a client pooped in my car, HR person is married to an employee, and more

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

1. A client pooped in my company car

I (he/they) do intensive case management for folks with severe mental illness and substance abuse at a large agency. Part of my job involves helping these folks do things they’d struggle to do on their own, which sometimes involves transporting them in a car provided by the agency.

While I have strict boundaries about not transporting anyone who is high/drunk, heavy drug use does a lot of damage to the body. Recently I had a gentleman lose control of his bowels while I was transporting him home, all over my passenger seat and the passenger side door.

When I got back to the agency, clearly the car could not be driven nor could anyone else be transported in it until it was deep cleaned. Authorizing an outside service to do so would have taken an unrealistic amount of time given the levels of bureaucracy, which like … I needed the car, and also ew?

I formerly had an awesome and very on top of it boss, but her replacement is not super in touch with things on the ground. I brought this to Boss and was told to hand it off to our cleaning staff. I felt very bad about this and like I should be the one cleaning since it was my client, but lacked the equipment to do so. Our cleaning department was understandably not thrilled and attempted to convince our volunteer staff to do it (!), which resulted in back and forth communication that took up half my day. I finally roped Boss in after much effort and cleaning staff did the cleaning.

Similar things have happened with bedbugs, urine, and once a package of chicken that slid out of a grocery bag and under the passenger seat. This or a similar incident will happen again. I’m not sure how it was handled before my former boss left. My coworkers are at such a level of frustration with current Boss that I haven’t been able to get useful advice from them.

Do you have suggestions for where to go from here, or how to talk to Boss about this? I feel anxious enough about this that I’d rather spend half the day soaking my car in chemicals than deal with the back and forth again. Or, y’know, just nuke it from orbit. Help?

I don’t see why you should have to clean the agency car just because it was your client who soiled it, and it’s likely that it’s not the best use of your time or skills when you presumably have other clients you need to deal with and don’t have the training or equipment for handling hazardous waste. You do need a protocol for when it happens though, whether that’s to hand it off to the cleaning staff or use an outside service. If it’s part of the cleaning staff’s job, then your boss needs to make that clear to them (or to whoever manages them). If they object, it needs to be sorted out now, before the next incident.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that it should be the cleaning staff’s job. I don’t know if it should be or not; it depends on the specifics of their jobs and what alternatives are available. Ideally your agency would contract with an outside service that specializes in this kind of clean-up, and if you have influence over how it’s handled, that’s what I’d push for. But either way, everyone needs to know what the protocol is going to be.

So the right next step is to go back to your boss and say, “The cleaning staff didn’t agree last time that this was their job. Can we get clarity between our team and theirs on what the protocol is when an agency car needs deep cleaning, so that they and we are both on the same page and we’re not fighting it out with them case by case?”

2. I’m flying to a work conference next week, and I may or may not be contagious

I’m supposed to fly with my manager to a conference mid next week. The problem is, I may or may not be contagious with Hand, Foot, Mouth Disease.

I’m awaiting feedback from my doctor, and will definitely heed their advice first and foremost. But the gist is, HMF is a highly contagious virus. Most adults don’t even exhibit symptoms. Lucky me, I look like a 17th century plague victim, but I’m already starting to heal. However, people can remain contagious for weeks after exposure. (I think it’s like Covid, where you can continue to test positive for 90 days even after you cleared the virus.) 

Assuming my doctor says I’m fine to travel, what are my obligations to my manager? She has an immunocompromised adult son in her life. (They do not live together.) She has been extremely vigilant throughout Covid, and I respect her decisions to protect herself. In our country, we no longer have mask mandates, and she’s travelling on her own, interacting with people, going to restaurants, etc.

When she expressed concern, I explicitly asked what she wanted me to do. I offered to recuse myself from the conference, but she’s saying that if anyone should drop out, it should be her. I suspect that even if my doctor clears me for travel, my manager still won’t want to travel with me. Should I be more forceful and insist that I be the one who stays behind? Should I accept that she wants me to go on my own?

If it makes any difference, she and I were meant to lead a presentation together. She’s been to the conference many times, and this would be my first time.

First and foremost, if there’s any possibility that you’re still contagious, you shouldn’t go — full stop. (I assume that’s what you mean by waiting for your doctor to clear you.)

But if you and your doctor are both confident that you’re not contagious and you still want to go, it’s your manager’s call whether to have either of you drop out. If she wants you to go while she stays back, she can make that call. (And who knows, maybe she’d be glad to get out of it.)

But also, even if you’re no longer contagious, if you’d rather not go before you’ve fully healed it’s okay to say that too. Just be clear that you’re deciding that based on your own situation, not trying to override your manager’s choice about herself.

3. Our only HR person is married to an employee

I need a reality check. I work in a private company’s small office of less than 50 people. We have one HR person for the whole office, and they are married to one of our regular employees. Their relationship is not secret. The HR person was hired a year ago, and the spouse was brought onboard a few months after that.

For me the situation reads as very problematic. I can’t know that confidentiality and privacy are kept on the side of HR (they shouldn’t, but it is possible that they would gossip to their spouse, right?), nor that HR decisions are not influenced by subjective information or gossip the spouse brings home. In addition to that, I find myself thinking that should the spouse ever be promoted, how will I ever know that this was a fair-and-square promotion and not favoritism? What if I ever have an issue with the spouse that I need HR’s involvement in? Will they be able to be fair to me?

The vast majority of colleagues I spoke to about this have found no issue at all in this situation, and I am guessing upper management is also okay with it, seeing as they have hired them, and the relationship is not a secret, but I find it alarming. What’s your verdict? Is it ever okay for HR to have relationships with the employees like this?

It depends on what kind of HR job this person does. In a small office, it’s possible that they’re not doing any particularly sensitive work — in some small organizations, the “HR person” mostly does payroll and benefits administration and isn’t involved in higher-level work like promotions, employee relations, or complaint investigations. (In fact, that’s the most common set-up in small organizations; you generally don’t need a true “HR” person until you hit 50-100 employees, so in smaller orgs it’s often more of a clerk-type role that’s tacked on to another job.)

If your HR person is the small-org, payroll/benefits clerk type job, then being married to another employee isn’t inherently a conflict of interest (although they’d still need to keep payroll info private). But if the person is involved in higher-level HR work like promotions or investigations, then it’s a huge conflict of interest! It would be wildly inappropriate for them to be involved in, for example, fielding complaints about the spouse (and there would need to be a completely separate path for those complaints to be fielded/investigated, and employees would need to feel confident the HR person wouldn’t have any influence into or knowledge about it).

4. Can you treat employees differently based on whether they have a family to support?

I have a question for you about a situation that occurred several years ago when I was just out of high school and working at my first part-time retail job. My starting pay was a few cents above minimum wage. After a couple of years as a cashier, I began to take on more responsibilities, including not just stocking shelves, but also ordering refills from our suppliers and sometimes working with heavy machinery. One day, I asked the owner of the store for a raise. What followed was an extremely uncomfortable conversation. After several “umms” and “aahs” and quite a bit of dead air, he asked me a series of questions like, “Don’t you still live with your parents?” and “You don’t have a wife or kids to support, do you?” and “Are your parents paying for college?” It became clear that his justification for not giving me a raise was that I “didn’t need it.” At the time, I was too nervous to shut his questions down, so I answered honestly that I was still getting some support from my parents.

Looking back, the owner’s questions seem unethical. This was far from the only example of ageism I experienced on the job. I was often looked down on for being in my teens and 20s while many of the other employees were semi-retired and working part-time. Are these types of questions legal to ask? I know that you can’t legally discriminate against someone for being over 40, but I wonder about these more subtle types of discrimination against the young. Can you prioritize which employees to pay based on need?

At the federal level, age discrimination laws only kick in at age 40; there’s no legal protection against discrimination for being younger than that. So his questions weren’t illegal, just gross and crappy. (However, a small number of states do have age discrimination laws that kick in earlier.)

But employers shouldn’t pay based on what someone’s expenses are; they should pay based on the value of your work … and believe me, you won’t get a pay raise for having students loans or when your rent goes up or when you have high medical bills. Your boss was buying into an old-school (and often sexist) mentality about compensation. Or at least he was using it as his excuse in the moment; it wouldn’t surprise me to find out he was underpaying your coworkers with dependents too.

5. Do I have to respond to recruiters when I’m not interested?

I’ve been getting increasingly pushy messages from recruiters, even though I am not currently job hunting and have not indicated on LinkedIn or any other website that I might be looking. The recruiter messages tend to come via the following sources:
– Direct messages in LinkedIn
– Friend requests from recruiters on LinkedIn, accompanied by a message about the role
– Direct emails to my personal email (and once to my work email!)

The roles being offered are usually not great: start-ups, short-term contract work, companies with a bad reputation as employers. Lately, I’ve been getting messages about roles that aren’t in my field (for example, if I was in accounting, a position for an HR rep). Do I need to respond to all these messages, even with a short “thanks but no thanks”?

Nope, you do not! Recruiters tend to blast out jobs to a huge number of people and they don’t expect to hear back from everyone. It’s very normal to simply delete and ignore unless you’re interested.

{ 408 comments… read them below }

  1. Lioness*

    #1 definitely get clarity on who’s cleared to clean and what supplies are needed for biohazards.

    I’m a nurse and at our hospital, our cleaning personnel are not cleared to clean anything considered a biohazard. We have to dispose and clean per protocol on those and they clean the floors, beds, counters, etc.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      I think we posted at the same time. I made a comparable comment below. Biohazards are not ordinary cleaning tasks.

      1. SemiAnon*

        I’m curious about how cleaning washrooms fits in under that. It’s a common task for cleaning staff, and it sometimes involves cleaning up bodily fluids that have been deposited outside the toilet, so do most cleaning staff have biohazard training, or is it regarded as a special case?

        In any event, I can definitely see how cleaning a bathroom floor (or wall) is quite different than cleaning biohazards out of upholstery in a car. How is it handled for cab drivers or Uber drivers, because this must occur on occasion as well.

        The sensible thing would be to have a cleaning company they work with that can be called up when needed, or to hire their own cleaning staff with this explicitly part of the job (and training and appropriate supplies provided).

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          When I worked as a cleaner while I was at university, my supervisor would not let me clean up vomit. (The job involved cleaning the student union building – the biggest bar and main music venue on campus- so this did happen sometimes.) I think this was because he had the training to clean biohazards and I didn’t.

          Fortunately, I never came across anything worse than vomit. The dressing rooms in the backstage area frequently got trashed by visiting bands, though. And a PSA – please don’t ever write on a mirror using lipstick, it looks cool but it’s really difficult to clean!

          1. Susie*

            Yeah, when I was an RA, we had very clear protocols for handling biohazards not, let’s say, deposited in the right place. I had the cover the area with a plastic bag or tape off so that it was clear there was a bio hazard then call the custodial hotline. I always felt terrible when I had to do this… but it makes sense this was the procedure for a safety perspective.
            OP I do think it is surprising your organization doesn’t already have a policy related to this. Your boss sounds frustrating, but from this random person on the internet, I think this is something you should really push and the language Alison gave is great.

            1. quill*

              I do wonder why this isn’t well established in a job that includes transporting people who are likely to have incontinence related medical problems.

          2. Erika Allbright*

            Hi, if you ever have to clean lipstick or other grease off a mirror, try using a razor blade. Slide it sideways, like a spatula, and pick up the substance off the glass. Then glass cleaner. ❤️

        2. Cmdrshpard*

          I worked retail and was in a position the was assigned cleaning the bathroom. The biohazard training was not that extensive, just a 15/20 minute module on how to handle biohazards, pee, vomit, blood, poop etc… It mainly consisted of instructions on wearing proper personal protective equipment PPE and how to dispose in properly marked bags. Most store employees did not get the training so they couldn’t clean up biohazards and I would be called in. I think most managers were also trained. I think i had to take it every year or every couple years.

        3. Lynca*

          My experience has been yes they do have limited biohazard training and I was in a retail position that intermittently was assigned to clean restrooms/the showfloor when I first started.

          Hilariously enough I ended up quitting that job because they asked me to clean up biohazard material without PPE and proper disposal equipment later on.

        4. New Jack Karyn*

          Uber and Lyft drivers are ‘independent contractors’ using their own cars, so they’re responsible for cleaning up messes. (I don’t like it any more than you do, but that’s how it stands legally, for now.)

          I recall that brief training when I worked in residential treatment. If it was a small mess, like a few drops from a nosebleed, we could clean it as we were trained. A larger mess, and we’d call custodial. They gave us a little wallet card with the basics printed on it, and at the bottom was the, well, bottom line:

          “If it’s wet and it’s not yours, don’t touch it!”

      2. bopper*

        1) Prevention: Get some kind of seat cover (water proof blanket? that protects your seats.

        2) Look for a local Biohazard clean up company, e.g., https://www.bioonetrentonnj.com/emergency-vehicle-decontamination-service-in-trenton-new-jersey.html#EMERGENCY%20VEHICLE%20DECONTAMINATION

        3) Inform your boss that you will be doing this and will be submitting a voucher. If they won’t approve it tell them you need a corporate car as you cannot expose your car to this circumstance for work if work won’t clean it properly when necessary.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I missed it on my first read-through, but it looks like it’s an agency car, not LW’s personal car.

        2. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

          Yes-I was going to say that this car definitely needs some protective seat covers. Even some kind of plastic sheeting would work, but it needs to be something waterproof.

          1. Xanna*

            I think seat covers could be a good idea here, but I think it would need to be an actual seat cover.

            When working with marginalized people, providing dignity is so incredibly important, and I think just throwing some plastic sheeting down like you’re expecting a muddy Labrador to jump in really doesn’t send a particularly client focused or respectful vibe.

            Not saying that’s what the suggestion is, but just think centring the experience of the client (which obviously includes providing a hygienic and safe environment) needs to be a huge factor here.

            1. Julie Hall*

              I had a similar job with similar issues. I ended up buying a seat cover that one would use for a dog. It fit perfectly on the passenger’s seat, and didn’t raise any questions-it just looked like a black seat cover.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Worked in hotels for a while – can definitely vouch for the concept that cleaning up biohazards is a very different training and skill set. You may want to reference that when you talk to the boss about what is the process for biohazard clean-ups.

      Oh – and stress biohazard, the volunteers SHOULD NEVER be cleaning that stuff up.

    3. Liz*

      This is a really good point, and thank you and Alison for raising it. I work in a similar role to LW1, and we have the odd “accident”. When this has happened we usually just clean it up ourselves, as having to wait would basically mean closing our very small centre. But none of us have received training in this and I wouldn’t even know who to call if we didn’t do it. I’ll be sure to raise this with management at our next meeting.

    4. WellRed*

      My question is what was the process prior to this boss? What do your coworkers say? Because all these comments in this thread about biohazards being a separate category, yeah.

    5. Woah*

      Sounds like #1’s business needs to contract an on call trauma cleaning service. They deal with biohazards and are available at short notice 24/7. OP, could you have a look into options in your area and come armed with those when you meet your boss? If you’ve done the research they might be more open to that option. Not that you should have to but sometimes it’s just easier… good luck

    6. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, (we don’t use cars, but maybe this is sort of comparable) we have a custodian for normal cleaning but there is no way I’d ask him to clean something like this–this is a “call in the experts” situation. If it’s something that is reasonably likely to happen again–and it sounds like in your line of work that’s not totally unlikely–then there needs to be a protocol. Probably a budget and a contracted specialty-cleaning company.

      I used to work for a veterinarian so I’ve cleaned up a lot of poop-splosions but a) they weren’t human and b) we had ample appropriate supplies to do so. And they were on tile, not in a car/on upholstery/on absorbent surfaces.

      1. Cmdrshpard*

        I think in a lot of schools especially grade schools the everyday custodians handle biohazards poop, pee, vomit on a semi regular basis.

        In retail I was the “expert” but that really only consisted of a 20 minute computer lesson once a year ish.

        I think giving the custodians proper PPE and training should be the minimum, but I don’t think you need to call in “experts” ever or even most times.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Our custodian is definitely not equipped to handle this. I’m sure he would try if asked, but we don’t have the proper supplies on hand and would have no right asking it of him.

          1. Cmdrshpard*

            If they are not provided proper PPE or training then I agree they should not be cleaning it up.

            My main point was that custodians can handle this if given the right tools/information/supplies.

            1. BEC*

              I guess anyone could handle it if given the right tools, information, and supplies, right? A custodian would be a logical person to equip with those tools, but if they aren’t equipped to do something unsafe like biohazard cleanup, they shouldn’t be asked to do it till they are.

              1. Dust Bunny*

                But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here.

                Our custodian doesn’t have access to a deep cleaner or whatever you’d need to be really sure you got fluids out of seat padding, and I’m not sure offhand what the legal, not just practical, requirements are about dealing with biohazards. (I’m in a discipline where you wouldn’t expect to have to handle this so there isn’t any expectation that our cleaning staff would have to face it. We would hire someone.)

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I mean . . . would YOU ride in that seat after this? Or would you think that surely some of that had soaked in and you were still kinda sitting in it. Never mind that doors have door pockets, etc. There are a lot of crevices.

          1. AnonToday*

            Yes, biohazard cleanup in a car is completely different than “code yellow on Aisle 3” where there’s a flat, nonporous floor surface designed to be cleaned.

        3. Petty Betty*

          When dealing with human bio waste, the experts are who you’d want to consult, even if it’s to train your existing staff to give some better guidance.

          It sounds like the clientele here are higher risk for other issues (blood borne pathogens, for example) so knowing exactly what biohazard has what risk, how to mitigate each risk, how to properly remove and sanitize each incident, and dispose of the initial biohazard as well as the remnants of the clean-up job, will be invaluable to everyone.
          Also making sure that management is up-to-date on all known policies and that they know what PPE is required for each kind of job (so it’s stocked, and when to rotate the product out).

          Sorry, this is a subject I am actually really into on a personal level as well as semi-professional.

      2. IndustriousLabRat*

        “And they were on tile, not in a car/on upholstery/on absorbent surfaces.”

        Excellent point, and one that came to mind as soon as I read the letter. One way to minimize the impact of bodily fluid releases during client transport would be to move towards using vehicles with impermeable surfaces (vinyl seats, plastic flooring, etc). This doesn’t negate the need for a real biohazard crew, but will certainly reduce down time and expense as the cleanup is less involved.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I would be tempted to insist that the seat and door card be replaced entirely because you KNOW some has soaked in and . . . just, no.

          1. a tester, not a developer*

            I suspect that people like us who are squeamish about that sort of thing get weeded out of that sort of work pretty early on. :)

            1. Dust Bunny*

              As stated above: Used to work for a veterinarian. Getting liquid-pooped on is a standard part of the job.

              But sitting in a seat with possible/probable fecal contamination is beyond just “not squeamish” and into “possible actual contagion concern”. Also, you can’t guarantee that everyone will be that not-squeamish, and how will this agency spin the PR when the word gets out that they thought it was OK to transport people-in-need in a sh*t-contaminated seat because they, what, didn’t think they were worth spending the money on to have it properly addressed? That’s pretty Dickensian.

              1. Observer*

                Not just the PR that affects them.

                This is almost certainly an organization that is regulated by some governing body or government agency, and probably also gets government money. THOSE agencies are NOT going to be happy. And, if the organization is not being monitored yet, if this hits the news, THEY will start being monitored – and monitored right out of business.

    7. Ewww*

      The OP mentioned getting official biohazard cleaning was a mass of red tape. So tell boss that a biohazard cleaning company & protocol must be put in place now – with all the red tape before it happens again. Otherwise use of the car comes to a complete and hard stop while the biohazard dries, and until the protocol can be implemented. Make it boss problem and make it clear that your work with the car will stop and people that should be helped won’t be. You have to pass the problem to boss. Otherwise boss doesn’t care

      1. Attractive Nuisance*

        Right, it sounds like LW is motivated by trying to take responsibility for their client, but they’re doing it in the wrong way. LW can’t take responsibility for the client by cleaning the car themselves – they don’t have the appropriate skills or equipment. They CAN take responsibility for the client by making it clear to the boss that this is a situation the agency needs to have a plan for, and the plan must ensure that the car gets cleaned by a biohazard cleaning professional, and the plan must not disrupt the day’s schedule.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, it’s entirely, wildly, unreasonable that getting bodily fluids cleaned up should be that hard.

    8. Christmas Carol*

      In my state, you would not only need proper training and supplies, you also need certain shots as well. A nurse is not allowed to carry a urine sample to the lab without being properly immunized. Even the playground attendants at the elementary school have to get immunized for Hepatitis B, for example.

    9. Avril Ludgateau*

      I’m so glad this is the top comment. Regular cleaning staff should not be expected or forced to deal with biohazards. They likely don’t even have the training or equipment to handle it safely.

      The specific advice that should have been given is that a protocol is put in place where a biohazard specialist cleaning service is called to deal with such scenarios. And maybe, if funding allows, there is a spare vehicle that is out of regular circulation but is available as a replacement for such emergencies.

      1. AnonToday*

        If they can’t afford to own a spare car, they can certainly have a deal with a local car rental place. (Even if it includes extra fees for biohazard cleanup if a client has an accident in the rental car.)

    10. LW1*

      Thanks – this is helpful since there’s some confusion for me about whether or not our cleaning staff are equipped for biohazards. We’re part of a larger medical system so I would imagine they deal with biohazards as part of their regular work, but obviously a car is different from the regular environment in which they’d be cleaning those. Sounds like it might potentially involve introducing another department.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        But perhaps this hospital system has a team of people who ARE trained and equipped to handle it? So you might still be covered if you ask the right people.

      2. Hi, Hello, Good Morning!*

        Yeah, my question was what were they grumbling? Was it more of a “ugh, really don’t want to deal with this today” or was it “whoa! we don’t clean this type of thing. That’s not our job”.

  2. Fikly*

    It’s amazing how almost all the answers to questions beginning with “should” when it’s about an employer doing something are no, but it’s legal.

    1. anonymous73*

      The government is in enough of our business as it is. I would prefer that businesses were not forced to act like human beings because it’s made into law.

      1. Former Borders Refugee*

        I would prefer that business act reasonably on their own accord, but they don’t. If they don’t want to be regulated, then they should stop requiring regulation.

      2. not a doctor*

        Sadly, every dumb “okay OBVIOUSLY that’s not okay” law that has ever been passed was written because someone did the exact thing that was then prohibited.

        For example, I can’t remember the exact case, but IIRC certain regulations about shipping toxic materials were inspired by a company that put hazardous waste in the CREW area.

      3. Always a Corncob*

        But businesses have shown over and over (and over…) that they’re absolutely *not* going to act like human beings out of the goodness of their hearts so…what is the alternative?

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          There is a saying: “OSHA regulations were written in blood.” A lot of the health and safety regulations were made because otherwise companies would cheerfully let people die, be maimed, or end up with lifelong chronic illnesses/damage if it meant that they had to spend less money on training, PPE and engineering controls.

          Even little stuff like battery backup “Exit” signs are because of fires where people couldn’t find the exits because the power was out and the signs couldn’t been seen through the smoke.

      4. ---*

        …And have you found that preference to be true to lived practice, to date? For any business? The government is not an enemy, and businesses don’t self-regulate, much less to the benefit of of consumers or citizens, ever.

  3. NMJ*


    First, plastic seat covers.

    Second, that stuff isn’t only on the surface. Bodily fluids need special treatment. A splash of bleach isn’t enough.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Bodily fluids are a biohazard and should be treated that way. Unless the cleaning staff has training and materials to handle that, and their job description specifically includes it, that kind of sanitizing should be taken care of by outside experts.

    2. Mockingbird*

      Even just dealing with a small cat’s amount of bodily fluid expulsions from a time I mistakenly thought she might get less carsick not in a carrier, I had trouble getting it clean. Also from dealing with cats, they make waterproof mattress covers that don’t feel at all like plastic and someone must make similar covers for car seats? You’d still have to deal with washing a seat cover soaked in biohazard, but switching that out and taking up floor mats would at least mean less time the car isn’t usable.

      1. JSPA*

        Seatcovers can interfere with certain sorts of airbags (they’re sometimes in the seats, to explode out sideways for side cushioning). Check make and model.

        If no airbags, then even a barrel size trashbag with holes cut out for seatbelts and a nice towel or beach-style seat protector will work. Laundering a towel hot, with bleach, is a lot easier than scrubbing a car.

        And… make it the driver’s business to check twice under seats, every time.

        If you’re checking well enough to spot a: lost cell phone, lost wallet, lost ID card, lost lucky charm, then you’re also searching well enough to find the lost tray of raw chicken.

        Toilet accidents and bedbugs and groceries sliding are unavoidable…but a soiled car isn’t. Your procedures need a reality check, or the staff needs more thorough training and commitment to procedures, or both.

    3. Hotdog not dog*

      My first thought was also seat covers. I got a good set of washable, water resistant covers for my car to protect the upholstery from Best Good Dog and my (at the time) young child. We have experienced numerous spills and biological incidents over the years, and I just hose down the covers and then wash with bleach. They also make covers for the door, which clip into the gap where the window rolls down. Fabulous when someone is carsick and desperately lunges towards the window.
      I don’t recall the brand or the cost, as this was 6 or 7 years ago now, but search pet seat covers and lots of different models come up.
      I would still recommend that someone properly trained in cleaning biohazards do the cleaning, but a good set of seat covers would make the task much easier (and be more effective, as you wouldn’t have anything soaking into the actual upholstery.)

    4. Seeking second childhood*

      I cringed at the raw chicken and bed bugs. Even vinyl interiors and protective seat covers will not make that easy. This organization needs specialist services on call if not in house.

    5. Sasha*

      Wanted to say this! Waterproof seat cover, put something on the floors. It’ll make life easier and less gross.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I search on Amazon for waterproof seat covers for cars, and they have some that are actually nice looking. I’m probably going to get some for my car because pets and such.

    6. Pooper’s anonymous*

      I’m very late, but I used to work at a job that sounds very similar to OP’s, and disposable plastic seat covers were policy for company cars (bed bugs and other pests were enough of an issue that we couldn’t use more sustainable washable seat covers). Staff would use them too when sitting anywhere besides the driver’s seat because the cars were so gross.

      One time a client pooped in an Uber and that was a whole situation. Our company paid the driver to get his car cleaned and detailed, as they rightly should have, but it lead to a tightening of our policies on when we could transport people via rideshare. I also had a poop incident accompanying a client on public transit once. I have a lot of poop stories from my half decade in homeless services!

  4. learnedthehardway*

    OP#3 – I don’t think it is inherently unethical for the spouse of your company’s HR manager to also be employed by the company. However, your company should have a policy in place about how to handle things with married staff. Eg. the spouse of the HR person shouldn’t be investigated or disciplined by the HR person. If anyone has an issue with the HR person’s spouse, the designated person to bring this to would be X (where X is perhaps the president or someone who has the authority, ability, judgement and discretion to make decisions about what to do about such a complaint).

    As for the HR manager being able to keep HR matters confidential – there’s no inherent reason to assume they would disclose confidential information, and if they’re an ethical, professional HR manager, they wouldn’t. Of course, that’s in an ideal world, but the reality is that you depend on the professionalism of HR people no matter what their relationship is with other staff members, so you really have to go by what you know of the individual HR manager. Do they seem like someone who is professional and ethical? How have they acted in the past? etc.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes – some years ago we took on the child of one of our partners, in a junior role. Child was well (arguably slightly over-)qualified for the role, and had applied in the usual way.

      Partner also happened to be the person with ultimate responsibility for things like complaints, and HR things like grievances / discipline. We considered the potnetial issues when we were decidning on whether to take Child on. Partner explicitly recused themself from any issues which might arise with Child, we amended the policies so this was clear (both for child and in future for any other situation where a member of staff was related to or in a relashiphip with one of the partners or the person who would otherwise be their line manager or grandboss) and set out the alternative individuals would would be responsible, and Partner also absented themselves from any discussions around Child’s pay etc .
      There never were any issues but I think the fact that the position was clearly and explicitly spelled out from day one was helpful. ( Although I suspect that probably the fact that we do also have, and follow, pretty clear policies and processes anyway and the the grievance and disciplinary processes are very clear, probably helps as well)

    2. Observer*

      As for the HR manager being able to keep HR matters confidential – there’s no inherent reason to assume they would disclose confidential information, and if they’re an ethical, professional HR manager, they wouldn’t. Of course, that’s in an ideal world, but the reality is that you depend on the professionalism of HR people no matter what their relationship is with other staff members, so you really have to go by what you know of the individual HR manager. Do they seem like someone who is professional and ethical? How have they acted in the past? etc.

      This is what I was coming to say. If the person is not discreet, you are not going to have any confidentiality, no matter who they are married to, or even WHETHER they are married. If they are discreet, they will be discreet even with their spouse.

      That doesn’t negate the other issues, of course. But, as you note, that’s a different set of issues and it’s possible that it can be handled appropriately.

    3. Rain's Small Hands*

      As to Alison’s answer – even in big companies HR people don’t tend to be too involved in who gets promoted and who gets raises – they help with defining a job description if one needs to be created so someone can get promoted into it – but most of the decisions are made by the department executives. And they might coach management on how to make those decisions.

      The biggest issue the LW is concerned about is what happens if she needs to bring the husband’s behavior up to her manager/HR. And that is actually a pretty low statistical chance. Unless hubby is a jerk in which case get out, you aren’t going to win that one (not without great documentation, a clear cut case, and an attorney).

      The issue they aren’t concerned about, and probably should be, is nepotism. At a small company like that, its often the case that Bob’s cousin Becky gets hired because Bob knows her. And Frank’s hunting buddy Rob gets the promotion. And Susan gets a bigger raise because her husband is perpetually unemployed – and Bob has known her forever. This can lead to a lot of corporate incompetence and lack of opportunities for someone isn’t part of the clique.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      In my experience, if someone has a problem with an employee, they should take that to the employee’s manager not directly to HR. If their manager is unhelpful, the second step is either HR or grandboss – that varies.

      As an HR person, there are quite a few sensitive situations that I haven’t told my spouse about at all. Even one that was pretty consuming for several months, I would just grumble about generalities – lack of progress or updates, etc. – without saying specifics.

      1. Westsidestory*

        That’s because you are a professional. I recently worked with a company where HR was the daughter of the Grandboss. I observed no one ever went to her except to check on PTO rules, etc. she had no training at all – was given the job so she could do it remotely 300 miles away with 3 kids at home. When I was there I actually had to direct her where to post job listings, as she had no clue what local media or industry websites existed in the headquarters location (major city). People with real issues just b**tched and moaned – or quit.

    5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes, for the confidentiality, I’m scrupulous about it. I helped the GF of a friend recently, through my volunteer work, and said not a word that she had even called me. When it turned out that the thing I’d helped her with was successful, I whooped with joy. My partner said “anyone would think you had a hand in her success the way you’re going on about it”. I just kept quiet, because he’s not supposed to know she called me even. Frustrating, but that’s what I signed up for.

  5. ENFP in Texas*

    I get recruiters emailing me pretty often – I have the response of “I’m not currently looking to change jobs, but I will keep your contact information in case that changes in the future” in Notepad for easy cut-and-paste in the hopes of preventing multiple emails from the same recruiter.

    1. Boring Nickname Rachel*

      I made an autocorrect shortcut on my phone! When I type “recruiterspamreply” this text autocompletes:

      “Thanks for reaching out! I appreciate your thinking of me. I’m not seeking new opportunities for the time being but would be happy to reach back out when that changes. Thanks again, “

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Hack win! (I’m totally doing this.)

        I’m very over them emailing me at my WORK email address and typically reply with a different line: “Please do not attempt to contact me at my work address again. I am not currently seeking new opportunities and do not appreciate our IT department being handed untrue gossip.” (Because yeah. Chances are decent the contacts I’m getting there are the least legit based on what I’m seeing.)

      2. Trawna*

        Love it! I just did a bunch.

        To manage text replacement, tap Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement.
        To add a text replacement, tap the Add button plus icon, then enter your phrase and shortcut. When you’re done, tap Save.
        To remove a text replacement, tap Edit, tap the Remove button then tap Delete. To save your changes, tap Done.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is what I do for the ones that sound like they may be someone I’d work with in the future.

      I had one a few years ago that would not stop sending me jobs that were much lower level than the position listed on my LinkedIn with salary ranges that were 1/4 – 1/3 my salary (would be like pitching a VP an admin assistant job). I specifically asked them to take me off their mailing list. They did not, and I was getting multiple ads for similar positions per day. I had a work friend in HR recruiting, and she had a higher-level contact at the recruiter’s agency, so she let them know that this was happening and it was leaving a bad taste in the mouth of a hiring manager who sometimes used their services. They stopped.

      1. Beth*

        Ooo, I love this!

        My own approach tends to be adding the senders to my email blacklist (and report them as spam if possible), but that doesn’t screen out the new spammers.

      2. Rain's Small Hands*

        I have one that contacts me for “opportunities” and I’m a partner of his – as in “yes, I know you are looking for a Java developer, the last one you places you are paying me $3 an hour for because you got him through my business.”

    3. Sad Desk Salad*

      This is my approach for the handful of professional recruiters I work with. I can tell they hand-selected my resume for the position from a pool of qualified candidates, and they took the time to do that so I’ll take the time to write them back. It’s pretty obvious when they’re just throwing spaghetti at the wall, so if I’m getting a cold message from someone who’s clearly looking for a warm body, I ignore it.

      That reminds me, I have one in my inbox I need to respond to. I love my job now, but who knows what the future will bring, and a solid core of people who benefit from looking out for me is a good thing to cultivate.

    4. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      This. I respond to all recruiters because that gets their email address into my contacts, and then the next time I’m looking for a contract I send out an email blast to everyone. My response is usually along the lines of “I’m working but get back to me in X month” or “Not my field”. Some of them even reply to that thanking me.

    5. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      If you’re using Windows, they added a saved paste buffer feature a while back. If you use [windows]-[v] instead of [ctrl]-[v] you can choose from your several most recent previous copied things rather than just paste the most recent and, more importantly for this issue, “pin” copied text you’d like to keep available in the future. I keep my most common canned responses there, and it’s saved me a lot of time over my previous system of having a .txt file in Notepad.

  6. Julia*

    Feel like I’ve seen that “do you have to respond to recruiter LinkedIn spam” question a few times here. I wonder what makes people think they might have to reply. Those messages just look so inherently scripted and salesy to me that I mentally categorize them as spam and don’t even really “see” them. Maybe it’s the business context that’s throwing people off – or maybe some recruiters send more personalized or convincing spam than I’ve observed.

    1. Boring Nickname Rachel*

      They usually reply twice to the original email (in the typical sales way — about a few days to a week in between emails), and occasionally are very passive aggressive with lines like “please do me the courtesy of letting me know if you’re not interested.” Somehow it can feel like it’s actually rude not to reply even though it is more or less junk mail.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Someone contacts me out of the blue for an offer I am 1) not interested in and 2) not even in my field, I don’t owe them the courtesy of a response. I especially HATE the “did you see my previous emails, why haven’t you responded” emails. My lack of response should tell you I am not interested.

        Gotta love linked in. I get emails for paralegal positions — because its all law right?

        My personal favorite was someone who had done “extensive” research on my firm and wanted to offer me an opportunity IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY. I did email that one back aond said something along the lines of your research couldn’t have been too extensive if you thought a family law attorney wanted to get into the hospitality industry.

        1. Anonym*

          I work in corporate communications, and my favorite recruiter inquiry was for a welding job 2000 miles away. I mean, I’d love to learn to weld and I imagine the corporate politics are less of a PITA, but I’m guessing it’s not a remote role…

        2. KRM*

          My two favorites are 1-the recruiters who tell me that I’m a great match for their job in immunology requiring at least 8 years of experience. I have 0 experience in immunology and honestly still find it all very confusing, and 2-the time Indeed informed me that they had a great job match for me. As a dentist (full on DMD, not assistant or hygienist). In Indiana. That one still haunts me, TBH. What about my research experience caused Indeed to think I have a DMD?? I don’t understand!

          1. Junior Assistant Peon*

            You should fake interest just to let the client company know that the recruiter is a moron. I get emails all the time for wildly mismatched jobs.

          2. Petty Betty*

            I got one recently that said I’d be *perfect* for the role as an experimental pilot. Because I listed my experience as an improv actor and technical director at a non-profit. I mean, yeah, I’m used to flying by the seat of my pants in that role, but c’mon! And that’s not even my career! I’m an office administrator by trade.

          3. Bee*

            I had one recruiter email me multiple times about a job that turned out to be a part-time minimum wage receptionist gig (it would literally not have paid my rent, and they KNEW THAT, because the listing mentioned that housing could possibly be available), and I was like, how do you know enough about me to have my personal email address but not enough to know that I’m a decade into my career?

        3. anonymous73*

          When I get emails for jobs that I’m not remotely qualified for I mark them as spam.

        4. Curmudgeon in California*


          I get so many garbage job leads that I have actually block-listed a couple firms. When they send me data entry clerk positions for $18/hr when I’m a 20 year sysadmin making four times that, and plus it’s on-site on the other side of the country when my resume states remote? Into the bit-bucket with them, especially since three different people send me the same garbage job lead.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I get a lot of those and the reason I hesitate over whether I ‘need’ to reply is mostly concern about burning a bridge with that recruiter if I ignore them and later do actually want to contact them about an opportunity.

      1. DataGirl*

        This. I get a ton of emails and sometimes calls from recruiters, sometimes ones I worked with when I last was looking for a job 5 years ago. The problem is my current job title and what I actually do have nothing to do with each other. Even if I had the skill set to go back to what I used to do, I don’t want to. So there is zero chance that anyone contacting me regarding ‘old job’ is going to have something I want. I generally just ignore them, but I’ve noticed lately they are getting a little cranky “I have been trying so hard to reach you!” that I wonder if I should reply with a quick no, just to not burn bridges.

        1. NYAA*

          They “have been trying so hard to reach you!” and 50 other people that day, then they “have been trying so hard to reach” 100 new people the next day, then 75 more the next day, 150 the next day, and so on and so on. They’re not sitting there remembering any of you and feeling sad you won’t give them the time of day (which you still wouldn’t be required to under any circumstances); they’re already moving on to the next target. Guilt trips are just another sales tactic you absolutely do NOT have to feel bad about ignoring. :) And these people make their money by recruiting, so even if you did ignore them and they remembered, they would not snub you if you contacted them later. Not unless they’re really bad at their job, in which case, you definitely don’t want to work with them anyway!

            1. NYAA*

              You’re welcome! I grew up in a family of guilt-tripping manipulators, and I have NO patience for anyone pushing that toxic ish as an adult. The only bridges I’ve ever burned by setting boundaries–and choosing to ignore/disregard IS a kind of boundary–were with people who I was better off not having in my personal sphere.

      2. EPLawyer*

        chances are ANY recruiter who is just spamming out opportunities is probably not going to be a good contact in the future.

        if you find yourself needing to work with a recruiter, do your due diligence. Find one who actually RECRUITS people for the job offered. One who will pay attention to your qualifications not try to cram you into an open position they happen to have.

      3. Purple Cat*

        Why would ignoring an unsolicited mass email be “burning a bridge”? That phrase gets tossed around so much, it has lost all meaning.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          The “bridge” is made of flash paper for some of these garbage recruiters, IMO. Light that puppy up!

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        I wouldn’t want to work with a recruiter in the future who was just spamming jobs and didn’t bother to match skills with candidates. That is the kind of recruiter who’s going to just send your resume to employers without looking to see if it’s a fit for you and what you’re looking for.

        Plus, agency recruiters get paid when they place you, so it’s not in a recruiter’s interest to blackball anyone who didn’t respond to their messages two years ago.

        I’ll take the time if it’s a company recruiter in a place I might like to work or if it’s someone who’s sent me an actual on-point job. But I think what we’re talking about here are basically job spammers.

      5. anonymous73*

        It’s easy to tell the difference between a recruiter who is just sending emails to hit a quota and one who is genuinely interested in speaking with you about an opportunity that you are qualified for, and even if you ignore the genuine ones, you’re not burning any bridges. Unless you’re openly rude to someone, there are plenty of legitimate reasons you didn’t respond and any decent recruiter is not going to hold it against you.

    3. Butters*

      If I didn’t solicit the recruiter then I have no obligation to respond regardless of how pushy they are that I must. I also don’t answer the door for salesmen who show up uninvited. It’s like MLMs; they try to guilt you into feeling like you have a social obligation to engage.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I thought they were computer generated and never typed by human hands. I am surprised to see that there might actually be a real person on the other end. So there is a real “Bob” out there some place?

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yeah, recruiters are still human as far as I know lol. They can copy-paste one message to a thousand people, why would they need AI to generate that message?

    5. Loulou*

      Agreed, I’m not in a field that uses recruiters at all and even I get those messages. They are clearly spam to the point that it would never occur to me to even open them. But I guess if you ARE in one of those fields that uses them, ignoring them might seem a little more fraught?

  7. Squeakrad*

    From what I know about hoof and mouth disease — haven’t had it but several friends with kids had – you can be contagious for weeks after the sores heal from a droplets or even just coming in close contact with someone. I would not fly in any case given everything that’s going on right now.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I had hand, foot, and mouth disease (as did Junior Orchestra) about 11 years ago. The pair of us were told to isolate for three weeks by Junior Orchestra’s pediatrician, and then come back for retesting to see if we had cleared the virus. I got a fairly mild case (just a few pox on my left hand and a fever), but Junior Orchestra still remembers how bad their mouth hurt from the poxes 11 years later.

      I would strongly urge you to listen to the Dr – but also if you still have the poxes/rash visible I would lean towards skipping the conference or seeing if it is possible to attend virtually. Traveling when you are sick is zero fun.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        My kiddo and I had HFM when she was in pre-k. It was awful. I had a breakout on the soles of me feet so it hurt to walk. OP should absolutely not go if still contagious.

        1. HFM Case Study*

          My kiddo got it and spread it to me, and I got a very unusual presentation that led to having to call my OB-Gyn. Highly do not recommend. If you can avoid doing something that could give it to others, please do.

    2. Lilo*

      When my son had hand, foot, and mouth, the pediatrician/daycare cleared us to go back after he’d been fever free for 24 hours. But the practical reality is you can’t ask someone to isolate for weeks with a disease that’s so common in daycares and isn’t COVID. Parents usually are on the edge of their sick leave anyway. However, I’d definitely skip the conference if you have visible sores, even if they’re healing.

      1. I’d Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        My daughter had it recently and the advice from our GP and the NHS was essentially to send her back to nursery as soon as she felt well, even if she still had some of the rash, with the note that hand, foot and mouth is so contagious that keeping away children longer is unlikely to stop the illness spreading.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I think the distinction though is that children most likely catch it from other kids and have already spread it in their nursery/daycare before they’re diagnosed, which is a very different situation than traveling to a conference with people who haven’t been in contact with you already. I wouldn’t go to the conference in this instance for that reason.

          1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            Oh yes, I agree that it’s best to avoid the conference (if only because it can be unpleasant to have to participate in social events with strangers when you’re covered in a rash) but I’m adding a second voice to Lilo’s response. The original comment observes that you can still be contagious for weeks after sores have healed/symptoms have cleared. While I believe that is true, I agree with Lilo that I’m not sure that isolating for weeks even after feeling better is a realistic option for most people. I think it’s notable that the NHS offers similar advice (although I don’t believe their website has specific guidance on if/how adults should isolate).

            If OP feels better and the rash has cleared up by the time the conference rolled around, I think it would be reasonable to go.

            1. Curious*

              I would be concerned about the potential impact to my professional reputation if it gets out that I was “Patient 0” for an epidemic of HFM at an industry conference.

              That said, I am not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV) and have no expertise with respect to HFM.

              1. LifeBeforeCorona*

                That’s a very good point to consider. We’re currently dealing with a Covid outbreak. An investigation found that “Patient O” spent time with known cases, returned to work and didn’t disclose their status. They were removed from a client facing project and their judgement has been called into question.

                1. Lilo*

                  I mean I have to tell you, given how incredibly common this is among young kids, and the fact that most adults are asymptomatic, chances are very very good there’s someone else at this conference, on the plane, or on public transportation who has this disease. I wouldn’t go because of the LW’s appearance will be distracting but the chances of them mass spreading after they’ve past the first week and it being their fault isn’t that likely.

                  This disease does spread the worst through saliva and the reason it’s so common in smaller kids is they put their mouths on toys, put their hands in their mouths and share stuff in ways adults don’t.

                2. NotRealAnonForThis*

                  I cannot downplay the amount of sheer disgust I have towards the jerk who has brought covid into our office not once (when I caught it – I’m still have pulmonary and cardiac issues as a result of covid that I did not have before, so I’m reminded of his carelessness pretty frequently), not twice, but now three times. And in every case, he completely broke our corporate rules about exposure and quarantine. Because “I wasn’t sure what to do because the CDC…” Dude. Just stop. Our corporate policy has always been a bit more stringent than the CDC guidelines. (Currently) If someone in your house tests positive, you WFH for 5 days and provide a test prior to return. Right wrong or indifferent, those are the current rules. Not show up in a mask because your wife tested positive last night. Sheesh.

                  His judgement? I have negative faith in that.

        2. Plague Carrier (LW2)*

          Thanks for the validation. This is where I struggle with it – so many people are infectious and don’t even know. (Nor do they care – the friend I caught it from is still going out to restaurants and having friends over. I’m like, “I just showed you how badly I reacted!! Why are you still exposing others?!”)

          I’ve been isolating for a week and a half, and am starting to go bonkers, because I just don’t know if I’m infectious or not anymore. When can I legitimately start to interact with people again? (I’m not expecting answers, I know y’all aren’t doctors. I just need to scream into the void briefly.)

    3. M2*

      Skip the conference! HFM disease is contagious for weeks- I don’t care what the doctor says. Also, I hope you aren’t working in the office. Tell your boss you can’t go for medical reasons or get a note from your doctor.

      This is not fair to your fellow passengers or conference attendees. Tell your boss you can’t attend for medical reasons so they can send someone else.

      Also, this is different from daycares HFM spreads like wildfire there, but as adults we assume (maybe wrongly) that if we go somewhere if someone is sick or contagious they will stay home!

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        I’m assuming that HFM is probably more like Chicken Pox was back in my preschool days. It spread like wildfire in preschools and such in the very early 80s, and it was understood that the times school outright closed for two weeks was to give everyone time to get through it and not quell the outbreak.

        Thinking out loud – with perfect attendance awards and the otherwise difficult time that being sick in K-12 causes, much less being at the mercy of college professors if you’re ill, I’m not sure exactly how we all got to adulthood with the assumption that “contagious adults stay home because of course they do”. Because thinking about it, there’s not a whole lot that ever showed me that “of course they should and do” in my formative years. We need to do better at this as a community, methinks. I was hoping that the pandemic would fix it.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Dredging from the back of my brain:
          HFM Disease is airborne and viral like Varicella (AKA chicken pox), but is way more variable in severity, and you also tend to be contagious longer. Kids, especially younger kids are more likely to be symptomatic while adults are more likely to be asymptomatic (but still contagious).

          Defer to the Dr’s experience here (I am not one).

          Also – I’ve wondered about this somewhere else – is it possible to attend the conference virtually??

        2. First time working mom*

          Thank you for this comment. My family is going through our first year of daycare and I recently worked out that I spent at least 20 weeks in isolation or near isolation between one winter solstice and the next. I’m in a very lucky to be in a country with good sick leave entitlements and I can work from home. But there is no model for how to make working and preschoolers and staying home when contagious work together. Up until the pandemic the expectation absolutely was that adults would keep working while contagious!

    4. Purple Cat*

      I’m a little sad that we’re still in the Pandemic and the LW is questioning if they should avoid travel when they *may* have a highly contagious illness. Umm, how about an ounce of sympathy for your coworkers and fellow travelers? Keep that S&^ at home. Unless the doctor can say DEFINITIVELY that you are NOT contagious.

          1. Moira Rose's Closet*

            I don’t think it’s really unkind, either. Maybe a little snarky, but it’s been 2.5 years of hearing about people taking unnecessary health risks that put other people in danger. A lot of people have health conditions, small children, etc., and it’s incredibly draining to worry about it all the time.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              This. Remember when the pandemic hit and there were YouTube videos of people singing “Stay The F*ck At Home”? It still applies. If you are contagious with anything, stay the f*ck at home, unless you are literally in the hospital.

              I am over two years past being polite about it.

              BTW, Covid Omicron BA.4/5 is more contagious than measles, and tends to bypass the vaccine.

        1. Purple Cat*

          Blunt? Yes.
          Unkind? I don’t think so.
          I understand the *feelings* that OP has. She has an opportunity to present at a conference. I don’t take that lightly, but she’s looking for approval to travel when she might be contagious. IMO, that’s selfish.
          As they say, how would you feel if your actions were a newspaper headline? “Outbreak of HFM at Conference tied to LW who travelled while suspecting she was still contagious” (and obviously I’d be a terrible editor with a headline that long).

          1. Pomegranate*

            It s unkind and ignores the question. Which is how to handle conversation with the manager AFTER the doctor clears LW2 for travel. LW2 clearly offered to not go to the conference. So let’s try to offer constructive suggestions, not vent your general frustrations of the last 2.5 years.

      1. Lilo*

        A doctor can’t ever tell you you’re definitively not contagious. There are also lots of diseases for which you are contagious before you develop symptoms.

      2. ope!*

        This seems unnecessarily harsh. She says explicitly she will follow her doctor’s guidance regardless of Alison’s advice – what more should we really be expecting of people beyond trusting medical professionals? Especially about something like HFMD which ISN’T politicized? She’s just asking about the optics of traveling when recently sick – but medically confirmed as no longer contagious.

      3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        OP is asking for advice, which is a perfectly reasonably approach.

        These things are really not always clear-cut. A virus like Herpes Simplex 1, for example, which causes cold-sores, can also be described as highly contagious. But previously in this column Alison has stated that it’s unrealistic for people to stay home everytime they have cold sores (and indeed, I agree).

        We all have to take risks in order to interact with others. OP is consulting a doctor and asking for advice; they are clearly demonstrating sympathy for others.

        1. Siege*

          Herpes Simplex is spread by direct contact with the lesion. HFM is airborne. Are you suggesting that a disease that requires physical contact to get, however contagious, should be considered the same as a disease that spreads via air, or are you suggesting you expect conference attendees are having high rates of unprotected sex, negating the lack of airborne spread for herpes?

          1. Kacihall*

            From other stories on this website, I’ve learned that people act like both school students at work conferences, so very very possibly?

            1. Moira Rose's Closet*

              Haha, yes — my industry is notorious for having wild conferences like that!

          2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            No, I’m pointing out that there is a wide spectrum of contagious illness and a lot of grey area. OP is not lacking “an ounce of sympathy towards her fellow travellers” as was suggested by the comment I’m replying to, she is soliciting more information.

          3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            Also, Herpes Simplex 1 could be easy spread by a shared drink, a sneeze not quickly covered, or a kiss on the cheek….it needn’t be unprotected sex, unless it’s in the genital area, but most herpes 1 infections are oral.

        2. Artemesia*

          Herpes is not contagious i.e. spread through the air — it is communicable but spread though direct contact.

          1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            If you can “catch” it from another person, then it is contagious.

            Cancer is not contagious. Cystic fibrosis is not contagious.

            Herpes is.

      4. Siege*

        Whether it’s fair or not, I question the wisdom of attending the conference anyway. I would certainly be concerned about spending time with someone who “looks like a 17th century plague victim”. Unless it could be confused for adult acne (I can do many things before breakfast but googling medical imagery is not one of them) it seems like, regardless of contagion, the reaction from other attendees would negate much of the benefit of a conference.

      5. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

        Some diseases can be both highly contagious under particular circumstances and also relatively to avoid spreading to others. Masking, handwashing, and covering open wounds are all great tools in the infection control arsenal. The doctor could tell LW that she is contagious and simultaneously clear her for travel if she follows certain protocols.

        Given that she’s getting medical advice and writing to AAM, I wouldn’t dub this LW unsympathetic.

      6. AnotherSarah*

        I hate to break it to you, but with MOST diseases, a doctor cannot tell you when you’re definitely 100% not contagious. Or they can, but no one will order those tests. I think that’s what’s at issue here–how long can a person with a very common illness expect to have to stay home for, if they’re not symptomatic and all signs have cleared up?

    5. Artemesia*

      It is really monstrous to consider flying and ruining vacations and employment etc for total strangers in order to go to conference. Not all doctors are terribly knowledgeable about this very contagious disease and after only a week or so a ‘doctor’s clearance’ means nothing.

      1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

        It’s an INCREDIBLY common disease that most Americans have had; I’d be surprised to find many doctors who aren’t sufficiently knowledgeable about HFM.

        1. Siege*

          I have literally never heard of it before today. I have never known anyone who mentioned they had it (including people who had kids in daycares) and I have never knowingly seen anyone displaying the signs of it. So … no.

          But hey, I just have to explain the details of cardiac arrest to *every* doctor I ever see, and hearts are pretty common.

      2. Observer*

        In that case, the OP should never walk out the door again and neither should anyone else.

        What the OP has is common enough that a competent doctor should be able to provide reasonable advice. Calling someone a monster because you have decided otherwise is really out of line.

    6. Janeric*

      We had it a couple months ago, and what we read was that after the pustules scabbed over and we were fever free, we were no longer contagious — except for our feces, which will continue to shed virus for some time. Under those circumstances you could still be contagious BUT with standard hand washing hygiene it can be controlled.

      We confirmed with a couple of doctors because we very much wanted to attend my parents’ 50th but also very much didn’t want to give all their friends and family Hand Foot and Mouth — I would check with a doctor because it really only became prevalent in the US about a decade ago and doctors are learning more fun facts about it all the time.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Well, there’s a fun tie-in to another letter! Another reason to let someone with biohazard training and PPE de-poop car seats.

    7. The OG Sleepless*

      My son had HFM once. I didn’t catch it, but oh boy my husband did. He got REALLY REALLY sick. 10/10 do not recommend. Please don’t expose even a bunch of adults to it.

      (Side note: Foot and Mouth/Hoof and Mouth in livestock is a different illness from Hand, Foot, and Mouth in humans.)

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        I’m kind of glad to see the bit about it being different in animals vs humans, because my goodness gracious! I’ve only ever heard from this in James Herriot novels and had no idea there was a human variant. The animal variant is pretty bad from what I recall.

        1. Very Social*

          Just to be super clear: Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease is a human disease and is not a variant of the animal disease known as Hoof and Mouth or Foot and Mouth. They have similar names but are not similar diseases.

    8. Jessica Fletcher*

      Agree. Please don’t travel if you’re potentially contagious. You wouldn’t just be risking your boss and her family. You’ll encounter many other people, all with families, and you’ll never know if you infected them. Some of those folks will be service workers and airline employees who don’t have the luxury to stay home or quit if they don’t want to be exposed to illness.

  8. Ann Nonny*

    When our HR director’s husband was laid off, he was hired by our 60+ employee company. His employment lasted a couple of years, and few employees liked it or trusted either of them. We were all happy when he landed his “dream job” a few years later. It’s just not a good situation.

    1. London Calling*

      We had a situation where a much mistrusted manager (fanboy of the MD to boot) not only took over HR but drafted in his secretary as HR staff (neither of them had any HR experience whatsoever). No-one trusted them with confidential information and we had an agreement with our dept head that any issues would be sorted out as far as possible within the department. The feeling was, rightly or wrongly, that this was a power move to get access to confidential information.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        My experience: Contentious person’s spouse was publicly elected to the oversight board.

        So spouse is privvy to contract negotiations that should not be shared with contentious person; would sit in on any disciplinary disputes regarding contentious person, etc. Its not fantastic. And it says a LOT about where I live that the spouse was publicly elected. And will not recuse themselves from anything that pertains to or affects the contentious person.

        1. Ann Nonny*

          A few of us suspected something was off kilter with our HR person. People got terminated a lot, very good people. I always suspected that she found ways to get rid of those who threatened her somehow. I was not alone in my suspicions. Fortunately, when hubby got the dream job, they moved away. But while the two of them were with the company, the atmosphere was often tense.

  9. Doctor What*

    OP #2 – First off, let me say, I hope you are doing better! I got HFM as an adult in 2000, and you are the only other person I know of to have suffered this same illness as an adult!

    I don’t have any suggestions either way, since it seemed like you definitely wanted to take the doctor’s next check-up into consideration. Take care of yourself!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Lol – I also got HFM as an adult (but caught it from my toddler). That was a very long three weeks (our Dr had us isolate for three weeks because of how severe a case Junior Orchestra got).

      To the OP – trust your Dr, and also listen to your instincts.

      Also – is it possible to attend the sessions/workshops of the conference virtually? That way you could still go but not have the traveling while sick (potentially, don’t know where in the recovery OP is).

      1. AnotherSarah*

        Same. It’s very common among parents. I and all my son’s daycare buddies, staff, etc. had it this year. It is truly not a thing you need your boss to weigh in on—even serious cases do not rise to the level of flu or Covid. There’s not really a test but if you’re not in an active outbreak (lesions are healed), it’s just not a thing. I get that Covid has made us all (er…some) really cautious but trust the doc on this one.

        1. Lilo*

          We were not told to isolate with HFM either, just the standard “waitb24 hours after a fever” advice. Again, I get COVID makes people cautious but most kids get this at least once, sometimes multiple times, and the standard practice isn’t to stay out for weeks.

          The hardest part of hand, foot, and mouth is usually that when an infant/young toddler’s mouth hurts, it can be tricky to get them to eat and drink.

        2. legalchef*

          The thing with HFM is that it runs the gamut in terms of severity. When there was an outbreak at my kid’s daycare, some parents got it and had like… one lesion and that was it. The two times I had it I felt worse then I ever did with the flu (super high fever, couldn’t walk because of so many lesions on my feet, etc).

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Spouse had a version of this and the symptoms were “take a nap every day for 5 days, then develop a faint dry cough.” When I got the same symptoms we were actually relieved that it meant it almost certainly wasn’t covid (summer of 20; we were still waiting on his test when I got the same symptoms). Then my mouth broke out in blisters and my hands and feet swelled up and for me it was weeks of misery.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        Ha, I read Junior Orchestra as the actual junior orchestra, as in you were in 11th grade and playing oboe or bassoon in the band, and HFM went around like wildfire through that group. I now have made the leap.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          I originally read it as they caught it while doing Junior Orchestra and was trying to figure out who “the pair of us” referred to.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Lol – yeah, maybe could have been more obvious – but was really trying to respect my kids’ privacy. So oldest kiddo is Junior Orchestra, youngest kid is Mini Orchestra, and hubby is Mr. Orchestra….

          Sorry if I confused anybody too badly.

    2. Nightengale*

      I’m reasonably sure I had this as an adult although I didn’t have a rash and wasn’t diagnosed at the time.

      I was 29 and in medical school. I had cold symptoms on my pediatric rotation and was being exposed to approximately everything. About 2 months later I developed Type 1 diabetes. Only later did I learn that coxsackie and related viruses are a known trigger. (So is genetics, my father also had Type 1 diabetes.) So in retrospect my cold was probably hand foot and mouth.

    3. Sit down John, sit down!*

      OP#2 I seem to remember that HFM is dangerous if a pregnant woman were to catch it. Ask your doc (or better yet a pediatrician) about that. That would be my biggest concern. So sorry you have this. I understand it can be very painful.

      1. Lilo*

        I just looked it up and it doesn’t seem to be that much of a risk. Which is good, because if you have a kid in daycare, you get exposed to this thing multiple times a year.

      2. Plague Carrier (LW2)*

        Ironically, I caught it from my pregnant friend’s toddler. I’m thoroughly unimpressed with Pregnant Friend right now. She is definitely infected, but she was going out for dinner, having friends over, etc. Meanwhile here I am, isolating for a solid week and a half.

    4. Moonlight Elantra*

      Caught it in 2017 from my toddler’s in-home daycare. It had been running rampant in the grade school, and the sitter’s kids brought it home. I had exactly one lesion on my hand, none on my foot, and my mouth was one big open sore for like a week.

      I have never experienced discomfort like that. I couldn’t stand eating or drinking anything. For a couple of days I survived on Potbelly milkshakes and mac and cheese: Chug half the milkshake until my throat was numb, then eat the mac and cheese as fast as I could, then finish the rest of the milkshake to numb my mouth again. The doctor’s office was like…. yeah that sucks, take some ibuprofen for pain.

  10. Riska676*

    #3 I would encourage you to trust that the HR person and the spouse will keep things professional at work until you are given a reason to doubt their ability to do that. It irks me when people treat married couples differently than any other coworker just because of their personal relationship. Favoritism and other unprofessional behaviors can come from anyone at work. Most grown adults in a professional setting are capable of keeping their professional lives separate from their personal lives. Just let them keep their personal lives private (not secret since I assume casual small talk about home life is normal workplace chitchat) and worry about unprofessional behaviors if they give you a reason to suspect that. I feel like coworkers fixating on a married couple’s personal life at work usually causes more drama than anything the married couple actually does.

    1. bamcheeks*

      It’s not fixating on their personal life, though, it’s worrying about a genuine conflict of interest. “Just trust people to be professional” is for things like letting people manage their own hours. When you’ve got a responsibility involving finance, HR/management impartiality, data protection, health information etc the standards are higher. You need to both adhere to the highest professional standards and be seen to be doing so so people can trust you.

      1. Snow Globe*

        Right. And simply the fact that the spouse was hired shortly *after* the HR manager already seems a little sketchy. Would that role have gone to the spouse otherwise? Unless it is a role requiring specific skills that are hard to find, it seems somewhat improbable that the spouse just happened to be the best candidate.

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      It’s the expression “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.” Not only must the couple be professional, they need to demonstrate that they are professional. They can’t join cliques at work or give any kind of impression that they are privy to confidential matters in their interactions with co-workers. A spouse telling a co-worker, “If I were you, I wouldn’t press for a raise right now.” can be very problematic.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Ditto. In legal circles, I think it’s called “the appearance of impropriety.”

        I once worked for a small organization where several members of the administration were more-or-less closely related to each other. I don’t think any of them ever abused it, but it was not a good look and didn’t create trust among the staff.

    3. metadata minion*

      One key difference here that doesn’t usually affect close work friends, more distant relatives, etc., is that the HR person has a financial interest in keeping their spouse employed. No matter how hard you try, it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to treat impartially a situation that could mean the loss of half their household income. For the same reason, it would be a huge conflict of interest for an HR person to share an apartment with another employee, even if they weren’t particularly close.

    4. Observer*

      It irks me when people treat married couples differently than any other coworker just because of their personal relationship. Favoritism and other unprofessional behaviors can come from anyone at work.

      Which is why most smart workplaces have nepotism policies in place that govern all sorts of relationships at work. Someone mentioned the hiring of the child of one of the HR execs. The HR exec is clearly a professional, but the company still made it clear – and had a clear policy – that required the exec to recuse himself from any discussions relating to the child. Some companies go so far as to not hire spouses, significant others, parents, children and / or siblings of existing staff. That’s not so common, but pretty much any one that it reasonably well run has policies prohibiting people with these relationships being in each other’s chain of command.

      It’s not because everyone is unprofessional. It’s because human nature being what it is, these relationships tend to pose a problem to impartiality when its most needed.

    5. Drago Cucina*

      These kinds of entanglements happen all the time in smaller communities and organizations.
      When my assistant director started dating my son I immediately called the board chair and let him know. I made it clear that if there needed to be any personnel action involving her that he needed to be the point person.

      After several months the AD and my son parted on good terms and remain friends. It’s possible to be adults about this sort of thing.

  11. Heffalump*

    OP4: A friend of mine, now deceased, was born in 1918. She told me that in her day it was fine for a single woman to work, but a working married woman was “taking bread out of the mouths of a married man’s family,” as the expression went.

    In the early days of WWII she was trying to keep the fact that she was married from her boss. He suspected that she was married and questioned her hard about it.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      The classic “9 to 5” has a scene in which single mum Lily Tomlin is told by the nasty boss that she hasn’t got a promotion, which has gone to a man because “He has a family to support”.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        I was born in 1975 and I heard that once a few years ago. From a female boss.

        (Slightly different situation, because it was at a gym, and the issue was that someone else was given a popular class over me because he had a family to support and he needed the money, whereas I was only a part-time instructor. But ultimately the rationale is the same. If I didn’t need the money, I wouldn’t be doing this, would I now?)

        1. Ellis Bell*

          An aunt of mine got married in 1979, and very shortly after a colleague expressed horror that she was still working; her objection being along the lines of “why isn’t he taking care of you?” This was an older female colleague, who was also married, so my aunt naturally said: “What about you, you’re still working?” whereupon the older woman, who did less skilled work for fewer hours, said it was okay because it was “just pin money” and she wasn’t taking home a big enough salary to warrant concern. My mother, who actually did want to stay at home after they’d bought their house, said she’d never heard anything more stupid in her life than a woman who thought it was okay to work if she got less money. They were all working class women, so being an integral part of supporting the home was hardly new.

        2. NotRealAnonForThis*

          I’m a similarly aged tail-end Gen X and I’ve heard this certifiable nonsense to my face in 2022. Unfortunately for the fool who said it to me, I’m right out of F’s and told him as such.

          1. Mockingjay*

            2013. Program I worked on was massively behind schedule, so lucrative OT to catch up was offered to the entire team except me, the only married woman. I went to the supervisor and inquired why I wasn’t included. OT was promptly authorized, so he didn’t have to explain himself.

          2. Jora Malli*

            I’m an older millennial. A few years back my boss told me that a man in an adjacent department with a similar level of specialization to me was paid more, and that she had thought about pushing to get raises for our department but then she realized he was probably paid more because he “had a family to support.”

            I went straight into the fact that while I don’t have kids, I was supporting an ill parent and two siblings in school/underpaying jobs at the time so why was the fact that *I* was supporting a family any less important than my male coworker’s family obligations? She didn’t have an answer for that, and as far as I know she didn’t try to get me that raise, so that was fun.

            1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

              I’m only supporting myself and it would still be flat wrong and unethical. Pay me what the work is worth, period.

          3. Rain's Small Hands*

            Around 1988 I discovered that I was making about 30% less than my male coworkers – and I was more qualified than them. I went to HR, who started on the “families to support” thing (my male coworkers weren’t married) and I then explained that a law passed before I was born (The Equal Pay Act of 1963) probably meant I should get paid more. I knew the company had settled a large discrimination case due to BIPOC a few years before, and was getting nailed with one on age discrimination from recent layoffs.

            Two weeks later I got a 30% raise.

      2. London Calling*

        My mother (early 1970s, widow with three children) was told that when she asked to train for a job.

      3. Nobby Nobbs*

        I had a teacher who got that one in the seventies as an explanation for why she was making less than the men at her first teaching job. The “punchline?” She was the sole breadwinner for a disabled husband. Funny who counts as family, huh?

      4. Snow Globe*

        Another classic pop culture moment – on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”, there was an episode where Mary asked for a raise, and Mr. Grant tried to use the excuse that the men have wives to support, and she is single. At first Mary walked out, dejected, but after a few moments, there was an “Aha!” and she went back in and pointed out that by that logic, men with children would be paid more than married men with no children, and men with 4 children would be paid more than men with 2, etc., and that he doesn’t do that. He finally agreed that she was right.

        1. UKDancer*

          It comes up in West Wing when Mrs Landingham persuades young Jed Bartlett to tackle the fact his father underpays the female staff at his school and they’re afraid for their jobs and can’t say anything.

          She says that a woman earns less than a male colleague with a broadly similar role and he says the chap has children to support. She then responds that if number of children was the deciding factor the groundkeeper would earn more than the headmaster. It’s a brilliant indictment of sexist thinking and Bartlett gets the point.

          My mother had this experience as well when the men she worked with tried to use that argument to give men better raises. She (being a very opinionated shop steward and old school feminist and socialist) gave them very short shrift.

        2. EPLawyer*

          There was a great scene in the West Wing where in a flashback young Jed is telling Mrs. Lanningham that a male teacher should get more than her because he has a family to support. Mrs. Lanningham then points out the groundskeeper and says he has 7 kids (I think that is the right number) shouldn’t he get more money then than the male teacher? At which point Jed had to concede family status shouldn’t matter with regards to pay.

        3. The OTHER Other.*

          That was a great episode, MTM was able to raise lots of great points about equality and fairness while remaining under the radar because the show was so funny.

      5. KatieP*

        It never ceases to amaze me how many times a boss (usually cis white male) unironically quotes Dabney Coleman’s character, without even realizing it.

    2. Snoozing not schmoozing*

      My Mom, born in 1920, was a supervisor in a defense plant during World War II, with almost all male workers. She quit at the end of the war because she and my Dad were moving back to the Midwest, but her boss wanted her to stay and continue working. So there were enlightened exceptions!

      1. Pucci*

        My mother quit her job when I was born in 1960. Her boss offered to raise her pay to cover child care. She didn’t take him up on it, but it still seems amazing.

        1. Jay*

          Also born in 1960 and my mother had to leave her job when she started to show. She wanted to stop working after I was born but had planned on staying at least another couple of months.

          I am a cis/het woman married to a man and have always been the primary wage-earner – for most of our working lives I made 2.5-3x his salary. My mother was only the first of a ridiculous number of people who either expressed concern about this and/or praised him to the skies for being so nice about it. Never mind that I made it possible for him to stay in the academic job market long enough to land a tenure-track job rather than taking whatever he could get to pay the rent. And then enabled him to live comfortably, save for retirement, and travel while earning an academic’s salary. It was *so nice* of him to tolerate that.

          Yeah, I’m still pissed, and we’re both retired now.

    3. londonedit*

      I mean, the British government is seriously making noises about taxing people without children because apparently we are all selfish and greedy and we’re hoarding all of our money instead of spending it raising the next generation or some such bollocks, so…

      1. Emmy Noether*

        A lot of countries already have some ways of subsidizing children (often tax credits for dependents, sometimes straight up paying out money). Now, one can dispute the principle of that*, but the difference between person A paying a “childless tax” and person B getting a “child tax break” is semantics, really.

        *for the record, I do think that society as a whole should be partly responsible for the upbringing of its next generation. It’s not about childfree people being bad (I have no moral judgement on that), or incentivising having children (that would be stupid); it’s about giving the children that do exist a good start in life.

        1. bamcheeks*

          It actually wasn’t, because the context of the policy wasn’t to subsidise the extra costs that come with raising children but for the state to impose a punitive measure on people who don’t have children with the goal of increasing the birthrate. Other measures discussed were “rewards” for having a larger number of children, all with a healthy dose of anti-immigration.

          That said, IIRC it was a proposal from one academic rather than
          the government. But the Times gave it tons of space because of course they did.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I’ll give you that framing it as punishment or as some kind of incentive is forking stupid.

            How high would that incentive have to be to make up not only for the considerable monetary cost of having a child, but also for the sleepless nights? And would one actually want the kind of person who doesn’t want children but could be incentivised this way to be a parent? (no, no, one would not). It just doesn’t work, except to piss people off.

            1. bamcheeks*

              right– the point of all these policies is to create the idea of a moral imperative and for the state to signal who are the “right” people doing the “good” thing, not to actually achieve a real policy end.

          2. Nobby Nobbs*

            In the interest of not dancing around the (racist) elephant in the room: that’s eugenics. Just flat f*cking eugenics.

          3. Caz*

            I am unable to have children, despite wanting to and trying to and doing all the right things at the right times to make it happen. I am, at times, inundated with well-intentioned stories of people who “beat the odds” or messages of “it’ll happen one day, I’ve got a feeling!” Those messages were bad enough before we got the “let’s financially punish people who don’t contribute to the population crisis”. Here’s hoping g to government doesn’t take this particular bad idea too seriously, its never done that before after all…oh, wait…

          4. MissElizaTudor*

            It’s so bizzare to insist you need a larger population while also being anti-immigrant. Immigration is an important way to maintain or increase the population, and when politicians or pundits say they want not people but fewer immigrants, you can be sure they’re especially racist and xenophobic (as opposed to the normal level of racism and xenophobia that goes along with wanting to restrict immigration at all).

            1. mlem*

              I remain bewildered by this. “We don’t have enough people! But we won’t take more people!”

          5. 1 Esk Nineteen*

            That’s basically the Lex Julia, and it didn’t work for the Roman Empire, either! You’d think an “academic” would know that.

            1. Observer*

              Why would you think that an academic would know that? After all, he is SOOO busy with his highly important specialization that he can’t be bothered to deal with plebeian pursuits such as HISTORY. Right? RIGHT?

              No? You are a barbarian who doesn’t understand academia.

              /sarc off

              There is a reason that “ivory tower” was a meme long before internet memes.

        2. KateM*

          I can see how “childless tax” feels antagonistic. Psychologically it feels better for everyone to pay social tax and people with children getting tax breaks; and even better, I think, to have free lunch at schools or subsided daycares or being able to borrow all your textbooks from college library for free because then it’s available for everyone (and you know for sure that the money is actually used on kids, and kids are on more equal standing). Same way as our tax money goes to firefighters but I personally have thankfully never had my house burn down (and I hope I’ll never get my money’s worth for that!).

          1. bamcheeks*

            I can see how “childless tax” feels antagonistic

            just for the record, it doesn’t just “feel” antagonistic– it was explicitly supposed to be. This was not in anyway about making sure children had adequate means or that education was properly funded, it was about creating an incentive to have children rather than increase immigration. The whole point of it was to send a message that it’s your national duty to have children and that not having children was doing something wrong.

            1. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

              Apparently, here in the US, we’re now supposed to be increasing the domestic supply of adoptable babies. Or something. Yeah.

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                Sadly, there are already lots of adoptable kids. Unfortunately, many are the wrong color, age, health status, and/or level of ability.

                Oh, and let’s ignore what it actually takes to physically create a child & that not everyone’s body, mental health, or life circumstances are up to it…

              2. Jay*

                Literally that – “a domestic supply of infants.” My daughter was adopted and placed with us at birth. She’s now 22 and I cannot adequately describe how she felt when she read that.

        3. londonedit*

          We already have child tax credits, tax breaks for married couples, and of course everyone’s tax and National Insurance payments go towards paying for the NHS, schools, public services, state pensions, unemployment, etc. I have absolutely no problem with any of that, and of course I pay for all of that out of my taxes already. But I do object to a specific tax on people without children.

          1. London Calling*

            100%. And you can bet, this being Britain, that there’d be exemptions and sliding scales and appeals and the whole thing would end up costing more than it raised.

            1. Observer*

              I’m sure that would happen. The thing is that it wasn’t really intended to raise money, but to influence behavior.

              Of course, it almost certainly will NOT influence the behavior that is being targeted. But it WILL cause even more social antagonisms at a time when we have more than we can deal with already. Not the most brilliant suggestion. And the Times was irresponsible to give it as much space as they did.

          2. After 33 years ...*

            We’ve taken the approach of direct payments to parents / guardians and tax credits for children (inversely linked to income). Given our demographics (oldest median age in the country, highest % of 65+, half the number of high school seniors compared to 30 years ago), a tax on those without children under 18 would encompass a substantial majority of us.
            Immigration is strongly encouraged by the province. Most of our immigrants are B-POC and professionals (engineers, high-tech, university people, physicians) or students.

          3. LifeBeforeCorona*

            I wonder how that can be applied. I’m a grandma and well past my child-bearing years. Do I deserve less because I no longer have kids to support? Or maybe I deserve more because I did help create 2 new taxpayers?

            1. London Calling*

              Indeed. I’m 68 and don’t have children. Taxing me to increase the birthrate would be an exercise in futility.

            2. Other Alice*

              I can think of worse examples. What about people who want children but are infertile? What about people who miscarry? What about parents of children who die in infancy? It just seems like such a can of worms!

              1. London Calling*

                Yep. ‘Oh you had ONE unsuccessful round of IVF and gave up? you have to have AT LEAST three to be partially or wholly exempt!’ And I really hope that they’re prepared for all the women like me saying ‘couldn’t find a man who was fit to reproduce with.’

      2. Asenath*

        That does sound odd, but in the years before our school tax was, well, not abolished in the sense of not supporting schools, but the government cut it out and started supporting the schools out of their regular income from taxes, it wasn’t unusual to hear complaints from people who thought that they shouldn’t be paying school tax because after all, they’d raised their own children (or, less commonly because fewer people had no children, because they had no children. They’d done their share. I always thought that was really bizarre, not only because the people with grown children often had grandchildren, but also because I, childless, figured that as my life continued, I’d want well-educated younger people working in all aspects of the workforce. I need their services, and my own generation isn’t going to be providing those services indefinitely! So of course, I want schools to be well-funded. I think the official reason for eliminating the school tax was that it was notoriously expensive and difficult to collect (and easy to evade), but I wonder if perception had something to do with it. People complained about “school taxes”, and taxes in general, but somehow don’t complain much about the fact that schools are still supported through taxes; just the name of the tax that funds them is different.

        1. londonedit*

          That’s not what I’m talking about, though. In the UK we pay for all public services including healthcare, schools, etc, out of our tax/NI. I have no problem with that whatsoever, and I also have no problem with any of the child benefit, tax credits, childcare vouchers, etc that are available to parents. I realise the idea of a tax on childless people is fairly unlikely to come to fruition, but that’s what the idea actually was – as bamcheeks says above, the idea was to tax childfree people as a means of encouraging people to have children and, effectively, punish those who don’t.

          1. Asenath*

            That doesn’t make a lot of sense. The more traditional method of providing additional support to people who do have children would seem to be more effective.

            1. bamcheeks*

              It makes sense if you see the role of taxation as signalling which people are Good People Doing The Right Thing and which people are Bad People Doing The Wrong Thing, which a lot of people do.

            2. Observer*

              Of course it doesn’t make sense. But, as Bamcheeks says, it’s more about virtue signaling than anything else.

              Also, it’s about people who don’t actually understand how the world runs. (ie The academic who floated the idea.)

        2. Texan In Exile*

          When I lived in Florida years ago – I don’t know what it’s like now, people over 65 didn’t have to pay property taxes. In the US, property taxes fund the schools. I guess the argument was that if you are that old, you probably don’t have kids in school so screw society.

          1. London Calling*

            Or perhaps if you are over 65, you’re regarded as having made enough of a contribution over the decades and as you’re now probably on a more limited income, thanks for doing your bit.

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          I’m CF. Yet I vote for school bond issues and such because I had a good, well funded public education and I believe in paying it forward, even if the kids aren’t mine.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Ahh, straight out of the ‘people who don’t have kids are wealthy’ book of mistruth. The bit about us not spending frivolously *enough* is new though.

      4. Phony Genius*

        The Soviet Union and some other eastern-bloc countries used to have a childless tax. When it ended, there was a huge drop off in the birth rate.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          Am I remembering correctly the 5 child rule in Romania? And the humanitarian disaster that was?

          1. AnotherSarah*

            That was a rule that made abortion illegal except in certain very limited circumstances, like if a woman already had 5 kids. It wasn’t a childless tax. (Birth control was also illegal.)

    4. Irish Teacher*

      In Ireland, until the 1970s, women working in the public service had to leave their jobs when they married (and I’ve just found out they exempted primary school teachers in 1957, probably because the profession was so dominated by women). As a history teacher, it’s VERY hard to get students to understand that this did not mean “there was a law against married women working!” which is what most teens (and possibly some adults) think.

      Maybe the fact that we were neutral during World War II (and in World War I as part of the campaign against conscription, women signed a petition saying they would refuse to take the jobs of any men who were conscripted; given the universality of the protest and the fact that the British realised that it would take more troops to enforce conscription on a country resolutely opposed to it than they would get, conscription was never introduced here – we were still colonised by the UK during World War I, so could not remain neutral) had a part to play in this, now that I think of it, as women weren’t needed so urgently for the workforce as in countries at war.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I’m having trouble understanding it too – was the law that you had to leave your current job after getting married but you were free to apply to another job?

        1. Irish Teacher*

          No, it applied only to the public service. It was an internal rule there. If you were a doctor or shop assistant or worked in any other job, you didn’t have to give it up. Googling says that today 13% of people work for the public sector. I think it may have been more in the past, but it’s still a minority. There were still plenty of jobs married women could work at.

          1. Clobberin’ Time*

            Could work legally; but was it also legal for private sector employers to outright fire them, or to effectively push them out with poor treatment or disparate payment? Because de facto there’s not a huge difference.

            1. Irish Teacher*

              Yep, it was legal for the private sector to do the same. Very different era to today’s world.

        2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          If I have this right, it’s the difference between something being disallowed and something not being protected. There was no legal protection for married women who wanted to work, so any employer including public service could bar them. But other companies could choose to hire/keep them.

          This distinction comes up with women and banking too. It wasn’t “illegal” before 1974 in the US for women to hold credit cards as it is often characterized — but there was also no law that said banks had to let them. So in practice, lots of women were effectively barred from financial accounts until the law changed and made discrimination illegal.

      2. Terrysg*

        AFAIK, the reason was that it was seen as important for young children to have women looking after tham in school.

      3. Terrysg*

        She told me that in her day it was fine for a single woman to work, but a working married woman was “taking bread out of the mouths of a married man’s family,” as the expression went.

        I heard this commonly in Ireland in the ’80s.

        A piece of research I saw reported on many years ago ( I have no idea of details now!!) said that (married?) women with children spent about 80% of their income on their families, while men (married?) spent about 40% of their income on thir families.

    5. Hotdog not dog*

      My late grandmother, born in 1914, tried to keep her marriage secret from her boss but her boss’s wife found out through the grapevine and Grandma was fired from her part time secretarial job. She said that was how they did it back then.

    6. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

      Came here to comment about the opposite – single vs. married. Doesn’t matter how young or old you might be – if you’re single and have no kids, some people will think it’s okay to give you less because you don’t have a family to support. smdh

      My take is: you’re right, I don’t. But that means I have to rely on myself in my old age, which is why I need to make as much as I can before I get there.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I wonder whether employers who make this kind of argument realise that they’re actually proposing, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”?

      2. English Rose*

        But it’s not cheaper to be single anyway, even before old age. Throughout our lives we have to pay consistently more for holidays (single room supplements), accommodation etc. We have to heat and light our homes and all the other day-to-day expenses without another pay check coming in. (Although the bliss of not being stuck with a spouse and kids is something I celebrate every day and wouldn’t have it any other way!)

        But even it was cheaper to be single (and childfree) we’re bringing in just as much value to the economy so there’s no rational argument for paying less.

      3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        And the employer DOES NOT KNOW and has no need to know what your personal situation is. For instance, if you live with your parents, you might be contributing significantly to their expenses, or helping them care for a relative, or paying off Dad’s gambling debts under fear of retribution from the Mafia.

        I am single and have no kids, but I’m also disabled and must pay for people to do my laundry, deliver my groceries, and provide other services that most people can handle themselves. And there’s absolutely no reason I should be paid less than my colleague who is able-bodied, but has four children.

    7. Percysowner*

      My mom, born circa 1916 worked after she was married, and after she had me. She was a librarian and since no REAL man was a librarian back then, no one thought she was taking a job from a man who needed to support a family. Of course that also meant that she was grossly underpaid, especially since she had a Masters Degree, but at least the disapproval was less than it would have been if she had another job.

    8. irene adler*

      In 1987, I got my first post-college job. The HR person (female) explained to me that the job paid less because it was intended to be a “second income” job-most suited to a working Mom who just needed pin money. She acknowledged that no one could be expected to live on this salary.

      Only, nearly everyone of my co-workers there WAS living entirely on this salary-male and female. Although 90% of my co-workers were female.

      1. The OTHER Other.*

        There are lots of workplaces where this attitude still persists, while not stated overtly. I see it a lot in certain areas of the nonprofit sector, especially in the arts. Many people working at museums or centers for the performing arts are either pretty poor, working multiple jobs (often both), or rely on family/spousal support.

      2. Bankerchick*

        You didn’t happen to work in a bank, did you? Mid-90’s here and I was a supervisor. Long days, inflexible hours and Saturdays too. New wardrobe because of dress code. Needed my own car as they may send me to cover other areas.

        And one year at review time, I told MY supervisor that my pay didn’t match my duties and my results and she gave me the same line. It was meant as a second income, not meant to support anyone….And about ninety percent of coworkers were women. Men who did apply came in at a much higher rate and were quickly promoted, regardless of education or skill. It was BS but we didn’t know what else to do. We needed jobs and any rocking of the boat could get you fired….

    9. Person from the Resume*

      The US military has a base salary (determined by rank and number of years of service) plus something called “basic allowance for housing.” Service memebers with a dependent (spouse/children) get a higher BAH. Completely unfair. Completely legal.

      It did used to be even grosser. In 1972, Justice Ginsburg took on a case that would be known as Frontiero v. Richardson. The case would be the first of six, five of which she won, that she would argue before the Supreme Court. The client in the case was Air Force Lt. Sharon Frontiero who sought the “with dependent” rate for housing as well as medical and dental benefits for her civilian husband. Military rules at the time stated that in order to qualify for these benefits a woman must prove that her civilian husband was in fact “dependent,” defined as the wife providing more than half of the household income. No such requirement existed for male military members married to civilian wives.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        The housing allowance thing – for housing on base, though, that seemed like a fair approach to me. My dad was career air force and when we lived in base, we got a bigger house because there were five of us. Smaller families got smaller houses.

        (The location of the house was determined by rank.)

        I didn’t know about Frontiero – yes, that is disgusting! Benefits should be assigned equally to men and women!

    10. Texan In Exile*

      I am still convinced that one of the reasons my boss chose me when he had to lay off one person from the team was because I was the only one who “didn’t have a family to support.”

    11. OP4*

      Thanks for these fascinating comments, everyone! For context, the period I describe was ~2003-2007 at a small local retail store.

    12. Almost Empty Nester*

      My husband and I both worked for the same international technology company that is instantly recognizable (I still work for them). In 1999 while I was out on maternity leave with my second child my husband received a rather large increase because he was grossly underpaid. We both worked for the same manager although in different capacities. Our manager called me in (again, I was on maternity leave) for my annual review because they were due during my leave. He told me that I wouldn’t be getting an increase because my husband got a big raise and what I made didn’t matter anyway because it was all going to the same household. I’m still irritated with myself after all these years that I didn’t report him immediately to HR.

      1. Clobberin’ Time*

        It may be worth re-opening that issue, since a smaller raise then is magnified by smaller raises throughout your career.

        1. Almost Empty Nester*

          Happy to report that I had an excellent manager several years later who went to bat for me to get me up to market value for my skills and position, and I remain there (think upwards of 40% increase, which is nearly unheard of). Had it not been for her, though, I’d be even angrier about it. Still miffed, but not angry. ;-)

    13. Nanani*

      Not a thing of the past. I have seen it first hand this century.
      Even in places where it’s illegal, the sexists will find a way to push out married women, mothers, anyone with a hint of an excuse to fire her.

  12. fluffy*

    LW5: You are under no obligation to respond, *but* LinkedIn will penalize your profile if you leave recruiter messages unanswered, which could be a problem if you want to use LinkedIn to job hunt in the future. Fortunately, LinkedIn has a “decline without sending a message” option which is likely up your alley. I use it a lot, myself.

    1. Purple Cat*

      How does this even work? Aka what impact does “penalizing a profile” really have? It’s absurd for a platform to penalize me for ignoring a spam email. How about penalizing the recruiters for sending too many unanswered emails?

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s ridiculous – I’ll take the penalty if that’s how the algorithm works.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      If the penalty is getting less visibility with irrelevant recruiters, I’d think this is a positive. Then again, I only use LinkedIn as a longform resume where I list ALL THE THINGS.

    4. Beth*


      I know that you can damage the profile of unwanted senders by reporting them to LinkedIn, but I have never heard that LinkedIn will penalize you if you don’t respond to an unwanted contact.

      The best course you can take with LinkedIn spammers is to report them as unwanted. Their own profiles will be restricted if they get too many “I don’t know this person” reports.

    5. Raboot*

      Source? I get LI messages from recruiters all the time, ignore them, and they continue coming.

  13. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

    #1: in addition to the biohazard issue, the cleaning staff may also protest extra work because there usually is a detailed contract between the companies about what service is included in the monthly payment. Anything extra has a separate price, and it’s between the cleaning company’s boss and the client company’s boss to agree about extra services. Also if the cleaners don’t normally clean this kind of biohazars, and/or clean the cars at all, they may not have the right kind of equipment to do so.

    #3 I wouldn’t be concerned about what the HR person talks about with their spouse. If the HR person is a reasonably sensible person, they are aware that their spouse knows the same people. With a spouse who isn’t in the same company, people may talk about some workstuff in an anonymous way, and sometimes it can end up being recognizable anyway. In this case this person isn’t able to do so, so they are probably more cautious with their spouse than someone else might be.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Do you KNOW that though? There are reasons conflicts of interest guidelines exist. So we don’t have to assume people will act correctly. We can just say “we aren’t even going to put you in that position where you have to decide how to act.”

      I mean a spouse may INTEND to keep everything confidential. But if you know layoffs are looming or you know the company may be shutting down, of COURSE you are going to warn your spouse to start looking for a job — even if you don’t tell them why.

      Best of Intentions and all that.

    2. Yorick*

      Sure, sometimes companies have cleaning staff that are contracted from a cleaning company. But often the cleaning staff are employees of the place they work. We don’t have enough info to know whether or not the cleaners were right to try to get out of this task.

  14. Nodramalama*

    LW3 im not sure what you’re intending to do with the fact that someone in HR is married to someone else in the company even if there is a theoretical conflict. If the higher ups are OK with it and everyone knows about it, there’s not much you can do even if you’re concerned. To me it’s a cross that bridge when you come to it issue.

    This often happens in small companies. In an old start up I worked out the chief legal counsel was the fiancee of the founder. Is that smart? Probably not. Was I, an employee going to worry about it? Why, when I can’t do anything about it?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      LW3 asked for a reality check, and they got one. If the HR person is a payroll-and-benefits only position, LW3 can put their worries to rest. If the HR person is involved with promotions and investigations, LW3 can decide whether they feel comfortable working at a company with this setup and if they are uncomfortable, they can start looking for a new job.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      One thing this blog helps people do is hone their instincts and examine their impulses and biases. In this case, OP’s gut was telling them one thing and their social input was telling them something else, so they asked to clarify. I think that’s a great function that this platform serves and we shouldn’t discourage it or imply people should keep their eyes on their own paper – we’ve seen how much trouble adhering to norms can cause as well!

      1. Clobberin’ Time*

        It’s incredible how many commenters are scolding the LW for not completely trusting the HR person to behave perfectly.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Conflict of interest guidelines are all about theoretical conflicts. It’s hard to know if someone’s biases have come into play, so generally companies discourage putting people in positions where it could happen.

      And it’s better to ask questions before there’s a problem. It would be worse to be dealing with an HR issue AND a conflict of interest issue at the same time.

    4. BEC*

      It also helps identify places where it isn’t a ‘cross that bridge when you come to it’ situation and the OP may find out that there are safeguards or internal controls they can put in place to mitigate future potential conflicts or issues.

  15. GythaOgden*

    I almost guarantee the cleaners have seen worse. My mum and dad’s helper said she’d worked in hotels and so nothing we could inflict her would ever measure up to that.

    And I’ve been sick in a taxi once. I tried to tough out a migraine until I got home, but the jolting of a train followed by the taxi made it all come up before I got to the safety of home. I paid the £50 fine but my anxiety was that the guy might think I was drunk in the middle of the day rather than anything else. It was while my husband was in the final throes of cancer, so the fifty quid was immaterial. But…I suppose this is to say that quite literally sh1t happens, few people do it deliberately, and cleaners have strong stomachs. That’s what they’re paid for.

    1. Beth*

      Some of them are paid for it. Others are not. If the existing cleaners aren’t paid enough, and don’t have the correct training and materials for biohazard cleanup, they’re entirely right to refuse. I wouldn’t clean up bodily waste for minimum wage, and that may be what the existing cleaning staff are being paid.

  16. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: cleaning biohazards out of fabric/upholstery/carpet is a specialised job that requires more materials and training than cleaning them off a toilet floor. That stuff will absolutely soak in and stay there and bacteria really like multiplying in that deep down environment.

    Professional companies exist that’ll deep clean a vehicle after such a mess – costly but they’ll guarantee to get the stuff out.

    It is probably cheaper to get the cleaning staff or a volunteer at work trained on proper disposal and buy the equipment needed (usually involves high pressure steam and vacuum and suitable chemicals).

    Source: used to work with biohazards

  17. Allonge*

    OP3 – I work at a company of about 500 people, with 20 HR staff. Three of them are married to others in other departments and it works just fine (obviously they are excluded from any processes where their spouses are involved; for payroll there is always a review in any case). This is just to illustrate that as Alison says, there are multiple ways the situation you describe could be perfectly fine or not.

    1. ecnaseener*

      The big difference is that LW’s company only has this one HR person. So they can’t be excluded from processes involving their spouse.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        But as Alison mentioned one HR employee tends to be a more low-level admin type role than larger companies with larger HR departments.

      2. Allonge*

        Of course they can, just as they are replaced for when they are off for leave or sick or whatever. Someone else will need to perform the ‘HR function’ where there is a conflict – the solo HR person should have a strict obligation to report and immediately stop working on anything coming even close, of course, and ideally there would be a clear alternative reporting line to their boss or someone for staff.

        But I doubt that one single person manages all of the processes that our 20 people manage for 500 anyway, it’s not all scaleable but sounds way too much.

  18. Too tired*

    #1 This happened to me and my agency paid for cleaning from a third party. I ended up buying a separate seat cover to use for work. However, once I forgot it and ended up putting a beach towel down. I told a client my seat was wet.

    If it was someone I knew who struggled with incontinence, pet pads went under the seat cover. The seat cover looked normal since my clients deserved a sense of dignity (plastic seat covers wouldn’t have worked). If you do use plastic in the future, cover it with a normal looking cover. Mine were mostly used with those who struggled with hygiene, but they were waterproof too.

    1. Laney Boggs*

      I really appreciate that you also considered your client’s dignity when choosing seat covers. I think some other commenters are missing that piece.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Same here. I have a relative with continence issues and for them I think really the worst part is the sense of loss of dignity. Discreet solutions are really key in this question, I think.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          This. As a person with IBS, I worry about this. I’ve actually gone ahead and bought waterproof seat covers for my own car, just in case.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        Seconding this, I’ve seen at least one comment recommending OP cover the passenger seat in garbage bags. Effective maybe, kind no.

      3. Raboot*

        Yes that was bothering me too. But OP sounds like the kind of person who would not actually implement a solution that hurt client dignity so I’m sure they would do things respectfully anyway.

    2. LW1*

      I really appreciate your reply – their dignity is a primary concern to me as well. Trash bags and plastic seat covers were suggested by a couple coworkers but that doesn’t sit right with me. Pet pads under a more normal looking cover were something I hadn’t considered and it’s affordable enough that I could throw my own money at it if I’m getting admin resistance, so this is quite helpful.

      1. Forty Years In the Hole*

        We did washable seat covers (adding pet pads later) when our mom became incontinent (which she firmly denied she was, but was – understandably – mortified when “things happened”). We played it as “just keeping the leather seats in good nick/protection from the sun/more comfortable to sit on in hot/cold temps/dogs, etc”. All the seats in the car were covered so it wasn’t obviously just her seat. Also – there were dogs, grocery spills, beach-covered kiddos, runs to the garden centre, etc. So – preserved the seats, easier tidy up, and didn’t make mom feel like some outcast.
        She’s gone now…but we still cover the seats as needed.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I have elderly cats, and my bed is covered by a pet blanket, my pillow has a waterproof cover under the pillowcase, and we buy Nature’s Miracle by the gallon. It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, since I’m getting older too.

      2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        You can also get “bed pads” rather than pet pads, which are the same product but without the added scent to encourage dogs to pee on it. They’re in the human incontinence section of the store, and designed to go under a person in bed but work fine as an absorbent layer in a car too. (We used them for our elderly dog as well, since we didn’t want to encourage her to pee in the house, just to make it easier to clean up when she’d have an accident or leak a bit. She didn’t have weight-bearing control of her back legs at that point, so we’d just put one under her wherever we settled her after her sling-supported walks. Easier than diapers for a dog that isn’t mobile.)

        Whatever you do, if you do the visible parts to the driver’s side as well as the passenger seats it’ll look less like you’re singling them out and more like it’s just how the car is set up.

  19. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP4: sadly, this is still the case at some places. I’ve had to talk a manager out of deliberately weighing job offers toward those with children as it’s just as offensive as weighing the offers against those with children.

    What your financial constraints are at home shouldn’t factor into a job offer at all.

    Alison is right on the money (heh) about how companies won’t take other considerations on your money/time/resources into account when allocating pay or bonuses or who has to work extra hours. I don’t think it’s exactly illegal in the UK either (happy to be proven wrong! Am not a lawyer) to weigh payrises or pay higher for those people with children as long as it’s not punitive. Again, not a lawyer.

    Only thing to be done is to avoid companies that treat their staff this way.

    1. RC+Rascal*

      This can be a lot the case when determining layoffs. At the beginning of my career I believe I was laid of in lieu of a coworker because he was married and had children. As a young single woman the perception was that I could just move back in with my parents if I needed to. (BTW this was not at all the case–my parents were both well established alcoholics and I simply couldn’t live with them anymore).

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Sincere sympathies mate, it’s horrible. The ‘well you don’t have any commitments and can just move back home to your folks’ was last said to me during layoffs in 2011. I was in my late 30s. But y’know, no kids, so..

    2. Bankerchick*

      In the early 90’s, I graduated college with a Paralegal degree. Problem was, at the time there were no internships at my school and the degree didn’t focus on admin skills. Which is what a lot of employers wanted. I knew I would pick them up but needed a job.

      I saw an ad for an attorney’s office that looked perfect. I was a bit over qualified and it only paid minimum wage (he had just let a woman go making several times that but said he could no longer afford her) but it was “in my field”. He asked me illegal questions in the interview (married?? Yes….Children???? No) And ended up going with a single mom who needed the job for EITC. She was also on public assistance. He told me that between the pay and public assistance, she could turn it into something livable. And that I didn’t “need “ the job. I had a husband.

      Did I mention this was in the nineties and he was an attorney?????

  20. Bread Addict*

    #3 I also think Alison left out that often HR has nothing to do with promotions. Decisions to promote someone are made by managers. HR (especially in small orgs) only deal with the paperwork. Even in large orgs where they are in panel interviews, they are typically only there to prevent questions of discrimination or issues of unconcious bias. They arent often decision makers. Thats down to the person who will be managing the role or their managers.

    I wouldnt assume that they are behaving unprofessionally until you see a sign of it though. I worked with my husband previously and we had a ban on discussing work outside of the office. And never shared confidential info.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      +1 Promotion and compensation are completely out of HRs hands here.
      Given the population size of our town, the depth and breadth of family connections, and the size of the university population, it would virtually be impossible to find anyone who had no family or personal connections with anyone else associated with our school for employment. Even new arrivals, such as myself, rapidly develop family connections, frequently through partnerships (no family to extended 50+ family within two years). There are numerous partnership couples of different genders employed here. They act professionally and there are procedures to ensure that they do.

    2. Purple Cat*

      Yes and No. In a small company, I would agree with you. HR is probably more administrative.
      I work for a large company though, and one role of our HR Business Partner (who also happens to be the VP of HR) is to work on succession planning. She would also hear “complaints” about our team and coworkers so in this case, I would consider it a conflict

  21. bamcheeks*

    LW1, I would definitely try to escalate this now, as a general policy, rather than wait until something similar happens. It sounds like dealing with biohazards is a part of your organisation’s work, and it needs to be absolutely clear where that responsibility lies! Someone senior should have picked up on this already, but if they haven’t, push it yourself. If you are worried your management aren’t going to take it seriously, it may be worth speaking to the supervisor of the cleaning staff and asking for their support in getting clarity on it. If the conclusion is that it is their department’s responsibility, they may want to make a case for PEP, different cleaning materials, extra training etc for their staff. Or they may need to make the case that their staff aren’t paid or trained to handle this and it needs to be outsourced. But either way, they should also have an interest in getting it clarified.

    But do pursue it. You aren’t being difficult, you are raising a perfectly reasonable and important issue that the department needs to make a decision on.

  22. Lizzo*

    LW2, this isn’t what you asked about, but is it possible for you and your boss to pre-record your presentation and have that video played at the conference? That way you still get to present, but the pressure is off for you to be there, regardless of what your doctor says about your level of contagion. (IMHO this sort of backup plan should be standard practice these days.)

  23. DJ Abbott*

    #1, with your boss’s reluctance to get an answer and that you had to spend the better part of a day pushing for an answer indicates your boss isn’t going to rush to clarify this. I think you need to be prepared to push hard to get a clear protocol and that it will take at least a few days, probably longer.
    Also don’t try to clean such things yourself because there are some pretty bad diseases you can get that way. Let the trained professionals do it.
    Good luck!

    1. Observer*

      I agree.

      OP, you need to push this up the chain if you need to.

      Don’t mention the other issues or that you couldn’t get answers from others, etc. This is squarely on your boss to deal with, and it she won’t kick it upstairs and let whoever figure it out.

  24. Chief Bottle Washer*

    I’d like to address this part of the HFM letter: “ However, people can remain contagious for weeks after exposure. (I think it’s like Covid, where you can continue to test positive for 90 days even after you cleared the virus.) ”. People who are testing positive for COVID 90 days post-infections are generally NOT contagious. PCR tests can detect leftover bits of viral RNA, but there is no active infection which can be spread to others. CDC says “ Recovered patients: Patients who have recovered from COVID-19 can continue to have detectable SARS-CoV-2 RNA in upper respiratory specimens for up to 3 months after illness onset. However, replication-competent virus has not been reliably recovered from such patients, and they are not likely infectious.”

    For HFM, you really can be contagious weeks later. According to CDC, “ People can sometimes spread the virus to others for days or weeks after symptoms go away or if they have no symptoms at all.”

    1. WellRed*

      Yeah that part surprised me. I have a feeling Covid comparisons, faulty or not, are something we are gonna be hearing for years to come. OP, please just drop out of the conference.

    2. jane's nemesis*

      Thank you for explaining this distinction! It didn’t feel like a correct comparison to me but I don’t know enough to know why.

  25. DJ Abbott*

    #5, I would block the one that sent a message to you at work. Really, so disrespectful!
    It sounds like this is part of the current climate of employers having trouble filling entry level and short term jobs, and that’s making the recruiters more desperate.

    1. lizesq*

      Eh. This is super common in my field. All of my co-workers at my level and I get recruiter emails directly to our work accounts. I got 7 just yesterday.

    2. Lady_Lessa*

      I actually had one call me at work. I made a prompt and polite end to the conversation. I gave them more details in my email rejection. (Yes, the same recruiter tried several contact methods.)

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      I hate it when they solicit me at my work address, and then get shirty when I ask them to stop.

  26. Cats and Bats Rule*

    #5 – I would delete and not respond to the offers not in your field. Those are probably phish attempts (I get them a lot also).

  27. Lady Pomona*

    LW1: Google “plastic seat covers for cars” and invest in a roll of disposable ones. They’re made and sold for just such purposes as yours!

  28. ecnaseener*

    #4: In some states, discriminating based on marital status is illegal, so the “you don’t have a wife to support” part specifically would be an illegal reason to deny the raise.

    1. Elysian*

      DC, which is not a state but is where I live, protects marital status and family responsibilities, so it would be illegal here on two fronts.

  29. Macaroni Penguin*

    1) It sounds like we’re in the same field OP! At my agency, the car would be cleaned by a third party and paid for by the client (if possible). Most clients supported by our agency have a small social benefits income and a government Trustee to manage it. Should the client be unable to clean their mess, the agency would cover that. It would certainly not be the responsibility of cleaning staff to deal with things. And then in the client’s next Individual Support Plan , there could be some adjustments for biological confirmation, like a cushion or change of clothes. Once I had a client who tended to deliberately poop in staff cars. Thankfully never in mine! But there were plans and policies in place to deal with that.

  30. le teacher*

    #4 – This is always one of those refrains that never made sense to me. I grew up with two full-time working parents in a high COL area, so by my logic, single people living alone “should” be the ones who need money (I am not advocating for pay raises based on this, just trying to follow the logic presented). It was a lot harder to pay all my bills when I was single and living alone than it is for me now – married to another full-time working adult.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      It doesn’t make sense because it’s not really about paying people based on their expenses, it’s about paying men more than women because of misogyny. Snow Globe’s comment upthread has a good recap of a “Mary Tyler Moore” show episode that exposed this “logic” as misogyny.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        It goes back entirely to the idea that any woman working was working for fun or just something to do because woman were supposed to get married, have children, and become a homemaker.

        Of course it was never entirely true for ALL women – just wealtheir white women. Widows, single mothers, poor women, women of color had to work to support themselves and their families. They just got shunted to “women’s work” that no man wanted to do and that paid all their employees (all female) poorly like cleaners and housekeepers. in this case they were paid poorly because the work was not valued not because the woman was taking a job away from a man.

      2. BTDTLT*

        These companies are likely also telling their female employees with children that THEY aren’t paid as well because they don’t put in as many hours or aren’t as on call due to their family responsibilities.

        It’s always an excuse to pay the men more.

    2. tw1968*

      I wonder if a good response might be, “I still HAVE to have support from my parents BECAUSE you’re paying me so little. It’s not fair that THEY have to support me more because YOU don’t pay me a fair wage for my labor.” (kind of like waitstaff at restaurants)

    3. anonymous73*

      Pay is generally based on industry, experience and education. I moved out of my parents house at 22 and supported myself for 18 years before I met my husband. When I first moved out I didn’t make much money and I struggled. But as I advanced in my career my pay increased and I was able to afford more and live better. Single and living alone doesn’t automatically equate to “needs more money”.

  31. Lacey*

    LW 3 – I’ve worked in a similar situation at a small company where we had a string of HR people who should not have been HR. Most of the time, it didn’t matter. They handled payroll and vacation time. That’s it, that’s the the whole deal.

    The one time it did matter wasn’t when the HR person was married to an employee – it was when HR decided that as HR they didn’t have to follow our conflict resolution procedure and could just write up anyone who pissed them off.

    But, the thing about a small company is that the owner is usually still pretty involved in stuff. And so even though the HR person went rogue, the owner quickly put a stop to it.

    So, I understand the concern, but I also wouldn’t get too worried about it.

  32. Jam Today*

    #3 — I had a fascinating conversation with the Legal department of a company I used to work for, when I told them about a senior level employee being a serial harasser and when they ask (reasonably, not in a hostile or obstructionist way) if I had gone to HR I said “he was dating – and is now married to – the head of the HR department. What do you think?”

    1. London Calling*

      I had a colleague who was dating the deputy head of HR. Oddly enough he wasn’t included in redundancy rounds.

  33. Delta Delta*

    #1 – One piece that feels missing to me here: Did OP’s car (agency car, but car nonetheless) sit for half a day with human feces in it while people fought about who was going to clean it? I agree there needs to be a protocol in case there’s a next time, but for heaven’s sake, while everyone sorted out who was going to clean this up, actual human waste sat on a car seat for a long time. That makes the whole situation even tougher to clean up.

    And the fact your boss thought a *VOLUNTEER* should do this is completely outrageous.

    This person is a terrible boss.

      1. Observer*

        Still beyond gross.

        OP, when you talk to your boss and anyone else you need to rope in here, please bring this up. The idea that a volunteer should ever be asked to do something like that (unless they are trained and expecting to deal with hazardous materials) is a problem that needs to be dealt with regardless of what (or any) protocol is decided on.

        If no one cares enough about the volunteers to do something about this, please point out that if this story gets out, you are likely to lose volunteers – not just ones who are working with you already, but also future volunteers. But ALSO it is likely to have really negative repercussions for the organization as a whole. And that’s assuming that the story gets accurately told without exaggeration.

        You are an organization that does case management for an inherently vulnerable population. That means that you are (or should be) monitored. How do you think any of the monitoring agencies are going to look at a story like that?

      2. Delta Delta*

        Ah, yes. I see I mis-read that. Still, nobody who is a volunteer should be expected to go cleanup human poop.

  34. MicroManagered*

    OP3 Your concerns are all sound theoretical with no basis in anything that has actually happened. If you know what the “vast majority of your colleagues” thing, you are gossiping. In the absence of an actual problem, you are only damaging your own reputation by talking about it. Let it go.

    FWIW: My partner works in HR and I work in a finance area, for the same employer. We’re actually very conscientious about what we talk about, both for confidentiality and to maintain a separation between work and home life. I’m fairly bored by the minutiae of a day in the life of HR.

    1. London Calling*

      OP’s concerns are her concerns and she’s 100% justified in having them, theoretical or not. YOU and your partner are conscientious in what you can talk about regarding work. Have a look down the thread and you’ll see at least one HR person who isn’t as scrupulous.

      1. MicroManagered*

        LOL I did see that right after I hit submit!

        But I still stand by my original point that, given the concerns are only hypothetical, asking coworkers (who are not concerned) about it will just come across as gossip.

  35. Kinsley*

    I’m an HR Director of a smaller public sector company (75 employees), and I would never dream of hiring my husband to work in the same place. I 100% tell my husband about my job and my day all the time. He’s my husband. That’s what people in marriages do.

    In my company, we have a ton of summer seasonal roles for the pool, marina, etc… The vast majority of these roles are filled with high school/college kids and a good chunk are employees kids. I won’t even let my son fill one of these as the child of HR. No all the way around.

    1. Purple Cat*

      I’m *sure* you’re not sharing confidential information with your husband and sharing specifics about your job just because you’re married? Right?? IMO an HR director should pretty much *never* talk about their job. Except “good day, bad day”.

    2. Observer*

      I 100% tell my husband about my job and my day all the time. He’s my husband. That’s what people in marriages do.

      Including confidential information? People’s medical conditions? Who is under investigation for what?

      No. That’s not what people in marriages do. That is what SOME people in SOME marriages do. And those people should not be in HR, or any other position that requires discretion.

      1. Agile Phalanges*

        Even HIPAA allows for blabbing about a case without any personal identifying information. Get home, tell your spouse all about having to clean up a maggot-filled wound, or about having to sit in on the firing of someone you didn’t think deserved to be fired, that sort of thing. Without names or other identifying information, it’s fine to vent/offload about stuff like that to an unrelated party. It is more problematic when the person knows who you’re talking about because you both work in the same place, whether it’s two nurses in the same hospital or HR + another position at the same employer. IMO, an HR person in a relationship with an employee shouldn’t be venting about being involved in a firing at all, because the spouse will know who was fired that day/week and will know who they’re talking about without even hearing their name. Or a nurse blabbing about the maladies of a famous person to their spouse employed at that hospital–they don’t have to say the name and the spouse will know who they’re talking about.

        As I mentioned elsewhere, I do work for a small company where HR’s spouse also works here, and I do wonder how much gets shared, but there’s not much I can do about it, and so far I have zero evidence that there’s inappropriate info, so either the HR person is discreet or their spouse is, so it’s fine by me. And I know that any hiring/firing decisions aren’t made by HR anyway, and definitely wouldn’t be if they were about the spouse, so at my employer, I think the worst case would be sharing too much info, not actual employment-related decisions. YMMV in a similar situation.

        1. Observer*

          IMO, an HR person in a relationship with an employee shouldn’t be venting about being involved in a firing at all,

          Of course. Married / in a relationship or not, you shouldn’t be venting to someone who can identify who you are talking about. Whether it’s because they work in the same building, they live in the same community as the person involved or any other reason.

    3. London Calling*

      So you won’t employ your son but you are happy telling your husband things that other employees might not want him to know? and who does HE tell about what ‘you’ll never guess what goes on in Kinsley’s company?’

  36. thelettermegan*

    OP4 – It’s easier to think of the undervaluing of young workers as exploitation rather than age discrimination.

    There used to be (and in some places still are) an assumption that a passage of time leads to diminishing returns of productivity rather than a impressive set of skills and knowledge.

    An unscrupulous manager might use age discrimination and age exploitation hand-in-hand: inexperienced employees are less likely to realize they are being undervalued, overworked, or participating in unethical behavior. Discriminating against experienced job candidates, which is wrong in general, also allows said manager to continue their exploitation without internal compaints.

  37. GlitterIsEverything*

    LW1, it might also be a good idea to suggest your company invest in several sets of quality car seat covers. It will make cleaning significantly easier, and decrease the cumulative effect of multiple messes and cleans in a closed car.

  38. Tib*

    OP1, if you are in the US, SteriClean is nationwide. They’re affiliated with the TV show Hoarders and are trained and equipped to deal with anything. Outside the US you could look for hoarding clean out companies because they usually clean other things as well. Everyone there seems to want to pass this job on to someone else, so knowing what alternatives are locally available could be helpful. This definitely should not be your job or the volunteers. At least the volunteers can feel free to say no without jeopardizing their paycheck.

    1. Ali + Nino*

      This is a great suggestion. Just one point – “At least the volunteers can feel free to say no without jeopardizing their paycheck.” – volunteers are presumably electing to do whatever it is they do for no pay!

  39. RussianInTexas*

    LW#3 – small company.
    Welcome to a world of small companies.
    The owner of my company is married to the CFO, they are the co-owners. And their son, our “IT” is dating the main operations person.
    The company is just over 50 people, just about half of personnel works in the warehouse. We don’t have HR. We have the CFO also doing payroll and benefits, and an accountant clerk/office manager distributing the paychecks, and that is the extend of our HR. The CFO also sees the annual open enrollment applications, since it’s a small business, they get quotes annually, and we have to fill out the application forms that list “expensive” illnesses. So they know who is “expensive”.
    And to know if it’s not favoritism – of course it can be 100% favoritism, and you will have 0 recourse against it. Again, welcome to the world of the small private companies.

    1. Becky S.*

      Not just small companies – 30+ years ago I worked for a 100 year old social service agency with over 300 employees. My boss, the head of HR, had his wife reporting directly to me. It was just as much fun as it sounds.
      My boos reported to the CEO, who had his wife working near him.
      It took about a decade to get a professional HR manager and end the nepotism that was throughout the company.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        To me, 300 employees sounds pretty small. You could all fit in one (multi-floor) building, and you’d probably recognize everyone even if you don’t know their names.

        But then again, I see people here describe 2,000 employees as “big companies”. I’m not sure where I would draw the lines, personally. I know the US gov has a definition (“Small Business Administration”) and I suspect that commercial banks would too, but people’s experiences are always more nuanced.

  40. anonymous73*

    #5 I deal with the same thing. If the message is sent through LinkedIn I generally send a generic “not interested” only because the application will keep sending me emails to “let them know if I’m interested”. If I get a direct email and it has NOTHING to do with my current qualifications, I mark it as spam. If I’m just not interested, I ignore it.

  41. HannahS*

    OP1, no suggestions to add but case management is such valuable and important work. I wish every single one of my patients had a case manager; I feel SO MUCH RELIEF every time I refer someone to a program that includes case management. Thanks for doing what you do.

  42. ope!*

    Alison, hate to mention administrative issues on an unrelated post but do you have any control over the ads on your website? I’ve been getting a lot for something called “blue chew” this week which is… NOT a genre of product I would like to have advertisements of up on my work computer!

      1. ope!*

        oh goodness you’re right… I’m on here too much, I’ve developed a version of nose blindness for the bolded instructions, lol

    1. MicroManagered*

      I actually use an ad-blocker because, without it, the number of ads on this site make it inoperable. While I was typing this comment, the blocked ad counter went from 420 to 490 to 549! With it on, I still see 2-3 but it’s more manageable. It’s at 592 now.

      1. SummerTime*

        I do the same thing. I don’t use ad-blockers many places, but I always do on this site. Other blocked sites hover around 10; this site is generally 200-700.

  43. Jessie the first*

    Age discrimination isn’t the only way that boss could have broken the law.

    Some states protect family status against discrimination – so if you live in a state that has this protection your boss’s justification would likely afoul of state law. Not having a family to support, living with parents- he was basing his decision on your family status. In my state that’s illegal.

    1. mlem*

      Yeah, I was surprised not to see that mentioned in Alison’s answer — but it doesn’t actually seem to be illegal in my state for employment after all. Might be illegal for federal employment, at least.

  44. Eldritch Office Worker*

    #2 I’m very confused why your manager thinks she should be the one to drop out here unless it’s just a honed instinct in her after a couple of years of having to deal with immunocompromised family. This isn’t like post-COVID, you’re likely actively contagious, and you’ll be going on a plane and to a conference – you dropping out seems like such the obvious move. I hope you’ll move forward with that in mind.

    1. Observer*

      It’s only an obvious move if the OP is actually actively contagious. If they are actively contagious they should not ASK about dropping out, nor should they “discuss” it. They should just drop out. But assuming that the OP has a competent and responsible doctor (and I can’t imagine otherwise, as the OP sounds like a person who is both reasonable and reasonably intelligent, so likely to choose appropriate medical care rather than witch doctors in white coats), no doctor is going to clear them to travel unless they are NOT actively contagious.

  45. NotAnotherManager!*

    I got the reverse of #4 this week – I had someone contest their salary increase/bonus, not because the market for the position is higher (it’s not and they’re actually a bit overpaid for their responsibilities), but because they have four children, they’re supporting an aging parent who lives abroad, and they live far from the office.

    BTW, the people who make these type of arguments are always men and never your strongest performers.

    1. Pisces*

      NAM, may I ask if your employee is from the other country?

      I’m not justifying their action. I’m just wondering if culturally, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary there.

      Sometimes cultural differences can cause missteps. A boss once got upset with his assistant when she made a mistake rather than ask him to clarify an instruction. She was an immigrant, and he felt like a complete jerk when she tearfully told him that in her native country, employees did not question what the boss said.

    2. HelloFromNY*

      With “the great resignation” and the terrible inflation, this is happening more and more. People know that their organization is scared of losing people. Someone can speak up and say “I have a family to support. If you don’t give me a raise I’m leaving.” Companies are so terrified of losing people (even below average performers) that they will agree to the raise. The “support a family” argument is being used as sympathetic leverage. Same thing along the lines of people with kids are given more grace to take time off around the holidays.

  46. Plague Carrier (LW2)*

    The current game plan is that work wants a Doctor’s Note clearing me to travel. I’m trying to get a hold of my GP for feedback. I’m starting to heal – I think that by the time the conference rolls around, I won’t look like a pox-marked peasant anymore. But, even though I’m healing, I suspect the doctor won’t clear me out of an abundance of caution.

    *IF* I’m cleared for travel, my manager has already decided that she’ll take her own uber to and from the airport, won’t sit with me at the conference, will remain 6 feet away during the presentation, etc.

    If my doctor says I’m healthy enough to travel, but Manager continues to treat me like a leper, I’m going to feel guilty. I struggle with reconciling this. But also, Manager is willing to expose herself to hundreds of people at the airport, on the planes, at the conference itself… So why should I feel bad about going if I’m medically cleared?

    I really appreciate the comments from others who have dealt with HMF.

    1. BEC*

      Sounds like you’re in the uncomfortable position of just having to wait and you have a plan for the contingencies you identified – is there a way in the meantime you can not take on the guilt or other bad feelings of negative outcomes until/unless they happen?

      You’re prepared – go be at peace :) (see how easy that was? #thanksImcured

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      None of that is your manager treating you like a leper. Think of how exhausting the last two years have been for immunocompromised people, and the choices they and their loved ones have had to make just to keep them safe. These are all perfectly reasonable precautions for her to take and you really shouldn’t center your own feelings in that situation.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Gonna be really pedantic here and point out that hand foot and mouth is actually more contagious than leprosy! Mostly because I think the fact that Hansen’s disease (leprosy) is much less contagious than we assumed for millennia is fascinating and more people should know it.

      2. Observer*

        Yeah, no. She’s acting like the OP is extra contagious even if their doctor clears them- which they won’t if the OP is actually actively contagious – while ignoring the very real risks presented by the rest of the situation.

        I get that the manager is exhausted. But that doesn’t make her behavior reasonable. Which is why I do have sympathy for her, but I think that the OP needs to not take on any guilt. Understand that it’s the manager being unreasonable because they are exhausted.

    3. Purple Cat*

      If you’re medically cleared you shouldn’t feel bad about going.
      It sounds like your Manager is focusing in on the “risk she knows” and putting her head in the sand a little about the risks she doesn’t know. Which is human nature.
      Her actions are her own and you shouldn’t take that guilt on yourself.

    4. Observer*

      I struggle with reconciling this. But also, Manager is willing to expose herself to hundreds of people at the airport, on the planes, at the conference itself… So why should I feel bad about going if I’m medically cleared?

      Google “availability heuristic”. Basically she’s freaking out about the one issue she (thinks) she knows about, rather than the issues she doesn’t know about. That’s not surprising, but not something you need to worry about.

    5. Claire*

      I think if your doctor says you are fine to travel, you are fine. This is a very common childhood illness that adults sometimes catch as well, and I’ve never heard of children staying out of childcare/school with it for more than a few days.

  47. Don't kneel in front of me*

    OP#1: if you are regularly transporting people that lack control over their bowels/bladder/whatever then your company needs to take precautions. They need protocol to mitigate the biohazard (it IS a biohazard), but more importantly they need to get non-porous protective coverings for the upholstery. A $20 plastic cover is far cheaper than the labor and lost time to deep clean fecal from fabric and foam.

    Frankly, I’m surprised that this suggestion hasn’t come up before at your company. Maybe try being proactive instead of reactive?

  48. Agile Phalanges*

    Re: #3. I, too, work at a small company with a couple exactly as you describe. I thought the letter could be about my employer except the timelines are different. In our case, it doesn’t SEEM to be an issue. So far? As Alison explained, the HR person mostly does payroll-type stuff, and to my knowledge, there haven’t been any real investigations, and the HR person isn’t involved in promotion decisions–it would be the individual’s manager who would propose it to folks above them, and only then would the payroll/HR person be informed of the new rate to start paying. I presume if an investigation involving the spouse WERE to become necessary, folks higher in the chain than either the person being investigated or the HR person would be the ones involved. As for talking about stuff at home, that’s slightly concerning. For example, I’m sure the HR person needs to vent after having to be involved in letting someone go (again, I don’t think she’s the decision-maker, but had to be in the meetings), and I think as long as it’s handled like “man, that sucked because it’s hard to do that” it would be fine, but if it’s more blabbing about specific circumstances that wouldn’t be great. But of course who knows what gets said behind closed doors, and to me that’s the biggest potential issue with the setup. Because unfortunately in a small company, it’s unlikely the spouse wouldn’t know who she’s talking about. Whereas if they didn’t also work there, she could come home and talk about having to be in the meeting where Wakeen was fired, and spouse wouldn’t really know who that is.

    Regardless, if upper management was cool with this scenario, then there’s not much the letter-writer can do. Either stick it out or find a new job.

  49. Student*

    OP #4: It’s not a US federally-protected class, but there are many states that protect against discrimination based on familial status. Sometimes in labor, sometimes only in other areas (like housing). If your state has such protections, they may apply, depending on the details of what your manager said and the details of the state law. Under such protections, your employer can’t generally pay you differently or making hiring decisions because you have (or don’t have) a family to support, a spouse with a job, etc.

    In my field, at least, a survey of salaries vs marital status revealed that men and women were paid near-to-equal when single, but when men got married, they got a bump in pay relative to other single men; when women got married, their salary declined relative to other single women. Fighting against this kind of nonsense helps women and helps other men.

  50. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I have a problem somewhat similar to #5. The company that I work for was bought by Large Corp sometime in the mid-2010s, but is still operating under its own name as a subsidiary of Large Corp. Three years ago, Large Corp suddenly decided to rename the Smaller Co. that I am an employee of. An email went out to all staff encouraging us to update our LinkedIn profiles with the new Smaller Co. name and logo, which we all did. Turns out, there is a programming language that has the same name that Smaller Co. was renamed to, that is in high demand, and is nothing any of us have any experience with – it is in a completely different field and I wouldn’t have ever heard of it if not for messages from the recruiters. For the sake of brevity, let’s say we were called Forward Llama Grooming Services and Large Corp renamed us to Fortran Services. Which is where my problem lies – we are all now being bombarded with messages from recruiters about job openings for Fortran. When I ignore their initial messages, they keep following up until they hear back. Out of the goodness of my heart, I’ve been replying to those recruiters who’ve messaged me 2-3 times, with “Wrong Fortran, sorry (brief explanation of why)”, but that leads to more messages asking if I know someone who knows the language Fortran (I don’t). What is a good way to handle these? is it ok to just ignore/block or will that somehow hurt me down the road? I do use LinkedIn for my (very intermittent and lackluster – I kind of like it at Fortran Services) job searches, and wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt my standing with the recruiters there.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      I think you’re fine if you ignore/block the recruiters who follow up with more questions about Fortran. It’s unlikely that you’ll work with those recruiters if they recruit mostly for programming jobs and that’s not your field. And even if you do end up working with one of them down the road, I doubt they’ll remember you.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Clarification – I am in fact in a programming job, but this “Fortran” language is so far removed from what we do that I’d never even heard of it (and frankly have a hard time understanding what it does from reading the Wikipedia article on it).

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I still think you’re clear to ignore/block the recruiters. Recruiters reach out to so many people and (I assume) a very used to being ghosted, so I don’t think they’ll remember you or think poorly of you if you do end up working with one who reached out to you about a “Fortran” job.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I thought it was literally Fortran at first… That’d be fascinating to see who is still using it.

            Yea, I have two technologies (ColdFusion, Exstream) that I would rather panhandle than work with again. I don’t know that I’d block the recruiters, but I do copy & paste a short “I’m no longer working with ColdFusion (or Exstream, or Fortran Programing, etc)” and just stock-copy reply.

  51. Observer*

    #1 – Client pooped in the car.

    OP, someone else mentioned this, but I think it bears repeating. Why don’t you already have a protocol?

    It’s so odd to me that you don’t have a protocol that I’m wondering if there actually is something in place and either your manager or the cleaning people are falling down on the job. I could see either one, because SOMEONE in the cleaning staff is is pretty problematic. I mean how does any reasonable manager think it’s ok to even ASK a volunteer to handle this?!

  52. Zee*

    Isn’t #4 discrimination based on family status, which (to my knowledge) is illegal, regardless of age?

  53. Three Cheers for Root Beers*

    Lw#2, I had HFMD a few years ago (totally out of nowhere, still have no idea how I caught it). I got it the day before Thanksgiving (Wednesday) and was able to go back to work by Monday. I hope you feel better soon! One thing to look out for is the peeling. My hands and feet got that hardened, weird texture, and then over the next few weeks started to peel like crazy. Not to say you’ll have the exact same progression as me, but just a heads up in case having super peely hands is going to make you feel self-conscious in a setting where you may have to do handshakes, etc…though I continue to hold onto the hope that covid will be what finally kills the handshake.

  54. Just Me*

    #3 this kind of arrangement isn’t very unusual in the small company sphere. As Alison says, it’s common for HR duties to be performed by someone who also is doing other tasks, and much of the HR work is related to payroll, benefits, etc. I’ve worked in a few different offices with tangled family work relationships like this (HR is married to someone, or HR is also the person who runs x department where someone is under investigation, or a family member is a client of an employee, or the boss is married to the underling who just got promoted, or whatever). If the company is doing it right, when a conflict arises the individual with the potential conflict of interest recuses themselves. It has the potential to be messy, but it doesn’t have to be.

  55. Stephanie*

    For #1, I unfortunately have relevant experience in this. I work in a public library, so body fluids of various sorts are par for the course. I have no idea if our contracted custodians are trained for biohazards, but since they are contracted and not actual city employees, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was skimped on as well.
    But, once, we had an incident with a patron with a rotting flesh wound in our bathroom. The paramedics who arrived were wearing oxygen masks. And, yet, the regular custodians were just expected to go in there with their regular equipment and clean. I was so livid and fought the custodial supervisor on this, and that got them some extra PPE equipment, but I’m still angry when I think about it. One of the many problems with outsourcing to contractors – the workers don’t have anyone protecting them in cases like that.

  56. Curmudgeon in California*


    This really bugs me. I recently went through a 3 month job search. Some of the roles that came in the email were so far outside my geographic area, but wanted onsite, or were very, very junior and only peripherally in my field, on the other side of the country, or really, really low paying. I have actually added a couple of recruiting firms to my spam block because of how low quality the leads are – it’s like they got one keyword off my resume, and then pushed out something marginally related. Even now that I’m not looking, I get this dreck in my email – several messages a day, often the same garbage position under different titles.

    I say, up front, in my LinkedIn that I am only interested in remote roles. These clowns send me hybrid or on-site roles on the other side of the country. Some of them are only little over federal minimum wage.

    IMO, it’s perfectly acceptable to block/deny emails from garbage recruiters that do very poor matching of jobs to your resume. Life’s too short to put up with junk leads.

  57. Sarra N. Dipity*

    I can’t be the only one who thought “client” meant a completely different kind of client… (Clients at my workplace are folks who work in Research/Marketing at other companies. Makes for a very interesting visual and a very very different question that might be asked)

  58. AnonymousReader*

    LW#4 – I had a similar experience when I had a job in retail. I was let go at the end of the summer but my coworker who was a teen mom was allowed to stay on. She wasn’t the most reliable (she had issues with childcare) and a chatterbox but everyone knew that they were keeping her on because she “had a mouth to feed”. In hindsight, I’m grateful I was let go (and focused on going to college instead of trying to make retail a career) but I was hurt and felt less than because I was not a mom despite always being on time and giving 100% to my job. OP, my best advice is to run from places like that. They only want you to provide them with cheap labor and they see you as disposable. Even if you had a child or spouse, they would find some other excuse to pay you less than you deserve.

  59. Gothxbrooks*

    There’s a lot of comments so I’m unsure if someone already addressed this, but for letter #1’s question and your response, they’re most likely using their own personal vehicle for client transportation. Used to work in almost that exact field of case management/social work and it was very common for it to be a personal car which makes the situation worse!

    (I definitely sent this post to my old coworkers I’m still friends with because dear lord so relatable)

    1. SG*

      The letter writer specifically states the car is provided by the agency, so it’s not their personal car. I’ve done the same type of work for two different orgs — for one i had to use my personal vehicle, and for the other org I did not.

  60. works with realtors*

    I got HFM disease from my daughter (common for daycare kiddos, which I never was myself). It was truly the worst month of my life health wise. Even if you’re not contagious, I wouldn’t go just because if you look like a plague victim, I’m assuming you’re itchy and it hurts to walk too; you soooo can’t concentrate on a conference like that.

  61. Kazza*

    OP#1: I’d recommend that biohazard jobs like this are handled by an outside agency who specialises in this kind of clean up. Local law enforcement would probably have recommendations. Is it possible to organise a preferred contractor who can be called upon at short notice? Presumably youre not the only person who has had this kind of dilemma.

    OP#2: HFM is spread by direct contact with saliva or mucus. Is there some reason to expect your manager will be in contact with yours? It sounds like something that an adult could easily manage with normal hygiene (don’t share drinks, wash your hands etc).

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