spooky spider dilemma, coworker texts while driving, and more

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

1. A spooky spider dilemma

I work at an after-school club, and I am in charge of organizing the Halloween party this year.

One of my assistants, Hanna, has a fear of spiders. I was aware of this, but only in a peripheral way — in the same way that you’d overhear someone mention, say, that they didn’t like big dogs. It’s turned out to be much more serious than that. Hanna has had a full-blown phobia of them. If the word “spider” is so much as mentioned in Hanna’s presence, she has to leave the room to calm her nerves (fortunately it’s not a word that comes up very often in conversation).

Unfortunately the kids have been spending the past couple of weeks preparing an interactive activity featuring a huge spiderweb and a huge, malevolent looking spider. They are very proud of it, and can’t wait to show it off.

Hanna was not aware of this at all, because she only works twice a week. She will be assisting at the party. I took her aside to give her a heads-up about the spider. To my surprise, she simply got up and left the room without saying a word. (She returned 10 minutes later, acting as if nothing had happened, but she didn’t look very well.)

Would it be fair to ask her to refrain from attending the party? Her own children will be there. She’d also lose some pay and we need all the hands we can get on deck. Should I cancel the spider exhibit? That hardly seems fair on the kids, who’ve worked so hard on it. We are renting a space, so using a separate room is not an option. In short, how far do I need to go to accommodate Hanna’s phobia?

Ask her if she’d like to skip the party … she presumably does. I know you need all hands on deck, but if she had to leave the room for 10 minutes after a single mention of the spider, it’s very unlikely that she’s going to be very helpful at a party with a huge malevolent looking spider as a centerpiece. If you can find someone else to help out (a parent maybe?), go that route — but either way it doesn’t sound like you should expect Hanna to attend.

2. Coworker insists on texting while driving

I semi-regularly go on car trips to clients with a coworker who is higher up but in a different department than me. Say, he’s the sales manager who squares away the contract and discusses warranty terms while I’m the technician who does the product install. He’s recently taken up the terrifying habit of texting while driving; furthermore, he insists on driving even though I’ve expressed I’m perfectly willing to. How should I approach this? Should I talk to him directly (softly as in “you seem busy, why don’t I drive from now on” or hard as in “this is really dangerous and I’d appreciate if you stopped”) or should I go through my boss (his equivalent in my department) first?

Actually, your “hard” example isn’t firm enough — your message shouldn’t be just that you’d appreciate if he’d stop, but rather that you need him to stop if you’re going to continue to ride with him, period. For example: “Texting while you drive is really dangerous, and so I’m going to plan on driving us going forward. It’s a personal rule I have.” If he balks at that, you should insist on driving yourself separately (just like you’d hopefully do if he were insisting on driving drunk — and it’s worth noting that some studies show texting while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving). Keep using the “it’s a personal rule I have” language if you need to.

You should also tell your boss why you won’t ride with this coworker anymore (like you’d also hopefully do if your colleague were driving drunk).

And keep in mind that you don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission (your colleague’s or your boss’s) to keep yourself out of an unsafe vehicle.

3. Was I the last choice for my job?

I have been working as an admin at a medium-sized church for over a year now. I applied for the job just coming out of Covid quarantine, a few months after my husband left me, with a brand new infant. I had needed a job that would be comfortable with a single mother’s schedule. I moved to a new town and began working here, and it has honestly been lovely. Everyone has been so friendly and supportive! I love being here and I hope I do my job well.

Today, while filing, I stumbled upon some paperwork about the posting for my job last year. It pretty much stated that I was the only acceptable candidate who applied; there had been quite a few others they offered the job to before me, but those candidates turned the position down for various reasons. I am trying to put it from my mind, but I am plagued by the thought … was I the last choice? Did they even want me for this job, or did they just have no other options? Am I not good enough to be here?

They were probably thrilled to get you. That’s not me blowing smoke up your ass — it sounds like they had trouble hiring for the role and then they found you, thought you were well matched for the job, and were able to hire you. That’s a success!

Hiring processes are often rocky and it’s not at all unusual for an employer to hire their second, third, or even fourth choice and be completely happy to do it. Hiring isn’t like looking for a soul mate; it’s not like you have one candidate you match with and hiring anyone else will mean you’re settling. There are often multiple candidates who an employer would be happy to hire, and if the first few turn them down and they hire someone else, they pretty much never think about those earlier candidates again. The same is true if you were the only good enough candidate at the time you were hired — they thought you could do the job, you accepted it, everyone wins, and it’s highly unlikely that they’re thinking of you as “the only person we could get.” They’re thinking of you as “Jane, our team member” (and hopefully “Jane, our awesome team member”).

4. Inviting employees to see my band

I play music in a cover band, and in the past I’ve invited people from work to hear us perform. I won’t claim that we’re world-class performers, but we play songs people know and people seem to have had a good time. Some of my coworkers have even seen us more than once and have invited other people from work to go, so some of our shows have been pretty well-represented by my coworkers (say, 15 people or so).

This was all well and good in years past, but I’ve since become a department head, and my gut tells me that it’s now awkward to mention specific shows I’ll be playing, because it could create the impression that there is pressure for people in my department to go, which I don’t want to do. Is there a way to invite coworkers to come to our shows without making it weird, or should that formally be relegated to the past?

Yeah, as a department head you’ve got to worry not only about people feeling pressured to go, but also about employees worrying that coworkers who attend will be favored in some way over those who don’t (even if only with the extra face time at the shows). If you’re generally known as a fair and reasonable manager, I don’t think it needs to be an enormous worry, but you’re right to be sensitive to it.

Can you switch to a model where you don’t proactively announce upcoming shows but just share the info with anyone who asks for it? However, if that means that you end up with more face time with people who attend, be deliberate about ensuring that doesn’t give them an advantage others don’t have: don’t let social conversations at a show turn into work discussions where decisions are made, find ways to give others equal time with you during the workday, etc. (And if that turns out to be overthinking it, great. The risks of overthinking it are a lot less than the risks of under-thinking it!)

5. I’ll be out for a vasectomy; what should I tell my team?

I’m a new manager, and I have a small, fairly close-knit team in a medium-sized organization. In a few weeks, I’ll be taking a couple days off to get a vasectomy. For almost any other health thing, I would likely just mention to my team, “I’m off to get fillings at the dentist” or “I’m starting to feel a little sick to my stomach; I better head home!” But for this, obviously, I don’t want to be uncomfortably specific AND I don’t want anyone to worry! Can you think of an approach that makes sense?

“I’ll be out for a few days for a minor medical thing.” If you want, you can add, “Nothing to worry about, just something I need to take care of.” That’s it! It’s actually good to model that for your team so they realize they don’t need to disclose their own medical details either.

{ 514 comments… read them below }

  1. Jade Rabbit*

    LW #2. Texting and driving is illegal in almost every US state (assuming they are in the US). Forget ‘politeness’. This is SO bad there are laws against it. Flat out refuse.

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      #2 is such a good example on how to hold a line at work. It’s not about the OP coming up with a solution and convincing the coworker to let them implement it (“I’ll drive instead of you”). Instead, it’s about boundaries and limits on what *the OP* will and will not do (“I will not go in a car with this person any longer. So I’ll drive myself. Thus ends my responsibility to solution design. And I’ll inform my boss of the change of plan and reason.”)

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I did that with my WorstBoss. She not only texted and drove nonstop, she was also super aggressive and erratic. I just refused to let her drive if we were together or made my own separate arrangements. Then my coworker did the same. And then the people from another team. They still let WorstBoss drive but didn’t make anyone get in the car with her. I even timed my drives so I’d clear the route before her just in case she caused a wreck. No way was I getting stuck in traffic of her making

    2. Bilateralrope*

      Yeah. If I was in that letter writers position, I’d be making it clear that texting while driving me around means I will get the police involved.

      One warning to the person texting. Then I escalate to the police. No warning management in between.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        I honestly don’t know how this works. Do you call 9-1-1 while its happening? Do the police chase the car down and make a traffic stop and issue a ticket? I don’t see that happening. I know it’s illegal, but I see this as an empty threat because I can’t picture the police acting on a tip about texting driver unless he’s bing particularly reckless or possibly in a school zone. If the driver see it as an empty threat, he won’t change his behavior.

        I agree with refusing to ride with him ie insisting on driving or taking your own car (or a separate company car) and telling company management.

        1. SnowyRose*

          It depends on if it’s a primary or secondary offense. In some states, it’s a secondary offense and not something you can be pulled over for in and of itself.

          In reality, it’s unlikely they’ll respond since it a low priority call. Not saying that texting while driving isn’t a concern, but unless there is a patrol officer near by who can locate the vehicle, observe the driver texting, and it’s a primary offense, it’s unlikely someone is going to be dispatched.

        2. Wintermute*

          I concur, around here unless someone is in physical danger they’re not dispatching an officer, even robbery reports get told to come down to the station to fill out paperwork unless it’s something that needs documentation (big dollar amounts, auto theft, etc).

          The other trouble is unlike a drunk driver, when they put down the phone they are back to normal, it’s not like they can send an officer driving down Highway C until they catch up to the guy and he’ll be noticeable because he’s still weaving all over and driving erratically.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Who’d hang up on you whilst rolling their eyes here in AZ. It is a secondary offense so they can only ticket you if they have already stopped you for something else

        1. lilsheba*

          Well that sucks. Texting and driving should be just as bad an offense as drunk driving. It’s just as dangerous. Personally I would be reporting the person to the police every single time they texted and drove that I knew about. I don’t put up with unsafe behavior like that, and I definitely would NEVER ride in a car with them again.

          1. Observer*

            Personally I would be reporting the person to the police every single time they texted and drove that I knew about.

            Why would you tie up police resources like that? The police is not going to keep a record of this, so it’s not going to “build a record”.

            Absolutely, don’t get into a car with that person. And kicking it upstairs as far as you can, is an excellent idea. But the big talk about getting the police involved is actively unhelpful to the OP as it creates an illusion that they have more capability to stop this behavior than they actually have.

          2. The Person from the Resume*

            The police are unlikely to even take that report from you.

            lilsheba reported that coworker was texting while driving on date at time is not actionable for the police. They aren’t likely to waste their time to record the information that doesn’t have somewhere to go.

          3. The Person from the Resume*

            And also lilsheba reporting to the police that so and so was drunk driving last night is also not actionable. Neither is so and so just drove home drunk and is now in the house so come over and arrest him for drunk driving.

            If the driver doesn’t cause an accident, the police need to catch the person while they are driving and then do a test to document/prove they were under the influence. Possibly sitting in the drivers seat while under the influence is enough. But not the report from a civilian with a statement that something like that happened.

      3. Observer*

        If I was in that letter writers position, I’d be making it clear that texting while driving me around means I will get the police involved.

        Well, it’s a good thing you’re not in the OP’s position, then. Because getting the police involved doesn’t happen by waving a magic wand. Nor does it happen just because you call the police.

        On the other hand, if the OP were to say something like that, no one would ever listen to anything they say about safety and / or regulatory compliance. Because why would you listen to someone who either is truly clueless or who likes to make empty threats.

        1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

          “I am going to report you to the police” is not an empty threat if you actually do it.
          “I am going to report you to the police and they are going to arrest you” is an empty thread because you don’t have control over what the police choose to do.

          1. Lydia*

            Why report them to the police when there’s probably a company policy that says employees driving for work purposes are not to text and drive? That would (hopefully) solve the issue. Especially since you can’t really call the police on someone for something like this.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Honestly I’d go with Alison’s wording in an email to the guy, copied to your manager. That way the objection is in writing, so they can’t be super surprised when you start taking a second vehicle everywhere.

      (Also, I’m sure the company wants to know what he’s doing, as I’m willing to bet that the company insurance won’t cover things if he’s texting and driving. I had a big policy explanation and amendment letter from my auto insurance a few years back alerting me to the fact that if they had knowledge that I was texting and driving, if I got into an accident while doing so I would not be covered at all.)

      1. Bilateralrope*

        You’ve got to report it to someone who knows enough to care. I’ve had a case where I was riding alongside someone who refused to wear a seatbelt. Even taking steps to fool the cars seatbelt sensor. This was a company vehicle.

        The people I reported it to didn’t care. A few months later, upper management finally found out and they were not happy. My guess is that the police found out.

        1. PsychNurse*

          That’s very different, though. Texting while driving affects ME if I am the passenger. If you don’t want to wear a seatbelt, that’s fine by me.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, that puzzled me too. I’m not even starting the car until all passengers are wearing their seatbelts.

              1. Lime green Pacer*

                Same! It’s not even on the level of “this is the rule that I enforce”, but more “Of course you want to get buckled up before we get moving, is everything okay? Do you need to make an adjustment?”

            2. UKDancer*

              Yes. There was a brilliant campaign in the UK about the impact of an unbelted backseat passenger on the driver in the event of a crash where the driver flies forward. It begins with the words “like most victims, Julie knew her killer” and is on Youtube.

              I would not be comfortable driving an unbelted person and I strongly prefer other passengers to belt up as well.

              1. Roo*

                I remember that “Julie Knew Her Killer” one. It was extremely powerful. There was also an excellent (though hard to watch) short film made in partnership with Tredegar Police about the dangers of texting and driving, called “Only Stwpd Cowz Txt N Drive”. I’d recommend sending it to anyone who thinks texting and driving is a trivial or inconsequential thing. Link to part one here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eqYxE0dhBs; the remaining parts follow on.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            In many states & countries the driver’s legally liable for passengers who do not buckle up. So you the driver get the ticket and the points on your license and the insurance rate increase.

          2. Corgis rock*

            A friend was in an accident where the only injuries they received were from the unrestrained driver landing on them.

          3. Wintermute*

            I urge you to reconsider that position, only because anything untethered in a car becomes a projectile in a high-speed accident.

            I’ve seen the results, which is why I cringe when people have tons of clutter or don’t clean out their back seat or cargo area or secure things: a 8lb tire inflation pump or a bag of gravel for their landscaping project could crush your head fairly easily.

            The worst is when they have crap all over the dash or even worse their steering wheel, I saw one girl in highschool that bedazzled her whole steering wheel area with colored crystal stud things. I was like “congratulations, you just turned your airbag into a claymore mine”

        2. OP*

          Now that I’ve had a few days to unclench my butt, I’m remembering that our VP of sales has a phobia about cars and keeps trying to fly people to clients that are like 45 minutes drive away. So that’s likely a good option.

          1. I should be working*

            On a purely environmental level, flying is a terrible option to a 45 minute drive.

            Having a driver texting while driving would shock me so much I’d probably lose any sense of tact in the moment and react badly. Yes I’m one of those sticks in the mud who won’t take the car out of park until everyone’s buckled up and will immediately end a phone call if I realize the caller is driving.

            People have their own agency and if they want to take those risks I can’t stop them. But I resent them trying to get me to be a participant. Tech addiction is very much a thing.

            1. Ampersand*

              That’s not being a stick in the mud. That’s not wanting people to be gravely injured or die in the event of an accident, which is a completely reasonable stance to take! I won’t go anywhere, either, until everyone is buckled in.

            2. KatieP*

              You can plant your stick-in-the-mud next to mine. Since I live in hot-as-the-blazes Texas, I will start the vehicle just to get the AC going, but I will not put it in gear until everyone is secure.

              When I was a kid, I was convinced that my parents had installed kill switches under the seats to prevent their cars from starting if someone wasn’t buckled. I don’t think they ever told me that – I think it was just a logical leap I made on my own.

              I’ll also end the call if I think you’re driving, especially if I think you’re not hands-free (not that hands-free is much better).

              1. JustaTech*

                I convinced my brother of that for a little while, and when he figured out that yes, the car would start even if he didn’t have his seat belt buckled, I said flat out “I don’t care. I will not go anywhere if you are not wearing your seatbelt. I don’t care if we miss the movie. I don’t care if I have to pull over on the side of the highway.”

                It’s the only contest of wills I’ve ever won with my brother. (I’ve also only let him drive me once. He faked the seatbelt and drove like a maniac and when we arrived I told my husband “see?” and we never let him drive again.)

          2. xl*

            If that’s the case, your VP might want to look into aircraft charter companies or getting a fractional ownership on a small jet or a prop plane like a KingAir.

          3. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I don’t know if I’d call it a phobia but I have enough car anxiety that I fully don’t drive or have a license. If someone told me an employee was driving unsafely I would DEFINITELY step in, so yes go to your VP.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              And probably still drive for 45 minutes or longer. It’s not like everyone lives/works near the airport.

              1. Corgis rock*

                And in a lot of cases two points that are 45 minutes a part by car are probably served by the same airport.

                1. Ridiculous Penguin*

                  It must be a city where this isn’t the case and there are at least two airports across the city from each other (NYC, Chicago, DC, and Houston come to mind). Still, taking a flight from, say, LaGuardia to JFK is extremely odd. (So would San Antonio to Austin, though they are a little more than 45 min away from each other.)

                2. Bee*

                  I don’t think you CAN fly from JFK to LaGuardia; this must be different cities with smaller airports. I’m thinking of like, Hartford, CT to Providence, RI, where you could be 20 minutes from the airport on either end and only 45 minutes apart in the middle, with the only train option 5 hours long. Which is still just as much time in the car, lol, so it might even be inter-city regional hops on one of those planes so small they have to weight-balance them.

      2. Can't Sit Still*

        Texting and driving is grounds for immediate termination at my company, even if it’s “just” on campus. Not only because it’s dangerous, but also because it “brings the company into disrepute.” I suspect the latter is the stick to use on people who don’t care about the former.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      OP2, check your employee handbook or training materials.l, which is probably on an HR URL at larger companies.

      My Fortune 100 employer explicitly bans distracted driving behaviors. They are grounds for disciplinary actions up to & including termination. This is included in the mandatory online training program. No driving while intoxicated intoxicated. No driving while talking on a phone that you touch. No texting. A future update is said to be in the works to prohibit video calls.

      1. Snow Globe*

        I’m horrified that they need a policy telling people no video calls. And that they should probably add – no watching videos (movies, you tube) while driving.

        1. doreen*

          I’m maybe horrified but not surprised – my husband is in outside sales and his manager is for some reason insistent on having the video turned on for calls. Most of the sales people are driving and not looking at the phone and have the phone facing the ceiling (and therefore there is no point to having the camera on) but someday, someone is going to try to actually stay on camera and watch the video.

        2. xl*

          It might be a thing where they just want a policy they can point to on the first offense.

          I know at my work we have a lot of policies for things that are objectively ridiculous, ostensibly so that management won’t run into an issue of someone saying “but nobody TOLD me I couldn’t do that!” when it occurs.

          It could also be a thing where they want the policy on the books so that if someone acts counter to the policy and gets into an accident, they can tell their insurance that the person was not in compliance with official policy.

          1. Big Bank*

            This makes me think of The Office. Michael does something ridiculous, and Toby says something like “Well, it’s not against the rules because who would have thought someone would do this? Who writes a rule book with all those crazy scenarios in mind?”

            1. whingedrinking*

              Sounds like gnomes in Discworld. ‘Gnomes had an inbuilt resistance to rules. This didn’t just apply to the law, but to all the invisible rules that most people obeyed unthinkingly, like “Do not attempt to eat this giraffe” or “Do not headbutt people in the ankle just because they won’t give you a chip.” ‘

              1. KoiFeeder*

                “Do not headbutt people in the ankle just because they won’t give you a chip.”
                Gnomes are corgis?

                1. whingedrinking*

                  Honestly probably any low-to-the-ground dog would fit the bill. Dachshunds, vallhunds, basset hounds…

          2. Mek*

            This makes sense, my husband’s job requires every employee to sign a form after training saying they know what PPE is, where it is, how to use it, and have been told to use it.

            That way if OSHA shows up the company can say “we did everything we could to protect them, if they refuse PPE it’s on them.”

            1. xl*

              Yep. I’ve had similar experiences at some jobs, down to them training us and then having us be officially signed off on the proper way to walk up and down a staircase (turned 45° toward the handrail with your hand hooked onto the handrail from the bottom).

              That way if you fall and they can determine you weren’t utilizing the established procedures, it’s on you and not them.

        3. JustaTech*

          I had a meeting leader (it was a cross-functional team meeting for an internal committee) stop a meeting because he realized that one of the people on the call was driving (people took calls from their cars, but before then everyone had been parked!).
          He said “Bob, are you driving? We’ll wait until it is safe for you to pull over and let you finish your section then.”

          So yeah, sometimes you have to tell people they can’t do video calls while they’re driving.

      2. Corgis rock*

        My previous employer banned all calls while driving, even handsfree, because it was a requirement of our liability insurance.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I misread that as “banned all cars while driving” and thought that was a uniquely effective solution.

        2. UKDancer*

          My company has done this. We’re forbidden from texting, calling or doing anything else while driving. I think it’s the best and most sensible solution for safety.

      3. Caroline+Bowman*

        Years ago, in the early 2000’s, I worked at a company where certain departments were regularly on the road by necessity and our CEO was extremely, extremely anti any form of phone usage, whether technically legal or not (at the time), and made it a specific condition of employment that to use a phone for any purpose at all required the car to be stopped and parked, the engine off, no exceptions. Any transgressions were treated as seriously as the company legally could and it was a massive black mark against culprits.

      4. Lilo*

        Yep if you get injured while driving/riding for company purposes, they’re on the hook. Basic math says they need to take driving safety seriously.

    5. Anomie*

      Agree. I’d have no problem saying what the heck are you doing? Knock it off. That’s how egregious this is.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        There are times where the threat is such that anxiety trumps potentially losing one’s life. Take the anxiety and know that you will live another day. It’s okay to speak up if someone is going to injure you or someone else.
        I would say that better than half the cars I pass I see the driver using their cell. I found a stat that says 25% of accident fatalities are from texting while driving. It’s okay to want to stay alive. It’s okay to speak up. Remind yourself that you are not the one here who is off-base. It’s the distracted driver who has a big lesson to learn.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Sure is! Another option is that you can offer to text for him, but of course this would be weird if he’s doing a lot of social texting. But you could literally take his phone away if he starts to text while driving. I have to do this to a friend sometimes; she loves to take photos and we’ll be driving somewhere scenic and want to take a photo and I grab the phone right out of her hand. (If I were really nice I’d also offer to take the photo, but honestly, who wants a photo through the windshield of a car, no matter how scenic? Roads are not scenic and that’s most of what you’re seeing.) But she’s a good friend; I don’t know how comfortable I’d feel doing this to a coworker so I totally understand if you don’t feel comfortable doing this either. Best of luck, OP!

        1. Bagpuss*

          I think taking the phone out of their hand potentially opens up a whole other can of worms, and of course if they are anoyed or try to get it back they are still goingto be driving while distracted.

          For me I would jusst be making clear that I wasn’t prepared to be driven by that person any more. I don’t want to be permamently on edge wondering whether they are going to try to text or call.

          Also, as a manger I would want this to be reported as I wouldn’t want individual co-workers to have to be making that decision evey time they go somewhere, about whether to challenge him, or refuse to get in the car , as not eveyone may feel able to do that n the memoment, so I would want to know so I could make sure that he was mde very aware that it’s not OK, and probably to have a wider reminder to all staff about what is and isn’t acceptable and what to do about it (e.g. a claer message that you can and should decline to get in the carif necessary)

        2. Mek*

          I taught my daughter to text so that she could take dictation for me while we’re driving. She’s way more accurate than talk to text!

          1. Rara Avis*

            My kid also has a long history of acting as my personal assistant in the car. (They commute with me.) Not work stuff though.

          2. coffee*

            My friend refers to this kind of work as being the “car butler”, which I find charming. So helpful.

      3. Mailer Daemon Targaryen*

        I totally get it. Everyone knows that texting and driving is bad, so when someone does it in front of you in real time, it can be hard to address it in the moment when a.) you’re typically non-confrontational and b.) it’s such an egregiously dangerous thing to do that you’re shocked that you even have to address it in the first place.

        Alison’s advice is good, but I would ignore the “it’s a personal rule I have” bit — texting and driving is both dangerous and illegal, so there’s no need to couch this in “personal quirk” language. Hold the line and loop in your boss.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          If couching it in personal quirk language makes them more likely to comply, I’d say go for it.

          1. Mailer Daemon Targaryen*

            Sure, do whatever needs to be done to ensure you don’t have to ride with someone actively endangering your lives, of course. But I think it’s worth pointing out that the implication that not wanting to ride in a car with someone texting and driving is an OP issue or “quirk” when it absolutely isn’t is going to fix the core issue. OP will be safer driving themselves, but unless the point is driven home *to the coworker* that they absolutely must stop doing this, they are still a danger to themselves and other people on the road. That’s also why I co-signed Alison’s suggestion to loop in the boss. They’ve got to hear it from all sides.

      4. RIP Pillow Fort*

        You just have to work past it if you can. I am extremely uncomfortable making waves but you do have to advocate for your own safety.

        I drive vehicles for work and I lay down the ground rules for travelling with me. You wear your seatbelt, passengers deal with all calls/texts, etc.

        I literally will pull over/not start the car if you don’t buckle up. I’ve had multiple passengers think that I won’t pull over and demand they re-buckle up. I very much will. Record is a 45 minute argument on the side of the road and I refused to ride with that person again.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I used to have a little label I’d made in my car: “This car has a driver seatbelt interlock. The driver will not start until the passenger’s seatbelt is buckled.” It was actually aimed at one specific friend. And the first time we spent ten minutes sitting in a parking space, said friend got the point.

      5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I feel you on this one. I’d suggest that you present it as a fait accompli – you will not be riding in a car where the driver is texting. It’s not a discussion or a negotiation, so whatever anyone says, your response can be “OK, I hear you, but I am not going to be a passenger in a car when the driver is texting.” You are just informing people about a (n entirely reasonable!) decision you’ve made about your own safety.

      6. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

        Cut yourself some slack, OP– it’s more than just social anxiety when you’re the passenger in someone’s car and they literally have your life in their hands. I think the only reason our car-centric society is able to function is because of everyone willfully ignoring the huge amount of trust we have to put in drivers every day. It makes sense that it would feel hard to stand up for yourself in this physically vulnerable situation, and I know that I at least have learned over the course of my life that it’s not always wise to provoke people who have already shown a disregard for your safety. So don’t wait til the next time it happens, make your case from a safe distance, and stand firm if anyone tries to gaslight you or imply that you’re making things difficult.

      7. MeepMeep123*

        It’s really really hard to go against the tide in a safety matter like this. I’m as pro-seatbelt as anyone (and I refuse to start driving until everyone is buckled in), but when I was vacationing with family, I got in the car with my anti-seatbelt cousins and let them drive me places. I was the only one buckled in. I didn’t say anything.

        I’m still kicking myself for not making a bigger fuss, because one year after that vacation, one of those anti-seatbelt cousins died in a car crash because she hadn’t been buckled in. Amazingly, the other one still drives around unbuckled.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Take it easy on yourself. Your cousin probably wouldn’t have gotten into the habit of using a seatbelt no matter how much of a fuss you made. Sorry this happened.

    6. AnonInCanada*

      Came here to say this. And it’s also against the law in most Canadian provinces (if not all of them.) First offence in Ontario:

      First conviction:
      a fine of $615, if settled out of court (includes a victim surcharge and the court fee)
      a fine of up to $1,000 if a summons is received or if you fight the ticket in court and lose
      three demerit points
      3-day suspension

      It only gets worse from there. That’s why OP #2 needs to address with both the driving texter and his boss as well. I’m sure it won’t bode well for the company’s reputation if this guy gets caught!

      1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

        Where I live, a well-liked owner of a local mom&pop restaurant was killed by some idiot texting and driving. This was close to 15 years ago, and the guy is still missed.

    7. Ada*

      It’s illegal for good reason. My friend’s husband and son were run over by a driver who was texting earlier this year while walking to school. Both survived, thank God, but… (skip the rest of this comment if gory details will be triggering to you).

      While her son thankfully walked away with minor injuries, her husband was in a medically induced coma for some time. “Good” updates were things like “Good news! The swelling in his brain is going down”, “Good news! His facial expression changed and he squeezed my hand”, “Good news! His skull was reattached today!”, “Good news! It looks like we won’t need to move him to hospice care after all!”

      He has since recovered remarkably well, but I’m telling you all this to drive home the point that you are NOT making too big a deal about this by putting your foot down on this matter.

      1. MeepMeep123*

        A friend of mine wasn’t as lucky as the husband in this. He got crashed into by a distracted driver while waiting at a red light. He sustained serious brain damage.

        He used to have an intellectually demanding job and a serious creative sideline. I knew him through the creative sideline and I know how talented he was at it. Now, several years after the accident, he lives in a nursing home. He cannot walk or talk and requires 24/7 care. He cannot even get close to engaging in the creative activity, even on a marginal level. Sometimes, his friends get together and bring him out in his wheelchair to an event related to the activity, but all he can do is watch.

        That’s what distracted driving does. It’s nothing to mess around with, and it hurts more people than just the texting driver or any of their passengers.

    8. WillowSunstar*

      Good point. There’s no reason the employee should have to ride in a vehicle with someone who does that.

    9. Essess*

      Exactly what I came here to say. It’s NOT a “personal rule”. It’s the LAW and it puts my life in danger. This should be immediately reported to the company HR that this person endangers others by breaking the law.

    10. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Texting while driving is objectively dangerous and also illegal in many jurisdictions, though the behaviour is unfortunately common despite all of this.

      I agree with Alison – your approach should be that you absolutely will not be a passenger in a car this coworker is driving if he is texting. To be honest, I think you should start with not being a passenger in a car he’s driving, full stop, since I wouldn’t trust him to keep his word if he promised not to text.

      As well, I’d assume that this whole thing opens the company up to liability if he caused a crash and injured or killed someone (a colleague or anyone else on the road at that time). So I would definitely mention it to your boss, even if only as an FYI that it’s happening. Any reasonable company should take proper steps to ensure employees aren’t doing dangerous, illegal shit while on the job.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        The company can take a bigger stand here. An APB reminding every one that using a cell while driving violates company policy as well as the law. Then the company can decide what the penalty is for violating the law including dimissal.

        Companies pay extra insurance if people drive on company time. Companies are motivated to make sure everyone stays safe behind the wheel.

        Here in NY the law is broad it includes any electronic device AND all a person has to be doing is holding it, they do not have to be using it. So let’s say you drop your garage door opener and pick it up. Technically speaking an officer can ticket you, it’s an electronic device and it’s in your hand. If you say, “I was just picking up my garage opener because it fell on the floor”, you have just described yourself as guilty of breaking the law. A huge amount of people do not realize this even though the law has been in place for a few years now.

    11. Portia Marlowe*

      I wanted to comment on “Was I the last choice for my job?” I was the executive director for a nonprofit. We posted to fill a key position. We interviewed our top candidates, selected our finalist, made an offer – and got turned down. That happened four more times (yep). I proposed that we go back to our B List to see if anyone jumped out. There was a candidate that I had wanted to interview but my committee didn’t love, but at this point they were open to the idea. We brought her in and she hit it out of the park, so we offered her the job and she accepted. What a great fit she turned out to be and everyone loved her. I left that job 6 years ago, but she’s still employed there and continuing to be a top performer and well regarded in the community. So yes, the hiring process is weird and difficult and doesn’t always take a straight path to the right person for the job. I will bet that in this case everyone is counting their blessings that they hired this person and are thrilled that this person is there.

  2. Linda Pinda*

    For #1: Since you knew how Hanna felt and reacted to spiders, why would that be the chosen project? There are many other Halloween/autumn ideas that could have been done.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      It sounds like the LW knew she disliked spiders (very common), but didn’t actually know that it was a serious phobia (much less common).

      I loathe giant spiders, and have woken my husband up at 3 in the morning to deal with them while I hid in another room. But I’m not phobic – fake spiders, small spiders, spiders in nature displays, pictures of spiders, large spiders outdoors seen at a distance and no problem. So I could see the LW thinking it was something like this, and I know I would be very taken aback if someone planned an event assuming I couldn’t handle even a mention of spiders.

      1. SwiftSunrise*

        Heh, when my sister and I shared an apartment in our 20s, she gave me a two-pack of fly swatters tied with sparkly pink ribbon for my birthday, so I could pretend to be a fairy princess while I killed bugs for her!

        1. That One Person*

          This is amazing and if I don’t still have my fly swatter gun (it’s spring action loaded with a string attached to the swatter net) I may go this route. Granted I also now have a cat who sometimes gets things sometimes doesn’t, but she may also enjoy the ribbons…hmm…

      2. I should be working*

        I seem to recall reading more than once that arachnophobia is the most common phobia in the world.

        1. Athena*

          Phobias aren’t one size fits all. What’s described above is more extreme than what most people likely experience.

      3. morethantired*

        I have arachnophobia and jumped out of a moving car because there was a spider in it, but even I wouldn’t immediately assume that Halloween decorations would bother Hanna. I have fake spiders in my own Halloween decorations! Fake spiders and cartoon spiders are in nearly every store this time of year. How does Hanna go grocery shopping or to the pharmacy? It must be incredibly difficult to navigate life for her if she can’t even hear the word. I assume working with kids must be even harder because a lot of kids LOVE Spiderman, and that’s not seasonal.

        1. CPegasus*

          Yeah, it must be. She may not go into the stores this time of year, and may have to rely on grocery pickup or the help of friends and family. It does sound very difficult for her. It’s…tiring to hear “how do they [navigate daily life]” whenever phobias come up. Sometimes the answer is “with a lot of difficulty”, sometimes it’s “they don’t.” It can be a real disability.

          1. morethantired*

            I understand that. After the car incident, I consulted with a therapist about treating my phobia. We determined it didn’t impact my day-to-day life severely enough to really necessitate CBT but that we’d work on it to the point where maybe I don’t jump out of moving vehicles. People with severe phobias that seriously impact their quality of life should know they have options and that life doesn’t have to be that hard.

          2. Worldwalker*

            At least it is a disability that can be cured. And probably a lot more reliably than my knees … cortisone injections and twice-a-week physical therapy just to get some semblance of mobility back. But I don’t want to have a disability if possible. If this ends up with me being able to, say, walk a mile on a flat trail, it’ll all be worth it. Probably even worth it if I end up being able to walk around a Walmart without clinging to a shopping cart. IMO, if there’s anything that’s interfering with your life, whether it’s a phobia of spiders or damaged knees, it’s worth doing a lot of work to get rid of it if you can, because we have only so much life, and it sucks having any part of it blocked off by anything avoidable.

        2. Meep*

          I admit this makes me a jerk, but I was kind of surprised she hasn’t been “desensitized” to it yet if she has kids, myself. Then again, I never thought I would be comfortable with someone else’s vomit and feces when I was a kid, but here we are.

        3. Laura*

          My younger sister described seeing a spider or a picture of a spider as the visual equivalent of stepping into a dog’s mess: She feels surrounded by something utterly disgusting (the smell resp. the image). Even when the real cause (mess/spider (image)) is long gone, the memory is so immediate that the sensory perception is still there. (She hates October…)

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      I wondered this too. Did you just find out about the phobia within the time since the project began (which means it’s come up at least 3 times in the past couple weeks, but also rarely comes up?), or did you knowingly allow the kids to move forward with a project you knew would be unpleasant for her if not intolerable?

      I understand wanting the kids to have a say in their project, but it’s not hard to explain why they should make a bat or whatever instead.

      1. Worldwalker*

        I think from the letter that the LW thought it was “dislikes spiders” and didn’t find out until she discussed the project the kids had made with Hanna that it was “cannot even cope with the word ‘spider’.”

        1. KateM*

          But even “dislikes spiders” does connect pretty directly to “no to huge, malevolent looking spider centerpiece”.

          1. Just Another Starving Artist*

            Not really? Most people without a phobia are fine with children crafting things they dislike. You don’t generally remake a children’s project around a part-time volunteer’s preferences. The distaste rising to the level of a phobia is what changes things.

            1. Just Another Starving Artist*

              The above should say assistant, rather than volunteer. Still, the preference vs. need portion stands.

              1. Lady_Lessa*

                I dislike spiders on me, but living in my space without getting on me, I’m fine. In fact, I am rather proud of the two feral spiders that have taken up living on my car. They live behind the outside mirrors, and the one on the driver’s side makes a gorgeous very large web that is only anchored on the door.

                Apparently losing the webs during my driving doesn’t bother them. I’ve had one live in the driver’s mirror for about 4 or 5 years now. Current one, not even kin to the first ones, since a deer took out my mirror earlier this year.

                1. allathian*

                  Cool! I don’t even mind spiders indoors, but then, I don’t have a phobia or even an intense dislike. We once had an infestation of tiny banana flies that we couldn’t get rid of until a thumbnail-sized spider took up residence and presumably ate all of them. I’m sensitive to a lot of chemicals, so I didn’t want to start spraying insecticide indoors. We also didn’t buy any bananas or other fruit that can’t be kept in the fridge for more than a week, so that also helped.

                2. Yoyoyo*

                  I have a mirror spider too and I get made fun of by my family for considering it a friend, so I am glad to know there is a kindred spirit out there! A couple weeks ago I didn’t see the spider or a web for a few days and I was so upset thinking something had happened, but I guess the spider was just resting because she and the webs are back!

                3. Just Another Zebra*

                  I have a (very large) brown spider who builds a web next to my front door. We have learned to coexist wonderfully – she keeps the web slightly to the left so I don’t walk into it, and I thank her enormously for the bugs she catches that don’t end up in my house.

                4. Bluebell*

                  Not to get off-topic, but if you haven’t read Cackle by Rachel Harrison, there’s a sort of pet spider included. Fun read for Halloween season.

                5. Meep*

                  @allathian – Apple cider vinegar with cellophane on top and poke little tiny holes. They will get stuck in the cup. You can also add soap on top of the vinegar so they will get stuck in the vinegar as well.

                6. Beebis*

                  I really appreciate this comment section for making me feel normal over apologizing to a spider that’s taken up residence in a particular spot in my dining room for scaring it while cleaning the other day. I’ve decided it’s a girl but I haven’t named her yet.

                7. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  Honestly I look at spiders in my space and think : free and natural pest control. But I also acknowledge that not everyone is the same. Having grown up in the Deep South where spiders were EVERYWHERE did help with the desensitization though.

                8. But what to call me?*

                  One of my past apartments always had several spiders living inside at any given time. I decided they were friends out of psychological self-preservation (terribly afraid of spiders at the time but it was clear they were there to stay). My favorite was Sink Spider, who lived around the bathroom sink faucet. All of the others came and went, but sink spider was a permanent resident.

            2. Allonge*

              Yes, if it’s dislike, well, we all do things in our job that we dislike, and a day with a crafted spider in the room (for Halloween! in a party of the after-school club!) is not that much of an inconvenience even if for someone spiders are ‘ewww’.

              Phobia is a whole different thing.

              1. Tupac Coachella*

                I agree, phobia changes the calculus. It sounds like once OP found out it was an actual phobia, they took Hanna aside so she wouldn’t walk in and be surprised by it, and in the process got confirmation that it really is as bad as they thought. I think banning her from the event is a little much, but offering her the opportunity to opt out is kind and appropriate now that OP knows. It’s no different than if she were sick that day, except OP will now have the benefit of knowing in advance that they’ll be down a set of hands.

                Now, could OP say “this is your job, get over it”? Sure. And then we’d rake them in the comments for not making a one time concession for a known phobia. This is an inconvenience, not a tragedy, and it rarely goes well to force someone’s hand in a situation like this. At best, Hanna is less happy in her job (which can show up in all kinds of ways that OP won’t like). At worst, Hanna has a meltdown at the party, and OP’s minor inconvenience becomes an Incident. [Note: I know that OP never indicated that they were considering this option, but I’m picking up some vibes in the comments that some people think maybe they should be.]

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Having been in a Summer Camp Incident where an employee had a phobia and had to “suck it up” anyways, not only was it pretty awful for us kids, but it definitely did not result in the task being done. I mean, we were eight. We thought the man was literally going to die. And given that this was something the kids made themselves, you really don’t want a bunch of kids walking out of the halloween activity thinking “we nearly killed Hanna today”.

            3. Curmudgeon in California*

              My spouse is afraid of spiders. I kill the ones that get too close to them. They dislike spiders in decorations for Halloween, especially if the spiders are too realistic. But they can hear the word “spider” and not have any issue.

              Hanna sounds way worse than that, but possibly a bit overdramatic.

                1. metadata minion*

                  Her life would likely be much more pleasant if she could do that, but phobias aren’t something you can just fix. There are plenty of treatments, some of which can be very effective, but it’s a long-term process for most people and that’s not even getting into the difficulty many people have in accessing mental health care.

                  As the LW notes, normally a severe phobia of spiders is not actually a problem in this position.

                2. Zephy*

                  Sure, but Halloween is in two weeks and there is no treatment plan that’s going to take someone to “physically ill at the mention of a specific word” to “OK being around a room dominated by a centerpiece in the shape of their phobia.” You’re not wrong, but this doesn’t actually help anyone in this situation.

              1. Lellow*

                It sounds less like “over dramatic” and more like “left the room to have a panic attack” to me…

            4. metadata minion*

              There are also different elements to having a dislike or phobia of something. I’m a huge fan of bugs in general (I have pet tarantulas!) but I draw the line at house centipedes. All those legs… But I’d be completely fine with a Halloween decoration featuring a giant fake house centipede mounted on the wall, because it’s the way they *move* that bothers me so much.

              1. Worldwalker*

                I actually like house centipedes *because* of the way they move. It’s almost unreal.

                I do not, however, mess with them. They can deliver a painful bite. My previous cat caught one and ate it before we could get to him to stop him. It was 0bvious from his behavior that it bit him in the process of being eaten, but that didn’t discourage him; he was going to eat that bug! And he did.

                (after that we were a *lot* more assiduous finding and evicting the black widows that sometimes get into the place)

          2. WheresMyPen*

            Eh, I’m terrified of real big spiders, but even a realistic looking decoration wouldn’t stop me going to the party. I might stand on the other side of the room or jump a little when I came in, but it’s very extreme to not be able to be in the same room as a big, clearly fake spider. It sounds to me like a misunderstanding of how severe the phobia was, or that whoever was in charge of the project wasn’t aware of the seriousness of it until it was too late.

          3. Miette*

            i mean not really–I dislike spiders and webs give me the heeby-jeebies, but huge halloween displays aren’t a bother at all.

          4. CaffeinatedInsomniac*

            Lots of people are scared or grossed out by encountering actual spiders but not fake Halloween decorations. Halloween is all about having fun with scary things – if you took out all the imagery that some people dislike or fear, there wouldn’t be much holiday left.

          5. Lacey*

            Nah, most people dislike actual living spiders. I dislike them quite a bit and go to great lengths to not have them in my home.

            But, I’m not at all phased by pretend spiders or by the mere mention of spiders.

            I have a good friend, on the other hand, who can barely be in the same room with anything spider shaped. She’s not as bad as the OP’s example, but she has had her kids proudly present her with a halloween spider craft and barely been able to keep herself from flinging it across the room.

            1. UKDancer*

              Same. I don’t much like them and usually get my father / boyfriend to deal with them for me in the house. That said for Halloween I wear spider earrings and a necklace for parties quite happily. Real spiders bother me because they’re alive and scare me, pretend ones not at all.

          6. ferrina*

            No, “dislike” generally doesn’t mean “don’t let the kids try it”. In certain childcare educational models (which are becoming increasingly common), the goal is to encourage kids to be creative and independent, so you try not to set rules without good reason. I’ve had plenty of kids make projects that I wasn’t thrilled with, or were something that I wasn’t personally a fan of, or even things that I simply did not like and/or personally found creepy– but I only said “No” if it was going to be violent or traumatic.

            It’s reasonable the LW thought this would be one of the cases of “I find it creepy, but it will be done in a couple weeks”, rather than “prohibitive to a staff member attending” (I’ve worked in a LOT of childcare settings, and this is the first time I’ve heard of this).

          7. doreen*

            Not really. I don’t like most spiders ( oddly, I don’t dislike tarantulas) and will very likely ask someone else to get rid of one for me but that’s only real spiders. And mostly indoors. I had plastic spiders on my giant web Halloween decoration , bought Halloween cupcakes with spider decorations and so on. There’s a difference between disliking something or even being afraid of something and having a phobia.

            1. Mek*

              Funny, I mostly don’t mind spiders but tarantulas are a NO. Luckily we don’t have them wild where I live.

          8. I'm A Little Teapot*

            No it doesn’t. I dislike spiders and other bugs, but I have no inherent problems with giant spider decorations.

          9. Irish Teacher.*

            I dunno. Spiders don’t bother me, but I HATE crane flies and a huge model of a crane fly wouldn’t bother me in the least. A model isn’t going to fly into my face. I suspect a lot of those who don’t like spiders would be equally unconcerned by one that clearly isn’t real.

              1. whingedrinking*

                I’m not afraid of crane flies, per se, but I do find them gross. They’re big! And they look kind of like mosquitos! And they’ve got those long skinny legs with the weird joints, like a spider, and those antenna and those brownish clear wings with the veins in them. And their wings make this noise when they get stuck behind the blinds. Blech.

                1. KoiFeeder*

                  Some cool facts: crane flies are an entirely different species of fly from mosquitoes- they’re less closely related to them than we are to bears! Adults live less than two weeks, so the part of their lifespan that you see is the weirdest time of their life for them too! Like luna moths, the adults of most species of crane fly have no mouthparts at all, so can’t bite you!

          10. Worldwalker*

            Not really. I dislike pumpkin spice flavor. The smell even makes me queasy, although I suspect that’s psychological. But that’s not the same thing as an allergy to it. A dislike is only my problem, and that’s what the LW thought it was.

          11. Lenora Rose*

            I dislike spiders – and used to be actively phobic in the “Scream and run out of the room” level (So not as serious as Hanna but also not anything to tease me with). A kid’s project with a big pretend malevolent spider wouldn’t have bothered me – or rather it would, but would be well within my ability to cope – even then, or most halloween display style spiders. Even semi-realistic but still obviously rubber/plastic spiders did not.

            (Really realistic ones, though, eep! A friend did a jump scare with one to me by accident in a zoo gift shop after I thought I was mostly over it.)

          12. L-squared*

            I mean, I dislike spiders, but if I see a huge fake spider outside of someone’s house, I can deal with it. This seems like an extreme outlier case

            1. Silicon Valley Girl*

              Goodie for all of you “fake spiders are fine” folks. I’m with Hanna & can’t stand fake spiders or real ones. I especially dislike those giant furry ones ppl put on their houses, it’s literally the stuff of nightmares. I’m not going to walk out of the room if someone says the word “spider” but I sure as hell am avoiding a house adorned with fake spiders or any display with a huge, malevolent looking fake spider.

              1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                And I think most of the commenters would agree that your reaction is just as valid as theirs — this specific thread is discounting the idea that “dislikes spiders” is always a close correlation to Hanna’s response.

              2. snarkfox*

                That’s valid, but it’s also on you to communicate that it’s a severe phobia, or else sit out on the activities that include large fake spiders.

              3. Worldwalker*

                Avoid my house at Halloween. :)

                I just picked up another package of stick-on fake spiders to stick to my front door. And I have to figure out what to hang the giant web from now that we cut down the Evil Tree.

              4. My+Useless+2+Cents*

                Speaking of nightmares, I had a re-occurring one as a kid that a swarm of black widow spiders had me surrounded after chasing me on top of a school desk and all I had was a single can of Raid :(
                I really don’t like spiders, and mostly can’t get close enough to swat them (have to spray or throw something at them). Luckily for me, the person who sits on the other side of the cubicle wall calls herself the “designator spider getter” and will come running at the smallest “eek” :) However, to this day, a black widow will have me running out of the room.

              5. Lenora Rose*

                And that is totally valid! We’re just saying it’s not what most people will *expect* when dealing with the fear of spiders, not that it isn’t how some people do feel.

          13. yala*

            I dunno. My coworker and I were in a prank war at my old workplace which he eventually won by wrapping one of those giant hairy pipe-cleaner-type spiders around a cart that I was sent to get. They don’t even look realistic, but I couldn’t bring myself to touch it. Don’t like even touching pictures of spiders.

            But a decoration? That I don’t have to touch? That’s fine.

          14. snarkfox*

            Does it? I “dislike spiders” but I have no problem with fake spiders, especially if they’re so large that they’re obviously not real.

          15. Jules the 3rd*

            I dislike spiders, my skin crawls, my neck / back get tight. But I am able to capture live ones (cup and paper) and put them outside, I own a 3′ fake spider for decorations, and I watch the Shelob portion of LotR enthusiastically (GET ‘ER, SAM!!! HAVE SOME LIGHT THERE!).

            There’s a huge gap between ‘dislikes spiders’ and ‘would be bothered by fake spiders’.

          16. Worldwalker*

            I dislike rats. (yes, I know they’re cute and make great pets, and I love mice — and I’m the person with a pet scorpion on my desk, for Ghu’s sake — but these things are not rational; I dislike rats) But that’s a *dislike*, not a phobia. If a friend who thought I loved all animals, not just most, said “here, hold Ratzo for a minute for me, would ya?” I would, in fact, hold Ratzo. While feeling weird vibratory sensations going up and down my spinal column, because I dislike rats. But I wouldn’t fling Ratzo across the room, and much less object to a Halloween centerpiece that looks like a rat.

            Because dislike, not phobia. If I had a phobia of rats, I’d drop Ratzo, run out of the room, have a panic attack, faint, or something else equally bad. But I just dislike rats, so none of this happens. And it’s up to me to cope with it: okay, I dislike rats, but if my job required me to handle a bunch of large, hostile, angry lab rats, that’s what I did. (that’s also why I dislike rats) This isn’t Hanna’s situation. Dislikes are a thing that an adult deals with and doesn’t make an issue about; phobias are a serious disability.

            One of my roles at my job is art director for 3D sculpting. We needed some giant rats for fantasy game miniatures. I took great joy in directing the sculptor to make the most scrofulous, mangy, evil-looking rats possible. They are very much based on my mental construct of “rat”.

          17. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Except that the whole point of Halloween is to have decorations that are ugly and frightening and evil! We deal with it by reminding ourselves that it’s fake so it doesn’t matter.

      2. Dee*

        Where does it say it’s come up three times? It sounds like OP overheard something once and then asked the assistant about it once.

      3. Kotow*

        It sounds like she really didn’t know how extreme the phobia was. Even if she knew, it’s extremely possible she wouldn’t think of that level of severity. My phobia is needles. I can’t watch people get injections, looking at pictures is hard to do, and while I can handle the word “needle,” I’d leave a conversation that was focused on them. I don’t expect anybody to realize how severe this phobia is because it’s so different from most people’s reactions. So I don’t think it was intentional, more that it wouldn’t have registered that someone would be that afraid of spiders.

      4. snarkfox*

        “I dislike spiders” and “I’m so phobic of spiders I can’t tolerate being in a room with a fake spider” are very different things.

    3. Jessica*

      It also might have been the kids’ choice, and while there would probably be other ways to steer them off it, if I were Hanna I would absolutely not want the kids to know about this phobia.

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, 100% this. Kids to NOT need to know about a genuine phobia. There are so many ways it could go bad.

      2. DataGirl*

        I’m terrified of spiders, but I always pretended not to be when my kids were growing up because I didn’t want them to be scared of them to.

          1. Lady_Lessa*

            When my stepmother married into the family, I as an 8 year old, managed to read all the books about snakes that I could from the school library. Subconsciously, I knew that she was afraid of them. I did NOT do it deliberately to test her.

            Now, I am neither afraid, nor fond of snakes.

          2. KoiFeeder*

            My dad once found a hibernating dekay’s snake in the woodpile and took me out to see it when I was a toddler because he didn’t want me to be afraid of snakes. It worked so well that I brought it inside to put in the dollhouse because I wanted it to have a warm and comfortable place to sleep instead of the cold, snowy woodpile.

            Dad wasn’t worried about me being afraid of snakes after that.

            1. Worldwalker*

              Dekay’s snakes are sooo cute! They’re very common, but you almost never see them because they hide all the time. (you’d hide too if you looked like a worm and there were robins around!)

              I had a wild one for a few months, then put him back where I found him. I gave him a bait-store worm, and apparently it tasted bad — he spit it out and wiped his mouth over and over on the substrate in his cage. So I had to go catch worms for him on rainy nights. He wasn’t a very big snake, even for a Dekay’s, so one worm actually pulled him around the cage for a bit until he managed to swallow enough of it.

              Very cute little snek!

              1. KoiFeeder*

                They’re just great little snakes, aren’t they? My parents’ house is apparently a very good environment for them, so we see them a little more often than most, usually hanging out in the woodpile or getting a drink from the koi pond.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        Only if Hanna was around during the planning. 2 days / week = she may well not have been part of it.

    4. Worldwalker*

      Apparently the LW didn’t know how bad the phobia was. From the letter: “I was aware of this, but only in a peripheral way — in the same way that you’d overhear someone mention, say, that they didn’t like big dogs.” So the LW didn’t know.

      Normally, a fear is manageable. For example, after being attacked by a dog as a child, I grew up with a fear of dogs; a dog-friendly office would have been a me-unfriendly office. But I never had to leave the room if someone said the word “dog”, nor did I have a problem with pictures of dogs, plastic dogs, etc. I would have, without really thinking about it, assumed that someone else who had a fear of something would be affected similarly. Clearly that’s not the case — I have a friend who is utterly terrified of frogs, to the point that a picture of a frog on a nature calendar on someone else’s office wall makes her reluctant to go into that office — and I can understand intellectually how phobic she is, but it’s not internalized. And that’s after knowing her for 10+ years. If someone doesn’t have that level of phobia themselves, they’re likely to assume that someone else’s response is at the level of “ewww, that’s icky” instead of “Nephew, please come over and move this toad off my steps so I can go in my house!” (a real thing that happened) It’s kind of like the worst pain you can imagine is circumscribed by the worst pain you’ve ever felt — “worst” means something very different to someone who’s never done more than stubbed their toe than it does to someone who’s had kidney stones.

      I wonder if there’s a solution that would keep Hanna out of sight of the spider so she could still get paid, and they could have maximum possible staff? Does everyone have to be in the immediate proximity of the “spider”? (I can’t imagine that a party-decoration spider made by a bunch of schoolchildren is going to be incredibly realistic, after all; in all likelihood it will have the wrong number of legs and be a weird shade of purple) Could Hanna direct people coming into the room, manage coats and things in a cloakroom, work in the kitchen or catering area wrangling the cake and goodies, or something else that keeps her out of the way of the thing?

      And this is a good reason to work on overcoming any phobias you might have. You never know when you’re going to find yourself in a situation where there’s a giant purple crepe-paper spider, or someone thought it would be a good idea to hire a party clown, or you’re trapped in a ski lift a hundred feet off the ground, or some other thing that you didn’t expect, but life decided to zero in on your phobia.

      In my case, it was a HS student internship, a German Shepherd with a litter of 2-day-old puppies bred to be Seeing Eye dogs, and “she won’t let anyone near the puppies; here, you try” and I was afraid of looking like a coward. And I couldn’t be afraid of a half-dozen lil’ puppules! Within a few minutes, Gretchen (the mom) had her head on my knee, one or two puppies were trying to nurse from my foot instead of their mom, and puppies! But again, this was “If you bring that dog in the front door, I’m going out the back door” not “I’ll faint if I see a picture of a dog.” That’s what most people think of as a fear of dogs — not a Hanna-level disabling phobia.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        Agree. I used to be afraid of dogs (funny now – we have multiple rambunctious ones), but it wasn’t a phobia. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to discourage a child to make dog artwork – it was completely unnecessary.

        The employee needs to be accommodated. If there’s a way to pay her even though she isn’t physically there, I’d go down that route.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        If it’s as severe as my phobia of them (I won’t even type or say the S word) then working in another room with absolutely no sight of the display, no walkway that goes near it and no need to ever enter the room that it’s in would work.

        (There’s a reason I avoid shops around halloween. I’m severely phobic)

        1. PhyllisB*

          Yes, people who don’t have phobias don’t really understand. In my case, it’s mice. Even seeing them in a photo makes me queasy. Mickey Mouse is about the only one I can deal with.
          My next door neighbor is this way about snakes. I mean, I don’t love snakes, but I just try to avoid them if possible. One time an elderly lady in our neighborhood came to ask him for assistance because there was a snake stretched across the threshold to her front door. He came and got me. I took a long stick and prodded it and it slithered off.
          The next week I looked in my kitchen cabinet and there was a mouse in a mouse trap. ( My husband didn’t tell me because he knows how I feel about mice, and thought he’d be home to take care of it.) After some screaming, I went and got my neighbor to get rid of it for me. Bottom line: phobias aren’t rational and no matter how much you know it’s “silly” you can’t rationalize yourself out of it.

          1. DataSci*

            All people’s phobias are different, though! Look at how many people on this thread say they’re terrified of real spiders but okay with fake ones. So even someone with arachnophobia may not assume someone else’s is so severe as to mean they can’t say the word “spider”. (Mine is bridges. I physically cannot drive across large ones, and need to have my eyes closed if someone else is driving. But looking at them is fine! Just don’t ask me to drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Might as well ask me to drive to the moon.)

          2. nobadcats*

            This 100%. I have severe acrophobia, which also ties into my fear of stairs and escalators. Going up either is fine, but there’s absolutely NO way you’re getting me on a down escalator. It’s up high, it’s moving, and it has teeth! Up escalators are okay, unless they’re in an open atrium. Escalators are just an all round nightmare, the handrail is never anywhere near my center of gravity and it moves at a different speed from the steps.

            Riding the el in Chicago was often a torment. The platforms are outside (generally), widely exposed, and I’d be crouching til I got to the railing to give myself a handhold. I was terrified of using the stairs in the station because of all the pushing and shoving. Stepping over the gap when entering or exiting the train was a leap of faith every time.

            Phobias are not rational and not always fixable. I’ve been through several therapies (CBT, talk, hypnosis, et. al) and I’m still terrified to stand on a chair or step ladder.

            Ironically, no problem with planes except for stepping from the jetway into/off the plane. Perhaps being up that high is just unreal enough to not bother me. I fall asleep during take off every. single. time. No drugs, just something about the white noise and vibration of the plane body just conks me out.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              There was a time where I did not mind escalators. But as the years went on I tend to think the design is horrible. They could use different colors for clarity. Yeah, and slow that hand rail down some!

            2. Irish Teacher*

              Apart from having been through therapies and being afraid to stand on a chair (on a step ladder…um, not beyond about the second step), I could have written this. Heck, I am currently freaking at the though of plans to stay with my friend for a night before Christmas because she has a very steep stairs. Escalators…forget them. I just KNOW I am going to accidentally stand on the edge of a step and be catapulted right off the top.

              I have no problem with planes either. I think the fact I can’t SEE the ground properly makes me less likely to think “what if I fall against the window and it breaks and I fall out?”

            3. Worldwalker*

              Even when I had a significant fear of heights, planes didn’t bother me. I think it’s because what you see out the window is so disconnected from your situation. You’re sitting in a seat kind of like a bus, and there’s a video playing in the window that looks remarkably like the ground and clouds and all, but you’re not actually connected to the outside in any way, the way you would be on, say, an apartment balcony, or even in a glass elevator.

        2. Butterfly Counter*

          This is what I thought the natural solution would be. Can she help people with parking outside, monitoring the hallways, or being the go-fer to the supermarket if/when they get low on supplies?

        3. Sometimes*

          If you can’t say or type the S word, why did you read a letter that has the S word in the headline, and mentions them several times?

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Because KofG has relevant experience, that they wanted / deserved to share.

            Don’t heckle.

        4. Third or Nothing!*

          I wish I could give all the folks responding to you (and you) a hug. Phobias are hard! Mine is crickets. I’ve tried to address it in therapy but it hasn’t helped much. Thankfully I don’t encounter the demon bugs often in everyday life, so it’s not a huge burden. But it sucks so much when it does come up. Solidarity, fellow phobia friends.

      3. Random Bystander*

        Agreed–when my parents were first married, my mom had a phobia of wasps. Now, this was long enough ago that seat belts were “optional equipment” and not in their particular car. My dad was driving down a state highway at 55mph when a wasp got into the car, and my mom literally opened the door because she wanted to jump out to get away from the wasp. So there was my dad, clinging to my mom with one hand while trying to get stopped on the side of the road. He insisted that she go to therapy for the phobia, and while she will never voluntarily go near a wasp nest, she has a more rational level of fear/dislike, and not the completely irrational level that is a phobia.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          ^^ This. I have an insect phobia – which, weirdly enough, do not extend to spiders! I will happily scoop and relocate spiders, but my phobia was bad enough that I would get shaky/faint/nauseous/have to call someone else to deal with the bug.

          I ended up doing exposure therapy and while I still don’t like insects or want to be around them, I no longer have that absolute panic response because it was starting to impact my life. Hannah needs to do the same. If her phobia is SO intense that even the word is causing this type of reaction, she needs professional help.

          1. Worldwalker*

            I agree.

            All the accommodations in the world don’t help when there’s a wasp in your car, or any of the other ways phobias can sneak up on us at the worst possible times. One needs to be able to cope with those things to avoid really bad outcomes from the reaction.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              This is why it’s good to address fears as they show their ugly faces. Fears can snowball and really wear a person to having less coping skills. Leaving the room at mere mention signals time for help. I had a friend with a fear of needles. Her inability to get vaccines kept her out of a few jobs, right when she needed a job. That’s a quality of life issue for several reasons.

            2. Kotow*

              See, it’s easy to say “just get help” but multiple people on here have said they tried it and it didn’t work. Personally, I’ve done the deep breathing, distractions, etc., and none of it will prevent me from having a panic attack and fainting when getting an injection or getting blood drawn. So I just don’t do it. This created some interesting issues during Covid but it was manageable enough that I’d rather deal with that than once again have an intense panic attack. That’s probably how most people end up handling their phobias.

              1. JustaTech*

                We’re getting a bit off topic, but your reaction might not be a phobia (and therefore not amenable to phobia treatments) but a different kind of physiological reaction (which is very common).

                It’s like physical therapy for your knee won’t fix your elbow; it’s not that you or the therapy doesn’t work, it’s that it’s the wrong therapy. Also, the nervous system/brain can be a real jerk sometimes.

            3. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

              Well, we don’t know if Hanna is in therapy, and it’s not LW’s place to make her go either way.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          We get those awful cicadas here, and they like to fly into the side of your head – which, given their size and speed, feels like being hit with a paintball. Every time we have a large cicada emergence, there are a few car accidents from people swerving when a cicada flies into their car.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          It is not for OP to discuss this with Hanna, tho. Can we not derail on this?

          It’s easy for us armchair quarterbacks to say “go to therapy!”, but there’s a lot of reasons why someone may not (especially expense), and it does not help OP and their current question to say Hanna should do something that isn’t OP’s business and will take months / years to be effective, when OP’s situation is happening in 3 weeks.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            Good points, but there are other options available to Hanna – ask for Halloween to be a no spiders zone at the school, not work the Halloween party – and she hasn’t done any of these. She now knows the spider will be there, so I guess the ball is in her court.

            Hopefully no one’s arm gets broken!

    5. Raw Flour*

      1) Children love scary things
      2) Some Halloween-themed activities are anathema to parents’ religious beliefs. I remember being a young teen in a fundamentalist Christian church, walking into a Halloween store, and thinking “this is really offensive.” I also remember being a 20-something pagan, walking into a Halloween store, and thinking “this is really offensive.” Now I’m in neither category, but I think it’s ideal to stay away from devils, demons, witchcraft, corpses, ghosts, ghouls, and revenants when you’re leading a group of school-aged children. Spiders are scary without being offensive.
      3) I want to reiterate that children LOVE scary things – does anyone dare attempt to occupy an 8-year-old’s attention with tasteful autumn gourds?

      Asking one’s peer or manager to accommodate one’s phobia may be reasonable, depending on multiple factors. I certainly would not fault the assistant for being more vocal about her phobia with LW1. I don’t however consider it reasonable to ask school-aged children to accommodate one’s phobia, ever.

      1. Worldwalker*

        School-aged children being what they are, if they found out, Hanna would be subjected to a barrage of little plastic spiders in her stuff, kids suddenly discovering a need for clothing with spider designs, and whatever else a bunch of evil little monsters could come up with and have plausible deniability for. It would be a felony today, but when I was in school the “bad kids” putting tacks on people’s chairs, etc., was just routine. There are going to be some who do that with spiders. And the dollar store can provide them with endless ammunition.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yup – I’m sure Hanna’s kids know (sounds like they are in this program as well); but the rest of the kids don’t know about the phobia.

          From my experiences with them most kids are really great, and a whole lot more empathetic than you’d expect. But, well, there’s gonna be at least one jerk in the student population who will go out of their way with the spiders around Hanna on purpose if they knew. Skipping the trauma is probably the best approach here.

        2. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

          Thinking about it, isn’t it possible that a child could innocently wear a t-shirt with a spider on it, or a spiderman costume, or similar? That could cause a problem.

        3. happybat*

          I just want to push back gently here – I am sure there are schools where children would engage in that sort of bullying behaviour, but I’ve certainly worked with many classes of young people who would never have dreamed of doing anything so cruel and who would never have let each other do such a thing. Perhaps it’s because I have mainly worked with less affluent children, and they tend to be more empathic?

          1. BethDH*

            I’ve worked mainly with a relatively well-off population and don’t know any who would have done that either (though quite a few lack other kinds of empathy that are more about situational awareness).
            But there can be one, and one can convince others that it’s funny and ok, especially if they’re young enough not to get what a phobia is even when it’s explained.

          2. ferrina*

            Seconding. It’s all about how the adult handles it- when you enlist the kids’ help in making it a successful space, most kids will take that seriously. Yes, there may be one or two kids that test the line, but as an adult, you shut that down (a quiet conversation that starts with a compassionate “Can you tell me what you were thinking?” is usually all that is needed- 99% of the time, the kid is acting out because other needs aren’t being met)

          3. RagingADHD*

            I don’t think it has to do with socioeconomics, but with how much they need to exert power over others to cope with the way they’re being treated at home.

            Child abuse and neglect happen across all income levels. Some kids retreat. Others act out.

            1. ferrina*

              Entitlement also plays a role; abuse and neglect aren’t the only reasons a child might act out.
              Worth repeating: Abuse and neglect happen across all income levels.

          4. Irish Teacher.*

            I really think it becomes a “culture” thing. I’ve worked in schools where kids are utterly confused by classes on bullying and so on because they have never experienced or seen anything like what is described (not saying there is NO bullying in those classes/schools, but it’s unusual enough and frowned upon enough by the group that most of the kids haven’t seen it and would stand up for the victim if they did) and I’ve taught other groups where the same discussions will be used to subtly dig at the kid being bullied.

          5. Worldwalker*

            I went to school in the 60s and 70s with typical middle-class kids. It doesn’t take many; even one instigator is more than enough.

          6. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            I dunno. From what I have heard from some friends who teach, it only takes 1-2 to get the whole class going on something they think is funny. Lots of kids find scaring adults funny because usually when adults react to kids “scares” it is a joke/playing along. Shoot, you should see me when my niblings are jumping out at me in their Halloween costumes. I could absolutely imagine kids thinking Hanna was kidding when until it got to the point she was really upset.

      2. Caroline+Bowman*

        Ah yes but religious beliefs are not phobias, because they are completely voluntary. It’s rare for a fundamentalist Muslim to vomit or faint at the sight of pork or alcohol in a grocery store for example, or for a fundamentalist Christian to have a panic attack and hyperventilate at witchcraft imagery around Halloween. They may disagree with it, they may avoid seeing it, all very reasonable, but there is no harm done.

        With a phobia, it’s a bit more like an allergy. There is no correlation between ”I’m OFFENDED therefore eeevverrrryone must do / not do X or Y” and ”I’m medically petrified by spiders or clowns to the extent that I lose all rationality and need to personally avoid them as much as humanly possible”.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          I don’t think Raw Flour was equating religious distaste for something as equal to a phobia, but that spiders are a Halloween staple that both religious and non-religious people can equally find delightfully creepy (if they don’t have spider phobias). Basically, for a school, a spider display isn’t going to ruffle the feathers of religious fundamentalists to the same degree as something with supernatural or magical undertones (ghosts, vampires, witches).

          1. Raw Flour*

            Thank you, this is correct. I would definitely not suggest that a child’s religious affiliation takes precedence over another child’s phobia. However, I consider the child/caretaker dynamic very different than a peer dynamic. I am disinclined to ask children to accommodate an adult caretaker in basically any capacity, including phobias. The only example I can think of is a life-threatening food allergy, for both the obvious reason and the fact that children can easily understand “peanuts = seriously ill”, but perhaps lack the nuanced skills needed to understand phobias (or anxiety or PTSD).

      3. CowWhisperer*

        Trying to get elementary kids excited about “tasteful autumn gourds” made me giggle.

        Of course, I’m doing that with my son who is 5 right now. A surprise pumpkin showed up in our yard from a neighbor – I assume.

        After school today, he’ll find the pumpkin with five mini-pumpkins cuddled in a group next to it with one mini-pumpkin sitting on the top of the big pumpkin next to its stem.

        An homage to barn cat litters – right down to three that match the big one, two with the right shape but dark green splotches, and an striped one that looks like it came from a different litter.

        What can I say? I’m easily amused.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Okay, this has made my day. I don’t suppose you want to share a picture of your gourd litter? Because it sounds awesome!

      4. Not So NewReader*

        Children love scary things? Really?

        I have often wondered how many are laughing along because they thought they were supposed to laugh. It’s in the same league as clowns, laugh because you are supposed to.

        1. emchelle*

          A lot of kids do, yes. It entirely depends on the context and how much *control* they feel in the situation (not a fan of exposing children to scary things they cannot get away from, personally) but for many kids creating scary images or wearing scary costumes or reading a scary story can ultimately be a safe and controllable way to explore the bigger themes of danger and the dark and monsters and all of the stuff that they are developmentally wanting to understand.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Exactly. It’s a control thing. *You* put on the horror movie, and you can turn off the video if its gets too scary. *You* made all those cut-out spiders. *You* hung up plastic-bag ghosts everywhere and annoyed your mom that you used up all the kitchen garbage bags. The critical part is *you* — you’re the one in control. It’s kind of a safe scare, and even a way of desensitizing yourself to it, so you’re not afraid of the monster under the bed because you made papier-mache monsters and they were all yours.

        2. UKDancer*

          Some do and some don’t. I quite enjoyed ghost stories as a child (age appropriate ones) but didn’t like gore and still don’t. I’d a friend who really liked Nightmare on Elm Street far younger than she probably should.

          Some children don’t like them at all. It’s an individual thing but it’s quite healthy to enjoy being a bit scared as a child, because you know it’s something you control and can stop.

    6. AnotherLibrarian*

      I don’t think OP knew the extent of the fear. A lot of people dislike spiders. It sounds like the boss just thought Hanna didn’t like spiders or found them kinda creepy- as a lot of people do. A friend of mine used to bribe the kids she nannied to kill spiders for her for a dollar. She also does not have a phobia, but she is scared of spiders (run out of the room when one skitters out across the floor scared). Even so, she happily helped made a nine-foot tall one for a library event she hosted where someone came in a talked to the kids about spiders for Halloween. During the talk which had live spiders, she hid in her office. There’s a big spectrum here.

      1. Editor emeritus*

        “She also does not have a phobia, but she is scared of spiders (run out of the room when one skitters out across the floor scared).”

        This sounds like phobia to me, and it was my reaction to the large (but harmless) spiders I encountered when we moved to the UK. Spider season left me a wreck. I got help for it, and am now back to the spiders are way creepy outlook. That said, I would avoid looking at a giant model spider, but could be in the same room as one now.

        1. Inkhorn*

          …and now I find myself wondering how large a large spider is in the UK. (Speaking from Australia, where “large” means “$!#*ing enormous”.)

          1. londonedit*

            Definitely not Australia levels! I think we may have a couple of spiders that can technically bite you, but none of them will cause major harm. I suspect the ones mentioned here are the big house spiders, which suddenly come out of all the nooks and crannies during their mating season in the autumn and scuttle across the floor – they’re probably 2-3 inches across, which is far bigger than any other spider you’re likely to encounter on a daily basis in the UK, and they look pretty meaty, which is why we find them quite alarming. When my parents had a log fire they used to get some whoppers (by British standards) crawling out of the log basket!

          2. Editor emeritus*

            Bigger than anything in Massachusetts! Also fast. Sometimes you see a few scurrying across the floor in one night. The actual name is giant house spider. But yeah, not Australia sized.

          3. Worldwalker*

            The Clock Spider picture was from Australia, wasn’t it?

            Here’s one to figure out: I’m not fond of most smooth spiders, though I make an exception for brightly-colored orb weavers, but for example sac spiders totally squick me, and I’m not much fonder of short-furred spiders like wolf spiders. But I love jumping spiders, and I don’t get disturbed by tarantulas. And it’s *just* spiders; I don’t have any issue with, say, spider crabs in the aquarium, and there’s a pet scorpion on my desk.

            Why does the amount of fur and brightness of color matter? Yeah, I’m weird.

            1. I Talk About Motorcycles Too Much*

              Personally, I love that you have such clarity into the spider aesthetics and how they play into your feelings about them. Cheers!

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          “Runs out of the room when one skitters across the floor” strikes me as scared, not phobic. It’s a reaction to an alarming unexpected thing that you perceive as a threat, not a debilitating or irrational dread. This is the thing – we have such a spectrum of understanding here. If I heard off-hand someone was afraid of spiders it would not connect automatically that they couldn’t be around fake Halloween decorations – and I am both in HR and very familiar with phobic reactions/general mental health sensitivities. OP didn’t screw up here, but I feel really, really bad for Hanna

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes. I’m scared of wasps (because I hate being stung) and a few other things because I worry they can hurt me on some level so I tend to avoid them and move away. None of them are phobias. I’m somewhat phobic about needles, but I can mostly manage it enough to get vaccinations. The two things feel very different to me.

            If someone mentioned they had a phobia of spiders it wouldn’t probably occur to me either that they can’t be around fake ones.

      2. ThatGirl*

        I had a coworker at my last job with a pretty severe phobia of spiders. I knew she didn’t like them, but I didn’t know it was that serious until I put a sparkly spider decoration up as part of some Halloween decor and she nicely but firmly told me she couldn’t work with it anywhere in her line of sight. Which was totally fine! But yeah it was definitely more than just “ugh, spiders”.

    7. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Betting that OP thought they could accommodate Hanna and her discomfort around spiders by having her on the other side of the room – but now she knows it’s a phobia, and that’s just not going to work.

      However, OP now that you know just how serious Hanna’s spider phobia is, swear the kids to some other Halloween theme for next year. Linda is correct that there’s a ton of other things the kids can use next year.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Okay – that was supposed to read: “now that you know just how serious Hanna’s spider phobia is, STEER the kids to some other Halloween theme for next year.”

      2. Roland*

        > swear the kids to some other Halloween theme for next year

        That’s vey extreme and unlikely to be effective. Just steer the group next year to something else if Hanna is still around. No need to make A Thing out of it.

        1. Roland*

          I think my comment posted same time as your edit – that makes perfect sense! Wouldn’t put “swear the kids” past this comment section though haha

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yeah – mobile posting while on the transit home (commuter trains are wonderful things) last night, at least that autoincorrect was still kinda close to what I was going for.

        2. Lilo*

          The other reality is kids show up to school with spider toys/rings around Hallowwleen all the time. Hanna might be better off just skipping Halloween parties.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Yeah, trying to avoid spider decorations — especially with kids — around Halloween is next to impossible. My grocery store has them front and center! There’s a billboard up the road that has a giant one. A few years ago, the town hung spiders made of colored lights (and several other items — pumpkins, and something that might have either been candy corn or a witch’s hat, that I can remember) from the light poles in town. Plus the last Spiderman movie had hype *everywhere*. A local discount store was selling signs that said “You say ‘big black spider’ like it’s a bad thing!” (of course I got one) And Walmart is an arachnophobe’s nightmare.

    8. Beth*

      As others have said, it sounds like OP didn’t realize how severe Hanna’s phobia is until this project was already well under way.

      It also sounds like Hanna doesn’t usually interact much with these kids. They’ve been working on this for weeks, and she’s just now finding out about it. (And only because OP told her, not because she observed it or one of the kids told her!) That could be another reason not to account for her phobia when choosing the project topic–it would be one thing if someone closely involved in the group would be blocked from attending the party due to the spider, but if she’s not that involved with them, then why should they change their plans for her? OP finding another adult to help cover the party seems like a reasonable trade-off for them getting to do the project they want to do.

    9. JSPA*

      People tend not to disclose serious phobias if they are likely to come up at work–it’s human nature that if it makes you panicked or queasy to even think of something, it’s a hard thing to just mention.

      In addition, the level of control it takes to mention can also register as someone being low-key, which undercuts the message. (If somone mumbles, “I’m scared of snakes,” while looking away, my default reaction is, “ok, I will never ask you to pet a snake, that’s easy enough!” Not, “and we’ll make sure never to go to the zoo, because the thought of passing the cartoon snakes on the reptile house will make you faint.”

      But it’s absolutely appropriate to apologize for not having understood the level of Hanna’s dislike, and to promise that you will make sure never to decorate with spiders, again.

      (She may also not be OK with the kids being at the party, though?)

      IMO, it would also be a kindness to find something else she can do, for the same extra work hours, if you can swing it.

      1. ferrina*

        Ooh, this reminds me of the old AAM letter about the employee who had a bird phobia and broke another employee’s arm while running away. Very rarely, it might make sense to disclose so you can take the necessary steps.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          and then NEVER APOLOGIZED for it! If your phobia is bad enough that you’re a danger to your coworkers, you need to get therapy!

          1. KayDeeAye*

            Not to reopen an old (and extremely contentious – and *lengthy*) debate, but he was IN therapy. It was just an extremely bad situation all around.

            But the situation with the spider sounds workable. Hannah doesn’t have to attend the party – maybe the OP can allow her to make up the time in another way so she doesn’t lose too much pay – the kids get to show off their spider, and next year maybe they can come up with a less Hannah-horrifying idea.

            1. CommanderBanana*

              I still maintain that if one’s phobia (especially of something that you can’t avoid encountering, like birds!) is severe enough that you’re shoving coworkers into the path of a car, whatever you were doing to manage it wasn’t enough, and as the phobia-holder, it’s incumbent upon you to do whatever work you need to do or ask for whatever accommodations you need to ask so that you’re not severely injuring coworkers in your panic to get away from your phobia trigger.

    10. RagingADHD*

      Because 1) she only works twice a week, so it didn’t come up, and 2) the point of an after-school club is to engage and cater to the students, not the adults.

      If it’s a project the students were excited about doing, and it is otherwise generally appropriate, there is no reason to “screen” projects for the emotional needs of grownups.

      Hanna is an adult with agency and appears to be fully capable of using appropriate coping mechanisms to take care of herself. For the LW to ask if she wants to be excused from the party is the right way for a boss to be considerate without trying to manage someone’s emotions for them.

      1. turquoisecow*

        Yeah, if they’ve been working on it for three weeks and Hanna didn’t know about it then either she doesn’t work that often or she’s not that involved with the arts and crafts department, and/or it’s a big enough building that she hasn’t come across a giant spider.

        I’m all for being accommodating, but altering Halloween decorations for one part-time employee seems like it’s a bit *too* accommodating, especially since they didn’t know about the phobia enough to make that accommodation. Clearly Hanna has been working there the last 3 weeks (unless she has been on a long vacation or something) and not come across it, so it sounds like the accommodation has kind of already been made – whatever they’ve been doing inadvertently to keep her away from it, keep doing! it’s just a matter of how to deal with the actual party. If she can be in another room and not have to see it, great. If it’s a small enough party that that won’t be possible, maybe she doesn’t work the party.

    11. run mad; don't faint*

      Degrees of severity can vary with phobias. I have a phobia about cockroaches; I jump back and often have to leave the room when I see one. But if my kids’ classes made a cockroach display for a Halloween party, I’d be able to be there. I’d probably ask not to be stationed next to it or not to interact with it at all, but I could manage to be in the room with it.

      1. Worldwalker*

        I saw a cake in the store decorated in Halloween colors with plastic cockroaches on top. I don’t have a phobia of cockroaches, but I don’t think I could have eaten that cake.

    12. CG*

      I definitely wouldn’t know to assume that “colleague doesn’t like spiders” (Very common! Most people don’t like encountering live spiders!) meant “colleague is so terrified of spiders that she can’t be in the room with a decoration constructed by children that vaguely resembles a cartoonish spider”.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Same. As someone with a lot of dislikes but only one phobia, I really hate when people use ‘phobia’ to describe a dislike of something.

  3. Jessica*

    The problem with LW4 just sharing the info with those who ask for it is that I can imagine being new on their team, working there for a while, and then finally hearing a passing mention and finding out that the boss plays in this band AND a bunch of my coworkers know about it and some sometimes go to the shows, but boss has never mentioned it to me or invited me. LW’s effort to not be pushy with it would then backfire into my feeling like there was a work clique around this that I hadn’t been chosen for.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      I agree. Maybe something like posting a flyer in the break room (or an announcement in Slack) and encouraging others to share their own events so the information is equally available without any pressure to attend.

      1. mreasy*

        I love this idea, and it encourages ppl to post their own activities. Though as someone who works remotely most of the time – I guess a Slack channel or similar would be the virtual equivalent?

        1. SpaceySteph*

          In my office many groups have a “break room” channel for sharing non-work stuff. It also helps build community with remote workers and keeps the work channels uncluttered for work talk. Most of them started during covid but have lived on after we’ve somewhat returned to the office.

          Its a great place for posting something like “hey I’ve got a band” without a hard press to attend.

      2. BethDH*

        This seems ideal! I’d also like to know even if I don’t go because it gives me something to chat about — “what music are you working on?” Etc.

    2. Sue*

      What about posting a flyer for performances on the breakroom board, or equivalent. That’s very low pressure but puts the word out if anyone is interested.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        That’s the right thing I think. “Why is there a flyer for this band in the breakroom?” “Oh, it’s the boss’s band. He played in it for ages, and back when he wasn’t upper management he would invite the team mates to the concerts. Some of us still drop by.”

        We’re all three-dimensional human beings with outside-of-work lives. A senior manager may perform as a musician or exhibit as an artist, or run for office, or otherwise have a public outside-of-work persona that some employees may interact with in that capacity. The key is to keep it low-key (no perceptible, or significant impact on work relations) and at the same time be transparent.

    3. Well...*

      This. Having the information spread informally definitely doesn’t eliminate the fear of people in the know and going to the shows getting special treatment.

    4. ferrina*

      Does the cover band have a website?

      Make a simple website and post your show dates there. That way the employees that already know and enjoy can find the show dates, and there is no pressure or mention to folks that don’t want to go. You can still talk about the band casually, and if someone asks about attending, you can direct them to the website.

    5. Maglev to Crazytown*

      I agree with this perspective. Also, I would actually find it positive as an employee if a department head or director person gave his people a casual, “hey, if anyone is really bored, here is a music opportunity, but please don’t feel pressured” about a band they were in. I find it to be one of those things that makes manager/boss seem more like an actual human being with interests and talents outside of work. It also subtlety gives people encouragement to do the same, and have a life and identity not tied to the workplace.

    6. Smithy*

      I wonder if there’s a way for the OP to treat this like a proverbial big boss invitation to a hangout at their home. Like when a department head would invite their team over for a picnic or something.

      So instead of the OP sharing every performance, pick one a year that feels particularly big and/or convenient for the overall team (i.e. closer to where most staff live, parking, perhaps kid friendly, etc) and share that with everyone. If the OP is only sharing that information once a year (maybe twice), then it can serve as that more informal and equal opportunity to connect with the boss. New staff can find out and it’s a more equitable opportunity across the team.

      While some staff may feel pressure – I think the pluses/minuses of having this space once a year balance each other out. Some people won’t go, or will feel they have to but don’t want to – but these opportunities do give newer and more junior staff that opportunity for casual face time with the boss and in the context of a larger group less pressure.

    7. McS*

      I agree. A more formal but proactive and evenly applies invite is needed. If the schedule is set at the beginning of any kind of season, I’d distribute the entire thing at once. So it’s not “my band is playing on Friday” but “here are all the dates we are playing if anyone is interested in attending.”

    8. JLH*

      Yeah. My boss is in a band and I’ve never felt there was a pressure to go or not go, but I would feel some type of way if it was a disclose as asked basis.

      They’re known to be in some circulating line-ups for local sporting events/festivals, so our office may make one of those things an office outing so everyone has the chance to see him in action, more or less. Now, from there, some people will check in with him time to time and see if he’s got a gig coming up (if they’re free, bored, etc.).

      Otherwise, he makes a point to send an office wide email maybe once a year/season for a gig they’re playing at a central bar/restaurant and invite the whole office to go- he doesn’t take a head count or anything. Any time I’ve gone, he’s typically he is busy with set-up/breakdown if he’s not playing so it’s not like we get some sort of specialized face-time with him; one one occasion I think decent group of us went and he bought us all drinks that we cheers’d him with while he was playing. It felt low stakes for office politics and it was a nice way to see him and my coworkers out of the office.

    9. Hydrangea*

      Oh goodness. I’m having flash backs to my previous job, where the project manager (our defacto functional manager for the duration of the project) organized happy hours that nobody on the team told me about. For weeks. Until COVID came along and they stopped. I’m not a super socializer and don’t generally crave happy hours with work colleagues, but it was really demoralizing realizing that neither he nor one single other person thought to tell the new person (me). It did give a cliquey feel to the workplace.

  4. YRH*

    #3, I was the only acceptable candidate that applied to my current job. It’s been a great fit all around. I’m very happy in my position and I know management is very happy with my performance (I’ve been here four years).!Honestly, they just would have reposted the position if I hadn’t interviewed and your job probably would have done the same. A good fit is a good fit regardless of the size of the candidate pool and employers frequently won’t hire bad matches. I’m glad it’s working well for everyone! I hope your work environment continues to be as positive as it currently is.

    1. Cedrus Libani*

      I’ve been there too – and I knew it, because the person I replaced left his notes behind, and of course I read his notes about trying to hire his replacement. They thought we were acceptable, they hired us, turned out they were right and we could do the job…nothing to apologize for!

    2. londonedit*

      I had a similar situation with my very first editorial job. I was working on the reception desk at the time, so I knew they were advertising for an editorial assistant, and I greeted about 20 people who came in for interviews over the course of a week. I never even thought about applying for the role myself – I only had just about a year’s worth of experience on reception, which was my first job after uni – but then one day the editorial director flumped down in a chair opposite my desk after another interview candidate had left, and said ‘This is impossible. We just can’t find anyone decent! I don’t want to hire any of these people!’ So I asked whether I might be able to throw my hat into the ring. She said yes, so I gave her a copy of my CV, she asked if I could interview the next day, I did, and I got the job. I never once thought of it as being ‘last choice’ just because they’d failed to find anyone else before they made the decision to hire me. I’m sure if I hadn’t asked about it, they would have just kept on taking applications for the job, or maybe brought in a recruitment agency, or something. I’m sure the OP’s employers are glad she’s there, and I’m sure no one thinks of her as the ‘last choice’ – once you’ve established yourself, no one even remembers your application or your interview!

      1. McS*

        LW5, I didn’t realize when I was younger how many different “minor procedures” people have and how boring most of them are. “I’ll be out Thursday and Friday for a minor procedure.” will not provoke any speculation or worry. People might say they’re glad you’re feeling well on Monday.

    3. Flower necklace*

      I’m not sure if I was the only acceptable candidate for my job, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m a teacher who was hired a few days before school started, fresh out of grad school with no real teaching experience. Even five years ago, I doubt there were many candidates.

      Even though the people who hired me have all left, I would say it’s working out. I’m now the head of my department.

      1. Erie*

        I’m confused by the wording “only acceptable candidate for my job”, which OP uses and now two commenters have used. If there were other acceptable candidates but they turned down the job, doesn’t that mean you’re NOT the only acceptable candidate? Isn’t that the exact problem – not being the only acceptable candidate?

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          I think the implied meaning is “The only acceptable candidate left in the pool” or “The last acceptable candidate after the others turned us down.”

          That’s actually why this isn’t a big deal. If you get an offer for a job you want, and you take the offer, it hardly matters if others were “chosen first” or if no one else met the requirements. You got the job you wanted so…yay! regardless.

        2. londonedit*

          I took it to mean that the OP feels they weren’t specifically chosen for the job, they were just the only person left in the running and therefore got the job by default rather than on merit. Like the church thought ‘well, everyone else was either awful or turned us down…I guess we’re stuck with OP’. Which, if I spun it that way, I could say about my experience above with my first editorial job. I didn’t apply and interview and beat other candidates, I applied because I’d heard they were struggling to find someone decent.

    4. AnonMom*

      Aren’t all of us the “last choice” for our current roles?

      I know I was not the first choice (nor the second, but something like the 4th) for my current job when they hired me a decade ago, because one of my team members told me a few years later that she was glad the hiring committee was overruled by a senior team member during the hiring process or she never would have gotten to work with me. She’s moved on since but tried to hire me away three times now. My boss has had other departments (including the C-suite) try to steal me, I’ve been promoted four times, they’ve restructured job descriptions to make sure I’m not stuck with responsibility for tasks I dislike, and my grandboss likes to introduce me to clients as his department’s rock star (and I’m not even in a client-facing role).

      So being the last choice just means I was in the right place at the right time.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Not…necessarily? Like if a job is advertised and 100 people apply and the hiring manager chooses to interview the five she considers best, then calls up the one of those who was most impressive in their interview and offers them the job, I wouldn’t consider them the last choice.

        That said, as Alison says, I don’t think it matters whether the LW was the first choice or the third. I have no idea how many people applied for my job. It could be a hundred or I could have been the only one (the latter is unlikely but…who knows?). What I DO know is that those I work most closely with are impressed with me and very anxious to keep me in the school.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I think it’s also galling to think that, not only were you maybe their fifth choice, but in fact probably even their tenth choice would have done fine in the role, like “I’m not actually all that special”.
          I know I agonised over this for my previous job. I didn’t have all the qualifications so I was suffering from imposter’s syndrome until I managed to get a Masters degree on the strength of my professional experience.

    5. NYWeasel*

      I recently hired an internal candidate who was my third choice. I was very transparent with her that initially when I was posting the position, I thought I wanted X & Y skills, which greatly favored candidates #1 & #2, but after they turned the opportunity down, it forced me to really think if I had been thinking of the position the right way. I realized that I wanted someone with X and Z skills instead, and she was highly skilled in Z and had lots of experience with X. If I’d applied that structure to the interviews, she would have been my first choice from the start. I now am relieved that I figured it out, as she is an excellent employee and I think she’s doing far better than #1 or #2 would have been doing by now.

      1. NYWeasel*

        Also, I had a nasty manager when I started who liked to throw the fact that they “had other candidates” in my face when he wanted to hurt my feelings. It did make me wonder at times if they’d “settled” for me, but ultimately I recognized that he personally was scared of my experience and knowledge and was trying to knock me down to make himself feel better, and that it was better to focus on helping everyone else recognize that I should have been #1 from the start than trying to change one jerk’s opinion. Eventually his bitterness held him back while I continued to grow, and now, years later, he’s gone and I feel very valued by my current managers.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            I think the threat is “I have options–I had other candidates the last time I needed to fill the role, so if I get rid of you I’ll be able to hire someone else.”

        1. bag o bones*

          My (now former) boss told me more than once I was the second choice. The candidate they wanted to hire was “too expensive” because she’d been in the field longer than I had. I ended up performing very well, essentially transformed the department, and eight years later was making almost double the salary they hired me in at. They recently had to rehire for that role … and who did they hire, but the candidate they wanted to hire when they hired me. For the same amount of money she wanted when I was hired ten years ago. When he dropped by my office at my new job (I’m back in the same building as him, now making significantly more than when I left his job), he made sure to tell me that they hired the person who was their first choice then. He thought it was a flex. Reader, it was not.

          1. JustAnotherKate*

            Years ago I worked for someone who hated me from day one, although she’d been fine in the interview. I found out she’d wanted the organization to hire her friend with no qualifications, and assumed the other interviews were a formality before they could give her friend the job. (She co-managed the position, but the hiring decision was made by a team.) When she was overridden and told to hire somoene with experience, she grudgingly hired me and never.let me.forget. she hadn’t chosen me. But at least I knew it wasn’t really about me.

    6. Cat Tree*

      I have a story like this from the other side. I’m a hiring manager and at my company we generally try to interview 2 or 3 candidates, but only one qualified person applied for a temp position. We interviewed him and he was great, so we hired him. I’m so glad we did! He’s done so well we offered him a permanent position, which he accepted. He has been here for almost a year and he’s fantastic. I can see him going far and getting a promotion in a couple of years. Nobody on the hiring team even thinks about him being the only person we interviewed.

      1. Tad Cooper*

        Same here! At a previous job I had to hire for a critical temporary position, and had the worst time of it. If memory serves, in a month and a half I gave offers to no less than five people—and all of them turned me down.

        I’d thought I’d run through all the possible candidates, but still went to HR to beg them for the long shot applications they’d not bothered to send me. In that pile I found one application that seemed like it might work. I interviewed the candidate, he accepted the position, and he seriously knocked the job out of the park. He’s the best report I’ve ever had, and years later we’re still in contact and I’ve been a reference for him several times.

        The fact I found his resume at the bottom of the barrel doesn’t make him lesser than the first five people I gave offers to. Sure, I had a phone call with them first, but that isn’t what matters—and I never gave them a second thought later. I’d be shocked, OP, if your bosses even remembered the other candidates’ names anymore. What matters is that you’re there now.

        1. English Rose*

          Similar story here but with two candidates – we were down to two final for a role, offered to one who I felt had better experience. She accepted, and I turned the other person down. Then a way into the onboarding process candidate 1 withdrew so I offered to my second choice. She was really gracious about it, and now not a day goes by I’m not glad she was still available – she does a fantastic job and we’re so lucky to have her.

        2. Caraway*

          Yes, this happened to me last time I was hiring! I had a very small pool with one outstanding candidate. I offered her the job and she instead decided to stay with her current employer. We re-posted the job, again got just a few candidates and only one real option. Offered her the job and she turned it down for another position. I was pretty disheartened at this point, but we re-re-posted the job, got one more candidate who finally accepted the position, and she’s been phenomenal. I’m grateful every day for her, and I honestly think she probably has been better than either of the first two candidates would have been. I certainly don’t think of her as my third choice or a consolation prize or anything like that.

    7. Penny Pingleton*

      I sometimes think the title of my autobiography would be “my life from the waitlist.” It doesn’t really matter how you get the job (within the realm of legitimate processes); it matters what you do when you get there. It doesn’t matter how many people passed on the opportunity. It’s come to you now, and you can make the most of it. You say they love you, so obviously they’re thrilled with what you’ve done there and no doubt they now consider you their first choice.

    8. JayKay*

      As someone who’s been on hiring committees AND has a lot of coworkers who have sat on other ones–searches fail all the time because they don’t get a candidate that’s qualified, or they didn’t get enough applications, etc., or that they didn’t end up wanting anyone who DID apply. If they hired you, it means they wanted you, that they thought you were awesome and qualified, and that they’re THRILLED you did apply and they could extend the offer! I know it’s tough not to feel anxious over it, but I hope your coworkers continue to make you feel welcome and that you’re able to reframe the situation as “once they got my application, they knew they didn’t need to worry about this any more!”

    9. Anne Elliot*

      Chiming in to remind OP 3 that even if you were legitimately the last choice at the time of hiring, that doesn’t mean you’d be their last choice now, or would have been their last choice then, if they had really known you. I work closely with a coworker who was our third choice for her role, and she’s amazing. I’m glad everyday that the other preferred candidates did not work out.

    10. Annony*

      I think that is the key point. If they hadn’t found her, they would have kept looking. She was the last one offered the job because she took it so they could finally stop.

    11. Flash Packet*

      “[Jane] was the only acceptable candidate who applied,” actually says that you were the best of the bunch!

      Stated another way, “Can you believe how lucky we are that Jane applied!? Imagine if we were forced to choose someone from the rest of the applicants. I’m really glad Jane showed up when she did!”

    12. Doctor What*

      To be fair…everyone is the last person a company is looking for to fill a position, because when someone is chosen, the search stops…

    13. Some Dude*

      I’ve been in hiring pools where we hire the second or third choice and they are awesome. Or when we hire our first choice and we reallllly should have hired the third or fourth.

    14. Molly Coddler*

      LW, we just hired a few peeps in our workplace this past year. the person we got as our front desk admin was our very last choice. not because we didn’t like her but because the other candidates presented themselves better. one said no, one disappeared, and now that “unwanted” candidate works here. we adore her. she’s perfect for the job and lovely to work with and we were the ones who really lucked out that she’s the one and not whoever we thought about at that time of the interviews with much less info on them.

  5. Anita, Darling*

    For LW1, offer her the choice to skip the party due to the spider, but let her make the decision. I agree that it would be unfair and very demoralizing to the kids to take down or hold back the exhibit.

    1. Worldwalker*

      But she’s going to lose out on pay if she does. I’m wondering if there’s anything that isn’t within sight of the spider that she can do?

      1. nnn*

        Or even if there isn’t anything halloween party related she could do, I wonder if it would be possible to find a few hours of extra work for her at another time to make up the pay?

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Maybe she can trade shifts that week so she still gets full pay but doesn’t have to work on spider day?

      2. AnotherLibrarian*

        Right. This would be a good compromise. Can she man the coat check? Or help with parking?

        1. Corgis rock*

          OP said the party is all in one room so there isn’t an option for Hannah to be in another location.

          1. SpaceySteph*

            Yes she said it was all in one room, but I do wonder if there’s been enough consideration of alternatives. Who’s to say they could have Hanna in the parking lot or hallway or delivering items to the party site, or some other way helping out without going in the room.

            It would be a kindness to find some way to pay Hanna for the day without subjecting her to torture by giant spider.

      3. thisgirlhere*

        I thought this too. If LW asks her to skip, she should be ready to offer additional hours or another tangible benefit.

      4. NothingIsLittle*

        I’ve gotten better over the past several years, but I was debilitatingly terrified of spiders in my teens. (As in, there was one at my workplace and I had to clock out for half an hour to deal with the resulting panic attack and was jumpy and terrified the rest of my shift. As in, saw a non-realistic spider in a book and still threw it across the room in fear.)

        That version of me would not have been able to work at all in an environment that I knew there was a giant spider decoration in, even if I couldn’t see it from my vantage.

        OP should ask the employee what she’s comfortable with and allow her to make the call, and the tone and/or context of the question should convey that the employee can opt out if necessary. It would be a kindness to offer up ways to make up the hours, but even if that’s not feasible she may still need to opt out.

      5. BohoBoohoo*

        Sometimes you lose pay for medical situations
        That’s just the way it is when you maintain a poorly managed reaction to everyday objects

        1. Hydrangea*

          Wow. That’s wildly nonempathetic. The ADA exists bc people with medical conditions were routinely losing pay due to discrimination. It’s not something we should just accept.

          Phobias are not “reactions to everyday objects.” They are medical conditions, and you have no idea of either 1) how well Hanna is managing her medical condition or 2) how easy it is to manage.

    2. ferrina*

      YES! Get Hanna in this conversation! She’ll be able to tell you what she can/can’t do, rather than you assuming. The two of you are more likely to come to a solution that works for both of you.

      1. Hydrangea*

        Yes, where is Hanna in this? LW decided on her own to ask Hanna to stay home, and Alison’s answer is that Hanna surely wants to stay home. But who has actually asked Hanna what she wants to do? Accommodating conditions is supposed to be interactive.

  6. nnn*

    #1: Severe arachnophobic here. I agree with Alison’s “Ask her if she’d like to skip the party” (as opposed to OP’s “ask her to refrain from attending the party”, which is a step too far – it should be Hanna’s choice), and make it clear that she would not suffer any negative consequences if she chooses to opt out.

    Something you can do next year is encourage the kids in the direction of something non-spider-related. Read the room on whether you want to go as far as telling them not to do spiders (some people react disproportionately negatively to being told that their spooky spiders are too scary), but you could either plan or lead the kids in the direction of planning (depending on how student-led it is) something that just happens to be spider-free, like carving pumpkins or a zombie walk or building a ghost that flies across the room when people least expect it.

    1. Worldwalker*

      If the kids want to do a spider, I don’t think it’s reasonable to prohibit that because one adult who only works a couple of days a week is abnormally afraid of spiders. Plus if you go with the idea that everything for a Halloween party has to be utterly inoffensive to everyone (remember that for some people, the *existence* of Halloween is offensive!) you wind up with tastefully arranged autumn gourds.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        No one is advocating “that everything for a Halloween party has to be utterly inoffensive to everyone”, so that’s a straw person who should go back into the storage shed.

        I think that in a small team, one individual’s very specific phobia should of course be accommodated. That’s what people who respect and care about each other do.

        1. Ama*

          Agreed. I don’t think OP did anything wrong, because they didn’t know; but now that they know that in their immediate team there is a need that can be met without undue hardship, it’s basic decency to do their best to gently steer the kids toward something that won’t massively trigger Hanna. We don’t need to get all “not everyone can have sandwiches” when dealing with small, localized groups and their needs.

          1. Watry*

            Pretty much this. My team is pretty small, and the supervisor who decorates for Halloween found out I have a spider phobia. She just…didn’t put up the spider decorations. She also emails the whole team now (heavy turnover) every year to check for phobias and things that will upset people. The office is done up in bats and pumpkins and silly ghosts and anatomically incorrect skeletons now, and it’s actually very cute.

            1. ferrina*

              This is a little different from kids, who likely don’t have other outlets to explore their creativity. Programs like this are where the kids have the time/resources to explore ideas and interests. It feels simple to an adult, but can have an outsized impact to a kid.

              I’d talk to Hanna and figure out some options. Is there an extra crafts room she can avoid? Next year should you set up a snack booth outside the main place where she can work?

            2. doreen*

              I think there’s a difference between how a workplace should decorate for a holiday and modifying or restricting program activities to accommodate an employee. Let’s say that rather than an afterschool club, this was a day camp. And like many day camps, it takes the campers on trips- should they have to take the circus off the list of activities because a counselor has a clown phobia or not take campers to a pool because a counselor has a phobia about pools? Or maybe it’s a senior citizen center – should bingo games be off the table because an employee has a phobia about numbers?

              It’s one thing to let Hannah take the day off or swap days with another part-timer if that’s a possibility. Performing a task that wouldn’t expose her to the spider would be fine also, but it doesn’t seem possible in this case. But steering the people the program is supposed to serve in a particular direction to accommodate an employee – I don’t know about that.

              1. Hydrangea*

                Day trips for day camps and bingo for senior citizen centers are core parts of their business. What is reasonable is going to look different for each company, and a bunch of slippery slope what-if scenarios for entirely different business models are not going to help LW1 determine where the line should be at HER employer. Nobody is suggesting that LW1 should stop having Halloween activities. They are suggesting that there are plenty of Halloween activities that don’t involve spiders.

                1. Worldwalker*

                  The day camp could take a trip to the amusement park instead of the circus, though, so that’s very much equivalent.

            3. MigraineMonth*

              As long as they aren’t the anatomically incorrect skeletons with breasts. Because that’s somehow a thing, and it makes me want to set them on fire.

            4. turquoisecow*

              That’s different from kids who spent three weeks making this spider. Which somehow Hanna was not aware of despite working there. So either she doesn’t work that often or the kids work on it in a room where she doesn’t go.

        2. Kyrielle*

          THIS. You don’t need to accommodate everything that might bother anyone to any degree. You do need to accommodate phobias, when you’re aware of them.

          This year is a piece of bad luck and learning too late how bad the issue was; best to be done is give her agency as to whether or not to attend. (And make sure she doesn’t lose out on pay, if there’s any way to do so.)

          But next year? Next year, aiming not to have spiders in the Halloween stuff, if Hanna is still an employee, should be done. I know childcare workers move on all the time, and no need to avoid spiders after she leaves…but until then, now that you know, accommodate it.

        3. JustaTech*

          Yes to this!
          A few years ago, for Halloween my husband covered his face in googly-eyes (he sounded like a maraca walking around). It was weird, but we both thought it was funny.

          At the end of the day his boss sent him a message that he (the boss) has a serious phobia of holes/repeating round patterns (I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s a real thing), and that was why he’d been avoiding my husband all day.

          My husband had no idea (it’s not something that would otherwise come up at work) and felt really bad about upsetting his boss.

          So he’s never, ever considered doing the same costume again, because it’s one thing to completely unintentionally set off someone’s phobia. It’s another thing entirely (a cruel thing) to do it intentionally.

        4. Worldwalker*

          I’d agree if this was about decorating the office for the team. But the club is for the children — the adults are there as facilitators. So what the children want should be the driving factor, not whether it is something the adults (especially one who apparently rarely interacts with the children at all) want.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        I disagree. I actually think that the fact that sometimes you can’t do everything you want to do because it will massively inconvenience someone else is a very good lesson for children to learn. Empathy is something that has to be practiced in childhood, or it will atrophy. A good teacher will not just forbid, but guide the children to do the kind thing.

        I doesn’t have to be inoffensive to everyone in the whole world. Just not actively triggering to the small set of specific people working at this specific party.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          It sounds like the spider project is already weeks into creation. I can’t imagine being a kid who has worked long and hard on a fun, interactive display that is creepy and appropriately Halloween-themed to be told, “Sorry. That was all a waste of time because a part time worker here has a phobia that she didn’t inform us about.” I’m not saying she was obliged to disclose her phobia, but in not giving anyone a heads up about how bad it was means she will have to deal with it in some manner.

          Had this come up at the planning stage, absolutely tell the kids to pick a different project. And I don’t think Hannah should be discouraged from the party, but given jobs to do away from seeing the spider. Can she work on some displays at home for flex time? Send email reminders or other computer tasks related to the party that can free up time for those working in the same room as the spider? Etc.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Your second paragraph is where I land as well – if this was known at planning, then attempt to steer away from the spiders. But now it’s a done deal – the best you can do is work with Hanna about what she wants to do with this event, and for next year just don’t do the spider main project (if Hanna is still there, I’ve seen lots of these programs where the parent employees change year over year based on what their kids are doing any given school year).

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Accommodating a phobia by in future ensuring the object of the phobia is removed is not in any way comparable to ‘something someone is mildly offended by’.

        I’m not offended by the existence of the S word creatures (seriously I can’t even type the word) – Ijust have very unpleasant reactions to being around them, pictures of them – one ex coworker even got fired for changing my desktop wallpaper to a closeup of an S as a joke.

        Phobias are very very hard.

        1. Lunar Caustic*

          I am very glad to hear that your workplace recognized how serious an offense that was and fired that person. So many employers would brush this off or even deliberately ramp up the trauma infliction.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Remember the letter about the co-worker leaving Snickers bars on the keyboard of the person with a peanut allergy?

            Some people are just evil.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          … one ex coworker even got fired for changing my desktop wallpaper to a closeup of an S as a joke.

          Yikes! That was so not funny, I’m glad they got fired!

          Phobias are irrational fears, by definition. But people have them, and they are hard to get rid of. I can’t fathom being the kind of person who uses the object of a phobia as a “prank”.

      4. mreasy*

        I think it’s totally reasonable – there are so many other scary icons of Halloween that are available. It’s not about being “inoffensive,” it’s about accommodating a highly relevant person’s phobia, which is a health condition, not a mere preference.

        1. Snow Globe*

          As someone mentioned above, most of the scary icons of Halloween may be offensive to certain religions, and many schools try to keep that stuff (witches, ghosts) out of any Halloween activities.

      5. SpaceySteph*

        I don’t think its a huge stifling of kids’ creativity to say “we did a spider last year, let’s think of something else for this year.” If anything it urges them to be MORE creative to think of something else.

      6. MicroManagered*

        I agree. I am sympathetic to Hanna’s phobia but I don’t think censoring spiders is the move for next year. Kids do drawings for Halloween and other holidays… spiders, black cats, pumpkins, ghosts, witches, etc. I just can’t support the idea of telling a kid they aren’t allowed to draw something or that their artwork can’t hang up with the other kids’ because of something that is generally regarded as harmless. My response would be totally different if the item in question was generally accepted as offensive (I’m thinking of Chief Wahoo here for some reason).

        What happens when they do a zombie walk and another worker says they have a religious objection or a phobia of them?

        1. JustaTech*

          I’d offer that there’s a difference between standard-sized kid art and a giant display piece.

          But it would still be easier to say “hey, we did that last year, let’s do something else”.

      7. McThrill*

        There are many other Halloween themed things you can do that aren’t spider-related but are still spooky and scary. This isn’t about an employee choosing to believe that spiders are inappropriate for kids, this is someone with a legit phobia who cannot control their reaction. Give her the option to not attend this year because the decorations have already been made, find another way for her to make up the hours she would have gotten from the party, and next year make a giant Frankenstein’s monster or a ghost or a specter or a Freddy Krueger or a werewolf or any of the other million scary things that are associated with Halloween.

        1. Worldwalker*

          The problem comes in when *next* year you get an employee with a phobia of ghosts. (it happens) And the year after that, one who can’t cope with monsters. You’ve getting back to the gourds. Plus you’re also getting to a situation where the children’s party isn’t about what the children want, it’s about what the employees want.

          1. Eyes Kiwami*

            Phobias are pretty uncommon so the odds of having a revolving door of employees with specifically Halloween-related phobias is unlikely. And children are used to being curtailed, there are plenty of things they aren’t allowed to do for one reason or another. They won’t miss out on any important life experiences if their Halloween doesn’t feature spiders. Would you believe that some kids in this world don’t even celebrate Halloween at all??

          2. McThrill*

            Again – a legit phobia is a medical issue, not a personal choice. This isn’t about an employee “wanting” spiders gone, this is about someone who had to take 10 minutes alone to even process the fact that a spider *she hadn’t even seen yet* was going to be at the party she was scheduled to work at, and even after all that she was still willing to suck it up and try to attend. Also, your argument seems to be, “If we accommodate this employee’s legit medical need, someone in the future might try to fake it and get some accommodation they don’t deserve!” which is a pretty terrible reason to subject the current employee to something that is clearly incredibly stressful.

            1. Pyjamas*

              Hmmmm… excuse the worker from working at the party

              Or ban activities involving spiders at an after school program for children.

              Not zero sum

      8. Hydrangea*

        Except that the after school program is a work place, and people with medical conditions have the right to ask their workplace for accommodations for said conditions. There are more options than spiders and tastefully arranged autumn gourds.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          My neighbors have an animatronic cat in their yard for Halloween and my dog is HECKIN BAMBOOZLED every time we see it.

        2. Not Today*

          As a cat lover, I detest the evil black cat symbolism at Halloween. The cat population was decimated during the middle ages because of this misattribution. So…NO.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Actually, a project about black cats and why they aren’t actually evil or scary, coupled with a bit of history about how getting rid of them made the plague worse might be a perfect Halloween thing – history, balance of nature, fluffy back cat pictures, etc.

            I am owned in part by a black cat (as well as a tortie and a dilute tortie) and am pagan.

          2. snarkfox*

            I have a black cat myself, and I personally love that they’re associated with Halloween because it’s my favorite holiday.

          3. Hydrangea*

            It’s not the middle ages.

            I’m a spider lover. I’m a bat lover. I’m a cat lover. I have the ability to regard scary depictions of all of these critters as a hyperbolic exaggeration for the sake of the season. In the case of a critter that you love in a depiction that you don’t love, then the best path forward is a talk with the kids in question about why you don’t love the depiction and then leave it up to them.

            1. CommanderBanana*

              Definitely not going to mention that the same neighbor has a lifesize animatronic witch statue in their yard which also causes MUCH BAMBOOZLEMENT to my poor befuddled pupper.

        3. Worldwalker*

          I used to know someone who was utterly terrified of cats. (especially black ones, but fuzzy calico kittens would do, too) Probably close to the level of Hanna and the spiders. Yes, he avoided pet shops, the cat food aisle at the store (all those pictures of cats!), and Halloween. He was fine with dogs, or lions for that matter; it was just house cats.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            Yeah, phobias are weird – the best way I can describe mine is that a bit of brain wiring got connected weird, and tells me that I’m GOING TO ABSOLUTELY DIE if I encounter certain types of bugs. Intellectually I know it’s not true, but it’s like all the visceral fear pathways in my brain light up.

    2. Oska*

      I think the LW would probably have to give specific “no spiders” instructions. Spiders are practically sprinkles on the Halloween cake. Tell them to make a display with a witch making a cauldron of spooky brew and you can be 100% sure there will be at least eighty-two fake spiders crawling all over it if they aren’t told to avoid them.

      1. turquoisecow*

        Yeah I wonder if Hanna generally stays home around Halloween, because spiders are a pretty common part of the decor. I’ve seen everything from tiny black plastic spiders on a doorstep to huge house-sized inflatables used as decorations, and that’s without even going to any parties or events. Even if the kids weren’t making a huge spider, the chances of small spiders being involved in the decor are reasonably high. And someone may come dressed in a costume that involves a spider (Spider-Man for one, and I had a little toy spider that I brought with me when I dressed as a witch as a kid).

        I’d definitely ask Hanna how she usually navigates Halloween and go from there, but it definitely seems like skipping the party is the easiest way to go, and give her some other hours or task to make up the time.

      2. snarkfox*

        This is a good point. Plastic spiders are super cheap at the Dollar Tree, and they definitely make up a large part of my Halloween decor. My neighborhood is full of blow-up spider decorations in the yards. I would think Hanna already has some way of mitigating her spider phobia around Halloween, so LW1 just needs to talk to her about it.

    3. Gdub*

      Yes, but don’t tell the kids that she is afraid of spiders. Kids don’t really understand the difference between scared and phobia/terrified.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Kids *do* like the idea that they can make adults react, though. They’ve spent all their lives having adults being the ones in charge making them do things; if all it takes is a plastic spider from the dollar store to make an adult do things, there are some kids who will not let up on that.

  7. Anblick*

    lw3: they wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t think you were fab for the role! I completely understand the stress you’re feeling but try to remember imposter syndrome is a real thing, and you deserve a job you got based on your accomplishments, personality, strengths, etc

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      This is a place where job hunting is NOT like dating. It’s not like there was one real first choice candidate they wanted and everyone else is crap, and they think you were the leftovers and are just putting up with you while they pine for the one that got away. They’re not going to cheat on you with their high school sweetheart.

      You don’t have to have beat out 15 awesome people to be good at the job. Some applicants are a better fit than others, but any one of several people likely could do the job well, and hiring any one of them is a win. They may have had fewer applicants this cycle* who were good fits, but then they were happy to find you! If they didn’t like you, they would not have hired you (they would have kept looking!).

      *Also, that speaks to the challenges of hiring now. The current job market may mean the applicant pool is not what they were expecting. That doesn’t change anything, though.

      1. Allonge*

        but then they were happy to find you!

        I would even say they were all the happier to find you, no buts. They needed someone, there were few people to begin with and some declined – this is not good – and along came OP! And it worked out long term! How cool is that!

        (Also, I have to say the ‘one-and-only’ can be a pretty toxic expectation in dating too. Not that people should cheat, but it’s also not the case that there is just the one person out there for everyone.)

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Two thoughts on the dating thing
          1) thinking there is one predestined perfect partner is indeed a recipe for unhappiness. There are quite probably multiple people one could fall in love with and happily build a life with. “The one” is only that retrospectively, because a life has been built, and built well.

          2) Treating dating like having to fill a position is also a recipe for disaster. In dating, one should absolutely hold out for someone one falls in love with, and not settle for “good enough on paper”*. Just because multiple compatible partners exist doesn’t mean those are easy to find. This is where you want to avoid being the person being settled for. For filling a job on the other hand, good enough on paper is good period, no need to fall in love.

          *except if the people concerned are aromantic and looking for convenience, not love, and all parties are clear on that. In which case, you do you.

        2. Corgis rock*

          And it could be that the reason OP was the only qualified candidate in the pool is that after so many unqualified candidates they didn’t want to risk OP taking another position while they took time interviewing more people that might not pan out.

        3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          The series “The One” on netflix explores this very effectively, definitely worth a watch.

      2. Sirelle*

        I have been on both sides of this. I knew I was second choice from the start, as I had actually received a “thank you, but we’ve chosen someone else call”. That someone else was an acquaintance who turned out to not like the roll and lasted less than a month. I’ve been there 4 years now and been promoted so I got to assist in hiring my replacement. We had a top two, who could both have done the job and fitted in. It was a hard decision as my boss thought one of them and the grand boss thought the other. So they left it to me to choose!

    2. ferrina*

      By definition, the last person you ask will be the last person. Because you don’t need to keep looking! You’ve got the person you want! Same way the keys will always be the last place you look- because you stop looking when you get your keys!

  8. AnotherLibrarian*

    #3: I have been involved in a lot of hiring. My best hire was not the first pick of the hiring committee and I couldn’t be happier with her. I am so lucky to have her on my team and I wouldn’t trade her for the other people who turned down the job. Please don’t let this eat away at you. No one is thinking of you like the “last choice”. If you’re good at your job, they are just happy to have you and hiring for Churches is tough. So, I am sure that is a factor too.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I was the second choice and I’ve lasted twenty years. Sometimes there isn’t that much of a difference between #1, 2 and 3 other than, I dunno, availability or something like that. And recently we’ve had a few hiring cycles where people dropped out, but one awesome one remained, so that is who got hired. As someone else said, if they hated everyone, they’d just repost the job.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        This. When I first applied for this job, I was second choice and didn’t get it. When we expanded 18 months later, I was again second and got hired because we were adding two positions. That was in 1991 and I’m the one who is still here and managing the section now.

    2. Lilo*

      I’ve been on a committee that hired someone I was a bit hesitant about and he ended up being an amazing hire. I’ve tried to learn a lot from experiences like that, reading nervousness properly and drawing out people.

  9. Colorado*

    Alison – your thoughtful and insightful response to LW 3 brought tears to my eyes.
    To LW 3 – you sound perfect for the role

  10. Raida*

    2. Coworker insists on texting while driving

    Option 1) take the phone
    Option 2) drive
    Option 4) refuse to travel with him in control of the vehicle
    Option 5) tell your manager, making it clear that it’s illegal, he’s doing it *for work*, he’s putting staff in danger, he’s going to be representing the business if there’s an accident.

    Option 6) IF you are a ruthless bastard like myself when it comes to people brushing off concerns, simply tell your manager that you’re going to record him doing it and send it, along with the license plate, to them, and the next time it happens the video goes to the police. So he can be fined. Which is appropriate.

    I do not have an issue with any of these actions, I’ve done them ALL.
    My mate says “oh no I wasn’t using it” when I take their phone = good then this isn’t a problem. It’ll come out of my handbag when we’ve stopped, and if there’s a message I’ll let you know and you can tell me if I should read it or not.
    I’ve taken phones, I’ve taken keys, I’ve yelled to pull over, I’ve said I need to pee, gotten out of the car and said “I’ll call a taxi, you’re welcome – if you have an accident with me in the car you’ll have to explain it to Dad” (him being nicknamed Killer comes in handy for making a point to the guys in town)

    I was raised with the expectation that I am responsible for my safety – get out of a car if it isn’t safe, do not get in a car if it isn’t safe. If they crash with me in the car *and I knew* there was an issue then I am responsible for my injuries (as are they) – and if I could have stopped them then I’m responsible for injuries done to others on the road. That’s how clear it is in my mind, and that’s why it’s easy for me to be so blunt.

    So tell your manager. Let them deal with it – it’s a dangerous environment their employee is being put in.

        1. Miette*

          LMAO sometimes I really love the internet.

          But really, option 5 is a very interesting one to consider, as the company may be held liable for damages if there’s an accident (at least in the US). I don’t think management would enjoy hearing about it if it’s framed this way, either. And while most folks ought to be reasonable about OP wanting to prioritize their own safety, many folks are, in fact, unreasonable. So putting it in business terms is a very good strategy.

          1. Raida*

            Yep, I always look for that one lovely cold logical by-the-books point I can make so that managers know that it’s in writing, and it’s their responsibility to act on it.

            I’ve saved the business millions in pointing out dodgy procurement in this phrasing

        2. Raida*

          would definitely keep me out of the car!

          *this looks unsafe*
          ~tosses spider into car~
          “well I’m walking!”

      1. Raida*

        I did, after a bit of editing I ended up typing 4 twice I think and then only fixing from the second 4 onwards.


    1. Four of ten*

      I’ve done something similar with seat belts. As a kid, the car went nowhere if someone did not buckle up. Once I was driving a work team on travel to dinner. Someone in the back declined to use a seat belt. I insisted. Accidents happen and I did not want to be responsible for a non-belted passenger. Related: My daughter had died from an auto accident a few years prior to this incident. This was in the times before texting. She was wearing a seat belt.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Safety is a HUGE focus at my company, and there was an incident several years ago where some employees were in a cab on the way to the airport and got in an accident — two were not wearing seatbelts and had pretty serious injuries while one was wearing a seatbelt and had bumps and bruises. All three of the employees were chastised; the two for not wearing a seatbelt and the third for not telling them to wear seatbelts*.

        Several months later, I was at a conference and grabbed a cab with my boss and coworkers. We all buckled up, except for my boss. I said “oh Boss, you still need to buckle up.” Boss just smiled at me and…didn’t buckle up. I was on pins and needles the whole drive (one of my coworkers later told me they were as well, and admired me for saying something).

        *yes, this is ridiculous.

        1. Raida*

          I disagree, it’s not ridiculous – making safety everyone’s responsibility means that staff aren’t allowed to behave unsafely because others think “it’s not my job” to do anything about it.

          Punishing the person operating a machine unsafely = managers need to see the action and fire the operator (several warnings about this already, escalating due to staff not taking it seriously)
          Result = Sawblade to the skull. Split his head open. Best mate drenched in his blood, from holding his head together in the ambulance. Was the one to tell his wife he’d died when she arrived at hospital and ran into him before a doctor.

          A DOZEN other machinists saw him, knew it was wrong, knew he could be fired for it, two warned him he could get fired. None told the managers, none hit the safety stop button. Because they didn’t want to get him ‘in trouble’ and they didn’t think it was their job to keep *him* safe.

          After the incident – it *was* everyone’s job to report immediately when there was significant safety issues (like using the wrong fkn blade in that machine), and there was an understanding that management was expected to act quickly and effectively to rectify unsafe areas because the machinists were expected to not work in unsafe conditions.

          and your boss not putting on a seat belt = total idiot!

  11. GammaGirl1908*

    LW5: I LONG ago stopped being very specific about why I’m out of the office. Sometimes I share a little more information and sometimes I don’t, but there is no big expectation that people will have details. If I’m not overly specific in general, it’s not a big deal when something comes up where I don’t want to share; there’s a precedent.

    Frankly, no one at work needs to know the difference between having a root canal, versus having your depression meds adjusted, versus having boils lanced, versus having a chemotherapy infusion, versus having a face lift. “I’ll be out for a couple of days of medical leave. I expect to be offline on Monday and Tuesday, and Jane will be my backup,” is the information people need.

    1. WomEngineer*

      Yeah, I’ll just mark it as a medical appointment and be done with it. I wouldn’t mind sharing the mundane things. I just don’t want people to expect details every time (if I had something I wanted to be private) and/or judge me for my reasons.

      1. mreasy*

        I just say doctor’s appointment for everything from therapy to an MRI. That also sounds routine & perhaps less likely to intrigue?

    2. WomEngineer*

      Yeah, I’ll just mark it as a medical appointment and be done with it. I wouldn’t mind sharing the mundane things. I just don’t want people to expect details every time (if I had something I wanted to be private) and/or judge me for my reasons.

    3. Banana*

      Yes, LW5 should consider modeling taking time off for medical reasons and providing limited details as a normal thing, both for his own privacy and for the people who work for him, who may have similar concerns and are also working for a boss who has made regular sharing a norm. You don’t have to stop sharing completely, but work to normalize not sharing.

    4. I dont wanna hear it*

      I was looking for this to make sure i’m not the only one who is put off by the TMI! I dont want to hear about your root canal or stomach troubles or visit to the podiatrist; frankly, it makes me uncomfortable to hear about it. I work in a very informal and very small company (eight people, all within 15ish years in age) and I know more about some of their medical history and marital counseling/therapy appts than I know about my actual friends. please keep it to yourself!

      1. JustaTech*

        The only reason I ever hear for folks specifying that they have a dentist appointment is that those can be basically impossible to get (harder than other medical appointments) so people are more likely to respect that, no, you can’t move it to another time.

    5. Cat Tree*

      I think for some people they feel like they have to justify their absence to their manager or team. This could stem from school or certain types of jobs where managers actually do require some level of detail (such as coverage based jobs) and it can be hard to get over that feeling.

      Alison is right that it’s especially important for management to set an example of not requiring detail.

    6. Constance Lloyd*

      My manager shares details when it’s something fun and frivolous (like goat yoga or taking a random afternoon off to do crafts with her adult daughter) because she wants to encourage a culture of using time off for anything you could possibly want. She does not share details if she’s out sick or has a doctors appointment or really anything that couldn’t be deacribed as at least vaguely whimsical. And it works! I never feel bad about taking last minute time off just because (coverage isn’t an issue) and I never feel like I have to explain why I’m using my time. It’s a nice dynamic.

    7. The Original K.*

      I had surgery recently and was out for weeks, and I simply said I was having surgery. The only reason I was even that specific with my boss & team was that I knew people would give me grief for being out for that long (chronic understaffing) and I wanted to make it clear that it was necessary. In general, I just say I’ll be out/have an appointment.

    8. Les Cargot*

      Once upon a time, I worked in a large R&D organization. One of the excellent engineers received a well-deserved promotion to technical manager and shortly thereafter we were told he would be out for a few days because of minor surgery, nothing to worry about. He was a popular guy, well liked and respected even outside our department, and naturally, speculation ran rampant. The most sensible suggestion I heard was that it was probably something embarrassing, like hemorrhoids. But then one wise guy chipped in: “He just got promoted to manager. Maybe they took out his heart.”

      1. RunShaker*

        Old company, my training class was for several weeks and most of us ended up working in same large department and kept in touch for years. One co-worker, Jerod (& few others) were in same department & spoke everyday. One morning he was walking around slowly wincing in pain so I asked Jerod if he was ok. Oh boy, I learned more than I needed! He proceeded to tell me he had vasectomy the other day & was still sore from procedure. I have no idea why he didn’t take a couple extra days off. We had very generous time off.

  12. John Smith*

    #2. I had a colleague who, I later learned, would habitually tailgate. My first and only experience with him driving lasted 2 minutes. After asking, then telling him to back off from the car in front (literally he was just barely an inch away from the other car), I got him to stop the car allowing me to leave and walk back to the office where I then filed a report to HR. The worst part is that our then manager was also a passenger but said and did bugger all.

    Dangerous driving, including uaing a mobile phone, should never be tolerated. Don’t just ask your colleague to stop texting. Point blank refuse to get in a car with him in the same way you would refuse to put your head in a fire.

  13. Felis alwayshungryis*

    #4: isn’t it all in how you word it? I had a manager years ago who did theatre as a hobby and she’d send out wider team emails to the effect of: “For those who don’t know what I do in my life outside work: I act. I’m in X show on X date and if anyone wants to see if I forget my lines, you can get tickets at X. No hard feelings though if it’s not your thing or you can’t make it, but feel free to share with anyone who might :-)’

    Some of us went to Blithe Spirit, and it was good fun! It would of course depend on your team culture and what you’re like as a manager but I don’t see any harm in sharing your gigs as long as you make it clear it’s an FYI for fun and has nothing to do with work.

  14. it's-a-me*

    “Was I the last choice for my job?”

    Everybody is always the last choice for their job, because once they hire you, they stop looking!

    1. KateM*

      Unless they think from the start that you are not going to work out so they continue looking. So, being the last choice is GOOD!

  15. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP2: Alison is right, this is serious. This isn’t a personality quirk like ‘sings in the car while driving’, this is extremely dangerous.

    I lost 5 years out of my career because a lorry driver was texting and smashed into my car at motorway speeds. I won’t get into a car where the driver is using their phone.

    1. Retired to Morning Room to Write My Letters*

      I’m sorry that that happened to you. …I am a casualty of a different kind of “it might never happen” known risk. Folks need to know that we exist (and of course we exist in gigantic numbers, but still small enough to be under the public radar!) – the people whose lives have been utterly derailed by the risks that are thought of as just vague/theoretical. (And this is very grim to say, but of course the people who died aren’t on the public radar either.)
      I do hope your situation is going better now.

  16. Decidedly Me*

    I’ve hired my “last choice” of the people worth hiring for a role and they’ve been awesome! I’ve also had first picks be terrible ;) We wouldn’t hire someone we don’t actually want or don’t think would be a good fit – don’t let this get you down!

  17. Pyjamas*

    #1: I reckon Hanna goes into hiding around Halloween anyway — especially in the vicinity of Halloween displays. Skipping the party (especially if working extra hours later is feasible) is a good solution.
    Seems a bad idea though to restrict children’s creativity, even in the future, in order to
    tiptoe around an ADULT, an adult moreover who has learned to cope with her fears even if she can’t overcome them. She may even be grateful that her kids have a chance to be around spiders so they don’t get her phobia.

    1. PsychNurse*

      This is what I was thinking too. There are spiders *everywhere* around Halloween. They even have a big fuzzy spider up in my grocery store. Hannah will probably be relieved to be given permission to skip the party.

      1. Lilo*

        Yeah, spider-based decorations at a Halloween event are basically the norm. Even if it wasn’t part of the official decor, the chances of a kid showing up with some kind of spider toy are pretty high. Hanna should probably just expect to sit this stuff out.

        1. Worldwalker*

          Assuming the costumes for sale at my local Costco are representative of what kids are likely to be wearing, if the kids show up in costume for this party there are going to be several versions of Spiderman.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      I am 100% sympathetic to people with phobias, but for common things, and yes spiders are very common, where does that end? I have a spider tattoo on my arm. Would I have to wear long sleeves, even through a sweltering summer heat, if I was working with this woman? I’d offer to let her opt out and make up her time another day, but I wouldn’t actively discourage the kids from working on a spider involved project.

      1. Hydrangea*

        That’s a good question. I advise waiting for the situation to arise at your workplace before jumping to conclusions about what Hanna (not “this woman”) would ask for.

      2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

        Then you and she would have competing access needs, as the term goes, and your workplace would need to involve both of you in working it out. Just like my friend’s workplace figured out how to accommodate her dog allergy and her coworker with a service dog without any duels at dawn.

  18. Different name because this comment totally tells who I am*

    We (as a society) need to stop thinking that if one was not first choice for a job, it’s a wrong hiring and get flustered about ones ability. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if your first or fifth choice – you got hired, you do a great job, all is well.

    I was third choice for my apprenticeship back then. I totally knocked it out of the park and won a national price. No one, not even me, thought about the other candidates much. It didn’t matter that I was only third choice.
    (I currently think I have my current job because I took it, not because I was a dream candidate. It also doesn’t matter to me, I do the job adequately and get paid.)

    1. münchner kindl*

      I hope LW starts reading some previous entries here on AAM from hiring managers about how bad they feel when they get 50 applications, narrow down to 20, do interviews, narrow down to 3, and all are top stars, no real difference – and they can only hire 1 person. Basically, it’s down to flipping a coin. (And often people think back when they were starting their own career, on how important the first step on the career ladder is, and how arbitrary the system is).

      Or several posts by Alison on how candidates claiming to be “the best” of all applicants are showing their immaturity because they have no idea how good the other applicants are.

      Being one of the last 5 people can mean “all 5 are equally good, we’re flipping a coin” or it can mean “with references/ interviews, the other 5 all failed” and LW will never know which is which.

      Also: Alison has stressed, when hiring managers did do their due diligence and still the new hire turned out to be a bad fit, that it’s never an exact science. There will always be people who ace interviews while failing at the work (and vice versa!); there will always be people who are competent at work, but a bad fit for this specific role/ company culture; and so on.

      So what matters is that LW has worked in new job for almost a year and people are happy with her work. Everything before is as unimportant as LW’s high school grades years ago.

  19. Pumpkin*

    Re #5: Since reading AAM, I feel empowered to very vague about all medical appointments, even ones that wouldn’t have any possible stigma about them, or even might seem positive since they show I’m keeping up with preventive care. I do it to set an example for others and also train people not to expect medical details from me.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      In my experience, doctors and hospitals are like this. I had my thyroid removed and the hospital assured me that all they would write for my employer was that I had been treated in the hospital and needed a minimum of two weeks off; they would not say what had been done. Now, having a thyroid removed is not something that has any particular stigma but I guess if they gave information on that and not on things like colonoscopies or vasectomies or IVF, then when they didn’t specify, it would be obvious there was a reason and could lead to speculation.

      1. The Original K.*

        I had my surgeon write me a note and that’s all it said – “she’s having surgery and will need x amount of time for recovery.”

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I had six weeks off when I had a hysterectomy, but I don’t remember whether they said why or just that I needed six weeks. I was pretty open about it, because it was a pretty good workplace at the time. (After several reorgs it wasn’t so great, but that was three years later.)

      3. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

        Same here, I had colorectal surgery and chose not to share the details with my office. The surgeon’s note didn’t say what kind of surgery it was. Though I suppose you could have googled his name and see what he specializes in. I think only HR saw the note though.

        My bosses and colleagues were great and were able to ask me how I’m doing without making me feel like I have to describe any actual details. Even when I brought a pillow to work and took it into the lunch room every day. One younger colleague asked what surgery it was and I gently told them that I’m choosing to keep the info private. I think it was a good lesson for them and they didn’t press any further.

  20. Green great dragon*

    I’m pretty certain that someone who’s worked with you for over a year has completely forgotten how you performed at interview, knows how well you’re working for them now, and if anyone asked would be very happy to accept those people who came across slightly better via CV/interview might have turned out much worse once in the job. Interviews can only tell you a limited amount.

  21. Drink the Tea*

    #3 I’ve been on interview panels where we would have hired everyone in a heartbeat, and have spent hours arguing over which amazing candidate might be the most amazing.

    At the other end of the scale, I was once last choice for a 6 month contract – ended up leaving 11 years later! Interviews can be a lottery, but the real proof is performance. Enjoy your new job :)

  22. Caroline+Bowman*

    OP3 / you have been through a lot in the last couple of years, and it seems as if you have coped incredibly well, with great resilience and are enjoying this new life that you likely didn’t visualise or ask for. It is entirely possible that you are still somewhat raw inside in a general way, waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were, and this just feels like another kick of sorts.

    It’s really not. Alison was so right. This out-of-context paperwork from a while back says nothing about how valued you are as an employee and how much they love having you working there. It might be that *at the time you applied* there had been a run of people either not accepting the role or being unsuitable a week in or whatever, and it may even be that on paper, you didn’t tick every single box for their visualised ideal candidate, but that’s irrelevant because you were and are in fact their ideal employee!

    OP4/ Your band sounds awesome! You might consider, rather than deliberately inviting people, maybe putting a poster up in a break room, so that the dates / location is there for anyone who would be interested and you need not mention it at all unless asked directly.

  23. Allonge*

    LW3 – so, we have a fairly formal hiring system – what happens after the calls and interviews and tests and whatnot are over is we come up with a list of names out of all the applicants who can do the job. This is sometimes a long list and sometimes not that long but everyone who is on it can do the job and is someone we would be happy with.

    So coming from this perspective, the ‘who is called first’ is of course still totally a factor – if that person accepts, we don’t hire the second one – but it says pretty much nothing about the suitability of the second, third, etc. people called.

    I know this is not how it works for everywhere, but please please internalise that the concept is the same, and especially after a year of things going well, it really does not matter if there were others who got this job offered to them before you did. Yes, it’s flattering to be the ‘top’ candidate! But after the fact, it’s not a competition, and does not say anything about you as a person.

        1. Despachito*

          This seems pretty violent, do you really recommend this?

          I think the only viable response is to refuse to be driven by the texter,

  24. JSPA*

    #2: “You may not even be aware of it, or think you’re just peeking, but you text and drive. It’s as unsafe as driving drunk. I would be glad to drive with you if you hand over your phone to me, or lock it in the glovebox. If not, you can be on your phone, and I can drive. Take your pick.”

  25. I should really pick a name*

    Your coworker is putting your life at risk.
    This isn’t a case where you wait for the right moment, or find the perfect wording, or give him one more chance.
    Do NOT get in a car with him driving if he doesn’t agree to put his phone away. It doesn’t matter if he insists, he can’t make you do it.

    I was in a car with a terrible, aggressive driver. At the first stop we made, I got out and moved to another car. I didn’t even bother to explain myself. Safety is more importantly than politeness.

  26. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP5: If I had to have my uterine operation (it’s gone now! Finally!) again I’d go with Alison’s wording of ‘just minor medical thing’ or ‘routine surgery’ rather than what I did which was tell people why I was needing recovery time. There’s a lot of people with some ideas about reproductive organs and choices thereof and boy did they let me know them.

    Also, speaking as a manager all I’d want to know is: how long you going to be off for, will there be any short term changes to your role while you heal and is there any way we can help you recover?

    Anything else isn’t my business.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I had a hist in 2005 (glad to have it gone.) I was open with my job, and didn’t get any flack for it. But that was in a metropolitan area in California.

  27. KatEnigma*

    #3 As someone on a church board who had to hire an Admin in 2021 (and was in the same position in another state in 2015 and had to hire an AA) let me assure you that they are beyond grateful to have you!!! People aren’t exactly breaking down the doors to be a church Admin- despite the flexible hours. The pay usually is low (In 2021, I was, at least, in a position to push for market rate, and had support to get it raised when we had ZERO candidates) So file away those minutes or wherever you saw this noted, and just do the job. Unless you turn out to have serious memory issues (2015 hire) or end up being an alcoholic who calls members after hours while DRUNK (2021 hire- she never appeared to be drinking during her work hours, but called me and several others from home at night several times while CLEARLY impaired- true stories) they won’t regret hiring you.

    1. Starlike*

      I was looking to see if anyone else had experience specifically from the church side – in my experience as a church admin, hiring for these is VERY fraught. There’s a better than even chance that the other candidates were church members who a) applied and were entirely unsuitable for the job so the hiring committee was stalling until someone suitable came along, or b) asked to apply because someone thought they needed a job but turned it down. I think every time a position came open on our staff, the first discussion would be of which church members in need of a job might fit the role, and the second was of how to gently turn down the member applicants who wouldn’t be able to actually do it.

      1. KatEnigma*

        In 2021, we had lonnng discussions about whether or not we’d hire a church member. I’m firmly in the “NO” category unless it’s someone extraordinarily discreet. Other people seem to think I’m paranoid. But I was sick of hearing gossip that originated from the retiring Admin that should have been kept confidential! From pregnancies that weren’t announced to information that a friend’s spouse was transitioning and had moved out, her new address, and the details of their custody agreement!!!! We had a gap of about 6 weeks because once we got the gossip to agree to “retire,” we were getting her out the door and politely declined her offer to “stay until we found a replacement.” And then we had to accept a little help from volunteers and had to be careful about it, but it was generally agreed that our preference was not a church member.

        Now, the (new at the time) pastor of my hometown church after I moved away took it to another extreme, and informed the Admins there that they weren’t allowed to ever attend a service or talk to members except for church business- and these were people who had worked at the church for two decades and had relationships with people, but had always maintained strict confidentiality!

        When it was apparent the 2021 hire had a substance problem, a fellow board member lamented that church staffing usually does end up being an outreach program. Except for asking her to stop calling people after her work hours, I didn’t care about her problem, since she always made it in to work on time and remained sober for the 5 hours a day she was there, and took care of her tasks- in fact, went above and beyond. It wasn’t my business at all, until she made it my business by calling me one evening, alerting me to the issue.

  28. Llama Llama*

    The hiring process is often so arbitrary that being the third choice doesn’t really mean much. If you are hired,you are hired. are you doing w good job now? If so, then they made a good hiring decision and were lucky the others didn’t work out.
    Also to note, I have made plenty of hiring decisions where my ‘last’ choice turned out great. I have made plenty of hiring decisions where my first choice turned out not so good

  29. Dinwar*

    #2: Check your company policy. The company I work for is clear that texting while driving (or talking on the phone, even with a hands-free device) is forbidden. The encourage us to lock our phones in the trunks of our cars, in fact (though everyone acknowledges that’s a little too far). Your boss will definitely want to know if someone is egregiously violating a major company policy.

    Plus, as others have said, it’s illegal in most states. And I really can’t think of a situation where “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to ride with you while you commit a crime” is unreasonable.

    #5: I think it depends on the team. The one I work with got a good laugh out of telling horror stories of vasectomies gone wrong when I went to get mine. (To be clear, I joined in the fun.) Other teams I’ve worked with dislike ANY talk of medical stuff–I’d have just said “I have a medical procedure scheduled and will need a day or two to recover” and left it at that.

    That said, I think an argument can be made that we should normalize discussion of men’s health issues as well.

    First, it’s responsible to take charge of your birth control, and a lot more men than you think have had one. The idea that men should be embarrassed to take an active role in birth control is simply wrong. The more we treat vasectomies as taboo, the fewer men will be willing to get one and the more we re-enforce the idea that birth control is the woman’s job.

    Second, we as a society are really, really bad about teaching sexual/reproductive health, and we should fix that. I learned this when I developed a spermatocele–a rather large lump on my testicle caused by one of the ducts malfunctioning and a tube blowing up like a balloon. The only lump I’d ever heard of was cancer, so you can imagine my concern (read: panic). Turns out there are a bunch of things that can cause lumps, most of which (like this one) are benign. And these aren’t rare–something like 1 in 3 men will develop one of these issues in their lifetimes. We could save a lot of men a lot of mental anguish if we told them these basic facts about their bodies.

    I’m not saying you have an obligation to work towards this change. It’s just something worth thinking about.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      While I agree with your points in the general sense, I think in the context of work, there’s a lot of benefit to normalizing providing less information for time off in general, and medical time off in particular.

      The less information that is provided, the less opportunity people have to judge how much time you need off, or whether or not your time off is justified (and we’ve seen letters from people who do that). Additionally, if you have a habit of providing minimal information, then no one is suspicious when you take time off for a job interview and don’t say what you’re doing with your time off.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Right, there’s a distinction between “we as a society should normalize” and “you as an individual should share in a professional setting”. Because the terms are different, the stakes are different, and that can get muddy under the best of circumstances.

        In social settings, I’m all for putting everything on the table. No boundaries, as long as everyone is comfortable, and talking about things that are either taboo or under-represented can have great value. I talk about my disability and my mental health FREELY around other people.

        At work I’m more conservative, and I would advocate for others to tread gently as well. Coworkers aren’t your friends, and information can be held and even weaponized against you in ways you don’t even realize. You already give so much of yourself at work, you’re entitled to privacy, a curated persona, and personal space. Setting boundaries is a great way to send that message and display healthy work habits to others.

    2. Generic+Name*

      Spreading awareness among your friends and family is fine, I suppose, but I would feel weird at best if a male colleague made sure to tell me he was off for a vasectomy, and by the way did I know that men’s health is not discussed enough. Which I really have to wonder at because many medical studies were/are conducted on men only with zero women in the study group.

      1. Dinwar*

        I had assumed it was a given that the person would use a certain amount of decorum in their statement. I’m not saying he should go around playing the Family Guy vasectomy song. I’m just saying that I think it’s weird that we feel weird discussing a routine medical procedure, one made all the more important due to recent politically-motivated court decisions.

        I also find the idea that men’s reproductive health is adequately discussed because only men are involved in the studies…strange. It’s irrelevant that only men are involved as case studies. The relevant part is that most men don’t understand how their bodies work and the potential ways it can malfunction. Medical studies are one thing, but as long as we consider the topic taboo the general population is not going to get this information. There is a body count associated with that lack of information, as well as a fair amount of mental anguish. And obviously I’m not saying anyone should be aggressive about informing people about these issues; preaching is annoying and unacceptable at work. There are other avenues one can take.

        And to be clear, I’m not saying anyone is obliged to be an advocate for men’s reproductive health. I’m just saying that the viewpoint deserves some consideration.

        Obviously I’m going to be in the minority here. But I feel this is something worth at least thinking about.

        1. doreen*

          I’m not sure you can assume that that’s a given. About 25 years ago, before the “little blue pill” existed, I got to hear all about my co-workers surgery and recovery. He had a pump installed. I neither needed nor wanted to know any of the details beyond that he would be out for a few weeks for medical reasons and I doubt our male co-workers were interested either. Normalizing discussion of men’s health and reproductive health is fine – assuming you do it in a setting where you can be sure that people who don’t want to have this conversation are comfortable shutting it down and I think work is often not going to be that setting. Thinking back to my situation 25 years ago, it’s entirely possible that no one wanted to hear about it, but for various reasons no one felt comfortable telling him so.

    3. Junior Dev*

      Individual people who aren’t celebrities should feel no obligation to “normalize” discussions of personal topics, and frankly we shouldn’t be normalizing sharing these things in a work context. I have seen people mistake oversharing for activism at work far too many times. I worked somewhere that had a mental health awareness group that held presentations about people’s experiences—and I heard people describe things like manic episodes and intrusive thoughts, which as a person who’s had my share of mental health issues upsets me quite a bit. I don’t want to normalize discussion of such vulnerable things at work, and I resent the implication that people like me are somehow contributing to discrimination against ourselves if we don’t tell our work colleagues about traumatic or sensitive medical issues.

    4. A rando*

      I talk about my vascectomy with friends all the time. I am very open about it. (I also decided to take a cannabis edible instead of the prescribed Valium, which was a major mistake but makes a great story). The whole reason I got one was to spare my wife having to take hormones for the next 15 years – it seemed like me being uncomfortable for a few days was worth her not being on birth control ever again.

      I told my work I was having a medical procedure, and when I needed more time heal, I was vague. They don’t need to know my business.

  30. ABCYaBye*

    LW2 – It is very likely that texting and driving is illegal where you are. I’d take a hard stance with your coworker and as Alison said, definitely loop in your boss. Something like, “I’m going to mention something to (coworker) about this, too, but wanted to give you a heads up that I’m not at all comfortable riding with (coworker) because they’re regularly texting while driving. I’ve offered to drive and they’ve declined. It isn’t something I will continue, so just wanted to give you a heads up because I’ll be driving separately to appointments from here forward.”

    You’re not going to the boss to complain or to report… you’re going to talk to them to let them know that if your coworker doesn’t stop, they’re going to see that multiple vehicles are going the same place. But it does serve as a report, so that’s good too.

    I’m curious about whether this is a company vehicle or not. Not that it matters with regard to whether or not it is safe, but it does lead to a question about the company’s insurance on company vehicles. Should there be an accident because that person was texting while driving, it could lead to challenges with how an accident is covered by the insurance. That’s the kind of thing that could expose the company to larger issues.

    1. MeepMeep123*

      I like this one. It sets out a very hard boundary (I will NOT get into the car with this person driving), does not apologize for it or couch it as a “personal quirk”, and has a very good reason for looping in the boss – two cars going to the same place.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yeah I really don’t understand why it should be framed as a personal quirk when OP’s life is actually in danger. Wanting to survive is pretty common across the entire human race

  31. Lacey*

    OP#3 You might have been the last choice, but Alison is 100% correct that, that’s fine.

    I know that my company made offers to 2 people before. I was their last good option and that made them particularly glad to have me. No one has ever acted like I was a last resort or been anything other than pleased with my work.

    And I’ve been on the other side – sometime’s people’s first choices are actually awful fits. So if you’re a good fit, no one is ever thinking, “If only we’d got so & so” they’re only thinking, “This worked out for the best”

  32. Project Problem Solver*

    LW 1, please please tell her it’s okay if she skips it or needs to come late/leave early/whatever it is. And then let her do that, I have a phobia of very nearly that level and I want to tell you that staying in the room with something like you described would either use everything I had for willpower for a good solid couple of days, or risk my looking traumatized the entire time I was working. Even if she comes, she’s probably not going to be very productive. Give her a graceful out.

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      Exactly- Hanna is very likely not going to be able to help with the event, whether she tries to be present or not. If she does try to be present, it may actually detract from other adults’ ability to assist with the event, if there is a need for someone to support her.

  33. CharlieBrown*

    I feel for Hanna, I really do. I have a fear of heights, and my solution is to avoid them. But you can’t avoid spiders! (Or birds for that matter. Remember that letter?)

    That said, if the phobia is causing Hanna to lose pay or time with her kids, then it is on her to deal with it. I hope that it does not cause her to experience a lot of either of these things. (I can’t imagine that it would, but everybody’s experience is different.)

    If the LW could find some extra work for her at some point to help make up for the lost pay, this would be a real kindness, but not a requirement.

  34. Madeleine Matilda*

    LW3 – First, thank you for working as a church admin. I know what a demanding job it can be. If coincidentally you are the admin my medium sized church hired about a year ago, you are fantastic! There could be many reasons why there were other strong candidates and why you were the one offered the job. What really matters is how well you are doing the job, not whether you were the first choice for it. If you are feeling uncertainty about how well you are doing in your role, you could ask to meet with your supervisor to discuss your performance.

    When I was hired for my first job working in the Federal government, I had someone tell me at an event that I only was offered the job because he had turned it down. This was true. My boss overheard his snarky comment and explained to me that due to the Federal government hiring rules at the time, they were forced to offer it to him, but I was their first choice. Had I only had the initial conversation or had I only read the hiring file, I might still think I was not the preferred candidate for the job that launched my career.

  35. 1-800-BrownCow*

    LW #3: Don’t think of it as you were the “last choice”. Honestly, they may have approached others because they really needed to fill the roll and felt those people would be sufficient, but then were likely thrilled someone like you came along and are perfect in the position. The last person I hired on my team was not my initial choice. The person I wanted to hire ended up accepting a position elsewhere. Then later another person submitted a resume. Interviewing was during Covid, so all via phone calls and video conferencing, so it was hard to get a good read on him. But we hired him and I couldn’t be happier. He’s been an amazing asset to the team and company and I feel it was fate that my original pick didn’t take the role, as my “last choice” was the best choice.

    LW 5: I just tell my team and colleagues that I’ll be out for an appointment or a small medical procedure. No need to give details and if someone asks and I don’t want to share, I’ll just say that it’s something personal I’m having done and there is no need for concern. On the flip side, I work in a male dominant field and have had a few male colleagues share when they’ll be out for a vasectomy and no one bats an eyelash. I feel its a fairly common procedure and most people don’t think twice about it. I don’t mind if someone says they’re getting a root canal or a vasectomy, they’re both medical procedures.

  36. Eldritch Office Worker*

    #3 – I do a lot of hiring, and often choices aren’t even ranked as “person we liked best” in the order that jobs are offered. A lot of times there’s a pool of finalist and a LOT of discussion/quibbling/uncertainty over who to offer the one slot too because there are a number of qualified candidates who would do great.

    With the order jobs are actually offered – it’s not completely arbitrary but very often it’s not a case of being disappointed the first person said no and now we’re stuck with number two or three or five it’s “thank god there are so many qualified people we can choose from because we know there are no guarantees and we’d be lucky to have any of these folks”.

    Don’t overthink it. You got the job, you’re good at the job, chances are no one even remembers the nitty gritty of hiring they are just happy to have you now.

  37. A Pound of Obscure*

    #3. My small gov’t agency has struggled with this constantly over the past 18 months, and I’m sure your employer has, too. In the past, we’d get several qualified candidates for any posting; now, if we get one resume that appears to be “acceptable,” we’re thrilled. That candidate doesn’t always interview well, but conversely, sometimes we’ll take a risk on a marginal or even a weak resume to see if their in-person interview reveals more. And sometimes it does. Recently, we were gobsmacked to receive a fantastic resume for an entry-level admin position. The candidate had recently moved to our area, and probably had applied to dozens of places. We knew this was a risk and, sure enough, only two weeks after starting with us (and wowing us), she received an offer from a company she had applied with prior to accepting our position. They offered twice what we paid, and she did the right thing by accepting it. Having her in that role was almost too good to be true. We re-posted her position and received only two barely acceptable resumes. The candidate with the weaker resume and gaps in their work history did vastly better in the in-person interview and received far better praise from references, so we offered that person the job. We aren’t sitting around crying about the first candidate who left us so quickly; we are actually happy for her. Now we’re looking forward to the new candidate starting. Each situation is different and employers simply deal with it and move forward. You’re probably doing awesome and your employer is super happy to have you!

  38. RagingADHD*

    LW#3, the person who gets hired for a job is *always* the last choice, for the same reason that when you misplace your keys, they are always in the last place you look.

    Because when you find them, you stop looking.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      This. The “last choice” is the person who takes the job.

      When you have multiple candidates, some who are offered the post first won’t take it. If they interviewed ten people, and four made the cut to be offered the job, who knows how they decided what order they made offers in. It could have been draw straws. Don’t sweat it.

  39. SueNer*

    #1 I have a similarly serious phobia of something different, and if the object of my phobia were on prominent display, I’d want to skip the thing for sure no matter how much pay I’d be skipping out on and no matter what kind of bind it’d put people in.

    Panic attacks and/or fainting in front of everyone and bad dreams for weeks aren’t worth it (or very helpful to event organizers) and those are often the side effects of extremely severe phobias. I know people don’t really get it who are just mildly afraid/freaked out but it’s a very serious and really embarrassing thing.

    If you can use language other than “spider” too that would probably help. “Because of the web/thing you’re afraid of/bug I wanted to ask if you’d prefer to stay home from the halloween event” is kinder since you now know even the word freaks her out.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Excellent advice. I would even say “because of the decorations” or “the theme of the project the kids made”. The word spider/bug/web doesn’t need to come up at all.

  40. Just Another Zebra*

    I realize I’m approaching letter 1 from the other side of the aisle (I have two eight-legged pets who I “rent” out for Halloween parties and love them dearly), but I think Hanna needs to manage her own phobia. If the kids in this program have been working on this giant spider display for weeks as OP says, how was Hanna unaware for so long? I mean, her own children are part of this program and they didn’t say anything to her? Assuming this program is for elementary-aged children, it’s important to keep things tame enough for them. Spiders tend to be safe for kids Halloween parties, because they aren’t bloody/ gory, and are often cartoonized and made to look cute.

    I agree with Alison’s advice to speak with Hanna and give her the option to sit out the party. Maybe she can make up her hours with things like table set up, or doing clean up after the fact. But I really am wondering why Hanna never spoke up herself, even before the party planning was underway. Spiders for Halloween are pretty common! Even a quick word to OP – “hey, I really, REALLY don’t like eight-legged bugs. Can we keep them to a minimum for the party please?” would have gone a long way.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Her kids might not have said anything because they knew she’d be uncomfortable, and this spider is specifically described as malevolent-looking (kids can be pretty gruesome).

      The fact that she calmly leaves and calmly returns when these incidents happen tells me Hanna is managing her own phobia just fine. She excuses herself, composes herself, and returns when she’s calm. She’s not putting undue pressure on anyone else to handle this for her, and so far she hasn’t asked to be excused from the event – the OP wants to do that proactively. Neither Hanna nor OP are doing anything wrong here, it’s just an unfortunate confluence of circumstances.

      1. Worldwalker*

        The one critical thing that keeps coming up:

        People are suggesting this approach and that accommodation — but the OP *hasn’t asked Hanna*.

        What does *Hanna* want to do? Stay home? Tough it out? Trade shifts with someone?

        And the OP has to remember that yes, they need all hands on deck — but what if Hanna came down with the flu the day before the party? She’s in bed with a bowl of chicken soup and a trashy novel, and you’re short a person anyway. What would you do then? Do that.

  41. Pocket Mouse*

    #5 – I had a similarly sensitive surgery and was out for a couple days to recover. Even with the awkward timing of it being shortly after a week off, my approach was that the only person who needed to know it was for a medical reason at all was the person who could see I was submitting the time as sick leave on my timesheet. For colleagues, I planned to say I was “just taking care of some things I wasn’t able to get to over the holidays” (which was true). I let my manager know after the fact they’d see sick leave instead of vacation, because the time off was for a small, non-worrisome medical procedure, and that I didn’t want to get into the details of it at work. I was able to redact the documentation I submitted somewhat so that the clinic name didn’t give any hints- which it really, really would have otherwise.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Oh I’ve never gone as far as redacting information that’s really interesting. Did you do it yourself or did your doctor do it? Did it raise any eyebrows?

      To be clear I love it and I’m not judging I just haven’t encountered doing that and I’m curious.

      1. Pocket Mouse*

        I did it myself- my supervisor actually offered redaction as a possibility, but I had already done it. Only my supervisor was ever going to see the documentation anyway. The doctor’s name/signature was still visible, I just had to trust they wouldn’t google it.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          That’s a really good way to handle it good on your supervisor. My current job doesn’t require documentation very often but I’m going to keep this in my back pocket if I encounter it – for any medical information really not just sensitive procedures. It’s no one’s business if Joe had a hernia or Maggie got her appendix out, just that a doctor said to stay home.

          1. Kyrielle*

            I have, for one of my kids, had a clinic relay info to their pediatrician and have the generalized note come from the pediatrician. I’m guessing you could do something similar with a primary care provider for an adult, though maybe not in all cases.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        On another side – we have an onsite health clinic (not staffed by nurses, it’s meant for first aid and keeping relevant documentation), and all offwork notices – work related and not – we redact all information when supervisors need info, i.e., when we send out a notice that So and So submitted a dr’s note, they will be out until Tuesday; or if So and So now has restrictions of XYZ, etc.

        We generally restrict doctor name, department, anything but clinic or hospital name unless it could be narrowed down what was done (think something like City Clinic vs Metro Women’s Health Clinic).

        This is standard for all similar staff across all facilities in the US for my company. The only people that are able to view a nonredacted copy would be the Health staff and HR, as needed.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        A lot of places require documentation for more than x consecutive days of sick leave

        1. Pocket Mouse*

          Yep, this. And, for my employer at the time, in certain other cases as well, like if you’ve taken “too many” sick days in a give period without submitting documentation, they’ll require documentation every time you take sick leave for a while. I didn’t want to reach that point—sounded like a huge pain—so chose to submit it proactively.

        2. doreen*

          And sometimes it’s to clear you to return to work as much as to document the illness – if my documentation ( which never had more detail than “is under my care and can return to work on ___”) said I could return to work on October 11, no one was letting me work on October 10.

  42. Wexler McGill*

    I agree with Alison’s advice for #1. I know it’s been said, but I’ll add some more support for the fact that there are many levels of phobia, and I’m not surprised this didn’t register as a potential problem earlier.

    I’d say I have a spider phobia because I find it very, very difficult to deal with actual spiders in person. I had an embarrassing workplace situation once when a spider built a little web on the corner of my desktop monitor overnight and curled up there for the day (???). I kept working, but couldn’t bring myself to touch the spider, so I eventually asked for help from admin services and got a two-man vacuum team sent to my cube. Not my finest hour.

    Anyway, despite all that, I don’t mind images of spiders and would be fine with this project. Individual reactions are hard to predict.

    1. 40 Years In the Hole*

      I don’t mind spiders…and don’t mind disposing of them either if they’re inside. They just…are.
      Guessing Hanna will never visit our lovely National Art Gallery; it’s fronted by a 20’ high metal spider sculpture. You have to walk under her to enter the gallery. Letters to the editor were…polarized. And the ginormous mechano-driven spider that “invaded” our city a few years ago. That would have done in any one with arachnophobia.

  43. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#3 — Please, please don’t invalidate yourself this way. The last 2-3 years have been hard on you. Please don’t make your life harder by undermining your own sense of worth.

    And as upstream commenters have pointed out, it’s totally unnecessary. I did hiring for decades. Getting a good pool of applicants is tough. With luck, you’ll get a pool that includes several people you’d be glad to hire. If a couple of them drop out, or take other positions, you still have viable candidates to choose among.

    I’ve never tried to hire for a church position, but based on what KatEnigma and Starlike said earlier, it’s not easy to get someone who is both professionally competent and fits in with the culture. Your managers and colleagues are undoubtedly thrilled to have you! So either file those notes or shred them (I’m not sure there’s a point in keeping them) and keep doing an outstanding job in your role.

  44. UKgreen*

    OP5: I’m in the UK, and have long since stopped asking permission to be out sick or explaining why I’m out. The last twice I’ve been off were a) one short bout of something involving lots of snot and coughing (‘I’m not feeling well and will be taking a couple of days off’) and b) one planned piece of surgical maintenance in the lady garden (‘I’m having a small routine surgery and I’ll be out from date to date’.) That’s it – further information is private.

    (Our online Employee Management System asks for a ‘reason’ for being off sick, and I’ve not been pulled up for writing ‘unwell’ or ‘surgery’, although I’m aware that some people give all the gory details of their Covid / norovirus / cataplexy, but I’m not sure anyone every actually reads or reports on it.)

  45. Tobias Funke*

    I (a self employed person who sucks at power dynamics and reading office politics and hierarchies) have a question about the texting while driving – frequently, folks are advised to not bring fairly important things up or tread lightly with them because they “don’t have standing” to question higher ups. What makes this one different? Is there any time it would not be appropriate to bring it up? For example, if I am an intern riding with the CEO and they are texting, would it be appropriate to bring up/refuse to get in the car? Like, in OP2’s letter, their texting colleague is higher up than they are but in a different department. Would the advice have been different if the person was directly over OP in the same reporting structure?

    I guess what I am asking is, is there a level of power differential where you just have to accept being in a firey wreck and dying so that someone important doesn’t get their feelings hurt? Or does safety trump hierarchy at all times? And then, whose definition of safety? Because there are definitely folks who think they drive better when they’re drunk, think that voice texting makes it okay, are “just doing a quick video call”, etc. This is something I have been curious about as I contemplate working for others again.

    1. Tricksie*

      In a former job that I’d just recently started, my boss was driving 90 mph in curvy mountains and took out a yogurt to eat with a spoon while he was driving. (Yogurt in one hand, spoon in the other, wheel held by a few unoccupied fingers.) I told him I wasn’t comfortable with him eating a yogurt while he drove and I told him he was driving too fast. He waited until a rest stop to eat the yogurt. Every time his speed crept up again, I told him he was driving too fast again. I had to tell him a LOT of times. He was kind of frustrated with me, but I didn’t care. My life counts a hell of a lot more than anything related to work.

  46. LHOI*

    LW3, we hired the “second choice” for a position last year after the “first choice” fell apart in negotiation, and frequently my boss and I will say to one another, “Can you believe we almost didn’t get Persephone?” She’s incredible and I have never for one second wished it had turned out differently.

  47. Shoney Honey*

    Re: LW3, I recently hired for a role where my first choice, who was a great fit for the role in so many ways, accepted the offer and completed her first day on the job. The following morning I received an email from her that said that she couldn’t work for our company because she disagreed with most of the content in our diversity training module. We ended up going through out list and offering the job to two other people that turned it down before offering it to the person that finally accepted… and she is AMAZING. She is beyond perfect for the role. We are thrilled with her work and so grateful that things worked out the way they did because she is phenomenal. So, just because you weren’t the first choice, doesn’t mean you weren’t/aren’t the best choice!

  48. C-Dub*

    #1 – Happy Halloween! But on a serious note, arachnophobia is very real. I used to suffer from it as a child so I know how Hanna feels. I agree with Alison, ask Hanna if she would like to skip the party. Since that large spider would affect how Hanna works.

    #5 – No need to go into details. Your medical records are your business and nobody else’s. If there is a coworker that just has to know because there is concern, just mention that it was nothing serious and that you are perfectly fine.

  49. EvilQueenRegina*

    My ex-boss once announced in the middle of the office, following a round of interviews, that for both the posts that were interviewed for that day, she’d gone with the candidate who’d been ranked lowest based on their application. She also announced that the way she tended to structure interview schedules was to start the day with whoever scored lowest, working her way up to the highest (her logic was that the lowest scoring candidates would have to work hardest to impress her so she’d rather see them when she was freshest) – meaning there were a few other people who then ended up figuring out they’d been the lowest.

    In the end, it didn’t matter, because all those people were great at their jobs.

  50. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

    Since I’ve seen several comments wondering about the specifics, I did some research, and I learned this:

    “As of 2022, texting and driving is illegal in 48 states and the District of Columbia. In 41 of these states, texting and driving is a primary offense.” (Primary offense means you can be pulled over and cited for just texting while driving, even if you aren’t doing anything else wrong.)

    (Specific text pulled from here: https://www.policygenius.com/auto-insurance/texting-and-driving-laws-in-all-50-states/ but several pages I checked said the same.)

  51. MWF*

    For LW #1: If you’re asking the employee to stay home, you’re also asking them to forgo pay for reasons beyond their control. I would really encourage rather than insisting they take off (and therefor lose pay because they can’t participate in the work activity) that either another shift is offered, there’s some work they can do WFH, or just pay them for the shift. This would help create a perception of a more welcoming/supportive employer in this situation rather than ‘your problem, you lose’ which could cause animosity down the road.

    1. Hydrangea*

      That works out to deflecting responsibility by making staying home their idea. Instead of creating a perception of a supportive employer, why be an actual supportive employer and instead of telling Hanna how you would like her to handle the day, asking Hanna how she would like to handle the day?

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Or both: Ask Hanna how she’d like to handle the day, and include that because you understand it would be a pay hit, you’ve got some ideas on how to pick up hours at other times. OP probably doesn’t have the option to just pay for time off tho.

      2. MicroManagered*

        It’s not deflecting responsibility at all! Lots of people feel supported and valued when they have a say in what happens to them even if that’s really just guiding them through the options to find the only possible conclusion themselves.

        Look, it’s a fact that Hanna can’t be around the spider imagery. It’s also a fact that they’re not canceling the event or getting rid of the kids’ big art project. So what does Hanna want to do, given those two facts?

        Does she have any ideas that maybe nobody thought of? I am making this up, of course, but would moving a potted plant or coat rack be enough to keep it out of her eyeline? Is she working on exposure therapy and seeing it a few times beforehand might actually help?

        Hanna for sure knows what she needs better than we do, so asking her is not deflecting — it actually *is* supportive.

        1. Hydrangea*

          Glad you agree with me that the employer should actually be supportive by asking Hanna what she wants!

  52. Leave a Message at the Beep*

    #5- We found out- via his wife- that one of the managers was getting a vasectomy. The office chipped in and got him a fabulous gift basket of mixed nuts and other nut related items.

  53. Goldenrod*

    OP #1 – Weird as it is, I agree with Alison that you have to respect this phobia and give the employee the day off.

    I once shared an office with someone with a spider phobia. One day, I asked her, “What would happen if I had a huge visible spider tattoo?” She said, “That would be a problem.” And she was NOT kidding! The fear is real.

  54. MeepMeep123*

    For the texting while driving thing, would a video recording of the person texting while driving get the police more interested? People should not be on the road in this condition. If the OP stays out of the person’s car, that only saves OP’s life – not the life of anyone else unlucky enough to get into an accident with this person.

  55. Jules the 3rd*

    With Hanna / OP 1:
    Definitely give her the option to not attend and look for other hands. Consider whether there’s some prep work you could hand off to her before, to help offset her loss of pay. Maybe she could pick up (non-s* decorated) baked goods, or write / print / distribute (non-s* decorated) announcements? Since her kids are going to be there, would their dad be interested in volunteering?

  56. Mailer Daemon Targaryen*

    I feel like I’ve seen a ton of variations on #5 and the answer essentially is the same every time: say you’ll be out for a medical procedure, that it’s nothing to worry about if someone expresses concern, and decline to elaborate further if asked. I’m not sure how much more this question needs to be rehashed.

    I will say specifically to LW5, you should use this as an opportunity to be even less specific than you already are with this kind of stuff in the future. Just say you have a dentist appointment and will be away from 2-4 PM today, or that you aren’t feeling well and will be taking the rest of the day off. No other information is necessary.

  57. Rosa*

    regarding #3: I was just involved with hiring for a role. we only had one applicant who met the minimum requirements. he was great in the interview and we were thrilled to offer him the position. don’t read into it too much.

  58. CLC*

    On the last one, I have found it convenient to describe things as “I have a small outpatient procedure.” I feel like that conveys that you might be out for a day or two and it’s enough information that people don’t feel the need to ask follow up questions.

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