friend tried to steal my job, lactation room is now a “mask relief” room, and more

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

1. My coworker won’t take corrections and blames his mental health

I am a fairly young woman excelling in my contracting field, and I’ve been having a problem with my coworker, John. He refuses to make any changes to work even when presented with feedback from the client, which is a huge problem as we actually have processes and best practices in written form FROM the client. Unfortunately, there are some things that haven’t quite made it into the standard books but have been given to us from the client. I have been tasked with putting them into a document that everyone on the team can view but not edit.

I got fed up with John not listening to the documents or my corrections, and I looped our boss in by emailing copies of our back and forth with essentially, “Here’s what I first got, what I commented, and what he gave me back, here’s my NEW comments, there’s a TON of incorrect overlap.”

Then in a Teams message, John asked for clarification on one of my corrections, I explained, and he called me “condescending as always.” I looped my manager back in and found out that the entire QA team has been having similar observations/complaints about him. My manager told him to do the corrections I told him to do.

Well, I got the corrections back, still wrong. Along with an email blaming his poor mental health for his behavior and work quality and telling me “to be gentle with his quality checks to preserve his mental health from being damaged further.”

How responsible am I supposed to be for his mental health? He has enough errors in his work that if I try to do a “Hey buddy, just a couple small things…” I’ll be stuck stroking his ego for 12 hours.

Nah, this is not on you to manage, and John shouldn’t have asked you to dance around errors that it’s your job to identify. There isn’t really an option here other than to talk with your manager about what’s going on.

In theory, I suppose it’s possible that you’re being excessively harsh or condescending in your communications with John, but I doubt it because (a) the whole team is having this problem with him, (b) his judgement has been off in enough other areas (like refusing to make changes even when requested by the client) that it seems pretty likely that he’s the problem, not you (and plus you forwarded your boss a bunch of your correspondence and didn’t get any pushback from her on your approach).

Lay out the whole situation for your manager — John is refusing to make corrections from you or the client, he’s creating a lot of extra work for you with all the back and forth, and now he’s suggesting you owe it to his mental health to soft-pedal future quality checks — and ask if she can intervene.

Read an update to this letter here

2. Our lactation room is now also a “mask relief” room

My office is reopening in April and staff will be required to go in two times per week for the first time since March 2020. I had my second kid at the end of 2021 and will be pumping in the office.

I’ve just learned that they’ve decided to turn our only lactation room into a dual-purpose lactation/mask relief room — any staff member can reserve it just to have a place to sit alone without a mask. As the person who needs to use the room for its original purpose, I’m finding this incredibly frustrating but I could use some perspective on whether my feelings are legitimate. Part of the issue is that the room is incredibly unwelcoming for pumping employees as it is — it’s very small with uncomfortable furniture and feels like a repurposed closet. It shares a wall with both a bathroom and the kitchen, meaning that while pumping, you hear every time the toilet flushes and lots of loud coworker conversations. It’s not a hospitable space to spend time partially undressed while having your lifeforce drained out of you.

Last time around, I also stored pumping supplies in the room (as did the other pumping employees) so I didn’t have to lug them back and forth, but those would be in the way of someone using the room for another purpose. The logical part of my brain tells me that this shouldn’t be a big deal because of the reservation system (no one should try to access it while I’m pumping) and because it’s so unpleasant that I doubt people will actually want to use it, so it’s all likely a moot point. But I can’t shake the feeling that this is just another indignity being heaped on a working mom and emblematic of a lack of supportive environment in the office (even though my organization is actually pretty good at supporting working moms). There are also multiple empty offices that could be designated for mask relief. Am I off-base? Should I push back on this decision?

I don’t think you’re off-base. It sounds like one message after another that your organization isn’t particularly invested in accommodating pumping — they’re doing what’s required by law but they haven’t minded cramming you into a loud, uncomfortable space and now are making you compete for its use too.

Maybe you could use this as an opening to push for a better space altogether, framing it as “you know, this has never been an ideal space for pumping because of the noise and the room set-up, and now with this change it will be hard to leave pumping equipment in there. Could we take this as an opportunity to find a more suitable lactation space — something quieter and more suited for its purpose?” It might not work, but who knows, it might … especially if you can get other people to chime in with you.

3. My friend tried to take my job

I started an office job few years ago and became close friends with my office manager. She hated it there. Our boss is a hard man to work for and she didn’t get along with him. She quit and recommended me for the job. Long story short, I am succeeding in the job, my boss and I have a good relationship, and everyone is so much happier with the positive environment that I bring running the office.

I found out today from my boss that she asked for her job back. This is my good friend! He said she bragged that her management experience has improved. He told her no, but told me keep it confidential. She doesn’t get along with her boss at her current job, so she did tell me she wanted to quit but take my job?! I’m so hurt and shocked. Do I cut her off?!

It’s possible she didn’t quite think through that she’d be taking your job; she might have figured you’d go back to doing your previous job or another role there. But yeah, it’s a rather underhanded move! Your boss also put you in an awkward position by telling you to keep it confidential since ideally you’d just ask her about it (although in fairness, he might not realize you’re close friends).

In any case, I’d take this as a sign that you might not be as good friends as you’d assumed. For what it’s worth, most work friendships don’t stay the same once you’re no longer working together. Often they’re situation-based and when one of you changes jobs, the thing that bound you together is gone. I don’t think you need to cut her off (especially since there might be more to this than what your boss relayed — who knows, maybe she just said something like “If Jane isn’t happy in the job or ever leaves, I’d love to come back”) but it’s probably worth treating it as a flag to look at how close the friendship really is now.

4. How should I tell a client the issue I fixed for them was their own mistake?

In my job, I do some testing of software deliverables on my side, and then send it over to the client for them to test on their systems. One situation that happens fairly often is that the deliverable doesn’t execute as expected on the client system, and the client emails or calls me, irritated. I get the irritation, and I’m think pretty good at keeping the focus on getting what I need for troubleshooting (what did they do, what error did they get, screenshots, etc.)

When the problem turns out to be something I did, or a misunderstanding, or a technical glitch, it’s simple to reply with “OK, so it turns out the problem was X! Let’s try it with Y, I think that will resolve it.”

About half the time, though, my troubleshooting uncovers that the problem the client was upset over was caused by their own error or low computer literacy. Totally fine! My job is to report back on what the issue turned out to be, and how to fix it. What’s the best approach for framing a reply to someone who was (accidentally) causing their own problems? It feels rude to say, “I investigated the error message saying IE11 isn’t supported, and it turns out … you’re using IE11, which isn’t supported. Do you have, or can you get, another browser?” Or maybe it only feels rude because the answer is obvious to me? When you look into a problem and find out the person who brought you the problem also caused it, how do you tell them what you found out?

Your language isn’t rude at all! This might be about you feeling weird about the whole concept — that you have to tell the client that they caused their own problem, and at some level you feel like that might be insulting. The best thing to do is to just use straightforward, direct language like you’ve done here and keep your tone cheerful and upbeat. Some people add things like “it’s an easy mistake to make,” although I’d be careful to only say that if it’s true since otherwise it can sound condescending. The cheerful/upbeat/helpful tone will do most of the lifting for you. As long as you’re genuinely aware that even competent people can make silly mistakes, you probably don’t need to worry about sounding rude.

5. Is it unwise to plan a two-week Eurotrip while job hunting?

I’m a teacher trying to leave the classroom for the corporate world. Your blog has been really helpful to me as I learn corporate lingo and norms, so first off, thank you!

I’ve been conducting informational interviews for several months and just started to send out applications, but I have yet to make it past a phone screen. I just found out that an international professional development trip that I was originally supposed to go on in 2020 is finally happening this July. The trip is a week, but because my flight will be paid for, I’m tempted to extend it by another week and travel. This would take me out of the office for two full weeks.

Is it unwise to plan a two-week trip to Europe four months from now when I’m actively job hunting? I’m financially able to take unpaid leave. I just don’t think it makes sense to pass up an opportunity like this for a job that I don’t even have yet.

Take the trip you want to take! If your concern is not being available for interviews, being unavailable for two weeks four months from now shouldn’t be a big deal (and there’s a decent chance you could do a virtual interview from the trip if you needed to). If it’s more about having pre-planned time off work around what could be the start of a new job, that’s usually pretty easily worked out — it’s something you’d bring up at the offer stage and negotiate at that point. You might have to take the time unpaid, but generally you’ll be able to take it (except in unusual situations, like if it overlaps with a big event you’re being hired to manage or something like that).

{ 384 comments… read them below }

  1. Raboot*

    Letter 2… If masks are actually required then that makes the “mask relief room” into the “catch covid room”. Like, wtf? Did they mandate masks without remembering why we wear them? Absolutely not okay to make thay your only place to pump.

    1. jm*

      my thoughts exactly. having one designated room for a succession of workers to breathe into unimpeded all day long just seems like a recipe for disaster?

      1. Extra Anon for This*

        We have a couple of side rooms used for videoconferencing with clients, for which we are encouraged to be unmasked, for reasons of nonverbal communication/rapport. As long as there’s only one person using the space for the day, whatever.

        But given the stories about respiratory droplets hanging in the air for *hours*– if I know that one of my colleagues has used a side room unmasked, I’d rather not even go in there at all. I’m absolutely not going to go in, close the door to all ventilation, and also unmask. Eww. I am not a medical professional or ventilation expert; just eww.

        1. The Bimmer Guy*

          Right? Especially when you’re pumping nourishment for your effing *baby.* Who would want to do that in a room that’s also specifically designated for unmasking?

          This company needs to rethink its priorities, and–I agree–ideally, the nursing mothers would get a room upgrade that’s more comfortable.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Unvaccinatable baby no less.
            OP, you’re right to want to push back on this. As awful as you describe I would point out the ventilation was not designed for multiple people during a pandemic.

            1. Carlie*

              And not just covid. That room will be a soup of every respiratory virus in town within about the first 2 days. No thank you.

              1. tangerineRose*

                Yep. COVID was one of my first thoughts when reading about this.

                Also, these seem to be management people who:
                1. Maybe don’t take COVID that seriously, considering they have now set aside a place to make it easier to catch it.
                2. Don’t seem to care much about lactation.

            2. Just J.*

              I AM an HVAC engineer. An unmasking room needs to have exhaust air, similar to a bathroom. Most pumping rooms do not. (As a “clean space”, I would lean to having the lactation room pressurized to keep germs and dust out. In other words, no exhaust.)

              Turning your pumping space into an umasking room is unsanitary. Please do push back. The idea of using a small office or teleconferencing space for an unmasking room is a good one. It won’t have the right ventilation either, but it spares your lactation room.

              1. learnedthehardway*

                Definitely the OP should push back AND use the word “unsanitary” when she does!!

                Also, she should mention the fact that babies CAN’T be vaccinated for COVID.

                I think a “I am surprised and dismayed” kind of tone would be the right one here.

                1. Anallamadingdong*

                  The tone that immediately comes to my mind is more along the lines of “WHAT IN THE ACTUAL F@$%!?!?” but surprised and dismayed is more professional.

              2. Calliope*

                I mean, leaving the unmasking room issue aside, people don’t feed their babies in clean rooms or pump in clean rooms. It’a not something that needs special pressurization.

                1. Student*

                  I think you misunderstand the HVAC term a bit. This isn’t a clean room like in a microchip factory. This is talking about how an HVAC engineer would arrange the HVAC system for a room designated for lactation.

                  You design the airflow for rooms in commercial buildings by their purpose and use, and there are several possible options. For example, in many offices, you’d route the air that gets exhausted from the offices/cubes into the bathroom, and then vent the bathroom air straight out of the building, to try to keep bathroom smells from going elsewhere. You pressurize the air in the lobby in a lot of buildings to try to push dust and such away from the door (instead of letting a bunch of dust get sucked inside whenever someone opens the door). It’s not a really high pressure relative to outdoors – just enough to try to keep the dust out.

                  HVAC person was talking about doing something similar to the lactation room as for the lobby scenario above, pressurizing it a bit relative to the rest of the office to keep dust from getting in for your baby-food prep, so that it doesn’t get excessively dusty during low use periods.

                  Presumably, in your own home, you’re able to designate a clean spot to pump in and you’re responsible for your own dust clean-up and management. You wouldn’t normally set up house HVAC to reduce the dust cleaning load or manage issues in the same way a giant office building does.

                2. Meow*

                  How careful people are about it in reality is a separate issue, but pumping supplies are supposed to be sterilized and pumping rooms are absolutely supposed to be sanitary to avoid contaminating the bottles/milk. You are not supposed to feed babies milk that has been pumped in an unclean environment. Breastfeeding is a little different because it’s coming straight from a sterile source.

                3. CoveredinBees*

                  Thanks, Student, I was absolutely picturing a microchip clean room. As much cleaning and “sterilizing” goes on with pumping that absolutely sounded like overkill. I had never thought about routing bathroom smells directly out, but it makes perfect sense.

                4. Paperdill*

                  Feeding directly from boob to mouth has ALOT less room for error and cross contamination than pumping especially when storage of equipment is occurring in the same space.

                5. MeepMeep02*

                  They also do not feed their babies or pump in COVID hospital wards or in other infectious-disease hospital wards. Infectious disease is generally something you want to avoid giving your baby.

              3. She of Many Hats*

                Another argument for not using the lactation room: The spare office will have the equipment and space to allow the unmasked to bring their laptops and keep working during their mask-break and (I assume) the lactation room does not have those features.

            3. WantonSeedStitch*

              THIS. Asking people who obviously have vulnerable babies at home to linger in that kind of environment, possibly multiple times a day? Awful.

        2. Jora Malli*

          This is specifically what I would bring up. There are reports that delta and omicron specifically remain in the air for many hours after the infected person has left the room. If people in the office want a mask break, they should go outside and not exhale potentially infectious particles in an enclosed space where other people will be unmasked later in the day.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Yeah. It still goes into the same ventilation system as the rest of the office. Which just means it spreads through the office thereby negating the WHOLE POINT of masks.

    2. Two Chairs, One to Go*

      Yeah, the lack of health concern is astounding. Can’t people go outside to take their masks off?

      1. Clisby*

        That was my question. I get people wanting to have a break from masks. Can’t the company offer a couple of extra breaks a day for people to just … go outside and breathe freely? I worked at places that did that for smokers, while banning indoor smoking. I realize there might be workplaces with no safe “outside” place, but is that the case here?

        1. Zombeyonce*

          You worked somewhere that essentially gave smokers extra paid breaks that non-smokers didn’t get? Eek.

          1. Unum Hoc Scio*

            Actually, this is an interesting way to look at the safety of the room. Cigarette smoke is comparable in size to Covid droplets. While you can’t smell Covid droplets, you can relate to them spreading and lingering in the space much in the same way that cigarette smoke lingers (and you can still smell it) in a room. The ‘booking times’ are in no way a guarantee that the room (and you and your child) is safe from Covid exposure.

            1. This is a name, I guess*

              Yes, but it’s not reality-based to assume everyone who will use the room as a mask-free room will have Covid. Like, Covid droplets and cigarette smoke are only a good comparison if: 1) cases are incredibly high; 2) no one is getting tested ever; and 3) tons of people are using this room. We don’t even know why they created this room, and we don’t how many people would use it as such.

              It’s illogical to assume that the people who use the room to take off their masks have a higher likelihood of having Covid. We don’t have enough information. Is the office located in a place where people can’t go outside easily (ahem: Saskatchewan in winter)? Is the industry incredibly strict about when/where masks can come off to begin with? Is there a specific reason people need to take mask breaks that we don’t know about? Possibly, people who will follow the rules enough to use a designated crappy closet are more compliant with public health rules than the most egregious offenders.

              I 100% believe that it’s inhumane and unsafe to use the lactation room for mask free whatever. I 100% think the OP should bring this up as reasoning.

              However, many people on this site and elsewhere have perceptions of Covid risk that are not reality-based and are not based on local contextual data about case counts and about the specific individuals we’re talking about. When there are low case counts, I do not think it’s insanely dangerous for adults to choose to use a mask-break-room or whatever it is. As long as no one else is being forced to use it (which is the problem here), it isn’t a big deal.

              At this point, adults gets to choose their level of risk and exposure. I do not think that we should assume all people who don’t want to wear masks all day at work are covid denying jerks. Some of us have been boosted, don’t have kids, don’t spend time in close quarters with elders, and aren’t at high risk for serious infection. Why can’t we make evidence-based decisions about our lives without insane judgment? Many of us happily make tons of accommodations for people without that flexibility (because my flexibility is a privilege), and we’re not the equivalent of people attempting to smoke inside.

              1. MeepMeep02*

                OK, so imagine a room where every 10th person using it is smoking in it. How smoke-free is it going to be? Or every 20th person. Or even every 100th person, and you don’t know which one.

                The point is not the idea of “mask relief” – the point is that having an unventilated room for that purpose is a stupid idea when there are other options available. It’s not like sitting in an unventilated room is such a luxurious and wonderful experience that someone would want to do it, and it’s not like this unventilated room is such a desirable venue. Taking a mask break is much better done outside, both for ventilation reasons and for normal psychological health reasons too.

              2. tangerineRose*

                “It’s illogical to assume that the people who use the room to take off their masks have a higher likelihood of having Covid.”

                I think that’s only true if the people have high barriers to going outside and taking off their masks (which you mentioned). As much as this is possible, how often does this happen?

                If we assume that:
                1. people can usually go outside to take off their masks
                2. and people who are concerned about COVID try to not take off their masks in a small room where other people not in their “bubble” have taken off their masks
                Then I think it might be reasonable to think that people who are willing to use this room as a mask free zone might be more likely to have COVID.

              3. pancakes*

                I don’t know why or how you decided that this arrangement is only a problem “if cases are incredibly high” or “everyone who uses the room” is Covid-positive. Even if cases are low or medium in the area and, say, three people routinely use the room, they are each increasing their likelihood of spreading the virus amongst themselves and the people in their day to day life if just one of them is unknowingly carrying the virus. It’s beside the point to say it’s only a problem if people are “forced” to use it because the letter writer currently doesn’t have another room to pump in. That’s what the letter is about. The letter writer is going to be forced to use this room unless they can change their employer’s mind about this arrangement.

              4. No Longer Looking*

                It is 100% reality-based to assume everyone has COVID-19. Most don’t, but if local statistics indicate that the chance of spread is high enough that masks should be worn, then assuming infection is how you keep the infection from spreading. You cannot look at someone in an early coronavirus stage and KNOW if they are or are not a carrier, that’s the WHOLE POINT here.

              5. Reluctant Mezzo*

                BA-2 is supposed to be even more contagious than omicron, and is headed right here.

                But hey, take off your mask in the room where someone who doesn’t know they have the flu was a hour ago, right?

                And pumping? Umm, nope.

    3. Heidi*

      The way that the OP was writing made it seem like “mask-relief rooms” are a legitimate thing. Are other places doing this? Unless this is a negative pressure room with its own HVAC system and gets disinfected between each person using it, it doesn’t sound safe.

      1. Ellie*

        I’ve never heard of them. I’d bring up the issue of adequate ventilation and get the pumping room moved somewhere else. I’m guessing the people who are going in for this ‘mask relief’ probably don’t care too much about catching covid, but there’s no way a breastfeeding mother should have to accept the same risk.

      2. Wendy*

        This sounds like a corporate compromise to the people who think it’s ridiculous for anyone to be wearing masks. Like “Sorry, you do need to wear it, but we agree that wearing a mask is totally an unreasonable burden! Here, what if we give you special treatment?”

      3. Mark Roth*

        We have a “mask relief room.” It’s called “outside.” It is a very big room too.

        1. Sofie*

          Ha! I was going to leave this exact comment myself.

          I know March weather isn’t always very pleasant, but if wearing a mask is so onerous one needs “relief” from it, surely it’s worth it?

          1. Jora Malli*

            I’ve been wearing a mask 6-8 hours a day at work for almost two years. You get used to it.

        2. JTP*

          I was going to comment, my son’s elementary school has a “mask relief room” — it’s called outside!

        3. This is a name, I guess*

          I’m imagining one of those horrid modern open workspaces in a high rise, where outside isn’t easily accessible and no one get privacy. That’s a real situation is major cities.

          1. RedFraggle*

            High-rise office buildings have requirements for quick evacuations in case of a fire. “Outside” has to be quickly accessible, even when the elevators are unusable.

            It seems to me that people who “need” an indoor mask-free area are just whining about having to wear a mask at all. Or possibly not wanting to draw attention to the number of times a day they are looking for a mask break.

              1. Kasia*

                I honestly might. I exclusively pumped for one kid and am currently mostly breastfeeding #2 and I just assume the entire world has seen my boobs at this point anyway.

          2. pancakes*

            I have worked in a lot of high rises where I had my own office, and outside was never more than a quick elevator ride away. I’m not sure where you got the idea that cubicles are mandatory but they’re not!

            1. This is a name, I guess*

              They aren’t necessary, but a lot of people don’t like open plans for a variety of reasons (it comes up here a lot). My partner works in one, and she’s happy people are wearing masks because she has nowhere to fart without an impossibly long bathroom walk (she can’t hold it for 5m sometimes). :D

              I also worked on the 36th floor of an office tower with no parks nearby, just sidewalks. And I live in forever-winter climate, so there weren’t great options for outdoor breaks during the work day, especially the winter. I think the idea of a mask-optional room is weird, and it definitely shouldn’t be the same as a lactation room!

              But, this is so bizarre that I imagine we’re missing some context. Perhaps there’s some activity specific to the LW’s industry that requires no masks. Perhaps the LW’s industry has stricter mask rules than the rest of the country. Perhaps there 1 staff member who has an invisible disability who asked to use the room for mask breaks. Honestly, that last one wouldn’t surprise me.

              It’s often more often incompetence than malice in situations like this.

              1. pancakes*

                Yes, I know that many people don’t like open plan offices. That is beside the point of whether people who work in them have relatively easy access to fresh air outside.

                I don’t see any point to speculating on incompetence vs. malice.

      4. Shiba Dad*

        I seem to remember a major theme/amusement park had a “mask relief area” and then dropped it after some backlash.

        While an isolation room setup like you describe would be ideal, having ten or more air changes per hour would greatly reduce the chance of spreading COVID. Given the description of the room, it is likely poorly ventilated.

        Of course, what would really be ideal is to not have a “mask relief area” in the first place.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Disney had “mask relief areas” for awhile, but mostly they were outdoor areas where you could sit at some distance from other people.

      5. All the words*

        Oh so many of my co-workers have self designated areas of our office building as “mask relief” areas. Like the lobby at the main entrance that has couches & tables. Groups of people go hang out there on their breaks bare faced. They’ve done this throughout the entire pandemic. Welcome to our building, here’s your potential Covid exposure.

        We’ve been firmly instructed that we are never to ask a co-worker to mask up (unless they enter your cubicle). Because that’s rude or hostile, or something. Mask-holes are given free rein.

        Moving the lactation room may not be easy, just because it needs to be near water access.

        1. tangerineRose*

          “e are never to ask a co-worker to mask up (unless they enter your cubicle). Because that’s rude or hostile, or something.”

          I want to scream at management here. How is that more hostile than giving someone COVID?

      6. Antilles*

        I’ve never heard of it. But I think that’s because so many places have just completely given up on masks altogether.
        I’ve been to five major US cities, in four different states in 2022, visiting a bunch of public places and private companies, and most places didn’t have “mask required” signs. And even in places which did still have their “mask required” signage, the strong majority of people were just straight up ignoring the signs. Plus the revised CDC guidance about low/medium transmissions areas (which is like, 90+% of the US based on current data).
        So if you’re a company/group who’s done with masks, you probably aren’t bothering with the half-step of a designated “mask relief” room since there’s plenty of cover to just completely go to “masks suggested but optional”.

      7. This is a name, I guess*

        I’m imagining one of those horrid modern open workspaces in a high rise, where outside isn’t easily accessible and no one get privacy. That’s a real situation is major cities.

        I have a cube at my job, so we were able to take masks off in our cubes. But, not everyone has cubes these days!

        My partner works in an architecture firm, which has to have “forward thinking” interior design for its office as part of its reputation-building, and it caused a mess during the pandemic: 1) no cubes means everyone has to wear a mask all day; and 2) open floor plan means that she and her boss couldn’t work in the office on the same day because their desks were too close for social distancing.

        Don’t worry! They “fixed” it. It’s still open floorplan, but now they hot desk to ensure proper distancing when people go in the office. Honestly, though, given that my partner has nowhere to fart (besides attempting to run down 2 floors to the bathroom), it’s probably good people are wearing masks.

        1. SweetTooth*

          I mean, my open-plan office is on the 28th floor of a building, and it’s still just one elevator ride and a walk across a lobby to get outside. Really not that difficult to go outdoors, plus you have the excuse of walking nearby to get coffee or lunch. To me, the bigger inconvenience would have to be going 2 floors down to use the bathroom!

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            We live in a place where walking outside is challenging for 2-3 months a year. Our weather is similar to Dante’s 9th Circle of Hell.

      8. JustaTech*

        We don’t have them (and I work in lab so we’ve got way more air exchanges/HVAC than most places). What we do have are some empty offices that anyone who sits at a cube (table) is allowed to use for video calls and to eat their lunch. There aren’t many people in the building so they’re never used back-toback so the room has some time to air out.

        Then again our lactation room is also the phlebotomy room (blood draw) with is not only unsanitary but against city law, so yeah.

      9. Paperdill*

        In my experience and observation (nurse – I’m pretty much always in a mask) the more often people take “mask relief” the harder being accustomed to a mask is.

      10. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Well, it’s one good way to keep those awful lactating mothers away from the office…

    4. Alexis Rosay*

      Readers of this blog seem to have a much better grasp on the technical details of masking than the average person. Or now that Covid is supposedly over, a lot of people seem to have wiped all the details from their minds.

    5. JM60*

      The “mask relief room” should be located outside, which is the best place to go to unmask. Otherwise, they’re exceptions that compromise the purpose of masking for the wearer and others in the building. One room’s air typically circulates to other rooms.

    6. Jessica*

      Take a break from wearing those annoying masks and breathe all your germs into a tiny, poorly ventilated, closetlike space! Better yet, let’s use the only room in the building where we can guarantee that all the other users have a too-young-for-vaccine child at home. :-(

      1. tangerineRose*

        Exactly! Plus, how can they endanger young kids like this? I’m guessing someone’s not thinking about that or thinks COVID is not a big deal.

    7. Pumping implies time around newborns... right?*

      I saw the heading for this and immediately jumped to that letter with the same fear. Upon reading it, that fear remains. This seems like it is purpose-built to add incredible risk to anyone pumping… which I was of the impression is a group that strongly overlaps with frequent proximity to newborns (who have minimal immune systems and whatnot)?

      This not only seems wrong on the level that making a pumping space be shared for other completely unrelated activities (which increases utilization, thereby reducing availability in non-awesome ways) is its own problem, but also in that if the non-pumping purpose is people going to hang out there and breathe maskless then it’s absolutely a “catch covid room” that literally predominantly targets the lactating parents of newborns with COVID exposure?

      I mean, I guess we don’t have laws that explicitly say you can’t risk the headlines that you run a workplace that promotes circumstances highly likely to give a moderately deadly and ludicrously contagious disease to babies, but that feels like it should be in the same category as why the rules of chess don’t explicitly spell out don’t eat the chess pieces in that one has to wonder why that would need to be spelled out? I guess hopefully we luck out and don’t need to see that, but why risk it when it’s such an easy problem to see coming at you?

      As obnoxious as it is when folks outside congregate in ways that it’s difficult to keep distance while making it into a given building, that certainly seems preferable to heavy utilization of what sounds like a poorly ventilated room.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I think OP2 and other nursing mothers should refuse to use this room if it’s also being used to unmask. It’s risking their lives and their babies lives and they should just refuse. I hope none of them are in such a desperate situation they have to take this risk to keep this job.

      2. kristinyc*

        Maybe not newborns, but definitely babies. (If the mom is back at work and got the 12 week FMLA, baby’s probably not a newborn anymore, but still very small and likely hasn’t even had that many regular vaccinations yet since those start at 2 months). But the regular vaccine schedule for babies is every few months, and they’re definitely not getting the Covid vaccine anytime soon, so yeah… terrible situation

        There are laws about providing a dedicated lactation space… surely this is in violation of something?

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I don’t know the laws in every state but the typical law is only that the space must be not a bathroom (in the literal sense, there aren’t separate hygiene standards), be functional for the purpose, and private in that no one can see in or come in while it’s being used. It doesn’t have to be dedicated in the sense of “not used for another purpose when active pumping isn’t happening”, and there are very few if any quality guidelines aside from these.

          So in violation of common decency, maybe, but probably not a legal violation.

          1. JM60*

            I’d argue that it’s not functional for the purpose if people hang out in there unmasked before the employee uses it for lactation. Though courts may or may not agree with me.

        2. anonymath*

          A lot of places only pay for 5-7 weeks, as the pay (full or partial) is funded through short-term disability. 12 weeks is just how long you have without being fired — most folks don’t get 12 weeks of income.

    8. Emma*

      Yeah… This room had better be very well ventilated – big open window, external source air con, air purifier with HEPA filter etc – otherwise it’s going to be the Covid Storage and Distribution room. I wouldn’t go in there even masked, personally.

      1. Kim*

        Like LW #2 describes, it’s a closet, so no, but even if other companies want to have this dual purpose to their room, having an open window generally does not help with pumping. For most lactating people goes: the warmer their breasts are, the more they produce.

        LW, I would strongly push back against this terrible idea and/or push for another lactation room. Because if the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that you cant trust people to give a frick about their colleagues wellbeing. For me (as a fellow pumping mom) the anxiety about the risks alone would dry my supply right up.

        1. Reba*

          Agree with everyone here that this idea is actually as bad as the LW thinks and worse.

          LW2 what do you think would happen if you went to HR and said, “This won’t work for me. Knowing that covid lingers in the air, it’s not acceptable for me to have to take on additional health risks just in order to have access to a pumping room. I am planning to use one of the empty offices.”

          Maybe they would also like to know from you that the room was already pretty inhospitable, and that this move seems out of step with the ways the company otherwise handles new parent issues well.

          1. kristinyc*

            But what if the empty offices aren’t as private as one would need for pumping? All the offices in every job I’ve had have had windows (maybe frosted glass, but not always). Breasts are exposed while pumping. She needs to be able to have privacy.

            1. DataGirl*

              All the offices at my building are glass walled, for ‘transparency’. So no privacy. I agree that as uncomfortable as the current lactation room is, unless there is an office that you can’t see into available, the better solution is to move the mask ‘freedom’ into a different room.

              1. DJ Abbott*

                I temped in a place with glass walled offices, and some of them had venetian blinds or vertical blinds for privacy.

            2. Reba*

              In that case I would say “We need the lactation room to be as safe as possible. This doesn’t work for me. The mask off room needs to move” and repeat as necessary.

              Since the law as I understand it basically only requires that the room be private and not a bathroom, they are meeting that with the crappy closet. So, the LW may not have legal support for a better option, but hopefully being firm and explaining the added risks will cause TPTB to get it.

      2. JustA___*

        Agree that a well-rated air purifier would be pretty effective in a closet (they’re rated for enclosed spaces of finite size). But don’t lead with that, OP. Ask for a separate space for lactation from this whack-a-doo “mask relief”/”germ sharing” room!

    9. Seriously?*

      Exactly! I’d find articles about how Covid lingers in the air and present that. A tiny space for mask relief, is a mistake. Let people take a quick outside break.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yep. This is why taking masks off in a cubicle, in an open room full of cubicles, is also not a great idea.

    10. Anonymously*

      That’s exactly how a good friend caught Covid a year ago. She unmasked in an empty room for an hour, and later found out an infected person had spent time in the poorly ventilated room, hours earlier. The virus lingered for hours. She was sick for weeks.

    11. Melanie Cavill*

      In my office, we’re allowed to take off our masks at our desks (under the assumption that anyone else who comes into our cubicle space is masked). I assumed that was the standard. So the idea of a ‘mask relief room’ is really baffling to me.

      1. EPLawyer*

        It’s a CUBICLE. Not a separate office. You are all breathing the same air. So being unmasked at your desks means that anyone coming in might as well be unmasked too.

        Not shouting at you, shouting at the policy.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yeah people don’t seem to understand…how air works?

          (Also a dig at policy not at you Melanie)

        2. turquoisecow*

          Yeah my office said you didn’t have to wear a mask if you were at your desk. Even if your desk was a cubicle. Because I guess those cloth walls – that don’t go up to the ceiling – stop the virus?

          And now they’re removing the mask mandate all together. Wonder why I (who has a kid under 2) don’t want to go to the office?

        3. Artemesia*

          This — Cube farms don’t protect the air — the air and the germs are everywhere. The 6 foot thing was based on faulty research from decades ago; we have known for a long time that this airborne virus goes well beyond 6 feet and lingers in the air.

        4. Melanie Cavill*

          That’s something I never even thought of! Man, covid SUCKS. Thanks for pointing that out; I’ve had co-workers come into my cubicle unmasked and I’m going to start politely pushing back at it more.

          I should point out that my office is a fairly big space that only houses four people, and there’s more than six feet of distance between each cubicle. So it isn’t as if we’re packed in like sardines. But you’re right about the masking policy not actually doing all it’s meant to do. I honestly assumed that was the norm; in my region, I’m pretty sure it is.

          1. Zelda*

            “I’ve had co-workers come into my cubicle unmasked and I’m going to start politely pushing back at it more.”

            The thing is, if they’ve been sitting unmasked in their *own* cubicles, it’s already too late. I’m not saying don’t push back about how they behave in *your* cubicle, but you’re already breathing in what they’re breathing out regardless of whether or not they come over. There may be differences in intensity, but right now you are not protected.

            1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

              Bathrooms are generally negative-pressure, i.e. you pull the exhaust air out from there. This avoids odors wafting out into other spaces.
              The pressure difference is tiny; you can usually (just) see it by hanging a strip of tissue at a slightly achar door and see where it goes.
              Now a bathroom is obviously not designed as a pumping room, so I’m no way suggesting to ask mothers to use it for that purpose!

        5. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

          It is literally the dumbest thing. We have the same policy at my office and so does my partner (we both work for state agencies). We’re both the only ones who kept our masks on at our desks, and now that our mask mandate has been dropped he is the only person in his cube farm wearing a mask at all, and I am one of only a handful still masking. We both have HEPA filters at our desks, and at this point we’re both kind of numb about all of the maskless people… but it just sucks.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Solidarity. I’m one of the only people still masking in my open office…my walls are a glorified sneeze guard. It makes me so angry that no one cares about people with young kids or those with fragile health.

    12. Ijustcantanymore*

      +100
      Expose a mother with a vulnerable baby at home to potential covid-covered surfaces and covid-filled air in a tiny room with no ventilation? WTF were they thinking?

    13. Love to WFH*

      Unless windows are wide open “Mask Relief Room” = “COVID Room”.

      A parent with an unvaccinated baby at home should NOT have to expose themself to that!

    14. PostalMixup*

      Yeah, my workplace mandate was “everyone masks all the time, even if you’re alone in a private office with the door closed.” Because if someone else came in, they’d be exposed to The Plague that you’d been exhaling all day.

      On a side note, we recently discovered that a piece of equipment has been releasing an uncontrolled stream of CO2 into the air. The fact that no one asphyxiated while working makes me feel a lot better about the ventilation in my workplace.

    15. Betty*

      Also, even pre-covid, the amount of sterilizing that you’re supposed to do for anything involving feeding a baby, including pumping, is just overwhelming, and the idea of having coworkers breathing all over pump parts/bottles is itself not cool. So even if the company leadership is downplaying covid, framing it in terms of the risks from just regular old germs is still valid!

      (And congratulations on the baby, LW!)

    16. idwtpaun*

      Came here to post exactly that! This company is inviting people to fill a small, cramped space with their exhalations, every subsequent person entering is to breathe in everything that preceding people breathed out. This is a literal “let’s all catch each other’s airborne diseases” room.

      LW2, not only are you not off-base, but I would say you should be more upset! This is wrong from all the angles – parental accommodation and health & safety.

    17. AnonInCanada*

      The perfect “mask relief room” is outside IMHO! Agreeing with everyone else about the absurdity of dual-purposing the cramped lactation room into a “come on in and catch COVID, masks not required” room. Let me guess, no ventilation in there either?

    18. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this is where I went: So, this is now the Virus Soup Room? Sure, let’s share it with people whose immune systems may be depressed due to recent childbirth and who also, by definition, have vulnerable young kids at home. Excellent.

    19. Some dude*

      Totally.

      Also, there is a great big mask relief room called outside. Go on a walk if you want to take your mask off, don’t sit in a closed room that will be used by breastfeeding moms. Although maybe they figured it was the baby room – for people feeding babies and people being babies about having to wear a mask.

    20. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      That’s what I was thinking. I’d probably address the issue in a “of course we don’t want new mothers potentially catching and bringing Covid home to their babies, so where is the new breast pumping room located?”

    21. MapleHill*

      LW#2, do you work at Cloud 9? ;)
      Really though, speak up. While it seems to many of us an obviously bad situation (for both pumping and health), it may not occur to TPTB what is necessary in a pumping room. It’s possible the people who designated the room are men and/or have never pumped or nursed and may just think as long as you have a private room with a chair that it’s ok and may not realize you can’t just “hold it” when you need to pump (I have never pumped/had a kid, but my teammate is currently pumping at the office so this is just observation).

      Our current pumping room used to be a room where people could go rest if they weren’t feeling good. Then a lot of women at the office started having babies and someone must have spoken up because it became a pumping room with a sign up sheet. It also used to have a door with a frosted glass panel which you couldn’t see through but I thought was terrible for even resting, much less pumping. Again, unless our HR manager or building manager just thought of it, I’m guessing someone spoke up and asked to have it covered.

      I’d start with assuming the best until they give you reason to think otherwise. I’m a woman, but I wouldn’t know what you’d need in that room without some research. Go in with an attitude that they probably didn’t realize that environment can affect your ease in pumping or that pumping mothers need a schedule (or whatever is accurate) and obviously the health & scheduling concerns of pumping in the “mask free” room even beyond Covid. Let them know what would be good to have in the room explicitly (essentials and nice to haves). Do you need an upholstered chair, recliner, ottoman, table of some sort? Does it need to be quiet? Windowless? Would some labeled storage spaces be nice? Would a fridge to be used to only for milk be helpful? A sink/soap? Etc.

      Good luck and I hope we get a positive update!

    22. Lizianna*

      Yeah, I’d be grossed out to have to sit in the “unmasking room” to pump, and it’d gross me out to think about people breathing on my stuff if I had to store it there.

      My kid’s 1st grade class has some kids who (understandably) struggle with masks throughout the day. They go outside when they need a mask break. I don’t understand why that’s not an option. I’d much rather sit outside than in a small, windowless room next to the bathroom.

    23. Wry*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. If the office wants to let people have a break from their masks, they should encourage them to take a break outside (and allow them time in the workday to do so) or at the very least in an open area of the office away from other people, not direct them to sit maskless in an enclosed space where other people have been maskless!! OP should point out that making the lactation room do double-duty as a mask-free room could put the health of people who need to pump at risk, in addition to the space and availability issues already mentioned.

    24. Momma Bear*

      I would push back. People can get mask relief by going to the bathroom or taking a walk outside. You cannot pump wandering around the parking lot. They are making it so that you will likely be exposed (not to mention inconvenienced) by using this room and you have – by the very nature of needing a lactation room – a vulnerable infant who cannot be vaccinated. I’d ask them for another location in which to pump as you shouldn’t have to go to germville. There are a lot of reasons I wouldn’t want to pump in a bathroom (did it once, ugh, gross) and a lot of those same reasons apply here, IMO. I’d be angry.

      If there are other offices that can be used, request that people be directed there. You need an outlet, privacy, etc. They can unmask in any number of places if required.

  2. Casper Lives*

    LW2 that really stinks. Worse than the additional use, it’s a “mask relief room” where people will be unmasking to breathe on your pumping equipment in a small space. There’s probably no scientific basis for this but that feels icky.

    I hope there’s another room designated for pumping. Like other conflicts that we’ve seen here, it’s going to feel awkward for the pumping person to kick out someone from the room. Fingers crossed for no conflicts in usage.

    1. Meow*

      Pumping is supposed to be done specifically in a hygienic place, which is why US law specifies pumping rooms can’t be bathrooms. While I can’t imagine Covid germs could make it into breast milk and actually make a baby sick, I could not see a “mask relief room” as remotely hygienic. Plus, in the extended amount of time it takes to pump, you really could catch Covid from a room like that, and take it home to your unvaccinated baby!

      Having had a baby at the beginning of the pandemic, might be a little sensitive on this subject, but if I were OP I would be much, much angrier about this.

    2. This is a name, I guess*

      Honestly, this company could be evil, but I could easily see it being a “d’oh” moment, too.

      Like, I could just see someone – probably an older man whose wife didn’t work – being like, “We have this lactation room but it’s not as needed now because people are only coming in 2 days a week and it’s scattered. Bill in X Division asked for a Mask room. Let’s just combine them!”

      A lot of time, these weird policies are weird because of incompetence, not malice.

      1. Nameless in Customer Service*

        A lot of time, these weird policies are weird because of incompetence, not malice

        People often say this, but in truth, why does it matter? It’s not as if a terrible policy can only be challenged if we first can convict the policy writer of malice, but if they mean well the policy has to stand, or vice versa. Even if one knows they’re being malicious one has to approach HR with the most cheerful and positive attitude one can sustain and not breathe a suspicious word. So why does it matter?

        1. Sue*

          Hanlon’s razor: “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

          Grey’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.”

          1. DJ Abbott*

            You know, I’ve been thinking about this recently. The preference to attribute evil to stupidity instead of malice letsevil people get away with it for a long, long time.

            But as Nameless says, it has to be addressed either way.

        2. This is a name, I guess*

          Because getting pre-emptively up-in-arms over incompetence encourages people take the nuclear route to solving issues instead of the constructive route. It would save a lot of people so much time, stress, and angst if we tried the constructive route first. Is it fair that some people (women, POC, queers, people with disabilities especially and unfortunately) must shoulder this burden? No! And part of the fight for equity is for less-burned staff to flag these issues for management to reduce the burden marginalized groups. For example, if the lactation room email got sent staff-wide, then men should have flagged this issue pre-emptively.

          I am saying this because I am SO GUILTY of taking the nuclear option in the face of incompetence. (ahhh. to be a young person.) It’s only made things worse for me and for others. I now realize that so many times, I could have gotten a better response by saying, “Hey, FYI: this won’t work for me for x, y, and z. Would you consider a and/or B?” Instead, I fumed and raged over something that was just people being incompetent….and the problem got fixed with a “d’oh I didn’t think of that” or “Oh crap that was a rogue idiot making policies; this does not reflect senior leadership.” And I caused myself so much stress and anguish by worrying.

          I know we all want to live in a world where there is no emotional labor (as a woman, a disabled person, and a queer person, I feel this so hard), but light advocacy – especially if we’re more privileged – is not as taxing as being “on” all the time.

          Of course, a pattern of gross incompetence is different. But, we have no idea if this company has a pattern of this, or if this was just a boneheaded move.

          1. GythaOgden*

            This is where I’m at.

            Approaching people on the basis that they’ve made a mistake or been incompetent also means that our failings (which we all have, minority AND majority included) will be addressed in the same way. Do you want YOUR incompetence to be seen as evil? Or would you prefer that people gave you some understanding and information and allowed you to fix your own mistakes? A lot of people don’t think they’re evil, and people quite often need to have it explained to them why this is an issue. I needed it at the beginning of the pandemic myself.

            Treating people who mess up as if they’re evil will just make things worse, rather than better. It ends up polarising and is no fun for anyone, and is also not a way to behave at work if you don’t want your team to be simmeringly resentful and/or petrified of screwing up (because if every failure is treated as evil, no-one is going to own up to genuine mistakes, and that’s been proved time and time again as to how disasters happen).

            As someone with autism and general anxiety disorder who has also been working for two years in an office, masks are to me a necessary evil. I totally get why they’re required! But a LOT of people here have had the privilege of working from home over those last two years, and effectively sheltering from the virus at the expense of me, my colleagues in Facilities and IT who have been working for two years exposed to the virus every day for probably less money than white collar WFH people have received, all to watch a huge outcry as people are now expected to share some of that burden of exposure.

            To go back to the topic at hand: assuming this lack of knowledge is evil on your part would be rightly viewed as wrong of me. Assuming that most people here actually don’t realise that most of the workforce CANNOT work from home would be better of me, because I don’t want to go nuclear over what I’ve been through over the last two years. But reading this page has left me exhausted and angry, because no-one here really understands how lucky they are to have been able to work from home. And now when they are back in the office, it seems ‘evil’ that companies have to start trying to accommodate different groups of people and make realistic risk assessments to live with an endemic problem similar to the ones that are already endemic. They don’t seem to be able to acknowledge that without claiming ‘evil’ on something they personally haven’t had to live with for the last two years (e.g. the masks are actually uncomfortable and you probably haven’t had to wear them for long periods of time, and you haven’t been doing this as routine for the past two years).

            So why should I take all these posts as merely lacking in perspective (not understanding that a lot of workers have had to make compromises for the sake of staying employed, in my case keeping the healthcare and vaccination system going, so it’s natural to be concerned when you’ve come back into work) when I can, by the logic above, assume them to be the product of malicious intent (that you think I’ve been working hard for the last two years, put my mental and physical health on the line purely in order to get angry with you on a message board for no reason)?

            Covid will be endemic. We do have to make our peace with it. What with the stress of the pandemic, I haven’t had it, but I haven’t had time to worry about the actual virus. I know people who have been affected and died from it. It has been a bad two years and the crisis in Ukraine is making my mental health worse (as it was the subject of the PhD I never got funding for, but I also have a deep relationship with eastern Europe in general and know quite a few people out there, though thankfully not in the hotspots).

            Please go talk to people who have been working out of the house for two years. It might be illuminating and give you some strategies for working with your employers rather than against them.

  3. Happy*

    A “mask relief” area is a horrible idea! That means people will be breathing out (potentially) COVID-infected air and letting it build up (barring excellent ventilation) for whoever uses the room next!

    1. Skittles*

      This was my first thought too! Is the room going to be cleaned and disinfected regularly? Is there a window that can be opened?? Even if the answer to both of these questions is yes there’s no way in heck I’d be going in there to pick up other people’s germs and take them home to a baby!

    2. Short’n’stout*

      Based on the other things OP says about the room, I doubt that it is well ventilated at all!

      1. allathian*

        Or you know, a balcony, if your office building has one. Here, lots of offices that were built in the 1990s have balconies facing an inner courtyard. They were originally built as a smoking space. In the 80s and before, people smoked indoors freely, and asthmatics had little choice but to quit working.

        An acquaintance from college started school in France in the early 80s. She told me once that her teacher chain smoked while teaching, and her parents were considered weird because they complained about it when her clothes smelled of smoke after a day at school. She was only 5, so there was no reason for her parents to suspect that she’d been smoking.

        At least we don’t have to deal with people smoking indoors at work anymore… I bet that the death toll from the pandemic would’ve been even worse if people had been exposed to tobacco smoke to the degree they were in the 1980s and earlier.

        1. RedFraggle*

          Random tangential story:
          My mother was a heavy smoker – generally a little more than a carton a week. Somewhere around ’80 /’ 81, smoking was so commonplace in the workplace that she dropped her cigarette IN HER PURSE while at her desk and on the phone. The only concern was that she was trying to maintain a calm conversation while desperately trying to avoid her entire purse catching on fire.

          I suspect that some of the decent ventilation in buildings built in the 70’s & 80’s may be a direct result of trying to clear the smell of cigarette smoke in offices.

    3. This is a name, I guess*

      I don’t think it’s the most horrible solution, depending on the set up. Covid rates in my area are low, low, low right now (under 10 cases per 100,000), but we’re still required to wear masks 100% of the time because our industry is regulated by Health and Human Services, which causes issues. 1) Because we’re not healthcare, we’re not the squeaky wheel. Sometimes specific guidance for our industry takes months to catch up to other industries. 2) Sometimes we get treated like healthcare, even though we’re nothing close to it. 3) I live in a state where 50% of the population lives in one urban area and the other 50% live in rural cesspool of vaccine denying nonsense, so guidance is based on statewide numbers, where cases are higher in rural communities and small cities 4 hours away than they are in the city where we operate. It means that were operating on averages are not representative of the reality.

      We also live in a forever winter region, so sometimes outside is not available either.

      We have cubes and easy-to-access outdoor space, so a mask relief room doesn’t make sense for us. But, in a high rise, it might make sense, especially as we wait for our industry Covid protocols to match reality. Obviously shouldn’t double as a lactation room.

      1. Kafka Memory*

        But…it’s so weird to have a “hard hat relief” zone in a construction site. If safety precautions are incredibly onerous, surely you would want to leave the danger zone to remove them, right?? Masks are not so onerous that most people need “relief”, and having a non-ventilated room means that if any of those 10 cases in your area happen to use the room, it will definitely spread to every other user!

      2. GythaOgden*

        Yeah. Having worked from an office for two years in Facilities – keeping a switchboard going in public healthcare admin – this idea is not a good one. However, I think treating it like cigarette smoke or likening it to hard hats on construction sites is overkill. I haven’t had covid – the day the others in my team came down with it I was on AL – but I know those who have. It is a problem. But we who have worked from the office are pretty much used to it by now and we’re going to have to cope with it being endemic. I am not sure how much this catastrophising is actually helping, TBH – it would be better if people put their heads together to come up with some way forward to help businesses manage in the future.

  4. kiki*

    #1: Talking to your manager is exactly the right thing to do here. In workplaces with a culture of peer-review, it can be tricky to tell exactly when the number of mistakes/corrections crosses the threshold into too many and should be escalated. It sounds like John has exceeded this threshold by quite a bit with you and multiple other folks. It’s not reasonable for you and your coworkers to be going back and forth with John at length over known and documented issues. If John is having a difficult time with his mental health, that’s for his manager to figure out how to handle, not his coworkers. Especially because I doubt the best-case scenario for anyone involved is “let sub-par work make it to the client.” It may make more sense to move John to smaller-scale tasks while his mental health improves or move him to a non-client-facing project with flexible deadlines or even grant him leave. Managers have capabilities that coworkers don’t, so don’t feel like you’re “tattling” on John for poor output during a tough time– you’re trying to find a solution that works better.

    1. coffee*

      OP, it’s also very possible for John to have mental health problems AND ALSO be showing poor skills around communication, receiving feedback, meeting client requirements, working with colleagues etc. Telling someone they’re “condescending as always” is not a great relationship builder at work. Completely agree with kiki and Alison that this is something that your manager needs to sort out.

      1. Myrin*

        Exactly!
        A lot of people seem to think that either you can have only one thing “going on” with you (i. e. someone can be bad at communicating OR have mental health problems but not both; humans aren’t complex creatures, apparently) or anything negative you have to say about a person, no matter how factual, is necessarily caused by their mental illness instead of, you know, a part of their personality.

        1. KofSharp*

          Hi, OP of the “Mental Health” here!
          I do know he has a ton going on in his personal life, but we even had to overhaul how we marked up his work. We used to use a system of Red X (delete), Blue Circles with notes (change), Green Checkmarks (correct). Apparently red was “too aggressive.” We now do everything in dark blue.
          The comments I use are along the lines of “We use X in this scenario, here is the link to the standards update book saying why.”
          I’m just at the end of my rope with him, and the whole QA team is as well.
          I should have an update on this later, though!

          1. Sandi*

            It sounds like he’s not currently able to do his job and needs to be retasked or take leave. I used to work with someone who was very difficult and did a bad job, and it was a relief to everyone when he took leave. I’m not sure where the balance is, because mental health can cause bad interpersonal reactions, but if it affects the job then it isn’t for you to fix. My coworker had problems for years and didn’t think that mental health help (meds or therapy) was legitimate, so it was an unpleasant situation for our managers. They were the go-between to avoid burdening the rest of us with this guy.

          2. Lady_Lessa*

            Red-Too Aggressive??

            GRIN: I must be aggressive to myself because I outline in red the items I need to delete from a long list of paired terms. I even use the double lines in my spreadsheets.

            I use blue for the ones I need to add.

            1. LittleMarshmallow*

              Haha! Same. I use red on myself all the time. I also have terrible vision and difficulty reading so the red helps me. I find blue hard to see. For writing I’ll use orange or purple too but red is a pretty standard where I work… we even call our editing “red-lining”. If I’m working with someone I know is colored blind, I’ll find out what works for them (I’m empathetic to vision issues…) but otherwise red is the usual.

          3. Mockingjay*

            @KofSharp, process and standards are your friends here. “Boss, John makes multiple, repeated errors in his work. We’ve trained him several times in our processes and he has access to the standards our work product must meet, so he should know what/how to do these things. When his work is QA’ed, he refuses to make the corrections [as required by SOP]. He takes each QA personally rather than as the professional cross-check it is. We all find it very difficult to work with him and our deliverables are late, still contain errors, and don’t meet standard.”

            It’s not unreasonable to expect an employee with personal issues to still adhere to a work standard, especially one that helps catch errors and makes the job easier to complete properly.

            1. learnedthehardway*

              Echoing the suggestion that you continue to follow standards and best practices.

              Guaranteed, if you don’t John will complain to your manager – when he finally is called on the carpet – that he missed making the corrections you flagged because you didn’t flag them per standards.

              1. KofSharp*

                He’s been complaining that we “don’t respect him/treat him the same way as other coworkers” but the truth is most of my other coworkers only make minor mistakes, and if they messed up that big we can have a bit of a joking rapport about what they need to fix. I’ll acknowledge I’m a little blunt and awkward socially, but I can’t use my “git gud” tone with him or he’s going to blow a gasket.
                Grandboss and Great-Grandboss have both been alerted to his ongoing issues and said there may be news later today.

          4. Bagpuss*

            Could you suggest to your manager that you temporarily return things to them, and they review with John? That way, it doesn’t (hopefully) affect you too badly, and the manager (who presumably has more information about their mental health and any accommodations they have requested) can deal consistently with John’s issues, and also form a clearer view of the extent of the problem and whether he is able to function in his current role at all

            1. KofSharp*

              Unfortunately our boss is not a “technical expert” but John fights EVERYONE including a woman who is ranked as our technical expert. It’s been holding up our entire quality process.

              1. Momma Bear*

                I would quantify how this behavior holds up the process and how many work hours ($$) across multiple SMEs are wasted arguing with him.

          5. Generic Name*

            Oh, for Pete’s sake. I have a TON of not good things going on in my personal life right now, but I’m able to not be a jerk to my coworkers. And the system you were using for quality checks is pretty standard. It’s pretty egregious that a single employee who makes tons of mistakes got a standard system changed. Next he’s going to demand that you not review his work at all. I hope peoples lives or safety or anything important aren’t dependent on your work product.

            1. KofSharp*

              He’s… trying… unfortunately (for him) the client adores me and our other quality people so it HAS to go through us.
              I actually caught him trying to turn the QA team against each other: “so-and-so and such-and-such let me do this!” Well… I talked to them. They didn’t let him get away with it.

              1. Esmae*

                This is something your boss needs to know about, if they don’t already. He’s lying to his coworkers in an attempt to get around the rules!

                1. KofSharp*

                  Boss, Grand Boss, and Great Grand Boss all know, and they are “working on it.” I’m just the one who caught him in writing. He will not call me, he only messages me on Teams. But he CALLS the entire rest of the team.

              2. Observer*

                I actually caught him trying to turn the QA team against each other: “so-and-so and such-and-such let me do this!” Well… I talked to them. They didn’t let him get away with it.

                This is classic. It’s perfect example of something Alison talks about a lot. TALKING to people is an extremely useful exercise.

                But I also agree with @Esmae that this is something that your bosses need to be aware of.

                1. Momma Bear*

                  RE: everyone being aware, I would fill their inboxes every time the team(s) has an issue with him so they see the scope of what people are dealing with. Just make it a point to CC the boss when you need to push back.

          6. Dust Bunny*

            OMG stop babying him.

            It’s totally possible to have legitimate mental health concerns and also be a jerk.

            It’s also possible for somebody to have legitimate mental health concerns and be deserving of sympathy but currently be too impaired to do the job.

            1. KofSharp*

              I’ve sent him the link to the company EAP plan (it’s very good, I’ve used it) previously. I’m just not equipped to baby this guy.
              One of our other team members was trying to do so because we absolutely did want him to succeed, but it’s been over a year with this client and he’s making the same mistakes.

              1. Really?*

                Former Sr manager, consulting here. From your description it is not you and your QA team’s corrections that are the issue. It is John’s failure to adapt to a new client/process. Granting that he may have some challenges, if he has been adequate on some assignments in the past, the solution may be to move him back to where he is comfortable. However, it sounds like this decision is well over your head. I don’t see that there is a lot else you can do. Some people simply are not suited for certain tasks, and it sounds like you found one.By the way, I always used pink, purple or turquoise to correct work—I found that dark blue or black corrections tended to get missed, and with some consultants, the amount of red ink looked like I bled all over the page! No one ever complained.

                1. Dust Bunny*

                  Yeah, no. If he has the bandwidth to complain about that then at least some of this his him being an ass.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  I was using hot pink for a bit but “That was too girly.”

                  Did John say this? FFS. What a Fergus. And I agree with Dust Bunny. He seems to have plenty of energy for whining.

                  Use whatever ink you want!

                3. LittleMarshmallow*

                  Haha! If someone tells me hot pink is too girly I will forever use it exclusively with them. Colors are just colors and they need to get over it. Plus who cares if it’s “girly”.

                  I love colors. My favorite is orange… one of our contractors got an orange sweatshirt and I always comment on it… and like to look at it. It’s a good orange. He knows that I love orange though (I have all the orange pens and sticky notes and notebooks) and am weird so it works out.

                  But yeah if you tell me hot pink is too girly for you then I’ll be defaulting to it for you forever.

            2. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Also holding up your entire QA team and refusing negative feedback is way beyond the reasonable accommodation pale, so you do not owe him any particular kid gloves in terms of ADA accommodations for his mental health (though your manager should uphold any specific accommodations he IS granted – no red pen could very well be one, for instance.)

              1. KofSharp*

                The bosses ARE aware, we have very good insurance and EAP available to all of us, and unfortunately after sending him the links to find those resources, it has to be on John to actually pursue help.

          7. Student*

            Does your boss know about this or is this something he came up with? If I heard about this from my reports, I would push back about red being “too aggressive” and insist he abide by the normal system you use for mark-up. It’s marked red because it’s necessary to be clear about what needs to be deleted.

            I’d accommodate somebody with color-blindness issues over this, of course, or somebody who provided HR with sufficient documentation of a sensory health/mental disorder.

            But calling an editing color “too aggressive” pushes some real buttons for me and makes me suspect this is about his ego and his unwillingness to take corrections from your team. You don’t get over that kind of problem by kowtowing to the person on minor crap to let him save face. You get over it by finding a disincentive-stick he’ll respect and using it consistently, or an authority figure he respects to deliver the message that he’s gotta do this. Every inch you give to soften things is an inch he takes to pretend his mistakes don’t matter that much.

            1. Observer*

              If I heard about this from my reports, I would push back about red being “too aggressive” and insist he abide by the normal system you use for mark-up. It’s marked red because it’s necessary to be clear about what needs to be deleted.

              I would absolutely not make it the hill to die on. It’s easy enough to use a different set of colors. Yes, it’s a bit much and yes, it could easily be as much about his ego as a real mental health issue. But it’s not worth it to get into that, if you’ve already accepted that he has a mental health issue that you need to work with?

              Now, refusing to accept feedback or make changes, or insisting on limiting how many corrections he can be “asked” for IS something to absolutely push back on. Because those things have a major negative effect on the ability of the team to function. That’s were the OP needs to focus.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                Yes exactly. There are REAL issues at play here and focusing on correction colors is a distraction.

                1. Ashley*

                  I agree, but giving in on a color correction can be a minor accommodation that goes along way. We will change the red for you, but you have to do x, y, and z. Sometimes it is worth throwing a bone that is really trivial in the big picture. There are much larger issues at play without a doubt, but there are people sometimes you just don’t do red.

                2. Eldritch Office Worker*

                  Right but they’ve already done that. The point is not to get too caught up in what is an accommodation and what isn’t, or to worry about the small details of what’s happening when the big pattern of behavior needs to be addressed.

          8. Observer*

            I do know he has a ton going on in his personal life, but we even had to overhaul how we marked up his work.

            It’s time to loop in both your manager and HR, I think. Changing your markup is weird, but I think it’s not the end of the world. But it does mean that you’ve already been going to some length to accommodate him. At this point, you (and the mean you in particular, but also the the QA team) need to lay out very clearly the issues with his work and his expectations of how you communicate with him.

            1. KofSharp*

              I did check with people that my official systems for markups and how I phrased corrections wasn’t aggressive or condescending, and management and HR are very much looped in now.
              He technically has more industry experience than I do, but it was with a different client. At the beginning I thought it was just a difficulty switching gears, but the fact that he kept making the exact same mistakes just got to be too much.

          9. MsSolo UK*

            It feel a lot like he’s caught himself in the trap of “I don’t like how negative feedback makes me feel, but the feedback is technically correct, so it must be the way in which they’re providing it that’s making me feel bad (because of course I’m not the sort of person who’d take offence at being told I’m wrong, I’m ever so reasonable and accommodating, they must be the bad guys here).” All discomfort at making mistakes has to be pushed away, so not only can he not confront the mistakes, he also can’t confront the feedback that’s making him aware of them.

          10. EmmaPoet*

            When I tutored in ESL I saw a suggestion to use green ink instead of red to check student’s homework, because the red could be distressing to people who were struggling, and one of my students told me she was really glad I didn’t use red ink because it reminded her of school and how badly she’d done (she had an undiagnosed learning disability, once she was able to get started on a better front she sailed on through, but that memory of red-spattered papers remained.) So for that it made sense.

            John, however, sounds annoying.

          11. coffee*

            Oh dear, what a tough situation. It sounds like you are doing everything right – checking in with your boss, communicating with the rest of the team, looping in your boss and HR, getting an outside check on how you come across. I hope you get a good update on this (and let us know!).

            I’d also suggest making sure you are looking after yourself in all this too, because it is hard to work like this. For me, this would be things like having a cup of tea to decompress after a difficult interaction, not dwelling too long on “what could I be doing differently”, making sure I have nice interactions with my other colleagues to balance out the bad ones with John, going on a coffee break or just a little walk around the floor away from my desk. Maybe talking to the EAP yourself if you find it’s affecting your life outside of work too (this is the kind of situation an EAP can be really helpful with).

      2. Anonny*

        As someone who has had severe mental health problems, it definitely messes with your communication skills, ability to handle feedback, and organisation.
        What helped was appropriate medication, learning ‘skills’ to cope with the havoc my mental illness wreaked on my basic life skills, and the occasional gentle kick up the arse. Nothing angry, but like, a blunt “mate, reign yourself in, you’re not being appropriate right now.”

        1. coffee*

          Yeah, that’s the thing as well – this situation won’t be fixed by the OP changing the way they give feedback.

          1. KofSharp*

            I was honestly ok with choosing different colors, it was the sheer audacity of telling the QA team that Red was aggressive (his work looked like I dunked it in blood after I checked it so, I guess fair) but then pink was too girly?

        2. KofSharp*

          So I did update below in a big comment but he’s been… removed… after some disturbing developments and I can’t reply to everyone.
          I’m unsure of what rumors are true and which ones are false because I’m the only one he refused to call “to discuss feedback” so I’m the one who caught him in writing.

  5. Dark Macadamia*

    LW2 excuse me while I peel my eyebrows off the ceiling, they SHOT UP just reading that headline. This is ridiculous.

    I would say you should definitely leave your equipment in there because that’s what the room is for, except I’m concerned that your maskless coworkers will breathe on it/damage it/move it/otherwise make this situation even more inconvenient for you.

    1. WellRed*

      I think the whole concept of a non masking room is ridiculous but let’s not wholly assume that nonmaskers will damage or move equipment. If OP wants the company to set a firm policy that equipment is nit to be touched, I absolutely agree, though the best solution still remains to nip this in the bud.

      1. Loosey Goosey*

        I didn’t read the comment as implying that any damage would be intentional. Pumps have a lot of parts and it’s really inconvenient (and potentially expensive) if any one piece is lost or damaged. I wouldn’t want to leave my pump on the floor or on a table in a small room where it could be easily be bumped, tripped over, have food spilled on it, etc. Relocating the lactation room to an empty office makes way more sense than shoving “mask relief” into the pumping closet. I hope OP can prevail.

        1. Calliope*

          The actual pumping parts need to be refrigerated or cleaned in between pumping sessions so won’t be on the floor. The pump itself is not that fragile and is only one part really. And maybe a tube. I don’t think this sounds like a good set up but I don’t think it’s a problem for that reason.

      2. Dark Macadamia*

        I just mean that it’s a small space and accidents happen. Someone bumps it and a piece breaks or rolls under a cabinet or whatever. Someone puts it in a different spot to make room for themself and doesn’t put it back. etc

      3. MeepMeep02*

        Don’t you need pumping equipment to be sterile or at least nearly so? Or at the very least, not covered in COVID germs?

        1. Sasha*

          Not sterile, no. Not for breast milk. Just clean. But I agree not covered in Covid either.

    2. This is a name, I guess*

      I don’t think people will move stuff unless the room is super small, which I think it is the issue. In this case, they could probably just mount hooks or shelves or some other storage system to make it more convenient. It’s a bad idea to make it mask-free room for a variety of reasons.

  6. CaptainMouse*

    The mask relief room needs to be like the smoking room—outside and away from the exit doors.

    1. Jennifer*

      I agree! The weather is getting nicer, can’t this office just give permission to take breaks outside without a mask instead of inside a stuffy room?

    2. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      I got the impression that the room could be booked and used more like a private office rather than a break space. Assuming the rules state that masks must be worn when around other people but not in private enclosed spaces, employees might use the room so they can work maskless for a few hours.
      Which almost makes this worse, as it would further restrict the availabilty for OP, who actually needs it for its original intended purpose!
      If coworkers need just a short mask break, I agree that a brief walk outside in the open air is a much better option.

      1. Kella*

        OP said the space was so small and cramped that if she were to leave her pumping equipment in there, there wouldn’t be room for another person to sit and hang out there. It’s definitely not a temporary workspace.

        1. Batgirl*

          It sounds like this place is simply a stupid ideas factory. OP knows the space is too inhospitable to become an actual issue, but it’s a bit like realising the pilot is drunk.

          1. pancakes*

            You don’t think it’s an actual issue for someone with an unvaccinated baby at home to be asked to share a small, poorly ventilated pumping room with people who want to take their masks off? It’s a terrible idea even if just a handful of people use it as a breathing room a few times per day.

  7. Three taquitos*

    #4, my job involves a lot of client mistakes, and is also pretty technical. My advice, just state it flat with zero cushion. Like a robot, “the problem was X.” Basically, don’t beat em up about it but 100% don’t use any sort of cheery language that makes it sound like you’re covering for yourself. Save that for when you actually are.

    1. Amaranth*

      Agreed. Also, it sometimes helps to respond to the error message as though the user obviously is on the same page. “Right, that does mean your IT department needs to install another browser. That will take care of it, but if they have questions feel free to have them contact me directly.”

    2. Snow Globe*

      I’d approach it from the standpoint of problem-solving, vs. assessing blame. Instead of “you are getting this error because you are using a version of IE that is not supported”, which clearly puts the blame on the client, just say “this software is not supported by IE11; we’ll either need to get a different browser or upgrade to a newer version of IE”–i.e., here are the options to fix the problem.

      1. Willis*

        Agree with this general sentiment about not thinking in terms of blame, but I would not use “we” in describing the fix if it’s actually something the client has to do themselves. It’s confusing and makes it sound like it’s something the OP is going to do. Just be direct.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        A client might interpret “we” to mean the LW’s org and not the client. I think it’s clearer to address who needs to address the problem.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Actually, I’ve been in consulting for…let’s just say a loooong time, and I would not use “we” or “you”, as that’s person-focused, I’d focus on the error itself except where taking responsibility or making recommendations. I know a lot of people hate the passive voice, but honestly, if there’s ever a case for it, this is it. For example , “The Featured section of the home page is not displaying correctly because IE 11.0 and earlier does not support the flexbox attribute that is used to create the featured tiles; however, only about 1.5% of all traffic uses incompatible browsers, so we recommend (keeping it as-is/switching to [different coding solution]) going forward.”

        1. Joielle*

          Yep, agreed. My work sometimes requires a lot of… diplomacy around other people’s mistakes. Judicious use of passive voice lets you name the problem while pointedly NOT assigning blame to anyone. The vast majority of the time, this gets the job done and lets everyone save face. I’d go with phrasing like you suggest, and at the end, say something like “Could you try it in another browser and let me know if that solves the problem?” And maybe provide a link to install Chrome or something.

          1. Clisby*

            Yes. And I don’t see any blame attached to something as simple as needing to use a different browser. I’ve run into multiple cases just going about my personal life where some things that don’t work right in Chrome are just right in Firefox, for example. I know enough to try a couple of different browsers before seeking help, but I wouldn’t automatically assume everyone will.

        2. Alice*

          In the example it sounded like the error message is pretty clear, but I can’t imagine that many people are wasting their own time with issues that are *so* clearly identified in the error message. Are all the error messages as clear and actionable as the one in the example?
          I am also wondering if the user in the wrong-browser case is not so much reporting a novel bug as trying to communicate “we want it to work in IE and it doesn’t.”

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Actually, no, the styling and scripting issues we see with older browsers do not give any kind of error message. We’re basically using tech that didn’t exist when those browsers were coded, so they don’t know what to do with it. they’ll usually just ignore it rather than break the page, which is preferable so you don’t see tons of errors, it should try to just display what it can.

            This was a big part of our web design issues for a couple of years in the teens, so I still remember it well.

          2. Classic Rando (she/her)*

            I frequently get tickets from clients where the error message is crystal clear and they don’t get it until I literally repeat it back to them. Simple stuff like leaving required fields blank or saving a file in the wrong format. Some people just panic when they see an error message, and if they’re bad with computers it’s even worse. You just have to explain it as plainly as possible without blaming them (“the client name field is required so the system can’t save a record unless one is entered”, etc). Sometimes you have to do that a couple of times before it sinks in, but it happens. All. The. Time.

          3. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            You would be shocked. If I had a dollar for every time someone saw a “your password is incorrect” error and assumed the service was broken, I wouldn’t need to worry about broken services any more. Some people will *always* assume that the problem is *anywhere* other than themselves.

    3. Angstrom*

      Let the evidence speak. “Error message said it would not run on system x. Our remote scan/log file/etc. showed that this copy was being used with system x(attach screenshot). Product documentation states that it will not operate on system x (reference, screenshot). Please retry on one of the compatible systems listed.”(reference, screenshot)

      It’s the polite way of saying “RTFM”. ;-)

    4. Insert Clever Name Here*

      I have had success with “ah, looks like you’re using IE11, which isn’t supported — we get that a lot! Switch to Chrome or Edge and it should display properly.” Even though in large red type in 4 different places of the instructions they were sent it said YOU CANNOT USE IE11 IN THIS SYSTEM.

      People are horrible at reading.

    5. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      Pretty much this. If you stay in any sort of support type position you will absolutely spend *at least* as much time helping people correct their own errors as you will fixing problems with whatever you support. You have to develop a thick skin and assume that clients/customers are adults who realize that they can make mistakes too.

      90% of the time when you calmly and rationally point out the error, people will say some variation on “Oh silly me”, you can make some predictable joke about how computers are “sooo literal, haha”, and everyone moves on with life. The other 10% of the time no amount of scripts and preparation will help. Those are the people who either can’t admit fault, or think it’s totally reasonable to ask you to recode your whole platform so it work on BEOS and Firefox 10.

      With those people you just have to grit your teeth and keep explaining that these are the requirements, and you can’t change the requirements.

    6. Emily*

      Yes, state the issue factually. If you’re otherwise generally pleasant and helpful, and don’t seem judgmental when people make tech errors, you’ll be fine.

  8. Daria grace*

    Another reason you should push back is Covid can stay in the air for extended periods of time, and being a small space will make the risk so much worse. You shouldn’t have to take on health risks to pump

    1. Cj*

      If the IE11 not being supported is a real example, keep in mind that not everybody even knows that means internet explorer version 11. You give the solution in your answer by telling them to use a different browser, but you should probably spell out any abbreviation or acronyms since you say you are working with clients that are sometimes pretty computer illiterate.

      1. Myrin*

        Yes, and you might also have to explain what a “browser” is in the sense of spelling out names and alternatives – someone might not know what “use a different browser” means but will unterstand “click on the symbol saying ‘Firefox’ or ‘Chrome'”.

        (I remember when I was a young teenager and an IT worker acquaintance of my father’s asked me what my (very first!) computer’s operating system was, and I had zero idea what an operating system is. So he rephrased and said “Do you have Windows 98 or Windows XP?” and I knew that because I saw that every time I started my computer! I think about that example often when dealing with people who I need to explain something to.)

        1. Need More Sunshine*

          Yes, especially for those more tech-illiterate clients – put things in terms they can understand! I used to work in insurance, and like tech, it’s one of those spheres that can be really intimidating in such a way that people just get a brain-block for terms they think they don’t understand. So even if they know Chrome vs Firefox, and even if they know it’s called a browser, in the heat of the error message, they just don’t get it, so specific examples can help. “It looks like you need to use a different browser, like Chrome or Firefox. Give that a try and let me know if you still experience an error” can read a lot more user-friendly that something like “IE11 does not support this function so a different browser needs to be used.”

  9. If its open*

    LW2.
    What are the offices like? Windowed? Or enclosed?
    Honestly, I would just commandeer an open office. Put up a sign saying temporary pumping room please knock before entering, and let any other pumping co-worker know.
    If someone asks, just say you wanted to make sure the mask free room was available for its new intended purpose, and that this one works perfect for yours.

    1. tg*

      Good idea, I would just add, if (expensive) pumping equipment is kept in the room then it needs to be locked.

    2. ShinyPenny*

      But, bring your own temporary add-on security-lock device — like they sell for hotel doors — because it seems pretty risky to depend on “please knock before entering” as a sufficient level of security for that particular task.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          I walked in on a coworker’s wife once. I thought his office was empty and was leaving some papers. Oops!
          After that I slid them under the door.

    3. CheesePlease*

      a good idea but in my case, the lactation room has a mini fridge which is very necessary to keeping milk away from people’s lunches in the break room / overall better hygiene. I would just move the mini fridge from the lactation room if possible? But ultimately a clean and private space is required by law for pumping. It is bot on the employee to find this space and make is accommodating.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I had a cooler bag with a special shaped ice pack that I kept at my desk. The mini fridge might be “best” but it is do-able to not use one if getting away from coworkers is important.

    4. kittybutton*

      I would do this, and in fact did do this! I am breastfeeding my child and the pumping room I was offered IS the storage closet/printing room, not a former storage space. It is about 10 square feet large, there is no chair and no empty table, just a really small surface that has the binding machines for assembling pitch decks and that is covered in paper dust. Seriously?! BTW I work for one of the largest and most respected companies in the world.

      No way am I pumping in there so I just use a conference room and place a sign on the door.

    5. ThatPumpLife*

      I am absolutely on team commandeer an empty office, if it doesn’t have a window. It would be different if you were missing out on a nice lactation room with the sinks and private workspaces like Microsoft has, but it’s a crappy closet anyway. When I was at a client site and pumped for two years plus, the lactation room was inconvenient to our workspace and not that awesome (though I’m glad they had it!). I just found a random office, locking if possible, and chilled in there. I was known for toting that Sarah Wells bag all around the building. It was nice that my team was so relaxed about the whole thing, even when we got delayed on a business trip because the TSA stopped me to test the baby bottles for explosives, using those wipes or whatnot. [face palm]

      1. Momma Bear*

        Alternately if the office has a shower room, ask to use that. It may have a seat and a sink and an outlet and that’s really all you need. I’d rather share with runners than people specifically asking to unmask in a space. A shower room should also have a fan/vent.

      2. Anonny*

        I have enough petty in me that if they used the pumping room for ‘mask breaks’, I’d consider doing pump-n-dump for a bit, supplement with formula if needed, and whip out a tit at my desk. Sorry, not pumping milk for an unvaccinated baby in a room full of covid germs.

        Most people haven’t quite reached my level of f*cklessness with covid denial culture though.

      3. If its open*

        I get that the TSA isn’t the type to joke with and its obviously a legitimate concern, but I’d be tempted and struggle to hold my tongue to offer them a taste test during the process.

  10. Alexis Rosay*

    LW3, I totally understand why you’d feel hurt by what your friend said, but I agree with Allison that it might have been way more casual than it seemed. I was once caught in a drama loop where an acquaintance sent my coworker Bob a job posting with nothing more than a friendly note, only to hear later from Bob that he was “offered a new job” and from Bob’s boss that she was furious “Bob was almost poached”. It was all a massive exaggeration based on a casual email.

    If it really bothers you, you could ask your friend about it, but since it seems nothing will come of it you can also try to let it go.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, she may have just been asking about coming back to the company, not necessarily in the office manager role, but Boss interpreted it that way. If she is still a close friend, it’s weird she didn’t mention it, but if she’s just someone you were friendly with at work, eh, I’d let this go.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This was my guess, that it wasn’t a concerted attempt to butt the LW out of her job, just that the friend asked about coming back and either didn’t mean it like that, wasn’t thinking about it like that, or the boss was mistaken and/or careless about how he phrased it.

    2. Triplestep*

      Yup, we don’t know what was actually said. Why would the boss even repeat this anyway? Sounds like this workplace has a lot of drama swirling around which even the boss perpetuates.

      LW3, when deciding what all of this actually means and how hurt you should be, I would factor in whether this kind of thing is just part of your office culture. (And if it is, know that it’s not considered the norm in most workplaces for the boss to fuel office gossip or complicate the interpersonal relationships of employees. You may not want to stay there once you’re ready for your next job.)

      1. anonymous73*

        There’s nothing in the letter to indicate office drama. Maybe the boss was giving OP a heads up so she didn’t hear about the email through the grapevine, and he wanted to reassure them that the request wasn’t being considered? Boss may be aware that they were friends, and wanted to make sure OP knew knew where they stood in case the friend reached out to OP and told them about the inquiry. Or a bunch of other reasons. The point is, there are legitimate reasons why boss told OP about the email and there’s nothing here that says “office drama” to me.

        1. Triplestep*

          Each think you describe as “legitimate reason” is something many would consider “Boss unnecessarily getting involved in staff personal relationships”. The potential for drama is great. Presumably the boss – who the LW described as “difficult” – has more important things to think about.

          For generations, women have had to convince managers (often men) that their legitimate workplace and/or professional concerns about co-workers are not simply personal dislikes or annoyances. I suggest to every young woman who vents to me about a co-worker not to give ammunition to management who would love to dismiss legit concerns as “Girls not getting along.” This is not the same, but it’s a parallel problem. Good managers do not get involved in interpersonal things that don’t impact work, unless they have a comfort level with drama themselves.

          1. anonymous73*

            No actually each thing I mention is something a boss might do to stop gossip and drama. You’re making it out to be way more than it actually is, according to what was written in the letter.

    3. tg*

      I would add, just because your boss asked you to keep quiet about this, doesn’t mean you have to. It might not be a good idea to discuss it, but you need to think about the consequences of talking / not talking.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am kind of giving the boss the side-eye here. too. What was the boss’ point in telling OP??? To make herself look good in OP’s eyes? What did the boss expect OP to do once OP learned this? Could the boss have an ulterior motive for driving a wedge between you and your friend?

        I am shaking my head here, OP, this could have just been something your friend blurted out in passing and never gave a second thought.

        If you need perspective here, you can remind yourself that you won this round. Sometimes quietly knowing is the best thing we can extract from these situations.

        That said, I remember one friend who applied for the same job I applied for. I wasn’t angry about it but I did wonder why. Eventually our friendship just drifted apart. In my setting, I think her willingness to pick up on a job lead that *I* had found was a symptom of a lopsided friendship, where she thought less of our friendship than I did. The whole story stuck out in my mind, because no other friend ever jumped on my job lead like that and I never jumped on their job leads. We all stayed out of each other’s paths.

        1. A Penguin!*

          My take on the likely point of telling the OP was to reassure OP that her job was safe, in case OP was hearing about the former coworker coming back from another source – possibly said former coworker. If I had a former employee making indications they wanted to come back to work for me (especially if it’s a position that only one person would do at a time) I’d want to make sure the person currently in that position was reassured their position was secure.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            Very much THIS.
            Who is surprised at all that “Friend” hates her new job, and her new boss?
            Certainly not OP’s current Boss.
            S/he knows “Friend” and the way she operates. She created a toxic environment that made people scared and unhappy. S/he also knows that OP thinks of “Friend” as a friend and is still open to her manipulation. Boss spent a lot of time with “Friend” and might feel that if “Friend” wants to come back, a small thing like the job not being open won’t stand in her way.
            (Like the recent letter where OP heard s/he had already accepted a job with old company! People think they can manifest things. )

            1. The OTHER Other*

              No surprise “friend” hates her new job also. I believe Buckaroo Banzai put it best: wherever you go, there you are.

            2. blackcat lady*

              Yes, big red flag that the new boss is also impossible. If you do subpar work any boss will be difficult. The ‘friend’ may just be someone who has problems meeting job expectations. The fact that you get along just fine with the original boss should tell you it was your friend, not the boss that was the issue.

              1. Candi*

                I was looking for this. Cue some examination of the letter and some theorizing.

                Boss is a “hard person to work for”, but OP gets along with them great, indicating that if certain, apparently reasonable, expectations are met, the Boss isn’t that hard to work for. (I’m theorizing that OP would have dropped “why he’s hard to work for” examples if unreasonable expectations were involved.)

                Boss also apparently gave Former Office Manager a more-or less flat “no” about coming back, to their old job and/or the company. This is notable since we’ve read here a bunch of times about people returning to former companies, or being given a “we don’t have positions now, look us up in a bit if you’re still looking” if the company doesn’t have current openings. A “no” to coming back with no qualification indicates Boss has a highly negative impression of FOM.

                I think Boss knows OP and FOM are on at least speaking terms, so wanted to get ahead of any story FOM tried to give OP. Spitballing, Boss doesn’t want OP telling FOM that OP knows, and doesn’t want word getting around that FOM asked to come back. Big-IF FOM was that poor a worker, she probably wasn’t the most popular person in the office.

    4. Smithy*

      This may also fall into that reality where what serves someone best personally and what serves their friendship best may be at odds in a way that colors both the OP and the friend’s actions.

      I have two friends, who back in the day – one was planning on leaving the city all we lived in and her job. Friend A recommended Friend B for the position and Friend B was was hired. A month or so before Friend A was set to leave the city, she met a man, fell in love….. As such, Friend A went back to her now old boss to see if there was any way she could be hired “for something”. Her intention certainly wasn’t to push Friend B out of a job, it was just that now she wanted to stay in the city and this was the easiest way for her to be rehired.

      She ultimately did get rehired “for something” and the end result was that both friends did end up stepping on each other’s toes a bit professionally for a while and irritating one another. After six months or so, their professional careers diverged more significantly, Friend A went on to have a lovely relationship we were all thrilled about, and ultimately Friends A & B were able to remain friends.

      Since it was a situation where the motivations were obvious – and even if self-serving – not malicious, that it was easier to differentiate between irritating and nasty.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        Yup, this. I think “the rules” for work friends have to be a little different than other friendships. There’s an extremely good chance the time will come where looking out for your career has to come before the friendship, even without schemes or ill intent.

        1. Smithy*

          Yeah, without turning my post into too long a story – when you take over someone’s job and they come back, it can be difficult for the newer person to feel like they “own” the position. It’s happened to me in non-friend situations, and it happened to my Friend B in the situation above. It’s not that she didn’t want Friend A to get a job (to help her be in a place to pursue a new relationship). It’s that her return meant that coworkers would sometimes go to Friend A vs her over an issue she was now supposed to own. It created issues of territorialism on topics where there was no 1 right answer, but rather different styles that each had merit.

          For the OP, it may be a case where she was moreso work-friends and therefore this situation seems more like a work betrayal than anything else. This new job might be genuinely awful, and the request may not have been about pushing the OP out but just finding a safe job to return to quickly. And if she returned, that might have made the OP’s work life harder even if it in no way threatened their job. This may not even seem ideal to the OP’s former coworker, but there may be a personal/life situation pushing for this request that in no way touches on an intent to harm the OP.

      2. Lady Luck*

        I think this is good nuance to make. “Self-serving but not malicious” is something we all do at times, I think. Sometimes, I have to do what is best for me and my life, even if that’s not the best for you.

        1. Smithy*

          Yes, I think a flip side to the Great Recession in terms of higher job turnover……the fact that people are getting hired quickly for new jobs with higher salaries does not mean that all of those new employers are great. I know one friend who was hired for a seemingly ideal new position, which turned out to be a horrific bait and switch and she left after two months.

          I think the Great Recession has left some teams without enough team members for a while – and therefore when new hires do come on, there may be no onboarding or inadequate onboarding. Given the quality of talent pools, people may be hired into genuine stretch roles and without a team affording them time to train and learn the new role – set up for a hard sink or swim. And some places that may have had a few iffy practices pre-Great Recession have not improved at all post-Great Recession. All to say, people leaving a job and looking to come back to the “devil they know” right now seems really normal.

          1. Candi*

            I think in your second paragraph Resignation got autocorrected to Recession. :)

            I also think there’s a difference between bait-and-switch -advertising a job as something it very much isn’t- and a stretch or sink-or-swim role. Stretch tends to be within capabilities, but it takes a lot of work, and sink-or-swim tends to be the equivalent of being handed some dice and a D&D book without further instructions on how to roll up characters. The latter two are still the jobs they were advertised as, even if they’re bloody difficult.

  11. Ellie*

    OP#4, I have this issue all the time. I find if you’re matter of fact and sound helpful, then they don’t take offence. Seriously, I had a user who kept calling us to say that our product kept crashing, because every time they went to log off the application, they were actually shutting down their computer. A brief, factual explanation regarding how the main Windows menu works is preferable to having to address the same issue again and again, with them badmouthing our product the whole time. Just use a tone that indicates its no big deal and you’re happy to help, and its all good.

    1. Language Lover*

      Yep.

      Just present it as a solution as opposed to a mistake on their end.

      I am not in tech but I do help people with external software troubleshooting. “Can you try a different browser or update your browser?” is a pretty straightforward suggestion that doesn’t have to be about blame.

      1. Casper Lives*

        Yes, let them save face. They’re probably focused on the solution, or should be, anyway.

    2. No Sleep For The Wicked*

      Based on my experience teaching people tech skills, you are probably still way overestimating tech literacy here. At least one of your clients probably doesn’t know what Internet Explorer is called, let alone that alternative browsers exist – and those clients will not take offence, because from their perspective you are giving them genuinely new information.

      1. Lab Boss*

        Adding to that, in my experience the ones who DO have the skills and knowledge to really undertand still don’t feel insulted, because they’re so relieved that the problem was just a silly mistake on their end that they can fix without it being a Whole Big Thing(tm).

      2. calonkat*

        This. People just want an answer and sometimes they can’t seem to read and understand the error messages written in their own language. I deal with this every single day. Most of the time they are stressed, they get an error message, and it’s like their brain just shuts off. I literally get emails that say “it says the ID number doesn’t match the one in the system, what does that mean” and I have to reply “it means the ID number you are using doesn’t match the one already in the system” and explain how to fix it, usually with the page from the user guide that explains how.

        Just accept it, and keep moving on. You’ll never be able to write clear enough error messages or user guides to prevent user stress (though keep looking for ways to improve wording). When people are stressed, they sometimes need someone to point out the obvious (i.e. your glasses are in your hand). It doesn’t mean they are dumb, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. I’ve come to the point of view that it’s good if people are comfortable in asking me questions without worrying that I’ll judge them.

        Also Outlook and some other email programs will let you have saved responses (outlook does it as signatures) to speed up answering common questions. And I’ve a folder with the pulled out pages I send out the most. (and yes, the instructions are on the webpage they are using, the errors are in plain English, and the user guide has complete and easy to read instructions. Very Smart People can have their brains not make connections at the darndest times.)

        1. Candi*

          In Technical Communications I learned of another problem with things like user guides: A lot of the time people don’t read them, they scan them. They’re “raiding” for the bits they want, not examining all the things. And that means they can miss stuff. Even with a user-friendly interface.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes, you’ve nailed it here!
          “it says the ID number doesn’t match the one in the system, what does that mean”
          I’m perfectly capable of panicking at seeing a message like that. I mean, I didn’t know there was an ID number in the system, even if it’s perfectly logical that there should be one. And “in the system” goodness knows where the damn number is lurking or how I can retrieve it.

          Also, a lot of messages don’t actually correspond to the actual problem too. I was testing some software for a colleague and I pointed this out, and he laughed and said yeah well that’s cos software developers don’t usually like people enough to make life easy for them.

          1. calonkat*

            Yeah, I made sure my user guide was topic driven. So there’s a page (with screenshots) for a single how-to-do-this-thing, so if they printed it all the info is on one page. At least it makes it easy to send the pdf of the page when I get questions :)

            And my system is all about the ID numbers. Say you are entering person 12345 Fred Smith and the person’s ID number is actually 12354. The message would mean the system found the ID number but it didn’t match old Fred. ID number could be a SSN or internal ID number, but if you have to enter it, it is important that it be correct. But again, when people are stressed (and everyone waits until the last minute to do everything) they are hyperfocused on “getting the job done now” which is not the best time to analyze problems and error messages :). Which is why I try to make it clear that I’d rather them reach out with questions before they get too stressed.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Also consider providing information about how to change or work around default settings that are causing the problem. In this case, I’d document how to open something in Chrome if other customer apps require IE11 as default, and how to change the default if they don’t.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      My husband had to explain to people what they were doing wrong on daily basis. His technique was to avoid the use of the word “you”.
      In Ellie’s example, that could look like, “Oh, yeah, people do encounter this problem. Instead of clicking here when logging off, click over here and that will solve this problem.”
      Once you get into the habit of not using the pronoun “you”, it gets easier to whip out explanations of what they need to change.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        My husband had to explain to people what they were doing wrong on daily basis. His technique was to avoid the use of the word “you”.

        That has served me well, as does the passive voice.

        Oh, yeah, that problem does arise…

      2. Cj*

        Back in days of DOS, when you had to type in the command to fix something somebody screwed up, I was the first line of support for several of our clients accounting software.

        They would call and feel terrible that they did something wrong and ” broke it”. I would just say okay, this is how we fix it. They would think I was genius because I knew what to do. Then I would confess to them that I knew how to fix it because I had done the same thing, had to call the company support line to help me fix it, and made notes on how to fix it in the future.

        It made them feel a lot better, and everybody has to learn for the first time. You’re not born knowing this stuff.

      3. Mockingjay*

        Yep, agree. I’ve written many operational and test procedures and I always remove “you” for exactly that reason. A few years ago there was a push for “friendlier” wording (“You should see X on the display”) that I steadfastly rejected. Keep emotion out of process, especially troubleshooting. Provide succinct recommendations or next steps. Don’t leave room for interpretation by the client.

        This is why call centers and help desks have step-by-step scripts to follow. Staff are troubleshooting system problems, not people (even though operator error is the cause).

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        You know, people claim passive voice is “incorrect,” but it’s not. It is, in fact, MADE for situations like this when the actor is unknown or you do not want to name the actor. Instead of “you are using the wrong browser,” you can say “this program requires X browser and will not work with Y browser.” (To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what the LW is saying, in the least.)

        1. AJoftheInternet*

          It’s *less ideal* for narrative situations where the actor is supposed to be known and using it adds urgency and nearness, but it’s excellent for distancing everyone.

    5. WellRed*

      And you know? People that are not adept with computers will likely appreciate this. I’m not bad with them but also not inherently tuned into them. We switched from Mac (all I ever used) to PCs while working from home and I could have used a bit of training in certain tasks (and it could have been kinder, too!) not everything is googleable either. So thank you Ellie!

    6. Butterfly Counter*

      Yes, just let us know the issue we’re having so we can fix it. I might be embarrassing for us in the short term, but I still prefer to know rather than not know what to do.

      The other day, I was in class. We have computer carts that are controlled via touchscreen monitor on the cart. From there, we can access the rack computer for us to share our technology (mostly powerpoints) with our students.

      I’ve been doing this for over a decade. I thought I had the tech under control. Then, the other day, I could not get the computer and projector to turn on. I stopped and started the rack controls twice before calling tech support to the class. He came in and hit the spacebar on the computer. My screen (and thus, the projector screen) was asleep and not affected by anything I was doing on the rack’s touchscreen. I was embarrassed, but you bet the first thing I do in coming into a new class ever since is to hit the keyboard in case the monitor is sleeping vs. the rack computer is on. I lived and learned.

  12. Patty Squarepants*

    #2 ” having your lifeforce drained out of you.” LOL that’s a tad dramatic. Yes, I pumped.

    1. Cleopatra, Queen of Denial*

      Nah, that was the part of OP’s post that resonated with me the most.

      I had a condition called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER), which made me absolutely hate pumping, and it made me feel like a cow.

      To any mother reading this: if you don’t feel “letdown” and you don’t experience joy from nursing, you may have this condition. It has nothing to do with you! Look it up — be if the treatments is just knowing that it is present and this is a temporary issue.

      1. Ayla*

        Thank you for this. I had DMER and low supply. I spent so much time pumping and sobbing just to get an ounce or so. For some people it’s no big deal. For some it is awful!

      2. Ellie*

        Me too… I didn’t have any major problems with pumping, but I still hated it. Being trussed up like a cow is annoying at the best of times, I could never have made it work from a small supply cupboard where I could hear my coworkers. And it made me so hungry/thirsty – ‘lifeforce drained out of you’ is so apt.

        1. Hermione Granger's muggle cousin*

          Same here. I didn’t have major issues with pumping at first except that I hated it and it made me so self conscious. I started a new job while I was still breastfeeding and I was told I was free to pump while working! (how convenient, right?!) For my first 2 weeks I was either pumping in a conference room with A GLASS DOOR with PEOPLE IN THE ROOM or in my SHARED office with my brand new coworkers literally sitting right next to me. I cried every day on the way home. Eventually I couldn’t take it any more and I said I really needed another place to pump and I had a suggestion which was approved. But the response was, “I used to pump in my office all the time and my co worker was a guy! But you shouldn’t have waited so long to say something.” The lack of empathy was staggering. The fact that I was expected to tell my supervisor on my very first day at a new job that they needed to provide a better place to pump really blew me away. These are required by law for a reason!

      3. Rana*

        I had a pretty easy time breastfeeding and pumping and still used the phrase “draining my lifeforce” on many occasions. I would immediately get tired and thirsty as soon as I started pumping, and it really did feel like something essential was being pulled out of me (I had a similar feeling breastfeeding but not nearly as strong as with pumping). I usually felt fine afterward but it really was draining.

    2. Turingtested*

      I didn’t hate pumping but by month 10 I was over it! And I’m lucky to have a private office with all the necessities. If had to pump in a covid den I’d be dramatic too!

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      “having your lifeforce drained out of you.” LOL

      I think your LOL is the point: it’s a joke.

      1. Roeslein*

        I went from a healthy pregnancy weight gain to underweight after 9 months of breastfeeding but sure…

        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Breastfeeding can for sure be hellish — but as ‘lifeforce’ is only something that exists in fantasy novels and breastfeeding in-and-of-itself won’t kill you, I think we can reasonably assume that OP is being poetic and light-hearted. I don’t think it’s fair to label her dramatic.

          1. Claire*

            The idea of life force (qi or chi) also exists in traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese martial arts (qigong, tai chi).

            1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

              Thanks for correcting me. Looked it up and interested to read about it more.

              1. Claire*

                Yes it’s interesting stuff! Also, “qi” is an excellent word to know for Scrabble! Lol. (And yes, it is in the Scrabble dictionary!)

      2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Exactly this. Hyperbole, anyone? ;)

        I pumped as well, and really did feel like my life force was leaving my body sometimes.

    4. Ann Perkins*

      As a veteran pumper, I often felt like this both with nursing and pumping. Was it worth it, absolutely, but it’s surprising how draining it can be!

    5. Generic Name*

      Just because YOU don’t feel this way doesn’t mean nobody else in the world gets to feel this way. Empathy, at its most basic level requires the knowledge that people have different inner experiences, and there is no one correct way to feel about anything.

    6. Observer*

      LOL that’s a tad dramatic. Yes, I pumped.

      You obviously had an easy time of it. Not everyone does. It might be useful to recognize that. And it might be even more useful to recognize that your particular and individual experience of something is not necessarily universal. And not just because it helps other people – it’s likely to come back and help YOU, too.

  13. The OTHER Other*

    #2, There seems to be a weird paradox at your workplace where space is at such a premium they are making this converted closet serve multiple functions, and yet they are requiring more people to go back to the office.

    Many employers seem to suffer from this same doublethink, they want people back in the office yet are not really set up with the space to accommodate them.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      An office can have tons of space, but not a good space for pumping, particularly if they’ve embraced the open office concept. I had hoped that one side effect of the pandemic would be the realization that shoving all your employees in a single giant room with no windows isn’t a great idea, but it doesn’t seem to be sinking in.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      We also don’t know industry. Manufacturing sites, labs and medical facilities all have a lot of work where presence is required.
      (And maybe the empty offices belong to people who are working off site.)

      1. Lab Boss*

        This would be us! We were never able to fully remote but we were able to get through early COVID on a patched-together system that absolutely minimized in-person time, but also wasn’t sustainable long-term to get the job done. We moved back cautiously to a more regular in-person model, although WFH was still allowed and encouraged where it could be. And we have plenty of space even if everyone was working on-site full-time, but the vast majority of space in our buildings is cube farms, large-windowed offices, labs filled with hazardous chemicals, and walk-in refrigerators. We do have proper pumping rooms but we couldn’t just further expand our supply of private comfortable space at the drop of a hat.

    3. Cj*

      This doesn’t solve the problem of how the lactation room is configured, but the OP says that there are multiple empty offices that could be used for mask relief. So at least that problem could be avoided, both for scheduling and for her being a contaminated room.

      Seems to me like they should turn one of these empty offices into the lactation room, but maybe they have windows or glass doors or something.

      1. Momma Bear*

        You can buy blinds for glass doors/narrow windows. My coworker had some custom blinds for the strip of glass next to his door b/c sometimes he had to meet with people over sensitive things and did not want people to feel on display.

  14. Tussy*

    LW4, I think the only thing that comes across as rude in the wording is the ellipses and the repeated statement of the problem, but I am guessing you didn’t literally mean this is what you planned to send.

    As others have said, it is useful just to state the problem and tell them the solution matter of factly. So maybe “The error message comes up because IE11 is not supported. If you start using a different browser such as Firefox or Chrome, this should solve the problem.”

    1. Allonge*

      And you may well have to explain the concept of ‘browser’ as in my experience this is a thing many people do not comprehend, but yes. As long as you manage to keep the tone matter-of-fact, you are being helpful and not rude.

      Rude would be to add the silent (how does any adult not know this???) in tone or out loud. When I am tempted, I remind myself how many things I don’t know about how e.g. a car operates.

      1. LW4*

        This is good framing, thank you. Luckily the interaction are all written, so I can try to edit out the judgement I feel. I know it’s not fair to show it!

    2. LW4*

      You’re right, I was typing it how I feel it sounds, not how I’d actually write it. I really like that phrasing–thank you!

  15. Cleopatra, Queen of Denial*

    LW3: I’d message her and say “[Boss] mentioned you’re looking to return to the company — I’ll give you a heads up if I see a job posting that would work for you!” She may just want to come back to the company in another capacity.

    Also, given that your boss is already known to be hard to work for, I wouldn’t necessarily trust his narrative. I admit my initial reaction was “toast her!” but then I realized your only information is what you got from your kind-of crappy boss.

    I don’t know him, but wouldn’t put it past someone like a hard-to-work-for boss to ramp up the drama because he knows you’re friends.

    1. Fiona*

      Also, LW… you actually took her job. Which is fine – she recommended you! But she may still think of it as her job and not yours. Possibly. You just can’t know based on hearsay.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I bet she doesn’t think of it as her job any more! I think the boss just made that pretty clear. She could have just been fishing to see if anything at all was available.

        You did make me think though, what if the secrecy is for the opposite reason? What if Friend did not want OP to know, because she did not want OP to think she was after OP’s job? It’s really hard to tell.

      2. MK*

        That would be completely unreasonable; if you quit a job, it’s no longer yours. And you don’t have an option on it because you recommended your successor. It wouldn’t actually make it better if the friend thought her recommending the OP means she has some kind of hold on the job.

    2. LittleMarshmallow*

      I read this whole letter as “old OM had a hard time getting along with boss but new OM gets along with boss fine… and now old OM doesn’t get a long with new boss and wants to find something else”. I can’t say that it’s clear if they are trying to come back now that things are “better”, but it sounds like old OM might need to do some soul searching if she can’t get along with any of her bosses.

  16. Pol*

    If you need a mask relief room – then can I the big one with the blue ceiling? Go for a walk round the block or just loiter for five mins like you would on a smoke break. There’s no reason to have mask relief stuck into a confined space.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      The ideal, but what do you suggest to OP if the outside is unavailable*?
      I’d suggest she point out that “mask relief” needs to be taken in a room with a window open–that’s for the safety of all employees.
      *My husband once worked in a manufacturing&design facility where it was a quarter mile to his car. I once worked on the upper floor of a building with slow elevators that couldn’t get me outside and back on a 15-minute break. And anyone in clean room would have to discard PPE to come back in.

      1. Jora Malli*

        Those are company structure issues. If the company wants to allow mask relief breaks in a facility where it would take longer than the standard 15 minutes to get outside and back, they can choose to extend their break times.

    2. Cj*

      I don’t think the mask relief isnl intended to be for just a few minutes break. It sounds like people are able to work in that room for an extended period.

      OP says there are several empty offices though, so I don’t know why they can’t use those for mask relief.

  17. Caroline Bowman*

    OP2.

    The mask relief thing… does your company know that air circulates unimpeded generally? If there is a ventilation system that would be normal for most offices, all air – all of it – gets circulated.

    The only place where it might be somewhat logical would be in a break room where people are eating anyway, if they so choose, i.e. have their masks off anyway. This wouldn’t be ideal for someone to be able to work unmasked, but other than short breaks to eat or go outside, they shouldn’t really be going unmasked in a busy office.

    The place to be unmasked if one needs a break – and I can appreciate that sometimes people might – is outside, in fresh air, away from others, not indoors in a shared office. Those little plasterboard walls? They are not walls. They are just visual divisions. The air does not care about them.

  18. DJ Abbott*

    #2 – as a medical geek I am horrified at the thought of people without masks in the lactation room, especially since it’s a repurposed closet with probably no ventilation.
    Whoever made this decision either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the way covid is transmitted.
    Someone goes into the room, takes off their mask, and breathes or coughs covid into the air. Then the covid just hangs there in the air for several minutes and the next person who comes and breathes it and get sick. When the pandemic first started, Dr. Fauci explained it could stay in the air for 15 minutes in an unventilated room.
    If people are going in there without masks, please don’t go in there at all for any reason. Don’t use Dr. Fauci’s 15 minutes as a rule, either. There are going to be variations in how long covid stays in the air according to the size of the room, the ventilation type, etc.
    One of the empty offices sounds like an ideal place to pump. If you can get management to designate one of those as a lactation room instead, that would be great! If not, I would probably go in there anyway but you know your office and you should figure out the best place.
    Good luck!

    1. ShinyPenny*

      Deeply agree that the covid risk has been… magically erased from their equation?
      The level of disregard for your safety, and your baby’s safety, is pretty astonishing.
      Maybe you can use this failure to negotiate a return to WFH for yourself?

  19. anonymous73*

    #1 it’s not your job to manage his mental health. It’s his job to find coping mechanisms to manage his own mental health.
    #2 this is BS. If someone wants “mask relief” they can go outside or sit in their car. I would 100% push back. If they’re insistent on making this a dual purpose room, maybe you could at least get them to agree that pumping moms get first dibs and have the ability to “kick someone out” if they need the room?
    #3 do not prioritize this “friendship” over your own needs and accomplishments. You stated she didn’t get along with your boss, and things are running a lot smoother with you in that position. And now she isn’t getting along with her new boss. Clearly the problem is her not the job. I value my friendships a lot, and have made many friendships at work, but every single one of them has faded over time. That’s not to say I wouldn’t talk to or get together with some of them if they reached out, but the relationships become less of a priority when you’re not seeing each other every day.
    #4 just be matter of fact about it. It’s not about assigning blame, it’s about making them aware of why it isn’t working so they don’t make the same mistake in the future.

    1. KofSharp*

      I’m letter writer 1: previously I’ve sent links to the company EAP plan because I do believe that he needs help, but I’m not equipped to be a therapist to anyone.

      1. Observer*

        Also, even if you were a trained therapist, it would be out of bounds to expect you to manage his mental health.

      2. anonymous73*

        Exactly. You’ve done what you can. It’s up to him to make the necessary changes to be successful.

  20. Shiba Dad*

    LW4 – I’ve done a lot of end-user training and troubleshooting on systems I helped program over the last 20+ years. I generally agree with what others have been saying. Here is my take based on my experience:

    1. Don’t assume everyone has the same level of computer literacy – While this is better now than it was 20+ years ago, some of your users may only have very basic computer skills. When I started doing end-user training, I showed with a syllabus outlining what we would cover. I learned pretty quickly that I sometimes had to teach folks basic PC skills. For example, I once had to teach a guy how to double-click on an desktop icon properly.

    2. If it is your (or your company’s) mistake, own it and fix it – This gives you credibility. It shows that you weren’t just trying to make a buck and that you want to provide a quality product.

    3. If the problem is on their end, how you handle it will depend on how well you know the customer – You certainly don’t want to throw anyone under the bus. In your situation, saying something along the lines “I see that you are using Internet Explorer. We do not support that browser. We do support Edge, Chrome and Firefox. I apologize that we did not emphasize this when we provided this software.” You may be able to be more blunt (though you may not want to be) if you have been working with this customer for some time.

    4. Messaging depends on where the problem lies on their end – As an example, one Friday evening (of course) one of our devices started misbehaving. I eventually figured out that IT gave a new printer the same IP address as the misbehaving device, and anarchy and chaos ensued. IT had a list of IP addresses used by our devices. In this situation it was hard to avoid bus-chucking someone.

  21. Biscotti*

    #5 Take the trip!!! Some of my biggest regrets in life are trips I backed out of, and can never get back. A trip is also a great way to bring in a new change.

    1. Smithy*

      100%

      Around 15 or so years ago, I went on a very short trip to an amazing part of the world that was easy to do because of where I lived at the time but planned to be as cheap as possible. For a number of reasons it ended up being both very very cool and hilariously bad. Terrible time of year to do the trip (incredibly hot), we didn’t have any local currency with us and weren’t able to get any (so couldn’t buy anything), etc etc etc. Because of where I lived, I figure I’d always do it again and better.

      As life happens, I eventually moved and then it seemed like something that would never happen again and something I was just thrilled I got to do at all. When life lined up and I was able to go again this year, I was incredibly thankful but it really made it clear how many trips and experiences really do only happen once. Maybe it’s issues of distance and money, but it can be loads of little reasons that make those moments possible at that time and never again.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes absolutely take the trip! Years ago I was invited on a trip while unemployed and I was nervous about how it would work if I got a new job. Well I decided to treat myself and said yes, and almost immediately after got a job offer that would start two days before the one week trip. I’ve never negotiated a start date and was really nervous to do anything other than give a resounding yes, but the trip was booked and paid for, so I told them I had a preplanned trip, would they mind pushing the start date back to when I returned? Well they surprised me and said they would be fine if I worked those two days and then go on my vacation, rather than wait for me to return. So that’s what I did! Worked a new job for two days and then took a week off. I had an amazing time, and the best part was that they let me borrow PTO instead of taking the week unpaid as I assumed, so I got the new job, the trip, and I got paid for it!

      TLDR: 10000% take the trip, if you get a new job before then just let them know about it before accepting the offer, companies are usually good about letting you take pre-planned vacation time.

  22. caps22*

    LW5, take the trip. I once interviewed for a job (that I got) from the hotel lobby in Costa Rica. They knew I was on holiday and appreciated that I took the time, even though wifi constraints meant I had to do it in a public space. Enjoy life!

    1. sofar*

      Echoing this. TOTALLY normal for any reasonable job. We had a top candidate who, when we proposed April 1 as her first day, told us she’d be on a trip until April 10. So she’s starting April 11. Would we “rather” have her start earlier? Yes, but she was our top candidate and we can wait a few more weeks.

      We once also had a candidate take a trip in the middle of the interview process, so we extended our interview process to accommodate him.

      Any reasonable company shouldn’t find any problems with you being gone for 2 weeks in a four-month time span!

    2. LW4*

      I’ve done video-interviews from Italy and the US (I’m not American), and both times the interviewers knew I was away and may not have ideal internet setup. I made it work, and got both jobs. This was also 10+ years ago, so video interviews have become even more normal in that time.

  23. CheesePlease*

    LW#2 as a working mother who uses the lactation room at work I would be SO UPSET if this room was suddenly available to all employees to use for “mask relief” purposes. That is not a necessary thing!!!

    I would bring up the concern to HR that it is too many people using a small room around what is essentially medical equipment, and you are concerned about what this means for cleanliness / potential exposure. If they don’t find another (better) lactation room or other mask-free space (ex: a bench!! outside!!) I would just make the lactation room as aggressively pro-pumping as possible. Just cover the walls with tips on preventing mastitis, the best nursing bras, encouraging signs about “liquid gold” etc etc etc just to make any mask-free coworker feel uncomfortable about using the LACTATION ROOM

    1. LittleMarshmallow*

      We call it the mothers room… no one thought my suggestion to call it pleasant valley dairies would be well received… but whatever. It’s weird to me that they are doing this at this place since we are so strict about the room’s use. We did have to change the lock to a deadbolt that was lockable from the inside because we had it keyed before (to keep others out) and only pumping women had keys but we had two pumpers at the same time and they they couldn’t figure out the schedule so they kept walking in on each other so the lock was changed. It still wasn’t an issue. No one goes in there (except once… someone was clearly using it for a breakroom once… we never figured out who but an email went out and it never happened again). The only other purpose we used it for was when an employee needed a space for prayers. I don’t think we had anyone pumping at the time though but even if we had I think would’ve been ok.

  24. TimeRaveller*

    LW2: that’s horrible. But it does make me wish, back when I was in charge of setting COVID protocols for my old job, that I had designated an old, cramped closet as a “mask relief room” for everyone complaining about having to wear a mask.

    “We’ve heard your complaints about masking and so we have converted that old, moldy closet that floods during every storm into a mask-free space for you to take a break.”

    1. Lab Boss*

      “You know the basement that used to house the fungus lab until we realized the ventilation was so bad that it was permanently contaminated with fungus and now it’s just a scary basement full of obsolete lab equipment with various fungi tracing all over everything? Mask Relief.”

  25. fort hiss*

    LW #4, I do a lot of tech support for new employees who are often not tech savvy. My general attitude is to stay positive and helpful, and to be hands on from the get-go. People often come to me when they’re already frustrated or overwhelmed, so I try to get them to show me the problem through a screen share (we’re virtual) rather than describe it or chat about possible causes/solutions. This usually leads to quicker fixes and happier people, even when the solution is simple. I prefer this over the general advice of giving tutorials or resources unless this is a repeat offender who needs less handholding.

    I do sometimes wonder how people feel when they send me a screenshot of clear instructions on what they need to do next, ask me what they should do, and I just repeat the instructions in the screenshot because that truly is what they need to do. Are they embarrassed? Do they even notice??

    1. Cj*

      Part of the problem with not following the instructions on the screenshot is that they might not feel comfortable with computers at all.

      Another issue might be that they are trained to be so afraid of phishing, fake messages that maybe contain a virus if you click on them, etc. that they want to verify with somebody that this is legitimate.

    2. just another bureaucrat*

      One of the things I try to do is remind myself going into all of these interactions that this person is likely an expert in something I know NOTHING about and I hope that someday when I make a silly, introductory-level mistake in the thing that they are an expert in that someone is kind to me. Of course, they don’t know about IE11 they are too busy knowing the weird intricacies of exactly what kind of llama teapot paint needs to be used and if I were to try to paint it with a 15% solution instead of a 25% solution they’d smile and be happy to help me too.

    3. Workerbee*

      Some people understand/take in things better if they hear it, some people when they see it, some people when they do it. And some people just really like having a real person with them when navigating the often gremlin-infested land of tech.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes, sometimes they’re just worried that something will freeze up, and would rather have the techie right there as they go through this complex process. I’ve had this happen.
        Also, what looks clear to the techie might not look clear to the caller: there are usually all sorts of things you can click on and you just don’t realise that you need to only focus on the red button.

  26. Gray Lady*

    All of the information LW3 has is from the boss, who apparently didn’t get along with the friend. I’m suspicious. I’m not saying the boss is definitely lying but I would be very slow to just assume I have the real story from him and react accordingly to the friend. This requires more thought than taking the boss’s word and judging the friend by it. It’s quite possible that the friend did look into seeing whether it was available, or if LW might be getting promoted or transferred soon, but without any intention of displacing LW if she was intending to remain there long term, and the boss spun it very differently to LW, either maliciously or out of being obtuse himself. Or, it could have happened exactly the way the boss said. But without more information there’s no way a judgment should be made against the friend.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I think that runs both ways.
      Boss may have mentioned it to reassure LW3 that her job was safe, knowing that she and Friend were (or had been) friends – Friend recommended LW in the first place.
      It’s possible that Boss asked LW3 not to say anything as normally he wouldn’t discuss applicants with her or other employees.
      It’s possible that Boss knows, or suspects, that Friend may raise it with LW3 and he wants to make sure that she isn’t blind-sided.
      It’s also possible that Boss either misunderstood mis-represented what Friend said.

      I think there are a bunch of possibilities and some of them don’t include malice on either Boss’s part, or that of friend.

      LW#£ – you know thee people – I’d consider what you know of each of them in determining whether you think it’s more likely that friend was actively trying to take your job, or that Boss was deliberately stirring up drama, or that there was a genuine miscommunication, and go from there, but if your gut is telling you that the most likely explanation is that friend didn’t let friendship stand in the way of her personal desire to go back to the job she had before, then you don’t have to cut her out of your life, but you may want to consider more carefully what information you share with her in future, particularly about your job, boss or coworkers – she mat nt be the right person for you to vent to or bounce ideas off, for instance.

    2. HufferWare*

      Came here to say exactly that. I think the boss is a liar and manipulating the situation. LW should talk to the friend first before believing anything the boss has said.

  27. AnonInCanada*

    LW#4 – I think what you have here is an ID-10T error. Either that, or the dreaded PEBKAC error all IT support staff dread. Usually takes a clue-by-four to debug :-P.

    1. Dasein9*

      No, they have a testing and UX issue. Calling clients names is unlikely to be productive. If everyone possessed the LW’s expertise then the LW wouldn’t be in demand or highly paid.

      There’s really no value in feeding stereotypes of IT people held over from the last century.

      1. Ek*

        Well said! Contempt for users doesn’t help build better software, doesn’t help the user, and doesn’t even make the software designer/tester’s life easier on because it hurts to hate. A lose/lose/lose strategy, but one that comes up all too often, typically for lack of imagination about better ways to frame things. I’m glad the letter writer is even asking about how to be considerate. It sounds like they’re doing a good job of it.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Tempting though it is to use IT helpdesk injokes it’s not good customer service to let end users actually see them. We’re a famously sarcastic lot in IT and that should be kept between techies for our amusement.

      I used to teach people how to use MS Office before I moved into tech support proper and it’s important to have a very passive voice when it comes to system malfunctions. Simply because you can rarely say 100% that the computer wasn’t at fault (they do really weird stuff).

      Far better to have things like ‘if the option A was mistakenly selected while closing out the app then a crash can occur’ than ‘you clicked the wrong thing at the wrong time’.

      Also why I prefer to communicate with end users via email – I’m a lot more diplomatic when I’ve got some time to think about the words first.

      I learnt computers at an early age (yey Spectrums) but a lot of people do not have the knowledge I do and I really dislike the trope of the arrogant IT tech.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        I’m not in IT (see username) but I seem to be an extension of Help Desk sometimes since I’m the biggest geek in the HR Department.

        Anyway, one of my go-to lines is “$WEB_BASED_APPLICATION doesn’t play well with Chrome. See that blue and green swirl on the bar on the bottom of your screen? That’s Microsoft’s new browser, Edge. Try using that instead.”

  28. Hiring Mgr*

    the mask relief room reminds me of a terrible idea a coworker at a startup came up with years ago – since people were coming to work sick, rather than address that she wanted to have a “Sick Bay” a room where all the sick people could go and work that day together so they won’t infect anyone else….

    1. Lady Luck*

      Ick. When people insist on coming to work sick though, I always wonder if that’s more of a company problem. I’ve heard of plenty of companies where people are seen as “slacking off” if they use their sick leave or if they use it too often. So sick people feel obligated to come in, or they feel like they have to be “sick enough” to warrant asking for time off. If that’s the case, it’s not really the sick person’s fault.

  29. Delta Delta*

    LW2 – I haven’t seen anyone mention this, but this is going to turn into a fight between the “there are no legal mask mandates!” and pumping, which is actually protected by law. This will turn into a fight over Jim in Accounting and his need to have his mask off, and why that is more important than pumping. Or why Susan in R&D needs her no-mask time more than LW needs to pump at the time LW needs to pump. This is a disaster of an idea. If the company has HR, they ought to be looped in now to cut off the silliness and to point out things like federal laws.

    I also like the idea of the no-mask space being that huge room called “outside.” That’s free and available to everyone.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Thought same. We have no leverage any more now that mask mandates are gone.

      I’m sure someone will say “we work in a 50 story office tower, we can’t open windows or go outside” next, I’m afraid.

    2. Paperdill*

      I was saying this up thread somewhere but in my experience and observation (I’m a nurse and have been working in Covid services since May of 2020) the more people keep taking their masks off for “mask relief” the harder they make it for themselves to actually be accustomed to masks. In environments where masks HAD to be worn all shift, people because accustomed to them so much quicker and didn’t feel so much need for mask breaks.

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        Agreed. If you’re not a big baby about it you just get used to it. Does that mean you like it? No… but a mask relief room is not necessary.

        We are maskless at work now (as of a couple weeks ago) which was an adjustment too although an easier one, but mostly people by us just sucked it up and wore them without issue when it was required. We allowed not wearing on forklifts and scissor lifts where seeing thru your safety glasses is of utmost importance and people should be 6 feet away anyway but that was about it.

  30. Spicy Tuna*

    OP#3 – I once worked for a large, international company that had local satellite offices around the U.S. The company decided to regionalize the satellite offices to reduce office space. Most job functions would be relocating to a handful of regional offices; however, my job was remaining at the local office. The company paid for people to relocate, and the regional office that our local office was moving to was in the same state.

    I was single and had no kids at the time this reorganization was happening. Literally every person in the office that was impacted by the relocation thought that I should swap jobs with them so they wouldn’t have to move. People were so insistent that they went to my boss to request it!! Never mind that I had a completely different job than the jobs that were relocating! There was no overlap AT ALL!

  31. Sargent Squecks*

    LW#3, I’m with the people side eyeing the boss as well. Any time someone repeats something unpleasant to you and asks you to keep it a secret, I would question their motives. And definitely keep in mind that you might not be getting an accurate picture of what was said from the boss. To me this reads like classic triangulation. “So and so did such and such but DON’T TELL.” Now you are stuck silently worrying about what it all means. If the friend really did make a play to get the LW’s job, the boss could have shut it down without saying anything to the LW.

  32. Sal*

    Re LW2: I would complain about the covid. I would not complain about *hearing toilets and coworker conversations.* The most luxurious pumping setup I ever had was an armchair in a repurposed … I don’t even know. Shower vestibule? Just off the ladies’. Being able to lock the door + armchair catapulted it to first place, over the empty judicial chambers where I got to sit on a metal folding chair, in an inner room where I scribbled “pumping, do not enter” on a paper plate and taped it to the door in case maintenance came by an unlocked the main door. Distant third place was a shared office. Privacy in that case was maintained by means of *facing opposite directions* and a large shawl, in addition to computer paper taped to cover the window in the door.

    I really, really try not to be all “in my day we walked uphill both ways in the snow” but damn, sometimes the pumping room is near the bathroom.

    But don’t get covid-y air in the milk/in your face! That’s fixable and avoidable!

    1. LittleMarshmallow*

      Ours shares a wall with a restroom too… infrastructure-wise it makes sense because that’s where the plumbing is for the sink that’s provided in the pumping room so the pumpers can wash their stuff. Ours also has a recliner, microwave, space heater and fridge (I don’t know what the microwave is for). But it would be a little off-putting if a pumping mother came and complained they could hear office noise and a toilet flush. Like I get it, pumping at work sucks, but the room we have is pretty well equipped and it would be nearly impossible to also make it soundproof and not adjacent to a restroom.

  33. Rebecca*

    For the mask relief room question – DO NOT USE THIS SPACE FOR LACTATION. Covid-19 can linger in the air for hours (https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/indoor-air-and-coronavirus-covid-19#:~:text=Transmission%20of%20COVID%2D19,hours%20in%20some%20cases.). By sitting in a reclaimed closet (I’m guessing with poor ventilation) in a space where you know others are removing their masks and, I hope, breathing, you are potentially being exposed to Covid-19 and then exposing your young, unvaccinated baby. DO NOT DO NOT use this space for lactation. If possible, use this argument with HR to ask for a different, safe, appropriate space for lactation.

  34. Emi*

    For #2 I’m guessing from the description that this doesn’t apply, but I’ll throw it out there just in case: if the lactation room has a sink, that’s probably why it’s on the wall with the kitchen and bathroom, and it may not be feasible to install a sink in another place. So I would consider if you want to ask to make it more hospitable instead of moving it somewhere else. It might be worth the trade-off to have a sink (the mask relief room should be separate in any case).

  35. Candy*

    The empty offices may not be empty in April when staff go back to the offices, so it’s worth a shot asking if one could be used as a lactation room and another as a chill out/mask relief/break room, but you’ll probably have more luck asking to have lockers or file cabinets put in the current room for storing personal items. And then, in addition to your pumping equipment, also store your noise-cancelling headphones so you don’t have to hear the adjacent washroom & kitchen noises and a throw or pillow to make the space more comfortable.

  36. matilda jane*

    This comment section IS GIVING ME LIFE! As a mom of two littles, with health conditions of my own, and a vulnerable family member, I am literally crying at the number of thoughtful, caring notes here. THANK YOU!!!

  37. Anonymous Hippo*

    On LW2 – I admit I don’t know much about pumping, but it seems like baby food supply and mask relief shouldn’t be in the same space for simple health reasons.

  38. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP4 when I’m calling the techie, I know full well that they know a whole lot more than me and that it’s likely to be a mistake I made. I make mistakes because I’m not tech-minded. So if they point out that I was doing the wrong thing, I’ll especially be grateful that they were able to point me in another direction.
    I’ve often had techies respond to me berating myself with “yeah this is complex, a lot of people make such mistakes, that’s why we have a tech department.” which would probably make them feel a bit better. Then so long as you don’t laugh at them, just state the facts, you should be OK. Someone who has problems with facts will have problems however you point them out.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Making mistakes and learning from them is how I became a techie! Seriously you don’t wanna know how many computers I’ve knackered…

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        Same here. I built, broke, and rebuilt my first computer aged 14, when orange and brown were cool colors. When I contact tech support, it takes either days or seconds to resolve, rarely anything in between – either it’s hard stuff and I have already exhausted all User-Level troubleshooting methods, or it’s embarrassingly simple or a known issue (my degree is in IT but I’m not IT at my company).

  39. Commenter*

    This isn’t the point of LW2’s letter (the mask relief room thing is insane!) but I’m curious (as a non-pumping woman who is very sympathetic to pumping moms & the rampant ‘lactation room’ issues) about things like ‘I can hear toilet flushes and employee conversations.’
    Not sure if there’s a better room to be used, but if the room is clean (aka not a bathroom or a ‘mask relief room’), relatively comfortable (large enough for a chair and a little bit of space), and private (with a locking door), how do people who need these rooms feel about it being…ideal (not sure that’s the best word). This sounds like a room that works (again, leaving this mask relief room idiocy aside) but just isn’t very pleasant.
    Thoughts? Again, if there are beautiful rooms that could be repurposed for lactation and management decides this isn’t important enough, I understand that whole issue but if this is a case of the only real space that could reasonably be used being not great…is that ok?

    1. Rana*

      I wouldn’t worry about things like toilet flushes and employee conversations unless there was a perfect room somewhere else that was just being used for storage or something and could be easily swapped. Otherwise, it’s not ideal but definitely doable. I think it’s mentioned here more in the context of “this room is already less than ideal but I’ve dealt with it – this new thing is a deal-breaker.”

      There is definitely something to be said for comfort while pumping, so a decent chair with a good way to position the pump while sitting in it would be non-negotiable (in addition to a locking door and a reservation system). That seems like a legitimate concern for LW2 that she should be able to bring up and get more comfortable furniture. The other thing that is not absolutely required but should be added if at all possible is a mini-fridge and a place to store the pump in between sessions. It is much nicer than putting milk in the communal fridge and lugging around the equipment (and faster/more efficient too!). Very nice to have but a lot harder to accommodate is a sink to wash out pump parts.

      Outside of those things I think a little rug or something nice on the wall can be a cheap way to make it feel more comfortable and less office-y, which can help with comfort and letdown. Noise can be unavoidable, so I would just recommend wearing headphones. At most the company could get a white noise machine, that would be a nice touch.

    2. Kasia*

      My current pumping room is off the bathroom and it doesn’t bother me at all. I definitely hear toilet flushes, but it is a totally separate room with a sink and fridge and even a fancy pump provided if you want to use it.

  40. CA*

    “Mask relief” should mean going outside, at some distance from others. Insane to consider designating a room for that purpose. People have clearly not gotten the memo about COVID being airborne. My spouse’s employer (a very large company that should know better) has decided that masks are required only in common areas, not at one’s cube or hotel desk (which is of course in one huge shared room), as if keeping 3 or 6 feet of distance will protect people. It’s a matter of time until he gets COVID and I (high risk) catch it from him. It’s maddening.

  41. Anastasia*

    Letter #2 is actually a little terrifying to me–the company has basically designated a room where anyone can go and remove their mask, potentially spreading COVID into the room if they’re infected without realizing… and has also decided that’s the room where nursing parents have to go to be able to feed their babies. What if someone with COVID goes into the “mask relief” room and spreads COVID germs all over the room, then a nursing parent comes in and catches it and takes it home to their newborn baby? That’s horrifying.

    I also just cannot fathom the logic of having a “mask relief” room. Like… if you know that masks are important enough that you’re still mandating them in the building, why are you then saying “oh but if you get tired of them here’s a room where everyone can go to spread their germs around freely”??

    1. pancakes*

      “ Like… if you know that masks are important enough that you’re still mandating them in the building…”

      I think the simplest answer is likely the correct one here: They are still mandating masks in the building because they want to appear concerned about transmission rates, though they aren’t in fact concerned enough to put a moment’s thought into whether this arrangement is safe or sensible.

  42. Too many hats for this salary*

    Look, I am allergic to LIFE. Any and all things that grow out of the ground will at one point attempt to kill me and then some but even *I* do not think the prospect of stepping into the outside world so terrifying that I would use a “Mask Relief” room…because…gross!

    It may be stupidity rather than malice (because if the last few years have highlighted anything it is that human stupidity truly knows no bounds) but the whole situation is just gross and I’ve run into the mentality enough that I can’t help seeing that lens of a passive aggressive attempt to make these kind of (and I hate using this word here) allowances for women in the workplace just so uncomfortable and inconvenient that they don’t attempt to use them.

  43. Traveler*

    LW5. After finishing grad school I scheduled a vacation to the UK. I had some apps out and I did get a call while I was abroad. I had set up, I think a google voice forwarding number, to ensure I got voicemails while I was out of the country. I called back and explained the situation to the scheduler that I was not available until X date but could do a phone interview. I didn’t hear for a bit, but by the time I returned I was scheduled for an interview and got the job.

    I learned later that when they heard I was away they did decline to interview me in the first round because I couldn’t come in. The candidate they made an offer to however declined the position, so that’s when I got the call.
    This was a quite awhile ago. With the norm of zoom/phone interviews, I would highly expect folks to be fine to interview you from Europe for the first round. Plus, the job market is much more in favor of applicants than it was back then.

    Have fun and good luck!

  44. KofSharp*

    LW#1 here and I have an update with a scenario I didn’t even think was possible. I’m still trying to find out what exactly happened as we worked in different offices, but something has occurred.

    Management’s Plan was a PIP that included a move to a new team and mandatory Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion trainings because he had been saying some offensive things to anyone who let him get off topic and then claiming discrimination against his mental health status to guilt people into not reporting.
    Apparently John wanted to move to a new team to get away from my team, but the second it was called a PIP, he lost his mind and ended up having to be escorted out.
    I’m in a different office a ways away so I did not witness anything not in the work instant message chat, and based on company policy I will not be able to officially hear more.

    1. Observer*

      Oh my! Sounds like a piece of work!

      If you ever find out (unofficially) the rest of the story, I think we’d all love to hear it.

    2. Myrin*

      Good to hear back from you and ooof, sounds like a good update in the sense that you won’t have to deal with him anymore but man, what a piece of work.

      1. KofSharp*

        Yeah um. I’m going to say allegedly because I’m not entirely sure what all was said, but he was walked out as well due to reports of bigotry that started coming out of the woodwork. Apparently he was saying horrible, discriminatory things and then blaming his mental health so people “couldn’t get mad at him.”
        So when his PIP was going to include more Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training than the company’s regular updates, he thought someone had finally reported him for his comments.

          1. KofSharp*

            Me neither, I’m just in a state of “…it is the year 2022, you’ve been in the work force three times longer than me, and you think THIS is acceptable behavior?”

  45. Sara E.*

    Check into your state’s guidelines, companies of a certain size are required by law to provide a sanitary pumping space. The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide basic accommodations for breastfeeding mothers at work. Unless you work for a small business, you have the right to question the availability of the room as well as your concern for COVID transmission.

  46. LittleMarshmallow*

    #4 don’t worry about explaining what client did wrong (especially if your language is similar to the example you put in the letter). I know that for me… if I’m calling to get help for a software issue (for new software or older), I am 100% aware that I may be the one causing the problem. The annoyance is just about the situation and probably the time I spent trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. I would only be offended if you started using words like “obviously” or “clearly” or other such terms that indicate that you think I’m dumb (it may be true… but I don’t need an IT person to remind me with condescending phrasing like that). A simple “this software runs better on chrome so don’t use IE is fine”.

  47. Teapot Gnome Scandal*

    for #3. Regardless if this impacts your feelings of friendship to this person I totally caught a red flag in there. They previously did not do well with the boss at your company and now they are not doing well with the boss at their new company. Smaller orange flags: once you took over the position everything seemed to work much better and that this former employee is now “bragging” about their so called improved management abilities.

    They basically ran away from one job for not getting along with the boss and now want to run back because they also don’t get along with this new one either?!?? Ummmm. ….. I’m just giving all the side eye here.

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