with people with such severe copd that they were in oxygen and STILL SMOKING; the disability is still there and needs to be accommodated, though i suspect you wouldn’t have to accommodate copd + smoke breaks (if employers scheduling smoke breaks is even still a thing) – also probably don’t have to accommodate/allow smoking while using o2 on site considering the fire/explosion risk is a hazard to others

              3. Brightwanderer*

                The problem is that it’s a very easy slippery slope from something that seems very obvious – like these examples – into the sort of mindset I was struggling against while I was trying to keep working through chronic illness – which is that if you’re not getting better, or even remaining stable, you’re doing something wrong. Especially the more nebulous the illness and the less understood it is, you get people who are absolutely convinced that there’s no _way_ you would be taking this many sick days if you were Doing All You Could to manage/treat the illness, and who will also bring in their own prejudices and assumptions about what’s good or bad for it. So while I get the desire to call him out on it, I think you need to resist that, for the sake of not establishing a precedent, and because you actually would be veering into disability discrimination territory there. You can hold him to account for his other behaviours without touching on it.

                1. münchner kindl*

                  Also: non-disabled employees aren’t policed in their off-work habits, even if they are detrimental, too – getting drunk on weekend, or fasting before a body-building competition, or binge-watching are all not healthy, but we don’t want employers to police that.

                  Or companies to dictate what food non-disabled employees are allowed to eat: yes, veggies are healthier than cheeseburgers, but people are allowed to make non-optimal choices in their personal lives.

              4. Observer*

                That’s what i thought too. I’m a smoker if i had COPD and claimed it as a disability is it null and void if I’m outside smoking

                That’s the thing. It doesn’t matter how well or how poorly someone is managing their illness – you can’t claim that they don’t have the illness even if they are objectively doing something that makes it worse.

                And, by the way, you can’t even claim that the person wouldn’t have the illness or the symptoms if the “just managed it better.”

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Right. Then you would end up with my employer telling me I can’t have a sick day when my back goes out because “if you just lost weight, your back would get better.” Or, to take it to the extreme, not making maternity leave available because “it was your choice to get pregnant.” You have to accept the disability and not dwell on anything the person could theoretically be doing that exacerbates it.

                2. OhNo*

                  Yeah, unfortunately that’s a double-edged sword. Is it frustrating to have to cover for him way more than is strictly necessary because he won’t manage his illness? Sure. But he is still ill, and that still needs to be accommodated.

                  It’s way easier sometimes, when you have someone with a disability who behaves badly, to focus on the disability, because there’s less nuance there when you’re complaining. But this is really a case where you gotta get into the weird world of interpersonal behavior to justify his firing, even though it’s going to be a harder and longer process, if you want him gone.

                3. Op 3*

                  There’s no plan on your diet sucks good bye. Just noting on how off the system is that you can say i have a stomach issue made worse by junk food and soda. Continue to eat junk food and soda and still claim ada even though you’re actively making it worse against doctors orders. I’m not focusing on this just a observation really. We are actively working on getting what’s needed to get him out today.

                4. Observer*

                  Just noting on how off the system is that you can say i have a stomach issue made worse by junk food and soda. Continue to eat junk food and soda and still claim ada even though you’re actively making it worse against doctors orders.

                  What you need to realize that it just doesn’t work that way. Not just from a legal point of view. You simply have no standing, legal or moral, to pass those judgements. I get how you feel, and even sympathize.

                  But there are very good reasons why employers don’t get to weigh in. A system where this kind of thing were open to discussion or where it could be used to make decisions would stink a LOT worse. There are just too many complications to for it to work in any sort of reasonable fashion.

              5. LizM*

                This is such a slippery slope.

                The relationship between food and health is such a complicated one. I have recently been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I’ve had to completely overhaul my diet and have to eat and test my blood on a specific schedule. To say it’s hard is an understatement. It’s also triggered a lot of body image issues I thought I’d worked through in therapy a decade ago.

                So that’s to say, I am currently working with my supervisor to make sure that I can accommodate my new schedule. But the details of my treatment and diet and pregnancy are really none of his business. If I went into detail, I could totally see some people thinking that I caused this (I am an older pregnancy and was overweight when I got pregnant).

                I can totally see being frustrated that you feel like he’s not taking his condition seriously. But that’s between him and his doctor. You can’t pick and choose which disabilities to accommodate based on your nonmedical judgment of who is “to blame” for their symptoms and who is not.

                1. Anonymous Today*

                  It is my understanding that anyone who is pregnant can get gestational diabetes, young or older, thin or not so thin.

                  I hope you feel better soon.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              It’s tempting to think that way, believe me, but that kind of train of thought isn’t helpful and just increases your own stress (‘why are they doing that?!’ thoughts) since there’s literally nothing you can do about it and there’s a chance that you might be wrong.

              (Basically part of trying to keep my stress levels under control the last 2 years has been removing thoughts that I can’t do anything about. I don’t watch the news for the same reason. It really, really makes a difference!)

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                I don’t watch the news for the same reason. It really, really makes a difference!

                +1. Can’t recommend that enough. Disconnecting from the news, especially the national and world news, was a drastically life-improving change.

                1. Falling Diphthong*

                  Thirding–disengaged at the last election, while undergoing cancer treatment. (Re-engaged with a midday check on January 6th to see whether the Georgia election results were in, and: Well.)

                  If something important happens, someone will tell me. Really helped my overall stress levels to not be borrowing any outside stress.

              2. foolofgrace*

                Once, I gave up the news for nearly five years; I just couldn’t cope with my depression AND the news. It was a like a weight off my shoulders. If important things happened, news got back to me, like when Ingmar Bergman died.

            3. WellRed*

              Unfortunately food can be addictive and it’s hard for some people to control what they consume, no matter the outcome. But yeah, hard to feel sorry for this guy. I’d be annoyed watching this, too.

            4. A.J.*

              You have no idea what the effect is of the guy not following his doctor’s advice, though. It sounds like you think that if he drinks soda that’s a direct line to him spending an hour in the bathroom. Maybe it’s more of a “it could help if he doesn’t have this, but he’s going to be sick a lot regardless” thing. Like, I’ve had doctors tell me certain foods to avoid as possible rosacea triggers. But either way, I still have rosacea, it’s a problem with the capillaries on my face.

              Also, as a human, maybe it’s better to realize that it’s hard for lots of people to follow particular dietary rules and not judge them for it when they don’t.

              At any rate, the OP is making a mess legally if she makes her opinion that the employee is managing his symptoms wrong or deliberately triggering them part of any discipline/termination at work. That’s dangerously close, or possibly over the line, of disciplining him because of his disability, which is exactly what she’s not supposed to do. It doesn’t matter if she thinks some of his symptoms are his fault, she legally has to accommodate his disability anyway.

            5. JB*

              It didn’t sound to me like he’s triggering attacks to get out of work.

              It sounds like he’s eating food that triggets his condition all the time, and also (seperately) telling people he can get off of work whenever he wants with no consequences, i.e. he can lie about attacks or the degree of severity of his condition.

              Anyway, there are several reasons this is a bad road to go down. It’s unfortunately not that simple for some people to change food habits. There can be other factors that go into it; I used to eat food that triggered my food intolerance intentionally as part of an eating disorder and a form of self-harm. Other people may have some nutritional or other need that’s satisfied by the food in question that they just can’t get elsewhere or can’t get elsewhere affordably. Ex. Caffiene, if he has a reliance on it and can’t stand coffee. My point is not that these are reasonable excuses to make other people’s lives harder, but that these are not things that a coworker or manager can really force him to address, and the optics are bad.

              Also, other employees might hear a different message – for example, if they have a condition that they can usually anticipate how it will respond to food, but it throws them for a loop one day and reacts worse than usual to ‘risky’ food and they have to call out – now they’re worried about whether management is going to be policing their health choices.

              1. OhNo*

                Also, just to present a different perspective: it could be a case of conflicting conditions.

                For example, I’m not supposed to have caffeine because it messes with my stomach, but I also use caffeine to mitigate the effects of my insomnia and help self-medicate the worst effects of my ADD (to preempt commentary: this method was rubber-stamped by my doc, as prescription ADD meds aren’t an option for me right now). From the outside, it would probably look like I was deliberately triggering my stomach issues to get out of work, but I’m really trying to get more work done in the moment, even though I know I’ll be paying for it later.

                Not saying this is what’s happening with this employee, since they sound like a major jerk. But it just goes to show that you don’t always have all the facts, and so the situation can be different from what you initially perceive.

                1. MrsCHX*

                  Does it matter? Nope. Someone who is bragging about using their disability to get time off, the rest of the facts aren’t relevant.

                  Discipline him for the obvious disciplinary issues. Period.

            6. Aquawoman*

              I get where you’re coming from but this is a super slippery slope. There is already too much skepticism around disabilities, and food-related issues are often way more complicated than people think. This guy is not at all sympathetic but people with disabilities shouldn’t have to explain their illness-management to their bosses. Maybe his doctor tells him not to drink soda but he’s found that soda doesn’t really affect him. Maybe quitting caffeine triggers migraines and it’s better to have some GI issues than migraines. Obviously, this dude is probably just a tool, but I really think that particular door should remain closed.

              Re the smoking-COPD example, it’s really hard for some people to quit smoking. Cigarette companies design their products to be miserable to get off of. Some people are self-medicating with cigarettes for things that could get treated if we had a equitable medical system. Etc.

              1. Rach*

                My husband’s former boss literally lost half her lung from cancer and continued smoking (after trying so hard to quit). Why I don’t understand, I do sympathize, she has it rough, and this will probably kill her. She doesn’t need my judgement.

                1. Health Insurance Nerd*

                  Yup. My mom was in the hospital suffering from congestive heart failure brought on by her COPD and LIT A CIGARETTE in her hospital bed. Nicotine addiction is no joke.

            7. Observer*

              This seems less like “not managing symptoms” and more like “deliberately triggering an attack”.

              Maybe. You don’t know enough to know what’s really going on there. And it really is no one’s business.

          3. Bagpuss*

            I’m sorry you are having to go through that.

            We had a Jane – and believe me, as employers we were very much aware of the effect that they had, but we had to ensure that we gathered the evidence and went through all the correct steps in order to dismiss them, and of course we could not tell the other staff that that was what was happening because personnel issues are confidential and you have to be very careful to ensure that you are following fair processes, and not, for example, pre-judging the outcome of disciplinary processes / PIPs etc. Not to mention the risk of being accused of discrimination or bullying.

            With our Jane, we did do what we could – asked people to document their concerns , explained that we can’t discuss another employee with them but we were aware of issues and trying to resolve them etc. I am sure that some people assumed that we were doing nothing and brushing them off , right up until our ‘Jane’ left.

            Our ‘Jane’ was in total denial about the impact of their actions on others and remained convinced to the last that they were doing a great job and we were just horrible employers who had it in for them.

            The whole thing was utterly exhausting. and it left a real sour taste as they totally exploited their (self diagnosed) disability and it’s really hard to not let that colour how you feel about / respond to others who need accommodations (I know it made me much more reluctant to mention anything I need, because I don’t want to be seen as another ‘Jane’)

            1. Observer*

              With our Jane, we did do what we could – asked people to document their concerns , explained that we can’t discuss another employee with them but we were aware of issues and trying to resolve them etc. I am sure that some people assumed that we were doing nothing and brushing them off , right up until our ‘Jane’ left.

              But how long did it take? And did you do other things that would reasonably lead people to believe that you are not going to take strong(er) action if needed?

              Calling general meetings and sending mass emails when one person does something wrong is NOT the way to go. You also don’t need years of this kind of thing in order to document what is going on. So, when those two things show up, it IS reasonable for staff to say that management either doesn’t get it or doesn’t care.

        2. JB*


          What’s happening here is that at least one of the people forced to deal daily with this guy will some day be in a management position and will hesitate to hire people with disabilities, because they’ve been taught by the company that people with disabilities are impossible to get rid of.

        3. selena81*

          ikr: that story is going to irk most handicapped people because we’ve all met hiring managers who were secretely worried that they can not fire us if the job doesn’t work out.
          (Which is just as big nonsense as earlier concerns that women or non-white people were litigatious)

      2. Maid Dombegh*

        Well, I don’t think they can fire him literally right now. It sounds like right now everyone knows he’s a problem, but nobody is actually writing it down or telling him to knock it off. They need to gather documentation first, maybe put him on a PIP, that kind of thing. That way when they do fire him in a few months and he tries to sue, they will have all their ducks in a row to prove that the firing was due to his behavior not his illness. You speak to that in your last paragraph, but the point is the evidence must be gathered and documented first.

        1. Op 3*

          Majority of the issues have been brought up and documented. He’s on very thin ice and will be fired for the first non ada problem. Issue is he’s not showing up enough. He called off today. It’s tough because we can’t find the people to come in and work and the ones that do are awful.

          1. Boof*

            It might be worth asking an employment lawyer at what point can you no longer reasonably accommodate being out sick; the illogical extreme, you wouldn’t be expected to just keep paying him if he was never able to work, correct? I’m going to guess if he’s missing over 20% of work, the reasonable accommodation is to offer part time hours, not unlimited paid full time off (if that’s what’s happening, maybe his time off isn’t paid, in which case again, still worth talking to a lawyer about what level of reliability is reasonable to accommodate)

              1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                Like the situation I describe below, where the guy barely showed up to work at all one year, part of the documentation with HR showed that because he was showing up so infrequently we may as well have a vacancy there for all the work that was getting done.

                The role needed, at least, someone doing 4 days a week. Not one day a month.

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  What Keymaster said. Back during the initial waves of Covid we had someone on my shift get Long Covid, and despite everything that was tried to accommodate their illness including no questions asked work from home (we’re back of the office medical, so yes for a lot of the time we were still going into the office), and he just couldn’t string together enough hours to help with the workload. We were able to negotiate a separation, fully eligible for rehire, because it just wasn’t sustainable to have someone who in 8 months time had worked the equivalent of six and a half weeks.

              2. Observer*

                It’s possible that even though he’s not getting paid his excessive absences might still be enough to fire him. While additional leave CAN be an ADA accommodation, it’s not necessarily REQUIRED if you can show that it’s really causing a burden.

            1. The OTHER other*

              If memory serves, we had a letter from someone whose coworker basically had open-ended time off (with pay, I believe) due to disability. Some weeks he would only work 10-15 hours. Company’s “accommodation “ seemed to be “we’ll just have LW do all the work”, so LW was regularly working 70-80 hour weeks, I believe with no overtime. It wasn’t a reasonable accommodation at all, but somehow the company thought it was a workable solution.

              1. Hlao-roo*

                Ye, it’s in the archives under “my coworker is constantly out and I have to cover for him — including canceling my own vacations” from November 16, 2016.

          2. I should really pick a name*

            Obviously this is an issue for a lawyer, but presumably there is a point where he’s missing enough work that it’s no longer a reasonable accommodation.

            If his job is X, but he can only do X nine months of of twelve, is X actually getting done?

          3. Beth*

            I will join you in virtual festivities when you’re finally able to get rid of this parasite. Someone like that does SO MUCH damage to every other employee, just by getting away with their scumbaggery.

          4. Sara without an H*

            I was just coming here to ask about that. Good on you for getting documentation — too many managers don’t do that until the situation is way out of control. If your firm doesn’t have its own in-house counsel, you might want to consult an employment lawyer with experience in ADA cases to make sure you’re not overlooking anything that could come back to bite you later.

            And it’s been my experience that many of the people who scream “I’ll sue!” never actually follow through on the threat. (Or else all the lawyers they talk to laugh in their faces.)

          5. No Sleep For The Wicked*

            Now that you’ve said this, it sounds to me like James isn’t your real issue. He is (deservedly) on his way out, but that isn’t going to improve much for you until management hires more people to share the workload – which they could have done at any time before now.

      3. bamcheeks*

        fight the suit with your own evidence

        “With your own evidence” is the key bit– what usually stops employers doing this is that they know they haven’t got the evidence trail to demonstrate a clear and consistent pattern of disruptiveness and attempts to solve it. So that’s the bit OP and HR need to work on.

        1. Aquawoman*

          Well, it does help that he is bragging about how he can do anything he wants to a bunch of employees who dislike him.

          1. The OTHER other*

            Not to defend this guy at all, but if this goes to court or even to some sort of mediation, this sort of thing will not fly at all as evidence. Have these people gone on record with what he said to them, and when? If not, it’s easily dismissed as hearsay and gossip. LW says they’ve gathered lots of documentation, so let’s hope they already have their ducks in a row.

            1. bamcheeks*

              Have I missed a comment or something? There’s nothing in the letter about documentation– they say, “lots of meetings about him” but meetings where people get together and say, “this is terrible, but what can we do?” don’t sound like they’ve generated much actual evidence that he’s been made aware of the problem and the need to change his behaviour.

      4. Observer*

        Fire James right now

        No, document first. It’s WELL worth the hassle. Given his behavior, you’ll have everything you need in short order. And this way, when / if the EEOC comes calling, they will be out of your hair quite quickly.

        And if you get a lawyer’s letter, sending them a copy of the documentation will generally keep the case from landing in court. So, you wind up saving time, money and aggravation. The thing is that no lawyer is taking this on on contingency, certainly not once they see that you have a strong case. And unless James is a trust fund baby with high access to that trust fund, it’s HIGHLY unlikely that he’s going to be able to pay a lawyer to take this into court.

  2. jm*

    LW 2, any chance of getting some items from their brand through a sample sale or a secondhand app like poshmark?

    1. Pikachu*

      Abercrombie used to be notorious for this kind of thing. Employees were not allowed to wear past season/sale items on the floor. Polo Ralph Lauren paid out a decent bit of money after a class action lawsuit brought by employees who spent thousands on work wardrobes.

      California has a lot of very specific rules regarding uniforms and employers being responsible for the cost. Not sure about other states. LW2 should take a close look at what the state labor board has to say about who is financial responsible for “uniforms” and what is classified as a uniform.

      1. Anonariffic*

        Ugh, Abercrombie. I remember they were notorious when I was in high school- nobody could walk by the store entrance without coughing at the fog of fragrance or cologne or whatever it was, but also the managers would actually come running out into the main mall to try to recruit anyone walking by that fit the popular/preppy stereotype look of tall, slim, and either blond(e) or highlighted.

      2. Training Nancy*

        This! My daughter had the same experience with American Eagle. They require wearing their latest clothes every shift, and she ended up spending almost as much as she was earning.

      3. Aquawoman*

        Yeah, I forget which one it was, but one of those trendy stores was sizeist as part of their brand. The owner/founder specifically said he didn’t want fat people wearing his clothes because it would hurt the brand.

          1. Polar Bear Hug*

            Ugh, I kept typing Lulukemon and finally got that corrected and the k just moved earlier on! Lu-Lu-Lemon. There. :)

          1. The New Wanderer*

            You’re right, sizeist but also racist… Oh wait, the latter was Tommy Hilfiger (possibly in addition, but I recall TH was at one point not okay with black people wearing the logo). No shortage of “popular” brands with really unpleasant PR scandals over who should be wearing their clothes.

            1. PeopleLieOnTheInternet*

              There’s no evidence that Tommy Hilfiger ever said anything of the kind, on Oprah or anywhere else. Just a nasty Internet rumor.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          Oh, Abercrombie guy was all about those nasty opinions. He wanted beautiful skinny white people in his clothes and wasn’t at all ashamed to say it.

          I went into an A&F ONCE, and after hunting for my completely ordinary size (8 US) for some time, I realized that only sizes 0-4 hung from the racks while other sizes were shunted to shelves about six inches off the ground. When I realized I’d basically have to crawl around on the floor in order to dig out the (apparently shameful, elephantine) size 8 jeans that they had deigned to stock for (shameful, elephantine) people like me, I turned around and left.

      4. quill*

        I applied for a job at coach once. I was told I “didn’t fit the company image” and not to bother waiting to hear back when I turned in the application, back when they still did paper applications.

        I was a stout, curly haired 19 year old with a visible limp at the time, I still wonder what exactly was the point where the store manager looked at me and said “nope.”

        1. HoundMom*

          When my kids were young and in a double stroller, I went into A&F to buy things for my teen nephews who were into the brand. The sales person (who was no more than 20) told me I was in the wrong store.

          1. allathian*

            Mmm. I can’t remember the number of boutiques I looked into, just out of curiosity, when I was in Paris. More than once, a salesperson approached me, said “on n’a rien pour vous ici” and more or less ushered me to the door as quickly as they could. I wasn’t even obese at the time, just at the top end of the normal weight range, or slightly overweight. But apparently they only wanted zero sized people in their stores and wearing their clothes. Granted, most of the clothes were out of my price range as well, but it was unsettling to say the least.

    2. Malika*

      When a friend of mine worked as a student in a super-posh boutique, she often went into work with her thrift shop finds. She has a talent for styling, and the boutique owner loved how she dressed herself and her enthusiasm towards customers on how they could find the most flattering combinations and why a certain clothing item would make a great addition to their wardrobe. A savvy shop manager knows that this is what is important, not whether you are able to buy the clothing items they sell. Maybe this is not your talent, maybe it’ s another aspect of customer service, product presentation, bookkeeping etc. Highlight your applicable skills and the savvy manager will quickly hire you!

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Most clothing retailers will give employees a “clothing allowance” so they can purchase clothing from the store at a discount.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      LW, not a fan of this type of thing. Much younger me applied at Casual Corner it was the same deal as we are talking about here. Minimum wage and $100 pants. Even with 40% off I needed a second job to pay for the clothes. At that time, $60 was two or three full outfits for me, not just ONE pair of pants.

      I gave up. And that is because I figured this rule telegraphed other problems would bubble to the surface shortly. It just not bode well for what I thought my experience at the company would be like.

    1. Loulou*

      I assume pro-email. It seems untenable to do in-person announcements when your staff are working on staggered schedules — it means you’ll always have some people find out by email anyway.

      1. The OTHER other*

        And not just staggered schedules; some employees are remote. IMO email where everyone gets the same info at the same time is actually a better way to handle it than live meeting for the people working 9-5 and people working later or from home hear about it later, sometimes through gossip vs: the official announcement.

        I wonder whether LW feels there are other communication issues at this company that make this seem more of a problem?

        1. TiredEmployee*

          Email is better than my employer’s approach of Yammer post. I need to know about staffing changes for some reports and have to keep my own list because it’s so hard to find the posts again once they become relevant! (e.g. Wakeen moved to B team effective 1st Dec, Joaquin leaving 22nd Nov etc.)

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            And emails only work if everyone is on the listing. I don’t know how many times I got an angry call from head office asking why I hadn’t replied to an email, only to find that HR had forgotten us two remote workers in the satellite office. Or we’d get an email that has obviously been sent a couple of days ago and transferred just today.

            1. Observer*

              It’s a lot easier to deal with that then trying to deal with different methods for different people.

              Your HR people sound like incompetent idiots, to be honest. Why in heaven’s name are they not just using standard email groups? How hard is it to put everyone on the ONE cc list for an email that won’t work with the normal groups?

            2. Underrated Pear*

              But that seems like a situation of your workplace just being abnormally bad at using email. I’m not clear how in-person announcements would be preferable if the idea is to make sure everyone gets the message – anyone who works remotely, is out sick, is in another meeting, etc, would miss the announcement, thus necessitating a follow-up email, which puts you back at square one.

        2. Momma Bear*

          We have staffing changes mentioned in meetings but also in email as a follow up – as in “here’s the new org chart for your future reference.” If it directly impacts me, I’d like to hear it more directly, but I really don’t need to know much about who is now in charge of Llama Grooming at the satellite office when I work for HQ in Teapots.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        This company is big enough to have a corporate headquarters. Email will reach people at ALL locations at the same time.

    2. PollyQ*

      I read Alison’s response as “pro email,” given her comment about staggered schedules.

      Personally, I’m baffled as to why LW#5 has any issue with email at all. Granted, I’ve mostly worked at much larger companies, but sending out a basic announcement like this seems entirely unexceptional to me.

      1. Loulou*

        Yeah, I’m really scratching my head about OP’s reaction. In fact, it seems like such an odd take that I’m wondering if there are big communication issues at work and that’s coloring how she sees it? It seriously would never occur to me to be miffed about this. It’s just the way most places I’ve worked have handled staff news.

        1. Feelings... nothing more than feelings*

          I have learned from reading AAM that there are more people than I ever imagine who get miffed about things like e-mail announcements and cheap ass rolls.

          1. Denver Gutierrez*

            Probably the same people who write to Miss Manners complaining they got an invitation via Facebook instead of a handwritten invite on fancy stationary hand-delivered by a coachman in a fancy carriage.

            1. Mr. Shark*

              I think for general announcements e-mail makes sense. If it was your specific department head, boss or maybe grandboss, then a personal announcement or a meeting announcement might be appropriate.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Unless their email systems are completely broken and unsupported I can’t see the issue too. I’ve never been called into a meeting to be told about someone leaving – it’s always, always, been an email notification.

          Sometimes they ask us in IT to set it up to go out at a specific time and date. Happy to.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            The only time I’ve ever been called into a meeting to be told someone was leaving/changing jobs, it was because the person changing jobs was my direct manager and the change in positions was going to have a direct impact on my work. Everybody else found out in an email announcement.

            1. Sara without an H*

              Yes, that’s been my experience, too. Setting up in-person meetings for the whole organization is usually too complicated, and nobody who doesn’t work directly with the person who’s leaving is going to care all that much.

            2. ThatGirl*

              I was once called into a very hastily assembled department meeting (so about 25 people within a much bigger organization) so our manager could tell us someone had just been walked out for “violating company policy”. Still don’t know what he did to get fired, but it was an immediate teammate of mine so we did need to know he wasn’t coming back.

              And I guess my teammates and I at a different job were alerted immediately when one of our coworkers was laid off, but again, that was 4 people, not a whole company.

              But yes, most of the time, people leaving on normal terms has been an email, even in the Before times.

            3. Observer*

              This makes sense – you meet when a conversation needs to be had or there is too much information for an email.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Flashbacks to a previous job when we were told in a company-wide meeting that someone was being laid off. The person in question was also told in the meeting and not beforehand. I will never forget the look on her face.

        3. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, in olden times, my old job would have a quick stand-up meeting, but only to announce things at the level of the biggest boss’s retirement. Normal staff changes? Email at best.

        4. Anonym*

          I would be pretty miffed to have my work interrupted for a meeting like this! It’s a waste of everyone’s time, the info is not urgent, it requires no discussion or feedback – do not have a meeting. Send an email! If it’s positive news (like a promotion) people can then easily send a nice note to the person. If it’s a bit more sensitive, like the person stepping back from a role, how about let’s not pop them awkwardly in front of a crowd about it?

          If it’s just info you need to share, DO NOT HAVE A MEETING.

          1. BlueAnon*

            Before I was a fully remote worker, I hated NOTHING more than the drop everything, “can everyone huddle for a minute” meeting to announce something silly like this. For the vast majority of employees, a director leaving will have little impact on their day to day. Heck, most departures of any level will only impact a handful of workers and I’d get called to a huddle to be told Sue from sales who I didn’t even know existed was leaving.

      2. Allonge*

        In some staffing changes I would see a reason – there have been times where I made an effort to talk to my team about something before HR sent the email. But these were always about suddenly having a new team member transferred in from another unit, so both impacting the team directly and the immediate reactions toward the new team member were quite important to be civil and not like ‘wth’.

        But people leaving? No. I mean, if they want to announce it, fine, but this is where COVID and shifts can weigh in harder than personal preferences for email / in-person. In any case it’s not outrageous.

        1. Liz*

          Where I work, any staff changes impacting my team directly were communicated in person, pre-COVID, when we were all in the office. I would assume other groups do the same. But anything else, retirements, promotions, people moving and restructuring? All are done via a company-wide email, and I know in my group, we were always told prior to that, so again, I’d assume other groups do the same.
          Then again, I’m still a bit salty when I got promoted, no announcement was sent out. I don’t know if it was an oversight, or because the job wasn’t posted (didn’t need to be as my bosses boss left, he applied for and got her job, and they eliminated mine, and moved me into his old one). I’m guessing that as people have gotten their knickers in a twist before when people in a group were promoted INTO a position within their group.

        2. BethDH*

          I wonder if the OP just thinks it should be done where people can ask questions. To me those are two separate moments — the email announcement, then the discussion of what comes next. Our announcements about people leaving often include a line about when/how there will be follow-up, usually at the regularly scheduled meetings of relevant teams.

      3. Lance*

        Even while fully in-person, before the pandemic, any and all staffing changes around the place were announced just by e-mail (with a direct team introduction in the next meeting for that particular team, when people were coming onto the job). Announcing them first and foremost by in-person meeting just seems… odd to me.

        1. Myrin*

          And especially by an in-person meeting happening specifically because of these staffing changes. I’d feel yet different if there was a meeting happening anyway and as one of several points, the personnel changes got brought up – that seems pretty natural to me. But to gather everyone just for this?

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Yeah, unless it’s the literal head of the company turning over, a meeting seems like overkill. By a lot.

            1. Berkeleyfarm*

              Yeah if it was at the top I can sort of see it, at least in the Before Times.

              I vividly remember one such meeting, but it was before email was incredibly widely used.

              I also remember another where we were told by an interim boss that the creepy manager the former boss was protecting was being escorted off the property as he spoke. We were so happy about that we ended up all piling in each others’ cars and heading for a Mexican restaurant that served margaritas by the pitcher. We consumed a few pitchers. The interim boss signed off on the expense report without complaint. Having us all somewhere else let the “clean-out crew” work without interference.

      4. Cranky lady*

        I had a similar reaction. I’ve worked at large and small companies. The only time departures were announced in a way other than email were when the entire company could fit at a kitchen table.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes, exactly. Usually and pre-Covid the person’s immediate team would be notified in person (not necessarily with a dedicated meeting but sometimes there would be a meeting if it’s a higher-up manager who’s leaving or the person is retiring, for example) but as far as the whole-company announcement of their departure goes, that would be via email.

      5. Gleeb*

        In 30 years, I’ve never worked at a company that had all-hands meetings except for really big things like “Sorry, guys, we just got bought by a hedge fund, can’t promise they won’t dismantle the company.” Hiring, firing, and quitting announcements are handled with direct conversations for people/teams directly involved, and emails to general staff that aren’t directly involved. This whether I was at a company with 5 employees or 500. My spouse has all-hands meetings and aside from taking up a lot of time without being productive, he really thinks it’s just a way for the CEO to feel important giving a speech.

        I did contract work at one company that had all-hands snack time, which was awesome. For 15 blessed minutes everyone gathered, shop talk was banned and tea and a nice snack were available. They were very careful to make sure they took into account everyone’s allergies and restrictions. They were nuts in other ways, but they did that right.

      6. GS*

        Same – maybe it’s because I’m at quite a large company, but I would be so irked if every time there was a staffing change we all had to gather.

      7. Abated*

        One of the changes was a director stepping down to supervisor. Depending on the reason for that, it might a group gathering announcement it be a little awkward for that person?

      8. Lacey*

        Yeah, I’ve never been anywhere that didn’t send out an email, except for one very small company (8 people) where we all literally worked in the same room.

      9. CeeKee*

        Yep, especially for that second one–if someone called me into a meeting for the sole purpose of letting me know that someone in accounting was taking on a different role within the company, I would be so annoyed at the waste of my work time.

      10. Hogwash*

        Same-in big companies where reorgs are the norm, these barely even register. Tbh I don’t really care if someone 6 layers above me is now also the director of Strategic Outcome Envisionment or whatever unless it means I’m getting transferred or laid off.

    3. MsClaw*

      I can’t imagine announcing staff changes any way *but* email. I realize OP is in a smaller office, but in my company a lot of the staffing changes have absolutely zero impact on my work/life so I appreciate them not taking up much of my time. And if it’s an announcement that IS going to have an impact on me I’d prefer to have whatever ‘About time’, ‘oh no!’, ‘thank god’, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’, etc reaction I’m going to have without an audience.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Conversely, half my office is associates who are relatively new to working and my office is small enough that staffing changes are a big deal. We always do personal announcements heavily laden with assurances that it’s not a big deal and we have a transition plan – if we don’t there’s panic.

        This will obviously vary by culture!

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I am combination – announcement for the general company and in person meeting with the affected team to go over breakdown in workload changes the staffing change will cause. And in person can totally be a videoconference of your preferred platform, just a time to get the whole team together to ask questions and get everything hashed out.

  3. Reluctant Manager*

    Am I the only person who imagined James in or near the bathroom, yelling when his symptoms got bad?

    1. I laugh at inappropriate times*

      That’s immediately where I went. Calling out for more tp? Yelling warnings to stay away? Just doing his business loudly?

      1. Op 3*

        It’s one of the few times in glad I’m wearing a mask. We only have two bathrooms on the floor and he’s usually in the men’s room for about 2 hours of the day. It’s horrible…..

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Wait so you DO mean he loudly warns people to stay out of the common bathroom?? I’m confused.

        2. Gumby*

          Wait, so he has been out entirely for 3.5 months / 12 months (29% of the time) *and* when he is in the office theoretically working he’s in the bathroom for 2 hours / 8 hours (25% of each workday)? I mean, I get that not everyone can zip in and out of the bathroom in 30 seconds or less, but… he’s not even working half time!

          I don’t know if I would want to work here or where OP1 works or run for the hills. Probably run because I am generally conscientious but if I ever want to slack on a job yet stay employed, there are two prime examples where I can work 3/4 time max and keep my job.

        3. RunShaker*

          is your company large enough for FMLA? I’m not sure how ADA works with FMLA but I had to apply for FMLA to obtain approved days off for my issue. It was signed by my doctor as well with doctor’s recommendation on how many days I may need to take per week with a cap limit per month. If I took off more than allowed days, FMLA wouldn’t cover & I could be written up for missing too many days.

    2. Cambridge Comma*

      Yes! In my variety of English we call in sick rather than out, so I thought he was shouting from the toilet to get colleagues to …. and that’s where I got stuck.

      1. Coenobita*

        Huh, this is so interesting! I’m on the U.S. East Coast and to me “call out” means that you’re taking a sick day – or that you’re letting someone know that they did/said something inappropriate, but that’s transitive (like if someone makes a racist joke and you “call them out” on it). Interpreting “call out” as literal yelling probably wouldn’t even occur to me.

        1. Abated*

          It came across that way to me, but then I thought about it and realized that couldn’t be what was meant. I’m also on the East Coast and use call out the same way as you, but for a split second I did imagine someone yelling from the bathroom!

        2. Becca*

          It’s the same in my variety of English, but it still took me a minute to figure out. I think it’s because it was right after the sentence about him sitting next to the bathroom, so at first I interpreted it as a continuation of that.

    3. Sc@rlettNZ*

      That’s where my mind went too. And then I remembered the alternative meaning to ‘call out’ (non-American here).

      But it was briefly a great mental picture :-)

    4. NYC Taxi*

      Hahaha that’s what I was thinking too. “Nobody use the bathroom for a while….I have to go home.”

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        Now remembering the letter about the guy who sets toilet paper on fire in the bathroom, emerging from the smoke and flames like a superhero of stink.

    5. Chapstick please*

      Yes, that was my first thought. I had flashbacks to early Covid when my 3 year old was yelling during my zoom last year “Someone come wipe my butt”.

        1. D. Meow*

          Or too late! On that note, making a remark about someone’s parenting when they were sharing a funny anecdote from early on in the pandemic is a great example of poor manners.

    6. LQ*

      NOPE, you are not alone. I 100% giggled when I realized how wrong I was about what was happening. Thankfully!

  4. AcademiaNut*

    For LW5 – if you’re on a staggered schedule for COVID safety, it’s entirely reasonable to decide that they don’t want to gather all 20 on site people into a room to do an announcement in person that could easily be done via email. If the point is to tell everyone at the same time, and have the opportunity to ask questions right away, then scheduling a general zoom meeting at the time when the most people are on shift would be a sensible thing to do.

    1. Loulou*

      Yeah, I’d be annoyed to be called into a meeting to be told that the director of accounting is changing roles! If it’s anyone other than a direct coworker, email is fine (and even then, email is fine!)

      1. Koalafied*

        Yes, this, and especially in the case of the director who’s stepping down to a lower role, if he’s or she’s being demoted due to poor performance I would hope they wouldn’t make him or her be part of a dog and pony show in front of the whole company. Behold, ladies and gents, live and for one meeting only, the amazing underperforming director!

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        Same. “Someone you’ve never spoken to and couldn’t pick out of a line-up is transferring somewhere even more distant from you.” OK? You interrupted all our days for that? I can’t imagine actively preferring a meeting to hear this. Do they put out really amazing snacks?

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I like that “really amazing snacks” is the hard line at which most of us would agree to this meeting.

          They had better truly be amazing, though.

    2. Prefer my pets*

      I agree. During a pandemic I’d be absolutely livid if they forced me into a room with a crap load of other people to make a staffing announcement that could have been an email. Pre-pandemic I would still have beens seriously annoyed at the interruption in my day. 99.9% of all all-employee meetings could & should have been an email IME.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Yeh. Things are opening up, but there’s no need to put 20 people in a small space for something that could be an email.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        Even taking the pandemic out of the equation I think the point still stands – if they’re pulling people into a meeting to announce that “Fergus Smith is leaving”, and I wasn’t going to be directly impacted by the fact that he was going, I’d feel that was excessive and an email would have sufficed. If Fergus Smith was my direct manager and it was going to impact me, then sure, but even then it could just be a meeting for those who would be impacted by it and might have questions, rather than the whole company.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        OMG this. My office only does in-person meetings for The Most Important things, like the time we fired our executive director, or the time a beloved long-time employee died suddenly. So like once or twice a year? And even now we’re doing them on Zoom even though most of us aren’t remote any more–we just don’t put everyone in the big conference room like we used to. Literally almost nothing needs to be an in-person meeting these days.

        1. the cat's ass*

          When the company was small and pre Covid, we’d have a meeting monthly with housekeeping. We’ve grown to 5 locations and over 100 employees and our last preCovid meet was in a rented hall (with lunch, yay). If there was a resignation around the time of the meetings, it went on the agenda; otherwise it’s been email or on the Zoom meeting agenda. Tho the grapevine works well too.

    3. LKW*

      I would hope that once the main announcement was made that the people most directly impacted, say the direct reports of the person leaving, would have a face to face chat about next steps and transition. That could include zoom call for those who are remote. But I wouldn’t want an in person meeting for a general announcement when email could suffice.

    4. Reluctant Manager*

      One of the most awkward meetings I’ve been in was when we were informed that the director of HR was leaving. It had been one of the company’s worst kept secrets, and the director who announced it was the only person who hasn’t recognized her as an unrestrained viper (though that’s not fair to snakes, who can’t help it). We were all supposed to make sad, shocked noises, but all we could manage to do was look away and not clap.

      Since then I’ve been an even bigger fan of the email method.

  5. Cal B*

    LW 5 – email is a far more productive use of time, and allows everyone to receive the information at once

    1. Pikachu*

      Plus, personnel changes can be emotional for people. Announcing via email allows people who are affected to process a little bit. Maybe a jerk got promoted over you. Maybe your project partner quit and your workload doubled. It’s a little thing, but it does avoid a lot of drama.

    2. Chapstick please*

      Email is great for so many reasons: Covid , Flu season, emotional co-workers, dramatic co-workers, people who are busy, introverts, I could go on and on.

    3. cubone*

      This one was a head scratcher for me. My last job would only use meetings to announce someone was leaving, which meant you either:
      A) got called into a cryptic “announcement” meeting and had to awkwardly react to the news in front of the person leaving
      B) if for some reason they didn’t think A was necessary, they would wait until the next available team/department meeting.. which meant more than once you would find out someone was leaving THAT day. And they had given two weeks notice. Bizarre.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yeah, I’ve only been told in meetings when it was someone on my team & we had to figure out logistics. Otherwise, it’s generally an email.

        I worked somewhere that only did email announcements if someone was high enough level. More than once, I would find out someone was no longer with the company randomly. Where I work now announces all transfers in, out, or within the division at an optional monthly meeting. (Recorded for convenience.)

    4. Irish girl*

      I think email for a distant contact is fine. What i dont like is when managers send email about co-workers. But then again the quirk meeting they add to calendar to tell us someone is leaving is also nerve racking., whether in person, by phone or video meeting.

    5. Orange You Glad*

      Agreed. I wish my company announced changes via email. We have to rely on the gossip mill to know what is going on unless the person leaving takes the time to notify everyone themself.
      I’ve had team members leave and tell me in person a few minutes before sending out a mass email. The only time I’ve ever been part of a meeting to announce a departure was for a sensitive issue where a high-level C-suite was being let go. We were told first in person so we could be assured in person that our jobs were safe and it reduced overreaction/gossip when the official announcement was made.

    6. JustaTech*

      The way it works at my company is that it’s always an email (we have multiple locations and multiple shifts, and then there are time zones, email is really the only way).

      But if it’s something big/serious (the CEO quit/was fired) then the department heads may (or may not) call a meeting that’s whomever is on-site and then everyone else on Zoom to talk about “what does this mean for us”. Since those are by department it’s easier to get everyone because you know your own group’s schedule.

  6. Bilateralrope*

    Maybe the employer could look into setting a vaccine mandate for all employees. If he’s protesting about them in general, he’s not likely to get the vaccine himself. An easy health and safety firing.

    If he gets vaccinated, you still get all the benefits of a vaccinated workforce. So it’s still a win.

    But first make sure that a vaccine mandate is legal.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In the U.S., a vaccine mandate would be legal (assuming you comply with the law religious and medical exemptions) but it’s also fine to just deal directly with the conduct issues!

    2. Cambridge Comma*

      He might be able to get a medical exemption so it could potentially be a big effort that doesn’t achieve what OP wants. Firing would be better.

        1. Observer*

          Sure. But that’s a totally separate discussion and should not be linked to this person in any way, shape or form.

          If it turns out to be helpful in dealing with James, that’s a nice side effect. But it should not enter into the calculation at all.

    3. Phony Genius*

      If your sole motivation for implementing a vaccine mandate is just to be able to fire a specific employee, you’re doing both things wrong.

    4. Observer*

      Maybe the employer could look into setting a vaccine mandate for all employees.

      That’s an absolutely ridiculous way to handle the issue at hand. If the employer wants to have a vaccine mandate, that’s fine. But do NOT do this if the only reason is to force someone out. Especially since it’s a good bet that he could wind up getting a medical or religious exemption. Oops.

      In general, it’s a very bad idea to institute ANY sort of general policy or mandate just to deal with a single person. Exponentially worse if the mandate is not even directly related to what the person is doing.

      Just deal with that person.

  7. EPLawyer*

    #1, if Jane is taking a smoke break for 15 minutes almost every hour that is A LOT. She getting paid for 1 hour but only working 3/4 of an hour. Definitely double check the time cards, IF people are required to clock out on their breaks. If not, then the time cards would be accurate. But your boss definitely needs to know that her breaks are impacting your work. If you have to cover the phones unplanned, multiple times a day, its really hard to plan and do your own work.

    #3 – The cost of making have legal repercussions from firing James is going to be nothing compared to the lost productivity when you start losing good people because you don’t fire him. No one wants to work with an ass. I want to be perfectly clear, you are firing him because he’s an ass, not because his disability is making it difficult for you to accomodate. Whether he manages his condition or not has nothing to do with it. You are firing him for disrupting the office and turning it toxic.

    #4 — definitely heads up. AND if the ex continues, look into whatever your state calls a restraining order for people who only dated but didn’t live together. Yeah you will have to go through a legal process to do it. but it puts the guy on notice that he could go to jail if he doesn’t leave you alone. It’s not a magic cape that will be protect you no matter what, but most of the time just getting the order gets the person to back off YOU at least.

    1. Xenia*

      I have to say that from an audit perspective the idea of an hourly person being able to adjust their own hours on the time clock without even any sort of regular review made me wince. That’s just bad all around, even before the smoke breaks

      1. curiousLemur*

        “from an audit perspective the idea of an hourly person being able to adjust their own hours on the time clock without even any sort of regular review made me wince.” Yeah. I’m not an auditor, but I work with accountants, and yeah, you don’t give people this kind of access.

      2. Observer*

        I have to say that from an audit perspective the idea of an hourly person being able to adjust their own hours on the time clock without even any sort of regular review made me wince.

        Uh yes. Very, very bad set up. But totally not relevant to the smoking.

      3. Mid*

        Yeah, at my side job, even managers need another manager to adjust their hours, they can’t do it themselves. (Which isn’t saying that’s the best policy, but this company also uses fingerprints to clock in so they’re clearly very worried about people daring to be clocked in without working.)

    2. Harper the Other One*

      I will caution with #4 that she should consult someone who specializes in stalking laws/protections in her state. At this point he has not threatened her physically, And it sounds like most of the harassment has been verbal/online, which can make it more difficult in some places to get an order that would be effective – and sometimes getting an order can escalate rather than discourage a stalker, and she’ll want to know how any order can be enforced (or more practically, would actually be enforced in her area) before she decides if it is worth it for her.

      I hate that these need to be considerations for anyone dealing with someone like him, but especially if she mostly fears him being a nuisance/damaging her reputation, talking to her boss and HR may be more effective than any legal order she could get.

      1. foolofgrace*

        I once broke up with a guy and he took it very badly, phoning upwards of 50 times a day, and eventually showing up at my door brandishing a pistol. Like that was going to make me go back with him. Sheesh.

      2. IndustriousLabRat*

        ” it sounds like most of the harassment has been verbal/online, which can make it more difficult in some places to get an order that would be effective”

        Yes. In some places (including my state, as I had the misfortune of discovering) there needed to have been a documented threat or act of violence. They only approved my request after Sir Stalksalot kicked down my cellar door while I was home. Which he appears to have done BECAUSE he found out I had tried to file previously. Didn’t bother to arrest him for home invasion as would have been appropriate, but yeah they signed the order right quick…

        If he does appear at work, the company may be able to have a trespass order written against him, though it would only be specific to that location, rather than to the LW- gotta love how it is easier to get protection for a building than for a human- and HOPEFULLY things don’t come to that point!

  8. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP3: I’m in the UK which has far tighter employee protection than the US and I worked at a company where we had a guy like this. Claimed his disability protected him from any bad actions being punished.

    One of the laziest, most rude people I’ve ever worked with, and I use the word ‘worked’ in the loosest possible sense. He was, for example, a total prat to any woman in the office and frequently harassed anyone who was overweight. He’d show up to work whenever he felt like it (in one year he did 4 months in the office) and there were reports of him going out clubbing while off sick, queuing for a new bit of gaming technology, all that.

    What our boss did: didn’t mention the guy’s disability, what he wasn’t doing to help it, how going out partying couldn’t be helping. Instead, documented the excessive amounts of complaints from others over how they’ve been treated, the fact that the work wasn’t getting done (1 case closed per week average over a year when on a good day I could get 10 closed per day), and called him into a few meetings of ‘you have to actually do work to a similar standard – output and quality – to the rest of the team AND not treat others like trash. No, your disability doesn’t exempt you from the basics of being professional’.

    The guy didn’t believe him, if anything got worse. HR were called in and because our boss had documented the situation, issued the proper warnings, had the rest of the team sick of doing this guy’s work etc they were able to give the final warning and fire this guy when he, yet again, tried to claim that his disability meant he could do practically no work/call other people names/etc.

    The guy was fired. He did, of course, try to bring a legal case (hinging a lot on how the firm were mean for not letting him do maybe one hundredth of the work of others while still being paid) but his lawyer backed off when the reams of evidence got back to them.

    1. Ori*

      Worked with a person like this. Turned up when they felt like it, did awful work in the office, terrible attitude. Was caught clubbing when off ‘sick’.

      At one point they requested both flexible working and work from home, which was jaw dropping because a) we didn’t offer either of those b) they were the last person I’d trust to work from home, (and I generally think most people *can* be trusted to do so).

      Don’t know why it took them so long to be fired, even with the accommodations.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Not my department but a manager I’m good friends with had a guy who just plain didn’t show up for work for a few weeks and when called said that he’d made the decision that it was better for his health that he work permanently from home. No discussion, no warning, he just decided on his own. This was quite a few years ago.

        Fortunately my friend Dave (not real name) just said ‘that’s not how this works, you’re back in the office tomorrow for a meeting with me and HR’

    2. Juniper*

      This is a really good reply. I really feel for the LW having to work with this guy, but also pointing out his soda drinking habits or how he is or isn’t managing his condition probably isn’t helpful (though it does make the story more compelling!)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yeah, I mean I very much get how frustrating it is when someone is obviously being a prat, has a disability and appears to be doing everything they can to make things *worse* but I have a firm line against (myself) judging others for what they eat/drink/take medications or not for because I’ve been on the receiving end of that and it sucks.

        (“You should do some exercise. Sitting on your backside all day is only making your medical issues worse! Also, lose weight” – boss from hell)

        Disability accommodations are only there to enable those of us with these issues to perform at the level of others without them. They’re not a ‘I can’t be fired’ card. Basically the issue with this guy, and the guy I worked with, wasn’t to do with their disability at all – because being a total git isn’t a disability. Take the health issues out of the equation and discipline based on the behaviour.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          All of this. The health stuff is between them and their doctors.

          You absolutely can let someone disabled go if they can’t perform the job even with reasonable accommodations. But that is not the issue here.

        2. EchoGirl*

          I agree. It’s not a person’s place to judge a coworker’s health anyway, but also there are so many “common knowledge” beliefs about health that are total junk that this could so easily turn into judging people based on what essentially boils down to people’s personal biases. The weight loss example you mention here is a big one (because there’s a large swath of the population that assumes everything wrong with overweight people is a result of their weight), but there are also more obscure beliefs that could cause similar issues, like someone I saw on social media who was convinced that insulin pumps were harmful to diabetics because “it keeps them in denial and they don’t learn to truly manage their condition”; it’s not hard to see how someone of that opinion could take a similar attitude towards people who used insulin pumps if they needed accommodations, because to them, “diabetics shouldn’t use pumps” is as much “common sense” as “James shouldn’t drink soda”.

    3. EvilQueenRegina*

      Also in the UK, and in a former job it was the boss who thought the Disability Discrimination Act limited what action she could take – the employee was an alcoholic, and would frequently either turn up under the influence or not turn up at all, giving increasingly implausible excuses. One coworker tried to discreetly say something to Boss about it and Boss had said “It’s difficult, because she’s covered under the Disability Discrimination Act” and effectively did nothing for ages. After six months where this employee never showed up at all, we were eventually told that “she wasn’t coming back”. I did later hear that actually Boss had more scope than she thought in this situation.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I had to fire a guy a few years back for constantly showing up drunk and hostile and he tried to claim that since he was an alcoholic that meant we owed him money for unfair dismissal. My stance was ‘I’m not aware of any disability accommodations that include ‘showing up pissed and yelling swear words at everyone, including clients’.

        Sadly, HR actually did give the guy some money to drop the case against us. I’ve got 3 fractured vertebrae and have more backbone than they did.

        1. LKW*

          While I understand the disappointment in this resolution – they likely met with legal and determined that the cost of making him go away was less than fighting it. Think 25K to go away and 40K in legal fees to fight through all appeals. It’s not a satisfying resolution by any means, merely a business decision.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            My hunch is that those calculations were all done before the disgruntled ex-employee even made the claim.

            1. LKW*

              Worked in a corporation’s legal department for a bit (not a lawyer). The HR cases were pretty much “receive attorney letter, retain relevant info, offer settlement, never seen again” cases. I didn’t have details but I assumed they had a settlement budget laid out year to year.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            Maybe, but at least in the US context he would be paying for all those appeals. This absolutely is not the sort of case a lawyer would take on contingency. It would be cash up front. If the lawyer is any good, there also would be a heart-to-heart each step of the way about the likelihood of winning. I think a lot of the time employers take a worst-case-scenario approach to these.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Got to admit, I honestly can’t recall whether he threatened a lawyer or the union after us. I can remember with perfect clarity him slapping a gay member of staff while absolutely sizzled but not much else beyond ‘gtfo you’re fired’

    4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Additional note: the fact that he was off work SO much was part of that documentation. Basically it was down in black and white that the role absolutely required at minimum X hours per week in the office in order to keep up with the workload.

      Because there were literally no way to change the job requirements down to ‘a few days per month’ the case from us and HR was that this guy simply couldn’t fulfill the job requirements any more and there were no accommodations we could offer that could get him up to the required output.

      This was a firm pretty good with sick leave (they had ME on staff who has more disabilities than limbs) but there comes a point where we realised we really needed to hire someone who could actually show up and work consistently.

  9. Samrit*

    Can only work here if you can afford to shop here. So it would be like a hobby but with a staff discount?

    1. Dancing Otter*

      As a teenager, I worked at a store where they had to limit the amount you could buy with an employee discount to the amount you earned. A lot of housewives were working, say, one day a week in order to buy all their clothes and luxury housewares at a 20% discount.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        We got a 50% discount on food at the cafe where I worked in CA. In one way, it helped since it was impractical to pack a lunch, and duh, we were surrounded by food. But we were only making minimum wage, which at the time was $5.15 an hour. So you weren’t likely to have masses of groceries at home anyway.

        I lived on sandwiches, salad, and soup from the cafe, supplemented with peanuts and apples and the occasional grocery store sushi and calamari sandwich if I went to the wharf and had a spare couple of bucks. It was basically that old song, loading 16 tons and selling your soul to the company store.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I went to the Vivienne Westwood stores in both London and NYC and the sales associates all seem to be models or something. Crazy ridiculous skinny and beautiful. Maybe the payoff is that they get “seen” by the industry movers & shakers?

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      Seriously. I’m surprised anyone who works retail can actually afford those clothes, unless that particular store pays REALLY well or has a HUGE employee discount.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Whoops. It’s not a retail job. Although it sounds like the company might have this stipulation in all their job ads?

  10. Pikachu*

    #1 – Most important thing here is No is a complete sentence. Smokers do not get to make other people responsible for their addictions, but it’s like their favorite workplace pastime.

    You are the one that has to set boundaries. Tell her you can’t cover just because she needs a cig. Send her calls to voicemail, and when she texts, reply that you will not take messages just because she needs a cig.

    Let her miss things. Let her make mistakes. Let her fail because she has to be outside smoking instead. Sometimes consequences are the only way people realize that their behavior actually impacts others.

    I took this stand as a server, so I know you can do it too! “Can you cover my tables while I go smoke?” Nope. Go do your job.

    1. D'Arcy*

      The entire idea that smokers should get extra paid breaks to go smoke is a deeply bizarre entitlement, and I’m not sure where the hell it comes from in the first place. As far as I’m concerned, smoking while on the job should be a disciplinary offense in the first place, just like any other drug use. People can smoke on their own time.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        And they can wear a patch if they can’t go for more than an hour without smoking, instead of being irritable with their colleagues.

      2. metadata minion*

        Would you say the same of caffeine? I’m annoyed by having to smell smoke in the office when someone has been outside smoking, but calling it discipline-worthy drug use is bizarre.

        1. SoloKid*

          Yeah, “drug use” is over the top. I think the larger problem is someone stopping their work to do it. If someone can have coffee at their desk and still work, then I’d say it’s not the same. But if they’re in a role where no food is allowed (customer facing or lab work etc) then taking hourly coffee breaks is a bit much.

          1. Lily of the Field*

            Nicotine is a drug, and it’s one of the most highly addictive drugs in existence. Just because you do not get the same kind of high from nicotine that you do from cocaine, heroin, or meth does not mean it’s not a drug.

            1. generic_username*

              smoking while on the job should be a disciplinary offense in the first place, just like any other drug use.

              the comparison to drug use certainly is over the top here though. Like, yes, nicotine is an addictive drug, but drugs aren’t disallowed in the workplace because they’re addictive. They’re disallowed because of the high they produce, which nicotine doesn’t do.

                1. quill*

                  Or the fact that they’re dangerous around the equipment: You can’t be high on pot and drive a forklift, it’s just like driving drunk.

                  Caffeine and nicotine don’t create the same reflex and perception impairment.

            2. Penny Parker*

              Actually, if one is not addicted to tobacco it does give a nice high when one uses it. I smoked sporadically for years and never got addicted. Every time I would smoke I would get a very nice buzz from it.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                Same but I wouldn’t consider it a high the same way alcohol or pot is a high. Certainly not performance impeding. Much more like caffiene.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                Well, I’m a recovered tobacco addict and I ALWAYS got a buzz from smoking. I used Chantix to finally quit. The medication blocked the nicotine receptors in my brain (a thing I could actually feel, eek) and removed the buzz. All that was left was just breaking through the habitual behavior.

                It doesn’t impair you like a buzz from alcohol or weed or whatever. It just shuts down the craving for the buzz. When it wears off, you get the craving again, and only a dart will make it shut up.

                I guess it’s more like…well, getting a fix.

            3. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

              So’s caffeine an addictive drug, though. (In fact I find it absolutely fascinating how culture regulates and talks about different addictive substances — it’s clearly as much to do with custom, and things like race and class and political expediency, as it is to do with objective measures of harm either to the user or bystanders. Especially when you take into account how much harm is caused by things like unregulated supply and economic pressure as opposed to the drug itself. Even regular heroin users can in some instances have professional careers and lives, when they haven’t been criminalized or tough-loved into the underground.)

              1. Boof*

                It’s a drug – perhaps you mean controlled substance? It’s under a weird regulatory body in the USA the ATF alcohol tobacco and firearms

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Right. The fact that it’s a drug isn’t the problem. The problem is they’re stopping work for 15 minutes out of every hour to consume that drug. Few people have to stop working because of their caffeine habit.

        2. Random Bystander*

          Personally, I think the problem is that the drug use (smoking) on the job inherently goes with issues like excessive breaks and potential issues with scents-free office policies (at least, back when we were in the office). Caffeine use–well, the coffee cup is at my desk . When we were in the office, the work place provided a Keurig (each coffee drinker was responsible for providing their own pods), so getting a new cup of coffee was easily accomplished during break times.

          1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

            The breaks thing yeah, but coffee definitely has a scent that can be problematic for some people!

        3. Observer*

          I’m annoyed by having to smell smoke in the office when someone has been outside smoking, but calling it discipline-worthy drug use is bizarre.

          Yes and no. There is a real difference between the smell of coffee and cigarettes. Tobacco smoke is a know health threat, universally. Coffee aroma is not. Obviously is someone has a sensitivity, you would try yo accommodate it, but reasonable workplaces don’t – CANNOT – try to band anything that anyone might ever have a problem with at any time. Because then you would not be able to allow anything in the workplace.

          But, smoking outside of the office (aside from the time issues)? Yeah, that’s not a firing offense and it’s bizarre to frame it that way.

      3. socks*

        Smoke breaks are a thing because smoking used to be much, much, more common. It’s not a weird extra entitlement if all your other coworkers are also taking smoke breaks. At this point it is unbalanced and unfair to other coworkers, but it’s not like it came out of nowhere.

        And yeah I agree with metadata minion that nicotine use is closer to drinking coffee than to smoking weed on the job (or whatever).

        1. Jay*

          They’re also a thing because smoking used to be allowed indoors so people smoked at their desks and didn’t have to take breaks. When indoor smoking was banned, smoke breaks became a thing for office work as they always had been for retail and food service and other jobs where you couldn’t smoke while working even in the Mad Men days.

          A friend of mine joined the Marines at 18 and realized smokers got extra breaks every couple of hours, so he started smoking. Why should he work more than they did?

          1. Berkeleyfarm*

            A friend of mine said she started when she was working in restaurants. Smokers got breaks that others didn’t.

          2. Miss Betty*

            My husband began smoking in the Marines around that age because once they were in quarters at the end of the day, the DI would only let them step outside for smoke breaks – and he’d stand there and watch them to make sure they were actually inhaling. (This was in the late 1960s. I hope things are different now.)

            1. 1.0*

              This still happens now, just less officially – I have a friend who started smoking in their teens because they were doing food service and their managers would give them cigarettes so they’d be able to take actual breaks.

              Smoking is a huge class marker in the US for a lot of reasons, and the ability to take actual breaks while working shitty jobs is, frankly, one of them.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                It also helps you deal with stress from being poor when you can only get shitty jobs. Not that it’s a good way to deal with stress, mind you.

            2. NitroCat*

              Well, it happened at least as recently as the early 90s when my (now) husband was in the Army and took up smoking in order to get those breaks. Actually, he started just standing outside with the smokers, but then smoked for real when the sergeant started watching closely. Great strategy, US military. Way to look out for your people./s

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I know when I quit smoking 6 years ago I developed a really impressive 13 cups of tea a day caffeine habit.

          As an ex extremely heavy smoker I have no problems with people taking cig breaks but don’t take the piss. Couple of breaks a day is cool, going out every hour is not. Basically the same as if you needed a 15 minute tea break every hour.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            Yeah I knew people who would, instead of taking a lunch or their 2-15 minutes, would cut it up into five minute smoke breaks. Makes sense. It’s the same amount of time, they weren’t getting ‘more’ than anyone else.

            I had a buddy that did factory work. The smokers got more breaks than anyone else. He started going with them for fresh air breaks. No reason he shouldn’t get a break too.

            1. T. Boone Pickens*

              Ahh yes, this takes me back to the days when I worked in a manufacturing plant that was roughly 75% smokers, it actually worked out pretty well. They would go out and smoke, the 25% of us who didn’t smoke could go stretch, grab a bit of fresh air, etc.

            2. Hex Libris*

              The potential problem with that is transit. Most smokers have to go outside. If you’re, say, on the third floor, you might have a 5 minute round trip transit, so you still end up taking and extra 15 minutes away from work. That’s double the time non-smokers are taking for breaks, every single day.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            My attitude as well – as long as you aren’t foisting your work onto me to take your “outdoor fumigation” breaks I really don’t care. It becomes my concern only if your breaks are causing issues with my workflow – which I will report to our mutual manager as “I routinely cannot find X, and it is causing Y disruption to the workflow. What do you recommend I try to address the issue?”

      4. anonymous73*

        Are the non-smokers chained to their desks for the time they aren’t on “official” breaks? You see people chatting it up with colleagues and doing things non-work related all the time, yet smokers are entitled? I don’t smoke myself, but I see this as nothing more than someone not doing their job. Her multiple breaks are affecting her ability to do her job, end of story. Whether she’s smoking, talking to a friend, or spending time reading the newspaper while pooping, the reason is irrelevant. Your outrage is over the top.

        1. Pikachu*

          I’ve never texted someone to ask if they would cover my calls so that I can boil a kettle. Nor have I ever asked someone to literally do my work for me so I can poop.

          Maybe you’ve never worked in foodservice and encountered this level of entitlement, but it is very real and very aggravating for people who don’t smoke. It ends up being that way because quite frankly, if I were to stand around and do nothing every hour for 10 minutes without a cigarette, on TOP of scheduled breaks, it would be a disciplinary problem. A cig in my hand doesn’t suddenly make it a sacred ritual that must be respected.

          1. anonymous73*

            I’ve worked with plenty of people who take a lot of breaks and it has nothing to do with them smoking. The cigarettes make this situation no different. She’s not doing her work, period, end of story. THAT should be the focus.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          If my coworker is talking to me I’ll cut her off if the phone rings (or if she just talks too long–I’d never let her go on for 10-15 minutes!), and I’ve never missed a phone call for the sake of a cup of coffee.

          Last time I checked, smokers also poop, so that one evens out.

          1. anonymous73*

            You’re missing my point. People take breaks all the time and some take too much time away from their desk regardless of the reason.

        3. Pool Lounger*

          I wonder what the company would do if non-smokers started taking similar breaks as the smokers. I worked in a small business where the manager took a lot of smoke breaks (didn’t affect his work—he was incredibly reliable and hard working). But the rest of us could take outside breaks too, even if we didn’t smoke, as long as our work got done.

          1. Jen with one n*

            A friend of mine managed a Blockbuster and had that same policy; a non-smoker (like herself) was welcome to go stand outside for a 10 minute non-break, same as a smoker would get to.

          2. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

            A co-worker I knew told me at another job he had they gave Smokers smoke breaks but didn’t give non-smokers extra breaks. He was kind of annoyed by that so what he did was get candy cigarettes and stand outside and take a break to make it look like he was smoking. I thought that was pretty smart because he was able to get an extra break and didn’t have to smoke. LW should tell Jill that she can’t cover for her as she has so much on her plate and work to do. I wouldn’t really concern myself with her time clock though. I would just focus on my work. I think it makes it a little bit more Awkward that they’re on friendly terms so yeah I would definitely give Jill a heads up but you can’t cover for her smoke breaks. Maybe she needs to get those nicotine patches to wear to work and a fidget spinner.

        4. generic_username*

          Smokers do all of that stuff too. Also, smoke breaks are outside, which are way further from your desk than the next cubicle

          1. anonymous73*

            Doesn’t make my point any less valid. Workers take breaks, some take too many. It doesn’t matter why they’re taking breaks.

        5. ArtsyGirl*

          The coworker is taking 15 minute breaks every hour along with an extra one following her lunch break all while she expects the LW to sit at her desk covering for her. So added up the smoker is spending up to 2 hours of her working day not in fact working. This is a two pronged problem. Is the smoker clocking out of her extra, extended smoke breaks? And is her behavior negatively impacting the OP’s ability to complete her job? The OP should not be responsible for covering two hours of her co-worker’s schedule every single day.

        1. Pikachu*

          When they expect others to do their work for them so they can go smoke, on the clock, when they are getting paid for doing work.

          1. After 33 years ...*

            Where they are on a campus where smoking anything is not permitted, and where the second-hand smoke results in adverse consequences for co-worker and student health.

          2. Metadata minion*

            But the fact that they’re smoking isn’t the issue — this would be a problem if they kept taking breaks to drink hot chocolate, or call their mother, or do jumping jacks.

            1. After 33 years ...*

              As an answer to EventPlannerGal, smoking anything on our campus is considered a drug use issue, and can result in disciplinary action.

                1. After 33 years ...*

                  Increasingly common in this part of the world, and on university campuses and hospitals …. interestingly, it only applies to smoking, not consumption of tobacco, marijuana, or other substances in solid form.

                2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  Nope – there are many types of employment that are now making it illegal (under city ordinance) to smoke within 25-75 feet due to secondhand smoke concerns.
                  The county I live in just passed an increased distance ordinance for smoking – you are not allowed to smoke within 150 feet of any of the following locations: schools (including universities), drug stores, gas stations, libraries, medical buildings (even if all they do is rent a floor of the building for records processing), recreation centers, or gyms. Public transit stations/stops have a 100 foot no smoking zone. It goes into effect on Nov 30th, and I am so looking forward to it. Violations are punished via fine, which escalates for repeat offenders.

                3. Clisby*

                  I have no idea what % of workplaces are like this, but I wouldn’t say it’s a “wild outlier.” I live in SC – the two largest universities in the state (U. of SC and Clemson) are entirely tobacco-free (no smoking, no vaping, no smokeless tobacco, no hookahs, no cigars, …), as is the College of Charleston, which is local to me. Clemson’s policy went into effect in 2016, and the other 2 in 2014, so this is nothing new. I don’t know about all the hospitals here, but the largest in Charleston is smoke-free both indoors and outdoors, and even the streets and sidewalks in what the city has identified as the “medical district” are tobacco-free.

              1. Dust Bunny*

                I work for/in a large medical center and smoking is banned *everywhere*, including, theoretically, outside because, well . . . it’s a medical center.

                1. Paris Geller*

                  I used to live next to a hospital, like RIGHT next to one. It was frequent that employees would come into my apartment complex’s parking lot to smoke since it was the closest place off property. I was not a fan of having to walk through a lot of second hand smoke just to get to my car to go to work.

              2. Metadata minion*

                Well sure, but that’s presumably not the case in the LW’s situation or they would have specified that the employee wasn’t supposed to be smoking at all.

            2. EventPlannerGal*

              Right. Idk, maybe I’m a pedant but I’m just curious about why smoking should be considered a *drug use* issue. It certainly can be an excessive breaks issue or a shirking work issue, although as you say those could also be caused by any number of things, but I just find the “it’s like any other drug use” thing an odd stance to take.

              1. After 33 years ...*

                It’s considered an issue because of the effects of second-hand smoke. The no-smoking policies, increasingly common here, are about limiting exposure of others to smoke from any substance.

              2. Here we go again*

                Reminds me of the time I was visiting someone at the hospital and I drove by a patient with an IV and a hospital gown on across the street from the hospital smoking. It was funny because it was breezy and she had to hold her gown closed with one hand and smoke with the other.

      5. Loulou*

        Seriously? If you think smoking a cigarette on your lunch break should be subject to disciplinary action, I’d consider that seriously out of touch.

      6. Anony*

        The issue isn’t that it’s a “drug,” it’s the missing work time. I don’t think the OP would have an issue if the smoker just smoked on her lunch and 15-minute breaks.

      7. Elizabeth West*

        It is very strange. I still smoked for most of the time I worked at OldExjob (I quit for good in 2007). So did several others, and we did it at lunch and on our regular breaks.

        In most places, if you work eight hours, you usually have thirty minutes to an hour for lunch, plus two ten to fifteen-minute breaks. You take one break in the middle of the first four hours and the other after lunch and smoke at that time. That is spaced out enough to handle most people’s cravings. Anything more isn’t really necessary.

        Smoking isn’t like handling, say, diabetes where you might need a snack right away if you’re having symptoms. You can wait to smoke a cigarette.

      8. Mr. Shark*

        I don’t think it’s the same as other drugs, but yeah, smoking breaks should be relegated to the same breaks as everyone else has, not additional breaks.

      9. Rebecca Stewart*

        Smokers used to really annoy me when I worked in hotel housekeeping. One of the other maids who smoked would do three rooms, then go have a smoke and stand outside for ten minutes gossiping with the other smokers. I don’t smoke and never have, and if I had asked to stand outside for ten minutes to just stretch my back and breathe a bit and reset my head, I would have told I can do that on my own time and are my 20 rooms done? Grr.

    2. Thistle Whistle*

      Years ago I worked at a company that was privitised ex-public sector. The unions were still really strong and were able to get unbelievable exceptions to normal business practices for the long term staff. Example: it was a huge building complex so smokers got specialised internal common rooms for smoking (so they didn’t have to waste time going outside, especially in bad weather) whereas the non smoking staff had to walk for a half mile to the cantee.

      They officially got a 15 minute break each morning and afternoon, but in practice some/many took 10-15 minutes every hour. And that practice spread from the unionised long term staff to the many contractors. And some nonsmokers also went along for the break as “why should we not get the extra breaks too?”.

      It drove us those of us left up the wall as we had to keep working and keep the team workload up to date. But each time the supervisors tried to clamp down they were told the unions would back the staff (even the nonunionised contractors). It caused a lot of friction and unhappiness amongst the staff who had to pick up the slack. Perhaps unsurprisingly turnover amongst contractors was high and the perm staff left were mainly slackers (with a few good staff trying to hold everything together). Even more unsurprisingly that office was eventually shut down as it was so unproductive and expensive (they had to hire more and more contractors to cover the work), and the work moved to a new office in a new city where the owners could start afresh with typical business conditions.

      Take away; bad behaviour can be contagious, have bigger consequences than expected and drive off good staff. It needs to be clamped down on for the sake of the office.

    3. TeaCoziesRUs*

      Yup. Why should she change her behaviors (limit the number of breaks she takes… cut down on her number of cigarettes during work hours) when you accommodate her behavior so beautifully?

    4. Julia*

      I dislike “no is a complete sentence”. Because the reality is that it isn’t. If you go around just saying “no” to people, without qualifying it at all, you will rightly look like a jerk. What that phrase misses is that we’re all navigating the tricky task of preserving our relationships with people we want to continue working productively with while also asserting our boundaries. It’s not helpful to frame it as “just say no” because it ignores the first half of that equation – preserving the relationship.

      It costs nothing to kindly say “Hey, Jane, I noticed I’ve been scrambling to keep up with my work because I’m having to cover the phones too often. I don’t think I’ll be able to take your messages anymore when you’re out on smoke breaks – sorry!”

    5. Mockingjay*

      Agree that the answer is No. The reason for coworker’s frequent breaks is irrelevant. Set boundaries, refuse to cover, and complete your own work.

      There was a post in last Friday’s Open Thread from @El Camino (link in reply) about the same issue: feeling obligated to cover for a coworker. Nope. Your own work comes first.

    6. Sparkles McFadden*

      I had a coworker who would “need a smoke” when things got busy and come back after the work had been done. At first, we stopped covering and left work for him, but the shift manager stepped in and told the rest of us the smoker was entitled to those breaks, eventhough the guy took 10-15 minutes out of every hour just like LW’s coworker.

      The next day, one of my other coworkers brought a pack of cigarettes in with him. After the smoker took his first smoke break of day, the rest of us filed out when he came back. We sat in the smoking room (this used to be a thing), lit a cigarette and talked to each other while it burned. We continued to do this for the rest of the day. The smoker complained of being left alone hourly. When we were confronted, we all said “We smoke now too! That means we get a break every hour!” It was childish and sort of stupid, but very satisfying. There were six of us and one smoker. The smoker was told he had to check in with upper management every time he had a cigarette. He then managed to keep to two 15-minute breaks per day.

    7. Web of Pies*

      “Let her miss things. Let her make mistakes. Let her fail because she has to be outside smoking instead. Sometimes consequences are the only way people realize that their behavior actually impacts others.”

      I love this, HOWEVER the person I know IRL who fits OP’s description (down to the name even!) will n e v e r take responsibility, there is always some reason why 1. it’s not her fault and 2. people are picking on her (yay classic narcissists!). If you’re entitled enough to think THAT many breaks are OK *and* that it’s no problem to consistently ask your coworkers to cover for you, I don’t think there’s much hope of getting through to her.

      But definitely stop covering for her, whether or not she improves, you don’t have to shoulder her work.

  11. Aubergine*

    I could be wrong, but it sounds like some or all of James’s (#3) time off was not protected under FMLA. He has only recently had his one year anniversary there, and his total time off has exceeded 12 weeks. Depending on the actual details, it’s possible he could be let go for excessive time off, though I understand the employer’s reluctance to do so.

    I think the ER should consult with an attorney to be clear about the rules under ADA and FMLA plus whatever state rules apply. I agree that his other behaviors alone are sufficient for termination. But it also sound like the ER may be overly solicitous in regard to his physical ailments leading James to the incorrect conclusion that their hands were tied. They need to have a better understanding of where they can draw the line so that they don’t set up that dynamic again in the future.

    1. River Otter*

      None of James’s leave is covered by FMLA unless he has requested leave per the FMLA. Like ADA accommodations, FMLA leave has to be requested. It’s not retroactive to leave previously taken.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Not true — FMLA regulations state that the employee does not have to explicitly request FMLA leave. But the ADA may require leave beyond the FMLA requirements anyway.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Your answer surprised me because I managage several direct reports who have FMLA, and never knew that the employee doesn’t have to explicitly ask for it. I looked this up and not only that, but apparently the employer has the responsibility to initiate the claim. In my company, we partner with a company that manages FMLA, and the process is for employees to call and open the claim. I have filed for myself and I can’t imagine asking my employees for some of the information they need.

          I was trained that it is indeed my responsibility to tell the employee that FMLA is a possibility and encourage them to apply, but that’s it. Doing it for them, especially if they haven’t requested it, seems odd, inefficient, and an overrreach!

          1. Lebkin*

            My understanding is that this is more like copyright. A work is copyrighted as soon as it is completed; you do not have to register the copyright for it to be defensible. FMLA is the same way. An employee is protected by it automatically. You can’t fire someone for things protected by FMLA even if they haven’t formally asked for it as yet.

            1. River Otter*

              No, you are not automatically protected. IANAL and you should do your own digging. I didn’t have to dig very far to find all the caveats on retroactively designating leave under FMLA. It really is like ADA—you have to ask, and you don’t necessarily get what you want just bc you have a condition.

          2. MrsCHX*

            But if you don’t do initiate (think about employees who are physically incapable of doing so) and they end up negatively impacted, they could have a claim for FMLA interference.

          3. River Otter*

            I was surprised to learn all of this, and I did a little digging. It’s not quite as simple as is being made out. The law *permits* but does not *require* leave, including for medical reasons, to be retroactively designated as FMLA. Qualifying leave includes proper notification of the employer. I’m not the expert in which cases apply in which areas, but I was able to find cases where the retroactive designation was denied by the employer and upheld by the court.
            I obviously am not privy to how James made his call outs. OP says he brags about being able to take all the time off that he wants without repercussion, which makes me pessimistic that he is giving the kind of notice that FMLA requires.
            Plus, not about James but as a general note, a doctor has to approve the leave as necessary for a condition, and that’s not guaranteed.

  12. Midwest Problems*

    #2–Watch out for this. I got a holiday job at Express that required me to wear their clothes. They promised everyone as many hours as they could handle, then scheduled everyone for just a few hours a week and fired us all before we had even made back what we’d spent to work there.

    Sure, they said you COULD wear clothes that just looked like theirs, but it had to be “this season” and their business model was to knock off more expensive luxury brands and then stop selling a style once cheaper stores had knocked off Express clothes in turn, so it wasn’t actually a viable choice.

    1. WS*

      Yes, my little sister got caught in a similar scam at a different chain when she was a student looking for Christmas work. Fortunately she hadn’t bought much, and the clothing was cheap.

        1. quill*

          Hey, they tried to recruit me! I figured out who had given them my email and had to go inform my underclassman friend that they were a pyramid scheme.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I would say that if you have to wear a specific uniform for work, then it should be supplied free of charge by the employer.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        YES. I am so mad I had to buy shirts from previous employers and then when I left I had all these shirts advertising my old job I couldn’t really wear anywhere else. I usually just used them for workout shirts. If I wasn’t wearing them to my job anymore, I didn’t care if they got sweaty.

        One time I had a really nice long-sleeved polo shirt with a company logo embroidered on it. I picked out the embroidery, slapped an applique of a cat on the raggedy spot, and kept wearing the shirt until it wore out. That isn’t practical for everyone, though.

      2. JayemGriffin*

        The only work uniform I ever paid for was when I worked retail at a craft store and my manager gave me the okay to wear a shirt I’d made with “Craft Ninja” in glow-in-the-dark letters on the back. He thought it was funny (and probably also a good way to advertise the iron-ons).

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

      This is not a retail job. It sounds like a marketing job so she wouldn’t be relying on “as many hours as yous like”

    4. Pam Poovey*

      Requiring you wear a store’s clothes is also rife with size discrimination. Places like Express don’t make anything I could wear because they think you’re only worthy to shop there if you’re under a 14.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Isn’t this also gender discrimination if they only sell either men’s clothes or women’s clothes?

        1. ThatGirl*

          There are plenty of clothing companies that make clothes just for men or just for women. If they tried to stop a woman from BUYING men’s clothing, that would be another thing. Also size discrimination isn’t illegal, even though maybe it should be.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            It just occurred to me that while I have seen women working in stores that sell clothing only for men, I have never seen a man working in a store that sells clothing only for women. (Unless they also sell boutique-type stuff for the home.)

            1. Just Another Zebra*

              I worked at VS for five years and had plenty of male coworkers. They were mostly back room, cash wrap, or security (because they couldn’t be in the fitting rooms).

            2. Elizabeth West*

              The sales clerk at the now-closed Long Tall Sally shop I went to in London was a guy. But that was a higher-end store. He was amazing at his job, too.

          2. Cat Tree*

            I don’t me that it’s discriminatory to sell only one type of clothing.

            I meant, if you have to wear their clothing to work there, but they only sell men’s clothes, doesn’t that automatically exclude hiring women?

    5. Here we go again*

      A lot of retail establishments will waive dress code within reason until after the first paycheck. When I sold shoes that was the expectation. They also had employee appreciation that gave huge discounts like 80% off twice a year with season change.

  13. WoodswomanWrites*

    #1, in addition to Alison’s advice, it would be helpful to prepare yourself for how drawing boundaries about what you can’t cover for Jill may affect your friendship with her. Especially if you end up talking to her boss about it, your interactions in the workplace will inevitably have some sort of impact on your relationship outside of work.

      1. darcy*

        I don’t know if “kind of annoying about smoke breaks” is something I’d consider a deal breaker in a friendship, personally!

        1. Ariaflame*

          Annoying about smoke breaks might not be, but isn’t willing to respect my boundaries because of their addiction could be. And as curiousLemur said, a friend who won’t respect your boundaries is not a friend.

          1. Never ascribe to malice what can be ascribed to thoughtlessness*

            Is this really about not respecting the letter writer’s boundaries, thorough? Jill sounds a bit thoughtless about how she’s impacting others’ work, but that’s just as easy to chalk up to run of the mill inconsiderateness. Sometimes people just really aren’t thinking about the consequences of their actions and are mortified when you point out they’ve been having a negative impact on you. We’re all vulnerable to falling into bad habits.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Exactly. Our OP may want to be prepared for the possibility Jane will be a person who overreacts when boundaries are set for the first time.

        2. Loulou*

          Yeah, people here really jump so fast to the “OP, this person is TOXIC, cut them OUT” when all we know about these people is based on one letter specifically focusing on their shortcomings! I guarantee everyone reading this would not come off so rosy if their coworker decided to write a letter about the most annoying thing they do.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        The sort you are regularly going to encounter outside work, including at all sorts of activities for your kids.

      3. Roscoe*

        I don’t know yours is the best framing of things.

        Someone can be a great friend to you, and a horrible coworker. But, even if you are a horrible coworker, I can see how going to my boss would make me not want to be friends with you. People still have feelings, and this would affect most people.

        1. EPLawyer*

          OP might want to still be friends with Jane. BUT, Jane might be angry she got told to take fewer smoke breaks and not want to be friends anymore with OP.

          It’s not OP deciding the friendship was effected but the smoker. OP should prepare herself for this.

          1. Roscoe*

            I think its often about how something is handled. If OP goes to the boss without having a conversation with Jane, well I wouldn’t blame Jane for not wanting to be friends with her anymore. However, if OP rationally stated why she can’t cover for her anymore, and she still doesn’t try to figure it out, then its a bit different.

  14. Lammy*

    OP#2 – I work retail for a brand where I don’t use their products (think body and home fragrances, when I have super sensitive skin and am fragrance sensitive), I look online and use customer reviews as my starting point. So if asked what I think about Product X, I’ll summarize what the reviews online are saying (it’s a light but cozy smell, it will scent your whole house, etc.).

    If asked what you like about the product during an interview you could respond “I’ve heard the quality of the shirts were really top notch” or “everyone seems to like how heavy the fabric on the tees are” or what have you.

    That way you are not lying about using the products, but can still speak to them in a positive way.

    1. curiousLemur*

      I worked at a coffee shop for a while. I don’t like the taste of coffee. I’d recommend things based on “A lot of people really like…”

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I was behind someone in line at a Starbucks who was dithering and asked the barista “what is your favorite coffee?”
        She grinned and said “hot chocolate.”

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I’m a true fan of the Chai’s at Starbucks. I like coffee – but some coffee shops seem to brew incredibly strong, knock your teeth out level coffee.

          1. Just Another Zebra*

            Pumpkin Spice Chai is something I look forward to every autumn, and in the winter I have them make it with eggnog. Amazing!

      2. Nessun*

        I worked at a franchise coffee shop for a year (not Starbucks, but similar) and they had a test you had to take to pass to non-trainee status (fail it twice and you were done before your probation ended). They had questions about what the coffee blends tasted like, how to decaffinate, it was nuts. And I don’t drink the stuff; never have, never will. They didn’t care – as long as you had memorized their company line about what it was SUPPOSED to taste like and could parrot that back to customers, that was fine!

    2. BethDH*

      I have a friend who works for a brand she couldn’t afford when she started. She was also going to work marketing. In addition to browsing the website, she went to a retail store or two to browse and feel/touch things, so she was able to speak not just to how things looked but also things like “the plates have a really nice weight and balance” and “the sheen on the tablecloths” and stuff like that that’s hard to tell from photos.
      I also think this is companies trying to shortcut the “why do you want to work here?” question, so if you have a good answer to that that isn’t about being a loyal consumer, you’re probably okay.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        There’s a dogfood company in town that has billboards up saying they’re “hiring pet lovers”. I don’t think they actually care if you have three dogs to work in their warehouse, but they do want people who want to contribute to high quality.

        1. Imaginary Friend*

          Lots of people are pet lovers who can’t be pet havers for various reasons. It works for me.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I was going to suggest going to a store and trying some things on. Even if you can’t own the clothes, getting personal experience with how they fit, how easy it is to move around in them, etc. could be really helpful for OP in this process.

    3. Never Boring*

      A lactose-intolerant friend of mine was a high-end cheese shop manager for many years. When people asked him for recommendations, he would say “a lot of people like this one.”

      1. allathian*

        Many cured cheeses are naturally low lactose or even lactose free. My dad developed an allergy to milk protein in his 50s. He really used to love cream cheese, but now just a tiny amount makes him really sick, so he doesn’t eat it.

  15. Matthias*

    LW2: You can totally get an inexpensive item of theirs, browse their selection, and use that as a basis for “yes I know and use your products”. I think they will appreciate the knowledge primarily, and less the fact that you didn’t spend that much money on it, which would indeed be very unreasonable.

  16. CreepyPaper*

    #3, as someone who has a gastrointestinal disability, people like James make me hiss. I’ve had people assume it’s not a real disability, so full marks to the company for making the accommodations but a big boo to James for literally weaponising it.

    He wouldn’t survive long in my company and there’s no way he could dangle the ‘but I’m DISABLED you CAN’T fire me’ sign in front of our HR because she’d have him out the door for everything else he’s doing so fast he’d break the sound barrier.

    Also there’s calling in sick because it feels like the Superbowl is happening in your intestines and calling in sick because ‘my lickle tummy is owie, me stay home’ and you cba to get out of bed. Badly worded, maybe, but there’s intolerable levels of ow and ‘can function’ levels of ow. James sounds like he has labelled everything as intolerable. It may be so. But the fact he’s bragging makes me think not.

    There was also some Terribly British Disapproval on my face when I read that he’s directly disobeying doctors orders about what to eat and drink, that’s a whole ‘nother rant.

    1. Yvette*

      “Terribly British Disapproval” I love this. You make it sound like something that you can purchase. Maybe a sort of face cream that you rub in and gradually tilts your head, lifts an eyebrow and sets your mouth in a firm line. The company slogan would be “We are not amused”.

      1. Maid Dombegh*

        I was thinking it sounded like a TV show. Like, the contestants observe people displaying varying degrees of poor manners, and they have to make their disapproval known without actually expressing it. Whoever demonstrates the best “mouth in a firm line”, as you say, wins.

              1. Elenna*

                See I just assumed you were talking about Regency times in Britain, where cutting someone (i.e. obviously ignoring them in public) was one of the strongest forms of silent disapproval. My vague impression based on Pride and Prejudice fanfic is that it was reserved for basically the same level of hate as publicly cursing someone out would be today.

        1. Anonosaurus*

          Points would also be awarded for the number of times the contestants said “sorry!” (Double score if it was the other person who was at fault.)

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Drink enough tea, without milk, and you get that expression naturally.

        You have to practice the silent, but yet noticeable enough, ‘tut tut’ though.

        It takes a long time to train yourself out of the British Disapproval face though – especially if you’re a manager! (Thoughts of ‘oh god, this arsehole again’ really have to stay hidden)

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah I’m with you there. It seems like he views being able to take time off to mean he doesn’t need to try and manage his bowels better because his job is not at stake. I expect he must have a high pain threshold for this not to be a problem, because why would anyone choose to eat or drink certain things knowing it’ll make them sick?

      1. SweetestCin*

        That’s what I’m stuck on: I do have a ridiculous pain threshold (the number of bone spurs I had removed from my ankle was shocking to the very seasoned surgeon who couldn’t figure out how I was even walking) and there are things I will NOT eat because absolutely NOTHING is worth that level of pain and discomfort.

        1. Rebecca Stewart*

          Yep. That’s why my diet to lose weight isn’t vegetarian. I can’t eat most of the cabbage family or most beans. Whether or not I like them is irrelevant. My gut doesn’t like them, and that’s just all.

      2. Texan In Exile*

        “why would anyone choose to eat or drink certain things knowing it’ll make them sick?”

        Thirty three years ago, I spent the night throwing up after taking tequila shots.

        I have not had tequila since.

      3. CreepyPaper*

        I will admit at the start, when I was diagnosed with Crohns, I would still eat the things that hurt because I was stubborn and young but it’s honestly not worth the pain.

        If 40-year-old Creepy could go back and slap 25-year-old Creepy for disobeying the dietary rules, she would, believe me…

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I have more willingness to give kids/teens/young adults a pass for a bit while they are figuring out dietary rules for a newly diagnosed condition – changing diets is hard and peer pressure is a very real thing. But eventually you need to take accountability for your actions and the impact they have on others. James seems stuck at the “I don’t care how my actions and their impact on my health impact the rest of the team” stage, which is going to at a bare minimum annoy the ever loving crud out of the rest of the team.

      4. MissBaudelaire*

        My husband has spent many a night in agony because he is lactose intolerant, but loves loves loves cheese, milk shakes, and chocolate milk.

        I refuse to listen to his whimpers. Pork always makes me horribly sick, I don’t go chowing down on bacon, and have to even be careful of pepperoni.

        But he is not the only lactose intolerant person I know who does that.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I’m lactose intolerant and my stress meal tends to be cheese curds and a milkshake. But I don’t hate myself enough to do it without a couple of lactase pills.

          I think part of it, for me at least, is when it’s been an absolutely miserable day and everything that happened was something I didn’t want and didn’t have a choice about it, eating a food I like is a choice I can make that allows me to have a thing I want. It’s not the most healthy, but at least cheese is less self destructive than other things I might choose.

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Got to admit Mr. Gumption and I do that to ourselves on occasion. Sometimes the call of whipped cream on whatever dessert is too strong for us. Then we drive home very tensely and very quickly and race to the bathrooms

      5. XF1013*

        “why would anyone choose to eat or drink certain things knowing it’ll make them sick?”

        Well, there are people with compulsive eating disorders who can’t resist consuming the food or drink that’s bad for them, and they deserve some measure of sympathy. But that doesn’t sound like the case with James, whose careless consumption fits as part of a larger picture of acting like an ass.

        1. UKDancer*

          Pepperoni pizza (and certain other processed meat) goes through me really quickly. I love it though so very occasionally I decide I want the pizza enough to deal with the side effects. I wouldn’t take something that would majorly affect my health or something I was allergic to but sometimes I want the pizza enough that I am willing to take the consequences.

      6. ArtsyGirl*

        My husband (at the time boyfriend) and his college friends took on a challenge known as a “crave case race” – it was a relay that involved White Castle. The results…were not pleasant…he still occasionally mentions getting White Castle for a meal and I quickly shoot it down.

    3. a tester, not a developer*

      WFH has been a godsend for me, and for people who had to sit near me in the past (Crohn’s).

    4. TeaCoziesRUs*

      I love your Terribly British Disapproval face. I’m thinking a cross between Mary Berry’s kindhearted “you didn’t get that recipe quite right” and Dame Maggie Smith as McGonagall… or the housekeeper in The Secret Garden… or the Dowager… Never mind. She’s got it down regardless of beloved role.

      I’m wondering if there’s a similar Bless Your Heart face that pops in mind for non-Southerners…

    5. Rebecca1*

      I don’t know about James, but I have ulcerative colitis, diabetes, and food allergies. It is physically impossible for me to follow all of my recommended dietary restrictions!

  17. LDN Layabout*

    re: #5 I’d consider those announcements to be completely normal via email. In fact, unless there’s a meeting that falls in the correct timeline, I’d say it’d be weird to specifically have a meeting just to announce personnel changes?

  18. sigh*

    OP3, what do you mean by “a year in, it seems that James has started bragging that he can take all the time he wants off without repercussions”.

    Are you actually sure that James is doing any of these things, or is it just rumour and innuendo?

    James drinking soda is not your concern; it is a matter for him and his doctor.

    The stuff about him bossing around newer employees (if that isn’t his job, and/or he is doing it disrespectfully/rudely/etc), and stating he’ll protest vaccine mandates (which I find frankly mind-boggling if he has a chronic health condition) are concerns, and I assume from your letter that you have seen him do these things with your own eyes?

    Most importantly: is his work quality “all around bad”, too, or is he doing his actual job in the midst of all this?

  19. Ori*

    I find this sort of ‘indirect’ gatekeeping quite fascinating (as well as awful). A great example is the publishing industry, where entry level roles pay so poorly, and are concentrated in major cities, that they are literally not possible unless you are independently wealthy or supported by someone else. As a result it’s 43% middle class (compared to a national average of 13%), 90% white, and the majority of managers are male despite publishing being a female dominated profession.

    1. londonedit*

      Absolutely. In the UK things are starting to be done to help with this – some publishers are opening up regional office hubs so it’s not all concentrated in London, and others are offering apprenticeship schemes and opening up job adverts to people from outside the industry, but historically it’s been an extremely closed world. If you didn’t have family in London, or family who could support you while you were doing work experience for travel expenses only, or earning £14k a year in an entry-level job, there’s no way you could do it. Pay is extremely poor across the board and you’re right that despite the industry being something like 85% female in this country all the women ‘magically’ disappear once you get to the really top levels. I’m lucky that the publisher I work for is doing a good job and does have a lot of women in the top jobs, but I’ve worked for plenty of others where women – especially those who have taken time out to have children – end up never making it past a certain level.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        If you need to have a high-earning partner to be able to afford to work somewhere, it sounds like it’ll be a job that you do to have something to do, and your partner’s work will always take precedence over yours, which doesn’t jive particularly well with being ambitious and wanting the top jobs.

        1. Lore*

          Oh, no, publishing also expects you to treat it like a noble calling and be utterly committed to your work. Your ambition won’t be rewarded with money or a promotion necessarily but you’re damn well expected to be dedicated to the cause.

          1. londonedit*

            Yep, 100%. We have an awful lot of highly dedicated, passionate and brilliant women working in publishing, but magically when you get to CEO level they all disappear because working four days a week so you can do the school run on a Friday doesn’t really display the true dedication to the cause that publishers are looking for. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job and I can’t really think of anything else I’d like to do, but I sure as heck am not going to be able to buy a house or retire this side of 70.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        To get promoted up to the higher levels in IT, I had to work in central London (about 70 miles from home) and figured out why there was nobody under 30 in that office and definitely fewer women: nobody else could afford to work there.

        (I do not miss the £7k/year train ticket I had to have. But given the smallest flat in London cost more than 4 times my mortgage on my house in Wiltshire that was the only option)

      3. Ori*

        Absolutely. With the benefit of hindsight it explains some things as well. I’m UK based, and out of university applied to several publishing jobs that ‘mysteriously’ didn’t state salary. I had obtained a good degree, but not from anywhere prestigious. I also had a good local sub-editor job. I got a ton of interviews at places like Reed Elsevier. In retrospect – especially with the difference between the enthusiasm on the phone vs enthusiasm in person – I should have realised that they were looking for a certain type of person. Of course, as you say, the job would have been untenable regardless.

      1. AdequateAdmin*

        Yes. Despite my username, I’m an archaeologist and I originally thought I wanted to do museum work. (Still would, but probably won’t be able to.) But I couldn’t afford to support myself through all these super competitive, low/no pay internships, and still be able to eat! My husband was in grad school, so it wasn’t like he could be the breadwinner. Archaeology is also similar, but not quite as bad. (Though the number of people I know with master’s degrees who still rely on their parents, but hawk archaeology as a viable field is infuriating.)

        1. Ori*

          My archaeologist cousin is working as a civil servant. He’s happy and making a good salary, but he’s acknowledged that going into his field wasn’t going to happen. And he went to a good uni and graduated with honours. Sigh.

    2. ArtsyGirl*

      Same with museum jobs (and most non-profits). You need to pursue expensive advanced degrees and then you are expected to take unpaid year(s) long internships in large, expensive cities. For every posting there are often hundreds of applicants so often there are invisible networking factors that privileges the wealth and well connected. If you get a job the pay is very low for the amount of schooling because the field was literally built around the sons (and later daughters) of wealthy collectors who wanted to dabble but could easily live off trust funds. Even though the vast majority of staff at not-for-profits are women and/or BIPOC it is still today dominated by white men in positions of power.

  20. No Sleep For The Wicked*

    LW3 – honestly I’m not thrilled about your priorities. The complaints in your final paragraph are valid, but you don’t actually get to litigate James taking time off for health reasons, or his personal health choices about diet.

    Just because a person is disabled doesn’t give you a right to comment on their health – and just because a disabled person is a jerk doesn’t give you a right to be ableist.

    1. Threeve*

      When I was younger, I sometimes deliberately skipped a dose of medicine for my seasonal allergies because I wanted to leave work early and I knew the nonstop sneezing would get me sent home.

      No doubt in my mind now that it was a shady AF thing to do. So do I get where the OP is coming from.

    2. LKW*

      The OP is not ableist – the OP is pointing out that James is a jerk, brags about being unfireable and is potentially exacerbating his health conditions which goes right in hand of “I’ll do whatever I want and you can’t stop me” attitude he’s showing. And everyone has rightly advised the OP that monitoring his soda intake is out of bounds and shouldn’t be a part of any discussion about his performance at work.

      1. American Job Venter*

        is potentially exacerbating his health conditions

        That’s the ableist part, though. The belief that someone who isn’t part of another person’s medical team ( or close support system) can look at only part of their life and determine whether or not their behavior is causing/exacerbating their health conditions. The temptation is quite clear, especially when that person’s health affects one’s life, but it’s an impulse that should be resisted, because we simply aren’t in a position to know these things about each other, and because those judgements lead to people deciding they know who “really is” disabled. I have more than one friend who have had their wheelchair taken away or even broken by people convinced they “didn’t need it” because they can take a few steps. (And as for me, I would really love if people didn’t feel entitled to comment on my food choices in public just because I’m overweight. That goes as much for sarcasm when I eat salads as lectures when I choose cake.)

        Besides, James sounds like such a spectacularly awful employee and person that even setting judgement of his health management aside, his employment is untenable and anyone who wants to judge has plenty to judge him for.

        1. No Sleep For The Wicked*

          This is exactly what I meant; the ableism is in butting in to James’s personal health choices. James can choose to drink soda if he wants, and if he was able-bodied no-one would think twice about it. Able-bodied people are allowed to have habits harmful to their health in a way that disabled people aren’t.

          I’d also argue that “you take too many sick days” is one of the most harmful and pernicious claims disabled people face in the workplace, one that a close friend has lost a job over before. If you have proof that he’s admitted to taking sick days when he isn’t really sick then *that* is the issue. It is not a problem that he was allowed the accomodation in the first place, or that he used it more than you (a bystander with no medical experience) felt was reasonable.

          1. Gumby*

            I don’t know of any full-time year-round position for which 3.5 to 4 months of absences per year is reasonable. That is a part time role, not a full time one. If you can swing a part time role for James, then great. But if the role needs to be full time, then regardless of disability, it is legit to say that being away from work nearly a third of the time is unreasonable and cannot be accommodated within the scope of the role.

            1. No Sleep For The Wicked*

              I guess my Hot Take on this one is that nearly all roles can (and should) be turned into part-time ones if needed to accommodate a disability, childcare, or other similar issues. Provided the employee is paid on a pro rata basis for the hours worked, and management has reasonable expectations of their workload (i.e. not assigning 40 hours of work a week and asking them to do it in 25 or asking other employees to pick up the slack, but instead hiring additional people if needed), making reduced hours an option is a major step employers can make to make their workplace more inclusive of disabled people, parents of young children, etc.

              I genuinely can’t think of any jobs that “need” to be full time – there may be a few, but not many. In most cases it’s generally just The Way Things Are Done without actually having a good reason.

              1. Gumby*

                I think the biggest argument against that is that assuming the role has full-time amount of work then the other half of the work has to be completed by *someone* which means you now have to hire another part-time worker with exactly the right skills and abilities. This probably works more easily at lower-level jobs so it also limits promotion opportunities.

                Plus, two part-time workers cost the company more than one full-time worker – depending on the amount, it could constitute undue hardship.

                I am not saying that I don’t think people with disabilities or other reasons to want part-time work shouldn’t be able to do that!! They should! But if a role is configured as a full-time role, it is not a minor problem to reconfigure it as two part-time roles.

                I am, perhaps, being influenced because I have worked in small companies for most of my career (30 – 50 people). Departments are small, roles are specialized, and dropping a team from 3 to 2.5 people makes a noticeable difference in meeting deadlines, quality, and/or quantity of work. We have to plan for vacations when setting up project schedules because the impact will be noticed.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Honestly some of the stuff OP3 included to me had the feel of “I need to vent because this is driving me absolutely buggy.” I also kind of get the feel from some of the updates OP3 has given in the comments makes me wonder if they are on the same team and get a lot of the “you have to pick the slack up” responsibilities.
        But yes – the focus of everything you are reporting needs to be work impact related, and it does sound as if they are documenting all the work related issues.

  21. Boadicea*

    LW4: I’m amazed; I could have written this letter (and have debated writing in to Alison to ask this exact thing).

    A few years ago, my guy did the worst thing he’s done so far – I originally wasn’t going to tell management, but it came out in conversation and the manager asked me to talk more on it. And I’m extremely glad I did. Luckily the guy didn’t try anything with my main job that time, but I was incredibly glad I’d prewarned someone so they were prepared in case he tried anything.

    Now, he’s potentially back. (We live in different countries but both have cause to travel, so he only shows up in my life every so often, which can trigger him back into his old behaviour.) Encouraged by last time, I’ve warned the project lead that this guy is dealing with why I cannot engage in this project, and as soon as we can meet IRL I will warn my manager too. I am slightly worried they will take his word over mine, but in reality that’s just my overactive mind. Tell whoever needs to know, to protect yourself.

    1. American Job Venter*

      This is well said, and I’m sending you all my hopes for the best of luck with this situation.

  22. Mannheim Steamroller*


    My office used to have a Jill. She took extra long smoke breaks. She complained when others did their own work (instead of hers) during her smoke breaks. She complained when others took “non-smoke” exercise breaks (“those breaks are supposed to be for smoking only”).

      1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

        Unfortunately common, in my experience. I’ve only had one boss in the last two decades who felt that everyone, not just smokers, should get breaks, regardless of what the laws or corporate policy has said.

      2. hbc*

        More smokers than you think are weirdly entitled about getting their fix. I guess since it hasn’t been that long since people smoked in offices, the idea that you just…get to smoke when you feel like it hasn’t entirely disappeared. I’ve even heard of restaurant workers picking up smoking because it’s the only way to get breaks.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          I’m the only person in my extended family that doesn’t smoke. They are all jerks about it.

          I remember one Christmas growing up when my cousin and I were sitting in the family room. Four or five people started smoking. Fine. Went to the dining room. Two or three more. Okaaay, fine, we went to the kitchen to play. Nope, another handful of smokers. Jeeze, really? Went to the breakfast room. And guess what?? More smokers! Like, these are people who will get whiny if they can’t leave in the middle of some kind of event to go smoooooke. It’s annoying AF.

        2. Time for Tea*

          Seconded- when I worked food service in Indiana I briefly took up smoking so I could take breaks. Otherwise I’d get hassled any time I asked for coverage for a break (because apparently if I don’t smoke I don’t need to use the bathroom?).

      3. TeaCoziesRUs*

        There’s a reason smoking was so heavy in the military until they severely restricted when and where. Smoke breaks were honored. 5 minutes outside to smell fresh air or see the sun because otherwise you work in a windowless building… “You’re just a slacking weakling who can’t handle the REAL military. Get your butt back inside and to the grindstone.” Luckily this attitude seems to have mostly changed for the better in the last decade… until you run across that old, crust chief who glares at you then says “burn ’em if you got ’em,” just before going outside to enjoy a leisurely Marlboro.

      4. Mannheim Steamroller*

        Yes. She truly believed that breaks were exclusively for smokers, AND that non-smokers had to do her work in place of their own during her breaks, AND that she should still get full credit for that work (because it was her work).

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yeah – I had that coworker as well. They were eventually managed out based on lack of productivity, and all the breaks they kept taking after being told you only get so many breaks, fit the smoking into those breaks, did fit into the documentation supporting the firing.

      5. JustaTech*

        I knew a guy who, when he joined the Army, picked up smoking so he could get more breaks. He got more breaks, and also a smoking habit that took a decade to break.

    1. C in the Hood*

      A friend of mine worked in education back in the late 80s/early 90s. When she noticed how many smoking breaks the smokers took, she & her non-smoking coworkers petitioned to have “non-smoking breaks”. They got them!

    2. Mid*

      My side job has a Jill, and it’s burning me out.

      I worked a 4 hour shift with her last night. She took 5 breaks in that time. Since she did an 8 hour shift, she was entitled to 2 paid 15 minute breaks and one 30 minute unpaid lunch. She “went to lunch” twice (without clocking out, she just disappeared for 30+ minutes, weirdly enough it was always when the manager was doing other things) and then she “took her last break” three times. She had a “call with a customer” for a good 30 minutes too (and grocery store customer calls tend not to involve discussions about fantasy football, the price of cigarettes, or how much of a b-word her neighbor was being, so I’m strongly guessing that it was a personal call on the work phone.)

      While I don’t know what she did for the first 4 hours of her shift, I know she didn’t do jack for the last four hours, because I had to cover all of it. We had to “shrink” several hundreds of dollars of perishable items because she somehow didn’t get to them, despite disappearing for an hour to “do go backs,” which you’re actually allowed to take your company apron off for when it’s busy so you can get things done faster (no apron and name tag means customers don’t know you’re an employee and you can get through the store without being stopped) and make sure perishable items don’t have to be thrown out. For safety reasons, we’re supposed to have at least two people working self-check at night, and somehow she always agrees to work that area and then disappears for it, leaving me alone.

      Sorry, this ended up being a long rant. I just worked my last 6 shifts with her and it’s really really frustrating me. My one manager knows about the issue and is trying to document what she can, but she has to witness this behavior personally to document it, and our “Jill” is really good at appearing right when the manager does.

      Smoker or not, I don’t care if you need to take extra breaks, as long as you aren’t screwing over everyone else while doing it. I know a coworker who takes a 2-3 minute break every hour, but grabs carts from the parking lot after the break so he’s still helping while dealing with his medical needs. (He literally calls them fart breaks actually. He doesn’t smoke, so I’m assuming that’s what he goes outside to do.)

  23. Bookworm*

    #4: No, not over dramatic at all. Your safety comes first. I’m sorry you’re going through that and hope the organization backs you up.

    1. ferrina*

      LW, you should def tell your manager and HR. I recommend practicing what you’re going to say in the meeting- it can make it feel calmer (esp if you’re worried about appearing dramatic- you shouldn’t have to worry about it, but in reality some people will victim-blame). You also want to make sure you hit the key points in Alison’s script- someone you briefly dated, stalker, kicked out of other professional groups and you’ve taken steps to avoid, may show up (because stalker- say that word and say it several times), any other protections you may want.

      If you are still processing or this is raw, it can be helpful to practice with a friend. Let the first time you say it be an emotional release, then continue to practice until it flows naturally (for me, that’s the point when I’m bored of saying it).

      Good luck, and sending good thoughts your way!

  24. agnes*

    disability accommodations don’t require an employer to turn a full time job into a part time one, which is what it sounds like is happening. It also doesn’t require the employer to tolerate the employee yelling out his disability issues in the workplace or protesting other employer policies, like vaccinations.

    We have several employees with irritable bowel. Their disability accommodations are written out and on file at HR. they include some flexibility in work schedule–like start and stop times (not extra time off beyond what they accrue or are legally entitled to, like FMLA), an office near a bathroom, accommodating some additional break times, and ordering some special food for events we have in the workplace.

    1. ecnaseener*

      yelling out his disability issues in the workplace

      Are you referring to “he calls out if the issue is too bad” ? That doesn’t mean he yells, it means he takes a sick day.

      1. londonedit*

        I initially thought it meant literally yelling in the middle of the office, because where I am you ‘call in sick’ so it took me a bit of time to get my head around that line.

        1. TeaCoziesRUs*

          Two separate languages… :)

          Call in sick = call in to your employer.

          Call out sick = your letting the employer know you’re out sick for the day.

          Make me wonder if it stems from the US’ hyper-individualist identity… British understanding of hierarchy… I love guessing the history of why we say things differently. :)

          1. londonedit*

            Yes it seems we focus on the act of calling the office to tell them you’re ill, whereas the US version focuses on the reason for the call.

          2. Untitled #77*

            I think most Americans have never heard the phrase “call out” used to mean “call in sick”. It sounded like most people thought he was yelling from the bathroom.

            1. Simply the best*

              What? I’m American, have lived in multiple areas of the United States, and hear people use both all the time.

          3. fhqwhgads*

            Both are used in the US. Although I’d say regionally, it varies on which is the more common of the two. Also some places you’d hear bot depending on context. For example, I called in sick on Monday. My manager told me Jordan called out sick today. In other words, the directionality applies. I’m calling in to my office to say I’ll be out sick.

          4. doreen*

            FYI- even in the US it seems to be a generational sort of thing – I never heard of “calling out sick ” until my kids started working. My experience was always “call in sick”

      2. RagingADHD*

        I’m accustomed to “call out sick,” but the way the sentence was constructed in the letter:

        “He works by the bathroom and he calls out if the issue is too bad.”

        It did sound like he was yelling from the bathroom that he’d be in there a while.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes that was my mental image also – someone sitting on the toilet and yelling about their bowel habits. The explanation makes a lot more sense.

    2. No Sleep For The Wicked*

      I’m honestly shocked at how many people in this comment section have a problem with the concept that reduced hours is a reasonable disability accomodation. Ignoring all the other issues, if James is paid proportionate to the hours he works (as op stated above) and management has a reasonable expectation about approximately how many hours that will be and is free to hire additional cover if needed, why is there an issue with “turning a full time job into a part time one”? I know its not legally required, but I’d argue it is morally.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        There does however come a point where a role has a minimum number of hours required- and if the person isn’t even capable of that then it’s not reasonable to reduce it any further.

        The guy who worked for us would have happily gone for a one day a week situation but we couldn’t.

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

    #1. If the clothing is in your size I would recommend that you try looking at local thrift stores and consignment stores. Goodwill in my area has some name brands that are out of my price range normally but are pretty affordable otherwise. I’ve heard good things about thread up, an online thrift store.
    Granted things might not be in season but you might be able to find a shirt or a jacket that you can pair with other items to use for your interview. If they are super interested in someone who wears there clothing I think they should be able to spot the clothing.

  26. NewYork*

    I have not read all the comments, but where a person is stepping down, I think email is FAR more preferable. This could be sensitive.

  27. I hate the word startup*

    Smokers…I worked in retail with someone who sounds just like Jill. He took a smoke break every hour, but the rest of us were only allotted our 15-min breaks and lunch.
    So, one day we all decided we would be taking smoke breaks. Everyone brought in cigs, and would leave the floor for 10 minutes at a time to go “smoke.”

    Manager tried to stop us, but the answer was, “it’s a smoke break, just like Paul gets!”

    After that, the smoker was only allowed to smoke on his 15 min breaks.

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

      even better if it had been candy cigarettes or a bubblegum cigar or something!!!

    2. sometimeswhy*

      My ex who was an irritating, sea-lioning, ruleslawyer but who was ALSO periodically correct and not just a jerk for the sake of being a jerk had a single, extremely stale cigarette that he kept whole and safe and he’d wave it on his way out the door to take “smoke breaks” even though he didn’t smoke. It nearly made his supervisor grind his teeth to dust. Eventually everyone else did it, too and the sup was forced to actually look at the coverage issues it caused. It was great.

    3. allathian*

      When I worked retail in my first ever job, one of my coworkers openly stated that he only smoked when he was working, because that meant he got more breaks. Our then-boss was also a smoker, so she didn’t mind. Then we got a new store manager, who was very anti-smoking, and simply said that smokers are only allowed to smoke on their lunch and coffee breaks, and my coworker quit smoking when he finished his pack…

  28. LawBee*

    #5 – I’ve worked a lot of places and none of them did in-person staff change announcements. It actually feels odd to think about – if it doesn’t impact someone’s job directly, email is fine.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      The only time we had in-person staffing announcement was notification of significant layoffs. Those of us who weren’t being let go were called into various meetings to give those who were laid off time to clear out their desks in private (they could choose to stay for the remainder of the day to say goodbye if they desired but most appreciated the privacy). At the end of the meetings, those of us remaining were told that layoffs had been carried out and we split to meet with our individual managers to hear about the effect on our team (which when you have a team of 5 and only 4 people show up you can kind of figure it out).
      Everything else was sent via email.

  29. anonymous73*

    #1 – I agree with Alison, but make sure you make this about her not doing her work and NOT about her smoking. People take breaks at work all the time – to go to the bathroom, to get a snack or a cup of coffee, to chat up a co-worker, etc. But if her job requires her to be at her desk answering phones outside of her allotted breaks, and she’s gone a lot more (and reporting those hours as work), then that’s the issue regardless of why she’s gone.
    #5 – In my 25+ years of working professionally, the only time I’ve been brought into a meeting to be told of someone leaving is when that person was a direct manager and it was going to affect me and my job personally. Email is normal, and was normal even before COVID.

  30. SlimeKnight*

    LW#1: I’m not sure if you’re using electronic timeclocks or what system you are using, but there is usually a way to see if someone is making manual adjustments to a timecard. I can’t do this myself in our system, but I know our HR Director runs this report regularly.

    1. nonsmoker*

      LW #1 here. Our system does show that time cards were changed but not by whom. I wrote my letter at a point when I was extremely frustrated with the situation, so I left out some pieces. The timecard situation comes in to play because that day I had been looking for Jill and couldn’t find her anywhere. One of the hourly employees informed me she was on her lunch still and outside smoking. In the heat of the moment I quipped “Isn’t that like a two hour lunch today?” as she had taken her lunch the same time I had (I picked up takeout for several of us so I know what time we took a break). The hourly employee apparently understood my frustration as he quipped back “Yes it is but she can “change the time” (air quoting Jill) so I guess it doesn’t matter”. Based on this conversation it seems Jill has made this comment other that she is able to adjust her own time clock and that’s why I believe she does. I’m still just unsure how to resolve this, because as other commenters have pointed out, its not like the rest of us are chained to our desk. It’s the combination of her work not getting done – if the phone rings for me or someone needs something and I’m in the break room getting coffee I pause what I’m doing and do my work, then go back for the coffee – and her potentially committing time card fraud.

      1. Observer*

        The hourly employee apparently understood my frustration as he quipped back “Yes it is but she can “change the time” (air quoting Jill) so I guess it doesn’t matter”. Based on this conversation it seems Jill has made this comment other that she is able to adjust her own time clock and that’s why I believe she does.

        If that’s all you have to go on, drop it. Altering time cards is a serious accusation, and you really, really can’t throw that out just because someone made an exasperated comments.

        As an aside, are you sure she can adjust her time cards? The reason I ask is that I do have the ability to adjust the time cards of my supervisee, but I cannot adjust my own card. I’m sure that most systems can allow that.

      2. ferrina*

        I’d alert her manager to this. This is serious. After that, it’s up to the manager to track it and you need to stay out.

        Since you are friends with Jill, you could even ask her directly. “I feel uncomfortable asking this, but someone at work implied that you’ve been changing your time clock. I really hope you’re not doing that, because that’s illegal and could get you fired! I really like you and don’t want that to happen to you!”
        That’s very gentle language that could clue her in that what she’s doing isn’t as normal or okay as she may think it is (some people assume that everyone else is doing it, or that it’s just clever to work the system like this. A nudge can sometimes correct this).

        1. Observer*

          Only say something to her if you want to end the friendship. This is a serious accusation, and you really have no basis for it. Ad for cluing in the manager? On what basis? Someone snarked that “Jane says she can change the time”?

    1. C0ra*

      I once worked in a team where literally every one of my coworkers except me smoked. They smoked outside, but my hair still smelled like cigarette smoke on a regular basis.

      1. Spicy Tuna*

        I attract smoke like a magnet. I used to walk to work and I would pick up alllll of the smoke smells on my way into the office. Several months after starting that job, I mentioned to my boss that I was running a marathon and he said, “but aren’t you a smoker?” I was mortified!

        1. quill*

          When I worked retail I had several nice old ladies tell me how bad smoking was for me, I was so young and pretty and it would ruin my teeth, etc…

          I finally figured out that because my secondhand car had been owned by a smoker, I reeked when I got out of it!

    2. Generic Name*

      I used to share an office with a guy who reeked of smoke. I actually really liked the guy and he was a great coworker, but sometimes I had to leave the office the smell was so overwhelming. Third hand smoke can be very disruptive.

  31. Other Sherri*

    Want to bring productivity to a halt? Send out an invite for an in-person meeting to discuss a personnel change without any details. The gossip/rumor mill will take off and all work will cease.

    Email announcements are fine, unless it’s really serious.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      We had one recently which was a directorate wide virtual meeting invite which we were asked to prioritise as urgent, but no context was given at all. Some people did know what it was about, but there were others who had no clue at all, while others had some knowledge of the situation but not that an announcement was coming when it did. That led to various rumours at the time.

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

      If you have several all-staff meetings where people are let go, the next time a meeting is put on the schedule people are going to start to get worried. Even if the meeting is good news people are going to have the other meeting in their heads.

  32. broke luxury retail staff member*

    LW #2, I worked in luxury retail for years after university and in graduate school and faced some of the same questions you have – I certainly couldn’t have afforded our products, even with the 30-40% employee discount most of them offered. I got around this by dressing in a similar style to the brand and supplementing with the occasional brand accessory. This seemed to work fine. If you are on the shop floor or in head office they may have a program where you are offered one free piece of clothing from their current line every month (this was taxed, which was annoying, but it meant that I could wear their clothing which I could not have been able to buy otherwise). It’s worth applying, at any rate – you’re not the only one in this situation. I had coworkers who would spend their entire paycheck on items from the brands I worked with, but there were also many (like me) who could not afford to do that and were able to replicate the brand’s style on the cheap. We were also given steeply discounted rates at sample sales.

  33. Spicy Tuna*

    I’m so triggered by the smoking question! At my first job out of college, our office was on the 8th floor. Smokers would leave the office, wait for the elevator, go down to the parking garage, walk to the end of the garage near the entrance (to get more “fresh air” to air out their smoke), return to the elevator bank, wait for the elevator and return to the office several times per day.

    We were required to work 2 hours of overtime several times a week during busy season (departing work at 7 instead of 5). A handful of us non-smokers liked to go to the gym after work, and on nights when we were there late, we would go to the bathroom 5 minutes before our departure time to change into gym clothing to save a little time (we were not customer facing and our busy season was winter, so no one was wearing revealing workout gear). We all got written up for this.

    So, managing stress through a healthful activity by leaving the desk for 5 minutes a few times a week – BAD! Managing stress through 15 minute smoke breaks several times a day – GOOD!

    1. Here we go again*

      The breaks most hourly paid smokers take is enough for me to hire a non smoker over a smoker 5 to 1, especially when others need to cover. Its like hiring someone without a car or a drivers license (almost rural with area unreliable to no public transportation) it’s gotten better about the smoking thing though. Less people smoke now.

      1. Cherry*

        Uh, I hope you check before randomly holding it against non-drivers during hiring decisions! I work in an almost-rural area with little public transportation and have zero issues cycling to work every day, no matter the weather.

        1. Here we go again*

          Yes I’d ask how they plan on getting to work, like I would as everyone. Because reliability was a big problem and they number one excuse was I don’t have a ride.
          But biking in a rural area in the snow belt in winter down rural roads is very uncommon and sometimes impossible if there’s a storm with over 6” of snow. So I’d be a skeptic if I was interviewing for the holiday season and that was the plan.

    2. Observer*

      Did they by any chance also have some inane “wellness program” that reminded you to limit your candy intake during the holidays, etc.

  34. June*

    Smoker taking a break every hour and not having her pay docked accordingly is committing time card fraud. She’s also abandoning her job post by leaving the phones unattended. She may be taking advantage of you because she perceives you are an outside work friend.

  35. Mister Lady*

    LW#4 — I wish you the best of luck with this. Alison is correct — you aren’t making the drama — but you’re not paranoid to think that others might blame you for the situation. I had to deal with a similar-ish situation (ex had become stalkerish, threatened to show up at my work, called my phone constantly to the point that I had to get a new number). I talked with a manager I trusted about it, provided photos so that if they showed up, the office staff knew not to send them to my office, etc. That manager was great — he had even had a similar experience and was super sympathetic and had lots of good practical advice. But another manager in the office got wind of it and decided to make my life hell because of it. Maybe she thought she sensed weakness, someone she could push around. I found myself called into her office to be scolded about my word choice in a friendly chat with a client and other time-wasting power-play nonsense. I have no idea why she disappeared a little while later, but it was such a relief! I was pretty young and had no idea how to stand up for myself. Plus, I didn’t have Ask A Manager to consult!

    1. Boadicea*

      Wow, I had that years ago with my ex I mentioned above – we were in a pretty dodgy relationship, and another male friend I worked with knew about it and acted like I was going to be a pushover! He wasn’t right :D

  36. generic_username*

    When I was in college I knew a guy who picked up smoking during his summer job because smokers got extra breaks. It’s a weird thing because it’s an addiction and some people need to smoke that frequently (and often don’t have to clock in and out for those breaks, so they’re just extra breaks).

    I used to work at a retail store where most people smoked and it certainly began to feel unfair, especially when we were busy and stress made people feel the need to smoke more. I got one 30 minute break during my 8 hour shift, and they would go sit outside on their phones for about 10 minutes every couple of hours… Sometimes I wanted a break from the chaos too. Once, I told my boss I was going for a “smoke break” and when he tried to point out that I didn’t smoke, I gave him a “try me” face and just walked outside to sit on my phone for 10 minutes.

  37. MCMonkeyBean*

    On staff changes–we always get those announcements via email, and for more significant ones individual teams usually meet so their boss can tell them before the email goes out. But I don’t think it usually calls for one big meeting (though my company is much larger than 35 people)

    We did have a very big one announced recently, our CEO will be retiring soon, and for that one there was a large virtual meeting scheduled to tell everyone at once and answer questions.

    1. ferrina*

      We got an email when our CEO retired last year. It was a lovely, heartfelt email, and definitely felt better than an awkward meeting. At the next all staff meeting a week or two later, it was re-announced with more details about the transition plan.

  38. Meep*

    We had a James. He has Chron’s disease and the poor thing needed his mother to drive him to the city two hours away for training. He would also eat absolute crap and once claimed he was in the hospital with bronchitis for two weeks so he could go on an extended bachelor party because he had as many vacation days as he needed due to his disease. Our James was/is also a raging d-bag who loves to act like he was a big shot. Though, I suspect that is because upper management was blowing smoke up his ass and he is an only child with a chronic disease so he was bound to get a big head.

    My poor “work wife” got the brunt of the frustration from him being a tool because she worked with him while he was a graduate student and she was an undergrad. Another coworker and I were concerned he would try to push his work onto her like he did in college and tipped off my (other) Toxic Coworker. She decided to make “Work Wife’s” life a living hell as punishment for it. It was ugly. With that said…

    How is the quality of his work, I wonder? You can definitely go with the attitude. Or you can also focus solely on if he is producing or not. For the last two months, for example, James gave us absolutely nothing. Though we didn’t know that until he was fired for security issues.

    1. Office Lobster DJ*

      No doubt your James sounds awful, but “he is an only child with a chronic disease so he was bound to get a big head?” Yikes. Very yikes.

  39. HannahS*

    OP 3, it is not for you to judge or decide if James adequately managing his condition. You are not his doctor or his parent. Keep yourself to professional complaints. “Well OBVIOUSLY he doesn’t take care of himself because he has an illness AND drinks soda” is a judgement that reflects very poorly on you.

    Ironically, you are much more likely to engage in discrimination if your metric is “Do I, personally, approve of how this person manages their condition/religion/gender presentation?” vs. “Have we satisfied the requirements of the ADA, and do our complaints about this person’s WORK and behaviour with regard to their WORK fall outside of things that we’d have to reasonably accommodate for?” Keep it professional.

    1. ferrina*

      Yes! If you start judging his lifestyle choices that aggravate his condition, that can shortcut into judging his condition. Even if you don’t feel that is happening, it can very, very quickly look that way to others.

      Best way is to completely stay away from thinking about James’ choices that aren’t work. Eating, sleeping, exercise, dating….these are irrelevant. The important thing is 1) engaging with the ADA and 2) ensuring that business needs are being met. If a business need it “not have employees bully other employees” and James’ bullying isn’t part of his ADA accommodation, then it’s a performance issue.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes. You can get into a lot of trouble if you let yourself judge people’s personal choices regarding their health. It’s hard, because you see someone who you feel is taking advantage and you think, “Well, if they didn’t do X than Y would be true.” That might be the case, but that’s not your business as their employer.

    3. LizM*

      Your second paragraph is an excellent way of framing the issue. The standards that you need to apply are the legal ones (hopefully you have competent HR or legal team who can help advise you on this), not your own personal judgment of the situation. When you start veering towards personal feelings about a situation, you’re in dangerous waters.

  40. Observer*

    #2 – I would look at their marketing as well. Is it aspirational or exclusionary? That could tell you something about their culture.

    A few years ago there was a whole furor about a particular brand where it was claimed that the primary designer said that they don’t design for Black people and prefer that Black people don’t wear their brand. (I’ve actually seen more than one version – multiple brands, and also once the disfavored ethnicity was Asians.) It’s an urban legend and never happened. But it’s worth thinking about how believable you would find such a rumor about this particular brand.

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

    As someone who has IBS issues of my own, and have had to have FMLA set up at prior companies, I feel conflicted by LW 3.
    There does seem to be issues with James. I would like to breakdown the letter because i think LW is mixing personal feelings with the disability.
    1 “James has started bragging that he can take all the time he wants off without repercussions” Have you seen this first hand or is this just gossip. Perhaps James said something not outrageous and stated to a coworker his accommodations and now through the gossip vine its blown up that he is bragging he can take unlimited time off. Has anyone talked with James about these comments?
    2. “In the year he’s worked he’s called out for three and half, maybe four months” I can see this as a problem. But if James had some other type of condition that wasn’t stomach related would you count this against him? If he had to have dialysis or blood transfusions, or cancer treatment would you still look at it this way? Again has there been a conversation about this? Perhaps LW thinks, maybe subconsciously, that James’ gastro issues is not real or not a big deal. That it’s just a stomach ache and he should be able to push threw it. This is NOT true and if anyone thinks this they need to check themselves.
    3. “As per James’ doctor, he shouldn’t be drinking soda or fatty foods. ” How the HELL do you know this? When I’ve had to do FMLA paperwork nowhere is there a treatment plan or where the doctor has had to put what the patient can and cannot do outside of what the job entails. Did you actually see this from a doctor or did you just Google James’ condition and that’s what you found? This has nothing to do with his job performance and you need to forget it!
    4. He “has begun bossing around newer employees and stated he would stand outside with signs and protest vaccine mandates”. I agree that this is a problem, especially if he is not a manager to these employees or it’s not in his job description to give orders to others.
    5. “We have had multiple meetings about him and would love to fire him” Have any of these meeting included James? Has anyone actually talked to him. You don’t say that you have.
    6.” He’s all around bad but he’s swinging the ADA like a sword rather than using it as a shield,” Is he really though? From everything that you’ve stated LW the only thing I see is that he is “bragging” about not having repercussions (see comment 1.)

    I have no advice except to take a hard look at yourself and how you are treating James. I think a lot of this could be handled with a conversation with James

    1. Boof*

      At least with some dialysis or chronic conditions, the treatments can be scheduled so I imagine there’s more ability to work reliably part time / arrange appropriate coverage ahead of time.

    2. H.C.*

      >>2. “In the year he’s worked he’s called out for three and half, maybe four months” I can see this as a problem. But if James had some other type of condition that wasn’t stomach related would you count this against him? If he had to have dialysis or blood transfusions, or cancer treatment would you still look at it this way? Again has there been a conversation about this? Perhaps LW thinks, maybe subconsciously, that James’ gastro issues is not real or not a big deal. That it’s just a stomach ache and he should be able to push threw it. This is NOT true and if anyone thinks this they need to check themselves.

      Like what Boof said, the other conditions have cited in your example have more regularity in scheduling so it would be easier to accommodate; further, missing 25% to 33% of scheduled work time would likely run into the “undue hardship” aspect of ADA accommodations.

  42. Observer*

    #5- Please, if you are even in a position to make decisions around this, do NOT, NOT, NOT call “quick stand up meetings” to make announcements about staffing changes. Even when EVERYONE is in the office, by the time you are at 20 people, these meetings are never “quick” and they are almost always going to be disruptive. When you add in the fact that there are a significant number of people who are actually not in person, and it becomes even more disruptive.

    In general, do NOT call a meeting – any meeting – just to announce information unless you have very poor communications channels. Meetings should be called when there needs to be an information EXCHANGE. Or where it’s really not practical to announce the information in a medium such as email.

    The idea that “a follow up email would suffice” for the people who are not in the office is seriously problematic. Smart companies do what they can to make sure that people working remotely are as included and up to speed as possible. Your suggestion turns that on its head and implies that people working remotely don’t need the same information and timeliness as people in the office. And it’s just not true.

    Not only is email an “acceptable” way to make such announcements. It is the PREFERABLE way to do so. Because one of the impacts of such changes should NOT be “wasted a morning” or even “wasted an hour” for all of your on site staff. And that is EXACTLY what “short stand up meetings to announce a staff change” means.

    Here is the thing I’m puzzled about. You ask the question as though it’s a given that meetings are THE “correct” way to handle this. Why? What advantage does a meeting give you?

  43. RagingADHD*

    LW3: If James is out sick 25% of the time, and in the bathroom extensively when in the office, it doesn’t sound like his “picketing” will present much of a nuisance. He won’t be out there long enough for anyone to notice.

  44. theletter*

    #5 – staff changes do not need to be in person. Perhaps, forty years ago, when people stayed a their jobs for a lifetime, and only left when they retired, it would make sense to announce every staffing change.

    Between today’s turnover and the acknowledgement that some departures can be dramatic, making staff changes mundane is a best route for everyone.

    In the past few years, I’ve only seen a couple of in-person staff announcements. The first was the classic impromptu all department staff in-person meeting (before Covid) to announce that layoffs had just occurred, and assure everyone else that they were safe. The second was specific to my team, and this happened twice, where the boss called/met with people individually to tell them the news, because it affected our job specifically.

  45. jess*

    LW3 boy do I feel this. I work on a 3 person team in a public facing role. My older coworker eats like a teenager and has had major digestive issues that they had diagnosed with and told to change they’re diet. They change it for a few days or whatever, then when they feel better, go back to eating fast food and take away every day. They’re constantly out for that and other health issues and that throws the office on the 2 of us that remain. What is lame is that both of us other employees have health issues that are not the result of lifestyle choices, but if we call out, we never know if this person will call out at the last minute.

    And these types always wanna gripe about how they feel so lousy. You think?

    I agree with askamanger that we can’t do anything legally, but damn. I sure can judge them in my own mind for being selfish and immature. You are 60 years old. Fix a sandwich for lunch and stfu.

  46. nonsmoker*

    LW #1 here. Our system shows that it was changed but not by whom. I wrote my letter at a point when I was extremely frustrated with the situation, so I left out some pieces. The timecard situation comes in to play because that day I had been looking for Jill and couldn’t find her anywhere. One of the hourly employees informed me she was on her lunch still and outside smoking. In the heat of the moment I quipped “Isn’t that like a two hour lunch today?” as she had taken her lunch the same time I had (I picked up takeout for several of us so I know what time we took a break). The hourly employee apparently understood my frustration as he quipped back “Yes it is but she can “change the time” (air quoting Jill) so I guess it doesn’t matter”. Based on this conversation it seems Jill has made this comment other that she is able to adjust her own time clock and that’s why I believe she does. I’m still just unsure how to resolve this, because as other commenters have pointed out, its not like the rest of us are chained to our desk. It’s the combination of her work not getting done – if the phone rings for me or someone needs something and I’m in the break room getting coffee I pause what I’m doing and do my work, then go back for the coffee – and her potentially committing time card fraud.

    1. Observer*

      Skip the time card fraud unless you have something solid. Right now you have absolutely ZERO. An exasperated and snarky comment by a co-worker is not close to being something you base an accusation like that on. If you bring this to your supervisor, you will lose credibility. Deservedly so.

      Stop covering for her, and let your manager know that you are doing so. If her work is really not getting done, and you have reason to believe that her manager does not know about it or does not know why, let them know as well. Don’t even mention the time cards – it’s not your problem and you have nothing to base the accusation on.

      And that actually assumes that she can change her own time card. The crack by your coworker doesn’t mean anything at all. If she can change her time cards and her supervisor is aware of the smoke breaks, it’s on him to check the record and see if any hanky panky is going on. You don’t need to bring it up.

    2. Oh Behave!*

      Can anyone change their timecard? The system I used allowed me to designate those with advance permissions.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      Our system shows that it was changed but not by whom.
      This sounds like an audit nightmare in both directions.

  47. Moonbeam*

    LW 1 – I can understand a lot of commenters getting fired up about smoke breaks (no pun intended)!

    I wanted to add that at my last place of work we had some issues with staff taking extra breaks for smoking, and in particular every smoker in a department going together, leaving a coverage issue. This was a medical facility, and they’d also go outside without their walkie, which was a HUGE issue that at one point left our CFO doing damage control with a medical issue while frantically trying to find medical staff.

    I was coming into an environment with some really flimsy policies as the new HR person. When I updated our handbook, I worked with leadership to land on a “no smoke break” policy. You have your 30 minute lunch break and two paid 15 minute breaks; smoke during any of those times, but there are no “smoke breaks”. It’s not only unfair to other team members, but it created a lot of operational issues to allow smoke breaks.

    1. TechWriter*

      Oof. How did that work out? Did you face a lot of pushback? (I’ve heard, anecdotally, that nurses in particular are often smokers due to smoke breaks being their main form of rest, so I’m curious how the medical professionals in your workplace responded!)

      1. Moonbeam*

        There was definitely some grumbling, but not as much as I had expected. The facility primarily provides addiction services so smoking was very common with staff and patients. It was presented in a matter of fact manner. Homestly, I haven’t heard any arguments for additional smoke breaks that don’t immediately sound kind of ridiculous. Maybe that prevent those arguments from being aired in the first place!

    2. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      Ugh, smoke breaks.

      I had a manager who smoked and would chide me about taking breaks to get steps (it is healthy not to sit too long at once and walking manages my anxiety). I would walk around inside the building then come back, while he would have to get the elevator and walk to a certain zone to smoke where allowed. Tell me who is taking more time! And who is healthier.

      If I hadn’t needed the job so badly, I wouldn’t have said, “why don’t you put down those cancer sticks, and I’ll sit still then?”

  48. Orange You Glad*

    #1 (smoke breaks) – It wasn’t clear from the letter if Jill’s boss is also LW’s boss. If it were me, I’d make a list of all the things I had to cover for Jill and why they are disruptive to my work and take them to my boss for help pushing back. I would also stop covering for Jill at the last minute. If she texts to take a call for her, ignore it. You could easily claim you didn’t see the text or you were in the bathroom. Make it hard for her to use you as her backup. I’m also wondering why LW is left to cover for Jill, is she doing this to anyone else? Is there maybe someone in her department that is more appropriate to cover her work?

    I also wouldn’t jump on the time card concern. There could be other things at play that the LW isn’t aware of and accusing someone of changing their time card is a big accusation. At my company, most positions are hourly with up to a 1-hour break that they clock out for. The policy also says employees may take breaks up to 10 mins as much as they want without clocking out. Managers have broad power to set their own department policies. This means that one department may have a smoker who steps out every hour but their manager is fine with it because they do great work otherwise. Another department may have a stricter “butts in seats” policy.

    Focusing on how her breaks affect LW is the way to go .

  49. Clefairy*

    I had a “James” who also used his disability as a weapon- he was an objectively terrible employee about 50% of the time, but hid behind his accommodations, thinking he got a free pass to be a jerk to customers, employees, and leadership when he was having an “off” day. Thought he was owed a management position when one opened up, and when I explained that I needed him to show a very long stretch of consistently good, positive behavior before I could even consider him, he exploded and ended up opening up a discrimination complaint against me through HR. Which was incredibly stressful. The only thing that came out that I did “wrong” was not documenting his poor behavior enough- though, still enough for HR to have a pretty lengthy paper trail of poor behavior. What’s funny and ironic is that, before the whole management position debacle, I actually saw a lot of potential in him if he could just learn to reign in his attitude- HR had witnessed his behavior in person and wanted to terminate him, but I fought for him because I wanted to try to help him develop and grow. I really did care about the guy. But once I saw he was happy to drag me through the mud and try to get me fired for being transparent with him, that was the end of that. He ended up getting terminated a few months later, for a) doing something very specific that would give away our industry, so I can’t say it, but was EXTREMELY not good and b) coming in to the building on his day off to go around calling one of the other managers a bitch to everyone on staff. I was really stressed that he was going to try to sue, but HR let me know that if he did, that was fine and we would be fine, we had an extensive paper trail showing his poor behavior. I learned a lot navigating that situation, especially that you can’t be held hostage by a bad employee just because they have legal protection for a disability. And to document EVERYTHING.

    1. Clefairy*

      Also, I just realized that with my wording, it sounds like I retaliated against him for opening up a complaint, which is 100% not true. I just meant that I saw his true colors and realized I wasn’t going to be able to develop him the way I wanted to. I was still perfectly pleasant to him, continued developmental 1x1s with him, and continued to offer him opportunities and projects that made sense with where he was and his goals. I just stopped expecting to actually get his attitude reigned in enough to salvage his prior behavior, though I still worked towards that goal with really specific feedback.

      1. Oh Behave!*

        I didn’t read any retaliation. It continues to amaze me how people behave and expect to get away with it!

  50. Essess*

    OP #1, track the amount of time you have to provide coverage for her smoke breaks that occur outside of the normal break times. Then present it to your boss with that being the amount of hours that you are unable to work on your duties and ask him how he wants to handle this.
    If he decided to let it continue, I would get passive aggressive and tell him that I wanted the same amount of paid breaks each day.

  51. Yorick*

    LW5: At least they sent an email to let you know! Our higher-ups don’t share anything with us. I just found out something wildly important about operations in my org from the newspaper! It’s not the first time, but it’s probably the biggest one.

  52. Oh Behave!*

    OP 3 – If you balk at the expense of hiring an employment lawyer, keep in mind how much James may cost you. Meaning – Him being a toxic jerk driving off great employees. Employees not trusting management because you don’t do anything about him, etc. If you do nothing, it WILL get worse. Why? He thinks he has the cat by the tail and is already behaving as if he’s teflon!

  53. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    #5–When I get a meeting invite about staffing changes, I assume it’s either 1. a major player’s retirement (someone whose leaving affects all teams) or 2. layoffs.

  54. Simply the best*

    #5 If a follow-up email will suffice for those working remotely, it stands to reason that an email will suffice for you too.

    This is a bizarre thing to be miffed over.

    1. Observer*

      If a follow-up email will suffice for those working remotely, it stands to reason that an email will suffice for you too.


    2. The Other Dawn*

      Yes, it’s been a totally normal way to communicate staffing changes in any office I’ve worked in. At my current company we get an email every month announcing the new hires, transfers (banking), promotions, and terminations (could be anything from a resignation to retirement). The only time it was done in person was when I was in a 10-person office many years ago. The circumstances around the person leaving were complicated and sensitive, and we were a tight-knit group, so it made sense to do it person.

  55. Alexis Rosay*

    Definitely it’s possible to fire people with disabilities, as long as the firing is for cause and their disability has been accommodated. My partner worked with a guy who was constantly reminding people that he was a member of three protected classes (including disabled) whenever someone brought up a performance issue (of which there were many, which could not be related to his disability since it could be accommodated by letting him sit down at work). They had to get the approval of the state Attorney General before they could fire him because the threat of a lawsuit was so high. But in the end, there was cause and they did fire him.

  56. Elm*

    I am a former smoker. It’s been…six months? I’m working from home and I literally don’t leave the house some days to prevent myself from buying cigarettes. It’s SO hard.

    I have been going through a very, very hard time at work lately and want a cigarette from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep. I smoke to cope with stress. We have also determined my smoking and my OCD are directly connected, so I not only have to battle the need for that smoke because of nicotine but also because it’s part of a ritual to handle everything. The need for nicotine and the need for the ritual can happen together or separately. Again, it’s SO hard.

    Never, not once, have I taken a smoke break.

    And I was hardly a light smoker. A full vape or two a day. A full pack or two a day. I would go smoke on my lunch breaks, but that was it. Why? I fully believe I shouldn’t get more breaks than anyone else.

    I have worked with very respectful smokers who always make sure it’s a good time to take a break (and don’t complain if it’s not) and never stay out for more than five minutes, maybe 10. But, 15 every hour or so? Absolutely not. I doubt she’s literally falsifying time cards, but I’d bet she is getting paid for that hour or two she spends outside every day.

    Where I used to work, people with addictions so bad were given the option: The job pays for your therapy/rehab or you have to leave. Granted, this was when people did things like show up drunk or drank on the job (we worked with kids, so frankly, this was pretty generous since the kids were put in direct danger). But, if this is impeding their ability to work and this can NOT be reasonably accommodated (they could, I guess, try to argue ADA), this isn’t okay. Their coworkers are being hurt. Uncool.

  57. Dennis Feinstein*

    “James… gastrointestinal issues… He works by the bathroom and he calls out if the issue is too bad.”
    I initially read this as James yelling out, “Hey everyone! My IBS is bad today! Best avoid the bathroom!”

  58. Leslie the Cat Herder*

    For LW #2, maybe they could find some of their products at a thrift store. They’d then be able to say they own some of the products AND speak to how well they hold up!

  59. Slim Shady*

    A recent hire goes to the bathroom at least 12 times a day, or just walks away whenever he pleases for as long as he pleases.There is constant badgering of his co-worker about what, when, or how she does the same job. Tattling to his boss whenever he thinks he sees something “illegal”. Tells people that are above him what they can/cannot do for their clients. Stated in resume that a BA in Business was completed and now tells his supervisor he quit school before completing this. I thought lying on your resume was a bad thing. He has already been promoted. I wonder how far I can go to make sure HR knows he lied. He has done many other fireable things but never is held responsible. Why do people like this get to stay employed?

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