updates: the receptionist with a shopping habit, the slacker coworkers, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

1. New receptionist has a shopping habit

She got written up for this exact same thing again, along with another (much more severe) issue. She “took the day” to get over her shock at being written up, and then never came back to work. She put in her notice after being out of the office for two weeks. I am not sad to see her go, for this and many other reasons.

2. My coworker won’t stop buying me gifts

I’m the one who wrote about her coworker that kept bringing gifts to me. This one took QUITE a turn.

I tried the script out nearly immediately after you gave it to me. At first, she said I was a “jokester” and she knew that I actually wanted everything she gave me. I had to do this two or three more times with different food items. After the final time, I was no longer her friend. She kept telling everyone I was no fun, boring, and “the world’s biggest buzzkill.” I told her to cut those comments and she, predictably, said she was “just joking.” I got my supervisor involved, and he told her to just not engage with me. This was preferable to me because she was really starting to aggravate me.

A few months later, I started to transition at work and let her know that I was going by she/they pronouns. She made a huge stink about it and said that there’s no such thing as a “them” because “people aren’t plural.” Also I’d “never be a woman” and I was somehow a pervert. This was a very public outburst and she embarrassed me and other people in the room. Our supervisor spoke to her about it immediately considering how public the outburst was. She was given the ultimatum to either stop her behavior or leave, and she opted to leave so she wouldn’t be “controlled by the pronoun police.”

Good riddance.

3. I’m asked to do more work because my slacker coworkers won’t

A few days after I wrote my letter, I received a call to interview for a job similar to my previous job but at a higher level. I received an offer for that job and started mid-March.

I now work on a team with very ambitious people who inspire me to try harder everyday.

Three of my former teammates have also left our old job in the last 2-3 months. I hope others will be motivated by those of us who’ve already left.

I’m thankful for all the advice given and realize just how miserable I actually was.

4. Should I send anything to an employee who’s out sick for several weeks? (#5 at the link)

The team member is question returned to work and continued to be very private about his health and family so I’m kinda glad I gave him space. Unfortunately not long after that he was laid off, with severance, because our company missed a profitability goal. I helped him find a new job, which he wound up not taking because he won millions of dollars in the lottery while he was in the interview phase. The last I saw of him was the front page of the local paper showing him holding the giant check. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving family!

{ 106 comments… read them below }

    1. MEH Squared*

      Came here to say the same thing. I have a bunch of other not-so-nice things to say about the ex-coworker, but I’ll keep them to myself.

      OP#2, good riddance to bad rubbish. I hope you thrive with this jerk gone and that your company has your back.

      1. Deborah*

        Me three! I’m so sorry you had to deal with that, OP2, but so glad that terrible person is out of your life.

    2. FrenchCusser*

      For people who think they can’t use ‘they’ because it’s plural, please point out that ‘you’ is also plural, but no one has a problem using it to refer to a single person.

      English is weird, and subject to constant change.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          As in allowing it is changing it back to what it was originally. It’s from the origins of the language and never dropped out of common usage despite the best efforts of uptight english teachers.

          1. Sharpie*

            Jane Austen has at least one instance of a singular ‘they’ so there’s absolutely zero reason for anyone to be uptight about it. It’s honestly not a new thing at all.

          2. Aggretsuko*

            I find it hilarious that nobody understands grammar except to complain about this particular use, and then suddenly they’re all English professors.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              Prescriptivist grammar is considered old hat anyway. Language is always going to be shaped to the convenience of the user so it’s better to be a descriptivist observing usage, than imposing rules no one wants to follow.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I feel like pointing out precedents in grammar just leaves them room to argue the point.
        It comes down to “call people what they want to be called”

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Right, I like this better, because it is the best argument against people who refuse to use neopronouns like “zie” or “hir.”

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, zie and hir are harder from a habit standpoint, because they are “new”, but they are still perfectly valid. But just like it takes a little effort to learn unfamiliar names it takes a little effort to learn new pronouns. But to refuse to do so in both cases is rude and bigoted.

        2. CC*

          Not only that, but it was pointed out to me recently that the “grammar” argument against using the correct pronouns isn’t actually about the pronouns or the grammar. It’s just another way for transphobes to signal their beliefs to other transphobes, then laugh at all the people trying to educate them because they don’t actually care if they’re right or not about the grammar.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            I think it’s even more than this. I grew up in a toxic culture where people would nitpick and criticize like this on any subject as a way to deflect and create obstacles and abuse the person who was trying to communicate.
            The only solution I ever found was to not engage with people who do this, and avoid them as much as possible.

          2. I take tea*

            This is so true. I can admit that it took me a while to get used to the singular they, because I was taught it as a plural. (I liked hir, that apparently never really took off.) But I would never use it as an argument against using it, I just have to add it to my knowledge of English. Now it feels quite natural. Languages evolve.

            Swedish have finally got a neutral pronoun and some people try to argue quite sincerely that it’s not good, because it has another mening in English. Um, there are a lot of words in any language that means something else in other languages. It’s not a valid argument, it’s just you clutching at straws.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        I love the quote by [someone I can’t remember] that goes : English does not borrow from other languages, it lures them into an alley and robs them.

        1. OldFogey*

          “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

          –James D. Nicoll

      3. TomatoSoup*

        The Oxford English Dictionary traces the singular they pretty consistently back to the 14 the century. It’s not new. Also, language grows and changes over time. It’s such a strange pedantic hill to choose.

        1. ferrina*

          “I refuse to use a singular they because it’s against the purity of English!”
          Yet you’ll use Google as a verb?

          This isn’t a logic argument, it’s trying to use logic to mask other intentions.

    3. Dawn*

      Plot twist: she was both old and stupid.

      Congratulations on your transition, OP, what an exciting time for you!

      1. SuperAdmin*

        Yes, congrats OP, and I’m glad your boss had your back in not taking any transphobic BS from anyone. Old and stupid may be accurate here, but still not an excuse to be a cruddy human being.

  1. Constance Lloyd*

    LW2, I’m sorry. Your coworker is horrible and I’m so glad she’s gone. Moving forward I hope you are surrounded be people who are not only supportive and respectful, but swift and decisive whenever someone is anything but kind.

  2. ChemistryChick*

    I think I got whiplash from that change in personality in #2. Glad the supervisor was having none of that crap.

    OP, I’m glad you’re rid of her and I hope things are going well for you!

    1. ecnaseener*

      Oh, I was actually thinking it made perfect sense – the person who insists she knows what you want and won’t take no for an answer is the same person who insists your gender is fake because she can’t fathom people experiencing gender differently from her.

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        Definitely seems on brand for that type. Her way of existing is the right and correct way, anyone who deviates from that is wrong. Good riddance, indeed.

        OP 2, I hope the rest of your workplace is supportive and kind.

      2. smol might*

        Yeppp. Whether she thinks she’s trying to be nice or not, she has all the empathy of a twig and can’t/won’t even try to grasp that other people are not her.

      3. Tinkerbell*

        We’ve run into this a lot as our older child transitioned (they now identify as nonbinary) – some people are sweet as pie when you conform to the “right” kind of person (in their mind) but absolutely refuse to acknowledge your right to be different than what they think you should be. Teachers who loved my kid before suddenly “never can remember” their new name or pronouns (it’s been almost three years, people!) and just won’t put in the time or effort to educate themselves – but also won’t let anyone else educate them either :-\

        Glad to hear that your work had your back, OP, and I hope it sets a precedent for anyone else that the correct and professional thing to do is to let people decide how they want you to address them!

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          Tinkerbell — Your child has excellent parents.

          The sweet as pie bigots may be “nice,” but they are neither kind nor good.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          As a teacher, I’m struggling to imagine a good institution allowing this to go on. If they aren’t getting their names and pronouns right, what else are they forgetting about the person they are teaching? Do they even know where they are in terms in progress!? The name and identity of the student is usually seen as chapter 1, line 1 and you’d be in huge trouble for forgetting who any student was, but particularly for a student with a special situation, like transitioning. I don’t know if you’ve been made to feel like you’re overreacting/crazy when you’ve kicked up a fuss (common in prejudiced environments and this is happening right now to a friend of mine because the leadership at the school is ableist, and completely out of step with what’s legally and professionally expected of them) but they are completely, totally 100% unacceptably out of line, even if they *did* forget.

        3. Beth*

          We recently had the first non-binary person to be entered into our CRM system (that’s the database that handles contacts, clients, addresses, phone numbers, etc.) I found out that the drop-down box for Gender can be left with no option specified — and that’s just what we did. The contact screen also has a field for notes, which is where I recorded the pronouns to use.

          We already had a couple of trans individuals in the database; they each have a gender, and that’s how their records are coded.

    2. Critical Rolls*

      Yeah, really good to see the manager doing what needs to be done there. People often wonder what it looks like when a company demonstrates non-lip-service action on DEI, and “firing open bigots without loss of time” is a good place to start.

  3. Kali*

    Got whiplash from both #2 and #4 – in a bad way for the second letter (good riddance, indeed) and in a good, but jealous, way for the fourth one. Lol.

  4. Observer*

    #1 – I can’t say I’m surprised at the update. Once you posted all of the additional information in the comments, it became clear that she was a problem and it was likely that she was going to be hard to manage.

    I’m sure you are not sad to see her go. At least she just walked out.

    I’m curious what she did that finally precipitated the write up.

  5. Worldwalker*

    I do not get the “pronoun police” people.

    If I can learn to call someone John, I can learn to call them Mary instead. If I can learn to refer to them as “him,” I can also learn to refer to them as “her.” Or “them” which is very much *not* a new usage of the word; English has been trying to replace “hit” since we ditched it around the time of the Norman Conquest. And especially, if I can learn to call someone I utterly despise from the bottom of my heart “sir” because they own the company, I can learn to call anyone whatever they want to be called.

    I know intellectually that this is a big deal to some people. But I do not understand emotionally *why*. And it’s not religion — I’ve read the Bible cover to cover, and I never found where God said “hate one another.”

    1. Not Australian*

      It’s so easy though to just take an extra second and remind yourself that a person’s name has changed, whatever the reason for it. A good friend of mine, after being known as ‘Mandy’ for most of her life, decided she wanted to be called ‘Amanda’ so that people would take her more seriously: people adapted. Why does it have to be any more complicated than that? I think some people are just so terrified of messing up and accidentally misgendering or deadnaming a colleague that they opt for a defensive position instead. “Oh, no, you can’t expect me to remember that, it’s ridiculous!” etc.

      1. Samwise*

        Nah, I think a fair number of people are actual hateful assholes, or are incredibly rigid jerks, and that’s why they “can’t remember” or huff about “pronoun police.”

        Or maybe they are insecure about their own gender, but even so.

        Whatever the reason, they’re standing on the other person’s foot and need to step off.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*


          I DGAF if you don’t “approve” of someone’s chosen name or pronouns. You call a person what they want to be called, or YTA. It’s that simple.

      2. sb51*

        I personally had more trouble with a friend that did a Mandy->Amanda type name change than when the same person later went Amanda->Andrew (also not the real names) because I was raised in a family that only switched from nicknames when angry, but swapping to a whole new name was easy for me.

      3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        yeah there are all sorts of people who just don’t seem capable of a humble apology. I misgendered a kid from the dog park who’s too young for hormones, was privately corrected by a third party, apologised profusely. Apologies accepted and we chatted for a bit. He said he really didn’t mind being misgendered, for the time being he’s just happy that people in his family and school are accepting.
        I don’t understand in the least, but the kid is entitled to the same respect as everyone else.

    2. Llama Identity Thief*

      I really see it split down into two cases.

      1. Their understanding of human life is so immensely based on the gender binary, that deviating from that is directly attacking what it means to be human.

      2. They see being trans as an inherently sexual thing, and feel like any acceptance of someone else’s identity is actively taking part in this sexual thing.


      1. Holiday Cheer*

        I think you’re hitting the nail on the head with your second point…I mean, I’m in my 20’s and I remember the days “transsexual” was the accepted term. That term kind of bring sexuality into something that isn’t related to sexuality at all.

      2. Proud enby*

        This is reminding me of the situation I ran into earlier this month, where I filled out paperwork while waiting for my appointment with a new gyno. Under the question “what is your sexual identity?” it listed the following categories:

        I still kinda wish I’d gone up to the front desk, feigned dumb, and requested “clarification.” “So…are you asking me if I prefer sex with transgender people?” If I hadn’t been on the verge of an anxiety attack from the stress of filling out too much detailed paperwork in a strange new place, it might’ve crossed my mind.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          What a weird form to fill in! In France it’s illegal to have any kind of database specifying race, religion or orientation so we are never asked that.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      In fact, God strongly recommends against that! A lot! As in “there’s an actual pit waiting if you don’t knock that off.”

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Yeah, there’s the repeated many variations of “Fear not” followed closely by “don’t worship other gods” and “leave the judginess to me, your job is simply to not be TA to people around you.”

        “In case you want some guidelines, I had some folks go into excruciating detail with lots of examples. And then boiled it down to 10 to clarify and make it easier to remember. Then finally, for the tl:dr crowd, I’ve summarized it just 2”

    4. Festively Dressed Earl*

      It’s depressing that a bullheaded lack of empathy is a load-bearing personality trait for so many people.

    5. Charces*

      Agreed. As an introvert who hates confrontation, just let me know what you want to be called and I’m happy to oblige. I will not, however, call your sweetums “Master.”

      1. Eugene*

        Ohhhhhmg I think ab that letter all the time it takes up unreasonable real estate in my brain.

        It’s also a really good example of what my insane family (I’m trans) thinks trans people are demanding of the rest of society when we ask to be called by our names and pronouns. Maybe that’s why that letter sticks with me.

        Like, no, mom – you’re not participating in some creepy BDSM ritual just by saying “He’s being the potato’s to thanksgiving” instead of “She’s”

    6. Boof*

      And i mean, there’s just doing the best you can! I can barely remember tons of things about people, but i can still try to honor their preferences and apologize if i forget something important to them; way better then just trashing the thing that is important to them the moment i hear about it :p

    7. marvin*

      A lot of it is just propaganda. Trans people are a pretty small part of the population so most people encounter media narratives about us before they (knowingly) meet one of us. So many people are profiting from spreading anti trans hate and misinformation that they’ve primed the general public to see us as difficult and perverse and spoiled and whatever. They have successfully made the discourse about pronouns a way bigger energy drain than any trans person ever wanted it to be.

      Anyway, congratulations on your transition LW2! I’m glad your ex coworker is no longer your problem.

    8. Ellis Bell*

      The really ironic thing about that accusation of “pronoun police” is that they are the ones trying to police pronouns. If what you’re objecting to is no longer being able to insist on choosing other people’s pronouns for them, and have them answer to you regardless, then it’s crazy to pretend you’re the one being unreasonably put upon. If we get right down to it, they can stay at home and parrot whatever pronouns they like all day long. But they can’t reasonably expect people they’re talking with to respond to names and pronouns which don’t belong to them. So, of course they are going to lose jobs and relationships because they’re being rude and difficult.

    9. DJ Abbott*

      I posted about this below. IME People do this to control and dominate other people. It’s not really about pronouns or names at all, it’s about them trying to force people to conform to their beliefs of how things should be.

    10. Keats*

      The worst is when they act like they’re afraid of the person with the new pronouns, like this coworker. If you say the wrong pronoun or the deadname on accident, just apologize and correct yourself without making a huge fuss. “Jane–oops, sorry, I mean John, working on that report.” No one’s saying you’re not allowed an adjustment period. We are insisting you make the adjustment out of basic human decency. The whole concept of “pronoun police” is one hell of a straw man.

    11. D'Arcy*

      Really, it’s the *conservatives* who are actually being the pronoun police with their militant insistence that people aren’t allowed to have gender identities other than binary birth assignment.

  6. Scottish Teapot*

    #2. This is nothing to do with “pronoun police” and everything to do with being bigoted. If someone wants to be known and they/them, she/her, he/him then be polite and do as they ask. Married women change their names and no big deal is made about that. Sure, some people make a mistake but eventually you get used to it. Some people just love to make issues with things that don’t concern their lives.

    1. Katherine Boag*

      Yeahi was around someone in a non-work situation who claimed to have been fired because she accidentally called someone the wrong pronoun. Surprise! She later turned out to be a raging homophobe and transphobe. There are no ‘pronoun police’, you’re just a bigot and incapable of keeping it to yourself at work.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      And if you’re a married woman who DOESN’T change their name, these folks are just the type to pointedly introduce you as, and address all mail to, “Mrs. [Hisfirstname Hislastname.]”

      1. Sharpie*

        If that’s snail mail, ain’t nothing stopping whoever gets said mail from sending it back ‘not known at this address’. Because c’mon, that’s just so ridiculous.

      2. 1LFTW*

        Heh. I actually knew someone – let’s call her “Jane Jones” – whose grandmother-in-law referred to her as “Mrs John Smith” or “Mrs Smith” even though she hadn’t changed her name when she married.

        GMIL’s reasoning was that “Mrs John Smith” was her *title*, and that mattered far more than her actual name (let alone her preferences).

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I was friends with a woman whose MIL refused to accept it that my friend did not change her last name (friend wanted to stay on the same name as her daughter from her previous marriage). To get that message across, MIL once sent the friend a check as a birthday gift, made out to [friend’s first name] [MIL’s last name]. Don’t remember how Friend cashed or deposited it, all I recall is her being worried that the bank would turn her around and refuse to accept the check.

        And Scottish Teapot is right, I changed my name back to my maiden one and even then, no one at work batted an eye. A bunch of people who didn’t know it was my dad’s last name, assumed I’d remarried, but no one threw a fit and complained about being harassed by last name police!

    3. Kyrielle*

      YES. Do people screw up sometimes? Yup! My oldest kid went from using a nickname to using his given name around age 6, and the two weren’t that different and the given name was obviously his all along, and still out of habit we screwed it up occasionally. (Probably it’s harder in that case, because nothing about his presentation was changing to act as a reminder, he just wanted to use his given name.) But we corrected ourselves and moved on and now, when I read something I wrote back then and it uses the nickname, I blink at it and it feels wrong.

      If you can do it for someone abandoning or picking up a nickname still within the same “gender set” of names, and you can’t do it for someone changing genders, I can’t think of any reason but bigotry for that. (And if you can apologize all over for having thought my younger kid with long hair is a girl when he’s not, then you can do that regardless of what their assigned-at-birth gender was.)

    4. marvin*

      “Pronoun police” is also one of those constructions that allow the bigot to believe that they are a victim and marginalized people somehow hold power over them. There is a particularly twisted irony here given that the trans community is at higher risk of harm from the actual police.

  7. scurvycapn*

    I’m loving all of these updates. The only problem is that I get distracted by other stories when reading the originals and feel slightly disappointed when I come back to the update and an even more bonkers story wasn’t the one that led me there, lol.

  8. Curmudgeon in California*

    She made a huge stink about it and said that there’s no such thing as a “them” because “people aren’t plural.” Also I’d “never be a woman” and I was somehow a pervert.

    I despise people who pull this shit. They are disrespectful, rude and full of hate. Why in the living f they think that they have the right to determine how other people are addressed I will never understand.

    “They” and “you” have a long history of being used as both singular and plural in the English language, so it’s not some new thing. We use “they” for people whose gender we don’t know all the time, either singular or plural. We use “you” as both singular and plural all the time. So any protests about using the singular “they” at someone’s request ring hollow and petty. The petty people wanna bitch about it? It just proves they are assholes, nothing more.

    — me (they/them)

    1. allathian*

      People who object to singular they as the correct pronoun for non-binary individuals, rather than as a gender-neutral way to talk about people when their gender is unknown or irrelevant to the discussion, are fixated on the idea of binary gender and probably transphobic as well.

      Singular they has a long history in the English language when the gender is unknown or irrelevant, but it’s relatively new as the flag used to talk about individual people. The recognition of non-binary gender identity in society at large is relatively new, and it makes me livid that it isn’t universally accepted. Although google Public Universal Friend for what is probably the first documented example of a person who identified as genderless, in 1776.

  9. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    People ALREADY use the singular ‘they/them’ all the time!

    “Someone dropped off a package for you at the door, but they didn’t leave their name”

    “I have a letter for you from a mysterious admirer – let’s see if we can find any clues as to their identity!”

    The only reason not to use the singular ‘they/them’, whether in response to someone’s request or speaking about people who don’t identity as one end or the other of a binary, is bigotry.

    She sounds like a bigoted pedant in search of a cause to be offended about and I’m glad she’s gone. I’m sorry you had to deal with that utter ass of a human while she was there. I hope the fact that it was dealt with swiftly sent a message to any others who may be similarly inclined, that they should keep any ignorant thoughts to themselves.

    I hope that going forward, this was all the BS you have to deal with; that you’ve used up your lifetime allotment of BS, and from now through the rest of your life, you have all the sunshine and freaking unicorns forever.

    Here’s one final example of singular they:

    “As OP2 walked down the hall, she felt very welcomed here, and felt like she had a place to safely explore their gender identity at their own pace. She also had all the support (and money, and time, and people, and expertise, and all the resources) that she needed to not only step into but also to *celebrate* how awesome they are.”

    1. And yet*

      I don’t have any issues with a singular they, but if I did your example wouldn’t fix it for me. When I read that example paragraph at the end, it sounded to me that the “they” referred to the workplace/coworkers.

  10. Ginger Cat Lady*

    “It was a joke!” does not change anything when someone tells you that something you did was offensive. I’m so sick of bigots saying that when they get called out for crap they did.
    Calling something a “joke” excuses NOTHING.

    1. Stopgap*

      “It was a joke!” is asshole-ese for “I don’t want to deal with the consequences of my actions.”

    2. Sharpie*

      Blank look. “You’ll have to explain the joke because I don’t get it.”

      Let them come right out and have to explain that they’re being obnoxious bigoted unspeakables.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I got big “The Cable Guy” vibes from that coworker. “I just wanted to hang out! No big deal!” and then turns out that he actually wants his “new friend” to live his life exactly to Cable Guy’s specs. Coworker seems to have built an entire version of OP in her head that didn’t exist in real life, then when OP went off the script and started transitioning, Coworker was shocked. That wasn’t what she’d planned for OP, you know!

  11. Bluebell*

    I feel like today’s column deserves a segment of “Amber says WHAT “ with Amber Ruffin. (PSA- she and her sister have a new book out, and lots of the racist stories feature people behaving badly at work. )

    1. Anonymous Today*

      Amber Ruffin’s “You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey” is one of my favorites. I’m not Black, but I am a member of a different minority and when young had people overly invested in my very curly hair.

  12. DJ Abbott*

    #2, Seems like there were a lot of people like this around when I was growing up.
    They’re trying to be sweet, giving people who are good to everyone around them. That’s their image of themselves. When someone points out that they’re actually controlling and selfish people they can’t cope with it, so they turn on the people they supposedly care about.
    So she became your enemy when you were firm about not accepting gifts from her.
    Then, you being trans was something she couldn’t cope with it all. Better for you, because you don’t have to deal with her anymore! :)

  13. Former Employee*

    “They” was used as a singular by Shakespeare. Whenever I read a comment that “they” is a plural, I always suggest that the person go argue with Shakespeare.

    However, people do sometimes have trouble making the switch. If you’ve known someone for years as “Martin”, suddenly having to refer to them as “Marilyn” can be a challenge, not because you have a problem with their transition, but because your brain has been set on autopilot so that when you see this person that means you are seeing Martin.

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