physically demanding team-building exercise, stinky bathroom, and more

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

1. We’re doing a physically demanding “team-building” exercise

My team has planned a team builder at a physically demanding escape room. The whole team has to make it through an obstacle course while solving puzzles to advance to the next obstacle course. My invisible disability makes it impossible for me to safely participate in this type of activity (I can’t walk in a straight line on solid ground, no way can I cross a tightrope!). I called the escape room company and there is no option to just do the mental puzzles; all participants have to do every challenge.

My direct manager is one of the better managers I have had at this organization, and there is big talk about inclusivity, but I feel incredibly uncomfortable talking about my disability. I already don’t feel like I fit in on this team (only woman and second oldest person) and am not sure how to proceed. Also, we picked a time that worked for everyone (prior to picking the venue) and they waited for me to get back from vacation so I could attend as well.

Agggh, this sucks.

You’ll need to talk with your boss about the situation, but that doesn’t mean you need to give details. You could just say, for example, “I have a medical thing that means I can’t participate in this. Is it too late to pick a different activity?” And if pressed for more than that, it’s fine to say, “I’m pretty private about it since it’s medical, but I could do X, Y, or Z instead if those are options.”

It’s not a team builder if they pick an activity that excludes people who would like to participate, so hopefully they’re still able to change it.

Also, you could also talk to HR or your DEI person/people if you have them, and suggest they better train managers around inclusivity in activities like this. Here too, you wouldn’t need to get into your own health details; you could use similar wording as with your boss or even keep it purely theoretical — “choosing physically demanding activities will leave out people with disabilities, including hidden ones.”

Read an update to this letter

2. Am I right to be concerned about this company?

I’ve been at my job for roughly a year, and I can’t shake the feeling that this is not the place for me. Here’s what I’m concerned about:

• We’re understaffed and we can’t afford to hire anyone new for the foreseeable future.
• The company’s in financial trouble.
• It’s hard to know what my boss wants because he changes his mind and expectations depending on his mood, sometimes within a few hours. My coworker said it took her years to be able to figure out what he wants and his moods. I’m not sure if I want to spend years trying to figure out what the heck is going on in his mind or predict his mood swings.
• My boss had no experience running a company until he took over recently, so he’s “learning as he goes,” as my coworker puts it, and we need to be patient as he learns how to be a boss. I get that being a manager is hard, but I feel a bit uncomfortable working for someone who doesn’t know very well what he’s doing, especially for my first job.
• The relationship’s boundaries seem too blurred. We’re a very small company and everyone acts like friends/family. People know very personal stuff about each other. I don’t feel comfortable having the entire company being so close, and it has gone wrong in the past from what I’ve gathered.
• Everyone here’s a “go-getter.” I’m not and it’s exhausting pretending to be one. I care about doing a good job and I’m willing to pick up new skills and responsibilities. But I don’t want my life to revolve around work.
• Even when an employee is doing work for multiple people and has been in the company for a long time, they still don’t get paid that well. To my boss’ credit, he’s not underpaying on purpose, he really can’t afford to increase our salaries much. And he’s always polite and grateful.
• My boss hasn’t paid my superannuation for a while (Not in the US).
• I just don’t feel like the company is a good fit.

My coworkers don’t seem concerned at all. They think everything’s normal. My gut feeling tells me the company is a bit dysfunctional and I should look for a new job, but my coworkers’ reactions are making me second-guess myself. It makes me feel like a failure if I don’t try to stick with it, and I’m worried I won’t find a better job than this. Should I give it more time before thinking about searching for another job?

No, start looking. Lots of this is alarming, particularly the financial trouble. But even if it weren’t, it’s okay to leave a job simply because it’s not a good fit for you. You don’t like the culture, management, or pay at this company. Each of those on its own is a good reason to move on! Combine it altogether, and you should have zero qualms about starting to look.

3. Patient keeps smelling up the office

I am a receptionist in a medical office. An elderly patient who comes in approximately once a month uses our restroom every time she is in and takes a horrendous dump. We only have one shared bathroom that is for all patients. Unfortunately, every time this severely smells up the whole office building and the odor hangs around for about an hour.

My dilemma is this. I spoke with my doctors finally and requested that we ask her to not use our facilities. They said that legally they can’t tell her she can’t use it because that would be discrimination. And they refused to speak with her about the issue. They offered to buy candles, sprays, diffusers, etc. She lives not too far from the office but most likely can’t help it in the moment. But I feel she could make sure she goes before coming in, as it makes it terribly uncomfortable and unpleasant for staff and other patients. There is a window in the bathroom but no vent. Is it truly discrimination and illegal to tell her she can’t use the facilities? Also what are my rights as an employee in the situation? I feel bad for the woman but it is just so awful and it did make me nauseous as well.

Some states require businesses of a certain size to provide bathrooms to customers, and some states require businesses with employee bathrooms to allow customers with a medical need access to those bathrooms. I don’t know whether your business falls under those laws in your state (and often they only cover retail establishments) but the bigger issue is: if a patient has an urgent need for the bathroom, it would be terribly cruel to refuse her (as well as much more disruptive for your office if you did — think of the potential consequences of that).

I know you would like her to use the bathroom at home before she comes in, but I highly doubt she’s purposely waiting until she’s at your office to use the bathroom; presumably the need strikes when it strikes, and there are medical conditions that can make that sudden and urgent. And legalities aside, your doctors probably have no interest in denying someone a bathroom when they need one.

As far as your rights: There aren’t really any laws that would cover you as an employee here. People do smelly things in bathrooms sometimes; it’s just the nature of bathrooms (and people).

4. My boss won’t engage with me about my growth

I started a new job two years ago as part of a small team, inside a large global company, that’s had to pivot constantly in the pandemic. I am my manager’s only full-time report in my area; she has one other full-time report and 3-5 part-time freelancers. Our larger team has another 30 people under a different reporting structure.

Despite strong reviews and positive feedback, my biggest responsibilities decreased last year (prominent projects were canceled, outside of my control) and again several months ago. I no longer touch any of my team’s biggest projects, most of which are being led by freelancers. Instead, I’m back-filling a lot of smaller projects that lack the resources to have our full team work on them. I’ve raised this to my manager as a concern several times, and asked for more higher-level responsibilities to be put back on my plate. I’ve also asked what I think are fairly standard career-development questions: what do career ladders look like? How can I continue to grow in this position? I’d like to push myself in areas X and Y to serve our goals; can we add that to my remit? Each time, she’s punted, saying it’s a time of experimentation, or patience is needed because we have new leadership, or we need to wait for a key stakeholder to return from leave before we can make decisions, or we need to wait for next year when I’ll be able to do more. None of it has borne out; all of it feels like stalling. My HR rep, who is new, has pointed me back to my manager and said the company’s career ladders are still in development. In the meantime, my manager has changed her title on her email signature, LinkedIn, and company Slack to reflect what seems to be a promotion, which makes her response to me harder to accept.

Is there anything else I should try before I give up on this job and find another one where I can grow?

You can try naming it explicitly and see what happens: “We’ve talked several times about my strong desire to expand my goals and take on higher-level responsibilities again. I’m feeling more urgency around figuring out a plan and timeline for doing that work … and if it’s unlikely to happen this year, I’d like to know that too. Can you give me a better sense of what’s likely in my role and what a realistic timeline would look like?”

If you don’t get a satisfying answer — or if you receive promises that don’t come to fruition — I’d take that as a strong signal that, for whatever reason, you need to look outside of this position (and maybe outside of this company) if you want things to change.

5. When can I ask about parental leave when I’m interviewing?

I am very casually searching for a new job. As someone who hopefully plans to be pregnant in the next year or so, parental leave is very high on my priority list. How do I get that information early on in the interview process, if the benefits aren’t available anywhere online? I don’t want to waste anybody’s time if the leave is less than what I currently have.

In an ideal world, you’d be able to ask about parental leave right up-front. In practice, employers are likely to read that as a signal that you plan to get pregnant soon, which in some cases could make them less inclined to hire you, even if only unconsciously. It’s against the law for employers to discriminate against a woman because they fear she’ll become pregnant, but it happens way too often.

Because of that, you’re generally better off waiting until you’ve got at least the first interview behind you. At that point you can ask to see “information on benefits, parental leave, etc.” (That language is intentionally lumping it in with a larger category so that you’re not calling out parental leave specifically.) That’s obviously not ideal; if seeing it earlier could prevent both of you from wasting your time, it would be better if you could just ask for it at the start. And I hate telling you not to, because if more people did ask for it up-front, it would get normalized. But realistically, there’s risk to doing that. (That said, if you are willing to take that risk, please do! It’s good for everyone if you can.)

{ 675 comments… read them below }

  1. voyager1*

    LW4: I have been through this. Start putting these questions in writing/emails. Also ask if you are going to be put back on those higher level projects. Again put it in emails/writing. Putting it in writing really calls her bluff if she is stringing you along, and will help you get peace of mind (and also maybe a better idea if it is time to move on).

    1. It's happening here, too*

      At this point, I would say start looking. You’ve brought this up repeatedly and got nowhere fast – it’s not going to change. There is a similar situation where I work: staff are doing the same work for years without recognition and without prospects for advancement, but the boss is getting higher titles. They’ve brought up wanting to get involved in more complex work and take on additional projects, but to no avail; it’s just lip service from the boss. Some of the staff have recently left, others are looking, and the boss doesn’t seem to be able to add two and two together – she just complains that we have turnover. And guess what: it’s the better staff that are leaving, and the mediocre ones are staying behind. It’s time to polish up the resume.

      1. Glitterati*

        Yep agreed re looking for a new role now. Employers are often so fixated on other things that they seem to forget their employees are (usually) choosing to work for them and can leave. Employment is a two way street and you should have your career goals met too. I went through this same fobbing off and BS promises for about four years, and when I finally left I kicked myself for not just going somewhere else that appreciated my skills and wanted to develop me years earlier. Please see what’s out there LW4, you might be surprised. I moved and have had more professional development in the four months I’ve been in my new org than in my entire six and a half years at my last one.

        1. LPUK*

          I heartily endorse this comment – stayed 7 years at a company mid-career when I should probably have left after three.. I enjoyed the company, theres was always drama and an illusion of change, but realistically I was never at a level where I could make the strategic changes I could see needed to be changed. Ever since, I’ve always briefed my direct reports that, especially in the earlier stages of your career, if you stop learning, you should start looking.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I agree, and my reading between the lines is that LW’s boss is already looking, hence their promotion-that-is-just-a-title-bump.

      3. AdAgencyChick*

        Agree. I’ve never NOT seen this play out as a surprised Pikachu face on the boss when the employee finally quits.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I’m not sure that putting it in writing is necessarily going to help, as there is nothing that the OP can really hold the manager to about being provided with career growth opportunities. That said, it would the request on a bit more formal footing, and make the manager start to think about what happens if they don’t provide those opportunities to the OP – ie. that the OP is going to start looking outside the company.

      1. BRR*

        Yeah I don’t think putting it in writing really contributes anything. If you switch the questions from conversation to email than the answers are just going to switch from conversation to email. The same vague, noncommittal answers. Additionally, career development is a face to face topic so switching to email won’t assist the lw.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      I think LW 4 also needs to be realistic that there are jobs and managers and companies that don’t care if you grow, and frankly would kind of prefer you didn’t, because that means that you’ll be expecting more from them, will want more, and then will expect a promotion and more money (or will leave and they’ll have to fill your job). They may well want you right here, doing exactly this, for as long as possible. They don’t really want you being pushy about planning your career and your next steps. That’s not always great business, but everyone’s not great at business.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yup. Getting any kind of additional training out of my boss is like blood out of a stone. She isn’t trying to squash my career (such as it is), but we need to cover reception 5 days a week and anything that distracts from that is a waste of time. She even baulked at letting us receptionists take a session on new software that our head office wanted to roll out because she hadn’t been invited to take it herself. Then she threw so many logistical hurdles in our way we ended up not actually being in a live session but having to watch a video. I would have really liked to do something in person but…no dice.

        And yeah, it was at that point I suddenly decided that the commute I’d been doing for 8 years was not worth it any more and I put in an application for a job yesterday. Not going to bail without a job, of course, but that was the tipping point. Time to start looking.

      2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        And some companies deliberately don’t promote an excellent employee because they’re SO good at their job that the company doesn’t think it could replace them…or because that excellent employee has actually been doing the work of TWO people, the company knows it and doesn’t want to shell out the money necessary to hire two new people!

    4. Mockingjay*

      I’m actually seeing another issue here. Most of OP’s role has been outsourced to freelancers. This is a red flag.

      Speculation: Restructuring or layoffs might be looming. The low-level stuff might be all that remains for OP4. Manager might be under a gag order until the process is complete. Manager might be conducting her own job search because her job is imperiled too.

      Advice: whether my speculations are accurate (note, Alison does NOT promote such as useful), the bottom line is that the majority of your work has been taken away and is not being given back. The reasons are irrelevant. OP4, it’s time to look elsewhere.

      1. AskJeeves*

        Agreed! And there’s no reason for LW to not look for other jobs, while also having a very direct conversation with the manager. I also think the fact that LW seems to not have been informed of their own manager’s promotion (and can’t/won’t ask about it?) is a sign of a really poor relationship, and that’s bad for LW’s career growth.

        1. Artemesia*

          Spot on. When your work magically gets off shored, your days are numbered. I had a friend who was asked to train off shore employees and was promised she would continue to be the manager — uh huh. As soon as they had wrung out what she could give them with the training, she was laid off.

      2. Dona Florinda*

        That jumped out at me as well. Having part-time freelancers do the important projects while the (only!) full-time employee is being given low level work? That’s not a good sign.

    5. JewishAndVibing*

      I had a situation a bit similar where my mentor has been freezing me out and not responding to anything. Thankfully, I’d been sending updates 2x a week through email already, so I had a nice trail, along with a bunch of emails requesting information from him that he never replied to.

      1. LW4*

        LW4 OP here. Thank you all for your comments, which were spot on. Since writing to Alison, I started looking, found a new opportunity with major growth, and gave notice. I begin the new gig in a couple weeks. Everyone’s thoughts about the various red flags in my situation mirrored my own thinking, but it’s validating to see that others felt the same.

        1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

          Congrats! Was your manager shocked, shocked, I say! when you gave your notice?

  2. Lizzano*

    Number 2- sounds like you’re maybe in Australia (re-Super?). If your super hasn’t been paid for the past quarter, which I think would be for the January to March quarter, I would mention it to your boss, and if they’re not responsive don’t hesitate to contact FairWork, as it is ILLEGAL to not keep up with the your super obligations as an employer.

    1. Sara (not my actual name)*

      Chiming in to agree with Lizzano. If you are in Australia it is mandatory that employers pay superannuation. Your company could be in even bigger financial trouble if the tax office finds out about it. I second Alison’s advice to get out while you can but make sure you get them to pay the super they owe you as well. That is money they owe you.

    2. Snuck*

      It sounds like you are in Oz… super is legally mandated, and this is a really big sign you aren’t going to have a job in the near future. Not only is it legally mandated, there’s three monthly check ins on it, when this company fails to file correct superannuation payroll reports for you the ATO is going to get involved, and that’s not going to end well. What’s more likely is the company will suddenly grab cash from somewhere else and pay the superannuation, but then the cash for something else is no longer there… As Lizzano says, you can talk to FairWork, but basically if the company isn’t able to afford your superannuation it’s going to dump you at some point in the not wildly distant future owing wages as well. (And you may not know this, but the superannuation contribution legally goes up to 10.5% next month, it’s currently 10%)

      Find a new job with a more stable employer, and remember.. in Australia right now, it’s an employee’s market… so take a look around and see what else you can get. We’re BEGGING people to work for us at the moment in WA…

      1. Snuck*

        A script you could use to get your missing superannuation could be “Hrm, I was reconciling my superannuation accounts and trying to consolidate them, but the one you are meant to be paying into seems to not have received contributions recently – can you please get this up to date so I can then consolidate this account into another?” And send it via email so you have it in writing – even better don’t send it to the boss, send it to whomever does your payroll. It’s a normal ‘work request’ to do this, so it shouldn’t need ‘boss oversight’. Then if they don’t pay it you can send that email to the boss and say “Hey, can you sort this out please, I am on a clock and want to do this before June 15th so it’s all settled before the EOFY thanks”. And see if that works.

        If the boss says “Later” say “No, this financial year please, so I can reconcile my accounts”. And by golly job hunt like mad. If they haven’t paid it by the time you leave just ring FairWork and dob them in … don’t be kind, think of your coworkers in the same boat. (And remember: trading while insolvent is against the law too… so if it isn’t yet down the tubes, but soon will be, then you are just pulling out early, and helping possibly to protect your coworkers entitlements if you raise the alarm as you leave, so they might get paid out before the whole lot collapses.)

    3. Red flag warning*

      Adding to the chorus.

      If your company is not paying super on time it is a red, red flag warning that the business is not sustainable.

      Start asking questions about your super now.

    4. rubble*

      yep, came here to mention this, they have to pay into it at least every 3 months

      find a new job and report it to fairwork asap, OP. if the company has no money at all you probably won’t get what you’re owed, so don’t wait until it goes out of business, do it now. they (can’t remember if fairwork, ato or someone else, but a government agency) can get you your super money – my dad has had to go through the process before and the employer did eventually pay the right amount into his super. it took a few months and that was pre covid, which is why you should report it asap.

    5. My Dear Wormwood*

      Another Aussie saying GTFO now if they’re not paying your super. That is part of your wage, even if you can’t access it now. Don’t sink more time into a company that won’t pay what you’re owed.

    6. Ellie*

      Yes OP2, it is illegal not to pay you your superannuation. It is part of your salary, your company is stealing it from you, and this is not something you can ignore. If there were no other issues and this was a dream job, that one would still have me looking.

      1. EPLawyer*

        You need to talk to your boss very clearly that not paying the legally mandated taxes/fees is not acceptable.

        Your workplace is the perfect example of how a dysfunctional company warps your norms of what is normal. You are new, so you are still in the questioning stage — which is GOOD. Everyone else has been there so long that they think that is just the way things are.

        GET OUT. If the place is in financial trouble, it is not a place to stay. Unless it is your specific job to address the financial issues of the company, there is nothing you can do to change that. Don’t stay at a place that is circling the drain out of some sense of loyalty. All you will do is go down with the ship — and you have to look for a new job anyway . Might as well start now.

        1. Observer*

          Your workplace is the perfect example of how a dysfunctional company warps your norms of what is normal.

          100% Totally.

          GET OUT. If the place is in financial trouble, it is not a place to stay.

          Yes. But even if they aren’t paying for other reasons, it’s not a place to stay. Any time a company starts playing games with required payments, it’s a big flashing neon red sign that you need to GET OUT.

      2. Observer*

        The second a company stops paying LEGALLY MANDATED stuff – even if it’s two cents, it’s time to start looking like mad.

        But, yes, in the meantime talk to payroll and THEN talk to boss if that doesn’t work.

        The fact that the rest of your office doesn’t see this as out of the ordinary is not a good sign – it’s a sign of DEEP dysfunction. And it should tell you that you CANNOT take anything that these folks say as likely to be accurate.

      3. Not An Australian Accountant*

        +1 to everything everyone has said here.

        Australian superannuation must be paid at least quarterly, 28 days after the end of each quarter. If the 28th day falls on a weekend or public holiday then the deadline is the next working day.

        This deadline is the date that the money must be received by the super fund, not the day that it is paid, so a payment made on that date will be considered late. (There is an exception for using the ATO’s “Small Business Superannuation Clearing House”; basically if a company pays super through the ATO itself then payment is deemed to have occurred when sent, not received.)

        Failure to pay super is as serious as failure to pay salary, in terms of red flags. Financially it’s actually worse, because the ATO almost always imposes additional fines for being late. So if the business is failing to pay because they can’t afford it, they definitely won’t be able to afford the additional fines. (These are called SG Charges, for “Superannuation Guarantee”.) It’s even worse than that for the business because while super paid on time is tax deductible, fines for missed or late payments are not, so the financial impact is higher still.

        Missed or late payments also have to be notified to the ATO in a new form, so if the issue is that the boss can’t keep up with quarterly forms and payments, they are likely to fail this obligation also. This makes the ATO sad and they don’t ignore it.

        If your super is unpaid more than 28 days past the end of quarter, it’s time to be talking with someone. From your point of view as an employee a good roundup is available from the ATO themselves. Search on their website for “Unpaid super from your employer”. This walks you through the simple steps to check if there is an issue, and includes a link for reporting your employer.

        I urge you to do this. Not only is it a justice issue to pay workers what they are owed, but like almost every issue of failing to pay debts the sooner it is discovered and talked about the more options there are. If only one quarter has been missed and the boss voluntarily discloses, the ATO takes a pretty lenient view and will help the boss sort it out.

        Source: Australian company owner who accidentally didn’t pay themselves (no-one else) enough super on time and had to sort all this out via voluntary disclosure

      4. OnceBitten*

        I agree with all the comments about Aussie super.

        This happened to my son in a tech based start-up.
        First it was the super not paid. Then he found out the company had not been sending off his income tax payments, then that the worker’s comp payments had not been kept up. Probably their own tax and BAS too.
        Then they stopped paying him.

        He resigned.

        It took months and months to get this sorted out.

        They asked him to come back as a contractor, I’m so pleased he declined.

        That’s a whole flagpole full of red flags going on there for you.
        Leave now.

    7. JSPA*

      Right! this isn’t a “not right for you” it’s a “not paying legally-mandated fees.”

      The US equivalent would be, near as I can figure: “they’ve somewhow stopped paying the social security / disability, which should be impossible with our software; they must have tweaked something to treat me like an independent contractor despite having hired me as an employee.”

      If any company can’t a) pay minimum wage and b) pay required governmental fees, it’s not on a track towards failure, it is already in the act of failing.

      1. Erin*

        TY for the comparison of super annuation in Australia! I find the pay & benefit structures outside of what I’m familiar with (US policies) to be fascinating. I was just about to Google what super annuation in Australia is.

        Also, LW, start searching. This place does not sound pleasant or financially viable. The company isn’t even in compliance with the law.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        I work in the same area under U.S. law and while it’s actually easier to get away with not paying pension contributions or 401(k) matching, it is still illegal, and I 100% agree a very red red flag.

        1. Observer*

          Actually, in most cases a company has no legal obligation in the US to pay pension contributions or 401k matching, unless they have a written binding contract.

          Social Security, Disability insurance and Unemployment insurance ARE legally mandated.

      3. Marthooh*

        So many bad signs here! The bulleted list in the post made me think “that’s bad…and that makes it worse…that’s really bad…oh no, no, no, no, no…”

        Also re: “To my boss’ credit, he’s not underpaying on purpose, he really can’t afford to increase our salaries much.” No, this really isn’t to his credit, it’s just another bright red flag.

    8. WS*

      They need to be paying your superannuation and reporting it to the tax office or they are breaking the law. This isn’t so much a red flag as a screaming siren of “GET OUT NOW!”

    9. Office Gumby*

      Plus, if that money’s not going into your super, you’re not earning interest on it either. While you think that six months might not make that much of a difference, it really does. Compound interest is a beautiful thing, and you’re missing out.
      Have a talk with your boss, at the very least about the super. If it doesn’t get sorted out immediately, report this to FairWork, and maybe the ATO. Meanwhile, GTFO. There is no way this situation is going to get better. The only reason your fellow employees are not jumping ship is because they’ve adjusted to the toxic workplace this is, and these frogs might not realise the pot’s already boiling.

      1. My dear Wormwood*

        Yes, the sweet, sweet magic of compound interest is a major selling point of superannuation!

    10. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Can’t speak to the superannuation part as I’m in America – but financial problems with no end in sight are bad news. Start looking now so that hopefully you have a new job before the old place goes under due to those financial problems.

    11. Jonquil*

      I also came here to say this. The ATO website has information on how to check that you are being paid the right amount of super and where to report it if you aren’t.

  3. MK*

    #1, activities that include a tightrope(!) are not really about excluding people with disabilities, it’s about only including those who are both very athletic and probably have some kind of training. I don’t understand what the people who choose these events are thinking of, it’s as if they miss the point that this should be enjoyed by, if not everyone, the maximum number of people. And the same would apply if they were to choose, say, to take the team to a long poetry reading of the works of an obscure poet.

    1. Joan*

      I was just thinking, I don’t have a disability and I really doubt I could walk a tight rope. That’s hard! I mean maybe with a lot of practice, but geez, that’s a lot of work for a team-building exercise.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Not the point, but I wonder if they mean a slackline rather than a “real” tightrope? It’s not reasonable to expect all of your office workers to be able to walk a slackline either, but it’s more plausible as a thing for a generally athletic person with no disabilities to be able to do after a few tries.

        Balance is the one athletic talent I actually have (gymnastics-wise, as a kid if I could do it consistently on the floor then I could do it consistently on the beam, and my beam-limitations were all stuff I couldn’t do on the floor either) so I might be getting this wrong, but I see people slacklining at the local parks between trees fairly often so it seems like a thing that’s more generally accessible than full-on tightrope walking?

        None of this takes away from the fact that it’s not a reasonable “team building” activity for office workers since it’ll exclude people with a variety of disabilities that wouldn’t impact their actual work, though.

        1. KateM*

          I do hope it is something like in adventure trails where, yes, you are walking a rope, but you have at least one other rope to hold to!

        2. LW1*

          I’m not sure, it is a rope you walk across, tho in an online picture, it does appear they have something for you to hold on to as you cross.

          1. TheRain'sSmallHands*

            Which makes it easier, but not easy or possible for a lot of people.

            1. Rob aka Medaincat*

              Indeed. I’d try if I had to, but only then. Not something I’d do for fun or for work, either.

        3. Observer*

          Not the point, but I wonder if they mean a slackline rather than a “real” tightrope? It’s not reasonable to expect all of your office workers to be able to walk a slackline either, but it’s more plausible as a thing for a generally athletic person with no disabilities to be able to do after a few tries.

          Which still excludes people who are not “generally athletic”.

          I see people slacklining at the local parks between trees fairly often so it seems like a thing that’s more generally accessible than full-on tightrope walking

          That’s not really saying much, though. It’s akin to saying that “it’s more accessible that Olympic swimming.” It’s still something that excused a HUGE swath of people even before you get to invisible disabilities. So much so, that it’s not really worth the OP’s while to mention this as an option. And if the people in charge say that they actually mean slacklines, the argument remains unchanged.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        It’s definitely a skill. One that isn’t inherently earnt by being an adult! Wish more people could understand that.

        (I used to be able to do it, walk high catwalks with no railings etc. but these days with a walking stick it ain’t happening. Also my balance is a bit off)

      3. LIZZIE*

        Same. I’m old, kinda fat, with terrible eyesight, and not great depth perception or balance. so while I have no actual disability, there’s no way i could walk a tightrope!

      4. ScruffyInternHerder*

        I mean, I have an astigmatism that leaves me with questionable depth perception and it makes ropes courses pretty difficult for me. I’d like to think I’m reasonably fit and all, and I certainly would question why on earth this was selected.

      5. Autumn*

        I’m not disabled but I hate puzzles and the idea of an escape room makes my skin crawl. I’d call in, even if it meant a covid test as a result, even if I had to pay for that covid test.

        It’s not a team building exercise if people don’t want to do it.

        1. LW1*

          Before the pandemic hit, we did a team builder at an escape room. It wasn’t terrible but one coworker was oddly competitive and I am the opposite of competitive so that was uncomfortable. I also did one with a couple of friends and that was actually fun, tho not something I would choose.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            The trick is to be cheerfully indifferent about winning, congratulating your competitive colleague for his performance. If you can get it just right, it will annoy the heck out of him!

          2. Bluephone*

            Escape rooms are like Cards of Humanity: you need to make damn sure that you’re playing with a group of people who won’t make or weird (like by being super competitive)

        2. KRM*

          Same! I don’t like the kind of puzzle you get in an escape room, I don’t want to be trapped in a room with a deadline to solve it, and I especially do not want to be made to do physical challenge things in that environment. Hard pass. I wish OP’s planning people had put as much effort into picking an activity than they did making sure everyone could come on the specific date. And if they had a vote for the activity, I would hope that would make it OK for someone to say “hey that’s not my thing, but have a great time!”, or they’d have a gathering after for those who didn’t want/couldn’t attend the activity.

          1. oranges*

            All this. An escape room sounds like my literal nightmares, and physical challenges thrown in makes it a rock hard pass.

            Sign up to make/serve a meal together at a shelter or go paint some pottery.

            1. Raboot*

              I don’t think I’ve ever done a room that was actually locked – it’s just part of the conceit.

              Those activities you mention aren’t inherently better than a normal escape room with no physical barriers. Some people enjoy one more than the other. You can never find an activity that everyone will enjoy. This room is out because we should try to find activities that anyone can ATTEND but it’s ok if some people would rather pass on some of them in favor of others, assuming the activities are varied over time.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, this. Walking a tightrope is not an option for the majority of people…

      This would depend on the escape room, though, sometimes it’s enough for one member of the team to pass a challenge for the whole team to do so, and that’s how it should be. Teamwork is, after all, about everyone bringing their strengths to the team, not that everyone should be able to do exactly the same things. Even wheelchair-accessible escape rooms exist, so it looks like they picked the wrong venue for this team.

      1. Myrin*

        If I’m reading correctly, OP actually asked about exactly that and was told (by the escape roome staff) that “all participants have to do every challenge”, meaning every single person on the team will have to overcome every single obstacle.

          1. Lego Leia*

            I would eventually likely be able to make it across, but boy would the rest of the team get bored waiting as I panicked, froze, fell off and had to start again. Over and over again. Or, when my trick knee gave out.

        1. Antilles*

          Yeah, OP talked to the escape room staff and was told that everybody had to do every part of the challenge.
          To me, that seems like that would make it hard to do with any decent sized group of people – if even one person in the group has a physical disability or a fear of heights/falling or simply has unsteady footing, that would basically prevent the entire group from going.

          1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

            Oh God that’s terrible. I started crying once because they made us toss tennis balls over and over and we couldn’t drop them and my ability to work mask cracked under the pressure.

        2. Carrots*

          This can’t be true, though. Obviously the staff will need to follow along to ensure safety, so there has to be a route where someone can physically bypass the challenges. If it’s just that the team can’t “win” or something if someone sits out of a physical element, then that is total B.S. and non-inclusive.

          1. LW1*

            Yeah, very non-inclusive and the staff I spoke to was not pleased when I (politely) pointed it out and said it might be something to consider as they are apparently expanding.

            1. KRM*

              Yikes! I mean, I can see having one or two options where this is true, for groups that are really into that sort of thing. But to have no options is totally ridiculous. Maybe they want to be a niche market for people who like extreme things? But then your company shouldn’t be choosing them.
              I’d nope out with a “oh it was so nice of you to make sure you held the date for me but I really don’t like escape rooms, especially not with the activity component, so I’m going to pass”. And then repeat as needed.

              1. whingedrinking*

                Yup. Like, recently I went to an event where you had to complete challenges to get “coins” which you would then exchange for a drink at the bar. These were pretty minor things physically – chuck a beanbag, fire a Nerf gun, walk along a board several inches wide and a few inches off the ground – but they were still things that people with certain physical limitations would not be able to do. I had a blast, but it wouldn’t be a great team-building exercise, especially if it was compulsory.

          2. Belle of the Midwest*

            Not an escape room, but I was part of a facilitated retreat about a dozen years ago that included “team building” and there was an activity where we had to move boards but if we let them drop we had to start over or some such tommyrot. They were HEAVY boards, too. I had sciatica and a bit of tendonitis going on at the time and this was NOT doable. Our facilitator was one of those PE-teacher-type sadists who insisted we needed to keep going. I vaguely remember some of us just sat down and said, “we aren’t doing this anymore” and he gave up. We have not had physical activities as part of team-building since.

            1. Salymander*

              That sounds terrible and it is great that you all just sat down and refused to do anymore nonsensical activities.

              Also, +1000000 because you used the word tommyrot which is very funny to me for some reason :)))

        3. LW1*

          Yes, this is correct. Every single person has to participate and be successful at every challenge to proceed/win. No observers allowed.

          1. LPUK*

            Then I am really worried about the professionalism of this company, because it doesn’t sound like they’ve gone through any form of risk assessment – which is just asking for a lawsuit if anything goes wrong. Is your company large enough to have a Health and safety role? if so, one route might be to get them involved in carrying out a risk assessment on the escape room company because your company will have liability.

          2. doreen*

            I can understand the “no observers” if “observer” means someone who doesn’t participate at all – but I’ve never been to an escape room and I’m really confused about the idea that everyone has to be successful at every challenge to proceed/win. Is there another team you are competing against or is “winning” simply a matter of everyone succeeding at all the challenges? What happens if I repeatedly fail at walking the tightrope? – they can’t keep me locked in the room forever, so at some point they must let the group proceed. Or do they throw everyone out if one person can’t complete one challenge ?- which doesn’t sound like a great business model.

            1. LW1*

              There are 6 rooms and to advance to the next room, every participant has to complete the current room. You have unlimited chances. I think it would be more fun if you had x-amount of time to complete the room and you get points based on if you finish/your time to finish.

              1. Stevie*

                I actually enjoy puzzles and escape rooms, but only have done a couple because I don’t know enough people who also like escape rooms…

                And I’ve never had to do physical tasks like what you describe! If I *did* have to, I would not be a fan of escape rooms anymore. The tasks have been things like opening a secret drawer, solving cryptograms, etc. It also wasn’t a requirement that everyone solve the same puzzle and complete the same tasks.

                That escape room your company wants to take everyone to sounds like a horrible gym class.

                1. LW1*

                  I’ve done 2 escape rooms and they were both like the ones you describe, tho one did have a very steep, narrow staircase to climb that was kind of sketchy.

                2. Lydia*

                  This. The escape rooms I’ve been to have all had logic puzzles, literal things you have to put together, “look at this thing in just the right way,” figure out which series of numbers goes with which lock, etc. all mixed together so the majority of people can be good at one of them, at least. I’ve never had to physically break out or complete an obstacle course and I am unimpressed with this turn in escape rooms.

                3. an academic*

                  I have done 80+ escape rooms and haven’t done any like the one you’re describing, although my friend who’s done 800+ escape rooms has.

              2. LilPinkSock*

                In my experience, that’s usually how escape rooms go. You get a bunch of puzzles, you can spend forever on one, but your time slot is only about 60-90 minutes, so if you don’t finish, you don’t “win”. Never have I ever been to an escape room that was exclusively physical challenges and required 100% success from every participant.

          3. VI Guy*

            I think an easy way forward is for your employer to tell the escape-room people that not everyone has to do every station. If you have a problem with all the parts then it might be worth changing the activity, but if you can do most of them then it sounds like you could enjoy it if there were options.

            Your employer is paying for the escape room company to be a host, and can presumably pressure them into being more accommodating.

            1. LW1*

              I’m sure I could have done many portions of the activity but the staff I spoke to said it was not possible to sit out the activities I couldn’t safely do.

              1. Shirley Keeldar*

                But that’s…silly?

                I mean, I’m not doubting you at all, OP, I’m sure that’s what they said, but it’s obviously possible for you to just not do stuff. No law of physics is violated if you don’t get on a tightrope. They meant, “Our rules say that every team member must participate in every obstacle,” and your company/the client/the one paying money can say, “Hey, no, change the rules.” I’m sorry they’re bullying you, plus they’re being ridiculous.

                1. Carrots*

                  +1 A black hole won’t open and swallow Earth if one person sits out one of the physical challenges.

                2. Gennaria*

                  The point is that LW1 would have to be the one to make An Issue out of it, to the escape room staff, to her boss, to her co-workers, because the venue is not interested in being accommodating. This happens ALL THE TIME. It’s not silly, it’s discriminatory, and it’s not accidental.

              2. Mephyle*

                “Not possible” to sit out activities? What will they do if someone refuses – have them arrested? What will they do if someone attempts, but simply can’t complete an activity?

                1. Observer*

                  Not possible” to sit out activities? What will they do if someone refuses – have them arrested?

                  Probably act like a bunch of idiots and make a HUGE fuss.

                  What will they do if someone attempts, but simply can’t complete an activity?

                  Same. As well as insisting that you CAN do it, and when it turns out to be wrong, insist that the client acted in bad faith and “ban” them for being terrible, horrible, very bad, no good clients.

            2. Darsynia*

              I think the rooms might be connected to each other via the athleticism-required means, though, so that’s probably what they mean by ‘everyone must complete each objective.’ It’s entirely possible that you couldn’t go back through the course the other way if you weren’t able to do one of the physical challenges, though that would be so monumentally stupid as to be absurd.

              1. sarah*

                This is what I was imagining–everyone has to cross the tightrope cause it’s the only way to advance through the rooms. Which in addition to being hostile to many people is also so dangerous! What if someone has a medical emergency inside? Are they gonna have to walk across a tightrope to get out?

          4. justabot*

            This almost sounds like that Netflix show. Do they also eliminate people if they can’t complete a task? Geez.

            1. Lydia*

              It reminds me a bit of The Floor is Lava, which was a physical escape room and was very fun TO WATCH and I’m sure was a level of fun for the people participating, but it was all consensual and people who went on the show knew their limitations and wouldn’t be there otherwise.

          5. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            Is this a very dudebro culture? I noticed you said you’re the 2d oldest and only woman, which makes me wonder. Also, I’m empathetically furious at the people who run the escape room, because that is 100% a policy choice that could be changed in a heartbeat.

            1. LW1*

              Very dude bro! Notoriously dude bro, even. When I started half a dozen years ago there were zero female managers (out of 20 managers), now there are 2. It is a huge tech company and the culture is less than ideal but the money is great. I’m actively looking for another job but it is difficult to find time.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        I have participated in activity sort of like this for work training.

        The punchline is ….

        I was in the military! It was a military school. So everyone had to meet certain physical standards to be there.

        It seems like this kind of escape room to really cutting out a large customer base. As a general rule, American adults are not in great shape; even athletic people end up with injuries from doing activities. It may result in some frustrated customers and negative reviews. That’s a side note to the boss should not have selected this place if he wanted to be inclusive.

        1. FalsePositive*

          Yes — I did a ropes course plus puzzle challenge (like, everyone must pass through this rope net and you can’t reuse any of the spots)…in college…where it was fun for my college mates to lift me up and pass me through a rope hole. I do not want to be lifted and passed by my (very nice) coworkers unless there’s an emergency involved!

          The ropes course was fun, but again, we were in college. My fear of heights has definitely changed now.

          1. Me!*

            We did one too—at summer camp. Also rappelling. Yes, I’m afraid of heights. Yes, I had a panic attack at the top of the rappelling tower and had to be coaxed down the climbing side. Yes, I managed to do the actual rappelling off the actual cliff (and it was okay, except I ended up going through a tree). No, I would not do either again, especially not at work/with coworkers.

            1. EmmaPoet*

              I tried to rappel in college. Key word, tried. The instructor leading it very gently walked me back down and had me sit on the steps, because he was legitimately concerned I was going to pass out up there. That was the last time I tried.

          2. Helen B*

            We had someone set up team building at work once that included the ” everyone must pass through this rope net and you can’t reuse any of the spots” thing. I had already sprained an ankle in another badly planned exercise so I declined to participate. I didn’t trust my co workers to be able to pass me through rope holes without potentially dropping me to the concrete floor.

    3. MEH Squared*

      Yes. This is really only appropriate for a specific group of people, which is probably not your average group of coworkers.

      In addition, and this is just a personal thing, I would not be OK with being locked in room from which I could not escape. Even though I would logically know I’m not REALLY trapped, I don’t think my lizard brain would accept that rationalization.

      This kind of activity is really best left for social situations.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Yeah, I just flat Don’t Do anything where you can’t leave. Escape rooms are not a thing that works for me. If they called them “puzzle rooms” and you could always go back and leave through the entrance but had to solve puzzles to get to the “good” exit I’d be down, but I am not ok with even a pretend version of “can’t leave” and my panic reaction will start solving “exit the room” using my lizard brain and smashing skills, which is not the desired result nor a part of my personality I want to share at work.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Went to an escape room once for a work do. They advertised it as disabled accessible. Okay the physical stuff was, I’ll give them that. But there was no way out that we could figure quickly, no ‘here’s an exit that you can use to go to reception’ way out. I spent a lot of time non verbal trying desperately to hold off the meltdown.

          1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

            Oh god I’m so sorry you had to go through that! It sounds like a version of hell and I’m surprised the room didn’t have an option to let people leave in case of emergency (be that general, like a fire, or personal, like a panic attack).

            1. Zephy*

              I’ve done a couple of escape rooms and they’ve all had a way to contact a staff person outside, either with technology (like a walkie-talkie, or some sort of digital interface), or by just talking loudly at the door you entered through (because the staff person is standing right there). They all also had cameras everywhere, so the staff could see the participants at all times. Not saying there aren’t dodgy ones, I’m sure there are (or were – remember when you couldn’t hardly throw a rock without hitting an escape room? they were the cupcake shops of the 20-teens), but I think most of them don’t want you to start breaking shit so if you just say “hey actually we’re straight-up not having a good time right now, we’d like to leave please” they’ll open the door and let you out.

              1. Nynaeve*

                Yeah, the only one I’ve ever been to was at a place where they have 15 or so rooms that have the experiences in them periodically swapped out so you can keep going back. Every room there is equipped with closed circuit cameras and you can talk to your monitor at any time like you are in your car on the phone in “hands free” mode. You just talk to them and there are speakers where they can talk back to you. The doors have electronic locks, so you can’t just walk out of the room, but all you have to do is say “I’m done” and they unlock it and let you out.

                1. Rebecca1*

                  I’ve never been to an escape room that actually locked! Didn’t know they existed. I assumed it was a fire code thing.

          2. allathian*

            Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry this happened to you. Now that I think about it, it’s entirely possible that I’d get a touch of claustro as well.

            I really dislike riding an elevator, and my least favorite one would be a crowded scenic elevator. That might trigger my agoraphobia and my vertigo as well as my claustrophobia. Individually they’re mild to moderate, causing anxiety rather than panic, but I’m not sure I’d be able to avoid a meltdown if all of them got triggered at the same time.

            At a former job, the office was located on the top floor of a 7-storey building, and the old cage elevator felt so unsafe that I preferred to take the stairs rather than use it. I’ve never had such muscular calves before or since.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Weird thing is: I’m the opposite of claustrophobic (aside from the noise I find being in an MRI scanner actually relaxing) and there may have been some way to just leave but my brain just went into the ‘can’t get out, can’t get out, can’t leave, want to scream’ and nobody helped.

              I did manage to hold it together long enough for the team to figure out how to solve it (with no help from me sitting in the corner biting my lips bloody) but had the mother of all meltdowns in the car park later. It’s just like survival horror games to me and I don’t play those either.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                This is why I hate team building stuff with a passion. I am so very sorry this happened to you. I would freak out also. But I get antsy when I do not have my car in the parking lot at work (if I accepted a ride to work or whatever). I have this need to know I can leave. The sense of having no options does me in.
                I don’t see why employers aren’t getting sued over this crap.

          3. MusicWithRocksIn*

            Wow. I’ve done several in my area, a couple different companies, and every single time they were like ‘That is the door, you can go out the door at any time, bathroom is down the hall, but in order to ‘escape’ you need to do X” where X was like opening the safe or opening the second door in the second room or finding the key to the lock next to the door. I assumed it was for legal reasons, but maybe state laws? They have always really stressed you could get out at any time. One was even very particular that there weren’t any color coded puzzles in case anyone was colorblind.

            1. TheRain'sSmallHands*

              Yes, the ones I’ve been in have had two doors – the “locked” door that you need to escape from. And the “exit” door if you need to use the bathroom, need to get out (in one case they mentioned some people discover being in a “locked” room with a timer triggers panic attacks, come on out and sit in the lobby and wait for your team), as well as a way to contact the outside staff and cameras in the room so the outside staff could watch you.

              1. UKDancer*

                Yes. The one I did had a large imposing locked door that you had to unlock to progress and then a small unobtrusive side door that you used if you needed to leave to use the loo. Also cameras and an intercom in case you got stuck or needed something. I don’t think they’re allowed to lock you in and not let you out.

          4. Lego Leia*

            All of the ones I tried had a trigger word or button for help. It super helped when we solved a puzzle that was broken, so the next clue didn’t get triggered and we were stuck.

          5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            I wend to one with a bunch of friends. They thought they’d picked a room that would be physically and psychically ok for everyone (1980’s theme so bright and cheerful), but there was one activity that involved a closet and an old school answering machine that was a giant “NOPE” for one of the women because it brought up bad memories from Native boarding school. Luckily this place had a giant red button labeled “LET ME OUT OF HERE” so everything was OK.

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Based on past trauma, I would never enter an scape room even knowing there is an easy exit. The idea of being locked in a room makes it exciting for some people and a nightmare for others.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Yeah, never doing it again. I was cut out of my own car once and it seemed that can manifest years down the line.

          2. Snow Globe*

            I’ve done several escape rooms, and where I’ve been, they either don’t really lock the door, or there is a microphone that you can ask to be let out at any time. I don’t think it’s really legal to lock people in with no way out.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              Yeah, my husband did one as team building when i was extremely pregnant, so he asked beforehand if there was an “emergency” way out. They said to just ask loudly and wave, and also let him keep his phone on him in case I called.

          3. Lord Bravery*

            You’re not actually locked in, and the staff is typically watching you so that they can give clues if asked to. It’s just a shared fiction that you can’t leave unless you solve the puzzles.

            1. I Am Not a Lawyer*

              I think LifeBeforeCorona is saying that even as a shared fiction, it can be a traumatic experience for plenty of people.

              1. MEH Squared*

                This is what I was trying to say with comment upthread. I know it’s not real. I know I can leave at any time. I’m not sure my lizard brain would care. And, quite honestly, it’s not something I’d want to find out at work. Add to that the fact that everyone has to do every activity and there would be pressure not to let down the team….yeah, that would not be a good situation for me.

              2. LifeBeforeCorona*

                Yes, intellectually, you know that it’s not truly “locked” but the irrational mind doesn’t see that while you are in the actual physical space.

            2. an academic*

              There are also “outdoor” escape rooms that are more like puzzle hunts. You go from place to place, and you have to solve puzzles to know which place to go to advance the story.

        3. HigherEdAdminista*

          I want to echo this comment. I’m not especially claustrophobic, but there is something about the idea of not being able to leave the room at any time that makes me feel trapped. I don’t like it at all.

          This is why I hate these kind of work team building things. For me, an ideal team building is like having a lunch together or something. These kind of activities always feel awkward or exclusionary of someone or multiple someones.

        4. Sakuko*

          All the exit rooms I’ve been to where either not actually locked, or they had a panic button that would let you out immediately. I’m pretty sure actually locking a group into a room without emergency exit would violate the fire code and probably a few other things as well.

      2. Ellie*

        I’ve been to several escape rooms, and in none of them were we actually locked in – the entrance was just a door that we could walk out of at any time. It was a game, you find the clues, solve the mystery and then unlock the exit. But if you needed to leave or go to the bathroom, it wasn’t an issue (but the clock was still running)

        I’ve never been to one that had physical challenges though – I’m not sure how that would even work. I wonder if someone made a mistake, and thought it was just a normal escape room? Either way… OP, you probably don’t have to disclose your full disability. I’d pick an activity that’s particularly egregious and then claim a disability that’s particularly common (like the tight rope, and vertigo) and then say that you already checked that it was required by the room. If it was a mistake they’ll change the venue, and if it wasn’t, they’ll at least think twice before booking it again.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes same. I went to one with friends pre-Covid and the staff were very clear that if you wanted to leave there was a small discreet exit for anyone with an emergency or a need for the toilet. They explained that along with telling us the fire procedure at the start of the activity.

          One of my friends did the Crystal Maze as a team building activity in her company and there you could choose who did which activities. So the team didn’t choose the person with limited mobility to do the physical challenge (they picked the marathon runner). I’ve never seen one where everyone had to do all of the activities.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Oh man I loved watching the crystal maze. Not sure if I could do it, even the mental puzzles. Although if Richard O’Brian was still running it I’d change my mind…

            1. UKDancer*

              My friend said it was a lot of fun. Not Richard O’Brien running it but you had a guide who definitely tried to be a bit weird and modelled themselves on his style.

          2. Chas*

            I’m in the UK and the ones I’ve done have also had a door you can just open at any time by pressing the exit button, and this was always pointed out to us when the session began. (Came in handy one time when one of my friends wasn’t up to crawling out to the exit).

            It could be dependant on how good safety standards are in your area, though. I know when I first did one, my mother was worried because she’d seen the news about 5 poor girls in Poland who’d died when a fire broke out in their Escape room, so I can understand being wary about it.

        2. Nancy*

          The ones near me that have physical challenges have multiple rooms that are clearly labelled with level of difficulty and you can skip the ones you don’t want to do. No decent escape room is going to force someone to do something they cannot do.

          If it’s this type of escape room, an option for LW is to pair up with the people who prefer to focus on the mental challenges.

          1. LW1*

            I called the place of business (escape room obstacle course) and every person has to participate in every challenge and every person has to succeed to move on to the next level. They don’t allow observers.

            1. JSPA*

              That’s an accident waiting to happen. I would not want to be their insurance company.

      3. JSPA*

        People who have led an overall stress-free life in an overall functional body consistently underestimate how un-fun “random challenges” can & will be, to anyone who isn’t in that category.

        Plus, my dudes: much of your workforce experiences and overcomes more challenges by the time they walk in the door in the morning, every day, than you will be faced with in your “challenges are such fun” bonding session.

        When challenges are not optional, they’re not fun. When challeges are not rare / within one’s tolerance limits, they are also not fun.

        And if physical challenges are optional, but still a work-bonding thing–unless they’re one of a dozen things you do as bonding, in a year–they weed out people on the basis of life trauma or bodily misfunction, etc. and get them labeled (as sick and / or difficult and/or timid and/or anti-social and/or past their prime). Sidelining people by using the fun stuff is not as explicitly discriminatory as direct discrimination, but the end result is pretty comparable. Provably illegal? Rarely. Gross? Yes.

        One uption is putting in a strong word for multiple different such bonding options.

        But between Covid (still circulating, y’all, and I’m in an area where the intensive care is filling up again)…

        and the fact that even “make art” is prohibitive for people who have, say, carpal tunnel, or perceptual difficulties, or paint allergies (or whatever)…

        What about pushing the idea that a professional level of “bonding” is a natural outcome of working together in a supportive environment that fosters opportunites for communication–and that forced “bonding” by trying to be summer camp besties, is not even a desirable professional ideal?

        Bonding is for one’s chosen family and friends! Sharing adversity is personal! It’s not something you should be called upon to do with Frankie from Accounts Receivable. Furthermore, if you and Frankie do not already work efficiently and congenially, you need effective management, not shared bonding experiences.

        Again, my dudes: you cannot outsource your managerial skills to an escape room designer. That’s not a thing.

        1. LW1*

          You make such good points, but our company values team builders to the point we have money allocated for it every quarter. It wouldn’t do much good to boycott them in general, but I might try to reach out to our DEI people and talk to them.

          1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

            Absolutely reach out to DEI, HR, your boss, anyone who will listen. This needs to NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. It makes the person with the disability feel excluded and less-than, which is not the result you want from team-building.

            Organizers of team-building activities should be alive to the possibility that some team members may have invisible disabilities, and choose activities that will be fun and inclusive for everyone. I, for example, would really enjoy a team Scrabble tournament, but that would exclude anyone who is dealing with dyslexia.

            People doing team-building: Consider polling your team on which activities they would find most fun and meaningful.

          2. Parakeet*

            We had a group bonding thing a while back – optional and all virtual – where there was a set of little workshops (stuff like Intro to DnD or how to make your own clothing dyes) that had previously been proposed and voted on by staff, and people signed up for them (with the option to not participate in a given time slot, or to spend some or all of the slot in the “chill socializing” virtual breakout room). For workshops that required materials (e.g. dice for DnD), people who signed up for that workshop were mailed those in advance.

            I’m very skeptical of work team-building activities, but that was actually pretty nice and well-done, and I wonder if your company would consider trying a similar set-up. Not necessarily virtual since it sounds like your company isn’t remote, but the idea of being able to choose from activities throughout the day, one of which is simply a social space, or to opt out of given time slots.

          3. JSPA*

            y’know, making a slush fund so that any few people can, on a whim, do something that brings a smile to their faces and gets creativity flowing? That’d be a great use of the money.

            Spontaneous sushi, while sitting on, by, or near the sunny stone wall? That’s work-appropriate bonding.

            A selection of tennis balls and nerf balls, for people who think better while literally tossing things back and forth? That’s work-appropriate bonding.

            Designated sketch pads just for doodle sessions? Sure.

            I’m not saying, “you shall never escape a room, nor watch a whale together.”
            But the big ticket items are a big bummer, for people who have to opt out to stay safe.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It’s the type of thing that sets off panic attacks for me, being claustrophobic.

        One very bad memory at Disneyland, alone with the kids aged four and 18m. We tried the Alice in Wonderland labyrinth, and my son was petrified of the Queen of Hearts that came out of a bush screaming “off with your head”. I tried to leave via the entrance and an employee wouldn’t let us!! I wasn’t allowed to take the pushchair in, so I already had my daughter in my arms, and couldn’t carry my son as well. I ended up barring the route for a groupe of older teens, and telling them I’d give them a tip if they helped me out. So I told them it had to be that way, we’d come to dead ends with all the others, only one of them would have to carry my son quickly past the Queen of Hearts. Thankfully a young lad volunteered and made it into a great adventure for my son. But I was very angry that a mother with two young children was made to continue on an activity that none of them were enjoying. I have boycotted Disneyland ever since (not that they’ve noticed of course).

        1. allathian*

          Yeah. In first grade I was locked in the toilet for an hour before anyone missed me, and by that point I was in a full-blown panic. The school had to call my parents at work to come and get me. That made me avoid going to the bathroom at school until I started my period and had to go. I drank so little that I was probably dehydrated most of the time, but that’s the only way I could deal with it.

          When I was a student, the fast food place I worked at for a while had a storage room underground. It had several aisles of stuff, and once when I was in there alone the lights went out, and for some reason there was no emergency exit light. I was in a full-blown panic by the time they realized something was wrong and someone came to help me, and the shift manager sent me home because I wasn’t fit to work. The next day, they installed an emergency exit light. I had several weeks of nightmares about that, it was horrible.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Surely it was illegal to not have an emergency exit light? I dunno, I remember people complaining when they were installed in cinemas here in the 80s.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              Probably illegal not to have one at all… but if there’s never been a crisis, it might not be maintained, and if it isn’t maintained, it might not work in a crisis. That’s also discounting places that risk the chance there won’t be an inspector checking in on it, or decide they won’t bother until they get the first warning from one.

        2. LPUK*

          Getting flashbacks to the time my family took our 4 and 6 year olds on Tower of Terror – they both passed the height test so we thought it would be OK ( though I was nervous as I don’t like roller-coaster type rides. Well, they both had hysterics – I think it was from the twilight zone aspect of it rather than speed/height because they were completely blasé about all the other rides they’d been on, and my nephew said afterwards – ‘at least we didn’t die’ and there was not much we could do about it while the thing was going up and down and doors flying open. I was so focused on protecting my nephew that I didn’t even notice the ride!

        3. Observer*

          I tried to leave via the entrance and an employee wouldn’t let us!!

          And wouldn’t tell you how ELSE you could get out? What a colossal jerk AND idiot!

      5. DataGirl*

        Same. There’s nothing on Earth that would get me to do an escape room willingly. My anxiety would just NOT be ok with that. I know a lot of people think they are fun but for me the thought is terrifying, regardless of any physical barriers.

      6. Yorick*

        All the ones I’ve been to have not actually been locked. One company did lock the rooms, but there was a special button to unlock the door if you needed to leave. Others were so unlocked that you could pop out to the bathroom and then come back in without getting permission or having to do anything special. The objective is sometimes to unlock something, but it’s sometimes to figure out something (defuse a bomb or something)

    4. Not a circus clown*

      It could be ‘fun’ to go along with it and when it comes to the tightrope (or whatever it is), just stop. Explain you can’t do this, as you told manager, HR, people at the venue, etc. that you wouldn’t be able to do this but you had no choice but to come. Being stuck in an inescapable escape room with colleagues will team build like nothing else. Shrug shoulders and laugh a lot.

      1. Eyes Kiwami*

        At that point you might as well get stuck in an elevator with them and “team build” while you wait for the fire department to come rescue you. Fun!

        1. anone*

          Honestly sounds like a forgotten episode of The Office. Discount team-building exercise with Michael telling Dwight to deliberately rig the elevator to stop with everyone in it and disconnect the emergency call button. Michael underestimates his own panic response and tries to call it off once they’re stuck but Dwight says his sabotage is too powerful and they need to get out or die. It turns out the elevator is legitimately just broken and stuck in the normal way and there’s nothing wrong with the emergency button, which Jim uses to call for help. Afterwards there is team-building ice cream in the parking lot.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Yes, but recall what Dwight immediately does when in a stuck elevator.

        2. LoobyGongzhu*

          I actually had this happen on my first day in the back offices of a British High street bank. The girl who was showing me and the other new hire the ropes took us down to the clearing storage where all the cheques were stored for a couple of weeks before being sent to offsite storage and we all ended up trapped in the lift stuck between 2 floors for a couple of hours while the building and fire men got us out

      2. Sean*

        I’ve often wondered how some businesses rationalize the concept of mandatory fun.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I suspect the organiser wanted to do the activities and found a way to get the company to pay for it.

          1. LW1*

            We get x-amount of money per quarter per person for team builders. And, yes, the 2 employees organizing this team builder each picked something they wanted to do for us to vote on.

          2. LadyPomona*

            Yes, that sounds exactly right – whoever set this up is tin-eared enough to believe that “Because I want to do this, OF COURSE everyone else will enjoy it too!” Not exactly the mindset of a great manager…sigh!

        2. Soontoberetired*

          In the 90s physical activities team building was huge in my area I thought my boss would go for this specific as activity that included a zip line and camping other teams in my org was doing but didn’t. He preferred taking us to lunch. Thought all that crap finally went away. I did hear someone in our company thought it was all overpriced and it went away.

        3. Sally*

          They must not ever think about anyone but themselves and people just like them. Otherwise, it makes no sense.

          At my last company, we had a departmental fun activity of going – I don’t know what is called, but there were zip lines and other physical challenges, & the course was all up in trees. I had never done anything like that before, and I really enjoyed it. BUT – we had a clearly disabled person on our team, and there’s no way he could have participated. Also, I was probably the oldest woman there (I was mid-50s then), so I don’t know if our older staff felt uncomfortable or not, but it was clearly geared towards the younger employees.

          1. Zephy*

            A Girl Scout camp I went to in my youth had something like what you describe, they called it the “high ropes course.” Climbing wall and giant’s ladder to get up to the zip-lining platform, that sort of thing. All done with a climbing harness attached to safety ropes with someone on the ground to belay. There was also a “low” course with ground-based challenges, like some kind of balance beam involving a plank between two tree stumps? I don’t actually remember what the challenge was there, only that I broke the plank just like I knew I would, and I tried to politely decline to participate in this activity but was forced to. (Fat kid. Still a fat adult, but was double-to-nearly-triple the size of my troopmates at the time.)

        4. mandatory anon*

          I’m on a community building team called the Mandatory Fun Group. It was created during the pandemic to help find ways to keep everyone connected during lockdown. It’s actually kinda fun, but we work hard to be inclusive and respectful.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah this is what I did when it turned out that one activity involved learning to shoot at a firing range. I just said I wasn’t going to touch a rifle or gun or anything. I’m a pacifist, I’m not learning to use something that’s basically a killing machine. My boss teased me mercilessly and I just looked at him stony-faced.
        (Later, there was an activity where another manager chose my boss to be the butt of a cruel joke. That too was a totally inappropriate thing for a team building event, but I did enjoy seeing my boss with serious egg on his face, and judging from the laughter, I wasn’t the only one relishing it)

      4. Not So NewReader*

        I just wouldn’t show up. That is the surest way to not get roped into things that are beyond my scope. We talk about hills to die on, this would be my hill.

        1. Blue Glass*

          I would be really tempted to call in sick that morning. There is no way I could do a tightrope.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          Me three. “Oh dear, I don’t know what I have but it’s a cough…can’t come in today, sorry.”

          And yes, I’d die on that hill. To the point of any reasonable legal action.

    5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      yeah. I’m very fit, I have no disability, I do hard-core yoga and swim and cycle but cannot walk a tightrope to save my life because of vertigo. And an escape room could set off my claustrophobia too. Neither of these are bad enough to be considered disabilities (although my claustrophobia does prevent me from taking public transport underground, which severely limits my commuting possibilities and meant that my former boss could not force me to go to an office that was a 90-minute underground ride away), but they could trigger a panic attack. Probably not if I’m surrounded by cheerful colleagues, but I’m not prepared to put that to the test.
      This is a thing that a bunch of guys enjoy and thought why not do it together as a work thing, just like golfing and fishing at the boss’s country house. I agree that they need training on how to organise inclusive activities.

    6. Irish Teacher*

      I don’t have any disabilities but I have a massive fear of heights (as in I can’t go up or down ladders) and doubt I’d be able to manage a tightrope. From what the LW said, that activity sounds a bad choice for a lot of people – those with disabilities, with certain fears or phobias, possibly some elderly or even people with weight problems or people who are unfit might all struggle to take part.

    7. Lch*

      Also if this adventure place requires you to sign something saying you take responsibility for any injury, nope.

    8. LPUK*

      Yes I remenber being on a Leadership course where I had to abseil down a (small) cliff at night, cross a tightrope (with a safety rope) and finally scamper around the woods with other people trying to work out how to get water from a barrel without moving into a clearing where it stood…. I can safely say that not one of these situations has ever come up in my subsequent leadership career. handling sexual harassment complaints, coaching people with low self-awareness, defusing personality conflicts in the team etc, would all have been more useful role-plays in any form of leadership course

    9. LW1*

      LW1 here, you make a very good point here. Most people on my team are in their 20s, with a 3 in their 30s/40s but that activity (escape room obstacle course) did get the most votes.

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        But people SHOULD NOT ASSUME that because someone is young and healthy-appearing, that they will be able to do any activity.

        I once worked for a startup where everyone worked from home. The founder decided we would all get flown to the Rockies and go whitewater rafting together. What they didn’t know is that I am disabled (to the point of needing a wheelchair) and would have been completely miserable trying to attempt this. I made an excuse and started job-hunting.

    10. Amethystmoon*

      I’m just a regular person, but am sort of clumsy on a good day. There is no way I would ever be able to walk a tightrope without falling and messing up my back even more. It’s not only people with disabilities whom this type of activity includes. It would be anyone not an athlete, and almost certainly people who are neither young nor thin.

    11. LW1*

      A quick update: I spoke with my manager without naming my disability. He was very professional and said he was concerned about something like this when he looked up the activity (not sure why he didn’t veto it immediately). Without fanfare, he switched the activity to the second choice (hitting golf balls at a bar). This was fine, I hit a few and let a coworker have the rest of my hits but was able to chat. Of course the person who originally picked the obstacle course escape room was a bit cold to me for a couple of days (I doubt my manager told him, he probably guessed) but he seems back to normal today.

      1. Lord Bravery*

        Glad it worked out! That’s very silly of him to resent The change of activity; surely he can go with a group of friends instead!

        1. Reality.Bites*

          I think an Escape Room is something that non-enthusiasts do once. His friends may well have already reached their limit – and for a lot of people that limit will be zero.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            My daughter’s Girl Scout troop did one. She seemed to enjoy it, but has not indicated any desire to do it again. I sat in the lobby with the other parents, so my knowledge of what went on inside is second hand. It sounded at best mildly interesting. I can imagine going with a group of friends who wanted to do it, in much the same way as I might go bowling on a strictly social level.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        Thanks for the update and I’m glad it all worked out! (minus the escape room coworker being a bit chilly)

      3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        hooray for you for speaking up, and for your manager for being professional about it.

      4. Mr. Shark*

        Good news! I don’t see why they couldn’t have picked an escape room without the physical portion, which just does not make sense at all, for everyone to have to perform the physical part.

      5. MEH Squared*

        Congrats, LW1, on the positive outcome. I’m pleased that your manager was reasonable and quick to act once you brought it up. If the worst pushback is the one who suggested was a bit cold towards you for a few days, that’s a good result. I hope your company will think seriously about inclusivity issues in the future.

      6. GreyjoyGardens*

        Hooray! I’m glad it worked out well for you! And eff the escape room guy, what an inconsiderate jerk.

      7. Anon for This*

        So glad you spoke up and there was minimal downside. I have a balance disorder and tend to panic when I feel I can’t get out of where I’m at, so this would have been a total nonstarter for me.

        I hope that people reading here who are in the position to decide activities for a group or influence the decision makers will take note. There are activities that almost everyone can do and there is no reason why the planners can’t do a bit more research to find those in their area.

    12. CB212*

      This is also the worst thing for team building, because if one person can’t do it they ruin the victory for everyone – resulting in the OPPOSITE of bonding. I did a very low stakes escape room with a team years ago and still remember who was fantastic and who didn’t help at all; with a competitive group this can absolutely lead to scapegoating and ostracization. Grade school gym class all over again.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Heck, that reminds me of when I suggested to my class that if nobody got refered to the year head by any teacher for a week, we’d have chocolate and one of the students – probably, one of the more likely to get in trouble, tbh – pointed out that it wasn’t fair if everybody lost out because one person messed up so I changed it to anybody who didn’t get in trouble would get chocolate (and they all got it). Because they were right, one person messing up everybody’s reward WOULD have done the opposite of bonding as you said.

      2. JSPA*

        Hazing and indoctrination both masquerade as bonding, in ways that are omnipresent.

        What good is in-group bonding if you can’t exclude the “losers,” amirite?

        Crappy, crappy attitude.

    13. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      My question is what is up with this escape room company? Like… you absolutely can allow some of the people to move through the rooms without doing all the challenges – presumably your staff don’t have to walk a tightrope when going in to reset the room, after all. It wouldn’t even be legal to construct the room that way.

    14. Flann*

      Seriously. This “team-building=team sports” mentality is so unimaginative and so prevalent. I work in an aspect of the arts where new groups of people come together for relatively short, intensive periods, and I can’t tell you how often—across organizations, across the nation, across decades—the go-to team building activity for new groups has been softball. Never mind that softball is highly athletic and performatively athletic, difficult to participate in if you have any number of visible or invisible disabilities, and *always openly loathed* by at least half of the participants upon whom it is foisted. Those who love softball cannot accept that others do not love it. Ditto volleyball.

    15. Observer*

      activities that include a tightrope(!) are not really about excluding people with disabilities, it’s about only including those who are both very athletic and probably have some kind of training.

      Yes, this is HIGHLY exclusionary to a LOT of people, not just those with official disabilities.

      And the same would apply if they were to choose, say, to take the team to a long poetry reading of the works of an obscure poet.

      No, this is a LOT worse. Because the worst that can happen with a poetry reading (assuming appropriateness), is that someone is going to waste a couple of hours being extremely bored. Tightrope walking can very easily lead to people being seriously hurt.

    16. Esmeralda*

      It IS really about excluding people with disabilities. Even if it’s not on purpose.

      Sure, this is an activity that a lot of able bodied people can’t or don’t want to do.

      But for sure it excludes people with a number of different sorts of disabilities.

    17. quill*

      Sounds like a ropes course to me, which can be challenging even for those in optimal health, but does not necessarily require training. (You are clipped into a safety harness for tall / no handhold stuff, if you’re not clipped in there’s a rope to hang onto.)

  4. staceyizme*

    LW3- instead of controlling the patient, who presumably needs access to the facilities, why not see whether the ventilation could be improved? That seems more equitable and less likely to occasion complaints of discrimination. At least consult with a couple of contractors?

    1. Snuck*

      Another idea is to schedule the patient’s appointments at a different time of day if you can? People are usually fairly regular! After sitting through a SIX HOUR presentation on paediatric continence and learning an awful lot about the issues at hand… some salient facts could include: Light exercise can trigger a need to poop in largely sedentary people – coming to this appointment might be the most exercise this woman does in says? Also it could be a time of day thing? Or she might go for a coffee (bowel stimulant) before coming to the doctors and it might be triggering. Lots of TMI here, but if you can work out WHY it hits you might be able to dodge it. It could also be, sadly, that your toilet is much much nicer than hers and she’s holding it … if that’s the case there’s little you can do there.

      I agree with stacyizme … see if you can clean the air a bit? An air purifier (a good one, of a big size) will set you back a couple of hundred dollars but the surgery could/should pay for it as it will also clean COVID particles etc out of the air. Look into the Breville ones, they work a treat.

      Nasty as it sounds… an old school trick is to burn a match. It burns up some of the smell/seems to work. A candle might do similar (not sure if it’s the sulfer in the match, or the flame itself). Just do it discreetly.

      Move her appointments to the other half of hte day, by several hours… if you can.

      If you have a ‘more private toilet’ offer her use of that. It’s gross if she’s doing it in a staff only toilet, but at least you aren’t smelling it at your desk then? (I assume the toilet she’s using is the patient access one.)

      If she’s tying it up for a long while offer her the staff one instead, quietly “I just wanted to let you know if you’d like you can use our more private staff one, we really need to keep this main waiting room toilets for the people who need to do quick urine tests and very fast visits… let me show you where it is, and any time you come you can just let me know and I’ll let you back here to it.” – this lets her know you are aware of her need, but also highlights others use that room, and gives her an alternative.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        It seems like, absent a radically improved ventilation situation, the solution is going to have to be incremental.

        If adding more odors to an already smelly situation would compound the problem, unscented toilet spray (to attempt to block some of the smells from traveling out from underwater) could potentially help.

        It’s a medical facility, so OP3 might already be wearing a high quality mask, but if not, adding one for at least part of the day could diminish the smell.

        If adding a stronger smell would help, there’s the classic menthol-under-the-nose trick: take your favorite extremely minty goo and put a small amount on the upper lip to overwhelm the poop smell.

      2. Beany*

        “It could also be, sadly, that your toilet is much much nicer than hers and she’s holding it … if that’s the case there’s little you can do there.”

        I think that (substantially) changing the time of day for the appointment could have a big impact in that case.

        1. JSPA*

          before I got my digestive issues sorted, it was a six-to-eight-times-a-day thing for me. Walking, cycling or other rhythmic exercise could put everything on hold for a couple of hours or more, but…only until I stopped moving (and for maybe 5 or 10 minutes afterwards). However, her doctor, of all people, is someone who should be able to broach the subject, if it’s something that turns out to be as easily treated in her case. (or, well, it may not be! She’s not going to get major surgery for the sake of your nose.)

      3. Irish Teacher*

        Could also be an anxiety thing. If she is awaiting results of tests or just finds visiting doctors stressful, which a lot of people do, that could be causing it. Again, that would be a hard one to do anything about.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        Light exercise can trigger a need to poop in largely sedentary people.

        And dogs.

        I am fairly certain that this lady is using the facilities at home before heading out–this isn’t the sort of thing you leave to chance! Like the need hitting halfway there, or when someone else is in that bathroom and you have to wait. She’s doing the best she can, and it would be unconscionable for her medical providers(!!!) to deny her access to a toilet out of some weird belief in the benefits of just holding it another hour.

        1. Reality.Bites*

          Most people dislike using public bathrooms after all. And nothing about LW’s description of the aftermath makes it sound like a planned outing or special treat for the patient.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          Yeah, this is what I was thinking too.

          LW #3 was presenting the problem as if the need for a bathroom was 100% a controllable action that this patient was doing AT them. Vs the patient being a human being with a biological thing happening that required use of a bathroom.

          I’ve got a dear friend with Crohn’s disease, who, when she has to go she HAS to go and yeah, in spite of years of working with her medical team to manage that chronic condition she still frequently has to go at unexpected and/or inconvenient times.

          I’ve also got a dear friend who suffered nearly life-ending injuries from a car accident. She amazingly can still walk and talk and seems “normal” if you met her out in the world ie sitting in a waiting room. She also has metal rods and wires that have been holding her spine together for decades, scar tissue and nerve damage and things that impinge on other things internally which means that if she a) sits up in a car for 45 minutes (like on a ride to a doctor’s appointment) or b) is nervous about something (like for example an important doctor’s appointment about something potentially serious) or c) isn’t feeling well in general for whatever reason (something that might cause her to need to see a doctor) it can trigger a physical response that causes her to – out of the blue – need to use a toilet immediately, with great urgency and dramatic output.
          This isn’t something she enjoys, it’s incredibly stressful and debilitating when it happens (both in the moment and afterwards because it can take a couple of days for the lower half of her abdomen to get untriggered and return to normal and the process of rushing, dealing with it can trigger muscle spasms in her back, shoulders, neck, chest and pelvis which are incredibly painful) and it’s also something she has zero, ZERO conscious control over.

          The bathroom is there for patients to use. Not having a bathroom available is likely a) illlegal and b) isn’t going to be the fix you think it is because the patient’s need isn’t going to magically vanish, it will be just be expressed someplace that is not a bathroom. If there is a problem with odors, that’s a ventilation problem, not a Hey “Mrs Brown, going forward, please restrict your use of our facilities to #1” problem.

        3. Le Sigh*

          All of this. And if LW were to raise it with her, I wouldn’t be shocked if she either switched doctor’s offices or stopped going to the doc at all (meaning she’d not be getting care she needs). It’s likely to not only embarrass her, but make her feel unwelcome. People already deal with so much judgment within the medical community and it keeps them from getting care. I have had some docs and dentists make me feel like an inconvenience or problem (for other non-toilet-related reasons) and I have noped right out of there. Medical stuff is stressful enough and I don’t need a friggin doctor’s office — designed to support your medical needs — to add to that.

          1. TrainerGirl*

            Absolutely. I had my gallbladder removed when I was 24, and for about 10 years afterward, had a lot of digestive issues. I felt super embarrassed if I was out in public and I was struck with the sudden need to go to the bathroom, and I’m sure many people were grossed out. Luckily, I’ve discovered a few natural treatments and I’m able to manage it for the most part. I can’t imagine this woman is purposefully using your bathroom if she didn’t have to.

      5. LPUK*

        My father who is 82 and has ulcerative colitis and is post-stroke would be in the same boat – there is no regularity in his bowel movements – one a day for 3 days and then nothing at all for 4, so its not at all predictable; very little warning of when a bowel moment is coming; and the urge, when it comes is not always productive. We simply couldn’t plan his day around it! As this is in a doctor’s surgery, it’s likely that this woman may have similar issues, and as other commentators have said, its much easier to control the environment than to control the patient. I must admit I am a little bothered by this person’s lack of empathy or grace, particularly as they are the first contact in the surgery – there’s little chance that they are masking this contempt, and it’s the very last thing any patient needs – they are often all to aware of the issue and don’t need to be shamed for it!

        1. Canterlot*

          I had the same reaction. People have a lot of shame around bowel issues. Every year, many thousands of people die of colon cancer that was caught too late because they were too ashamed to mention symptoms to a doctor. People with inflammatory bowel disease not only have to restrict their lives around the logistics of toilet access, but also around the fear of other people’s unkind reactions. So having a medical profession on this public forum saying “old people poop is disgusting and everyone in the doctor’s office notices and hates you”? That’s really not good.

          OP, you are the first point of contact for people who might be deciding whether to bring up a concerning symptom with their doctor. You are seeing people who are worried, scared, sick, or in pain. Part of your job is to help remove some of the shame and stigma that keeps people from getting treatment. Please be kind and accepting. You will one day come to a point, through illness or age, when your body is not perfectly controlled and optimally functioning, nice smelling and pretty and continent. It is inevitable for all of us. Treat people as you would like to be treated when that day comes for you.

          1. whingedrinking*

            I was also astonished that the LW’s mind immediately flipped as a solution on “ban her from the bathroom”. It’s not like this woman is doing anything malicious – she’s using the facilities as intended. It’s unfortunate that it’s unpleasant for other people, but no, you can’t punish her for it.

          2. RNL*

            The wild unkindness and obtuseness of suggesting that an elderly person be banned from using the bathroom at a doctor’s office, of all places… And LW, what do you think would happen if she was banned from using the bathroom? It is far better for her to poop in the bathroom than to have an accident or miss her appointment, which are really the only two other options.

            Perhaps LW is unaware that many people risk fecal accidents if they cannot access bathroom facilities in a timely manner.

            And please don’t change her appointment time unless it’s a time that works for her. PLEASE don’t do so unilaterally. She’s an elderly person accessing medical care.

            1. Ailsa McNonagon*

              Hear hear. My elderly mother has gifted all of us sibs with a wild form of IBS, and she always goes to the toilet before she goes anywhere. On one occasion she was denied access to the toilet at a hospital appointment and the inevitable happened. The receptionist was just awful, mum was humiliated and refused to ever go back, and some poor housekeeper had to clean up biohazardous material.

        2. Gothic Bee*

          This is immediately where my mind went too. My grandfather (who passed a couple years ago) had similar issues due to prostate cancer. It was unavoidable and he was already seriously limiting what he was willing to do and where he was willing to go because he needed access to a restroom at a moment’s notice. It would be cruel to be in a similar situation and have a doctor’s office deny you access to a restroom.

        3. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

          I completely agree. Sometimes people have no choice-and my aged mother is one of them. There is a lack of empathy here that bothers me as well-I sincerely hope the LW doesn’t have to deal with this as they age. Also, an air filter machine can work wonders and also maybe some poo-pourri. But please be empathetic, LW-you never know if you or someone you love will have to deal with this issue sometime.

      6. abbyfick*

        “if you can work out WHY it hits you might be able to dodge it”

        Are you saying that LW should try to figure out why this patient is pooping? How might they go about doing that? It would be wildly inappropriate for them to ask about the private details of a person’s habits around their bowel movements. And considering LW’s bosses have apparently told them not to speak with the patient about the matter, this advice could also jeopardize their job.

        The sensible thing is to figure out how to make the bathroom/office better ventilated, not to police someone else’s poop schedule.

        1. Meow*

          Just wanted to pipe in and agree with this. It would be very strange and inappropriate for the OP to try to determine the “cause” or schedule of the patients pooping. Also, all doctor’s offices I’ve been to provide me with several different options for appointments and I choose what works for my schedule. Would this mean withholding potential appointment times for this women because she might poop during them? This seems wildly bizarre to me.

        2. Observer*

          Are you saying that LW should try to figure out why this patient is pooping? How might they go about doing that? It would be wildly inappropriate for them to ask about the private details of a person’s habits around their bowel movements

          Wildly inappropriate is right. Also gross.

          this advice could also jeopardize their job

          As it should! It’s the kind of thing that anyone who heard about it would be likely to decide that they are never coming to this doctor’s office.

      7. Observer*

        Or she might go for a coffee (bowel stimulant) before coming to the doctors and it might be triggering. Lots of TMI here, but if you can work out WHY it hits you might be able to dodge it. It could also be, sadly, that your toilet is much much nicer than hers and she’s holding it … if that’s the case there’s little you can do there.

        No, knowing the “trigger” is not going to help the OP “dodge” anything. I mean, what can the OP do? In most of the scenarios there really isn’t anything anyone can do anyway. And even in a case where the patient might be having something that triggers the need for a bowel movement, how do you think the OP is going to keep the patient from eating that food? Same for any other trigger. And that assumes that you can even find the trigger.

    2. nnn*

      That’s what I was thinking. The root problem is that ventilation is insufficient for the actual, real-life needs of the actual, real-life people who are actually using it. Which is particularly important in a medical office during an airborne pandemic! It should be taken to your landlord or property management or whomever is in charge of the building.

      Messaging-wise, perhaps you could report this as “The bathroom ventilation is inadequate and odours linger”, without mentioning that it’s one particular outlier patient. (From a pragmatic-to-a-fault perspective, if they send someone to check out these lingering odours, perhaps you could time things so they show up shortly after this patient has left? Quietly doing nothing to disabuse them of the notion that it’s like this all the time.)

      1. HVAC Engineer Here*

        All bathrooms (in the US) are required by code to have an exhaust fan. Take that to your landlord and push to have one installed.

        If you would like specifics on this, it’s in Chapter 4 of the International Mechanical Code. You can look up it up here:

        Once upon a time, bathrooms were permitted to be ‘ventilated’ by an operable window. This is no longer the case. The fact that there is a window means that this bathroom is on an exterior wall and installing a fan should not be complicated (unless you are in a high-rise).

        1. Artemesia*

          high rises including most office buildings rely on passive ventilation — there is supposed to be airflow but it is usually not possible to install a fan into that ventilation shaft or whatever. All buildings SHOULD have fans to ventilate bathrooms and kitchens but most taller older buildings including office buildings don’t and it is not possible to install them (and building rules usually forbid it)

          1. AnonToday*

            I live in a 6-story midrise apartment building. Code in my city requires ventilation fans in all bathrooms, and mine isn’t even on a switch (runs all the time).

        2. LW3*

          That is certainly interesting. I will check that out. We are in an old house converted into an office. Docs own the building.

      2. TeaLady*

        There is an inexpensive, temporary solution (about $10-15) I’ve heard works well – a product call Poopourri that a B/R user spritzes into the toilet bowl BEFORE using. Supposedly, it seals offending odors in the water long enough for them to be to be flushed away. Combined with a little sign about inadequate ventilation, this product should help a lot until a better vent is installed.

        1. gha473*

          I was thinking the same thing. And rather than leaving it up to the patient, the staff could spray the toilet right before the appointment time

        2. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

          Seriously, this is what Poo-Pourri was made for. It works remarkably well.

          Consider, too, that the pooper in question is probably acutely aware of what’s going on and embarrassed as hell about it. A bottle of the stuff on the back of the toilet allows her to deal with this concern quietly and discreetly.

      3. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Spoiler, I’d take a guess and say that the majority of commercial building ventilation is “inadequate” for actual, real-life needs. It gets cut to the bare minimum required during design and bidding in order to save costs. In addition to that, you can design it to meet standards, but nothing requires it to be operated to those standards (in most states, though that might be changing).

        It sure seems like adding a simple bathroom exhaust fan would be simple enough, especially if there’s an exterior wall. Getting it done right now might be a little interesting though, depending upon location (there’s a heavy demand for construction where I am, and yes, its the field I work in).

        At least in the USA, most doctor’s surgeries and medical office buildings are designed to not much more, if anything, than a commercial office building. If they don’t have certain types of anesthesia and/or overnight in-patients, they don’t have to be.

    3. Ellie*

      That’s what I was thinking – ask to have an exhaust fan installed in the bathroom, they are not expensive. Then buy a good quality diffuser that either removes the smell, or covers it up with peppermint or lemongrass (possibly two – one for in the bathroom, and one for your desk). You could also see if you can orient your desk to be further away from the bathroom, or see if she’s open to a later appointment time (but don’t push her if she isn’t – its not her fault and she has the right to see her doctor whenever they’re available).

      If that doesn’t work, you could look for a position outside the medical field? To a certain extent this is just part of life though.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Diffusers can trigger migraines in enough people I wouldn’t recommend them for a medical facility.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Yeah, adding smells to an already smelly situation doesn’t sound great for the rest of the patients. Better ventilation is an overall good for this patient’s situations and for everyone else, so it is a win:win

          1. aurora borealis*

            There are biological odor eliminators available, even on Amazon, that are unscented. They have been used in hospitals for years. They leave no perfume behind, but completely get rid of the odor.

      2. LPUK*

        Yup, this is what struck me – sick people gonna sick people – if you don’t like it, then find another job

      3. LW3*

        We are getting a diffuser for the office. I was concerned about the essential oils because they could cause issues for some people but this is one thing they were willing to provide as a solution.

        1. Anon for this one*

          So your “solution” is to knowingly give people migraines so you don’t have to smell something unpleasant once a month?

          1. Batgirl*

            That seems like a strange conclusion given OP is concerned about that solution and is here shopping for alternatives.

            1. Anon for this one*

              That was a plural “you” – you-the-office rather than you-the-OP.

          2. LW3*

            This was not my suggestion or solution but my employers. My #1 solution is to install an exhaust system but they come up with ordering a diffuser as a solution despite the fact that it may cause issues such as migraines. We also have smells in the office from other people almost on a daily basis (stinky and perfumes, and essential oils as well) Definitely need ventilation and air purifiers – would be better than a diffuser.

        2. MEH Squared*

          You are right to be concerned. I’m allergic to just about everything on earth (including all air freshener products) and this would not be acceptable to me. I can deal with poop smell; I cannot deal with essential oils/air fresheners/etc.

          1. AnonToday*

            Same here. Poop smells gross but it doesn’t give me migraines and scented products do.

        3. Molly the cat*

          Please consider getting poo-pourri (which prevents the smell from leaving the bowl) instead of an “air freshener” that just tries to cover up the scent. Similar price point, actually solves the problem, won’t cause issues for people with scent sensitivities.

      4. Artemesia*

        It is almost certainly not possible to add an exhaust fan in an office buildings ventilation system. Maybe — if they can use the window — but most office buildings are not able to accommodate fans in the design of their airflow. Someone adding a fan would mess up the airflow for everyone else. It certainly can’t be done by this practice, but would have to be done by the landlord.

        1. Nesprin*

          There’s portable fans that fit in a window and plug into a standard outlet. This is 100% solvable without disrupting drywall.

          1. L'étrangere*

            That’s what I thought of first. And let me add that the fan needs not be a permanent installation, but simply plugged in on days when the problematic patient is expected. Add a bit of specific odor control (a nice candle lit before their arrival time? a spritz of febreze afterwards?) and likely things would get much more tolerable. There is no call to aim for major architectural modifications (or permanent chemical dousing of everyone, in a medical office!) for an infrequent problem at perfectly predictable times

          2. fposte*

            Genuinely, not a single bathroom I’ve used at multiple medical facilities in the last decade has a window. I would guess that bathroom windows are discouraged in contemporary medical design.

            1. fposte*

              Oh, sounds like this one does have a window, so never mind. It’s funny, until you mentioned it I never realized how windowless all my medical bathrooms are!

    4. Madame Arcati*

      The OP says there’s a window though so how can the ventilation be inadequate? Can they not open it – just before the patient arrives, assuming that’s by appointment? Or afterwards (dab of Vicks vapo rub inside a disposable mask will get you to the window unscathed). I know this makes the bathroom chilly in winter weather but it shouldn’t take long to air out before you can close it.
      Other than that – if the bosses are happy to buy products then choose thoughtfully. There are sprays you can put down the loo beforehand that form a barrier layer (here it’s called Poo Pourri which I think sounds awful but if it works…) An odour neutralising spray would be better than a “mask it with flowers” type. And as a finishing touch, a scented diffuser in reception might see off the last vestiges of the issue and be pleasant in general.
      All in all though I don’t think this is about bosses avoiding discrimination so much as them not being mean. Even if there were no rules about it, it wouldn’t be a nice way to treat someone, especially in a caring profession, to ban them from a loo provided for their use and which they clearly need.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        And a high-powered portable fan could help speed up the air recirculation process tremendously, combined with the window.

        1. DataGirl*

          This is what I was thinking- keep a fan in a corner of the bathroom, pointed towards the window, turn it on and open the window before she arrives.

              1. wine dude*

                If running it constantly is not practical put it on a remote switch so you can pop it on as needed. Good luck!

              2. VP*

                If your weirdly anti-ventilation employers don’t want a fan to be permanently placed in the window for some reason, I have a portable setup in my kitchen window that you might not even have to get permission for: it’s just a basic little $12 box fan that I keep in the cupboard and pull out only when I need it. I wedge it between the sill and the bottom of the window opening to hold it in place, facing toward the outside so it pulls air out rather than in, and just run it for 20 minutes or so anytime I’ve burned something or cooked bacon. It works surprisingly well (and definitely way better than nothing)! Your bosses might not even need to know about it if you store it somewhere discreet.

                1. Jules the 3rd*

                  This is the best if you are allowed to do it. Start it 30 minutes before her appointment.

                2. LW3*

                  Your description of my employer…..”weirdly anti-ventilation employers” is “weirdly” accurate! ;) – thank you for the suggestion!

        2. Clorinda*

          Some windows don’t open at all; some climates are not conducive to year-round window opening, even for a few minutes. This is a buildings and maintenance issue: ventilation is inadequate for the purpose. Focus on that, not on one particular patient or on when and whether the window can be open.

      2. Beany*

        Unless there’s something forcing airflow through the window, it may not be enough. Essentially, it’s adding another “room” (the outside world) for the smell to slowly diffuse into. Now if a fan unit (like a mini AC unit) can be installed in the window space, that could help.

        1. Artemesia*

          Might be better off buying an air filter unit for the bathroom itself and adding poo pouri is a good idea. The note to visitors can just cite the terrible ventilation and ask them to use it. This is also a situation where a courtesy flush is called for but it is harder to suggest that — although perhaps on a note about the poo pouri, it could be added.

      3. Cookie*

        Scented diffusers in the reception area is the reason I quit going to a favorite massage therapist. One person’s “pleasant” is another person’s migraine. Bad choice for a medical office.

        1. Artemesia*

          Perhaps get the poo pouri and then when it is time for her appointment, you zip into the bathroom and spray it in the toilet and stick it back in your desk. Not 100%, but if you preceded her with it 80% of the time that would be good.

          1. jane*

            I wouldn’t spray a scented product in a doctor’s office that the doctors/managers/People in Charge have already said no to !!! A lot of people have scent intolerances

        2. Flann*

          A) Apologies, I suggested poo-pourri elsewhere before I saw this.

          B) Poo-pourri uses very diluted essential oil, and it flushes down the toilet, so there is very little scent left. Note that what makes it works is the weight of the oil, not the scent, so you could probably use the diy recipe I provided with an unscented oil such as almond or coconut or even olive or canola and it would still work.

        3. Batgirl*

          It’s the scent-migraine issue. Poo pouri has some stuff in it that kicks off people I know.

          1. Flann*

            NOT. IF YOU MAKE IT. YOURSELF. WITH. UNSCENTED OIL. Poo-pourri has water, rubbing alcohol and oil. It will probably work with unscented oil, as I JUST WROTE. I already provided a DIY link, but here it is again:

            1 tsp rubbing alcohol
            30-40 drops oil—almond, coconut, canola are all unscented varieties that might work
            3 oz water

            Double/triple/ quadruple depending on your spray bottle. Add to bottle. Shake.

            If you know people whose migraines are triggered by water, diluted rubbing alcohol, or diluted unscented oil, please, alert the media, as they are medical wonders.

            1. Annie*

              It’s not at all weird that someone’s allergy could be triggered by contact with things like oils, however unscented. For instance, nut allergies are pretty common.

      4. Anon for this one*

        No, a scented diffuser will not be “pleasant in general”. It will be pleasant for some, annoying for some, and migraine-inducing in others.

        1. Nesprin*

          Or allergy inducing in others. I would have to change doctors if they started using a scent diffuser.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Exhaust fans can be wired into the lights. When a person turns the light on, the exhaust fan starts up. I think there are also things on motion detectors such as fragrance dispensers.

      My friend was talking about a product that he saw advertised which even removes skunk smell in a very short time. Maybe OP can google and find something like that.

      I really don’t get it though, a smelly bowel can be an indicator of something going on inside the body. It sounds like this person has a major thing going on. And the doctor can’t talk about that??? Really? I am not impressed.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        We don’t know that the doctor hasn’t discussed medical causes with this lady. Either way, it doesn’t seem like information the doctor should be sharing with op.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        The doctor may well be aware of her issue. I doubt he is saying “I can’t find out if there is a medical issue.” I suspect he means, “I cannot tell her to go at home before coming out” with the possible subtext of “I know the medical condition that is causing this and it is something she cannot do anything about and I am not going to emphasise the impact it has on others; she is already embarrassed about that.”

      3. Ryan*

        It would be a violation of doctor patient confidentiality to discuss any medical concerns with the receptionist. Doctor is absolutely correct that they cannot talk about it!

      4. RagingADHD*

        Would you be “impressed” if your doctor gave the receptionist a detailed analysis of your medical history? Of course they can’t talk about it.

      5. Regular Reader*

        If there is already an exhaust fan then a more powerful fan will probably fit the installation point without much hassle. Some fans also come with timers so even if they are connected to the lights the fan continues to run for a set amount of time.

      6. Unaccountably*

        Why are you “not impressed” that the doctor isn’t discussing his patient’s private, possibly embarrassing bowel issues with the receptionist? Would you be more impressed by a doctor gossiping about your medical issues to people who complain that you smell bad?

      7. LW3*

        The doctor isn’t discussing any personal information with me. I just inquired if they would possibly be able and willing to discuss the situation with her in a sensitive manner and out of concern. But they aren’t comfortable with that – only if she brings it up herself asking them for help. Which I understand.

      8. Not So NewReader*

        I read it as the doctor refused to discuss it with the patient. As far as discussing it with OP the doc could simply work on finding ways to change something- fan-air freshener or whatever in the bathroom. ( Or he could direct someone to work on it. It seems like none of that happened.)

        My thought is if he was discussing it with the patient he could just say, “I heard your message just now.” Fine, over and done.

    6. Santiago*

      Good answer. In my experience carrying for elderly family members, sometimes the elderly already sensitive to this matter, so please make your (@ OP) elderly patron feel worse! She’s probably just doing the best she can.

      1. Rose*


        I can’t imagine how she could do any better. Most people are going to do their best not to take a really smelly poop in a public area. The odds that she could change this and is choosing not to are very low.

    7. snappity*

      If the ventilation is that poor for odor, and considering all that we have learned about ventilation and covid/ virus transmission, it seems like it’s an issue beyond the monthly smelly pooper. If there is a window it should be straightforward to run a fan that vents to the outside, and add a hepa air filter for the benefit of all patients. (If anyone farts near our home air filters they go into the red zone and fire up – no one gets away with silent gas if you are near it!)

    8. LW3*

      This was my first request to my bosses – they said NO to adding a ventilation not sure why but assuming it’s due to cost, time, and inconvenience. But I may try to discuss again.

      1. Elaine Benes*

        I think you might need to strategically get sick one morning just before she arrives- you go outside to get some air, recover from dizziness etc, while your boss is forced to fill in for you and experience it for themselves. That might give them a bit more desire to add actual ventilation!

      2. staceyizme*

        Your bosses said “no” to improved ventilation in a bathroom during Covid-19 times? That seems, at best, ill considered.

        1. Artemesia*

          Does the boss own the building? Those leasing offices usually can’t do renovations.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          My thought is that right now, in this employment market and given what I’ve seen in just about every medical practice I’ve had contact with over the last 2 years, it might be worth it to consider other employment.

          Not because of this patient, or the smell, but because the “bosses” of this medical practice consider “adequate ventilation of facilities during a pandemic of a potentially debilitating or deadly highly transmissible airborne spreading virus” to be a low priority, something they don’t need to address.

          1. Observer*

            Not because of this patient, or the smell, but because the “bosses” of this medical practice consider “adequate ventilation of facilities during a pandemic of a potentially debilitating or deadly highly transmissible airborne spreading virus” to be a low priority, something they don’t need to address.


            And it’s not just Covid. One of best measures that can be taken to reduce the spread of airborne disease is good ventilation. This is ridiculous.

      3. Marionthelibrarian*

        LW3 there are hospital grade odor eliminators that are unscented and work great. (Medichoice is one brand) I have friends who are ICU nurses frequently dealing with strong odors (including C Diff) and the hospital puts the spray in all rooms.

      4. Observer*

        they said NO to adding a ventilation not sure why but assuming it’s due to cost, time, and inconvenience.

        Unless they have a VERY good reason for that, I would think about what that says about your employers.

    9. Jules the 3rd*

      On mornings she’s scheduled, can you put a fan in the window, pointing outwards? Turn it on 30 minutes before her appointment and then leave it for a while? If it’s on when she comes in, she should assume it’s just A New Thing, and not aimed at her.

      Good luck, we understand it’s a serious problem for you, and hope it can be reduced.

    10. Nesprin*

      This one is easy to solve! There’s extractor fans that fit in bathroom size windows- they’re like 20$ on amazon. That and a scent thing will fix this problem without embarrassing/discriminating against your patient

    11. Like Raccoons*

      How about an odor eater? That’s what we have in our office bathrooms. They don’t have their own scent, but by some magic of activated charcoal they can cut down on smells.

      Or, there are some Fabreze type options (sprays), that neutralize odors but don’t leave any scents behind. We had one for a shared space where one person was a smoker, and another was scent sensitive.

    12. Kate*

      There’s a window in the bathroom!

      Get a window insert fan that either can switch directions, or if it’s uni-directional place it so that it blows the air OUT.

      As you know when she’s coming in, turn the fan on before she arrives. It will pull the air from the room and vent it outdoors rather than into the office.

    13. Jaina Solo*

      Two words–coffee beans!
      Seriously, cannot tell you how much coffee beans eat up the odor. You can get cheap, plain ones (without additional flavoring) and keep them in a sealed bag in your desk. Then before/after/both the patient’s visit, put a handful or two of the beans in the trashcan or in a decorative item in the bathroom. I used to keep a coffee mug on my desk and every so often throw out my stale coffee beans and add fresh ones. You don’t need more than a handful or two at a time so a single bag is good for a few months.

      Once, someone threw out something strong in our breakroom trash. I grabbed whatever coffee beans were on my desk and threw them in the trash can–the odor was pretty much gone.

  5. Coffeecoffeecoffee*

    #3, can your office schedule this patient’s visits at the end of the day?

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        This is a terrible idea, and if I ever found out a medical office was scheduling appointments based around staffers opinions of a patient’s hygiene, rather than the patient’s convenience, I’d go off the handle. It wouldn’t even have to be my appointments – I’d literally be setting up pickets outside your office over it.

        You exist to serve your patients, not the other way around. Find a solution which does not impede with your patient’s life.

        1. LW3*

          I think it is ok to offer the end of day time to the patient and fingers crossed they take it. But I do agree that if that time doesn’t work for them then yes for sure schedule them when it’s a time that works for their schedule.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I think you’re flirting with an ethics issue either way. I agree with Cthulhu’s Librarian.

        2. Coffeecoffeecoffee*

          It was a suggestion. I did not say “schedule her appointments at the end of the day and if she doesn’t agree fire her as a patient.”

  6. The Lexus Lawyer*

    Missed opportunity to put OP3 in Number 2.

    But yes, Alison is right. You can’t bar people from using the restroom. The doctors offered reasonable accommodations like sprays, candles, diffusers.

    Your other recourse would be to start job searching and plan your exit. Sorry.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      The one thing that occurs to me is putting a fan in the window, venting the air to outside even when the door is closed.

      1. Madame Arcati*

        Or opening the said window?
        I am genuinely confused by several comments about fans, vents and inadequate ventilation. Did I miss the OP saying the window is nailed shut or something?

        1. AcademiaNut*

          If the smell is lingering over an hour, it’s obviously not providing enough ventilation to quickly refresh the air. It’s a washroom, so any window is going to have to be positioned high enough so that people can’t look through it, and to get a cross draft you’d need to leave the door open. Even then, if the breeze is blowing the wrong way, the smelly air will blow back into the main room. A fan in the window will draw the air from the bathroom and send it outside.

          I do something similar at night during the summer. With the bedroom door closed and the window open, there’s no breeze. With the door open and wind from outside in the right direction, there can be a cross-draft, but with a fan to pull the air in from outside, I get the nice cool air into the room.

          1. Avril Ludgateau*

            Good observation about the lack of a draft. The staff may well be closing the door to the bathroom to keep the smell from polluting the rest of the office (or the door may close automatically). The problem with that is that the smelly air is now trapped in the bathroom and nothing is circulating it. That’s why it is lingering so long. It’s not that this patient has some uniquely, superhumanly toxic excrement. Intensity and perceived noxiousness of odor can certainly vary by individual (especially if a medical condition is indeed responsible), but it shouldn’t have any impact on how long the smell stays.

        2. L.H. Puttgrass*

          There are many places where the weather can make opening a window a last-resort measure. Fans work whether it’s 10 degrees outside or 110.

        3. Irish Teacher*

          I assumed they’d already opened the window but that it didn’t give sufficient ventilation. I was assuming one of those tiny windows bathrooms usually have that only open a little way.

        4. lunchtime caller*

          Honestly I feel the same, if I can manage to clear the air in my home within minutes after my cats drop the smelliest bomb known to man, I think this receptionist can get a little more proactive

    2. John Smith*

      I agree, but possibly not for the same reason. I think the LW needs to show some empathy here. Complaining about something like this in a medical setting is like a teacher complaining about noise kids make on a playground.

      There are some very good industrial strength deodorisers available that should help, but in the absence of any solution I can’t help wonder whether the LW working in a medical environment, with all that brings, is suitable.

      1. PartialToPort*

        The lady comes in about once a month, the problem lasts for about an hour. That’s 12 hours out of a whole year at work. That doesn’t sound intolerable.

        At least not compared to monitoring an old lady’s bathroom habits and considering any path that could upset or embarrass her. A doctor who “spoke to” a patient about something like this would likely never see that patient again.

        This honestly doesn’t seem worth the mental energy LW is putting into it. Leave the poor lady alone.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          Yeah, the only time it makes sense for a doctor to “speak to” a patient about the smells they’re leaving in the bathroom is if it is a new clue to possible health issues/treatment paths to pursue related to whyever they’re seeing the doctor in the first place, and even then you’d want to bring it up gently. Something like “If you’re also having [description of bowel issues, noting possible smells if useful], then we might want to test for [condition] given your other symptoms” would be about the limit.

        2. GammaGirl1908*

          This honestly doesn’t seem worth the mental energy LW is putting into it.
          This. I have very little patience with people who are upset at any faint evidence that other humans ever eliminate waste, even in the places they are expected to do so. I personally live for a good courtesy flush, but the fact is that bathrooms, even yours, are the appropriate place to do a number of very smelly things, and you can’t stop it, or expect that others have the same norms around hiding any smells or noise or actions or trash or whatever. I do know this is very unpleasant for LW, but trying to ban an elderly woman from using the facilities once a month is just not even an okay thought process. Add a fan in the window, get a true exhaust fan, light a match, or whatever, but LW does need to adjust their expectations about how much control they can have other other people’s bathroom habits, even the smelly ones.

          1. AnonaLlama*

            I have very little patience with people who are upset at any faint evidence that other humans ever eliminate waste, even in the places they are expected to do so.
            THANK YOU. I actually get pretty angry when people complain about bathroom smells. Like, that is where people are supposed to do that with their human bodies. I am a rather healthy person and I certainly can’t 100% predict the timing of my bowels and have relieved them in public restrooms, countless times because….IT IS A BATHROOM!

            OP- seriously, you are in healthcare. In many healthcare settings you’d be dealing with poop smells that are not even originating from a bathroom. Are you sure this is the work setting for you?

            1. Medical Professional*

              Dealing with bad smells is part of the day-to-day of working in a medical office. The smells that come from diabetic foot ulcers, gangrene (surprisingly common), vomit, halitosis, body odor, and yes, lower GI disorders, are fairly common. They may not often reach the reception desk, but everyone in the office should expect them to occur. These patients require empathy, not disciplinary action for medical conditions that many cannot control.

              1. Me!*

                Or even a regular office. At Exjob, someone would come into the bathroom regularly and leave a smelly poo. I assumed she had IBS or something and couldn’t help it. No one ever complained or said anything. We had air fresheners and spray.

          2. anonymous stinker*

            I have a medical issue that means sometimes I urgently need to go and it smells worse than “normal”. One trigger can be a car ride — I don’t know why, but I suspect the vibrations — and especially if it’s earlier in the morning than when I usually start my day. So one time I had to go at the dentist’s office right after I got there, I courtesy flushed AND used the (unscented, but does a decent job getting rid of the odors) spray I keep in my bag, but the commotion the front desk people made afterward…well, I was just happy they blamed it on the diaper someone changed in there right before I went in, because it was SUPER embarrassing. Now every time I have to go back I do everything I can not to have to repeat that experience.

            1. pancakes*

              I’m not sure I’d go back to a dentist’s office where the staff are so juvenile. Making a commotion in a settling like that because there are bathroom smells in the bathroom is childish and crass.

            2. Anon for this*

              I came here to say basically the same. I had my gallbladder out recently and now even with fiber supplements at least once a day I have to go urgently and it smells terrible. I hate it and I have no doubt the people who sometimes have to smell it hate it but it’s not something I can control. I would be mortified if my doctors office (the one place I would expect to understand) made me feel bad for it. Get some spray, install a vent and/or suck it up.

          3. staceyizme*

            Oh! “Courtesy flush”! Maybe an auto-flush would help? (Probably not, but maybe?)

          4. Skytext*

            Exactly! Remember the letter from the person whose boss came unglued because when they stopped to use a rest area, someone had the gall to fart in the toilet stall?

        3. Meow*

          I am sympathetic that this is a real issue since I have days when I am sensitive to smells and an odor like that would make me physically ill. Not to mention it can’t be great customer service for the people in the waiting room either.

          But this is not a problem with a particular patient, it is a problem with having a poorly ventilated bathroom in a shared public area. Even if this poor lady is the worst case, I doubt she’s the only case of someone stinking up this bathroom. Either you fix the ventilation in the bathroom, or reserve that bathroom for urine tests and direct *everyone* (not just this patient) to a different bathroom for personal business. Or just suck it up and deal with smells all the old fashioned ways.

      2. Scarlet2*

        Yeah, this jumped out at me too. I’m sure it must be very unpleasant for LW, but… asking doctors to talk to an elderly patient about her smelly bathroom habits, and even trying to ban her from using the facilities? That doesn’t sit well with me at all.
        If there’s one thing people can’t control, it’s when they go to the toilet and how smelly it is.

        1. Pennyworth*

          The old remedy for smelly bathrooms is to light a match. Or several. I’ve visited homes with unventilated bathrooms where there was a box of matches on a saucer as a hint to users. It works! The match will flare initially as it consumes some of the odor causing gas, but will not cause a cartoon-like explosion. Make sure to run the used match/es under water before adding to the trash.

        2. UKDancer*

          Yes. People do what they have to do. It’s a part of life and there’s not a vast amount most people can do about the smell. You can’t stop her from using the facilities. I mean if she were making a mess on the floor or doing something unhygienic like painting the walls with it then maybe you could say something. But if she’s doing the normal thing and it just smells bad then that’s not something you should penalise her for.

          Install a fan or some form of odour neutralising product and try and get the ventilation improved. Otherwise you just have to live with it.

      3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        The lack of empathy in this letter is astounding. Like jaw on the floor as I read it. LW—Imagine if this patient were your mother, grandmother, or daughter. If I found out someone at a PHYSICIAN’S office was trying to refuse my grandmother access to the restroom, I’d be in there with pitchforks.

        You say yourself that the person likely cannot help it, so I’m not sure what you want to accomplish by refusing her a restroom. Do you want her to poop her pants in the lobby instead? Take the offered solutions and stop wasting mental energy on this. Schedule yourself a half day on her appointment days, go to break when she’s in the office, ask to work in another area of the building for the hour she’s there. It’s 12 times a year, out of presumably about 2000 total hours of work annually.

        Once you stop devoting the time and energy to this, I would instead use it to start looking for another job. Because if I was one of your doctors and you asked me to remove the right to use the restroom for a patient, I’d be looking to replace you ASAP. It’s interesting and somewhat telling that they’re using legal explanations with you to support their decision, and not basic humanity and compassion.

        1. KateM*

          Well, of course this elderly patient could use diapers, but I bet that her spending time at reception desk and in doctor’s office with pooped diapers is not going to smell the office any less than a poop in toilet washed down ASAP.

        2. LW3*

          I did not mean to come across in a way as not being empathetic. I did go back and reread what I had written. I agree that I definitely could have changed the way I wrote it. I do not want to make anyone suffer and agree I would not want anyone saying those things about a family member if they could not help it! I’m just trying to come up with the best solution without hurting feelings. And obviously there really isn’t one. I did not like that my bosses went straight to the discrimination argument which is why I asked if was.

          The true issue here is that I was upset that I am not being heard or validated in my feelings from my employer and this unfortunately is not the first time. Which is why it was a breaking point for me in writing this. Maybe that would have been a more appropriate topic for discussion.

          On another note, I would hope that if you were an employer that you would not immediately fire someone for coming to you with concerns and to discuss different situations that need attention whatever they may be. I fear you would be continually firing individuals and also then no one would feel open to coming to you with anything of importance. Everyone is different on what they can and cannot handle. And how they handle it. As an employer and co worker all of those personality differences need to be considered and dealt with in different ways.

          Thank you for your input I truly took it to heart and how I was handling the situation.

          1. PartialToPort*

            Good for you, LW, weighing in while we’re all landing on your head — that was pretty brave.

            I really do hope you can work things out as far as your employer not making sure you feel heard and acknowledged. Definitely the kind of frustration that can come out in other things!

          2. MEH Squared*

            LW3, you mention that you’re at your breaking point with your employer and this is probably the issue you’ve latched onto because it’s tangible and seemingly easily solved. But the most logical option was denied by your employer (the fan/ventilation system), which might be indicative of the problems you’re having with them.

            The problem is, your suggestion of denying her use of the restroom is so out there and, yes, callous to the patient, that it’s making it hard for people to sympathize with you.

            I’m glad that you’re in the comments and responding; it can’t be easy. I hope you can get your employer to see reason and install a ventilation system/industrial fan.

          3. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I agree with the others congratulating you for taking a hard comment section to heart. But I do think you’re still missing something here.

            No, an employer should not fire people for raising concerns. But as an employee you also have to realize that the concerns you raise and the way that you raise them will reflect on you and how you’re perceived. If I was a doctor and an employee suggested not allowing a patient to use a bathroom I would seriously question their judgment and their fit for their job working with patients. I would not fire them, but I’d start paying a lot more attention.

            I’m hearing you’re not happy at your employer and I hope that can resolve soon. But you need to reflect on how you handle your unhappiness and where you channel it – both in terms of how you brought this issue up and how you wrote about it to Alison. It sounds like you’re already taking feedback, which is good. But think about how to bring up frustrations before they manifest in petty ways, or it can really backfire on you.

          4. Jules the 3rd*

            I didn’t read you as un-empathetic or over-reacting. Your nausea is real too. But yeah, the patient is not the problem, the office’s lack of proper ventilation is.

          5. Jack Straw from Wichita*

            I’m glad you’re open to some self reflection and evaluation, but no, as an employer I would “not immediately fire someone for coming to [me] with concerns and to discuss different situations that need attention.”

            That phrasing seems like you don’t like the brand of coffee in the break room or the Muzak station. This isn’t that. It’s a medical professional asking to ban a patient from using the restroom. It’s pretty egregious and frankly it comes across as petty, maybe naive about how service and the office work, too.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        “Complaining about something like this in a medical setting is like a teacher complaining about noise kids make on a playground.” and cleaners complaining that the microwave is filthy… yes you hit the nail on the head here.
        Alison does a very good job of not shaming OP!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          The microwave being filthy means people need to put a lid over their soup. It would be totally normal to expect people to do this, and to wipe up any spills at the time.

          1. Jaydee*

            Right. I think a more apt comparison would be cleaners complaining that the trash can is mostly full and they have to take it out and change the bag.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          “… is like a teacher complaining about noise kids make on a playground.”

          It was a pretty good analogy, but a better one might be a teacher complaining that their elementary school students can’t reach the top shelf of the book shelf. Because while kids maybe could be quieter on the playground (even though they shouldn’t have to) they can’t magically choose to become a foot taller in 3rd grade because their teacher is inconvenienced. Any more than this patient can magically choose when and how smelly her bathroom output will be.

      5. Cat Tree*

        The whole question is just really confusing to me. What does OP expect the patient to do instead? Hold it? Use the gas station bathroom down the street? Soil herself in public? Stop getting this medical treatment altogether?

        1. alienor*

          I think the idea is that the patient is waiting to poop until she’s there instead of going at home, similar to letters about office buildings where people deliberately make the trip from other floors and stink up another area’s bathroom. Since she’s only there for an hour or so once a month, it’s more likely that the appointments just happen to coincide with her daily bathroom time and she couldn’t go at home even if she wanted to. Personally I would reschedule my standing appointment if I knew that were going to keep happening, but maybe it’s when someone is free to drive her, or some other factor that no one knows.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            It’s also possible that her bowels act up when she is anxious and that she has some condition the doctor is monitoring and she is very anxious each time she goes for her regular appointment in case the doctor finds evidence her condition is deteriorating. Or that she has some condition like Crohn’s that causes her to need the bathroom regularly each day.

            1. Fieldpoppy*

              Yeah, I have IBS and some days I’m a normal, circadian-rhythm pooper and sometimes I’m urgent, smelly and prolific. People have bowel issues; no one is “waiting for a nicer bathroom.” If I had a whiff (hee) that Mildred at my doctor’s office was offended by my body, I would be lobbying for her to get fired.

          2. Loulou*

            Or she has more than one “daily bathroom time” and they are not always at the same time of day?

        2. Batgirl*

          OP has the fundamental misunderstanding that the old lady can choose when to have bowel movements and thinks the choice to go at home should be encouraged; she thinks it’s a choice between, option 1: tell the old lady the facilities are banned to her because she can “just go” before leaving her house, or option 2: everyone suffers because of a failure to communicate option 1. In reality it’s: option 1, The patient can use the private facilities at the practice behind a door, where there is a window or option 2, she can publicly soil herself at closer quarters to OP than to the bathroom with it’s window, in a situation where the practice would deserve to be publicly embarrassed for denying bathroom use to a person in need. Why does everyone assume they know how other people’s bowels work?

      6. Phony Genius*

        We don’t know the specialty of this medical office, but I will assume this is not a G.I. specialist. If it is, then the LW’s complaint is even further out of bounds.

    3. KateM*

      If I was a doctor whom OP just asked to ban an elderly person from using bathroom during visit, it would be a pretty good idea for OP to have found a new job ready by the time I have found a new receptionist.

    4. One Drop*

      Pop in beforehand and put in a few drops of PooPouri (or similar). Let the patient in, saying just preparing it to make it nice for your visit.

      1. Worldwalker*

        I discovered PooPouri in a small used bookstore where their bathroom was the size of a cut-rate coffin and had about as much ventilation. There was a bottle of the stuff and a note “please use.” So I did. Yeah, it really works. It’s an oily spray that produces a barrier, and works surprisingly well.

        1. squirreltooth*

          I introduced PooPouri to an office once, and the two main complainers about bathroom smells then just started complaining about how it smelled like lemongrass instead. The issue was the act of pooping and everyone knowing it’d occurred. Sometimes you just can’t win.

      2. Just a Drop*

        I was going to suggest this as well. I like Just a Drop toilet deodorizer. We’ve tried different deodorizers at our work, and it was the best. Keep it in the bathroom for her (and other patients) to use since you don’t have good ventilation. If she doesn’t use it, put a drop in yourself before she arrives or shortly after that. Denying access to the bathroom would be a cruel thing to do.

        1. Blueysmum*

          I work in healthcare, we have a spray called m9. Works wonders for all kinds of odors. Ask the office manager to get some. It will make a difference without a bunch of fragrance.

        2. Acrossthepond*

          Yes, I was coming to say exactly this! Poo pouri, or something similar, is amazing! It says the best results are if you put it in the bowl beforehand, so maybe just tape a sign behind the toilet saying something about spraying it in the bowl before you do your business

      3. I should really pick a name*

        This is what I was going to suggest.
        You don’t even need to mention it to the patient.

        Assuming they have an appointment, you know when to expect them, so you can discreetly go in before and add a few drops.

        I might suggest only doing it for this patient as opposed to leaving the bottle out because there might be patients who have issues with those types of scents.

    5. Artemesia*

      sprays candles and diffusers are mostly about perfuming already stinky air — it is not a useful option.

    6. Observer*

      The doctors offered reasonable accommodations like sprays, candles, diffusers.

      Those are actually not so reasonable in many situation.

      What’s really infuriating is that the OP updated to say that the bosses won’t put in an exhaust fan, which would definitely help, or use something like PooPurri, which is easier on a lot of people that the other stuff.

  7. Blomma*

    That escape room sounds like a lot of fun and also like something I wouldn’t be able to do either because of my invisible disabilities. My work went to a (non obstacle course) escape room a few years ago and I got together with the event organizer and the escape room staff to make sure there was a place for me to sit in the room. It’s unfortunate that that isn’t an option in this situation. OP 1, I hope your employer is able to find a more accessible team activity so that you aren’t left out!

    1. GythaOgden*

      We don’t do that kind of thing but we got £500 for a Facilities event as a thank-you for keeping things going during Covid (yeah, I know, but you take what you can get these days:(…). We had to vote on what we wanted to do, and it unsurprisingly ended up on the lowest common denominator idea of a meal out. (Food and basic drinks wasn’t capped but people were expected to buy their own alcohol if they wanted it.) The other option was bowling, which I just wouldn’t have gone to. (It was optional and I was the only one to go from my office.)

      I’d like for more team-building events, but as someone who walks with a stick after an accident I’d prefer it not to be a physical thing. However, sometimes there might be room for something more energetic than a meal, and so long as its optional it doesn’t feel totally off-base to cycle through a range of options that would suit different people. As someone with a slowly healing injury, I do actually need to exercise it, for the sake of my back and hips if nothing else (which groan if I’m sat down in the same place for too long and then get up).

      I am coming at this from a different perspective since social activities are highly limited in a public sector workplace (budgets are always waxing and waning) and finding something that is collectively appealing does end more often than not in meals out. But I’d honestly not mind a more active occasion once in a while.

    2. LW1*

      It seriously sounded like fun! I’m glad the escape room you went to was more accessible. When I called the business, the employee said making it more accessible (maybe allowing people to just participate in the mental challenges) said it wasn’t “in the owner’s wheelhouse”.

      1. Clorinda*

        So . . . they could do it if they wanted to, but can’t be bothered to try. I hope your manager rethinks the decision to patronize that company.

      2. GythaOgden*

        Ouch. I would reach out informally to management if you can and say that because of lack of access and the venue’s unwillingness to accommodate, you can’t go. It may be a problem this time, but maybe they could change the way they do things next time?

        That’s probably a bit of a timid-sounding response — but I’m not someone who often comments loudly on this sort of thing. To me it would be being diplomatic and trying to work with them, but if you know they might be receptive to this kind of critique, it’s worth a go.

      3. Blomma*

        Wow that’s not acceptable at all. As a mobility challenged person, I understand and accept there are going to be some physical activities I cannot do. But the escape room has the option to modify the course for people and just doesn’t want to? Not ok. I saw in another comment that your team’s activity got changed. I’m glad it was so you could participate and so your company didn’t give the escape room any money!

  8. Cold and Tired*

    LW3: I can empathize with this patient. I have a chronic gastrointestinal condition that sometimes means I need to use bathrooms on short notice. And trust me, I definitely would do anything to be able to wait until I’m home for my own sake let alone everyone else’s, but unfortunately my body calls the shots sometimes and doesn’t give me a choice. This patient could easily be the same. So while it’s inconvenient, a little empathy may be helpful here (and maybe seeing if there’s any way to run a fan/increase ventilation, which helps more than anything else tbh).

    1. allathian*

      Maybe something could be done to improve ventilation in the bathroom, even if it’s just opening the window when it’s smelly in there. This patient is hardly the only one with GI issues who’s likely to visit the doctor’s office. Asking the patient not to use the washroom is clearly not an option.

    2. Anon for this*

      I am living with a gastrointestinal illness, and nothing, no using the bathroom at home, no OTC medication, will prevent moment like this. I am usually glad to have made to a bathroom at all. Provide Poopourri, look into changing the ventilation, and have some empathy for someone who presumably can’t help it…

    3. Worldwalker*

      No kidding. And where is someone more likely to have a GI condition than *a medical office*?

    4. MistOrMister*

      I find this letter odd because OP appears to be both blaming the patient and suggesting they can’t help themselves. But really, if it was as simple as going before leaving the house, the patient would be doing it! I have had plenty of times where I have gone directly before leaving home and still had to go desperately upon arrival somewhere. I am trying to imagine being denied access to the restroom, at a doctor’s office of all places! and can’t wrap my head around it. I applaud the doctor’s for at least having the sense to know better than to bring it up with the patient.

      1. Empress Ki*

        Same here. I may use the bathroom just before leaving home and need it again urgently 20mn later.
        I can’t imagine being denied access to the bathroom, especially in a medical office. I’d be very embarrassed. The patient is probably already aware of the smell and quite embarrassed about it.

        1. pancakes*

          It would be incredibly awkward, at best, for other patients in the waiting room as well. How would that even work? The front desk staff is meant to intercept them with “No, you can’t go in there”?

      2. pancakes*

        It seems like the bare minimum of competence and politeness for a doctor to refuse to pester their own patient in circumstances like these. Asking her to stop using the bathroom at their offices would be outlandish, and telling her she needs to go before she leaves the house would be wildly paternalistic and weird. It’s not as if this woman is using the bathroom at them.

    5. ijustworkhere*

      Me too. I would rather do anything than have to use a public restroom but sometimes I don’t have a choice. I hate to think that the people who work at my doctor’s office–of all places– would not have some awareness of issues like these.

    6. Anon For This One*

      Same here. My insides are a mess, and one of the side effects is that I can go from “fine” to “gotta go NOW” in mere minutes, and I have no control over it.

    7. Anon_Manager*

      Please do not consider removing restroom access (legal or not). As someone with Crohn’s Disease and an ileostomy, sometimes I don’t get to go on my schedule or at convenient times. And unfortunately, because of my medical issues, it really can be odiferous. I agree with others to find a way to get better ventilation in the room or if any sprays don’t cause anyone issues, maybe use that. There are some sprays that the hospitals use that are pretty good at neutralizing odors and not being too perfumy (but you usually have to purchase from medical supply stores). But there is also poo-pouri and others.

  9. Becky*

    #3: There are a number of medical grade deodorizers that your medical office should be able to buy from their supplier. They work really well! Just spray a few times after the patient is done and the stink will disappear. See what your medical supplier has available and try some of them out. One hospital I’ve worked at had metrimist, another m9. They are made for this very reason because lots of people in hospitals have stinky stools from infections and medications and none of us really want to smell it.

    1. Maggie*

      Poopourri is also an excellent product that works very well! If you know this patient is coming in, just go ahead and spray it on the surface of the water in the bowl. If she uses the facilities, it will help. If she doesn’t, you’re only out a few cents.

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        But most medical facilities will require the MSDS on it before allowing its use. Best to stick with the medical grade product here.

        1. Phony Genius*

          At the risk of sounding like a commercial, the MSDS for each scent is available on their website.

  10. Kiki*

    #3: Would your office be willing to invest in an air purifier? It’s more expensive than sprays or diffusers, but if the ventilation really is that poor in the bathroom that smells are carrying into the entire office, I think it could be worthwhile.

    I sympathize with your plight, but it’s not reasonable to bar patients from using the restroom at your office. And even if this particular patient were to comply, other folks are going to stink up your bathroom at some point.

  11. Caitlin*

    To OP #2 – (assuming you’re from Aus bc of the super) you can report unpaid super to the ATO, and I highly recommend you do. Also, definitely get out – there are way better companies to work at, and the job market in Aus is pretty good at the moment, especially if you’ve got experience in the field you’re applying too!

  12. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

    For #3, see if they’ll buy a fan for the window. The vent fan in my bathroom needs replacing, and I’ve been using a window-mounted fan instead for now since I’m lucky enough to have both a window and (theoretically) a vent in that bathroom. It works pretty well. (I got one that is designed to fit into a window and has two fans in it. It’s remote-controlled, and you can run it to suck air in, push air out, or circulate air in and out depending on which way you have each of the fans run. They’re marketed for people who don’t have AC and are trying to cool their houses using fans in the summer, so if you’re in the northern hemisphere they’re probably showing up in stores this time of year.)

    Since you probably can look ahead and see which days she’s coming in, you can set the fan up and turn it on before she arrives like it’s just part of how the bathroom is usually set up now, so you won’t have to go in during Maximum Stink Time to turn it on and she won’t feel specifically called out.

    1. Aphrodite*

      Can you give us the name(s) of the fans? I have a bathroom that could use a bit more circulation during showers.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Mine is specifically a Bionaire digital window fan, which I bought at Costco several years ago because it was the one brand of window fan they happened to stock the day I bought them. (“Digital”, in this case, refers to it having a digital temperature display and an optional auto on/off feature that triggers at certain temperatures. I don’t use this feature at all.) I bought several of them, one for my bathroom, one that I ended up using on circuluate to increase air circulation in my utility room for guests-during-covid reasons, and then some that I use for my originally-planned purpose of pulling air through the main part of my house through the living room windows in the evenings to cool down my house (I then run a box fan pointed out to push the hot house air out the screen door to the backyard).

        Searching for “dual window fan” should bring up a lot of brands selling the general type of product. They’re designed to install either vertically or horizontally in a window, kind of like a window AC unit but it’s ok to use them vertically instead since they’re just fans. I leave mine on the counter and keep the window closed unless I need it, then install it before showers or after general bathroom stink if needed. (I decide based on the overall humidity level of my house, mostly, since if it’s pretty dry in my house I’d rather just vent that shower humidity into the rest of the house by leaving the bathroom door open rather than out the window.)

  13. phira*

    LW3, you mention that the doctors have offered several suggestions for mitigating the bathroom odors. Use one of those suggestions, and/or see if ventilation can be improved.

    Please have more empathy for this patient. As someone with IBD, when I’m flaring, I absolutely can’t control when I need to use the bathroom. It’s not as simple as just going to the bathroom before I leave the house. When I’m ill, I literally cannot go anywhere that does not have an accessible bathroom. And trust me, I’d really rather not use public bathrooms when I’m sick!

    It sounds like you’re assuming that this patient is oblivious to her bathroom odors, and sure, maybe she is. But it’s not relevant. Again, please have some empathy and try literally any suggestion that the doctors have already made.

    1. SleepyKitten*

      I’ve got IBS, so it’s less severe but during my worst flare up I literally had to knock on doors because I couldn’t make it home without an accident. Walking also tends to get things moving, so it might be that the patient doesn’t need to go until she’s been walking around for her appointment.

      1. Cookie*

        I’ve had IBS for 44 years and am really grateful to all the non-medical-office locations that have let me use their bathroom in an emergency. I’d love for a pre-emptive strike to keep me out of public bathrooms, but it’s out of my control. I already manage my diet at a crazy level of detail just to keep the pain under control.

        As for OP…I hope you never have to deal with a GI condition, and that you find another position that works better for you.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I’ve got a no fun inflammatory GI issue (not IBS but in the same family). Only way I can 100% guarantee not having an episode is to have only liquids for 12 hrs before going out, something I do for fieldwork when bathrooms are few and far between. Otherwise, I can be about 80% sure of not having a poopocalypse after leaving the house and have to roll the dice. I’m sure this patient is in a similar boat of not wanting to poo in shared spaces and trying to avoid it, but not having a ton of control.

    3. BabyElephantWalk*

      Seconding this. Smells aren’t pleasant, but this request can be ableist and particularly in a doctor’s office is completely not ok.

  14. KP*

    Just had to say I feel like there was a missed opportunity here, #3 should have really been #2!

  15. Horlivka*

    To letter writer two-

    If you are in Australia, it is illegal for your boss not to pay superannuation- that alone would make me leave and likely open a case with the fair work commission. Also, not paying you is affecting your retirement savings big-time, If it were me this would be a massive dealbreaker. Re. the dysfunction- I have been part of a startup for a while now and I am leaving for cultural reasons. I have an equally inept boss and it is not up to junior employees to ‘figure stuff out’ (obviously this is part of a job, but within reason), especially when the goal posts are constantly shifted. I just wanted to share some support! Best of luck!

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        Agree with Alison. GET OUT. Get out get out get out. There are lots of good jobs out there with good companies. Go get one of them.

        1. LW2*

          I’ve been updating my resume, hopefully I can get a new job before the end of the year.

  16. Allonge*

    LW4 – I cannot tell from your letter so apologies if you tried htis but have you asked to be put in charge of specific projects or have you discussed this more on the general level? As a last attempt maybe I would try that. But yes, probably time to move to another job, as this is pretty bleak.

    1. LW4*

      Thanks — I did both try asking AND moved on to another job. :) The situation was indeed bleak.

  17. Busty Alexa*

    LW1: I once worked at a company (unsurprisingly, had a lot of problems and no HR). Every year we went on a retreat together which included a surprise outing. One year we were on the bus and the owners were giving out clues and then they played the “Jaws” soundtrack… the surprise (compulsory) outing was swimming with sharks.

    I still regret not pushing back – I ended up getting hurt and didn’t want to say anything. If I had my time again, I would have spoken to one of the staff members at the aquarium and opted out silently by saying that the venue wouldn’t allow it (I had a chance to reflect because the following year I was pregnant and didn’t want to announce it just because I couldn’t participate in an unsafe activity)

    LW2: Please go to the ATO and claim your unpaid superannuation – this is illegal behaviour

    1. Cj*

      No, I would not swim with the sharks. I would quit in the spot before I did that. And then i would fight tooth and nail for unemployment.

      Making it a surprise is even worse, it gives you no chance to document a legitimate phobia before the event.

      1. UKDancer*

        I have swum with sharks but only small reef sharks in the Maldives when snorkeling on the coral reef. They were nice to watch but I’m not sure I’d view it as a team building activity as it was more floating along and watching the fish do their thing. Also I swim quite well but a number of my colleagues don’t so I’d have thought it wasn’t a great activity for a team building, leaving aside the shark issue. People have varying levels of comfort with being in water apart from anything else.

      2. anonymous73*

        I wouldn’t say I have a phobia of sharks, but I would still nope right out of that immediately. I don’t swim in water where I can’t see through to the bottom, and even little fish swimming around me freaks me out. Why managers/owners think things like that will be enjoyed by EVERYONE is beyond my understanding. I know it’s difficult to find an activity that a mixed group of folks will enjoy, but swimming with sharks should be on the “no way” list at all times. And it should always be optional, or there should be a way to “watch”. We had all of our out of town people in for a week once and one of the activities was indoor go karts. I wasn’t interested in participating, but we had the facility to ourselves, so I was able to go, hang out with my colleagues and watch others race.

        1. whingedrinking*

          Yeah, the idea of being like, “Oh, everyone will just love getting into the water with predatory fish!” is just…WHAT?!
          I understand thinking that everyone knows how to swim and is comfortable doing so in front of coworkers. It’s an incorrect assumption, but I get how you get there.
          But um…sharks? How does one not realize that many, many people are afraid of sharks? Why not just say, “For our next team-building activity, let’s go to the Museum of Giant Spiders and Medical Procedures and then give a naked presentation about it to several hundred people!”

          1. Observer*

            I understand thinking that everyone knows how to swim and is comfortable doing so in front of coworkers. It’s an incorrect assumption, but I get how you get there.

            It’s not just “incorrect”, it’s wildly out of touch with reality. Someone who is old enough to be managing this stuff should absolutely know better.

      3. SnappinTerrapin*

        Hmm. When I was in high school, back in the preceding millenium, I went on a field trip to study marine biology on an island on the Gulf Coast. While looking for specimens in tidal pools, we encountered a few dogfish sharks (about a foot long), and quickly learned we couldn’t move fast enough to catch them by hand. But I was a teenager, and no matter how smart I thought I was, my critical thinking skills were far from fully developed. (On the other hand, I recognized that a colleague was an idiot for trying to capture water moccasins by hand on the island.)

        As a team-building exercise in a workplace, the question is not “What was management thinking?” The question is, “Why weren’t they thinking?” Even assuming these were the most docile and harmless sharks known to man, this ain’t appropriate for work.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Oh goddess I’m glad I’m in a landlocked county. I have a severe phobia of deep water (anything above 6 foot)

    3. LW1*

      While I love sharks, I would not swim with them. That is terrifying and I am sorry they made you do that.

    4. Gracely*

      I love sharks, have been swimming with them without a cage, and I would still NOPE the eff out of that and find a new job ASAP, because BOUNDARIES.

      The only way that could ever be an acceptable surprise outing is if you’re a group of marine biologists researching sharks, or possibly the people at the Discovery channel in charge of Shark Week. And even then, why would you want to make that a SURPRISE outing?

    5. Me!*

      You got hurt?!

      There is NO WAY I would do this even if it weren’t a work outing. I like sharks, but only at a distance, or if they’re very tiny. Same with bears—only tiny ones.

  18. 138*

    #3, please find new employment. If you can’t summon empathy for this patient you are in the wrong line of work. Medical receptionists have a surprisingly big role in patient care. I can only imagine all the other patients you don’t take seriously and subsequently their care is impacted.

    1. RagingADHD*

      You said this a lot nicer than I was going to.

      LW3, you are in a *medical office.* This woman is *your patient.*

      Get the ventilation fixed, use the other mitigation strategies, whatever you need to do to address the problems with the building. But you are literally there to care for this woman’s physical needs. That is the purpose of your work.

      If you aren’t on board with the fact that human beings have bodies that are sometimes inconvenient, you have absolutely chosen the wrong line of work and you need to get out of it ASAP for their sake. I’d be very surprised if the doctors who employ you aren’t thinking this, too.

    2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      “Medical receptionists have a surprisingly big role in patient care.”

      +10 for this.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yup. There’s a receptionist at our GP who if I get on the phone I’ll tense up because she is really judgmental. As in ‘you don’t need to see a doctor, you’re just making this up to get medications’ level.

        Luckily there are 3 others who are truly wonderful and really help.

        1. Jay*

          My mother had the same PCP for about 20 years and frequently complained to me about the woman who staffed the front desk. My mother complained about a lot of things and I mostly let it go in one ear and out the other. Mom developed dementia and I had to deal with the office; I found the woman a bit chilly but reasonably efficient.

          Then came the day I had to call and ask to speak to the doctor. Front desk woman: She’s very busy. I’ll have to leave a message. What is this about? Me: I think it’s time to talk about hospice care for my mother. FDW: Well, as I said, she’s very busy. She may have time to call you later this evening.

          I was stunned. Not even a hint of acknowledgement that a woman she’d known for 20 years was dying and that I might have feelings about that. The doc, btw, was wonderful and called me twenty minutes later, and I internally apologized to my mother for all the times I’d rolled my eyes at her complaints about the office.

    3. Alwyn*

      So true. On the plus side, a great medical receptionist can make medical difficulties easier to bear (I still fondly remember the kind receptionist from my former specialist, even though I haven’t needed the specialist in years). On the minus side, an unprofessional one can be enough to make someone switch practices (I’m looking at you, receptionist who works for my primary care doctor)

    4. Threeve*

      Good lord, you are reading so far into this letter that you’ve left the building.

      If LW3 actively disliked a patient (and unless you’ve literally never been inside a doctors office, you know that some patients are pretty miserable to deal with) would that mean she’s just straight-up going to murder them?

      Also, notice the part where she mentions concern about other patients having to use the smelly bathroom?

      1. socks*

        Uh, if you see someone say that judging patients for their bodily functions (particularly ones which can be symptomatic of a medical issue) is likely to have a chilling effect on their willingness/ability to seek care, and you jump to “oh so you’re saying disliking patients is LITERAL MURDER,” I don’t think you get to accuse anyone else of reading into things.

      2. pancakes*

        I have been going to the same cancer center I got chemo at for a monthly injection for the past ten years. I have noticed over the years that the bathrooms are sometimes smelly there, and I suspect it’s because a lot of these medications can affect your digestive system in all sorts of ways, on top of all the other, more usual reasons people’s digestive systems are affected. If I saw fellow patients being told not to use the bathrooms for fear of producing bad smells in there, I can’t imagine being ok with that. That would be an outlandish and cruel demand.

      3. KateM*

        I get to disagree with others – if you scare a patient away from their life-saving treatment, you indeed could call it straight-out murdering them.

      4. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I know I’m prone to delusions of what people said that they didn’t – but nobody has made a comment about murder other than you.

        Additionally, other patients having to use bathrooms that smell? Just a part of life I’m afraid.

    5. AngelicGamer, the Legally Blind Peep*

      Could we please not do this? I feel, sometimes rightfully, that it gets people not to update. This could be LW’s 3 first job or the first time she’s encountered this in her time in a medical office. Is the second one rare? Yes, but your throught process she should go into an entire new line of work is so deep in left field I can’t see the ball.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        It needed to be said – and the updates, while enjoyable for us as a commentariat, are not actually the point of this website. If you feel the comment was cruel, than that might be worth discussing (this one really wasn’t) – but complaining about a legitimate point that this job may not be right for this letter writer because it means you might not get updates is… unflattering, to say the least.

  19. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*


    This is medicine. Smells are just part of that. Biology is a chaos of systems we don’t fully understand and weird odours wrapped in a protein cost.

    (Go visit the microbiology labs at a university sometime and try to identify half of what is entering your nose!)

    You can’t stop biological needs, but you can mitigate the effects. Put in for better ventilation – an extractor fan sits in the window of the toilet of my local gp and is always running. Better the smells disappate into the wind outside than inside!

    1. Popinki*

      During my senior research in college I had to use the delightful substance, beta-mercaptoethanol. In plain English it smells like pure distilled fart x 1000. People clear down the other end of the hall were complaining.

      When you’re using a compound with a big STENCH warning on the label, believe it. A stinky dump smelled like roses after using that stuff.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Oh the joys of mercaptans! Those are truly a smell that has to be experienced to believe. I can’t describe them. Truly unbelievable.

        (Had a girlfriend who was doing her phd in alternative liquid rocket propellants)

        1. Popinki(she/her)*

          A roomful of dewatered sludge at the local sewage treatment plant didn’t smell as bad as that little bottle of stink.

  20. Frally*

    For #3, I’d steer the lady to a different bathroom, if possible. Tell her she’ll be more comfortable in that one, won’t feel the need to rush, etc- just make up something.

    1. MistOrMister*

      They have 1 bathroom in their office for patient use. It is going to be a really hard sell to convince someone to leave the office (which, as a paying patient, the woman deserves the same access to as everyone else). Not only that, this is an elderly patient. They might not be able to easily get to another location. Further, someone having to go to the doctor every month possibly has a serious medical issue and doesn’t need the stress of beijg forced to a different rest room. I get that it sucks for OP and others exposed to the smell, but it is what it is. People poop, it stinks, everyone moves on. It really concerns me that OP’s reaction to this is to try to get the woman banned from using the restroom. Their letter says nothing about asking doctors what could be done to mitigate the smells. Unless this patient is coming out the restroom cackling like a fiend and taunting everyone over how they have stunk uo the entire floor, why is the response here to deny them easy restroom access??

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Heck I’d say even if they were coming out boasting they’d made a smell that could choke Cthulhu I’d still say they can use the bathroom. Might tell them to watch their tongue though. The only time I’d accept a ban is if they left a deliberately disgusting mess (anyone who’s worked retail can imagine what I mean…)

        1. Batgirl*

          I’m with you. Creating smells is… what a bathroom is for?! The only line worthy of expressed disgust is when a deliberate mess is made, everything else is met with a blind eye and a blank expression, even if your eyes are watering. It’s what humans do for each other. I still remember the work colleague who gave herself a medical condition by refusing to use our indiscreet bathroom facilities separated from the office by only one door (by refusing to eat). I was no fan of the set-up, but if I needed to poop, I pooped. I just will never understand having that kind of shame in having a human body. Yes, the smell of excrement is unlikeable and nauseating. That is how we know to dispose of it, it is not a reason to try and cork up human bodies out of misplaced shame.

    2. pancakes*

      If you were headed to use the bathroom and someone interrupted you and insisted on taking you to one further away, you wouldn’t be wondering why? Really? I would find that very strange.

  21. Louise*

    LW1 as a disabled person who’s been in this situation I have found it easier to disclose my disability or at least the symptoms of it and what I can and cannot do. Whilst it feels you shouldn’t need to it means that that can be taken into account for future activity planning. I find this much less stressful than worrying about future activities and having to have the same conversation every time.

    1. Banana*

      As a manager advocating for DEI thoughtfulness around these kinds of plans, please do pull someone in a role like that in. Sometimes the leaders we’re working with scoff at our ideas and react like we’re trying to solve imaginary problems and being able to back ourselves up with real life examples from our own ranks (even without naming names) is so helpful.

    2. LW1*

      Thank you. I did talk to my manager (didn’t say what my disability is and I did not demand they switch activities) and he immediately said it was something he was worried about when he looked up the business as he thought it was just an escape room (not sure why he didn’t say no to begin with). He was very kind, luckily, and didn’t hesitate to switch it to the other activity (hitting golf balls, but at least I was able to hit a few and then let a coworker take the rest of my shots). Tho, the coworker who organized the event was a bit cold to me after the switch. I doubt my manager said why we were changing activities, but coworker probably suspected. This week he has been back to normal at least.

      1. Me!*

        Ugh, cold coworker can go pound sand; if he wants to do the escape room, he can do it on his own time with his friends. No one is stopping his fun.
        I’m glad your boss understood.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yup. I’m glad you made your feelings known. The important thing is that the manager listened — that does bode well for next time.

  22. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: I’ve had the ‘I can’t join in on that exercise’ conversation at work…oh too many times. Everything ranging from ‘we’re going on a hike!’ to ‘we’re going to this corporate outing that’ll require you to drive for 4 hours to get there’ and just sometimes I don’t want to have to explain why I can’t e.g drive for more than an hour without a prolonged break (we’re talking over 2 hours).

    Thus I’ve often suggested alternatives. ‘There’s a few reasons I can’t do that activity but I’m up for something like a local pottery class, or how about a LAN gaming session where we have to play cooperative or in teams.’ (Yeah I work IT).

    Effectively it gets their mind onto the second part of the conversation – alternatives – and away from the first.

    1. LW1*

      I’m also in a male dominated STEM field. I’m glad you have been able to advocate for yourself! I’m always so worried about causing people to be angry. This was good practice in advocating for myself.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Oh mate, totally with you there. Early in my career I really let a lot of things slide because I didn’t want to be ‘that woman who is always complaining’.

        Now I’m in my late 40s though? Don’t care who I piss off. :)

  23. Paul Pearson*

    Is there anything that can summon the same level of horror as announcing a “Team Building exercise” at work?

    1. Just no*

      Our manager for over a decade is nearing retirement age. He isn’t into team-building exercises other than two staff lunches away from the office per year. Because they are during the workday, these lunch get-togethers don’t cut into our personal time at all. They’re perfect! When I read posts like this one, I am reminded that I may find myself in this type of situation in the future with new management. Ugh!

    2. Airy*

      Before we went to WFH for the pandemic, the same two people in my office were always complaining that we didn’t have enough team-building activities… they were also the two most difficult and defensive to work with.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Clearly they were on to something! More team-building activities would have transformed them into model colleagues.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I live doing team stuff, but never describe it to my staff as team building exercises. It’s more ‘hey, who’s up for some online gaming?’

      1. Mockingdragon*

        OK build me an escape room in Minecraft and I’m suddenly all for this team-builder =3

    4. Perfectly Particular*

      Haha – our team builders are usually happy hours that start 90 minutes before the end of our usual workday, so we can all still get home on time. They’re not so bad! And at least every couple of years, someone wants to do Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinder – not terrible

    5. LW1*

      I don’t mind when we go out to lunch, or even that time we had a picnic and played kickball (tho I was attacked by ants, that wasn’t fun). This (my teammates progress being reliant on my physical ability) was horrifying to me.

    6. the cat's ass*

      yup. One of the only good things about COVID was the complete absence of this nonsense.

      1. LW1*

        This was our first team builder since covid hit. And my first team builder with this team. I’m terribly awkward so these things always give me anxiety and we have them at least every other quarter (excepting covid).

    7. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I’m convinced the main success of team building events is the existential dread that employees get to experience together on the announcement of a team building event. There’s a comic I’ll link in another reply that sums up my feelings

    8. ScruffyInternHerder*

      Annual All Hands Meeting.

      Closely followed by local corporate office quarterly update all hands meetings.

      Certain to induce eyerolls and in the case of the annual meeting, an irritating three days of travel.

    9. Me!*

      The temp job I’m at currently has a company breakfast on Fridays (I am included, yay). This is the kind of teambuilding I can get into.

    10. Florida Fan 15*

      Strategic Planning Kick-Off Meeting, number 5, booked for a day and a half.

  24. LifeBeforeCorona*

    LW1 One other consideration is people who have mental and/or emotional reactions to being in a locked room with relative strangers even if they are co-workers. Having to work out puzzles with a ticking time limit before being able to exit can be very stressful. Franky I’m surprised that the escape company doesn’t have any accommodations for people with any kind of disability. However, the onus is your workplace for choosing an activity that requires a level of participation that you and possibly others cannot participate in.

  25. LW2*

    LW2 here:

    You guys are right, I really need to start looking for new job (and talk to my boss about my super, right now I’m paying it out of my own pocket)

    Talking to my coworkers who’s very personally invested in this company make me doubt myself but deep down I know it’s bad for me to stay for too much longer.

    There are things I like about the company:
    1 It’s very lgbt friendly.
    2 We can listen to podcasts or music at work.
    3 One hour lunch break.
    4 Coworkers with similar interests.
    5 Freedom to get out of our desk whenever.
    But these probably aren’t good enough reasons to stay.

    The company’s high standards (Everyone’s very kind about it) affected my confidence in finding a new job, because I feel like I’m not good enough for another job. I’m the only junior person there and I’ve never see another junior worked before so I don’t know how I compare to other juniors.

    1. WS*

      They can’t have genuine “high standards” if they’re literally breaking the law. There are other companies with good working conditions, and moving on now means you won’t be caught up in legal action while you chase your owed super (and most likely holiday entitlements too and possibly even wages by then) and you can get a reference from an active business.

      1. anonymous 5*

        Also, if their standards are truly that high, achieving employment there would make you *more* likely to be a strong candidate elsewhere, not less! Echoing the chorus of, “get out, LW2!!” because you definitely deserve better!

      2. Red flag warning*


        They don’t have high standards if they are stealing your retirement savings.

        And that’s what they are doing.

    2. Mel*

      What you’re talking about is illegal and no amount of listening to podcasts or hour long breaks justifies it. They’re taking advantage of your trust and naivety. Don’t let this continue

      1. LW2*

        All of us including the boss are let say ‘chocolate makers’ (don’t want to reveal too much details). We don’t have anyone that can handle finance or other important administrative stuff except my boss. But he’s not experienced in those areas and can barely keep up with his chocolate making duties (we’re really understaffed). I think it’s more that he’s struggling to be a boss rather than any malicious intents. Apparently, he didn’t even want to run the company but was forced into it and it’s very apparent. We do get all the holiday benefits, maternity leaves etc and from what I know about him, it’s very likely he genuinely doesn’t realise our super hasn’t been paid.

        My coworker keeps telling me to be paitence with our boss and help him. I get where she’s coming from because he’s genuinely a good person (I have plenty of evidences to suggest that). But that’s not enough for me. There has to be a boss out there who’s a good person and good at being a boss, right,?

        1. Lexie*

          I used to work for a company where the owner didn’t have experience running a business. They were in financial trouble when I started. I quit very quickly because it just wasn’t for me. However, I stayed in touch with some of the other employees and a few weeks later they showed up to work to find a sign on the door saying they were out of business. So my advice is get out as soon as you can.

        2. EPLawyer*

          It doesn’t matter if your boss is a good person or not. It doesn’t matter if his intent is malicious or not. It’s still happening.

          Work is a business transaction. You do good work, they pay you according to the law. That’s it. Emotion don’t really facotr into it. All a good person for a boss does is make you overlook what they are doing wrong because they are such a good person. A good person makes sure your retirement is paid. A good person would acknowledge they can’t do the job right and GET SOMEONE WHO CAN.

          Also (although its tough to tell from your letter whether your mean your immediate boss or someone higher up), this is not the sign of a good person: It’s hard to know what my boss wants because he changes his mind and expectations depending on his mood, sometimes within a few hours. My coworker said it took her years to be able to figure out what he wants and his moods. I’m not sure if I want to spend years trying to figure out what the heck is going on in his mind or predict his mood swings.

          A good boss dones’t play guessing games with his staff. He gives clear expectations of what needs to be done. Staff should not be guess “what does the boss want.” They should know.

          Your company does not have high standards. What they have is toxicity that affects your confidence so you think you can’t go elsehwere. Which is how they get away with all the rest of it.

        3. pancakes*

          He can be a genuinely good person and a terrible boss forever. Of course there are genuinely good people who are better bosses than this. I don’t know how you’ve arrived at such a disconnect here, or why your coworkers have either, but there is no particular reason to think patience is what this boss needs. He needs to hire people competent to do the things he isn’t. He hasn’t, and he’s probably not going to so long as he has all these enablers who will reach into their own pockets to keep his floundering business going.

          1. LW2*

            Yeah, another thing that concerns me is he plans to hire another chocolate maker if he can get enough money, but what we need is someone who can handle the business side of things. We already have enough chocolate makers, in fact that’s all we have and I think that contributed to a lot of the issues we’re having.

        4. Mockingjay*

          Good intentions can’t be banked or cashed.

          OP2, your livelihood is at stake. Please find something else. Quickly.

        5. Artemesia*

          Too much sympathy for the guy in charge whose job it is to manage these things. He is not poor baby boo — he is the CEO and yet he is not doing the most important thing i.e. managing the financial obligations of the company. Look out for yourself; don’t let your sympathy ruin your own career and future finances because he is incompetent.

        6. Observer*

          We don’t have anyone that can handle finance or other important administrative stuff except my boss. But he’s not experienced in those areas and can barely keep up with his chocolate making duties . . . ~~snip~~ . . . it’s very likely he genuinely doesn’t realise our super hasn’t been paid.

          That’s not “high standards”. That is, best case, sheer stupidity and arrogance. Because your boss and the people making staffing decisions are incompetent at some basic tasks, such as COMPLYING WITH THE LAW.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      It was a lot, lot worse than your company but I did used to work for a firm I discovered was up to some really illegal stuff. The job was really close to home (I’m disabled and a commute of half a mile? Bliss) and paid exceptionally well (until it didn’t) but ultimately a place that is willing to break one or more laws isn’t going to bat an eye at breaking others.

      And I couldn’t live with that.

      Then they didn’t pay me – something about a ‘misunderstanding with the bank’. Then very irate clients showed up, sometimes threatening me. I not only quit; I reported them to the authorities and handed over as much evidence as I could get my hands on. Subsequently found out that they were doing stuff so shady they ended up in the high court in London (whereupon I learnt how to keep a calm face while being questioned and ducking the press) and the CEOs are currently serving time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

      Extreme response I know but you know what I felt when I left that place? Relief. Vindicated.

      And despite not only walking out on a job but also turning them into the authorities (basically I betrayed them in their eyes) I’ve suffered no ill effects on my career.

      In fact, knowing that you saw a bad situation and got out would actually mark you up in my eyes if I was interviewing you for a job.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Forgive me but I’d really prefer not to. My real name shows up on the legal documents.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        “the CEOs are currently serving time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure”

        That is the best ending I have ever heard to workplace drama. Well done, you!

    4. SWE*

      LW, I work for an office job I don’t actually like that much, and even it has all those features you describe. It also pays all legally mandated costs/fees associated with employment (ie your super), and is not on shaky financial footing. They exist! Those features are not impossible to find elsewhere, and I hope you report to Fairwork and go job searching.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Talking to my coworkers who’s very personally invested in this company.
      LW, humans can adapt to anything. People who have been there a little longer than you have done just that, adapted to treating this as the unshakable norm.

      The plus things are all good, but they will never compensate for the financial problems.

      1. LW2*

        Yeah, part of me wonder if it’s because I haven’t been in the company for that long I can sense issues my coworkers can’t plus I’m not as emotionally attached.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Unless you own the company or have some financial stake in the health of the company, other than your paycheck, you should not be emotionally attached to a company. It’s a job, not your significant other.

          1. pancakes*

            That’s a bit over the top. Most people are going to have some degree of emotional attachment to a place where they spend 40 hours a week or so. Some emotional attachment is fine. Self-sabotaging because of it isn’t.

    6. Lch*

      All the good points you listed don’t sound very out there? It seems like a lot of other places would have similar offerings? I mean, this kind of describes everywhere I’ve worked for the past 15 years (though in the US).

      1. The Original K.*

        Yeah, none of those points are asking much and even if they were, if a company isn’t paying you correctly, that’s really the beginning and end of the story to me.

      2. Beth*

        Yes — it’s getting close to the level of “Our desks are horizontal, there’s a breathable atmosphere provided free of charge, and the bathrooms have indoor plumbing.”

        1. LW2*

          I think it’s because I come from Hong Kong where long hours and short lunch breaks etc are normal, my friend works til 1am regularly for example. And have friends who works 6 days a week for the past few years but still getting minimal wages. So my standard for a ‘good working condition’ is pretty low. I was honestly shocked when I found out we have 1 hour lunch break.

          But I’m starting to realise these things are quite standard in Australia.

    7. Beth*

      LW — your company is not “a little dysfunctional”; it’s a disaster that’s being normalized by hostage employees. They have no sense of acceptable norms, and you are losing yours. Your boss is STEALING from you (failure to pay mandated benefits is wage theft.) Get out while you still have any sense of normal, and find a job where you can rebuild it.

    8. Fiorinda*

      Oh, dear. Making extra after-tax contributions to your super on top of your employer’s mandated payments is one thing – plenty of people do it – but you should absolutely *not* have to pay your own minimum super payment out of your take-home pay! That’s almost 10% of your earnings! Super is an on-cost; they should have budgeted for it as part of employing you. And if they did and now they’ve suddenly stopped paying it – and particularly if they’re the ones who suggested that you make the payments yourself instead – it’s because they’ve taken (stolen! it’s part of your pay!) that money and are using it for something else, most likely to keep the business afloat. It’s sadly not as uncommon as you’d think.

      They won’t just be doing it to you, either, but they might have convinced other employees to accept this situation over time and assume they can do the same to you (hence, don’t believe them about not being good enough to find another job – it’s in their interests to keep you working for them and not confident enough to challenge them) . Definitely get out and talk to the Fair Work Commission about getting the super they owe you paid.

    9. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I was wondering what the positives to such a role/position could be. Frankly, those pale in contrast the negatives; I think you fix this by finding a new role in a better organization while the job market favors job seekers.

      1. LW2*

        Well according to my coworker:

        Chances to learn new things, she started out not knowing much (according to her) and now six years later she can do the jobs of two or more people. Which I’m not sure it’s a good thing, at least for me. She’s very self motivated and constantly studying to improve herself. Even though she’s not getting any rewards like a pay raise, it’s just natural for her to go above and beyond. I’m not like that at all, I like to learn new things or pick up new hobbies because it’s fun or interesting. Plus, I find it hard to be motivated to go way above and beyond without any pay raise etc …

        High standards, the standard for chocolate making it’s high, our boss expect details to be perfect even for small things (which I think it’s bit much tbh). She feels like you improve as a chocolate maker very quick in the company. And she’s right.

        Exciting, there’s constantly new projects and challenges. She loves that about our work.

    10. Office Gumby*

      You’ll be fine, mate. Depending on your industry, you may find many of these perks in other places.
      But as nice as they are, they don’t trump a steady paycheque, legal compliance over Super and maybe a few other things. Fr’example, does your current job offer EAP? A good job will.

    11. File Herder*

      They are stealing from your pension fund. It doesn’t matter if the boss is a good guy and it wouldn’t be malicious. They are stealing from your pension fund. If the boss doesn’t realise they are, that’s all sorts of bad in a different way. It means the boss is not competent to run a business. (And I do feel for Boss, given the extra details you gave downthread.) The company is either thieving, in which case you want to get out of there, or not competently run, in which case you want to get out of there; either way you need to get out before you too don’t notice the temperature of the water rising. The only way this is going to get better is if the boss is in a position to hire someone who does know what they’re doing on payroll and accounts, even if it’s outsourcing to an external company specialising in that. It doesn’t sound as if that’s possible.

      Regardless of whether it’s thieving or incompetence, you need to recover that money you’ve already spent on their behalf. You also need to check that they are paying everything else they are supposed to, including making sure that if you’re paying income tax through payroll deductions those deductions have actually reached the tax office.

  26. Berlina*

    #3 First of all, with that lack of sympathy you might want to consider you job choice, just saying.

    Second of all: did you actually TRY those things suggested by the doctors? Maybe there is also a way to seal the door more efficiantly if odours creep into adjoining rooms?

    I read some comments about changing the appointment time etc., but one thing I didn’t see so far: if that person may have a fear of doctors/medial stuff/diagnoses, she could be having a kind of body reaction that makes her get diarrhea as soon as she enters the office. This is what happens to me in many cases as symptom of a light panic attack, even at routine check-ups.

  27. Mac*

    LW #3: could you request that your employer add a ventilation unit to the bathroom to suck up the smell?

    I would be inclined to wear an N95 sealed mask with some Vicks under my nose to use the bathroom afterwards, in any case. Keeps out some smells!

    I feel dreadful for the woman though. Poor thing.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Oh that reminds me of my time in the labs. Menthol gives me a stinking migraine but I used to put sandalwood smells under my nose and mask until I got used to the place.

      At least for me I found wood smells pretty good at masking biological stench.

      Alternatively do what I do what the cat has managed to stink out the house: breath through my mouth till the smell has gone (he’s neutered but sometimes sprays)

      1. kupo!*

        +1 to wood smells. I swapped my litter to a walnut shell type instead of clay (turns out I’m more allergic to clay litter than to cats, go figure), and I’ve found that it’s way better for smells overall. Doesn’t try to mask anything but it just sort of smells neutral and forest-y.

    2. pancakes*

      I recently read a profile of a woman who cleans up crime scenes for a living and that’s what she uses.

  28. Varthema*

    Re: LW5 – If you’re a cis man reading this, please please please start asking about parental leave to normalize it, even if you don’t care! And if you do have parental/paternity leave available to you and you have a kid, take every second of it, even if it’s not convenient. The fastest way to eradicate this form of discrimination is if EVERYONE of roughly childbearing age becomes a leave “risk”. It’d be impossible to just not hire anyone between the ages of 20 and 45, so companies would finally have to accept parental leave as a cost of doing business and existing in a functional society.

    1. BubbleTea*

      If we are talking about cis men, fertile years are more like 10 to 70, so it would be literally everyone.

    2. Perfectly Particular*

      As a woman, I completely agree that we need support from our male colleagues to help overcome discrimination related to family care. However, taking paternity leave has risks that are different than maternity leave. At a large, healthy company, new moms taking 4-6 months leave are accepted as needing time to heal and being dedicated to their baby – this is considered a positive from a social perspective, and neutral from a career development perspective (as long as you have no more than 2 children while at the same company). Men taking 2 months paternity leave can be seen as not dedicated to their jobs, or looking for an excuse to take extra pto – negative from both a social and career development perspective. So men, only do this if you have the career-standing to do so. We are already dealing with wage gaps and less career advancement for women – it doesn’t help your growing family if the man is also suffering career setbacks due to parental leave.

      1. LPUK*

        well, as many men who have children receive some form of ‘bonus’ in the workplace (seen as more responsible, more likely to stay, suddenly a breadwinner’ so in need of more money…) then it might mean that the effects cancel each other out!

      2. fueled by coffee*

        IDK, if it’s only “neutral from a career development perspective” for new moms to take parental leave so long as they don’t dare have more than 2 kids, it sounds like even these large “healthy” companies still have a ways to go.

        I agree that in the real world cis men taking parental leave can be viewed as not “dedicated” to their jobs, which is wrong. But it’s not like cis women actually live in a utopia where there are no negative consequences to taking leave. And as a woman who is the right age to potentially become pregnant, I wish there was a good way to ask about parental leave benefits without throwing up a huge neon sign saying “WARNING MIGHT BE TRYING TO REPRODUCE AND THEN YOU’LL HAVE TO FIND COVERAGE.”

        I don’t know whether there’s a good answer or if having men also ask about leave would help. It’s an all around frustrating situation! But I do think that normalizing parental leave as a thing *parents* do would help mitigate some of the stigma.

  29. Chapka*

    #5 – Would it make sense to ask a more general question about the “benefits package” generally before or in the first interview? It’s a way to ask a question that sounds like it might be an innocuous about health insurance or 401(k) or vacation days but you might well get an answer that includes parental leave.

    1. Applesauced*

      Asking about the general benefits package can work, also I’ve had luck asking about “family leave” or “FMLA” things that can cover leaves including but not only parental leave.
      You can also look for specific laws and regulations that your state requires – it can give you an idea of the minimum you’d have to be offered.

  30. Dini73*

    LW2, the bit about not paying super in line with financial trouble jumped out at me. Massive red flags. Not paying super may be illegal where you live – here in Australia it is and you can report this to the ATO. I’d be really concerned the company is close to the edge so start looking!!

  31. Chilipepper Attitude*

    Op#2, I don’t know if anyone said this but if you take the advice here to look for a new job and you are asked why you are looking so soon after joining (since this is your first job and you might not have been in it long), you can say that the company is having financial difficulties so you are looking for a more stable company.

    1. LW2*

      Thanks for the tip :)
      Would that seem like I’m trying to bad mouth a previous employer?

      1. anonymous73*

        I would just go with a generic “there have been some company changes and I’m concerned about my employment” reason.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Yes. Do not say this.

        This is wherre you just say something vague about “wanting to try new opportunities” or “it just didn’t gel.” Or even if you find a place more convenient say “Oh I was looking for a better commute.” Or whatever fits. But DO NOT mention anything the finances of the company or say it was toxic.

        If this place implodes — and it will when it comes out that the retirement wasn’t paid — they will know why you left.

        1. Observer*

          But DO NOT mention anything the finances of the company

          Why? “didn’t gel” or “wanted a shorter commute” could make the OP sound like a “specshul snowflake” but company financial problems are an objective issue that any functional workplace should understand. If they do put that on par with just saying nasty things about the company, that is a big flashing red sign about the company you are interviewing at.

      3. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        Not if you stick to the facts. Saying “the company is having financial difficulties” is a fact. Saying “the company is run by idiots who can’t balance their books” is an insult. The first is fine, the second is not.

        I once worked for a company that had what sound like similar financial issues. When I’m asked why I left that company, my answer is “I was let go due to financial restructuring.” Bland, factual, and no interviewer has ever had a problem with the answer.

        1. Colette*

          I’d suggest something more personal – e.g. “The company wasn’t paying my superannuation”, or “The company missed a paycheck”. It implies the company is having financial issues, but without directly saying it.

          1. the cat's ass*

            It also puts the interviewing company on notice that sketchy $ hi-jinks won’t fly with the LW.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        No. It’s just stating a fact that very much affects you and is a reasonable reason for leaving.

      5. Observer*

        Would that seem like I’m trying to bad mouth a previous employer?

        No. If you say “they stole my wages”, it might. “It became clear that the employer has significant financial issues” that’s a pretty bland factual statement.

  32. Irish Teacher*

    L3, even apart from issues of discrimination, I really don’t think it would be fair or reasonable to prevent an elderly lady from using the bathroom. For all you know, she may have a medical condition that means she needs to go urgently. As a college student, I worked in a large retail store that had no customer bathrooms, but we were always told that if an elderly person or small child needed to go, we should call a manager to unlock the staff bathrooms for them (and yes, looking back, the fact that the staff bathrooms could only be unlocked by a manager was a bit problematic in and of itself). Even if it’s not illegal (and I have no idea about US laws), lots of things are legal and are still not OK. I think refusing somebody the use of a bathroom, especially in a medical facility, where she may be anxious or may be attending due to bowel problems, would be problematic even if legal.

    I can see the issue for you, but I think having to deal with a smell is less of an issue than not having access to a bathroom when needed.

    I can also understand why they don’t want to speak to her about the issue as it is quite personal.

    I like the idea of maybe changing her appointment time. It might not make a difference. Her bowel movements might be due to anxiety or she might have a medical condition that means she has a lot of bowel movements, but it sounds worth a try, if possible.

  33. ….it happens*

    #3 : #2 happens. It’s a medical office. Once or twice a month you’re dealing with this? Plug your nose, roll your shirtsleeves, get yourself in there, yes-you, and clean and freshen it up if it’s that offensive. This isn’t a horror story of someone aggressive or mentally ill smearing feces around. They have a medical condition (very possibly related to why they’re coming to your office) and using the bathroom as their right and as intended.

    Stock poopori on a basket with a cheery instruction sign on the back of the toilet if it’s allowed. (Or if fragrances are generally discouraged, just discreetly pull it out on days she’s scheduled to be there. Or if you can get away with it without setting off a fire alarm, you light and flush a match discreetly immediately after a stinky occupation before you do an occasional unpleasant duty that’s unfortunately in your lap.

  34. Not So NewReader*

    #1. FWIW. Team building exercises are not a replacement for you know, actual management. Why can’t the manager build a sense of cohesion? Why do outsiders have to be involved?
    I am so vehemently against this stuff that I would just tell them I will not be in attendance and I’d let the chips fall where they may. This is especially if I get the idea that it would come up every year or so and be an argument each year.
    I think that TPTB have mistaken collective animosity, collective fear and so on as team cohesion. Well, there can be a uniting of employees against their management. So there’s that, but it’s not the cohesion they were looking for.

    Not for everyone, but I am at a stage where I would simply say, “I am here to work, not play games. This isn’t kindergarten. If you have actual work to do, I will be here otherwise I will not show up.” It’s a crock that we have to have a medical excuse to get out of this stuff. A simple “no” should be adequate./ strong feelings.

    Going in a different direction, how does insurance work for stuff like this? Suppose someone gets injured? Time off should not be deducted from sick time and it should be paid in full- like a comp case. Does comp cover this stuff? Does the company insurance agent know that this is being required of people?

    1. Sandy*

      It sounds like you’re at a point in your career where you aren’t concerned, but this feels like a really aggressive response!

      In regards to your last point, a colleague once tore her Achilles at a corporate event along these lines. Workers comp covered everything.

      1. anonymous73*

        I agree about it being a bit aggressive but they have a point. A team building event should always be optional, especially when it’s physically demanding. I don’t have a disability and I wouldn’t want to or be able to participate. It would bring back nightmares of my physical inabilities from gym class. I’ve participated in team building activities where there was an option to hang out and observe. Just because the majority of people want to participate, doesn’t mean it’s going to be an option for everyone.

        1. LPUK*

          Yup, once told a manager who was querying my discomfort about one of the presentation skills exercises – curling into a little ball and whispering ‘one’ and then gradually uncurling and stretching as i counted up till i did a star-jump and yelled ‘ten’ ( yes, in business wear!) that I am ‘not good at jumping though bloody hoops’. Got away with it but was more aggressive than I’d planned to be.

        2. Sandy*

          I wasn’t disputing the underlying point at all. I just noted that the tone seemed unnecessarily aggressive, and as an extension the concern is more likely to be dismissed (“he said this isn’t kindergarten, what a grouch, he never wants to have fun”) than to inspire actual change (“he had some really good points about why we should reconsider some of our events”).

          1. JustAnotherKate*

            Honestly, some people are so committed to forcing this BS on people that any pushback — aggressive or not — triggers a rage beast. When a former boss announced that our team building activity was an all-day, outdoor scavenger hunt in January (Northeast US), my colleague flat-out said he wouldn’t do it; I asked politely if the activity choice was set in stone. Both of us were told (in no uncertain terms and at about 110 decibels) that our choice was participate or get fired. So we all trooped out into the 15F wind chill, except senior leadership who had assigned themselves to keep score indoors. Thankfully my team didn’t give a damn about winning, so we picked up the closest two clues and then hung in a coffee shop. I generally don’t enjoy finishing anything DFL, but it was definitely better than frostbite.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              Frankly, I would have been entirely OK with hanging out at a coffee shop on company time. Given that the entire team is there together, this is far more legitimately team-building than whatever BS activity had been planned.

          2. Florida Fan 15*

            Sometimes aggressiveness is the only thing that will break through, in which case it’s very much necessary.

            And sometimes, putting your foot down and establishing a firm boundary is more important than changing minds or caring what they say about you.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I have dealt with some very aggressive people. This is tame compared to what was coming at me.

    2. LW1*

      We have a quarterly budget for team builders and can only have 1 quarter carry over so these happen every quarter or every other quarter. I’m not at a point where I can always decline them and I would be out of sync with company norms if I did. Yes, comp would cover any injuries that took place during the team builder as it is considered company time.

  35. I should really pick a name*

    Alison has often written about how the longer you work at a bad company, the more the things they do seem normal.
    This is probably why your coworkers aren’t concerned.

    Everything you’ve described is more than enough justification to leave.

  36. Bad Crocheter*

    OP3: Old age, medications, and certain foods can truly make the smell unbearable. I’ve been both smell-er and smell-ee, and you have my sympathies. .

    But please don’t single this patient out with an offer to use a different restroom. She’ll know what you’re doing, and she’ll be mortified (She’s already suffering the slings and arrows of old age. Now a whole office full of *medical professionals* are talking about the stench of her BMs and directing her to toilets in the outer cosmos). The last thing she needs is to be humiliated every time she visits her doctor.

    I like the idea of exhausting to the outside because it solves the problem at its source (and you don’t have to buy replacement filters). If you install a vent, make sure there’s a way for fresh air to enter the room (don’t weatherstrip the door or put a sweep at the bottom unless there’s another way for air to enter). This may be more important when exhausting humidity, but be sure your installer knows how strong the vent should be (the calculation includes such things as room size, distance to the outside, number of elbows, and horizontal/vertical direction).

    Good luck finding a solution that works for you and your patient.

    1. Bad Crocheter*

      P.S. When discussing the problem, please don’t use phrases like “horrendous dump.” My mom developed foul-smelling poos while she was in a nursing home. The staff was so kind to her that I still remember them fondly years after her death. If I’d heard (or read) of them talking about her “horrendous dumps,” I would have been embarrassed for her and would not remember them kindly at all.

      Words affect attitudes, and attitudes are contagious. Patients are vulnerable human beings and should always be spoken of with the utmost respect, even when they aren’t present.

  37. Lacey*

    OP3: Unfortunately this is just part of life.

    I used to have a desk 5 feet from the only restroom in the office. One of my coworkers would spend 45-60 minutes in there and it was almost unbearable afterwards. But of course by then, people had been waiting.

    He was quite regular though, so if you paid attention you could time it so you were in there right before he was. But my desk was still only 5 feet away so I was haunted by farts and air freshener.

  38. Nonny Mouse*

    #3 Honestly, with what medical offices rake in –have you ever known one to go bankrupt? I haven’t– they could certainly afford to put in another bathroom. Then after that particular patient has been and gone, open the window and put up an “out of order” sign on “her bathroom”.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      This isn’t actionable advice. Even if that was a possibility (which is a huge stretch–the practice owners probably aren’t able to decide that if they rent the offices, bathroom installations are stupid expensive, not all medical offices are bringing in mad cash), it wouldn’t be something for the receptionist to decide. Open the window, use a diffuser, move on with life.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. My dentist is based in a converted house. They only have the space they’ve got and can’t add another toilet without major construction to the house. Sometimes people are in premises that don’t allow for alteration or renting offices where you’re not allowed to modify the building.

        Also it’s a pretty major jump and disproportionate to the actual size of the problem to build another bathroom because one person makes a smell once per month. Manage the issue and get a good quality fan fitted.

    2. Nightengale*

      I work for a large health system. Currently I work in a medical office building. We have a patient bathroom and a staff bathroom in our office. There is no place to put in another bathroom, all the rest of the space is hallway, exam room and other necessary things. When I came to work for this health system, they first planned to put me in a different building where they leased space, not a medical office building. There was no bathroom in the medical office area for patient use, there was a multi-stall men’s room and a (locked, need to sign out the key) multi-stall women’s room down by the elevator. The building does not have any companion or gender neutral bathrooms. I am a pediatrician caring for children with developmental disabilities, many of whom are boys who still need assistance in the bathroom from a caregiver, which is often a mother. I spoke up about my concern for the bathroom situation, which is how I got to my current office instead. There is currently a general pediatrics practice in that space, I have no idea how they function without a patient bathroom. There is also a provider of health care for transgender people that leases space in that building.

      Yes, the giant health system has money. No, they are not going to retrofit an office space for better bathrooming and I can’t make them.

  39. CheesePlease*

    Op #5 – it’s tricky to ask about benefits during the interview process, because employers want you to work for the JOB not the BENEFITS (even though benefits are a big reason why I work). It’s sucky and dumb.

    If possible, ask your network (friends, alumni network, neighbors, partner’s friends etc) about the parental leave policies at their jobs so you get a sense of local companies. Some job sites (Fair God Boss or The Mom Project) will have resources to search for jobs that are more parent / mother friendly. I do think the best companies will advertise their policy on sites but that is not always the case. Good luck!

  40. Sunflower*

    #3. I don’t know if anyone already suggested this but lighting a match (if your office allows it) works way better than any air freshener. Just make sure the match is completely put out before disposing it. Sure you get that match smell but it’s way better than a number 2.

    You can also ask your boss to budget for bottles of poo-pourri, although it’s up to her to use it.

  41. Dust Bunny*

    LW3–have an exhaust fan installed. One that comes on automatically when the lights come on so it will both redirect the smell and cover any noises.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Frankly, I’m of the opinion that pretty much all bathrooms should have exhaust fans for these very reasons. One of the bathrooms at my job opens directly onto a general work area and the fan has definitely saved us all a lot of both embarrassment and smell.

    2. Bagpuss*

      YEs, or I a am sure that the electrician could set it up to go on automatically if the door is opens (motion sensor) – if the room has a window not everyone will turn on the light, but if iy goes on when the door is opened then it will work evey time, and they typically can be set to run on a timer so it automitcailly switches off after a sert persod of time. Also means that if need be, you can quickly pop in (reactivating the fan) if it times out. Something like that wouldn’t be expensive to install and would not single out one person’s health issue.

      In the mean time, or if youstill notice smells, then try vicks or somethhing similarly strong smelling under your nose.

      I would avoif things like heavily scented air freshners – they mask the smellrather than dealing with it, and can trigger allegies, plus you tend to end up with an unlesant underlying smell .

      Iagree wit hthe other posters though – while it is not pleasant, you work in a medical office and it is concerningthat you appear to be approaching it with so little empathy. This lady is not doing anything wrong and it would be totlaly inappropriate for you tor your bosses to talk to her to suggest hat she not use the bathroom for the purpose for which it is intended.

  42. Meghan*

    Just a shoutout to anyone out there: If the company doesn’t pay you on time, it is an *immediate* red flag. They should be actively trying to fix it as soon as it is discovered and extremely apologetic.

  43. HannahS*

    OP3, can you schedule her as the last patient of the day? That would probably help a lot. Also, while I think a scented spray or essential oil diffuser is a bad idea, there are odor-reducing unscented sprays that we use in the hospital. Not perfect, but they help. If you have access to supplies ordering, maybe look into it.

    1. HannahS*

      Also, just empathy around the smell. We are used to people in society not having a strong smell, and not really used to handling other people’s bodily functions. It can make anyone, even the most compassionate person, feel really uncomfortable to be unable to escape someone else’s bad smell. Disease-related smells can be also be uniquely bad, and most people aren’t trapped near [insert various foul-smelling bodily fluids] in their daily life. I can understand why you’d get a desperate “There MUST be a way to stop it” because I think a lot of people get an instinctive “I have to GET OUT OF HERE” when faced with really terrible disease-smells, if that’s what this is.

      Like I said, modify what you can. After that, I’ve found that it can be helpful to remember that you can’t get sick from the smell alone. I find it helpful to remind myself things like, “This smell is really, really gross; poor Mrs. Smith, that she has to live like this. I hope she feels better soon.”

      1. NaoNao*

        Yeah I agree—people are being a bit unfair and a bit mean to the OP and maybe have forgotten the extremely unpleasant feeling that being unable to escape really bad fecal odors engenders. I’ve *gagged* repeatedly–to the point of feeling genuinely worried I’m going to actually throw up– when I’m in Stall A and in Stall B someone is letting loose the Kraken of poo’s. Of course they can’t help it, but that doesn’t change how deeply icky it is for me!

        I also will add that sometimes when upsetting and annoying things happen more than once (like Dumpzilla Poos) it *can* feel like it’s happening “to” you or “at you” and a medical office especially now adays could be a stressful, unpleasant, high-tension location.

        A super-poop that they can’t avoid and can’t prevent could be just really grating on their nerves and I can relate to that feeling 100%.

  44. anonymous73*

    #1 Are you aware of any of your colleagues who are hesitant about this team building exercise? Personally I have no disability, but I’m fat and out of shape and I would nope out of any type of physically demanding work event. The fact that they would plan something like this is not cool at all. You don’t need to feel bad that they planned this partially around your schedule. Companies shouldn’t assume that all employees would be okay participating in something like this.
    #2 I stopped reading after the first few bullet points. Always trust your gut. I’d rather trust mine and be wrong, then ignore it and be right.

    1. LW1*

      Most people seemed genuinely excited about the place, and it won the vote, but I’m sure not everyone relished the idea.

      1. Observer*

        “Won the vote”. Gag.

        Not at you, but the idea that that’s good enough. Either the “team builder” should be really and truly optional, or something like this should not have been on the candidate list.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I am not particularly fat and am in reasonably good shape/no old injuries or preexisting conditions and I think this is a terrible idea, for all the (should be) obvious reasons.

    3. CB212*

      I’m in fine shape, but I don’t need my coworkers at a tech company to know that if we’re ever crossing a gorge, they’ll have to carry me because I’ll be weeping in fear. Our stupid startup team is never going to be braving the wilderness together! We work on remote laptops and I’m a great asset as a colleague, I don’t need to walk a slackline.

    4. Bagpuss*

      I’m not currently fat but I have invisible health issues which would almot certainly rule out particupation in something like this.

      LW1, would it be possible for you to attend to watch rather than participate?

      But it may be worth saying to your manager / team “I’ve got a few physical issues – I can work round them for normal work but unfortuantely some of the stuff in the escape room would risk me seriously aggravating them – I am however klooking forward to coming along to cheer you on!”
      That way, you aren’t going into any medical detail and you are also still taking part (it may well be pretty dull but if your aim is to be joining in with the team, rather than actually enjoying yourself, going along may be worth while.

      It may also be worth asking yourm manager whether they can speak to the venue – they surely must have emergency exists etcso it seems really weird that they won’t accommodate disapbilites (espeically if put to them in that way) I would undertstand if you were competing against 3rd parties, and they couldn’t be bothered to work out how to adjust scoring to take account of people not doing the physical challengesm, but presumably the only people you are competing against is yourselves.

  45. LadyPomona*

    And some companies deliberately don’t promote an excellent employee because they’re SO good at their job that the company doesn’t think it could replace them…or because that excellent employee has actually been doing the work of TWO people, the company knows it and doesn’t want to shell out the money necessary to hire two new people!

    1. LW2*

      You’re definitely right, my coworker is so good at her job that when a few of the employees left (before I joined) she just took over. She’s basically irreplaceable, I’d go as far as saying if she leaves the company’s finished.

  46. LPUK*

    making a duplicate comment because my original is nested and I haven’t seen this point made elsewhere

    I am really worried about the professionalism of this events company, because it doesn’t sound like they’ve gone through any form of risk assessment – which is just asking for a lawsuit if anything goes wrong. Is your company large enough to have a Health and safety role? if so, one route might be to get them involved in carrying out a risk assessment on the escape room company because your company will have liability. I know that in one American company I worked for, it was mandatory for any form of team-building to go through a H&S risk assessment (because one team had organised a fire-walking ‘team-build’ and a team member suffered burns as a result). Some people got upset that they they couldn’t do all these silly physical challenges, but many of us were secretly relieved that it took a lot of dumb ideas off the table

    1. anonymous73*

      Why is this unprofessional of the events company? If they don’t get participants to sign a waiver before participating, then they’re stupid not unprofessional. This is on the OP’s company for choosing this activity.

      1. LW1*

        The company itself is questionable, imo, as they are not accessible and seemed put out when I mentioned it might be something to consider. But, they do have you sign a waiver, which I believe are enforceable but only to the extent the company was not negligent in their activities and equipment.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I think it is a buit questionable that they don’t have any accessible options – I know here (UK) businesses are required to make reasonable adjustments, and while it must of coruse depend on the activity, I would have though that an option which allowed particuapnts to take part in the mental challenges but skip the physical ones, and adjusted scoring to take this into account, would normally be a reasonable adjustment. I am striggling to think of a set up which would have appropriate options to let people into or out ofthe room in emergenies (or for cleaning!) but can’t let them in or out to bypass a physical task. I would think it would rule out an awful lot of people. (And presumably, it’s possible to fail the physical task – how do you then get out/past? )

        1. anonymous73*

          As far as I know an escape room is just that. One room with clues to escape from it within a specified time limit. If it’s an obstacle course, I would assume that you can’t move through to the next obstacle until you complete the previous one. I’ve never seen one myself, but if it involves obstacles within locked spaces that every team member has to complete, there would be no way to observe outside of sitting in some sort of control booth (which honestly, what’s the point??). I still don’t find this unprofessional of the ESCAPE ROOM COMPANY. If anyone is unprofessional, it’s OP’s company for choosing this type of event without taking into consideration the fact that not everyone will be able to or wants to participate. The point of my post is that the original poster that I’m replying to is focused on the wrong entity here. There is nothing unprofessional about the way this business is setup. It may not be for everyone, but it is in no way unprofessional.

      3. SnappinTerrapin*

        Any activity that calls for a waiver of liability is unsuitable for work.

    2. LW1*

      My company is one of the largest US tech companies and we have locations worldwide. I’m not sure what the parameters are for team builders, except we are only allowed 2 alcoholic drinks.

    3. pancakes*

      I wouldn’t assume that no one has taken any care whatsoever with regard to liability simply because the letter doesn’t ask about it. That’s a separate, unrelated question. There’s no particular reason to assume the escape room company is careless, sketchy, etc.

      1. Observer*

        Yes, there is. The OP spoke to them and their setup is such that everyone needs to do every activity and no observers allowed. And they seemed put out by the OP’s questions and points. That speaks to problems – especially since even with a group that all WANTS to be there, activities of this sort often wind u surprising people. Someone young and fit twists and ankle, someone one “fairly athletic” winds up falling on the tightrope, etc. What happens then? Refusal to even consider these possibilities is a very bad sign.

    4. Regular Reader*

      There was an ‘Adventurous Activities’ procedure at one charity where I worked which included a checklist. We worked with a lot of clients who had disabilities. Not only were risk assessments required but also sight of the external companies professional liability certificate.

    5. cottagechick*

      Ugh, I read the fire-walking and just cannot comprehend that someone said those words aloud to another team member and they said – yes that is a great idea

  47. Sense-itivity Course?*

    #3 Eesh. I echo the others who say you should look for a different kind of role. Here’s why:

    1. You work in a medical office, yet think it would be okay to tell patients not to use the bathroom (“I spoke with my doctors finally and requested that we ask her to not use our facilities.”)
    2. You seem not to understand that bowel issues happen to people, even if they “go before coming in.”
    3. Mention that it’s an “elderly patient” also gave me pause. Does that matter to you? Are you subconsciously or consciously assigning bias?
    4. There are quality unscented odor-eater products on the market, probably some among the ones your doctors have already offered to buy. It’s unclear from the letter whether you accepted this or waved it off.
    5. The fact that your doctors had to TELL YOU it would be discrimination, and also that they refused to speak with this patient about the issue, should have stopped you. From complaining about it, from sending this letter, etc.

    Bathrooms are to be used. Human beings use these bathrooms. Waste comes out of human beings. Waste can stink. Being aghast over people making noises/emitting smells in a room meant for disposing of waste is ridiculous to me. (And as an aside, it’s amusing how people are also fine with swimming in bodies of water that our waste flows into.)

    And come on, people, suggesting to schedule the patient at a time convenient to the receptionist’s nose? That’s also ridiculous.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I remember reading a whole article about how people are squeamish about using the bathroom at work, and it’s like…it’s…the bathroom. Until they finally replace us all with automatons, the bathroom seems like an appropriate place to use the bathroom!

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Right? I don’t usually walk into any bathroom (especially a public one) expecting it to smell like a rose garden. I get that sometimes the smell can be overwhelming, even for a bathroom, but I think we all understand that it’s a part of being human. No one is defecating AT you (I hope!)

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      May LW#3 never develop a bowel condition or suffer the side effects of some treatment that causes them symptoms like the office’s patient here. The LW is dealing with odor once a month, while the patient has to live with the physical and mental distress all the time, day in and day out. The rules on this site are to “be kind” to letter-writers so I’ll stop there.

  48. Blue Glass*

    “ I spoke with my doctors finally and requested that we ask her to not use our facilities.”
    I think you are the receptionist that makes people quit medical practices. You’re incredibly put out with this woman and it is no doubt evident to her and everyone else in the waiting room.

    Can’t you just open the window and spray febreeze after she leaves??

  49. ACM*

    #3: Former janitor here. If you’re in the US, get you a bottle of something called NABC–Non-Acidic Bathroom Cleaner.

    It’s the bathroom blue stuff, it’s cheap, I think it’s made by a company called Spartan Chemicals so you could google for whoever you local Spartan Chemical dealer is and possibly buy a bottle for the office. When I say cheap, I mean a quart of this stuff is under four bucks US and it doesn’t take too much to work. I work retail these days but I bought a bottle for my workplace and it’s come in handy on numerous times.

    I’m not suggesting you clean the bathroom with it yourself, but it neutralizes odors pretty well if you pour a good splash of it into a toilet, especially if the bowl is refilling after a flush when you add it (helps it aerosolize). It won’t immediately knock them out but it will spread and counteract them given enough time.

    It may not be part of your job description, but it sounds like you and your office might be better off if you hold your nose (literally and figuratively) and go take steps to remedy the problem before it gets too bad after one of the poor old thing’s visits. If you can’t do it, maybe appeal to a coworker with a noble disposition and a strong stomach.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I was thinking, open the window, set up a fan, use some of that smell-sealing drops and put some Vicks under her nose.

    2. That One Person*

      This right here is my favorite solution (pun not intended) because it also doesn’t leave OP to attempt unnecessary and possibly intrusive detective work, and doesn’t require trying to change someone’s appointment time since that might be the time that works best for the patient. If it can be combined with a vent then even better, and if not then at least it’s a cheap answer to an otherwise silly problem. I sympathize that some smells suck to deal with, but I also feel like OP’s just somehow gotten lucky that it’s been mostly or only this lady so far so something to deal with every time strikes me as better. Also on the bright side at least the lady isn’t doing “art” every time she’s in there.

  50. Super Worried*

    OP #2 – Super is a pretty basic business obligation, I’d be worried for sure. The other points are less definitive but I wouldn’t be too happy staying some where with no hiring and staff who are already overworked.

    Report the super issue to the ATO! They even have a web form to make it easier – google “ato report unpaid super” and it will come up (no link as I think the comments filter eats them.) Good luck!

  51. CommanderBanana*

    Aaah yes, the old “team building” activities that end up excluding people, like my company’s legendary all-staff mandatory retreat…on Yom Kippur. Much inclusive, such team building.

  52. Threeve*

    Alright, my advice to the LW is: no, you can’t really do anything about the pooper. A number of the responses to your letter are quite extreme, if you read the comment section please don’t let them make you feel like a horrible person or like you need to quit your job.

    Because personally, I find comments like “lack of empathy or grace,” “start looking for another job” or “you are in the wrong line of work” wildly over the top.

  53. Critical Rolls*

    I wonder if LWs 2 and 4 can switch places? 2 can go with the flow and not worry about growth opportunities, and 4 can take over Chaos Office!

  54. CCC*

    LW 3: it sounds like the exhaust fan is either underpowered for the size of the bathroom, or it’s operating poorly (probably because of dust in the fan and/or duct), or perhaps it needs to be replaced with one that runs quietly 24/7 rather than only when it is briefly turned on. You could also put a little stand-alone HEPA air purifier in the bathroom. I have one in my kitchen and it works great to clear odors faster than the range hood alone. At a minimum it helps keep the air moving so the exhaust fan can do its thing better.

    1. CCC*

      Edit: just noticed that there is no exhaust fan. It’s not a particularly large or expensive project to add one in a room that’s adjacent to an outside wall. They should hire a contractor and add a fan.

  55. Observer*

    #1 – There are a lot of people without any sort of disability as the term is used, who could not participate in this activity. There is no way I could do a tightrope, and to the best of my knowledge I don’t have any disabilities that could be relevant here.

    It is stunning to me that a supposedly good manager would not realize this, unless he’s really young and has a fairly narrow circle of acquaintance.

  56. Witty Name Here*

    Definitely agreeing with other’s suggestion of poopouri, though others have mentioned odorless options such as fans and PERSONALLY I think that’s an even better idea. I’m someone whose migraines are frequently triggered by artificial smells (scented candles, many types of febreeze, car air fresheners), and while poopouri does not bother me PERSONALLY, it’s possible it would be a problem for other people, so odorless is the answer if you can swing it!

    Regarding the poopouri, it was pretty effective when my mother had to empty her colostomy bag which otherwise stank up the whole house. And listen: what came out of her was the secondmost unholy odor I have ever smelled in my life (#1 is actually also bathroom related lol). Trust me when I say she KNEW and felt horribly embarrassed about it, even though she couldn’t help it.

    So please, I understand how unpleasant it can be, but anyone whose body is doing this kind of unholy thing is probably far more miserable living with it than you are having to smell it once a month.

    (Side note: on the topic of air fresheners, if you can only get febreeze or something similar, I would personally aim for whatever is the blandest scent available. For me, “clean linen” or whatever is far more tolerable and less likely to make me ill than the tropical or floral ones, though I don’t know if that’s a common experience among migraine-havers.)

    Good luck finding a solution! Really, if you can get the fan/ventilation set up that others have suggested, your patients will also probably feel waaay more relaxed knowing their own odors aren’t going to linger.

  57. Retired Lady*

    I worked in a store where the restrooms were at the farthest point from the entrance. You had to take the escalator down to the lower level, ask for a key from the checkout cashier (the restrooms were locked because of high shoplifting) and walk all the way to the back of store. We were in a neighborhood with many elderly customers, and every once in a while someone didn’t make it to the restroom in time. Believe me, that’s worse than just the smell.

  58. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    When will managers get that physically demanding “team building” things do not actually build team camaraderie?! Not only do people have invisible and visible disabilities, but what happens if someone breaks their arm the day before the team building. Now they can’t participate. And what would happen if someone gets hurt? Is this going to be covered by workers comp? Are they going to force you to use up vacation time while you heal? Probably not. How much do you want to bet that the company makes the workers sign an agreement that if anything happens the company is not held liable.

    And tight rope walking! WTH? I sure hope this means walking on a jump rope laid on the floor and that you are not actually suspended above the ground. Some people may have a fear of heights that doesn’t get into the disability range but would be terrified to do these things.

    I’m all for escape rooms. I think they are fun and I have done some digital ones. But there are options for escape rooms that are not physically demanding!

  59. shadowette*

    LW#1 – I’m going to make a different recommendation than most: lie. On the day of the event (when it’s too late to cancel), call out sick. You can say you aren’t feeling well, and it may be COVID, so it would be safer for everyone if you just didn’t attend.

    I know this is unethical, but they’ve put you in a situation that no one should be forced into with their antiquated, non-inclusive ideas of what “team building” should be. You can push back and try to make your management understand how inappropriate they are being, but you shouldn’t have to do so. And if you really don’t feel comfortable trying to push back on your own, then you should feel free to get out of it some other way.

    It’s my personal belief that shy individuals should not be forced to “take a stand” just because others are unenlightened and ill-informed.

    1. Veryanon*

      The old “fake an injury” excuse. I like it, but it won’t solve the ongoing lack of inclusiveness. I think LW should both fake the illness and then afterwards bring it up with HR if they have it at that company.

  60. Veryanon*

    The bathroom letter: I empathize with LW, as I have a very sensitive nose and a hair-trigger gag reflex. But especially at a doctor’s office, you can’t refuse to let someone use the facilities if they need to use them. What you can do is install air filters and invest in odor-absorbing things (there’s a hospital grade spray that works pretty well, as well as charcoal odor absorbers). You might also want to consider carrying a sachet or other small item that you can sniff as needed.
    I feel badly for the patient, as she probably can’t control when she has to go to the bathroom.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I can sympathize with you about both the sensitive nose and the gag reflex. But, if you are like me, both will calm down with age.

  61. Grey Coder*

    LW4 — Just to say that this can be par for the course when you’re in a large company. My ExJob was at a medium sized (150 employees) subdivision of a GlobalMegaCorp. Decisions and actions which you’d have thought were straightforward can turn out to require surprising amounts of time and bureaucracy. I’m pretty sure the career ladders were always “in development”. Projects would come and go, and it was often just luck of who was available at the time whether you’d be on a substantial project or a smaller one.

    Pragmatically, of course, you could work around this if your line manager was willing to be more proactive and go to bat for you. It doesn’t sound like this is the case though.

    1. LW4*

      Thanks! You’re right that if my manager had been more proactive and communicative about possibilities or if I felt they were pushing for me, things might have been different. But, that wasn’t the case — since writing this question, I found a new opportunity and left. I’m quite happy that I did.

  62. Internist*

    My current manager is not the greatest manager in many ways, but I’m grateful he understands that ‘fun’ team-building activities have to be 100% opt-in to be actually fun. It’s considered totally acceptable to skip any given activity without stating a reason, and we usually have one per month so there’s a variety of things to do and if one activity isn’t to someone’s taste, there’s likely to be something totally different the next month.

    I think it goes along with an attitude to work I find very helpful: we are there to do our job, not to have fun or be best friends. We can work as a team without doing silly team-building activities because we’re professionals.

  63. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    “My boss hasn’t paid my superannuation for a while (Not in the US).”

    You need to get this fixed ASAP. Speak to a lawyer if you have to or whatever government department deals with this (if there is one) but get this fixed immediately. If the company declares bankruptcy then you will get nothing.
    You will pay the ultimate price for this for the rest of your life after retirement if its not fixed.

    Then once its repaid find another job immediately.

  64. EJane*

    LW3: look on Amazon for Levoit air purifiers. They’re about the size of a small trash can and do a good job of capturing odors. I had one in my bathroom when I was (very stupidly) doing resin casting in an apartment, and it got the smell under control quite quickly. I have an extremely sensitive sense of smell and have mine running 24/7, and it’s lasted for years.
    I saw your comment about poopouri not being an option. Is an unscented version an 0ption? There are other brands that offer something similar without any added scents.

    I won’t attack you for a lack of empathy. I understand other’s concerns, but as someone who also works in healthcare, I also understand how insidious compassion fatigue is and how when you’re stretched incredibly thin as it is, something like this can feel unbearable. You’re allowed to find this incredibly unpleasant; just make sure you’re treating this patient extra kindly to be very sure you’re not transmitting that frustration to the patient.

    Also look at Hollister m9 ostomy spray, or things like it, which are designed to neutralize instead of covering up. A diffuser will cover the scent, but won’t remove it, and is likely to give sensitive patients headaches. (Strong air freshener can trigger my asthma. It’s a whole thing.)

  65. Lizzo*

    LW5: The best companies to work for are frequently the ones that are very generous and progressive with their benefits, including parental leave. You *might* be able to ask a question in the initial interview about benefits and how the company supports families in particular, and frame it as wanting to know because it’s a barometer for overall quality of life for ALL employees (vs. asking for your own benefit). I’m struggling to come up with the correct wording…maybe someone else can suggest something?

    I agree with Alison that asking about this helps normalize it, because “of course you (company) would be supporting your employees with good benefits including generous parental leave, flexible schedules, etc.”.

  66. Nameless in Customer Service*

    LW#3 — I used to work on a hospital inpatient floor. The smells could be incredible, surprising, and unexpected. In addition to hospital spray deoderizers (if your office works with any hospitals just ask your contact — also a few kinds have been mentioned by name above), I would also recommend strong peppermints such as Altoids. Holding one of those under my tongue really helped counteract nausea from terrible smells. This may have been placebo, but it felt like the peppermint was keeping my airways clean.

    Also, you may have noticed your question touched a nerve with many commenters. I don’t agree that you need to get a new job or that your “contempt” is “obviously showing” to the patients, though it may be worth a moment of self-reflection to make certain that you don’t treat this patient in an unwelcoming manner. (After all, if we in customer service can learn to smile at an entitled person screaming so hard their spittle lands on one’s face, we can learn to keep smiling through nearly anything.) One thing that was emphasized in my training was that for us this is a day at work but for patients this is an experience that is at least unpleasant and can be terrifying or worse. People need to not feel judged for what’s going on with their bodies.

    There’s a lot of unpleasant aspects to reception, and a lot of unpleasant aspects to medical work, and you sit at the nexus of those. I hope you can get the ventilation upgraded and that the peppermints help, but in the end this is a situation you probably simply have to learn to endure as part of professionalism. You can do it. I’m cheering you on!

  67. Nameless in Customer Service*

    I’m pleasantly surprised at the response to #1, considering that on other questions here (such as one about a five mile walk) the commentariat has taken the tack that if we ever change any prospective work-bonding activity we head down a slippery slope of never being able to do any activities at all. I’m really glad no one has said something like “people like to do activities together and if you don’t something’s wrong with you.” Good luck, LW #1 !

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      Really? Because usually the commentariat here skews heavily to the side of never wanting to participate in any team-building activities of any kind, ever, and Alison herself has spoken against it many many many times. There’s usually a couple people who pop up in favour of team-building exercises, but by and large the commentariat are not fans.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I love team building exercises. I do not love being forced to participate in physically unsafe activity under the guise of team-building.

  68. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    In regards to the bathroom OP. I would like to add, that the patient may be coming in because of stomach issues, so of course she may need to use the bathroom while she is visiting you. This may also be why the doctors are saying it is discrimination. She may have a medical condition that qualifies under the ADA. And being that the OP is a receptionist and not a nurse they most likely do not have access to the patience medical record so there would be no way to find out. Plus if OP did have access to the medical record or doctors notes that would be a huge breach of privacy because there is no reason a receptionist should be looking at that information. (I am a receptionist for a campus health care facility and there are a few items I can see but it is a huge no-no to go looking at stuff unless there is a specific reason).

    OP I would highly recommend asking the doctor to get an unscented air freshener or see about getting a fan or something for the room. If the window opens perhaps you can get a small window fan and run it periodically.

    I wonder, has anyone, such as other patients, come and said anything about the smell or are you the only one who has a problem with it? If it bothers you that much I would recommend maybe some essential oils that you can put right under your nose?

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      I forgot to add. The patient most likely knows that she stinks. As someone who has stomach issues, I am keenly aware of when I’m more stinky than normal. Imagine how embarrassed she must feel. What if you did say something to her and then she decided not to keep coming in, and doesn’t get the medical care that she needs? Please be aware when this person comes in and make sure you are being kind to her and treating her the same way you treat all of the patients. If you are unable to do this, perhaps working in a medical office is not the best career for you.

  69. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    #3 – Not having a vent or fan or HVAC system in a shared bathroom is not just propagating stink issues, but it makes it incredibly dangerous for spreading Covid and other airborne germs/diseases. Anyone who goes in there after someone else is breathing in their same potentially-contaminated air, even hours later. Could OP bring this up to her bosses or the building manager and ask them to install venting/hVAC in the bathroom? And it’s in a doctor’s office of all places, it should be made as safe as possible.

  70. Editrix Potter*

    LW#3 This is a very specific, likely non-helpful suggestion, but any chance this is an office that offers medical massage? I used to work in a medical office with a single bathroom where this was happening. The smell wasn’t great, but we were busy and the bathroom being occupied so long was the main issue. One day I mentioned it to the massage therapist and she said, “hmm, I wonder if he’s a bit sensitive to that release point I do at the end. Since it’s not related to his main issue I’ll cut it out for a bit and see if he says anything.” She did and the issue was gone and he didn’t seem to notice. Again very specific, but the medical services provided this could also be a part of it.

  71. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #2 -” • The company’s in financial trouble”

    As my father used to tell me , “Rats that flee a sinking ship and seek higher ground have a better chance of survival than those that stay aboard, who almost certainly will drown.”

  72. Le Sigh*

    All of this. And if LW were to raise it with her, I wouldn’t be shocked if she either switched doctor’s offices or stopped going to the doc at all (meaning she’d not be getting care she needs). It’s likely to not only embarrass her, but make her feel unwelcome. People already deal with so much judgment within the medical community and it keeps them from getting care. I have had some docs and dentists make me feel like an inconvenience or problem (for other non-toilet-related reasons) and I have noped right out of there. Medical stuff is stressful enough and I don’t need a friggin doctor’s office — designed to support your medical needs — to add to that.

  73. appleaday*

    LW5: Note that once you get to an offer stage, parental leave is also something you can negotiate on (and I made it clear I would pass on the offer over this). I asked my current company for them to add on an additional 4 paid weeks to match the organization I was leaving, and not only did they add it for me they made it a company-wide standard!

    1. V*

      This is amazing! I am really committed to openly discussing and negotiating on parental leave in all future interviews. Your example shows how one person can push the world forward, one employer at a time!

  74. I Said What I Said*

    LW#3: Warning – Unpopular Opinion

    Call that (literal) $^!t out. There are ways to acknowledge it without being crass or discriminatory. For example, when she comes in for her next visit, let her know that the bathroom has ventilation problem that affects the air quality of the entire facility after use and while you’re working on it, you kindly ask that all guests use Poo-Pourri before having a bowel movement and (hospital-grade odor-eliminating product of choice) after. I highly recommend Ozium. Put a sign in the bathroom next to a basket of said products.

    I genuinely believe beating around the bush is only going to prolong the issue. I learned this from experience. E.g. I had a house guest who would go #2 every morning at the exact moment I woke up. Unfortunately the only toilet was behind a door less than 15 feet from my bed. All of my subtle nudges were ignored. What worked was just telling her, “Hey, please use the Poo-Pourri in the morning before you go because I can hear and smell everything.”

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      May I pull a Miss Manners on you. There is a significant difference between a friend who is staying with you, and a patient/customer at a doctor’s office. What is appropriate for the first may not work for the second.

      Based on the way your written tone comes across, if I were the woman with the large stinky stuff, and you were that plain, I’d find a new doctor.

      1. Popinki(she/her)*

        Same here. When I started taking Metformin it gave me the trots so bad there were plenty of times I barely made it to the toilet in time – no time to stop and spray Poo-Pourri into the toilet when I’m trying desperately not to soil myself. I also got gas like no one’s business. A year it’s much better but my GI tract can still pull some crazy stunts. I can’t help what it smells like and I have zero control over when these bouts will come on. I do use air freshener out of sympathy for my coworkers, who have all been discreet enough not to mention any aromas I leave behind.

        A friend I’m close enough with to stay at their house can get away with things others can’t, and that goes for the staff at the doctor’s office, where I’d expect a bit of sympathy.

    2. Me!*

      This is a patient in a medical office, not a houseguest in the OP’s home. I can’t imagine saying that to someone who comes in for their appointment, in front of the entire waiting room, and not getting into massive trouble. It would be very unprofessional for a medical receptionist to remark on someone’s condition like that.

      1. I STILL Said What I Said*

        You’re embellishing. I didn’t recommend LW confront her in a public space, nor would I. I’d suggest bringing it up in the privacy of the treatment room. And I’d do it in a heartbeat because we’re talking about strong human waste odor. Intentional or not, it’s disgusting and should be addressed.

        Basically if a masseuse can speak to a client about body odors, a medical practitioner can talk to a patient about fouling up the facility for HOURS. I’d care more about that than her hurt feelings. Sorry, not sorry.

    3. RagingADHD*

      You are perfectly at liberty to harass your houseguests about using your bathroom for its intended purpose, if that’s the way you roll. In my opinion, if you are annoyed by someone’s normal body functions, maybe don’t offer to host them. They aren’t going to the bathroom AT you.

      Nevertheless, the way you handle things at your house is irrelevant. The LW is at work. In a medical office. The patient in question is there for treatment, not a social call. Harassing patients about having bodies– and in particular, bodies that don’t work right –is never okay. Nor is it okay to demand that patients (especially elderly patients) clean up the facility or compensate for the ventilation system.

      The ventilation system is management’s problem to solve. Spraying fragrances or other chemicals in the patient area needs to be cleared with the doctors as well.

    4. Irish Teacher*

      To be honest, I think that could cause serious problems in a medical practice, possibly even more so with an elderly lady who may have grown up in an era when it was less socially acceptable to talk about such things. She might well be embarrassed to come back to the practice and that could possibly mean she doesn’t get necessary medical treatment.

      I think your situation was different as the person was staying with you, whereas this is somebody who only comes to the practice once a month and who may well have medical needs.

      And honestly, I would also be concerned that the LW could be putting her job at risk if she were to say something like that to a paying patient.

      1. I STILL Said What I Said*

        Just because you’re a paying customer, or patient, doesn’t excuse you from common decency. The office isn’t her home. Its a public space that should be kept clean and odor-free as much as possible. Also safe odor-eliminating sprays are used by medical practices all the time for things like vomit. I don’t see how why this wouldn’t be an option here?

        You could spray it down after she uses it without even telling her since apparently not embarrassing her for doing something she should feel embarrassed doing is more important than the comfort of other paying patients.

        I can empathize with her and feel disgusted at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive.

        1. Scarlet2*

          Using a bathroom for its intended purpose is against “common decency”? Seriously? I suppose you fart rainbows and your s*it smells like roses?

          1. SloanGhost*

            They really like to throw around the word disgusting. When you point fingers, something something!

  75. Too Many Dogs*

    To #3: I have a condition that causes me to, as you put it, “take a dump” at VERY inopportune times (important meetings, long car trips, out to eat, visiting friends….). If your patient is doing this every single time she comes, it’s possible that she has a similar condition and she just can’t help it. Trust me when I tell you that we would rather have this happen in the privacy of our own homes. We know that we take up too much time in the bathroom when this happens. We know that it doesn’t smell pleasant (we’re in there, too). I will apologize for this lady, and for the rest of us in this club that no one wants to be in. But I will request a little understanding, too.

    1. I STILL Said What I Said*

      To me, expecting people to tolerate repeated exposure to the potent odor of your fecal matter is ill-mannered. Having a medical condition doesn’t excuse anyone, IMHO, from not even attempting to lesson any negative impact of that condition on strangers.

      Like if I knew my body produced extremely offensive smells, I’d bring my own spray with me wherever I go. But some people just don’t know it’s a problem unless you speak up. Its just spray people, I’m not advocating you cuss her out and lock the bathroom door. Relax lol.

    2. LittleMarshmallow*

      You have nothing to apologize for. Everybody poops. I’m sorry You have to deal with judgy people about it. :(

      Really, they should be going after the facilities or building owner to provide a properly ventilated restroom instead of this poor lady for using a bathroom for its intended purpose.

      That benefits everyone without singling anyone out.

  76. Thagomizer*

    If someone wanted to write a book and build a training course on “inclusive team building” and “inclusive offsites” I feel like they could have a decent business. Especially if you cover things like disabilities, inclusive sizing on corporate clothing, things you can gift employees that aren’t sized and aren’t food, alcohol and being inclusive of folks who don’t drink, handling different religious requirements, etc.

  77. Forty Years in the Hole*

    LW3: I plugged in a small ion/hepa air purifier in the enclosed, windowless main floor laundry room, which also houses 2 litter bins. This room – and the bins – greeted you as soon as you walked in the side door because…cats :p. It’s made a world of difference. Runs 24/7.
    I also swear by a Lamp Berger oil and diffuser; fill the decanter with their neutral/scentless oil, and burn the catalytic wick for about 10 min (set a timer). Blow it out and the residual heat from the wick will diffuse the oil for at least 30-40 min. Obviously place it in a spot where it can’t be disturbed, as the wick stays hot for a time. Flash it up when you open the office, and you should be able to maintain neutral air quality for a decent period of time. It’s not an immediate blast like a spray and shouldn’t create any sensitivity issues. Yes, it is a live flame so…caution.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      I was wondering about those ion/hepa air purifiers. Do they seem to help? I have 2 cats and 2 boxes, both of which are in the back part of the house. And I swear sometimes those darn cats have the stinkiest poos and it just hangs in the air and circulates to the back.

  78. Kotow*

    LW3: It sounds like you felt as though the issue was completely dismissed. It’s possible the doctors who responded in a dismissive way may feel differently if they were the ones around the lingering smell for an hour and worried about having to field questions/comments/complaints from patients about it. I completely get why this is an issue, and if I were in your position, I’d probably be filled with dread about someone coming up and asking me to do something about it!

    I agree with the other commenters though: you really can’t ask someone to not use a restroom available to everyone else. It’s very likely that she has no control over when she goes, but even if she did, you just can’t assume that’s the case. It’s a bad hole to go down determining whether someone has a “good enough” reason to be using the restroom. The other suggestions of improving ventilation, poo-pouri, air fresheners, even something pleasantly scented in your immediate workspace so you personally aren’t as affected by it are all good. I think realistically the best you can do is mitigation.

  79. Coffeecoffeecoffee*

    It was a suggestion. I did not say “schedule her appointments at the end of the day and if she doesn’t agree fire her as a patient.”

  80. Ardis Paramount*

    LW3 – please update and improve your bathroom’s ventilation before spending even one more second considering asking someone to not use it.
    If there’s any office that should prioritize compassion and consideration of health issues for all, it’s a medical office.

    1. Shallow Sky*

      Given that the doctors have said no, how specifically do you think LW3 should improve the ventilation?

  81. Smelly nelly*

    #3 I would do the following: 1) add a smelly candle along with extra Fabreeze spray, 2) add a sign printed on colored paper that says something like “please flush frequently because our pipes love it” straight across the toilet in
    hopes that this person will read it and do it, 3) consider an air purifier, and 4) fix your ventilation.
    One other thing to consider: is it possible that this patient has a diaper and is changing it in your bathroom? If the smell is so bad, that might be why. In that case, add a diaper pale.

  82. Meg*

    LW #5, I recently asked about this in a job interview process. It’s so tricky! I couldn’t reasonably accept a job with a poor parental leave policy. I used a script from a previous post, essentially: “I don’t have any immediate plans to start a family, but I want to be at —— a long time. Can you clarify your family leave policies?” I waited until I got my offer to ask. Best of luck!

  83. Noah (He/They)*

    More accurate and inclusive: “It’s against the law for employers to discriminate against a *person* because they fear *they’ll* become pregnant, but it happens way too often.”

    I am not a woman. I am also capable of getting pregnant. There have been lots of conversations about reproductive justice lately, which is great, but what isn’t great is that transgender and nonbinary people are excluded from these conversations nearly every time that they’re being held by cis people.

    When I see “We should protect pregnant women,” I think, “So if I got pregnant, would you not want to protect me?”

    When I see “All women deserve access to abortion,” I think, “So if I needed an abortion, do you think I don’t deserve access?”

    Transgender people who can get pregnant–whether they’re trans men or nonbinary or any other gender–are constantly excluded from these conversations even though we are absolutely affected by them. I know that from a cis perspective this may seem like a disproportionately strong reaction to a single line in an otherwise good post, but please understand that I am seeing this constantly, every single day, every single time that people discuss reproductive justice, and the cumulative effect is that trans people have virtually no voice in a conversation that absolutely affects us. I know that you default to she/her pronouns, AAM, and I normally get why and don’t want to get on your case about it—but in this specific instance, using she/her pronouns reinforces an incredibly harmful believe that’s having a huge negative impact on me and every single other trans person I know.

  84. AnonymousReader*

    LW #3 – I’m so sorry you have to put up with the smell! I remember when I went to an amusement park recently and I could not stand being near the kiddie rides because I smelled dirty diapers everywhere. It’s easy to say “put up with the smell” but it’s a smell that if you’re not used to, is very hard for you not to react to!

    I know this is probably the last thing you want to do, but have you taken a look at the bathroom after the patient uses it? It’s very possible she may be doing something that is causing the toilet to smell. Maybe she forgets to flush? Maybe she uses not-flushable wipes that are disposed of in the wastebasket making the restroom stink until the janitor changes out the trash? Or maybe she misses disposing of used toilet paper in the toilet bowl if her eyesight/aim is bad?

  85. All Outrage, All The Time*

    OP2 if you are in Australia, you have to be paid super quarterly at a minimum. Go to whoever does payroll and ask them to clarify how often they process super. And yeah, definitely look for another job.

  86. Raida*

    2. Am I right to be concerned about this company?
    “• My boss hasn’t paid my superannuation for a while (Not in the US).”

    IF you are in AUSTRALIA:

    This is not legal.
    I’m sorry this guy’s business isn’t doing well financially, but if it cannot afford to pay the legal requirements to remain in business it needs to shut down. Sorry.

    You need to get that money paid into your super immediately.
    You need to report the business to Fair Work.
    It is not legal to trade insolvent (not have enough money to cover existing costs) so if they are saving money on wages and super and “The company’s in financial trouble.” that sounds like maybe the business is doing more than one illegal practise AND NEITHER WILL GET YOU PAID WHAT YOU ARE OWED OR FIX THE DAMAGE DONE TO YOUR SUPER BALANCE DECADES FROM NOW.

    Get the Superannuation paid.
    When you have the money report them to Fair Work.
    This is not your business and everyone being nice does not mean the business owner gets to just not follow laws. They are on the hook for these issues. It’s sad, but the laws exist for very good reasons. Trying to be nice to someone with a failing business and covering up these breaches is not being nice it’s just screwing over other staff further to help the person that owns the problem.


  87. Raida*

    3. Patient keeps smelling up the office

    do not put in diffusers or candles. Firstly, they don’t fix smells, only add ‘pretty’ ones to the mix. Secondly, you’re a medical office – don’t introduce things that are fire hazards or can trigger respiratory conditions.

    Look for something like “poo-purie” that significantly lowers the smell from pooping.
    Install an exhaust fan.
    Clean the toilet regularly.

  88. LW3*

    Thank you Alison for taking my letter and for the advice given. And thank you to everyone that gave constructive and thoughtful criticisms. Some comments were down right mean and made me feel terrible, so for those that had that goal in mind…you succeeded. That being said, I should have wrote the letter differently as to not come across so crass and unsympathetic. Which was not my intention at all! Even I cringe as I now days later go back and re read my letter.

    And No worries…..The patient(or any others for that matter) will only be treated with kindness and compassion and will not be shamed or treated unfairly or made uncomfortable in anyway! I would not still have a job if I treated patients like that!

    In the mean time I will be continuing to fight for ventilation! :)

  89. Ailsa McNonagon*

    LW3- it’s very possible that this woman DID go to the toilet before she left home! Everyone in my family suffers from a really unpleasant form of IBS and when we have to go, we have to go NOW. There’s no holding it in- the freight train has left the depot and will deliver whether you like it or not.

    My mother has been refused access to toilets in the past, and predictably soiled herself. This made much more of a mess for the person who refused to allow her to use the toilet to clean up, as well as being incredibly humiliating for my mum. My siblings have also had close calls due to people who thought they should have gone before they left home, and it always smacks of cruelty to be refused access when the person can see how much physical pain we’re in (there’s no mistaking what’s going on- if you’ve ever tried to hold diarrhoea in you know how hard it is to disguise).

    Take the doctors up on their offer of sprays, candles etc. You could provide PooPouri (you spray it down the loo before doing your business and it’s quite effective at reducing odours) for patients to use. Do you really want to be the person who forced an elderly lady to shit herself?

  90. MCMonkeyBean*

    Oh goodness, LW3–I do have some sympathy for having to deal with the stink but holy cow the idea that you asked to ban someone at a *medical office* from using the restroom is frankly pretty enraging.

    Presumably she has an appointment right? So you know when she is coming in? Why not try putting some “poo-pouri” in the toilet when you know she’ll be arriving soon? Try matches after she is gone? I don’t know but you said the doctors offered to provide things and it sounds like so far you have tried nothing other than refusing to allow her access to the restroom which is frankly a pretty cruel solution.

  91. LittleMarshmallow*

    Not sure if this has been mentioned… but for smelly bathroom, instead of insisting that a lady not be allowed to poop (which is just inappropriate) maybe recommend or ask that they consider adding an exhaust fan in the restroom. If you have a facilities team bring it to them… otherwise you might have to find an external contractor to do it.

    Unless you’re leasing a building with ridiculous rules it should be a pretty easy fix to make. You can get different styles including wall mounted ones (like if you don’t have roof access for exhaust). An industrial HVAC company should be able to do it.

  92. SloanGhost*

    Was anyone else coming from vet med’s response to #3 hysterical laughter or “oh you sweet summer child”? Once a month! One hour! Imagine!

    Mind I’m not at ALL unsympathetic to feeling nauseated by bodily function odors, but also…you work in a medical office, you’d think you might connect the dots that probably you see some disabled people. Maybe a little more kindness/compassion for this person who is probably not THRILLED to be blowing up a public restroom.

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