my boss asked me to do her kid’s homework, written up for spitting, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. My boss asked me to do her kid’s homework

I’m a receptionist, and although I have a cordial relationship with my supervisor, it’s pretty strictly professional. The other day, she came to me at reception during working hours and basically asked if I would do part of her sons’s homework assignment for him. I think it’s because she knows I have a design background and the part of his project she was asking me to do was to create a logo. While she was technically asking me, her approach was the same as when she asks if I have enough downtime to take on admin tasks for the office, and although it was not explicit, I felt pressure to accept it like a work assignment.

I declined as politely as I could (mostly because I don’t think it’s right to do a child’s homework for them), using an admin task as a cover excuse. She did let it drop, but am I wrong to feel it was inappropriate of her to ask, homework ethics aside?

What! No, you are not wrong — that’s entirely inappropriate on multiple levels. She was asking you to do something that wasn’t work-related when there’s a power dynamic that she should have known would make you feel awkward about saying no, and the particular thing she was asking you to do was in itself inappropriate (her kid’s homework! WTF!). I am not a big believer in shame, but really, how does someone ask that with no shame?

You handled it really well — you declined in a way that minimized awkwardness for both of you but allowed you to say no, and while reinforcing that you have actual work to do. Some people might advocate for addressing it more directly, but unless it’s part of a pattern of inappropriate requests from her, I don’t think you need to do that. If it happens again, then yes — but for now, I’d consider it handled.


2. My coworker is being greedy about office supplies and snacks

I am in charge of ordering office supplies and snacks for the office. I feel one employee is asking for too many things. First she asked for some pens, so I got her a set of different colors. A few months later, one ran out of ink so she mentioned it had run out, but I just brushed off her hinting — colorful pens are not essential, she can buy her own or use the standard office stuff. Then she asked for a humidifier “for the office” and when I pointed out it wouldn’t work so well for our open plan office, she then pivoted to “there are desktop models” and I thought to myself that then it wouldn’t really be “for the office.” In this case I told her it probably would not be approved as an expense and did not pursue it further.

Lately she has been asking to order more snacks for the office. I do supply snacks; we are not restricted as to budget but I don’t want to abuse the perk, so I comparison shop and buy occasionally, and I have bought her things she liked in the past. But she has asked three or four times in the last couple weeks for purchases of different snacks. Maybe I am on a high horse, but I don’t want everyone to think that just because there are snacks available, it is a never-ending free-for-all, nor do I want them to think that just because they ask for stuff, that they get it no questions asked. We get plenty of free things — coffees, sodas, snacks, lunches, weekly breakfast, etc.

No other employee asks for so much so constantly. How do I make it clear to her that she is asking for too much, and to stop pestering me to get her stuff that ostensibly is for the whole office, but she really means just for herself? If she wants more snacks than the company offers, or a humidifier or special pens, she can get them herself. I don’t want her to be treating the office account like her personal Amazon. She’s been an intern here for six months and has transitioned into a full-time employee so I expect I will be dealing with her behavior long term.

You sound pretty frustrated with her, but you’ve just been hinting and hoping she’ll pick up on your hints. Before you get more frustrated, you need to tell her directly what you can and can’t do, and what she should and shouldn’t expect. If she asks for special pens, then you say, “We just provide the standard pens in the supply closet, and people provide their own if they want something special.” If she asks for more or different snacks, you can say, “I was happy to buy you some specific snacks a few times as a favor, but typically that’s not something I do — with so many people here, I can’t really take everyone’s individual orders.” And if she asks for something special for her desk like a humidifier, just say, “That’s not something the company provides, but you could of course bring one in yourself if you want to.”

In other words, just be matter-of-fact and explain the situation. I think you’re expecting her to figure it out on her own (and you’re right that most people do), but since she’s not, you can probably solve this by spelling it out for her.


3. Going into business with my boyfriend’s family

I have been with my boyfriend for six years now, and lived with him for five. I’m extremely close with his family, especially because my own family lives across the country, to the point that I’ve been invited to holiday events even when my boyfriend was unable to attend, and generally feel treated the same as him and his siblings.

Recently, his sister has come up with a business idea that springboards off the current brick-and-mortar store that she and her mom (same as boyfriend’s mom) run together. The plan is for it to be much less of a small-business thing, but it will still be a family-run thing as it’s a website and my boyfriend and his brother are web developers, I have some particularly helpful experience, and their father has run a larger business.

They are super enthusiastic about the skills I can bring to the business and naturally have already slotted out a place for me. I’m really enthusiastic about helping them and being part of the business (however inadvisable that might seem) but I want to raise the subject of the fact that I’m just attached by girlfriend status, but in a much nicer way.

My boyfriend is not likely going to scoff at my mentioning this sort of thing. We talk about “would one of us be able to handle the rent on our own?” every time we move into a new apartment, and I’m not at all worried that his family would suddenly try to edge me out if my boyfriend and I were to break up. But I’d like to discuss how we’d handle it if we wanted our space from each other after a possible break-up and if we no longer wanted to work together. I’m not sure if I ought to stress that we’re doing well as a couple and I’ve no plans on breaking up, or how to word this properly or even if it’s something I should just leave it alone and think “we’ll deal with it when we get there” due to how long we’ve been together happily.

You should absolutely talk about this and, depending on what’s decided, you might need to get something in writing about it.

When things are good, it’s very easy to think, “Even if we broke up, we’d handle things amicably. We love each other and we’re good people, so we’ll be able to figure it out.” But life can throw curveballs that you can’t predict, and plenty of people who thought they’d have kind, healthy break-ups instead have hostile ones. So it’s pretty important that before you get entwined with this family business, you lay out plans for what you’d do in a worst-case scenario — because as much as you feel like family right now, if things do go south, that can change pretty quickly.

You could say it this way: “I love that y’all make me feel like family, but to protect everyone, I want to recognize that I don’t have the same family ties that you do, legally or otherwise, and figure out how we’d handle things if Percival and I ever weren’t together. Obviously I hope that won’t happen and there’s no reason to fear that it will, but if we’re going to go into business together, I want to make sure we’ve thought through how we’d handle things if that ever changed.”

One potentially clean way to do it would be for you not to be a partner in the business, but instead to provide your services as a contractor. That’s an easier relationship to break off if you ever need to.


4. Offering to take an interviewer on a tour of my current company

I work in a highly technical field — design and installation off large IT infrastructures, like server rooms. I have had an interview with several SVP’s at a new company two weeks ago, but nothing seems to be moving forward.

As the job is all about systems engineering, what about inviting one of the interviewers to my current company for a tour and to show examples of my work? It may sound awkward, but the new company actually is an on-site customer of my current company, so seeing new company people in the our building is completely normal. And there would be absolutely no suspicion from my current management. My goal here is to further impress the new company by showing physical examples of my work. What do you think of this out-of-the-box approach?

No, don’t do it. That’s a misuse of your current company’s trust in you — and the prospective employer is likely to see it that same way.

Two weeks ago seems like a long time when you’re waiting to hear back about a job, but on the employer side, it’s not that long. Give them time to do whatever they’re doing. If they want more information from you, they’ll come back and ask.


5. Can I be written up for spitting?

I work in a small IMO insurance firm as a marketer and graphic designer. Today while outside smoking (I spit when I smoke), my boss came to me and told me that if he ever found me spitting on the walk way again he would write me up. We rent the building we are in and there is nothing in the lease (according to my office manager) about the condition the walk way is left if we should move to a new building. My question is: Can he really write me up for spitting out of habit?

I don’t see why not. That’s disgusting.


{ 265 comments… read them below }

  1. allathian*

    LW5, WTF? I’m really curious if this LW ever learned their lesson. Gross! I’d hate to walk in someone else’s saliva/phlegm.

    1. Artemesia*

      But it wasn’t in the handbook that covering the sidewalk with gross personal slime was forbidden. So no fair.

      1. The Eye of Argon*

        It probably didn’t say anything about picking your nose and wiping boogers on the front door, either. Maybe LW should have tried that after spitting was forbidden.

        1. Nonny-nonny-non*

          Don’t even joke – a guy that used to work at the same company as me would pick his nose and then wipe it on the underside of his chair. Or whichever chair he happened to be sitting in at the time!
          I was considerably more junior than him so didn’t feel I could say anything to him, but you can bet I did my best never to sit anywhere he’d been near.

          1. The Eye of Argon*

            Ewwww ew ew ew ewwwww ew! I should have known there was nothing so gross that someone somewhere wasn’t doing it :(

          2. A-nonny*

            Ugh. I did that when I was like 6. And am now mortified since somewhere around 7 I realized it was disgusting. Wow.

          3. Meep*

            My best friend and I were walking around University a couple of weeks and we were waiting to cross. This guy at the light literally kept digging deep in his nose to find snot to stick in his mouth. I can’t. I really cannot.

            1. whingedrinking*

              I was once on a plane, wearing a tank top, when something hit my arm. I looked down and it was a booger .
              To this day I’m amazed that my only reaction was to loudly say, “OH MY GOD, GROSS”, not to rampage up and down the aisles demanding to know who was responsible.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Just sayin’, it’s not in the lease, so really, why is it his problem? Is he supposed to clean every finger print on the light switch or scuff on the floor when their lease is up? I don’t think so.
        Heck, they aren’t even required to wipe food out of the sink or flush the toilet…according to the lease.
        So yeah, this is a hella garbage pile to die on.

    2. Myrin*

      I clearly don’t spend enough time around smokers because I don’t even know what “I spit when I smoke” means – taking a drag and then spitting instead of simply exhaling the smoke or something?

      1. Mongrel*

        If he’s smoking roll your own then you can get strands of tobacco on your lips. You can just pick them off though.
        Source – It’s what I used to smoke

      2. Doreen*

        I’m guessing it’s something I’ve seen people do -they are outside smoking and they cough, which brings something up that they then spit on the ground. It doesn’t have much to do with smoking directly ( except as the reason for the cough ) . It’s more a matter of the smoking being the reason the person is outside and outside is why they spit rather than handling it however they would if they were indoors.

          1. Dino*

            Woman smoker checking in: we do. We are just less likely to hock a huge loogie and spit it on the cement. I cough a little and spit into the grass or trash can if one is nearby.

            1. GlitterIsEverything*

              I grew up in a family of smokers. My mother, my aunt, and both my grandparents smoked heavily. (My mother usually went through a carton of cigarettes or a little more every week.)

              None of them ever spit while smoking. Even when my grandmother was dying of cancer, and losing control of her bodily functions, she never spit.

              My mother caught her purse on fire while on the phone with a client once (this was back in the day when smoking at your desk was commonplace), and dropped more than a few cigarettes in the car while she was driving. But none of them ever spit.

              This idea that spitting is part of smoking is absolutely incorrect. It’s somehow *become* something some smokers do, but it’s not part of smoking. It’s like baseball players spitting. It’s something some players do, but it’s not part of the game.

              1. Planting*

                You understand you responded to someone who has actual experience as a smoker to tell her that’s not what smokers do because you’ve never seen it. Maybe you never noticed, or maybe YOUR family didn’t have that happen, but I don’t think any one person’s experience is going to be universal. Especially if they’ve only witnessed the thing, not actually done it themselves.

                1. Hills to Die on*

                  She has firsthand experience seeing close personal family members do something multiple times a day consistently for years. Seems to me that it’s pretty relevant to the discussion.

                2. Roland*

                  This is so funny. They’re both anecdotes. “Listening to people’s lived experience” doesn’t mean you have to take one smoker’s word as a universal truth.

                3. smol might*

                  She gave examples of smokers not doing the thing that Dino said ‘we do’. I smoked and never used to spit either. No one said that no smokers spit, we are saying that plenty of smokers don’t spit.

              2. Myrin*

                That’s what puzzled me about the whole thing – my father has been smoking all my life (and started 13 years before that was a thing, too) and I’ve literally never encountered this spitting phenomenon. And now that I know that’s a thing, I’m very glad about it.

              3. Dino*

                I don’t understand why you’re getting grief, you made great points. I also come from a military family and remember my mom (retired AF) teaching me how to spit when I was age 7. She didn’t learn until basic training and thought it was an essential life skill. So I’m sure my background has something to do with my willingness to spit, and should not be taken as a blanket statement. I do try to be polite about it, however!

      3. lilsheba*

        When I smoked I used to see people who spit constantly when they smoked but I never understood why in the HELL you would need to do that. SO NASTY. I hated those kinds of people.

      4. Toomuchsaliva*

        Some people hyper-salivate when smoking. I just spit into the grass or somewhere as my mouth just gets all watery when I smoke.

      5. Ciggy Smalls*

        When you smoke it kind of makes your spit taste bad because of the general cig nastiness. Some people prefer to spit it out rather than swallow it. Most longtime smokers are used to it but whenever I picked the habit back up, I’d spit for about a week. Always outside, of course, and in the grass or dirt if I could help it.

    3. Stitch*

      I have a small kid and during the isolation phase of the pandemic we spent a lot of time in parks (I lived in an apartment at the time). Telling my one year old he can’t touch a dandelion or stuck because someone spat on it wasn’t fun.

      People are gross.

        1. anonymouse*

          Well, they are the same family. Although, what I’ve read about llamas, their addiction is less about smoking and more about what traditionally comes before.

          1. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

            I love this comment, largely because I have no clue what it means. Before smoke? Is it fire? Is there some sort of llama pyromaniacal tendency I should know about?

            1. I am Emily's failing memory*

              As a former smoker, I’m gonna say eating and getting busy are probably the most common activities preceding a cigarette smoke.

            2. George*

              A one L lama is a priest,
              A two L Llama is a beast,
              A three Alarmer is a fire,
              So four and five and even higher.

    4. Dancing Elaine*

      Spitting is absolutely disgusting and illegal in many cities. I’d fire the spitter if he continued.

    5. raincoaster*

      There’s a $175 fine for spitting on the sidewalk in Vancouver. They let it slide for years, but started charging people about ten years ago in Chinatown and it stopped immediately.

      Charles Dickens once described a sidewalk people had been spitting on as looking “as if it were paved with open oysters.” Can you imagine?

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          But I’ll have to get my family some “indoor shoes ” because floor’s cold in winter, and some of us need arch support. (That would be me.)

  2. Lizzianna*

    #2, I’m not sure the coworker is as out of line as OP thinks she is. I’ve worked in several offices where pen preference was taken into account when ordering, so it wouldn’t seem odd to me at all if someone made a special request. Same with the humidifier. We’re allowed to buy things like fans, desk lamps, etc., to make our space more comfortable. I could see the snack thing getting out of hand, but I’m not seeing where her requests are actually causing OP to exceed her budget or create extra work.

    This is all to say that if these requests actually exceed OP’s authority to purchase supplies, Alison’s script is a good one, but it seems like OP needs to take a step back and figure out if these are actually inappropriate requests or if she’s just making decisions based on her opinion and not what the company is actually willing to buy.

    1. Samwise*

      Yes. OP sounds like, Who does this recently-an-intern think she is, asking me for extra special swell stuff! Why, she asked for new special pens when I just bought her some *several months ago*

      Are the items the asker wants completely unreasonable and outside the budget? Has anyone else actually started whinging for expensive stuff? Has it become hard to shop for items, or is the OP just imagining it will? — if it becomes a problem, then address the problem.

      Until then, maybe let go of the petty power trip.

      1. Owls Lang Syne*

        She got fancy pens and personalized snacks the first time she asked for them, but now OP is expecting her to just know that if she asks a second time it’s a no.

    2. Tau*

      My company supplies snacks and drinks and we’ve been asked for snack and soda preferences in the past, with the office manager specifically saying to let her know if there’s something we’d like that’s not around. It’s not as obviously an overreach as OP thinks.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        We recently got a glass door refrigerator that the company supplies with soft drinks (they already did coffee and some teas). When it first arrived, there was a sign up sheet for desired drinks. I haven’t notice whether they are being bought or not (not being a soft drinker consumer).
        GRIN, whenever someone wrote down an alcoholic one, it was scratched out. Don’t know who the joker(s) are.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          My previous company did buy beers for the common fridge and wine for some meetings, but so far as I know individuals provided all the whiskey for “Whiskey Tasting Wednesday”.

          It was an odd place to work.

        2. JustaTech*

          One time a coworker of mine caught the soda-machine refill guy and managed to convince him that what we all really wanted was Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper.
          So half the soda machine was this one soda that only that guy liked.

          And then he quit.

          It took us months to get the soda machine flavors fixed again.

    3. Shakti*

      I worked as an admin in multiple companies that provided snacks and office supplies etc to everyone and personal preferences were literally always taken into account and asked for! It’s a perk so we wanted to get the people the things that would make it feel like a perk and frankly colored pens were never that much more! I don’t understand the attitude in this letter tbh being an admin one of the few nice things I enjoyed was being able to get things for the office that made people happy as most of the time it was asking them to do things they didn’t want to lol

      1. Your Computer Guy*

        This is reminding me of when I started my current job. I’m a left hander who does the terrible try-to-turn-my-hand-upside-down to write, and something about that and the pens at my office lead to me burning through a pen every two days. Our admin was happy to order me different pens so that I didn’t wind up using all the pens within the month.
        Also, the standard pens were clicky and I can’t not click, so it was probably a relief to those around me. Sometimes you have to accede to your weaknesses.

        1. linger*

          I’m also (extremely) left-handed. And in primary school I had several teachers who tried to “correct” my writing hand and my resulting grip — which ignored two crucial facts:
          (i) my dominant hand is absolutely non-negotiable; and
          (ii) left-to-right writing is not a bilaterally symmetrical task, and should not be treated as such. A right-hander pulls the pen across the page; a left-hander pushes the pen, which involves more friction, and is much more tiring if you are forced to use the standard “right-hand” grip.
          Spoiler alert: those teachers failed to change me, and the world did not end.
          Left-handers do have several options available to them:
          (1) Mirror writing (à la Leonardo da Vinci) — actually is energetically equivalent to standard right-handed writing, but is hard to translate for others.
          (2) Upside-down grip, as you mention. I had tried it, but abandoned it as causing too much wrist strain.
          (3) A modified grip, holding the pen(cil) between middle and index fingers, rather than between index finger and thumb. This may look awkward to right-handers (such as my teachers), but it changes the angle of attack by ca. 30 degrees, thereby reducing friction just enough to be feasible while still permitting a standard left-to-right direction across the page. It worked for me.

          1. JSPA*

            I also do #3, never thought about why; thanks for the insight! And strong agreement with the prevailing sentiment here. Non-smearing pens that glide effortlessly are well worth the extra cost for the significant percentage of us who write in non-ergonomically-standardized(-in-the-1950s?) ways. And colored ink isn’t just for funsies. Color coding stuff is a super basic human organizational and graphic strategy. And color blindness is common enough that there’s always the possibility of needing to pivot: “if it’s for Todd, I can’t use red (or green) for emphasis.”

            I’m imagining a designer or engineer being told that their only work option are blue, black and red, when they emphatically also need green, aqua and purple, because other people doing other sorts of work, don’t need those colors.

            1. Just Another Fed*

              Yeah, I find the dismissiveness toward colored pens in the letter and in some of these comments sort of weird. Could I do my job with just a black pen? Sure; I could also do my job on a 12″ monitor. But I wouldn’t be as efficient at it either way. It is easier for me to find things in my notes when I can flag specific subjects in specific colors, and it is easier for me to do layout and design work on my computer when I can see the whole spread at once. Buying me the occasional multi-pack of colored pens and providing me with a 30″ monitor aren’t things my employer does just to be nice; they’re things my employer does because they want me to get shit done. If the problem is that the person in #2 is exceeding the budget, tell her what the budget is so she can decide which office supplies are most important to her workflow (or can petition her boss for an exception). But trust employees to know what tools they need to do their jobs.

            2. Michelle Smith*

              Non smearing, gliding pens are helpful for me too as a right hander. I can’t use those cheapo pens that my office buys because I have De Quervain’s tenosynovitis and the amount of pressure required to make the pen make sufficient marks on the paper is painful.

              Of course, I’ve only worked for nonprofits and government agencies so I’ve always just bought my own pens. But I’m adding another reason why someone might need “special” pens that have nothing to do with entitlement.

            3. Jackalope*

              So could someone tell me some good brands of nonsmearing, gliding pens? I’m always on the lookout for them and don’t know who does the best job with that.

                1. Splendid Colors*

                  Another vote for Pilot G2s.

                  You can usually get packs of rainbow colored G2s at Costco, for your color-coding needs.

                  You can order refills for the G2 in various colors at the usual office supply vendors.

            4. Giant Kitty*

              “Color coding stuff is a super basic human organizational and graphic strategy.”

              Yep! When I worked as a vet tech, we used black, green, and red pens to write down different types of information on our patients charts. We did have one tech who was red/green colorblind, so he differentiated the pen colors with bandage tape so he’d know the difference. Kept a set in his pocket & a few in each treatment area pen cup.

    4. Pudding*

      It sounds like it’s definitely outside their office norms, though, which the LW probably has a firm grasp of.

      The temp who covered my maternity leave years ago was similar. I trained her, and asked her what office supplies she needed. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have asked…I knew what she needed better than she did. But she thought about it and then handed me a great big shopping list – she wanted a set of highlighters, colored gel pens, multiple colors of post its….it was a lot of stuff she didn’t need to do the job. She needed a pen and a notebook. I could have bought her everything on her list, my boss’s eyebrows might have gone up but no one else would have cared. But the list wasn’t the problem, it was a symptom. She was really inexperienced, had way too much creative energy for that boring office job, and she tended to get creative figuring out her own answers and solutions instead of sticking to the basics, using reference materials for answers or asking questions.

      I left her with a binder of process documentation that she never touched – she interrupted my coworkers to ask questions instead. Then rewrote my process documentation and added color (while removing things she didn’t deem important and introducing errors). She also forwarded hospital pics of me and my newborn to all the email contacts I’d left her – many were professional contacts who’d never seen me in person, and the pics were not flattering or hers to share….it is more than a decade later and I’m still mad.

      She lacked a grasp of basic professional norms and she was impulsive and prone to guessing. She needed someone to spend some serious effort teaching her….the assignment at my workplace wasn’t where she was going to get it, but for her sake I hope she got it eventually.

      1. Myrin*

        It sounds like it’s definitely outside their office norms, though, which the LW probably has a firm grasp of.

        Yeah, I feel like that’s the heart of the matter.

        Neither OP’s coworker nor your temp would be seen as in any way unreasonable at my place of work (except for the snacks, but that’s simply because we don’t get snacks provided here; we do get a wide variety of fruit, though, but I’m not sure if you could ask for your favourite fruit to be included); I got everything from colourful sticky notes to an abundance of pens and markers to a cover for my badge made from hard plastic to a magnifying glass to heavy and astonishingly expensive bookends (because I’m the archivist and stuff keeps falling over as soon as I move the shelves which is anything but ideal).

        But that’s no problem because that’s the culture here and the supplies person isn’t shy about telling us if something doesn’t work; likewise, if something seems too out there, I’m perfectly willing to buy it myself.

        But if you’re somewhere where that’s NOT the norm – and that seems to be the case here, given how OP is the one responsible for these purchases and feels that it’s too much – you need to abide by that, no matter how objectively reasonable your request might be. Which is what makes it imminently important for OP to actually do what Alison says and explain out loud, clearly and straightforwardly, what’s okay and what isn’t; I’m personally very sensitive to hints and can understand someone being frustrated about another person not picking up on hints but if it’s clear that she doesn’t, well, you just need to spell things out.

        I agree with others that OP seems somewhat too strict – everything she recalls here happened over a span of several months – but if coworker’s requests are out of sync with the office’s wider culture, then she needs to 1. know and 2. accept that.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          My thought is that ordering supplies is supposed to be a small part of OP 2’s job. And that the OP wants it to continue being a small part of their job, so that it doesn’t turn into “Oh, no, it’s time to order supplies again. Who’s going to want what that’s in the catalogue but never in stock, who’s the one person who will only use #3 pencils….”

          My own perspective is a bit skewed. In my work place some stuff has to be ordered from the storeroom, and what’s in the storeroom is often crap. I’m talking pens that have been there so long that the ink is mostly dried out. Or pencils with leads that fall out of the pencil right after you sharpen it. So if I want stuff I can write with, I end up buying it myself.

      2. Dragon*

        Sometimes it’s sheer lack of practical sense, rather than inexperience.

        I just remembered someone at a long-ago employer, who crashed a company server when she tried to send her wedding photos from her work email to some 100 recipients.

    5. WellRed*

      I dunno. It sounds out loud f the norm for this office, I think a humidifier is a stretch (I brought in my own) and I wonder if the more you accommodate, the more she requests. But OP needs to figure this out.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Ha it’s so confusing and varies from office-to-office. I ended up buying my own mouse and camera because the company laptop doesn’t work and our office admin is cranky. I can’t imagine asking her to buy something special just for me – she’d be dragging it out and making it as hard as possible. Other offices would be happy to get special snacks and pens and would view it as NBD. I think the difference is whether there’s a dedicated budget for supplies or whether someone has to “find” the money.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Back when we were still in office my job would provide pens (picked by the left-handers in the office for the ones that smeared the least) in blue and black ink, legal pads (standard and small), and basic colored sticky notes in two sizes. That was the office culture.

        But we also had a process for accommodating things like left-handed computer mice, ergonomic keyboards, different furniture for medical reasons. The humidifier would have had to go through that process, but given that we were also open floor plan and semi hot-desking would probably have been denied. Anybody who had accommodations given were assigned desks.
        If you wanted colored pens, or a different mouse, or just something “fun” our office culture was you paid for it yourself – but you also kept it when you left (we are a feeder department, lots of people are promoted out within 9 months – those of us that stayed put do so for reasons of our own, but mostly because the schedule of the shift works better with our personal schedules).

      2. Julia*

        Every office job I’ve had has provided them. At minimum cheap Bic ballpoint pens. My current office has pilot gel pens in staff areas and cheap ballpoint pens for places where the public are going to wander off them. They’re needed to do our job.

        I have some complicated pen preferences (thicker barrel and wider point) which I buy out of pocket.

        1. AnonForThis*

          I worked for a billion-dollar company that provided blue and black gel pens branded with the company’s name. The CEO went on a rant during one staff meeting about how we were losing too many of the pens, and that when she went out to dinner she noticed that the waitstaff sometimes had company-branded pens. Furthermore, we should imitate her and only take the pens to use at home if they were broken.

          She considered this rant a valuable use of time at a mandatory all-hands staff meeting.

          1. VeritInMe*

            HAHAHA I know where you work because I ALSO was at that staff meeting. Gotta pick up nickels, amirite?

      3. Also A Teacher*

        Lol I had the same reaction. I spent my entire yearly budget (+$100) on notebooks and pencils the first week of school. Imagine just like coming to work and having the materials you need to do your job…

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          I end up buying pens for my students, never mind for myself. I teach in a school that has a lot of students with learning disabilities (some of which cause poor organisation or a tendency to lose things) and a lot of students who have difficult home situations, so I keep pens to loan students if they don’t have one.

    6. Beth*

      Ordering minor supplies in accordance with personal preferences can also be a surprisingly solid boost to morale. At one dreadful job where one of my zillions of hats was office supplies wonk, I ordered myself post-it notes in fancy special colours. It made me just a little bit happier to use them, and every little bit helped.

      1. Fives*

        I order the office supplies for my team, and this is absolutely the reason I try to order as many special pens or colored post-its as I can. It’s very much the little things a lot of times. My manager approves the orders and hasn’t had any issue with it.

        Everyone woo-hoos when their supplies arrive, so it’s clearly a little boost. :)

      2. fhqwhgads*

        I think you’ve raised an important distinction. In places I’ve worked where every individual’s preference on each thing is taken into account, those have also been the places where you just order it yourself. There’s no single designated orderer.
        I’m sure it’s not universal, but it seems likely to me there’s a correlation between “one person orders all the things to keep everyone stocked” and “this is what we provide” vs “people order what they want/need for their position themselves” and “sure get the funky pens as long as you don’t exceed your office supply budget”. At least proportionately, I’d expect the one-person-in-charge-of-ordering type of office to tend to be less flexible so as not to make the ordering take a bunch more time/effort.
        It’s not a big deal either way. The LW does need to just tell this person “this is how it is here” and call it a day, but neither type of office is odd/bad/wrong. You just gotta know where you are.

    7. Veryanon*

      Yeah, OP definitely has the attitude of “how dare this person request special pens/snacks!” This is a prime example of someone who has a tiny bit of authority and will wring every possible drop out of it.

    8. Artemesia*

      I don’t get the stingy tone of the OP either. Why not buy what people want? Why not provide the snacks people want. If there is a budget, spend the budget. If there is no more money, tell them no snacks till next month as we have spent the budget. But this moralistic tone of ‘you can’t write with what you want to write with’ and ‘you have to eat the snacks I choose.’ seems to have no purpose but a sort of moralistic puritanical attitude towards pens of all things. She didn’t say the money wasn’t there, just that it was somehow for the employee to want to have what they wanted.

      1. Saberise*

        It can sometime create a monster to be too accommodating. We supply the standard coffee and tea. We saw that the flavored teas and creamers didn’t cost more than the plain so started to order all of them. So we ended up with like 20 different flavor of teas and 5 different creamers we were inventorying, storing and restocking. When something would run out they would come and bug us for a replacement or worse yet get all upset if we were completely out of their favorite flavor. It got to be too much especially since the person doing it got stuck with it on top of her other duties.

      2. münchner kindl*

        To me, it sounds not like office norm, but rather that LW has some unwritten, undefined rules on what supplies are ok to buy, and what’s outrageous to ask for, that has no relation to actual guidelines or budget from her boss.

        If anything, it reminds me of early stages of the woman trying to save money by not eating the company-ordered pizza, because company was telling people to stop wasteful spending.

        LW doesn’t say that new employees asks are over budget, because LW doesn’t even know what budget and boss would permit; she just feels/ knows that new employee is asking for too much.

        Which goes beyond normal stinginess: if the budget doesn’t permit more than x $ per month, LW could clearly say so.
        If boss has rules that all purchases are made at supplier Y because of cheaper bulk rates, so the only offer is 2 colours of pens, then LW could say so.
        But LW wants new employee to read her mind and stop asking for … nice stuff? Why are nice coloured pens not allowed in LW’s office?

    9. LCH*

      I mean, just tell her. Some office do buy special things for staff like ergonomic keyboards, etc. you never know unless you ask and then find out how the office operates.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        My office did have a budget for things like ergonomic accommodations – but it wasn’t controlled by the person who did basic office supplies. There was a separate process for requesting ergonomic supplies.

        1. JustaTech*

          My office stopped doing in-person ergonomics assessments after someone decided that people were just requesting them to get better keyboards or chairs (though all our chairs are very nice, so I don’t know about that).

          So my very short coworker was stuck using a trash can as a foot rest for two years until we got a new safety person that I was able to badger into doing her assessment.

    10. Meep*

      I used to order stuff before we got an office manager. People just randomly coming up to me and telling me they needed something always raised my hackles so I get the irrational annoyance of it all. Then again, this was before we had a company credit card so I would put it on my personal card and then be reimbursed.

    11. I am Emily's failing memory*

      #2, I’m not sure the coworker is as out of line as OP thinks she is.

      Yes, I think the most important thing to realize here is that OP has mistaken her office’s culture for universal culture. The LW was reacting to this like the new worker asked for the company to pay her grocery bill – something so so beyond the pale that the most likely explanation is that the coworker has a personality defect which probably isn’t going to change.

      But what the coworker asked for is within the range of normal practices at some companies, which means the most likely explanation is actually that the coworker just didn’t know what the normal practice is in that office, and there’s no reason to think she won’t adjust her behavior if she’s simply told how things work there.

      LW definitely sounds like her office skews towards penny-pinching, but not unreasonably so, and that’s fine. She just needs to recalibrate her ability to distinguish between someone who’s operating under a mistaken impression that caused them to make mistakes and someone who’s operating from a delusional perspective that causes them to behave irrationally, because the way you address those two kinds of situations needs to be different.

  3. cncx*

    I worked in an office like this, we had free coffee but literally everyone had a milk preference. At one point the supplies person was like look, I’m getting full fat creamer. You want soy, oat, skim,lactose free… buy it and put it on the fridge with your name on it. It wasnt about being accommodating or abusing the perk- the milk order was simply too complicated for the supplies person to order everything for everyone every week. I know this is an old letter and I wonder if it was more the time sink that ordering for this person frequently was creating compared to other colleagues’ requests that put this one into what appears to be BEC territory.

    I work in IT support and had a colleague once who asked me a lot because his computer literacy was low. Every time he asked for something I groaned internally. The sheer number of requests per day and per week was too much.

    1. Samwise*

      Our admins solved the “too many different requests for too many different office supplies” by leaving the supplies catalog in the break room. If you wanted something, you found it in the catalog, put ALL the info in an email , and the admin would review all requests once a month. If your request was in-budget, you got it. If it wasn’t, you didn’t. No nickel and diming on nice pens or a decent wet erase wall calendar.

      1. Samwise*

        And if you didn’t put complete info, your request wasn’t even considered. You could ask again the following month, and f you were smart, you’d include all the info.

      2. Chilipepper Attitude*

        It sounds like there needs to be a process in place for requesting supplies and snacks. From how to order (a quick email with details to an order form) to what limits there are or who approves requests.

        1. kiki*

          I worked in a small office and our admin handled snack requests with a google form. She looked at the spreadsheet with requests, like, once a month and ordered accordingly (within reason). She said that before she did the form, people would just kind of approach her randomly and be like, “oooh, wouldn’t some sour cream and onion Pringles be lovely?” And then they’d bug her about it every day until there were sour cream and onion Pringles. This way people are aware that there’s a system and that the admin isn’t going out to buy you Pringles the day after you request them.

          1. JustaTech*

            We have the even less sophisticated, but still effective, method of a sheet of paper next to the copier/printer.
            You write down (with as much detail as possible) the office supply you need/want, and every week the Operations EA would come by and check the sheet.

            I don’t know if she had a similar thing for the pay snack bar, or if folks just asked for stuff there.

            Long ago we had a supply closet with new and “gently used” office supplies, including branded pens, but all of that went away years ago, except for some very weird remnants, like 3 boxes of 3 1/2 inch floppy disks.

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      We had free coffee, tea and hot chocolate. Full fat milk, creamer and lactose free milk were the only standards we provided. If you wanted anything else you had to buy it yourself. A new hire asked for 2 percent, chocolate milk, skim milk and flavoured creamers. And requested oat, soy and almond milk. And several different kinds of hot chocolate. And a larger selection of the dozen teas we had. I asked them why and the response was they didn’t always know what they wanted to drink and liked having options. I pointed out that our fridge couldn’t hold all the milk options. Plus I wasn’t going to spend my budget on things that would go untouched. They weren’t happy but since I controlled the ordering none of that was ordered. Not to be a complete ogre I did order a different flavoured coffee creamer every week. Most of the time it went unopened.

      1. Sloanicota*

        It’s true that people just love free stuff and sometimes go wild in ways they wouldn’t if they were fronting the bill themselves. The problem is that to an admin, it’s not “free” just company provided. Easy to lose sight of that if you’re not the one reconciling or justifying the budget. Also, at my small nonprofit, there’s probably no line item for stuff like that, meaning the money has to appear on the books coming out of something else.

      2. Ssssssssss*

        “I don’t always know what I want and I like having options.”

        That would drive me crazy. There’s shades of entitlement in there. And they might be the person who when faced with too many choices, their brain freezes and they end up choosing what they chose last time.

        1. EPLawywer*

          It’s one thing to say “I need this type of pen, it writes better for me” and another to say “hey order 10 different things, then i will decide.”

          1. Splendid Colors*

            I used to buy a lot of different types of tea at home (black teas with variations like Earl Grey or Constant Comment, decaf versions of those, multiple spicy or fruity herbals, etc.) so I would “have options.” I found that most would just go stale before I used it. Now I have 1 plain black caffeinated tea, 1 plain black decaf tea, 1 spiced caffeinated tea, 1 decaf fruity tea, and whatever green tea hasn’t been used up yet. That covers the basic choices of “Is it early enough I can have caffeine OR do I just want something hot?” and “Do I want a hot thing that tastes like tea and might have some caffeine, OR a hot fruity thing with zero caffeine?” and the occasional “Green tea would go well with sushi/okonomiyaki/etc.”

            1. Splendid Colors*

              oops and a spiced caffeinated tea.

              The Indian stores have masala chai, ginger, cardamom and I don’t really need more than one of those in stock at once.

        2. Adrian*

          That person should either save that mentality for their non-work life, or bring their own options into work if they want them there.

        3. Anon2023*

          I would go crazy when throwing out almost full cartons of expired milk. I read The Paradox of Choice and giving people less choice made them happier. It’s like dressing toddlers, “Do you want to wear the green shirt or the blue shirt?”

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I handle customers this way all the time. “What kind of pizza do you have?”

            There is no way I’m reading twenty five different kinds of pizza to you, dude. You won’t remember any of it anyway. Instead I ask “Well are you looking for specific toppings? Vegetarian? Pepperoni?” Once they narrow it down suggestions are easy.

    3. ?¿*

      #5… I feel that’s a bit harsh of a reply? This isn’t the first curt reply I’ve seen Alison have in response to a question about smoking, I’m wondering if Alison is one of those people who is like, strongly against smokers. Anyway, if you’re outside I’m really not sure what the big deal is. The sidewalk is already dirtier than whatever was in your mouth…

  4. Valancy Trinit*

    LW4, if they are a reliable narrator, is at the unenviable intersection of “doing things that only corporate espionage agents do” and “not being a corporate espionage agent.” If you’re going to do the former, at least parlay it into some cash?

    I recently rejected a candidate because, during the interview, they attempted to show me a dashboard they built that necessarily used confidential client information. I don’t think I handled it perfectly in the moment – I responded with a lighthearted tone, “Put that away! I shouldn’t be seeing that!” After the interview, I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t possibly trust this candidate to handle similar material from our side.

    This is all to say that while LW4 is throwing up some huge red flags, an interviewer who accepted his offer would be sporting larger, redder flags, possibly with an accompanying klaxon sound.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Any time a job applicant is thinking “I have an out-of-the-box idea to make me stand out from the crowd!” they should sit on their hands.

      This one wrote to Alison, which was the correct response.

    2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I think this particular case might be a bit different because the interviewing company works in the same space as the current employer. The interviewers walk around that place all the time and see stuff. Depending on how much they see and know, the only difference might be that OP tells them which things are their own designs.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        It seems different but the more I think about it, I don’t think it matters too much that the interviewer is a customer of their current company. OP is proposing to abuse their access for a non authorised purpose – a pretty big deal in the land of system administration (or anywhere really!) In fact it may be worse that it’s a current customer, as OP is potentially abusing both their access to the datacenter and their existing (?) relationship with the interviewer.

        1. EPLawywer*


          The only reason OP would have to show off their work to this customer is because they are looking for a job. While company A is employing you, you cannot use Company A’s resources to get a job with Company B.

          I get it when you’re job searching 2 weeks seems FOREVER. So you start thinking you need to get creative or you will NEVER get a job. But 2 weeks is barely enough time for them to have interviewed everyone and considered their options. And that’s if everything went smoothly. Which it rarely does.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I’m not allowed into the server room of the company that I work for, much less the server rooms of other tenants in the building. Allowing unauthorized personnel is (or should be) a significant violation of a company’s data security protocols. An interviewer at a reputable company should be horrified by being invited into another organization’s server room.

    3. BellyButton*

      Yeah, this is usually covered in security compliance training. I worked for a global tech company and all visitors had to have approval, with a stated purpose, and what areas of the building they were allowed to go into.

  5. Wren*

    lol gonna the unpopular one here but for LW5, that definitely seems like an over-reaction. If you’re not getting written up for smoking (which is way grosser and more damaging than spitting (I mean, in my opinion)) why would you get written up for spitting? It is impolite and unprofessional, but were people are getting written up for not covering their mouth when coughing or sneezing (which (again in my opinion) seems more unhygienic even in 2009)?

    Again, agree that you shouldn’t be spitting on the property because it’s unprofessional and that you do need to listen to your boss when they ask/tell you to adjust your behavior, but this seems weirdly aggressive.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I feel like LW escalated first, by taking the supervisor’s correction and looking at the rental contract for the facility (??!) to see if it explicitly ruled out the thing LW was told not to do (?!!). At which point a very blunt shut down was what would get through.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Years ago an acquaintance started a new job. On the first day and on his first break he went out behind the building and lit up a joint. One of the managers was just arriving and saw him smoking. The manager identified him and he was fired by noon. Their excuse was no one told them that smoking illegal substances on company’s property was wrong. I can imagine him arguing “Show me the rulebook!” He was that kind of guy.

        1. lilsheba*

          and people wonder why I can’t stand potheads. They will literally smoke anywhere anytime regardless of the rules. We have people who smoke that shit in our apartment complex even though it says in the lease to NOT DO THAT. They don’t care, they are selfish and only do what they want to do.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            This is a weird overgeneralization you’re making based on a couple of inconsiderate neighbors. Do you also think all pet owners are inconsiderate, selfish people that you can’t stand just because you lived next to someone once who didn’t clean up after their dog?

          2. New Jack Karyn*

            This seems like circular reasoning. You hate ‘potheads’ because they do something obviously and overtly obnoxious–but there are many, many cannabis users who are discreet and follow the rules. You don’t hate them, because you never notice them.

            1. lilsheba*

              Every pot head I have known personally acts like I said. Number one priority is weed and they will smoke it no matter what others want or say.

              1. icedcoffee*

                Sounds like the polite potheads either just aren’t friends with you, or are quiet about their use because they know how you’d react.

              2. Summer*

                Yikes. This is an extreme overreaction.

                You know what I hate? When someone says they hate an entire group of people based solely on their personal interactions with a few.

              3. pieces_of_flair*

                Well, every pothead I know, which is a lot of people, are not like that at all. Anecdotes are not data. And proudly proclaiming your bias against a group of people because a few of them behave badly (as do all humans from all groups at times) is…really not a good look.

          3. Splendid Colors*

            I have the same problem with my neighbors.

            We’re not supposed to have cannabis on the property because of Federal funding, even though California legalized recreational pot. Smoking *anything* in units and on balconies is prohibited as a condition of our funding.

            You would think the cannabis users would try to be discreet and use edibles or extracts or whatever (and maybe some are). However, SO MANY neighbors smoke in their apartments (where you can smell it in adjacent units and the enclosed hallway), on the balconies (where you can smell it in all the units where the smoke drifts, on the sidewalk next to the building (which is against City ordinances), and occasionally walking down the hallway. The elevators reek of pot smoke wafting off the smokers on their way back from a smoke break.

            The senior complex on the next block has the same problem because their tenants were hippies back in the day and are delighted by legalization.

    2. Roland*

      They are both gross! Smoking is gross to smell and spitting is gross to look at. But smoking outside means the smell will dissipate after not too long while the tobacco stains from spitting will not, which OP knows because they were all “well no one said I COULDN’T damage the walkway”.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        My toes curl up in my shoes every time I have to step around spittle or mucus on the sidewalk. I wonder if they’re spitting on their sidewalk at home.
        People understand societal norms. They don’t spit inside or into crowds of people. Spit into a tissue if you must.

      2. Spitting Cyclist*

        That’s where they really get me. I’m a near-irrational smoking hater and have very low tolerance and patience for it & anything related to it, but as someone who does endurance sports for fun, I can actually relate to the need to spit vs. swallow (nothing’s grosser on hours six of straight cardio than having to choke down your own thick dehydrated spittle)

        BUT you gotta aim that at the grass or in the rocks, and do a courtesy check to make sure no one’s around for it. Straight on the sidewalk as your boss approaches? C’mon man, that’s willful disregard for basic common manners.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Tissues. Tissues are your friend. Spitting employee can spit into tissues all he wants and likely no one would have an issue with it, provided he doesn’t toss them on the ground. It’s not like spit on surfaces in public or swallow are the only available options. Spit into a tissue and toss it in a waste receptacle if one is available, carry it home to toss in his own trash if one isn’t.

          Basically it’s the old carry in, carry out rule for anytime you’re somewhere that isn’t your personal space. Especially if it’s bodily excrement of any sort whether spit, snot, one’s own poop, one’s dog’s poop. No one wants to see that stuff, step in that stuff on a walkway or trail. And there is no reason they should have to.

          Wrap it in a tissue or bag it in a waste bag … do whatever is necessary to contain it until you’re somewhere it can be disposed of in an appropriate and sanitary way.

          1. Jackalope*

            I generally agree on using tissues (or, say, going and spitting into the toilet). As someone who has also done multi-hour sports, though, it’s not always an option to use a tissue. You may not have a place to carry them – athletic wear is terrible at providing pocket space – or after a few hours you’ve run through all of the tissues you could carry. If you’re on a bicycle, you would have to pull over, possibly take your gloves off, dig through a pocket, use the tissue, put it away somewhere (see:athletic wear and pockets), glove up again, and then keep going, which is not only unwieldy to do every 20 min but not always safe. Etc.

            1. icedcoffee*

              As someone who gets leaky noses, two tips:

              I think the terrycloth patches on cycling gloves are supposed to be for sweat or something, but I usually end up using them for my nose. (And yeah, I do spot clean the gloves for this reason)

              Another strategy: Most of my gear that doesn’t have useful pockets at least has tiny useless pockets (I think they’re for keys or chapstick?) Those are big enough for a tissue or two.

        2. Splendid Colors*

          Getting dehydrated from 6 straight hours of cardio does NOT sound healthy. My doctor is appalled that I will go 2 hours without drinking, doing sedentary stuff like babysitting a laser cutter and waiting until it’s a good time to walk outdoors for a break.

          1. bighairnoheart*

            Eh, don’t worry. I can almost guarantee the long-distance cycler you’re replying to is well aware of how to stay hydrated on their rides. They commented to provide an illustration of what “polite” spitting looks like (since spitting in a considerate way is something that many outdoor-sport enthusiasts do without it being a huge deal), not looking for hydration advice.

    3. Excel-sior*

      I would argue that spitting is a few steps above “impolite and unprofessional”. Word’s I’d use are more along the lines of “disgusting”. If someone spat in front of you and it landed on your shoe, you wouldn’t think “oh how impolite”, i would imagine.

      1. JSPA*

        Well, yes…and if someone peed on my shoe, I’d be more than irate, but it’s still reasonable for a workplace to have bathrooms. But that’s neither here nor there, as nobody’s talking about spitting at or on anyone. (Llamas excepted.)

        Spitting (with or without chewing tobacco being involved) used to be so normal that the spittoon / cuspidor was a standard part of interior decor for centuries. Sawdust on the floor of workingman’s eating establishments served the same purpose.

        Different countries and states removed them from public buildings, then made them illegal under health codes in places of business, roughly between ~1905 and 1950. This was due to the recognition that they might be fueling TB epidemics.

        It required massive public health campaigns to cast saliva and spitting as something disgusting. Eventually, in most places, it became something that was only done in private, by intentional rebels, or by those unable to understand or adhere to social conventions.

        But if saliva were intriniscally gross, we probably would not, culturally, have treated kissing as “first base” / the first stage of sexual engagement.

        Interestingly, as hair and hairbrushes and combs became less gross in the popular imagination (thanks to increasing hygeine, that allows us to presume that most of our coworkers don’t have fleas and lice in their hair), toothbrushes seem to have moved in the opposite direction, perhaps because of this “saliva and mouths are gross and diseased” messaging.

        I’m not saying that messaging is necessarily wrong in its goals, though I’m not a fan of instilling disgust, as a public health measure.

        However, as Covid has reinforced, aerosols go deeper, faster. Broadly, I’d bet people are more likely to get something singing together in a choir, than by stepping in sputum, only to spend the rest of the day walking around, rubbing the offending material back off again. And I’d hate to see “group singing” declared forever disgusting. Or, “yelling at a ballgame.”

          1. Dr. Rebecca*

            ^^^same. This is an incredible amount of historic rules-lawyering about this topic, to the point I’m wondering if there’s a personal investment.

        1. KRM*

          Do you want to step in someone’s spit on a walkway? You don’t? Then spitting on the sidewalk is gross.
          If this LW needs to spit they can do so in the landscaping where nobody will step on it.

        2. smol might*

          This is all fascinating, but since saliva and phlegm ARE now considered disgusting, it’s reasonable to enforce no spitting in the workplace. Obviously standards aren’t immutable over decades and centuries. Otherwise I’d have been written up several thousand times for wearing trousers. Doesn’t mean we don’t stick to the reasonable standards of the time we happen to be living in.

          I also have no idea why you think these shifting standards are likely to obliterate group singing.

          1. Madame Arcati*

            Re the last bit – I assume because there was some reporting that group singing was a higher risk for spreading covid, more so than that of simply being in a group. It was later shown to be bollocks, though.

            1. Beany*

              Do have a reference for “it was later shown to be bollocks”? I hadn’t heard that this was the current scientific consensus (and my own choir has had to practice while masked because of the rules of the church hosting us).

            2. smol might*

              That’s not really anything to do with the letter writer’s situation, though – spitting on a shared walkway was gross long before Covid, and yet that perception of public spitting never affected people’s attitude to group singing. I mean, that LW originally wrote in 2009.

          2. LifeBeforeCorona*

            They may be considered a biohazard now along with blood, fecal and other bodily fluids. All the more reason to not spit.

        3. Ellis Bell*

          You can’t sieve every reaction through a historical filter as though only unchanged attitudes are relevant. It’s well known to be disgusting today, and the OP needs the relevant and updated advice if they did not already know that.

        4. WellRed*

          I mean people used to think bathing was unhealthily that painting one’s face with white lead was attractive.

          1. Heather*

            Yeah I’m sure this person is a joy at cocktail parties. “Well, actually, before the invention of forks, everyone put their hands into communal jars of pudding!”

          1. Jaydee*

            I had the same thought! I even switched tabs to look up Justice Alito’s middle name in case JSPA is an acronym for Justice Samuel P. Alito (it’s not…his middle name is Anthony).

            But yes, we should certainly be looking back to the permissibility of spitting on walkways throughout history to determine whether this is a valid basis for a person today to be disciplined by their employer.

            1. Jaydee*

              I should note that I don’t actually believe JSPA to be Justice Alito because in the past I’ve found JSPA’s comments to often be very thorough and insightful. This one just really missed the mark. It was an interesting history of spitting and public health discourse but didn’t really add anything to this question. Of course employers can discipline employees for things that aren’t explicitly spelled out in the employee handbook. And they can discipline employees for insubordination – failure to follow the valid directions of the employer. So that’s two separate grounds for future discipline. LW4 should just try really hard to break the habit of spitting on the sidewalk when they go out for a smoke.

              1. Hannah Lee*

                Yeah that was an odd comment.

                Yeah, norms around spitting have changed over time. In the world I live in, US in December 2022, spitting in most if not all public settings including workplaces is considered rude, unsanitary and gross.

                But it also has societal interpersonal meaning, in that spitting at someone or at the ground in front of them or even simply in their presence is often a purposeful act of intense disrespect, disregard. My personal experience with it has primarily been linked to street harassment- jerks who catcall or otherwise try to engage total strangers with lewdness punctuating their rude attempts by spitting towards the other person, often seemingly in retaliation when their target refused to engage. *That’s* what comes to mind when I see people spitting in public, not “oh that poor man is struggling with excess phlegm or errant shreds of tobacco”. If one of my employees were habitually spitting on company premises I would absolutely tell them to knock it off.

        5. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

          It also used to be acceptable to urinate in the street to the extent that the law specifically permitted urination on a particular wheel of a vehicle (I don’t remember which one, not having the specific body part to enable me to do this, or the inclination). Many behaviours which used to be acceptable or widespread are considered unacceptable today, and I think that casually dispersing bodily fluids in public falls strongly into the realm of Not Ok.

          1. The Eye of Argon*

            And the reason why the royal families of Europe had so many palaces was because the courtiers would just relieve themselves into any handy corner they could find. After a few months of this the place stank like a giant outhouse and was a hotbed of disease. So the court would travel to another palace and repeat the process until that next palace got too grody, and on and on.

            This was also part of the reason why women had servants to carry their trains, or were carted around in sedan chairs or carriages even within palace grounds. They didn’t want their crazy expensive gowns and shoes dragging through puddles of yuck.

            The other reasons were because those gowns and their underpinnings were really heavy, restrictive, and hard to move around in.

        6. Dr. Doll*

          I thought this was very interesting.

          I don’t think JSPA is saying that the guy should not be called on spitting NOW. Just that it wasn’t always so. Thank goodness the world has gotten better in that one small way, ha!

          1. I am Emily's failing memory*

            Same! While reading it I assumed JSPA is a history buff who never gets to talk about the random facts they know about old timey cultural quirks and was excited to be able to share. Surprised to see so many reacting like it was full-throated defense of one’s inalienable right to spit wherever one pleases. To me, it sounded like every history PhD I ever had the pleasure of talking to at a party. But then, I was a sociology PhD, so I love when historians help make visible the invisible things we take for granted.

        7. LilPinkSock*

          That was an interesting dissertation, but it’s not an excuse for the fact that spitting IS rude and unsanitary. Even Violet Beauregarde understood that, so I don’t know why the LW thinks it’s acceptable to do it, or a good to scour the company’s lease terms to…what? say so there! to their boss?

        8. MissElizaTudor*

          Thanks for this comment! It’s pointed me in the direction of some interesting reading! One of the things my partner studies is the political economy of public health, and the but on TB and laws around spitting reminds me of some of their work on how government control can expand in the pursuit of public health.

    4. The Prettiest Curse*

      Also, this LW seems to think they shouldn’t be punished because the behaviour was done out of habit. People do all kinds of stuff out of habit, but that doesn’t mean that doing all of those things either on or with work property is okay!

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        If I have a habit of going through office lunches and taking the desserts because I have a sweet tooth, I’m still getting either a write up or fired.

    5. ecnaseener*

      Sure, writeups are generally not a sign of good management. But the question to Alison wasn’t “was this a fair reaction,” it was “can I be written up”

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I’m not sure why you think write-ups aren’t a sign of good management. I think write-ups can be part of a clear communication of expectations and consequences.

    6. Ellis Bell*

      Smoking is only considered disgusting by non smokers; not by the smoker themselves. If you can segregate the non smoker from the effects of the smoke (i.e. by making sure there’s no second inhalation and a separate smoking area), then it’s not really anyone else’s business. The smoke also dissipates if it’s outside so it’s not creating damage or a lingering and unhygienic situation. Spitting is a whole other level of no, because it stays put until it’s cleaned up, could have easily been taken care off in a more hygienic manner (if you have phlegm, then most people cough into a tissue and clean themselves up afterwards), and it isn’t an addictive habit, so you can just tell people to stop doing it, which you can’t realistically do with smoking.

      1. Fishsticks*

        I’m not sure it’s entirely possible to completely separate nonsmoker from general effects of smoke unless you have dedicated separated office space. I’ve never worked with a smoker who didn’t come back from their smoke break more or less reeking of cigarette smoke, or sometimes cigarette smoke thinly veiled with overwhelming cologne/perfume. It has been my experience that smokers often believe they have hidden the scent, but just can’t smell it on themselves any longer.

        That’s definitely something a separated-office setting would easily mitigate, but I’ve mostly worked in a variety of open-office settings until my current job, and it made for a lot of severe headaches (I am sensitive to smells) and nausea over the years.

        Granted, I kept that largely to myself, as I understand smoking is an addictive habit, but it still isn’t really a situation of “nobody needs to know”. Spitting is the much more disgusting aspect of this particular letter, definitely, and the thing that should be easiest to quit. Smoking is addictive – spitting is just something he’s doing and doesn’t want to stop.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I’m a non smoker too, and my partner is scent sensitive, so I totally get what you’re saying. In practice though, we usually understand that smoking is a need for those who are addicted and we’ll put up with some small inconveniences up a point (I wouldn’t put up with anyone getting headaches, but I would put up with people taking extra breaks to go further away for example). I agree with you that not only is spitting more viscerally disgusting, it’s just entirely more unnecessary.

          1. Fishsticks*

            I honestly tend to blame the open-office environment far more than the smoker themselves for the headaches/nausea that I get when too much of that “just had a smoke” smell gets into my space. I’ve had one coworker that I had a good enough relationship with to bring it up, and just asked her not to use the heavy perfume, because that was harder on me than the smoke smell. We got on just fine otherwise, and she was very chill about it. Still talk to her, actually, three jobs later in life.

            I also grew up in very very rural Midwestern America, where every fourth boy I went to high school with chewed tobacco. I’ve dealt with almost entirely men spitting all around me my whole life, and it’s disgusting on every level. I would be with the boss on this one – I would NOT want someone outside of my company literally spitting on the sidewalk in plain view.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              I’ve known a few smokers (older women with impeccable manners) whom I didn’t know were smokers until they mentioned it or they needed a nicotine fix while I was around. They didn’t reek of smoke like my neighbors do, the ones who stink up the elevators. These friends made sure to stand so the breeze blew the smoke away from them, instead of doing what SO MANY smokers do and just bathe in a cloud of smoke. (And vapers who disappear in a cloud bank.)

      2. Nope*

        Speak for yourself, not all smokers. My dad was a smoker and was very disgusted with the habit. He tried to stop several times and spent his whole life telling everyone who would listen not to pick up cigarettes.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is a really idealized version of smoking. If this were how all smokers behaved/how smoking worked, nonsmokers wouldn’t be so grossed out by it.

        In reality, smokers tend to reek of cigarette smell, regardless of where they do their smoking. I sat next to a smoker for years, and she and her clothing smelled like an ashtray despite dutifully taking her smoke breaks outside. Smoking dulls the sense of smell, and most smokers have no clue what they really smell like to nonsmokers – one of my smoker friends could not smell the cat pee odor in her home when one of her pets became ill and started urinating on the floor, and that stuff reeks.

        The smokers also threw their butts on the ground and spit, to the point that, at my last office, the organizational leadership basically installed an ashtray in the back alley, created a single designated outdoor smoking area, and forbade smoking anywhere outside that area. Ground littered with cigarette butts and phlegm wads is not a good look for a business.

    7. Critical Rolls*

      Smoke dissipates; phlegm does not. Smoking is an addiction; spitting is not. Spitting on a sidewalk that might A) be in sight of customers and B) said customers then need to traverse, has the potential to actually lose business. Additionally, given the LW’s first response to this was to try and rules lawyer things by wasting the office manager’s time getting the lease to review, I’ll bet the manager has good reason to come down hard on the behavior. This seems like the type of person who will never accept “please don’t do that” without a drawn-out argument.

  6. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    LW5 this is an office building not a dugout. While it may not be in the lease (nice looking it up for that reason) it could possibly be in a code of conduct somewhere or, who knows, a front facing public area where a passerby who thought of using your marketing services might get so incredibly turned off.

    Not to mention if you were writing this in 2022 where viruses are haunting our DREAMS.

    If I owned the business that I worked day and night tooth and nail to be able to afford a public space for, yeah, your spittoon honking hind end would be written up.

    1. Daisy*

      Years ago I had a friend who started chewing tobacco. She would spit into a cup or empty water bottle, it was still extremely gross and I would find an excuse to leave the room whenever she pulled out her chew. I don’t think anyone mentioned how it unsettled many in our friend group (she liked to talk about her chew – as if it was cool or something?) but she pretty much disappeared from all group activities despite being smart and funny.
      I definitely would expect any employee to keep their smoking/spitting off company time and property, most especially if they were in any public area.

  7. Dr Sarah*

    #LW1: And did she then ask you to take wrappers off several hundred chocolate bars to look for a golden ticket?

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      It didn’t end well for Veruca Salt but the workers can claim workers’ compensation for repetitive stress injury.

    2. The Eye of Argon*

      There aren’t many colums where you can get two Willy Wonka references in. For LW#5

      Violet: (while picking nose) Spitting’s a dirty habit.
      Wonka: I know a worse one.

    1. Phony Genius*

      I have suggested in the past that I’d like to see a collection of all of the questions that Alison has answered with a single sentence.

  8. SAS*

    Jesus, does LW5 also litter or pee all over the seat because it’s not specified in a building code? Even pre-Covid, I’m sure the comments were scathing for this one.

    Not to mention spitting is illegal in a lot of places! (Including western countries!)

  9. bamcheeks*

    I’m not quite clear on whether the requests in LW2 are unreasonable or just irritating LW2. She says, “I feel one person is asking for too many things”, “I told her it probably wouldn’t be approved”, “I don’t want people to feel it’s a free-for-all”. It sounds like LW is responsible for ordering things, but isn’t actually in charge of deciding what is or isn’t in budget and what will or won’t be approved, and she’s basing a lot of this on a general sense of disapproval of that co-worker rather than any guidelines about what the budget actually is or isn’t for.

    LW2, I think it’s make sense to talk to the budget holder and clarify how they want the budget to be used. How often can people get new pens? Can they get stuff for their desks that’ll make them more confortable? Can you get specific snacks for people? How long are you meant to spend on this as part of your job? It would be useful to have some agreed guidelines so you can actually let new employees know what is and isn’t included rather than just trying to do it by feel.

    1. Daisy*

      Yeah, this feels like a cultural thing. Possibly some “new hires should be quiet and follow along” feelings by OP also. I think talking with whoever is in charge of budgeting and drawing up some guidelines is a good idea. It is entirely possible the new hire’s family or friends work for a company where colored pens, individual humidifiers, and snack requests are considered part of the regular company responsibilities.

      1. Kit*

        I think it’s at least as much that new hire might have been in their first Real Office Job (intern-to-hire) and simply not know what the norms are; a quick “Hey, I did this the first time but can’t make a habit of it, here’s how this is normally done at our company” would be an excellent way to clarify this for the future.

        We’ve had so many letters since this was first published where the root of the problem is someone inexperienced, and often young, being expected to know or intuit norms they’ve never been exposed to, and stating explicitly what they are is the best solution in most cases. It doesn’t need to be harsh, just matter-of-fact, but it saves so much heartache all around!

        1. Splendid Colors*

          Expecting people to “intuit” workplace norms is probably one of the top 5 ways that standard business culture creates access barriers to Autistic people who try to work in the mainstream job market. We’ve had so many letters on that theme, and it shows up a lot on Autistic Twitter and Autistic LinkedIn.

          Just *write down* what the rules are and give people grace if they run into something that isn’t documented. Don’t act like they’re terrible people if they don’t know they only get the colored G2 assortment on their first supply order and after that they have to buy their own refills on Amazon.

          Putting things in writing is like curb cuts: it benefits lots of users besides the Autistic employees. New interns, people from blue collar backgrounds who don’t know “office norms,” immigrants, and honestly anyone who worked at a company with different norms. Because some stuff (don’t smoke pot on break, don’t spit) is universal but office supply ordering is not. (And the foodservice industry gets away with a LOT of drugs on duty, so if someone has only had those jobs, they might not realize you don’t do that in an office or factory.)

    2. turquoisecow*

      Yeah I can’t tell if OP2 is being unreasonable, because there are many workplaces where “can I have some more purple and pink pens, the ones I got last week are empty already?” would be met with “oh sure, I’ll add it to the supply order, should be here on Tuesday!” but OP2 is acting like it broke their budget and is incredibly special treatment reserved for the C-suite.

      It sounds like there’s a bit of an ask vs guess culture thing going on here, where the new person is thinking “sure, I’ll ask for (specific cool office supply), it would be neat to have, worst case scenario they say no,” and OP2 is thinking “How DARE you, a new person who doesn’t know The Culture of the Office, ask ME, the supply keeper who has been here for Years, to do something for you? Oh no, no, you’re the New person, you don’t get to Ask for things!”

      And because the new person is asking for a lot, OP2 is getting more and more annoyed by the asking to the point where even simple requests like a pack of pens are met with outrage.

      My advice for OP2 would be to take the individual and the frequency out of it – if the request came from another coworker, one whom you like, would you be as outraged? If the request was made once, would you be outraged? Or are you just outraged because new person dared to ask for something?

      Either way I agree with the advice that the norms for this need to be spelled out directly – I can only get you new pens with X frequency (1/month, 1/quarter, whatever), the budget is $Y and anything over that you need to get yourself, only Z colors of pens are permitted, etc.

  10. WeDidntEvenGetWater*

    Weird. I’ve worked in many dozens of offices (I’ve done a lot of contracting) and never once was asked for preferences for either office supplies or, for the handful of places that supplied them, office snacks/food. If I needed something special in terms of supplies I asked my boss and got it approved. If I wanted other food I was expected to supply it myself. The only time I made a request was the time I worked in an office that didn’t supply drinking water of any kind. I needed that and pestered my boss until he agreed to buy bottled water (but more often than not he forgot). Our office was actually a conference room inside our funding VC office and we weren’t allowed to use the kitchen. Gotta love early startups.

  11. Irish Teacher*

    As a teacher, the situation in LW1 annoys me for a whole host of reasons, mostly because if this is being graded or is for a test, then what the boss asked LW1 to do was obviously cheating and would give her child an unfair advantage over other kids in the class who were following the rules.

    Also, part of the intent of homework is to see what kids can do independently. That doesn’t mean it’s a problem if kids get some suggestions, but if somebody else is doing it for them, then as a teacher, I won’t know if they are struggling and might move on before they have grasped the topic. Of course, I check in class too and if their work at home is a lot better than at school, I am going to guess the work has not been done by them, but it could delay my finding out that they need some extra help.

    And in this case, it’s kinda silly. The odds are any teacher is going to be able to tell that work done by a qualified designer was not done by a kid.

    Of course it’s possible that the logo isn’t actually what the assignment is about and is just for decoration or that what the teacher wants to see is if the kid knows what a logo is and what it looks like won’t matter much, but in that case…the boss is putting extra work on an employee just to make their kid’s project look nicer. And it’s still not really fair on the other kids.

    1. Myrin*

      What really opened my eyes to the purpose of homework was when I was in 8th grade and it suddenly became widely known among the student population that the entirety of our Latin textbook’s exercise texts – which were really just excerpts from, well, actual ancient texts – was available online, translated (this was in 2003/04, so we hadn’t really encountered the concept before), and most of us took to simply copying that (with some variations so it wasn’t too obvious). And man, my (actually really good) Latin skills took an absolute nosedive during that time. It was palpable how little practice I was getting compared to before when I’d done the translations myself, and the way I improved when I re-started actually doing my homework blew my mind.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Ha, I had a similar realisation in sixth form when I was doing A level maths as my extra subject. I understood all the concepts as they were explained, and then if I had time after I’d done all my other homework I’d do the two pages of practice exercises for Maths. When it got to the end of the year and my exams came along, I had only the haziest recollection of the concepts we’d studied earlier in the year because I hadn’t done the practice!

        1. SarahKay*

          At the other extreme, when I was doing O level chemistry the teacher had been teaching the same syllabus for the same exam board for about 14 years, so for the last half-year he’d give us an exam paper to do for homework each week. Exams and re-sits meant he had more than enough past papers to keep us going, and since the person I shared a lab bench with was at a very similar brain-level to me we were in friendly competition for the results each week which made for excellent motivation not to miss one.
          On the day of the exam when we turned over our papers instead of feeling stressed it was just like sitting down to my weekly homework. Definitely the easiest and most stress-free exam I’ve sat.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            I had an Irish teacher who not only did stuff like this – she made out a pre-pre and a post-pre (I think ye say mocks instead of pres?) as well as our actual pre-exam – and I think two of the questions she actually gave us came up in the actual exam (and by two questions, I mean a comprehension was the exact same article – not quite as unlikely as it sounds as it was about Princess Diana’s death which had happened that year – and something like an essay title). One of my friends declared she must have a leak in the Department of Education or something.

    2. Fishsticks*

      “And in this case, it’s kinda silly. The odds are any teacher is going to be able to tell that work done by a qualified designer was not done by a kid.”

      That was my first thought, too. Even a designer trying to actively undermine their own work to make it LOOK like someone with no experience did it… there’s going to be tells. The teacher would notice. And… the kid wouldn’t learn anything? So what was the point, in the end?

      1. Ah Yes*

        I don’t get the point of parents ever doing their child’s homework (or getting others to do it FOR their child). Helping them is one thing, but doing it for them? Why? Who does this benefit? Certainly not the child who has learned absolutely nothing, and not the adult who spent their day doing assignments geared toward 8 year olds. It’s truly bizarre.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          My next thought after the fact that this was an inappropriate request to make of a subordinate or direct report was that I felt really sorry for this kid, whose parent was seriously sabotaging their education.

        2. ecnaseener*

          The kid may not have learned anything, but he maintains his straight A’s which is all that matters! /sarcasm

          1. bamcheeks*

            yeah, but how’s he gonna cope when he’s gets to work and he’s got to build a 3D model out of cans.

        3. Sylvan*

          Growing up, my best friend’s parents did her homework for her. They wanted her to get straight As to go to the right middle school, and then the right high school, and then get a full-ride scholarship for college. You can probably guess what happened.

        4. PhyllisB*

          This was a pet peeve of mine when my children were in school. Their school required participation in the science fair, and the rules specifically stated no parental assistance. We complied with the rules, and guess what? Showed up for the Science Fair and there were all these elaborate projects that no fourth grader could have done on their own. I was livid, and my child was stricken because their project couldn’t compare.

          1. Fishsticks*

            I had that happen when I was a kid – just like two parents clearly did the project, not a ton. But those projects were disqualified because of clear parental involvement. It was a whole Thing, a big old drama, somebody stormed the principal’s office about it but he held firm.

            I always thought I really appreciated that, as a kid, to see adults actually holding up those standards of fairness they talked about so damn much to kids.

            1. Johanna Cabal*

              My teacher friend has to do a project a quarter and she hates it because it’s all about the parents.

              I still remember making a shoebox diorama showing a book scene in third grade. I cut out construction paper and thought I did an okay job. Mom saw it, ripped it out of my hands, and tore out the construction paper, all the while accusing me of not putting any effort into it. She then sent me to my room while she cut and pasted scenes out of a catalog. I felt so guilty handing it in the next day. The “A” I received stung.

              I told my teacher friend this story and she just shook her head. She did say she makes a point of putting the projects clearly designed by students front and center.

          2. Irish Teacher*

            This is why we have been told in in-services that the “Classroom Based Assessments,” a part of the Junior Cert., sort of continuous assessment, are to be done in school as much as possible because if they are taken out of the school, it is very hard to be sure if they are the student’s individual work. Obviously, during covid, this had to be relaxed.

          3. Robin Ellacott*

            That’s so infuriating!

            My dad is a scientist who did a lot of outreach and generally has a very Bill Nye vibe. I was outraged as a child because people ALWAYS assumed he was doing my science fair projects for me. Believe me, they would have been way cooler if he had been.

            And of course at the same time there were kids boasting about how their parents did theirs! Still mad about it.

        5. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          yeah, this is a mother who’s in a position of responsibility and possibly is treating her child’s homework as another point on her to-do list, and she just deals with it as with requests for fancy pens: ask the assistant to handle it. Mothering should be on a separate list and be dealt with while in mothering mode and mindset, which is different to Woman at Work mode and mindset.

        6. Jackalope*

          Yes, I find that frustrating too. It’s hard when the parents don’t understand the point of the work, which is for the kids to learn things. If you really want to help, there are lots of options for how to help kids actually learn stuff instead of doing it for them. Like helping explain things in a different way if what the textbook says doesn’t make sense. Or I have vague memories of my parents doing extra arithmetic with me, asking me basic addition and subtraction questions out loud so I could practice doing them in my head, which helped drill things into my brain better. And so on. I know there’s a lot of emphasis on good grades, but if kids get good grades at the expense of learning then it’s just a waste.

          1. SarahKay*

            Strong agree. Aged 13-ish we did acceleration in physics, and the whole meters per second per second thing absolutely did not compute for me; my brain just refused the concept. My step-dad spent at least three hours going over it with me one night, explaining it again and again, in different ways, until I could at least answer the homework questions, even if I still wasn’t comfortable with the concept.
            It took another three years before I felt that mts per second per second really made sense to my brain, but if my step-dad had just done the homework (which would probably only have taken him 15 minutes) I’m not sure I’d ever have grasped it.
            Step-dad also taught me mnemonics for the periodic table in chemistry, which are still with me 35+ years later, despite not using them since I finished school.
            Basically, he showed me how to learn, which is about a million times more helpful than just doing the homework.

      2. Humble Schoolmarm*

        Alas, kids whose parents do this chronically actually do learn three things.
        1- My parent must and will save me from anything that seems hard (which leads to a delightful “My Parent will hear about this!!” attitude when they’re expected to work in class).
        2- That they (the child) aren’t capable of doing the work (or in kid-young teen brain that they’re too “stupid”).
        3- The only acceptable standard for work is at least a decade more advanced than what the teacher expects.

        Please, parents, don’t do this to your kids.

            1. Hanani*

              And 5. That education is just about completing arbitrary tasks, rather than learning anything.

              Another reinforcement of 1 and 2, because anything that’s the least bit difficult or requires effort is seen as an unfair and pointless expectation with no payoff. Many of the college students I teach are genuinely surprised when I tell them that learning is work and it will often be difficult.

    3. icedcoffee*

      In middle school, I did a project about lions and was supposed to make a model. After I started my modeling clay version, my mom brought home a plaster mold kit and told me to use that. (not sure why! I liked art and was happy with my sculpture so far.) I did, and got marked down for so obviously using a kit.

      I hope the kid in #1 also learns to not listen to his mom’s “help.”

  12. Nene Poppy*

    LW#1 – I was once the assistant to the owner of a big company. Often I ended up typing up or re-formatting his son’s university course work. Whilst annoying, I made no amendments or pointed out errors. The standard of his work confirmed my opinion that he was thick as a brick. What really made me angry was reformatting and proofing his dissertation. I could tell that it was written by someone else. The son got his degree (just) and then a position in the company. Later he was set up in his own business (I was long gone by then).

    LW#3 – If she went into business with them, I hope she took Alison’s advice and went in as a contractor. A former co-worker ‘Jane’ went into business with her partner ‘John’ and his family. They broke up when John ran off with an employee! Family rallied around John. It is awful for Jane. The people she thought were ‘family’ have shut her out. The business is her only source of income, her car is leased through the company and as a partner in the company she is responsible for some of the company debt.

    LW#5 – That he didn’t grasp what he was doing was not only disgusting but a health hazard, then doubling down by investigating terms of the lease would have made me question his judgement about other things as well.

    1. WellRed*

      For OP 3, this is a good example of the risks. You might feel like one if the kids, but you’re not and if anything goes sideways you’ll be out.

      1. EPLawywer*

        Even if nothing goes sideways in the relationship, having all the income from one source is not a good idea. What happens if the business fails? Then both are out of work. Or anything number of things. Diverified portfolios are a thing for a reason.

      2. Clisby*

        Also, I don’t think the fact that they aren’t legally married is even relevant. She should take the same steps to protect herself financially even if they *were* married. I don’t mean married couples should never go into business together, but if they do, it should be a formal partnership where everything’s spelled out in a legally binding agreement.

        1. Jackalope*

          Yes and no. Married couples should still take action to make sure they’ll be protected in a situation like this if things fall apart. But marriage also gives you certain legal protections that merely dating does not. If you’re married and get divorced, you will likely get at least something from the split. As a girlfriend you’re likely out of luck.

  13. Daisy*

    It is extremely rude to make a mess and not clean up after yourself, no matter if you are at work, someone’s house, or in public. I certainly hope the LW isn’t throwing cigarette butts and leaving ash on the sidewalk but spitting in public places is beyond the pale. Unless LW is power washing the sidewalk immediately after their smoke break they need to cut it out. No one wants to walk through spit and track it into their workspace or home.

  14. Fishsticks*

    Smoking is gross, spitting is even worse… why on earth would you purposefully combine those two things?

  15. LB33*

    I don’t know what it means to be written up for spitting (seems like a minor offense), but if you can’t stop doing it, can you just go a block or two away so it’s out of your boss’s sight?

    1. Mockingjay*

      Seriously? just move the problem down the street?
      How about LW5 be an adult and contain his mess.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Ideally, they would just quit spitting out their effluvia on the sidewalk. They manage not to leave their cigarette butts and packages on the ground, right? They can spit in the trash, between bushes, in a throwaway cup, or – here’s a novel thought! – hit the bathroom after their smoke break to spit in the trash or toilet.

      1. Giant Kitty*

        Exactly what I was thinking- if spitting is absolutely necessary, they can’t do it into the grass, dirt, foliage, or trash?

  16. June First*

    LW5: bring a paper cup with you on your smoke breaks. Spit in the cup. Throw it out on your way back in. Much easier than asking about the lease agreement’s clauses about walkways, IMO.

    (I had coworkers with spit cups about 10 years ago. Still gross, but contained.)

    1. squirreltooth*

      I also had coworkers with spit cups, and occasionally they’d leave them around for the rest of us to find. Mega gross. Still, I’d prefer that to just spit all over the sidewalk.

      1. Yoyoyo*

        Once when I was working at a movie theater, I was furiously sweeping the aisles between showings and knocked over someone’s spit cup that they had left on the floor. It was beyond disgusting.

  17. BellyButton*

    I’ve never seen anyone spitting, but I have seen and heard someone clipping their fingernails and toenails in their cubical. *gag*

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I had someone on my team who did this! So gross, had to shut that down immediately.

      The industry that I work in is not one where even having visible personal hygiene items at your desk would be appropriate, much less doing actual grooming at your workspace. You were welcome to have a desk drawer full of lotion, lip balm, deodorant, hair brushes, nail clippers, toothbrushes, etc., but all needed to be taken to the ample rest rooms/locker rooms and used there.

      1. Giant Kitty*

        People had to leave their workstations to apply *lip balm*? Was there a legitimate reason for this?

          1. Summer*

            Seriously, lip balm and lotion need to be applied in private? My skin gets painfully dry in the winter so I’m constantly reapplying moisturizer; I’d be going back and forth dozens of times a day if I worked there.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Maybe a lab environment with required PPE. Or engineering clean room. The hand creams I would add museum/archive positions.

  18. Turingtested*

    Yeah, I can’t tell if her requests are something like “Can I have a blue pen instead of the standard black and red? Could we try pretzels instead of all chips?” or “I need a set of 24 different colored gel pens and grass fed beef jerky.”

    I get the sense that the LW has very specific rules that are her personal ones rather than company mandates but I could be uncharitable.

  19. Quality Girl*

    Re LW5: I work in healthcare. I have handled every type of bodily fluid you can imagine (yes, even that one) and I STILL don’t want to see a coworker spit. Wow.

  20. Just another anon*

    #1: I had a boss ask me to find him bus routes he could take to and from him house to jury duty, medical appointments, etc. But, I was not his (or anyone’s) assistant, nor was I a receptionist or any other sort of job where it would be normal for me to look up bus routes for him if it were work related, let alone for personal reasons.

    1. Just another anon*

      Oh, and I had ZERO experience with public transit, so it’s not like he was asking me as a favor because I knew what I was doing and he didn’t. lol.

  21. Kevin Sours*

    #3 is get a lawyer territory. You really should anyway (the best time hash out contingencies is when everyone is excited and doesn’t think they’ll be needed). But in this case she really needs to protect her interests. Moreover one of the services lawyers provide is an emotionally disconnected individual who can be the “bad guy” if necessary.

  22. St Paul Ite*

    Re: Greedy Coworker

    Before being upfront with your coworker I would check the building policy on extra appliances (humidifiers, fans, heaters, etc.) many buildings have strict limits on such things because of the potential to overload circuits or potentially cause fires if accidentally left on over the weekend etc. Once you have that information then you can speak with her.

    Be honest. We only supply the standard office supplies. If you want something different you’ll need to provide it on your own.

    Humidifiers, etc. are a fire hazard and building management does not allow them for that reason.

    With x number of employees it becomes too time consuming and to costly to try and provide everyone’s favorites. We keep a variety of snacks in hand and you are welcome to bring in anything you like for your own personal stash.

    As an intern the employee may simply not be aware of office norms and just needs a little honest feedback regarding her requests.

  23. Kella*

    Yes! I was also thinking about ask vs. guess culture. Guessers see a single ask as a big deal, and an equally big deal to say yes to a direct ask, therefore, you should be satisfied with receiving your direct ask and go back to guessing. Askers figure hey, if the answer is no, you’ll tell me, but if the answer is yes, I get a thing that I want, no big deal!

    In particular, there seemed to be several things where OP wasn’t sure *whether* the expense would be approved or not, so wasn’t just experiencing the ask as rude, but did not want to pass the ask onto the relevant people because they were worried that then *OP* could be seen as rude for asking for something superiors wouldn’t approve.

      1. smeep248*

        my roommate is an asker and it seems SO RUDE to me. Yesterday she found out a friend got a new housecoat and asked for her old housecoat THEN found out the friend had knitted someone a scarf and asked her to knit her a blue one. I wanted to crawl out of my skin because I was so uncomfortable!

        1. Giant Kitty*

          And as an Asker (both by culture and ND-ness), what seems SO RUDE to me is people who do not communicate clearly & unambiguously and expect others to read their minds aka “guess” to know what they want/think/feel.

          1. 123*

            These examples are almost all questions but don’t feel rude to me. Your roommate did sound rude and I would have been put off.
            “Oh, a new housecoat? Nice! What are your plans for the old one? In the bin? Could I have it then? / Keeping it? Nice to have an extra!”
            “Oooh, you knitted a scarf? How cool! How long did it take you? That quickly? Wow! Would you consider maybe making one for me? I’ll pay for the yarn, of course! / That long? Wow! You must really like that friend a lot!”

  24. Urbanchic*

    #2 – This reminds me so much of our finance team, who is in charge of office supplies and snacks. We recently had a retreat and the cheapest snacks were purchased and no one liked them. What’s unclear to me is does the LW have the authority to make rules about what is purchased/what’s not, and if so, if s/he is applying those rules uniformly. As a manager, if an employee came to me and said that they couldn’t get the OK to buy colored pens, and there aren’t clearly stated guidelines, I would think the admin person who is okaying the purchase requests was getting outside of their lane. I can understand the humidifier objection, so maybe that is only warranted if a person brings in a doctor’s note. neither here nor there, unless the LW has the authority and the purchase request guidelines are clearly stated and consistently applied, I think this letter is a bit unfair to the asker.

  25. MillennialHR*

    LW #5 – I know this is a very specific situation to me, but I was spat on by bullies in elementary and middle school. Spitting disgusts me, especially because it was used in such a disgusting way. Not only that, but it is just disgusting. Find a new thing you can do while smoking.

  26. The Pleasant Pheasant*

    I…think I may have lived too long in the rural south. So many people around here use dip that I’m not even sure I notice the spitting anymore. Granted I work outdoors, but we definitely have vendors who will be on site to meet with clients and will be spitting throughout the meeting. No one seems to be bothered by it, but I feel like I might need to recalibrate my normal here!

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