coworkers have infested the office with gnats, asking for documentation for dietary restrictions, and more

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

1. My coworker mistreats employees and no one will do anything about it

I’ve been working at the same company for a while now (over 5 years) and over time, I have seen a trend that does not seem like it will ever get addressed. I have a co-worker, let’s call her Kathleen, who frequently oversteps professional boundaries with colleagues, especially junior staff. She has directed them to run personal errands, calls them late at night to talk about her personal issues for hours, many times while intoxicated, and organizes social events but excludes team members, despite leadership being invited.

She is also known to give harsh feedback (has yelled in the past), undercut her supervisors when they are not in the room, and reassign work that should be assigned to her. I feel like we keep rotating out her direct reports, who are mostly junior staff because she is so hard to work with. If Kathleen were a man, I think she would have been reprimanded by now for the inappropriate phone calls.

Her habits are well known and many of my colleagues come to me to vent and ask why things have not changed. I think it is because our leadership has a soft spot for her. Kathleen has had a tough life. She does not have a lot of friends and this job is her world, which I think blurs the boundaries. But this is impacting the morale of a growing team! How can I bring this up to leadership in a way that could result in changes? The last time this festered, I was told to stop talking about it and that junior staff should just not answer her calls.

If you brought it up and got told to stop talking about it, I’m skeptical that trying again will be any different. Maybe you could get traction if you speak up with a group of colleagues rather than on your own, but I’m not optimistic.

Can you instead focus on making sure the people who work for Kathleen are supported — that they know they can ignore her late-night calls and say no to running personal errands, and are otherwise empowered to enforce appropriate boundaries with her? That’s not really enough, but it might be all that’s in your power to do.

2. Is it legal to ask for documentation for dietary restrictions?

I recently traveled to a work meeting where some meals were provided. Unfortunately, there was a mixup with catering for one of the meals, and this meant that there were no options for attendees with certain dietary restrictions, including me. This was unfortunate and uncomfortable, but things happen. I bought a modest lunch with my company credit card and submitted the receipt for reimbursement, along with the meeting agenda as required.

I received a message asking why I bought lunch when it was provided per the agenda because per the company policy, “If a traveler chooses to substitute an outside meal for a meal otherwise included in a conference registration, the outside meal is considered a non-reimbursable personal expense.”

I acknowledged that yes, lunch was included with the agenda, but unfortunately, none of the lunch options accommodated my dietary restrictions. The lunch that was delivered was meat sandwiches and I cannot eat gluten and do not eat red meat. I noted that there was a mix-up with catering and included the message of apology that I received from the hosting organization.

When I was told that did not constitute an exception and I would need to pay for the meal, I sent a message to the business office indicating that I understood that there was a question about my purchasing of my lunch and noting that my purchase of the lunch was not a choice. I could not eat the lunch provided because none of the options accommodated my dietary restrictions so, in essence, a meal was not provided.

Initially I received this reply: “Thank you for your explanation on why you purchased lunch on [date] when the meeting agenda stated that lunch was already included. [Department] will approve the expense report with the purchase lunch included.” But then, I received this follow-up message: “Could you please provide a copy of your medically documented gluten intolerance?”

A colleague who also attended the meeting ran into the same issue because they are vegetarian. Once they shared that the lunch didn’t offer vegetarian options, their travel expense was processed without request for further documentation.

Never mind the different processes for different employees, is it legal to ask an employee to provide documentation for dietary restrictions in this or other circumstances?

Employers can legally require you to provide documentation to establish that you need a medical accommodation … but it’s ridiculous to bother asking for it in a situation like this. The accommodation wasn’t onerous, and they’re probably spending more in staff time questioning it than what your lunch cost and they’re doing that at the expense of your good will. Plus, as your vegetarian coworker’s experience demonstrates, not all dietary restrictions are medical in nature (which is undoubtedly why she wasn’t asked for documentation).

Read an update to this letter.

3. My coworkers’ plants have infested the office with gnats

I need help navigating an annoying topic with coworkers who I truly do get along with but don’t seem to see the problem I do. Several of my coworkers have adorned their offices and the common spaces between with plants. So. Many. Plants.

And while I am happy they are flexing their green thumb, some of these plants have come along with a gnat infestation. I am swatting away gnats all day and I don’t even have plants in my office. We’ve all commented and complained about the matter but I’m the only one who has brought in fly paper and other remedies in an attempt to kill the little suckers off, no one else seems to care enough to try. And I’m the only one without any plants in the office.

I’m sick of spending my time and money on other peoples’ plants. Please help before I really do go gnats.

You’ve got to talk to whoever has some authority to fix this — whether it’s by putting some money into gnat eradication or telling people to take their plants home or some other solution I haven’t thought of. Right now you’re relying on sort of cajoling people into fixing it on their own, and it’s not working; you need someone with authority to step in (which I suspect is likely to mean a plant ban, but who knows). So: office manager? Facilities person? Whoever has authority over your physical space, go to them and say this: “We have a gnat infestation because of the plants people have brought in. I am swatting away gnats all day, despite bringing in fly paper and XYZ. Help!”

Read an update to this letter

4. My old boss was horrible … right?

Last year, I had a job I hated. I was a personal assistant, and I worked exclusively for my boss. I was 25, and my industry has a culture of demanding bosses and assistants. Not only did I not gel with my boss, I wasn’t great at the work. However, the pay was good, so I committed to getting better. My boss even said that he’d seen improvement a few weeks before this fustercluck.

Then, over the course of a weekend, I learned that my mother had cancer, my grandmother was dying, and I had Covid. (For the record: my mother recovered, my grandmother held on, and my Covid was mild.) I didn’t handle it well, and my performance suffered, but I thought I was holding together. Then my boss called and screamed at me for falling behind, asking why I was failing. I’ll admit that I could’ve handled things better — I was very emotional — but once he had me crying, I blurted out that my mother had cancer. My boss grudgingly agreed to “back off,” but said that I should have told him about my mom’s diagnosis first thing (?). I felt violated, because I’d had personal information bullied out of me, but what could I do? No way I’d be punished for worrying about a parent with cancer, right?

Wrong! A week later, I had another surprise call, where my boss and HR put me on a PIP out of nowhere. The PIP gave me three months, and considering that I already wasn’t the best assistant, I took it as a nudge to find something else. I kept quiet and started job-hunting, because there’s no way I’d be punished for a job hunt I was all but told to start, right?

Wrong again! Two months into my PIP, my boss called and confronted me about “interviewing around.” Apparently, one of his industry connections (I refuse to use the word “friend,” because this man has none) recognized me as an applicant. I was shocked, especially since he was acting like I’d betrayed him — he kept asking if I “seriously thought I could get away with this.” I replied that I was under the impression my PIP was a soft exit, and he seemed flabbergasted and said it was not, and that I was “betraying all the hard work he put into me.” I decided to resign, since it was clear I had no future with this man. I stayed for a month, lied at my exit interview, and got spectacularly drunk to celebrate my last day. (To my ex-boss’ credit, he did give me a good recommendation. Faint praise award?)

Now that I’m in a normal work environment, this is bananapants, right? Even back then, I thought my boss’ actions were unprofessional. Now that I have more distance (and a normal boss), it feels downright abusive. Expecting a subordinate to disclose a family member’s health issues, abruptly putting them on a PIP a week after you literally screamed it out of them, and then accusing them of betraying your trust when they take the a hint and job-hunt — that’s bananapants verging on banana-tuxedo, right? Yes, I kind of already know the answer! But I’m still dealing with PTSD from working under that man, and I’m selfishly seeking vindication from someone other than my (in remission, thank god) mother.

Verdict: bright yellow bananapants with a jaunty banana hat.

You perfectly identified all the problems: (a) screaming at you, (b) saying you should have told him about your mom’s diagnosis first thing (what? no), (c) accusing you of betraying his trust by leaving, and (d) being shocked that you were job-searching when you’d been warned your job was in jeopardy. Bananas all around.

5. Am I getting bad advice from my campus career center?

I am about to graduate and enter the workforce, so I’ve been diving into your cover letter category and using the advice there to help me craft a letter to apply for my first ever “real” job. I found the advice and examples given to be very helpful in writing a personable letter that highlights my experiences.

However, when I took my cover letter draft to my college’s career planning service, I received some very different advice. I was told to use only business-formal language and to follow a template. I was also told to add in 2-3 “skills-based” paragraphs with a topic sentence (an example I was quoted reads, “I possess strong communication and collaboration skills”) and to end each paragraph with directly relating the skill back to the job. The career planning person advised ending the letter with “I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my interests and skills further in an interview” because “Remember to ask for what you want — an interview!”

I am a bit confused, as the end result felt stiffer and much more formulaic, and to me resembled more of the “before” cover letter examples on this site than the “after” letters that resulted in jobs. Is this bad cover letter advice? I know my cover letter isn’t perfect; I just want to follow the right advice to make it better. I am extremely new to the workforce and have never written a cover letter before, so my only experience with them comes from meeting the career planning advisor and from reading the examples on this site.

I’ve attached the template I was told to use, as well as the cover letter that I brought to the meeting and wrote using the advice on this site.

A sentence I have unfortunately typed many times: ignore your campus career center. Some of them are good, but a lot of them give terrible advice and yours appears to be one of those. The cover letter you sent me was really good — better than most! Their advice to you would significantly weaken it.

The strongest cover letters are conversational, not stiffly formal (at least in most industries; lawyers seem to hate contractions).

There’s nothing wrong with using a template, but you don’t have to adhere to a specific template if your letter works just fine without one. There’s also nothing terribly wrong with ending a letter by saying you’d welcome an interview; that’s a pretty standard, generic thing to say and it’s not a problem that they suggest it … but you don’t have to, and it does seem like they’re nitpicking you based on the belief that you must follow their (very generic, bland, and unexciting) template rather than on any ability to evaluate your letter as a whole.

You might find it interesting to ask the person advising you there what their background is; you’re highly, highly likely to discover they don’t have any significant experience hiring people (some career centers are even staffed by current undergrads with almost no work history).

{ 516 comments… read them below }

  1. MPerera*

    Gnats are difficult to eradicate. I had a problem with them in my houseplants some time ago, so I hung up sticky strips, put those into pots as well, and placed containers of water plus a few drops of dish soap near the plants. I think I’ve finally beaten the problem, but it took time and effort. If that happened in an office and it was due to someone else’s plants and the plant owner wouldn’t do anything about it, I’d want the plants gone.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I once caused a fungus gnat infestation in my office, with literally one plant. I hadn’t heard of them before and didn’t realize it was due to overwatering. Once I removed the plant in question the problem completely disappeared. OP’s coworkers are really terrible for not taking responsibility for the problem they have caused.

      1. Random Dice*

        Soil fungus gnats can be treated with diluted hydrogen peroxide. Honestly though… once everyone is accidentally inhaling soil fungus gnats, maybe don’t dilute the hydrogen peroxide. Dead plants will likely be thrown away.

        1. Random Dice*

          But really, a call to OSHA about a pest infestation in the office will clear this plant issue right up.

    2. Mo*

      I watered with a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide for a couple weeks and that completely got rid of mine. HOWEVER, if the plant has root rot I think they’ll just keep coming back.

      1. Just Another Cog*

        Yes! I was housesitting for my sister last winter and she has a ton of houseplants with what seemed like millions of gnats. It was awful. I found the peroxide remedy online and it worked great! I guess you’d have to get buy-in from the plant people to try this remedy and you’d still have to spearhead the gnat control project. Maybe you can get the company to at least buy the peroxide if you go this route? I’m sorry you have to deal with this. I really hate gnats flitting around my face.

        1. TrixM*

          I think whoever owns the infested plants should pay for their own, and a date be given for still-infested plants to be removed from the premises, say in two months.
          And that’s the “soft” option – I’d personally say that all infested plants should be removed now, and a moratorium on bringing in replacements until it’s determined there are no more pests.
          If people don’t want to take infested plants home to spread the bugs to their healthy ones, maybe they should think about why they think it’s acceptable in the office.

    3. Lucy P*

      Try leaving out a dish of apple cider vinegar (preferably far away from people due to the smell). It will attract the gnats and they will drown in it. I’ve heard that adding dish soap to the dish before the vinegar helps even better.

      We had an issue with fruit flies last year (and it’s starting up again). We put a dish of ACV in an empty office. Within a week the flies were gone.

      At Christmas, someone spilled a bottle of cheap, expired wine (a year past the expiration date). The flies all disappeared after that.

      1. CantThinkofAnotherUserName*

        Or — and this is just the petty side of me coming out — maybe leave the dish very near the coworkers with the plants? Maybe if they have to deal with the LW’s solution, they’ll be more willing to be involved in solving the problem?

        1. Lucy P*

          I originally had the dish in the office of the person who kept throwing fruit peels in their trash, thus drawing the flies. But, their office was too close to mine and I kept smelling the ACV.

        2. No_woman_an_island*

          But all of that is completely useless if the gnats have laid eggs in the soil. You’ll just have a never ending cycle of hatching and laying. I had this issue with a plant once. My solution after fighting them for a month or 2 was that I now had an outdoor plant. And my issue wasn’t over watering…I’m a chronic underwaterer. It just took one watering to hatch those suckers and begin the nightmare.

          1. MissM*

            I’ve experienced this too with some soils (looking at you Miracle-Gro cactus). big pain in the rear until i got the little yellow sticky flags that you put into the plant. they gravitate towards it and i collected an amazing number of them & yet still room for more.

      2. Random Dice*

        Fruit flies and soil fungus gnats are different… though soil fungus gnats will gladly fly to die in any liquid. Hand soap, mouthwash, dentures cleaner…

    4. DivergentStitches*

      Can confirm the dish soap in water method works well. I’ve got a little dish on my desk with 4 dead gnats in it. Thanks for the nudge to refresh it and clean it out.

    5. mac and cheese*

      One thing that can work pretty well is to use a Bt product like “Mosquito Bits”. The ones marketed for mosquitoes will also kill fungus gnats, and it is a bacterial/organic product. The Bits are small and can be sprinkled on the potting soil or steeped in water to make a “tea” that you use to water the plants – it takes a bit for this to start working as it functions on the juvenile stage and not on the flying gnats.

      1. Dubious*

        I was just coming here to say this! I’ve used Mosquito Dunks before to take care of gnats—I used the steeping in water method. When you’re using them for potted plants, a little bit of the Dunk “donut” can go a long way.

        OP3, it might take some finagling and negotiation to persuade your green thumb coworkers to use these, since there’s a bit of extra prep involved, but it has good potential to make both sides happy.

        1. CanRelate*

          +1 to mosquito dunks, Its a slow burn but will be a relatively firm fix when fully implemented.

      2. Taylor*

        Coming here to second this–I mixed the liquid BT into a spray bottle with water and spray on the soil as needed when the gnats come around and it works like a charm! Your coworker won’t even know you’re spraying it!
        Also, the gnats are likely due to overwatering. If you can convince your coworker to stop watering so much, that will help reduce the gnats too.

    6. Meep*

      We have a lot of plants in the office, admittedly most of them mind. Gnats tend to be from overwatering. Once you get rid of the puddles and wet spots in the soil for them, they clear up pretty face.

      1. Gnat Girl*

        Thank you all for your remedies. I’ve brought them to my boss and asked that she intervene, which she has promised to do. I don’t wish for a plant ban, I used to be a plant person but have had health things abruptly take me out of the office enough times to stop doing it so they don’t die. So here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that and something works.

        1. FormerProducer*

          Just popping into to second (third? fourth?) the BTI suggestion! If they are fungus gnats, the apple cider vinegar solution likely won’t work (that’s good for fruit flies though). I had a horrible case of fungus gnats and BTI cleared it up very fast, and they never came back. Good luck!

        2. Bethannie*

          I have a lot of plays as well and one brought fungus gnats too. I used sand, it broke up the reproductive cycle fast and actually improved the plants

    7. K*

      We had gnats. A couple of us asked plant owner to get rid of offending plants. I’m not working in a swarm of bugs.

    8. Kayem*

      I’m surprised more plant people aren’t taking care of it. Infestation of one plant can spread to another pretty quickly. That’s why any plant I bring in from outside goes into the quarantine space far away from my other plants before it gets included. And if one plant gets an infestation of anything, it goes to quarantine or outside, depending on type of infestation and weather.

      As others have mentioned, overwatering can cause the problem. Even if the plant itself isn’t overwatered, if it’s a kind of plant that prefers consistently moist soil, that will attract insects. People should probably avoid bringing in plants that need consistently moist soil because (aside from bugs) those can die off all too easily if someone forgets to water or the plant person is out sick or on vacation.

      The best plants for an office are those that can be ignored and forgotten for weeks. Like spider plants and pothos. I thought my spider plant died when I left it outside during a freeze, so I yanked out the dead bits and stuck the pot in the basement where it was promptly ignored. A year later, I look over in that corner and it’s happily growing like nothing happened.

      Also, for anyone who brings in African violets, for the love of Bobula, stop overwatering them. They are fine even if the soil is dry and overwatering will just cause them to rot like crazy.

    9. goddessoftransitory*

      It’s amazing to me how many people don’t grasp that plants are LIVING THINGS. They need care, attention, and will do things like bring a gnat colony along to the office if you aren’t paying attention!

    10. Sunshine Gremlin*

      Adding to the gnat resources: top your soil with 1/2″ or so of coarse horticultural sand (it looks like small pebbles rather than sand… but sand works, as does river pebbles or aquarium gravel or pumice chunks). It keeps the gnats from getting into the soil to lay eggs. Nothing worked for my house plants and I grow mostly edible plants, so I couldn’t do mosquito dunks or strong pesticides. 100% fix within 2-3 days.

    11. Reluctant Mezzo*

      Yes, I had terrible problems with them even with jade plants. But then, I have a gray thumb ‘helping plants on their way to Jesus’ and so I am never surprised when plants do Bad Things around me.

    12. Vio*

      A friend once taught me a great tip she discovered by accident. Get a wide, shallow container and put a little bit of red wine in it. Leave it out overnight and it’ll be full of dead gnats next day. Waiting until the next day to clean up after a hen night managed to get rid of the gnats in her living room plants.

  2. I am Emily's failing memory*

    #3. Fungus gnats need wet soil to breed. They lay like 1,000 eggs and then die a day later so killing the adults won’t do anything, they were all about to do it anyway. Most likely too many people are watering the plants too often. The top 2″ of soil should dry out completely before being watered again.

    Have people try watering less, bottom-watering instead of top watering, and/or watering from a jug that you’ve thrown a handful of mosquito bits into – they work on gnats too.

    1. Bea*

      I have found a layer of horticultural grit on the soil works wonders. I had terrible problems with my plants at home and this worked wonders

      1. Greige*

        I put a top layer of decorative sand over the soil on some of my problem plants, and that cleared them up. I hadn’t heard of horticultural grit, though, so thanks for sharing! I learn so much from this site!

        1. ferrina*

          Ooh, I didn’t know this could help! I had an issue a few years ago, and just let the plants die. You’re inspiring me to try again!

        2. Alanna*

          Decorative sand + gnat strips solved it for me, but it took a few weeks (you have to get through the life cycle) and I caught it pretty early.

        3. Kayem*

          It sounds weird, but the best thing I’ve ever found is a layer of sifted micro gravel from Crater of Diamonds state park* on top of the soil. The gravel helps keep the soil from drying out too much while the top layer stays dry so it doesn’t attract bugs. Plus it looks lovely. I don’t know if it’s the volcanic rock, mixture of different minerals, or that all together, but it’s now my go-to topper for indoor plants. Not as easy to get, but if anyone lives close to or visits the park, I highly recommend getting some!

          * Visitors are allowed to take home a five gallon bucket of washed gravel on each visit. I’ve been there several times and have several buckets. My baby dragonfruit trees and succulents also love it.

    2. Lizard*

      Spraying neem oil on the soil helps too. But that’s something that might need to happen after hours – that scent is strong, and not ok to spray in enclosed spaces.

      1. Expiring Cat Memes*

        I recommend spraying pyrethrum on the soil instead. It’s non toxic, doesn’t have much smell, it’s effective almost immediately and stays effective for quite some time, even if OP’s coworkers continue overwatering.

        1. cabbagepants*

          Pyrethrum is a naturally occurring insecticide. It has low level toxicity to humans at the doses you should be using but since it is a real insecticide it should be treated as such and you should let your colleagues know you’re using it. It’s toxic to cats and fish, for example, so people deserve to know if it is being used where it could end up on their clothes or other possessions.

        2. Kayem*

          Do you mean pyrethrum or pyrethrin? Pyrethrum is the plant and whole plant extract, pyrethrin is the extracted active compounds. Both work really well, but pyrethrin can be toxic to cats, especially when it’s still wet. I’m sure there’s probably not that many cats in offices but it’s helpful to know for home use.

          Disclaimer: I have cats but I also use pyrethrin spray on my clothes when I go visit my parents or go hiking. And I use it in the mailbox to keep the ants from building a colony in my junk mail after all other methods failed. It works amazingly well.

          1. Expiring Cat Memes*

            I’m talking about natural pyrethrum spray certified for use in organic gardening. The ready-made stuff shouldn’t be toxic at all to humans or pets when used as per the directions.
            You don’t need to spray the whole plant for fungus gnats, just a light spray over the soil. But yes I would talk to the plant owners first (and really they should be doing/paying for it).

    3. Rachel*

      This advice means the contributor will be responsible for caring for the plants, which the contributor does not want.

      Also, it is HIGHLY unlikely the co-workers will listen to the contributor or follow their plant care plan.

      1. Antilles*

        Also, it is HIGHLY unlikely the co-workers will listen to the contributor or follow their plant care plan.
        Bingo. OP says in the question that they are the only one who’s cared enough to make any attempt to deal with the gnats.
        Do we really think the co-workers who can’t even be bothered to spend a few bucks on fly paper or a few minutes trying remedies are going to adjust their watering strategy to go bottom-up? They’re all going to mix mosquito bits into the watering can every time? Come in after hours to spray neem oil? Follow some specific plan to address the gnats?
        I don’t see it.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          My guess – the plant people just “don’t see” the gnats because “these always come with plants, it’s no big deal, and the plants are so pretty and make the office feel more welcoming” to them. You probably have to go above them and make a request for plastic instead of real plants. But you may also have to get all the AC filters replaced and the office fumigated. Gnats are hard to get rid of once they are established.

    4. Steely eyed missile man*

      I came here to suggest Mosquito Bits too! I had a terrible fungus gnat problem and the sticky paper traps weren’t working well enough. Soak some Mosquito Bits in the watering can (there are instructions on the bag) and use that to water the plants every time. It’ll worked really quickly and has kept them from coming back.

    5. ldub*

      I had a severe fungus gnat issue during lockdown and the only thing that worked was watering with a 1/5 hydrogen peroxide/water mix. You can hear the eggs dying when the hydrogen peroxide hits them- it’s great. But this should be your coworkers’ problem to solve, and immediately. Gnats are the worst and you shouldn’t have to live with them.

    6. Peanut Hamper*

      I kind of figured these were fungus gnats. There are billions of recommendations on the web on how to get rid of them, but NONE of them include this information. Thank you for this!

      1. Baby Yoda*

        When we were in office I put a dish of Apple Cider Vinegar on a hallway file cabinet, and it took care of all the gnats immediately.

        1. Yvette*

          That seems like something that the LW could do without a lot of money and time invested. Not that it is her responsibility but no one else seems to care .

        2. Paris Geller*

          I just dealt with a gnat problem at my apartment, and that’s what the pest control guys told my husband & I to do. I knew it worked with fruit flies, but didn’t realize it would work with gnats as well. Their specific recommendation was to fill a cup or bowl with apple cider vinegar, cover with plastic wrap, and poke tiny holes in the top. The gnats can get through but can’t get out. We used an empty Oui yogurt jar–it was the perfect size. I know the OP doesn’t want to take responsibility for this problem they did not create (and I totally understand why!) but at the least it might be an inexpensive option while they look for a longer term solution.

        3. Cyndi*

          This is close to my favorite DIY fruit fly trap: put about half an inch of apple cider vinegar and a few drops of dish soap in a small plastic cup, rubberband plastic wrap tightly over the top, and poke some holes in the plastic wrap with a fork.

          1. LG*

            For me, the vinegar trap didn’t work, but something that the local plant store recommended DID work. I got these things called “mosquito bits” and kind of scratched them down into the soil of all the plants, then watered normally. (The bits are activated by water, I think.) After a few days, no more gnats. I also put those sticky yellow things up that catch the gnats but that doesn’t stop the eggs, but the mosquito bits did. (OP, I know you are hearing WAY more about plant gnats than anyone who dones’t have plants should ever have to…)

    7. JayNay*

      if the plants stay, someone needs to take on the role of office plant caretaker. that means watering the plants on a schedule, taking care of any pests, repotting if necessary, etc.
      this could be a facilities person or rotate between the plant coworkers. but someone needs to be the one responsible for taking care of the plants and any problems caused by them.

    8. Environmental Compliance*

      Yes to drying out, Mosquito bits, and also – I’ve put a layer of diatomaceous earth on the top of the soil before, which helped as well.

      1. singularity*

        There’s also diatomaceous earth, which can be sprinkled onto the soil of the plants. It kills the eggs and prevents other pests from infesting the plants, too, such as afids.

    9. My own boss*

      Omg, I had the worst case of fungus gnats this year. I ended up having to dredge the roots of every plant I have in a hydrogen peroxide solution to get them under control. That was three months ago and I still see a gnat every so often. I lost a couple plants in the process, including a snake plant. I thought those were unkillable! Fungus gnats are the worst.

  3. Formally speaking*

    With Letter 5, I do wonder: what should people who genuinely do speak in a more formal way do? Personally I’d think a cover letter should represent you, and so if you genuinely do speak more formally your cover letter should reflect that, but I’m curious about what other people think about this.

    1. coffee*

      My take is that my cover letter is me selling my skills, not aiming for a perfect representation of the self. I got bills to pay, y’all!

      At some point you’ll most likely have an interview, so they’ll hear the more formal way you speak. Also you can be more moderately personable than in Alison’s examples, if you prefer. The template she linked to has various levels of excitement, so I’d have a look at how the different sentences vary. You could go with “I enjoy shearing llamas” vs “I love llama shearing”, or “I find very satisfying to see my work result in a herd of well-cared for llamas” vs “I’m passionate about llamas”.

    2. Allonge*

      I would just make sure not to go all the way into ‘I am drafting a regulation, therefore/hitherto’ language.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      I’d say that makes sense. The letter should be in your voice. In your case, that’s a formal voice.

    4. Michelle Smith*

      If you speak more formally and are generally a more formal person in life, your more formal cover letter is probably going to be seen favorably by offices/hiring managers that value that quality and less favorably by offices/hiring managers that don’t. It’s okay to miss out on opportunities that would be a poor fit anyway.

    5. ecnaseener*

      Yeah, assuming you’re fine with being screened out of jobs that wouldn’t be a culture fit. But even if you tend to speak more formally than most, I’d think there’s still a difference between your own personal conversational tone and Formal Correspondence tone.

    6. kiki*

      I think if you’re genuinely a formal writer, it’s fine to be more on the formal side in your cover letter. There may be some very casual environments that will be turned off by it, but that’s okay (hiring managers will be turned off by all sorts of things– it’s about finding a good fit).

      I think the biggest thing I notice when I see people writing ultra-formally is that it’s not genuine to them so it comes across as very stilted (and sometimes even nonsensical). If your voice is just naturally more on the formal side, I think that will come across just fine in most cover letters.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yes, I know someone who was an English major and can sound like an 18th or 19th century novel on command. Because it’s something she just knows from a ton of reading it sounds unforced, but I’ve heard people who don’t have that same experience in reading the actual novels try and it sounds odd (not in the least because they often don’t really understand how to use the outdated language and so make several grammatical errors). It’s a similar idea.

      2. birch*

        Yeah, and I also think there’s a difference between “my normal voice is just a bit more formal than other people’s” and being the kind of person who intentionally cultivates a weird formal vibe, which is hard to explain. Like sending the email “let’s go with the last time slot” is casual and fine, “of these several options, I prefer the latter” is more formal and fine, but if you’re on the level of “Sincere gratitude for these myriad offers” I think you should consider it useful to cultivate a more direct communication style.

        1. kiki*

          Yeah, I’ve definitely encountered the latter and it strikes me as somebody who, in their head, said “Thanks for all options,” but then felt compelled to look up alternative options for every single word in a thesaurus.

          1. Pogo*

            I’ve received performance reviews like this and they are so cringy. A thesaurus is great to find another word for “great” lol, but it shouldn’t look like a thesaurus barfed all over your review.

            1. MassMatt*

              I once got a review that included the word “micaceous”. It was from a very odd but lovable and erudite college professor, and for this and many other reasons that experience has been a great source of laughter over the years.

      3. Smithy*

        Yes to all of this.

        I will also say, that as someone more comfortable being a bit more formal in writing tone, this is where suggestions like “smiling while you write” or adding exclamation marks/smiley faces with abandon (that you later intend to remove entirely or mostly) can help add levity without removing the formality. Essentially, it’s not about dramatically trying to change what’s largely your comfortable writing style but rather add some lightness or personality.

        1. TrixM*

          Yes, I personally will never use the words “excited” or “love” in a cover letter, but I’d absolutely never say that about work in any context (and I like my job!)
          I basically aim for a polite conversational tone, of the kind you use with someone you don’t know but hope to be on good terms with. Like your best friend’s aunt or something.

      4. KayDeeAye*

        Great points, and there’s also the fact that “formal” doesn’t necessarily mean “stilted” and “filled with meaningless corporate jibber-jabber.” I mean, it can mean that, unfortunately, but it doesn’t have to. You can write formally and still give your writing a bit of personality and still sound like yourself, not someone who is using, e.g., “deliver enhanced value” and other bland bits of corporatese in the mistaken belief that this is what “formal” writing has to sound like.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          Sorry for the double post! The first one vanished in a puff of cybersmoke, only to reappear after I posted again.

    7. theletter*

      Apply for work at a formal office. There’s lots of places and services where an air of seriousness is appreciated.

    8. fhqwhgads*

      It’s less a matter of formal/casual and more a matter of stilted/natural. If your natural voice is more formal, it’ll still seem natural. Like a cover letter written by Frasier Crane won’t necessarily sound fake-formal-stilted-templatey. If you’re being real, it’s generally obvious.

    9. KayDeeAye*

      I just wanted to emphasize something that’s been alluded to already, and that’s that “formal” doesn’t have to mean “stilted” and “filled with meaningless corporate jibber-jabber.” It sometimes does mean that, unfortunately, but it doesn’t have to. You can still sound like yourself and still demonstrate a bit of personality while writing formally. You can’t and you don’t if your idea of “formal” is to regurgitate every bit of corporatese that you can recall.

  4. Gnats Bad*

    Lockdown exodus from my office, my plants and the office plants I rescued had fungus gnats. Two years I tried to eradicate them, two years of bugs flying up my nose or getting trapped behind my glasses. Did not work: sticky traps, sand on top of the soil, watering with Mosquito Bits steeped in the water. What did work: nematodes from a garden center to kill them, and Gnatrol for maintenance. Been gnat-free for over six months now. Nuke them now – get some nematodes, it’s the only way to be sure.

    1. Ann Nonymous*

      What is the deal with gnats always being on suicide missions? They seem to want to fly up your nose, into your mouth and eyes, leading to them being swatted away and killed. Just why??

    2. BlueCanoe*

      I came to the comments to see if anyone else recommended Gnatrol :)
      I agree it is the most effective product I’ve used for fungus gnats. For a bad infestation, I used it about every two weeks (or every time I watered, if I was watering less frequently than every two weeks). It took maybe two waterings to notice a significant difference, then I kept it up for another two or three waterings to really be sure I got them. I still use the Gnatrol maybe once a month or once every two months as a precaution.

      I also have some yellow sticky fungus gnat traps. The sticky traps even come in fun shapes if you prefer those over the boring yellow rectangle shape. The sticky traps won’t eliminate a full blown infestation but I think they’re helpful for catching the occasional adult gnat that finds its way into my apartment.

      Also worth noting that the Gnatrol stunts the growth of the gnat larvae. To my knowledge, it won’t affect the adult gnats or the pupae which is why it can take a few weeks to see results since it takes a little time for the adults to die off (however, sticky traps and/or fly swatters can help hasten the demise of the adult gnats).

  5. Joanna*

    “The career planning person advised ending the letter with “I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my interests and skills further in an interview” because “Remember to ask for what you want — an interview!””

    Yeah, because even though I am applying for this job and I spent all this time on a cover letter and resume that’s still unclear.

    1. MK*

      It’s well known that many people apply to jobs as a competitive sport, a fun hobby or as part of a chain prank. You need to stand out as a serious candidate.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Many people?

        I think a solid application shows you’re serious more than a single cut and pasted sentence.

        1. JSPA*

          That was sarcasm.

          For those who are operating outside their mother tongue, are sarcasm-blind, or have become dependent on a “/s” tag: if an assertion is end-to-end glaringly bizarre or false, consider the strong possibility of sarcasm.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            Eh, I’ve found over the last 6 years that my sarcasm detector is no longer useful in on-line situations. These days, many posts with “assertions that are end-to-end glaringly bizarre or false” sometimes posted seriously and stridently, because sadly some people are swimming in a stew of AtaE-t-EGB/F and relishing it.

            So, yeah, a /s has become even more helpful these days.

          2. Observer*

            For those who are operating outside their mother tongue, are sarcasm-blind, or have become dependent on a “/s” tag: if an assertion is end-to-end glaringly bizarre or false, consider the strong possibility of sarcasm.

            True. But without other clues, you can’t draw conclusions. I’ve responded to more than one ridiculous post with “Have you forgotten the /sarc tag?” And I’m not the only one to make that point. And then there are the cases where the comment is actually NOT sarcastic.

          3. Uranus Wars*

            Was it though? When I was in recruiting we had people who would reply to every. single. job. posting. All unrelated but they would change their cover letter just enough to reference new job title. There were around 30 of them in our system flagged. 30 might not seem like a lot but when they apply to every position it really bogs down the process. But I guess since they were flagged they also didn’t take away from those who met the qualifications.

            1. Observer*

              I can imagine that this was annoying and even a problem. But I would very much doubt that these people were doing this for fun.

              I’d be willing to bet that these people would have tried for any job that you offered them.

              1. Hannah Lee*

                While I’m at a small company and we’ve only had a handful of frequent flyers, there was one who applied to one, then another, then a third opening over the course of about a year. And his background was kind of a fit for each of them – there’s some commonality in technical skills needed in our production, QA, and customer support roles, so we kept putting him on our interview list.

                But we were never able to actually meet with him for an interview. Sometimes he wouldn’t reply to the request; sometimes he’d reply to the first request but then fail to finalize which day, time he was coming, until I followed up and then he’d vanish again; the last time he did confirm an interview time, but just didn’t show; he contacted us days later with some “reason” but we’d already made an offer to another candidate by then.

                It’s *possible* he was having a particularly rocky year filled with power outages that left him off line for days, wonky cable, strandings in very-local-to-him snow storms, illnesses, hospitalizations, sudden needs to be out of state in places with no email/text/phone access, family emergencies and car trouble. But at a certain point I did wonder if he just had a weird hobby of applying for jobs for fun or if his ambition to “have a full time job” exceeded his adulting abilities.

      2. ferrina*

        Lol! I can see this as a great short story: “I was just doing job applications as a fun hobby, and now I’m the CEO of a crypto company”

    2. MsM*

      Eh, as Alison says, it’s not terrible advice, especially for someone who’s having trouble coming up with a better way to end the letter than “please hire me; thanks.” LW just happens to have a better solution.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      Except I don’t really want an interview when I’m applying for jobs, that’s just an intermediate step. Should I end my cover letter with “I would welcome the opportunity to be paid by you”?

      1. Interview Coming Up*

        Lol lol.
        The next time I’m exhausted after sending out masses of applications, I’m using this in a cover letter just to amuse myself.

  6. CrazyPlantLady*

    Re: #3 and the gnat situation

    People are probably going to come after me for this, but… if I were you I would buy some insecticide and douse the plants when no one’s around. Should only take 2 – 3 times to kill off the majority of the gnat population. Spray the plant and the soil.

    Option 2 – just be up front about it. It’s only weird if you make it weird. Announce that there’s a gnat infestation and start asking people how they think you should resolve it…. Dousing the plants with insecticide will probably still be the answer.

    1. CrazyPlantLady*

      Someone said nematodes above. Those are the best (and natural)! I have a hard time finding them in my area, but if you can get your hands on those, you’ll be gnat-free in no time.

    2. Jj*

      I like the idea of this in theory because fuck gnats!!! but the reality is there are too many people with serious chemical sensitivities, so you’d risk harming someone with a disability you aren’t aware of.

    3. Spearmint*

      I disagree with this. Pesticides are serious chemicals and I don’t think you should use them on people’s property without their consent. Many people have pesticide sensitivities and some have legitimate concerns about the health effects of them even on people without such obvious reactions.

      1. Mister_L*

        My last job handed out spray bottles with a supposedly mild disinfectant during the first two years of covid and some coworkers started to marinate shared desks etc.
        My respiratory problems got worse and I started having problems with my eyes.
        One time a fly bothered me for a few minutes until I gave it a spray and it died within seconds.

        My point: Absolutly do not secretly use any form of chemical insecticides.

    4. JSPA*

      Don’t do this! Beyond the direct risk of contact, there’s the possibility that some of those plants are used as herb tea or seasoning, even if you don’t recognize them as such. I’ve had lemon balm at work, a curry-leaf tree cutting (etc) on those rare occasions when I had a sunny window.

    5. Peanut Hamper*

      If you doused my desk plant with pesticides, yes I would come after you. This is just rude and disrespectful.

      The fact that you’re advising to do this “when no one’s around” means you know that this is the wrong way to approach this problem.

      1. AbruptPenguin*

        It’s also rude and disrespectful to bring plants into a shared office and then refuse to address the bug infestation they cause. Two wrong don’t make a right, and I don’t think stealth-insecticide is a good idea, but really. LW’s coworkers are being ridiculous.

      2. Velociraptor Attack*

        I’m coming at this from the angle of someone currently working in an office that has a severe gnat infestation and the “plant person” just doesn’t care (and I’m not the OP), I think people get to a point of desperation.

        My coworkers have brought this up, repeatedly, and keep getting brushed off that it happens every year for a few weeks. At this point, desperate measures.

        (I’m not going to douse them in pesticides but I get the urge… I really, really do.)

        1. cabbagepants*

          If one is at the point of seriously considering stealth pesticides, one should just throw the plants away instead. I say this as a plant lover.

        2. Random Dice*

          In college, my mom poured vodka in her rude roommate’s plant. Her roommate was befuddled why her plant just wasn’t making it… until one day she bent over and sniffed, smelling the vodka funk emitting from the leaves, and looked over at my mom.

          The weird thing is that my mom is a genuinely nice person. This story was so unexpected!

    6. Student*

      I use diatomaceous earth on my plants when gnats are a problem. Not something you want to eat or around pets, but great for office plants. Kills pretty much any bug that comes into contact with it, but with no insecticide/poison. Also works wonders on ants and any other bug that does a lot of crawling.

      It’s basically sharp dirt, in a white powdery form. It kills bugs by cutting through their chitin, causing them to dehydrate due to liquid loss. It doesn’t hurt to touch if you are a human or mammal, though like I said I wouldn’t eat it and I wouldn’t want pets to get into it. If you use it indoors, like around the edges of baseboards in a pantry or on the top layer of dirt in a houseplant, it can stick around for a long time and only need occasional refreshing.

      Not quite as fast and effective on gnats as some other bugs, since the gnats fly – but it’ll get them once they’re on the soil, so within a gnat life cycle or two you’ll have most of them dead.

      It’s cheap, too.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        As a keeper of backyard chickens – there is food grade Diatomaceous Earth available out there. It’s a tiny bit more expensive than the stuff you get at the home improvement store, but just as effective.

        I preventatively mix the food grade DE into the chicken bedding to help keep the creepy crawlies coming from my coop under control.

      2. Three Cats in a Trenchcoat*

        I’ve always considered diatomaceous earth to be relatively pet safe – esp if you buy the more “food grade” quality. I wouldn’t deliberately feed it to my cats, but I do use it on houseplants that the cats occasionally pay attention to.

        I also love “mosquito bits” for keeping other gnats under control, while being relatively pet safe.

    7. Observer*

      People are probably going to come after me for this, but… if I were you I would buy some insecticide and douse the plants when no one’s around. Should only take 2 – 3 times to kill off the majority of the gnat population. Spray the plant and the soil.

      People will come after you because it’s terrible advice. So many things are wrong with it, so I’ll mention only 2.

      The first is that even if the OP gets the right insecticide, there is a good bet that 2 -3 times will be enough. And that is IF the OP gets the right insecticide.

      Another issue is that a lot of insecticides can have really bad effects on people. Covertly using this stuff in a shared space when you have no idea, and no way to know, who might be affected by this is irresponsible.

      1. Hazel*

        You are all correct about spraying chemicals around covertly being dangerous. What about announcing ‘we have a gnat problem due to plants brought into the office, gardeners please take care of it. If it is not fixed, or you have had enough, a ‘by Friday close of business insecticidal soap will be used to get rid of them’. It’s fair warning, it names the problem and asks them to fix it, it should fix it without noxious chemicals and allows the soap smell (very mild) to dissipate over the weekend.
        Should the LW have to do this? Of course not, but its like wiping the lunch room counter or cleaning the fridge – to some extent it falls on the people who are bothered.
        The nuclear option is to inform Facilities Services, if you have them, that imported plants are causing pest infestations. They probably have a policy against bringing in live plants bc of this and will likely toss the plants with or without warning – as they have a right to do. It is unpleasant but the office is not coworkers’ private home and garden.

        1. Observer*

          What about announcing ‘we have a gnat problem due to plants brought into the office, gardeners please take care of it. If it is not fixed, or you have had enough, a ‘by Friday close of business insecticidal soap will be used to get rid of them’.

          The OP certainly does not have the standing or authority to do this.

          You also don’t know that it will work. Nor that anything strong enough to work will not harm anyone.

          hould the LW have to do this? Of course not, but its like wiping the lunch room counter or cleaning the fridge – to some extent it falls on the people who are bothered.

          Not at all. When someone is causing a problem, it’s not on the person being harmed to take on extra work to fix it.

          The nuclear option is to inform Facilities Services, if you have them, that imported plants are causing pest infestations.

          Not “nuclear” at all. If the OP’s coworkers are not terribly unreasonable people, they should let people know that they are going to talk to Facilities. Otherwise, they can go without saying anything to anyone.

          And I see no reason why facilities management would not give people a heads up to take their stuff or it will be tossed.

    8. Buffy Rosenberg*

      Tempting solution. Would it address the risks (pesticide/chemical sensitivities) to just tell people you’re going to do it?

      (Cheerfully) Hey, these plants are so infested with gnats! It’s gross and driving me mad. I’m going to bring in some pesticide next Friday and have a blitz. Unless anyone has any chemical allergies or issues? Let me know. Otherwise we’ll have to lose the plants altogether and that’s a shame as they’re lovely [something warm about the lovely plants].

  7. PlantLover*

    One effective way to reduce the gnats is to add a thick layer of gravel or grit on the top of the pot. It must totallycover t he soil.

    The flies find it impossible to lay their eggs in the soil because of the grit and will naturally die off. It will take a few months, but it does work. I know because had the same problem in my home, but it is now a gnat free zone with lots of plants.

    1. Rachel*

      A few MONTHS?!

      If people want to live in a home like that, fine. Nobody should endure gnats for months at a time at work while waiting for a solution.

      1. Jackalope*

        It’s not a good idea as the only solution but it would be a good idea in combination with others as a long term method to keep them from coming back.

    2. Momma Bear*

      This. This is what we had to do in an old office when everyone with the same kind of plant got gnats.

  8. phira*

    LW 4: Something similar happened to my partner when he left his last job. He’d been well-liked and highly praised, but the pandemic kind of sent his boss off the rails, and suddenly my partner couldn’t do anything right and was eventually put on a PIP even as he tried and tried to stay afloat. And the PIP was honestly unwinnable and probably violated his union contract.

    He was able to get a new offer somewhere else after only 3 weeks of job hunting, and when he quit, his boss was stunned. He genuinely didn’t think my partner would quit, and even more than that, he didn’t WANT him to quit. This was a department that had to essentially have a 1 month hiring freeze when my partner went on paternity leave after our first child was born, because it was just “too complicated” for his superiors to handle. The mad scramble to reassign his workload was comedic gold.

    I think that bad or abusive bosses often see PIPs as part of a carrot-and-stick approach with employees. It’s a threat that they use with the expectation that you will do everything you can to try to please them and get into their good graces. I think my partner’s old boss really thought that the PIP would solve his perceived issues with my partner’s work. I don’t think he ever planned on firing him, but I also don’t think he wanted my partner to leave. It was so messed up.

    1. MsM*

      100% agreed. For bad bosses, it’s a control tactic. They want you in a state of constant panic so you’ll be falling over yourself to prove yourself to them, and hope you won’t remember you do in fact have other options (or may in fact be delusional enough to believe you can’t possibly do better).

    2. Kelly*

      My last employer was similar. I didn’t end up on a PIP, but I got frequent lectures about “communication” when clients would try to scam us out of paying for services and straight up lie. He completely ignored my many repeat clients who absolutely adored me and wrote thank you cards and that I was killing myself working a job that paid half what other sectors in our industry paid for half the hours. He let the office staff bully me and regularly stole my work and equipment to make himself look better. He refused to pay me more unless I worked another hour a day and then I MIGHT make enough to be worth it. I was having panic attacks coming to work and was getting seriously depressed.

      He was ENRAGED when I quit. He told me I was stabbing him in the back, ect. I was completely blindsided and confused. Looking back he was an abuser and abusers hate losing their victims.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I wonder how bad at the job they actually were and how much of it was being told that they were by a toxic boss that didn’t know how to support them.

          1. JustAnotherKate*

            Yeah, OP is inexperienced, but not necessarily bad at the job — they likely could’ve learned well on the job for someone else. (And, without all the personal stressors which would of course put someone off their game.)

        1. Seahorse*

          Agreed. My first office-job boss acted like this too. She knew I lacked experience – she explicitly hired me because she wanted to train me herself, knowing that I wasn’t “corrupted” by bad training or habits from another job. She never provided any real training, but she certainly made a point to complain publicly about my poor work.

          Looking back, my work wasn’t amazing, but it was fine. I was doing things in a logical enough way, just not HER way. She liked to keep people off balance, vying for her approval, and away from potential outside support. Issuing contradictory instructions, making subtle threats, and ruining reputations was all part of a deliberate pattern.

          This might not be the case for the OP, but it’s worth considering.

          1. bighairnoheart*

            Ooof, this sounds so familiar to me. Solidarity, and I’m glad you’re not there anymore.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Honestly this right here. They were probably perfectly fine for anybody with realistic expectations- but nobody will ever be good enough for a toxic bully.

        3. goddessoftransitory*

          Exactly. This person was working on a whole plantain plantation of bananapants–there’s no way she could evaluate her actual skill level with the way her boss was yanking her around.

        4. zenocelot*

          I once had a job where, because of the relationship with the boss and other factors, I definitely wasn’t doing my best work. This was many years ago, so I feel confident in my self-assessment. Both things can be true, for sure- but it’s okay if the OP wasn’t doing her best work there. Doesn’t mean they won’t thrive in current/future roles!

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Except that abusers will abuse no matter what. Whether or not an employee is good at their job or not is irrelevant to the abuser, they will always find some “excuse” (a made-up one) as to why the employee doesn’t measure up to their expectations.

      3. Observer*

        This seems markedly different in that OP admits they were not good at their job.

        What the others said.

        Also, the idea that you are not allowed to look for another job is evidence on its own that the boss has major issues. The idea that someone on a PIP, even – or ESPECIALLY -one that it justified, should not be looking for a new job is so ridiculous that it’s hard to believe that either the PIP or their reaction was good faith. If you really think that someone is so bad at their job that you might have to fire them, you should be happy or at least content that they are moving on. Being enraged says that the problem was never their performance.

      4. MigraineMonth*

        I think it’s a rare boss who feels betrayed when an employee who isn’t good at their job quits. (Then again, this boss’s behavior is erratic enough that they might be part of that special breed of unreasonable.)

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      The one thing I noticed in the letter 4, is that I do think the LW’s assumption that a PIP is a soft exit is wrong. Very clearly the PIP was not intented to be a kind way to allow them to job hunt while still getting paid. The abusive boss wanted to keep the person he was abusing around and was using the PIP as part of the abuse. So 100% the LW was right to start job hunting, but they were wrong about that little thing.

      Everything else was indeed is bananapants or outright abusive, and I’m sorry it took the LW so long to get out.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Agreed, but I think that OP was wise to use that terminology with their abusive boss. Whether or not that’s how OP was actually viewing it, it was smart to pretend (if indeed it was pretending) that they thought boss really wanted them out.

      2. ferrina*

        A PIP has consequences attached, usually a termination. In most cases, it’s a good idea for the person to start applying to other places if they think they are going to fail the PIP. Some people do take it as paid notice, which is usually fine- it’s a strategic approach that ends up better for both the individual and the company (and it’s usually better for morale if the struggling person can leave of their own volition).

        In this case, it sounded like the boss wasn’t going to be happy no matter what LW did, so LW’s assumption of a soft exit was reasonable. Much better to put that energy in to finding a job that’s a better fit.

        1. I have RBF*

          I take any PIP to be an impetus to job hunt.

          PIPs to me mean that they are trying to bully me or manage me out. Sure, maybe they think I can “improve” somehow, but my experience says they are just collecting paper to justify a firing. When I’ve been on a PIP it has always had mushy, unattainable goals, so it was pretty obvious that it was a no win scenario. It usually confirms that the job is not a fit, and I need to GTFO. This has been twice in 40 years. PIP == leave.

    4. onetimethishappened*

      Something similar happened to me. I was put on PIP, for a incredibly stupid reason, from a boss who had no idea what he was doing. I was already applying for jobs, but a week after that I handed in my resignation and he was completely shocked. I think he was either expecting me to “Stick it out and get fired” or whatever.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Makes sense that a boss who doesn’t get how to manage also wouldn’t recognize that in that situation, there are more options available to their employee than just the two they control. The false choice fallacy, I think.

    5. Redaktorin*

      My reading is that OP’s boss and your partner’s absolutely intended to fire them, looked forward to it, and were very mad about being thwarted, touching off the weird communiques about UNFORGIVABLE BETRAYAL.

      Abusers gonna abuse.

      1. phira*

        I can say with great confidence that my partner’s boss never, ever wanted to fire my partner. There was, however, another person in the office, almost at the same level as the boss, who DID want to fire him. This person was incredibly abusive, vindictive, and manipulative, and while I don’t know if the PIP was her idea, I do know that she was the person who wrote it.

        I’m sure she’s unhappy about it now, though, because in 14 months since my partner quit, they’ve gone through THREE people in his role. Oops :)

  9. Career Center Crapshoots*

    The last letter makes me wonder what Allison’s response would be to a friend who cheerfully told me that the career center at the school she works in is telling students to use ChatGPT to write their resumes and cover letters for them–including having it read the job listing for keywords to put in their resumes in the first place. I know for me I was glad I was having that conversation via text so my friend couldn’t see the look on my face.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      Oh my Lordy. I suppose there might be some senior positions in highly specialized fields where AI-assisted writing would help a true expert manage their workload. But entry-level folks coming out of colleges into the workforce in nearly every field requiring a degree Will need to write anyway.

    2. Autumn*

      Honestly, I’ve been tinkering with ChatGPT for cover letters and it’s useful to me because I have a hard time selling myself and coming across as confident and upbeat. If I give ChatGPT a list of points I want to cover, it comes up with a decent first draft. That said, it can veer into “generic business-y phrases without much substance behind them” and you have to edit the output for truthfulness (for example, if I’ve created one or two simple projects with Python, I don’t want it to say I have extensive experience with Python).

      The problem with ChatGPT is that in many fields I see people treating it as an actual intelligence that magically dispenses correct answers on everything, and not a piece of software that does the one specific task of generating reasonable-sounding written text.

      1. Yorick*

        Yes, I used ChatGPT to write a professional bio and it was a good start, I wouldn’t have thought to word a description of myself that way. But you have to use it sort of as a template and then change what’s bad or incorrect.

    3. bamcheeks*

      It’s a pretty good way of generating a first draft. If it actually refers to the skills listed in the job description, it’s already substantially better than most people‘s first draft.

      But it shouldn’t be the final draft.

      1. Lucas*

        Give it a couple of weeks and it’ll be hitting final-draft standard.

        I’ve been using GPT as a tool on and off for a while now, and it’s become visibly better in that time. It improves shockingly quickly.

        1. bamcheeks*

          At the point where it can give you a final draft, it’s because you’ve taught yourself how to write sufficiently good and individual prompts that you’ve substituted that process for writing a letter! The whole point of a cover letter is that it is specific and unique to you, and highlights *your* skills and experience. The very best ChatGPT letter isn’t going to do that unless you’ve identified your relevant skills and experience and matched them up to the job description and put it all in the right format for ChatGPT to understand, and all that’s left for ChatGPT is doing is create a structure and make it flow.

          1. BethDH*

            Which, to be fair, could be exactly what a lot of students need — they get hemmed in by anxiety and can’t see a path forward. GPT both gives them achievable starting points (just “lists,” one of which comes from someone else) and avoids the “tyranny of the blank page.”
            Of course, that only works if the “ result is a first draft” message is both given and heeded.

          2. Lucas*

            I suspect ChatGPT is actually entirely capable of tailoring a cover letter unique to the user. Just write one massive CV that covers everything relevant about you, with zero effort at tailoring or editing…then drop that into GPT.

            Then when a job comes up, drop the details into GPT and tell it to use your starting CV to generate a tailored CV and cover letter for the role.

            Hmmm. I might actually test this later tonight.

            1. bamcheeks*

              Please do and report back! I think that kind of selective discrimination is way beyond LLM’s capacity, but I’d be interested to hear.

            2. Student*

              Part of why you want the cover letter to reflect your own voice is so that you can figure out whether you and the employer are going to get along well enough to do business together.

              If you’re in a situation where you need a job desperately, or you have good reason to believe that no employer will actually like you authentically, then sure, use a ML to write your cover letter – whatever.

              If you want to be more discriminating in the jobs you take, you’ll probably be better off by being authentic, so you and the employer can screen out incompatibilities. If an employer can’t stand my writing and communication style, then I would rather get screened out early than butt heads for a year or two and then switch jobs, personally.

              If you’re planning to do all your work communication via a ML intermediary, then go right ahead!

              1. Lucas*

                I think this is a very substantial overestimation of the importance of writing style in a cover letter to the overall question of whether to take a particular job.

          3. Elitist Semicolon*

            And even then, it still can’t give specific, detailed examples of challenges/solutions or projects/outcomes that are unique to your experience. Those are what make or break a cover letter, not a confident tone and (just) reusing the language in the job ad.

            1. Student*

              It can! They just… won’t be true.

              I would actually kind of love to be on an interview panel where we ask a job applicant about something unique in their cover letter, only to find out the statement was a lie made up by a ML application that the applicant left in or didn’t notice. Such a popcorn moment!

              I foresee entire subreddits being devoted to complaining about weird ML-generated lies in people’s resumes in the future.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                Could be much worse; some companies are experimenting with using it to write doctor’s notes. Apparently it is decent at making diagnoses (at the same level as a 3rd year med student, IIRC), but its explanation of how it came to the diagnosis is based on symptoms or test results that don’t actually exist. Which seems like a showstopper problem to me.

                1. Quill*

                  oooh, that sounds like malpractice waiting to happen.

                  Likely it’s deriving diagnoses from some set of population data that stipulates what percentage of people (with some demographic info) have what diagnosis and that’s one of the huge problems behind misdiagnosis, lack of diagnosis, and understudied disease already.

            2. bamcheeks*

              Right– I also don’t think there’s any AI clever enough to, say, see “experience in implementing innovative solutions” and figure out which of the Achievements on your CV is going to fit. Some stuff just needs people-brain!

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                Yet. Resumes often use repetitive language and it’s figured out more complex ideas. This is coming.

                1. bamcheeks*

                  But how would a CV know what was innovative in your context if you hadn’t explicitly used the word “innovative” or synonyms? That’s a judgment that comes from knowing your own work history, not something AI can do for you.

        2. Sylvan*

          It can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction, and it has generated fake citations to papers and articles that don’t exist. Are you fact checking it?

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            That’s true but I think that’s going to be easier to catch in a cover letter, since the lies would be about you.

          2. Lucas*

            I don’t use it in situations where either of these would be a concern. I use it in business consulting, to rapidly generate a clear plan of action for whatever I’m being asked to do. It’s like having an experienced senior manager on tap to offer as much advice as I want whenever I want.

            I suspect that, given a LinkedIn profile and an online job ad, it would do a startingly good job at producing a cover letter.

            1. Student*

              It doesn’t know the difference between a good plan of action or a bad plan of action. It’s just filling in words in patterns that it has seen before. It can’t actually understand context you give it – it just adopts the key words.

              It’s not so much an experienced senior manager on tap. It’s an experienced business jargon bullshitter.

              1. aebhel*

                My god, this. It’s a sophisticated predictive text generator. Which means, sure, if you feed it the right information (and fact-check the results) it could probably write a decent cover letter. You can’t get advice from it, though.

              2. Lucas*

                Cynics would say that there is limited difference between a consulting senior manager and an experienced business jargon bullshitter.

                But seriously: in practice, I have found that what it gives me with extremely limited prompting is incredibly useful. I used a framework it provided just today to identify the problem I had with a client’s plan.

        3. Jezebella*

          A couple of weeks?? Who’s got that kind of time when they’re doing job applications? You might as well write it yourself.

          1. Lucas*

            (my apologies if the above is sarcasm)

            I don’t mean the process will take two weeks; I mean that two weeks from now, ChatGPT will be considerably better at this task than it is at present.

        4. MigraineMonth*

          Yes, but has it stopped making things up? I understand that natural language processing depends on making a lot of assumptions, but as long as it fabricates details I will never trust it without a careful double-check.

    4. Alice*

      I agree with Alison. No one in my career office had any real work job experience outside of the career centre and have awful “advice”. ChatGPT is probably better to be honest!

    5. Lucas*

      Honestly, that’s a pretty good use of ChatGPT. Particularly getting it to read the job description and tailor the resume accordingly.

      1. Tuckerman*

        Honestly, agree. We have to remember employers have been doing the reverse of this for years, using technology to screen candidates that match keywords from the job postings.

          1. Self Employed Employee*

            It’s same in the idea of automating the process. If it can be done on one side (employer), it should also be able to be done from the other side (applicant).

      2. Your Computer Guy*

        I was going to start doing this because I just don’t have the energy/bandwidth to do all the special tailoring for my materials to try to get out of the job that’s taking up all of my energy/bandwidth.

    6. Neeul*

      I had a similar call last night with an acquaintance who cheerfully bragged about using an AI to write his cover letter when I suggested this site as a useful resource for job searching. I tried to gently push back but they seemed very confident they knew everything about what makes good cover letters, saying that AI’s specialty is writing “cold & unfeeling” content which they believe is “perfect” for cover letters. (aka the exact opposite of Alison’s advice)
      They also had to ask if a letter of introduction is supposed to come from themselves or a reference so, while I wish them luck on their job hunt, it may take a while.

    7. JH*

      One of my friends applied to a job with a ChatGPT cover letter and resume… it did not go well for him! I can totally see using it for first drafts, but you need to know how to write effectively for it to be a useful tool. If you eschew all advice and say “the AI knows better” you’re gonna have a bad time.

    8. learnedthehardway*

      Having used ChatGPT to write summaries of my project notes, anyone who uses it will be highly likely to get gobbledy-gook. It LOOKS good on first glance, but if you read the output, you realize that irrelevant things are emphasized, very relevant things are missed, the order of information is strange (think details before concepts or the least important thing is the headline), and the bits in between are very repetetive.

      I do use it as a jumping off point for some things – like making lists of items that need to be done. But I always have to heavily edit even those lists.

      I would NEVER use the output un-edited for a report, letter, or anything else anyone would see.

    9. ephemerides*

      I have a massive mental block against cover letters, and I could see myself using ChatGPT to get a first draft and then editing it into something real—but the editing is the key step. (Also I’m a copyeditor, so it’s like a skills demonstration!)

      Speaking of ChatGPT and cover letters, my boss asked it a few months ago to write a copyeditor cover letter as the Hulk. He was expecting a letter in “Hulk smash” language, but what came out was a perfectly normal letter—until the third paragraph:

      “In addition to my copyediting skills, I bring a unique quality to the table—I am the Hulk. My super strength and durability allow me to power through large volumes of work in a short amount of time, making me an efficient and reliable member of the team.”

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        LOL, thank you. That paragraph got an actual LOL from me. As in, I laughed out loud in this empty room.

        I’m a writer, and I always say that editing is easier than writing. Happily, as a technical writer, I’m often updating existing documents, and sometimes my editing process ends up removing all the original words. But it can be useful to have something to push against.

    10. goddessoftransitory*

      Uh, what????

      Chatbots are going to bring Skynet down upon us all. We’re literally designing stuff so we don’t have to know, learn, or do anything ourselves.

    11. The Shenanigans*

      Yeesh. My response would have told her the look on her face. Look, AI are fine tools. I’m a writer, and I use ChatGPT and Grammarly to help me edit what I write. Then sometimes, I edit what the AI suggested. I can’t have it do it all. It often repeats phrases, gets details of the topics wrong, and generally doesn’t sound right unless it’s edited by a human. So that career office is just plain lazy.

  10. Retired Purple Teacher*

    My office is a jungle of plants and the only way to keep gnats at bay is chemical warfare as preventative measure.

    Bonide Insecticide Granules.

    Not sticky traps, dawn dish soap, Neem oil or any other natural s$@!.

    As owner of over 100 house plants, just do it. Good luck!

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Do NOT use chemical insecticides in an office where other people are present.

      Your home is your home; you can use whatever you want. But an office is a shared space and you should be respectful of other people’s sensitivities. I would be livid if someone doused the plant on my desk with insecticide.

      Your attitude toward solutions that don’t involve known carcinogens sounds pretty dismissive and disrespectful.

      1. Berin*

        I didn’t read the original comment as them suggesting that OP should use insecticide without the plant owners’ permission, but maybe we read it differently.

        Do you see the plant owners refusing to do anything about the gnats as dismissive and disrespectful? I’m genuinely asking, because I think that OP has honestly been pretty patient, and gnats are really annoying.

    2. Pogo*

      That’s fine if you want that stuff in your home, but it it nasty stuff that people shouldn’t be subjected to at work. You have no idea what sensitivities or health issues people have that can be harmed.

    3. nona*

      Some of the office plants in our part of the building that survived the pandemic (with overwatering) and acquired root rot and gnats were banished by Facilities after a pest inspector came in and did a tour (another dept had found a mouse making a home in the pot of a plant).

      I took them home and rehabbed them, because most of them were fine (and hey – free houseplants). But…you can try framing it as a pest infestation (which it is) and let building management address.

    4. Bob-White of the Glen*

      Just do what I do. Ignore the plants until they are so dry they are an hour away from death, and then give them water. No gnats and makes them tough! (Until they die. I do not have a green thumb.)

  11. Dark Macadamia*

    #4 has me imagining the Man With The Big Yellow Hat from Curious George as an awful boss :)

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I picture The Man With the Yellow Hat as the boss in Letter 1. George was cute an all but he was also a source of destruction and chaos, like the coworker OP is dealing with. Self centered, childlike, demanding, But the Man just let him do his thing.

      1. Random Dice*

        The Man with the Yellow Hat leaves essentially a toddler with magical climbing skills alone all day with no babysitter. It makes for a fun story, but is not a great recommendation for this single father’s parenting skills.

  12. Brain the Brian*

    LW4’s former boss sounds like he has moved, as one other recent letter-writer so eloquently put it, “from bananapants to full-on banana ensemble.” Wheeeeeew.

    1. East Coast Girl*

      It’s one of my small pleasures in life that the AAM universe has embraced the bananapants concept so fully and completely. Every time it comes up it makes my day.

    2. Cait*

      But… am I the only one who, based on the letter, didn’t think the OP was completely innocent either?

      I fully agree that their boss sounds unhinged but I also read it like, “I don’t like my job and I’m not very good at it despite trying to get better. My boss noticed this and wasn’t kind about it. Then a bunch of bad stuff happened in my personal life and my work suffered even more. I didn’t give my boss any kind of indication (vague or otherwise) that I was dealing with personal issues so he berated me until I blurted out all the details. Then he backed off but a week later put me on PIP. I took this as an indication to start job hunting and when he found out he berated me some more until I quit.”

      I’m glad OP got out and I fully agree that their boss was waaaaaayyyy out of line for acting like they were betraying him by job searching. Even if they weren’t on a PIP, that doesn’t mean they can’t job search and owe him complete loyalty. But disclosing that personal matters were happening as a way to mitigate their boss’s inevitable negative response to their already suffering work getting worse would’ve been a better approach than saying nothing at all. And being put on PIP despite disclosing that you’re dealing with personal issues is a low blow but not completely out of line (and doesn’t seem to have come “out of nowhere”), esp. if their work wasn’t that great to begin with. Also, being put on PIP doesn’t necessarily mean “we’re about to fire you unless you get me the unpublished manuscript of the next Harry Potter book”, so I think it was also a bit of a jump to assume they were 3 months away from firing OP.

      Not that I don’t think it was wise in the long run because clearly OP didn’t like this kind of work, this environment, or the people they worked for. But as jazzy banana-ensemble as this was, I don’t think their boss is 100% in the wrong at every turn.

      1. EPLawyer*

        But the solution when someone is bad at their job is to help them gracefully transition out. Not scream at them. If you do put them on a PIP, not be surprised and angry that they are job hunting. If you do find out that an employee is having a rough time due to a personal situation like I DON’T KNOW A FAMILY MEMBER DYING WHILE ANOTHER HAS BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER, you give them some grace, not make their lives harder by putting them on a PIP where on top of everything else they know their income is in jeopardy.

        LW did the RIGHT thing by recognizing they probably were not good at their job. But this does not justify the bananapants ensemble with jaunty banana hat reaction of boss.

        Someone being a not great employee does not excuse a terrible, abusive boss. This is not a both sides thing.

        1. Cait*

          Oh I agree. Their boss does not sound like someone anyone would ever want to work for. And he absolutely should’ve been more supportive about helping OP improve rather than yelling at and shaming them. But I do think it’s always best to be somewhat candid about situations when you know your work is going to suffer. You don’t have to give every detail but a heads up to your boss, esp. if you know your work hasn’t been great, is better than hoping they won’t notice because, of course they will. And I don’t think after all that, being put on PIP should be a surprise. Definitely a low blow from her boss and, like you said, not supportive at all… but not surprising. Either way, I’m glad OP is out of there.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            I agree that all of this would hold true if the boss had been a reasonable boss, but with abusive people the normal rules do not hold true. Being put on a PIP isn’t something a normal, reasonable boss would do to an employee who had just told them that their mom was diagnosed with cancer and their grandmother was dying, so even though OP knows their work wasn’t fantastic, I think it’s entirely reasonable that they were surprised that their boss put them on a PIP.

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Agreed. I commented on a different thread that an abuser is going to be abusive no matter what. OP is absolutely not at fault here.

          And all the other abuses are just awful but the thing that really stands out to me is that this awful boss was somehow surprised and shocked that OP quit. OP, you 100% didn’t deserve how this boss was treating you but also you should know that no reasonable boss would ever berate you or be surprised that you quit your job. That is, as Alison often puts it, the way jobs work. You are allowed to quit any time you want, even if the job is a great fit and you love it. Quitting when the boss is horrendous and you don’t like the job anyway is not only absolutely fine but is also the best course of action, IMHO.

      2. Julia K.*

        Neither OP nor Allison indicated that the PIP was bananapants. That seemed justified, even if the timing was jarring.

        I do imagine that the yelling conversation (the yelling was bananapants, to be clear) was likely intended to be where the PIP was announced, but the boss delayed it by a week because of LW’s personal events. So I imagine this was the boss reasonably extending leeway, rather than being vindictive and somehow deciding to do a PIP specifically because of LW’s personal events.

        I also feel like when the boss said “you should have started by telling me that,” they might have meant “you should have told me you were undergoing an upsetting and stressful personal matter,” and that they wouldn’t have pressed LW for details if LW had phrased it generally like that rather than specifically naming their mom’s cancer. So it might not be the case that the boss pressured LW into revealing too much detail, but rather that LW jumped into revealing too much detail rather than trying a more general notification. TBC, though, it can be hard to use professional euphemisms and maintain information boundaries when you’re stressed and someone is yelling at you.

        The rest does seem a bit bananapants.

      3. Pogo*

        I had the same thought but it doesn’t change that the boss was in the wrong. Seems like the OP had a lot of other things going on that they couldn’t handle very well and it further impacted their work. I don’t think disclosing personal info is necessary in normal situations, but when your (already bad) work falls more, good idea for your own sake to say you’ve got some personal stuff happening that has made it difficult for you. The fact that the OP cried with their boss too is a red flag. However, doesn’t change anything about the boss’s behavior, just seems like the OP might need to be more proactive about leaving, doing a better job, communicating at work, but they did not request advice on that.

        1. Jackalope*

          What is the crying a red flag of? That they were having a hard time in their personal life, had just been sick, and then their boss yelled at them? We talk about how crying at work isn’t the best, but the OP doesn’t say that it’s habit. Just that after having a really crappy weekend (an undisclosed but apparently short amount of time before the phone call) involving the possible death of 2 family members, her boss called and yelled at her and she broke down? Honestly, having her boss call and yell about getting behind would be enough for many people to start crying, and I’m guessing that the boss knew the OP had COVID at least (since there’s a good chance she was out sick for a bit). Being out sick in and of itself is a reason to get behind on your work.

        2. Totally Minnie*

          The OP crying in front of her boss was not a red flag. It is normal to cry when you are being screamed at by an unreasonable person. That would be a pretty standard reaction even if OP were not sick and afraid for her mother and grandmother. The fact that those extenuating circumstances existed certainly meant that her emotions were closer to the surface than usual, but that doesn’t make her bad or wrong or manipulative or anything else that tends to get said when women cry in front of other people.

          Again. It is normal to cry when you are being shouted at by an unreasonable person.

        3. aebhel*

          Crying when people scream at you is not a red flag. Screaming at people until they cry absolutely is. Some people can keep their composure under a flood of verbal abuse, but it should not be an expected norm.

        4. Observer*

          The fact that the OP cried with their boss too is a red flag

          Yes, it’s a red flag that the boss is either not a decent person or a terrible manager. Because the it’s not like the OP was walking around and crying all the time. They cried after the boss yelled at them. And then the boss yelled at them again for not telling them first thing.

          It’s one thing to SAY “Hey, you should have told me this, so I could work with you”. It’s another thing to YELL at them in any case, but especially about this and also to demand that they should be the first to know what’s going on.

      4. HigherEdAdminista*

        I don’t think the LW was withholding this information for a long period of time. It sounds like they found it all out over the course of a day or two (while being sick themselves) and were still trying to wrap their head around it. People are entitled to have a couple of bad days and time to wrap their minds around devastating personal news.

        I expect it is more the case the LW wasn’t good at meeting this bosses expectations… and that those expectations probably largely sucked at the same time.

      5. GreenShoes*

        I was feeling the same about this letter. Nobody is covered in glory in this situation.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I think the OP was really open about the fact that they were struggling with the job and weren’t a good fit. That doesn’t justify the boss yelling, demanding personal information, or getting angry that the OP job searched and quit.

          I was honestly not good at my last job, and my manager never once raised their voice at me, berated me until I cried, or became angry when I decided to quit. Not being good at a job doesn’t justify abuse.

      6. ferrina*

        Wow, that’s harsh.

        Could LW have been a bit better? Sure. But nothing LW did warrants the treatment that the boss gave them. LW made completely normal work mistakes (struggling at a job they were a bad fit for; not knowing how to address with the boss that they were facing a major personal crisis). But 1) the LW was 25- quite young, and at the age where these kinds of mistakes are not unusual; 2) MOM HAD CANCER AND GRANDMA WAS DYING. Those are major things to face at the same time- I think most people would be struggling to think clearly! Plus LW was sick with Covid, and it’s very possible that they had brain fog and/or exhaustion related to that and 3) Boss is not just bananapants, but a full bananasuit with matching bananahat. What LW describes was not the first time boss had done something really weird- I bet there’s a *lot* more that LW could have included. LW’s instincts were probably screaming not to trust Boss, but LW didn’t have any idea how to work around them. This is normal- until you’ve had to live with someone that is Duke of the Banana Brigade, you don’t realize how much it taxes the mind and how difficult it is to navigate (and there is no way you will ever avoid their wrath). Do the right thing, and you’ll be punished. Share anything slightly personal and they’ll find a way to use it against you. It makes sense that LW was hesitant to disclose sensitive personal matters under these circumstance, and frankly, even with a good boss some people don’t want to talk about these kinds of personal things at work! Sure, it’s good to say “hey, there’s some things going on in my personal life that need my focus”, but even if LW had said this, the boss would have found a way to punish them. So why give them the fodder and make it easier for the boss?

        And the PIP assumption was extremely reasonable. PIPs come with consequences- if they don’t, then all it is is an excuse for a boss to berate you (which is absolutely emotional abuse- no one should be regularly dragged in to be yelled at just for the sake of punishment. That’s just degrading). Usually the consequence of a failed PIP is termination. LW was reasonably sure that they would not pass the PIP, ergo they would be terminated in a few months, so they chose to spend their energy ramping up their job search. This was smart, and at a normal company, this could be seen as a win-win. The individual wins by getting a job that they are (hopefully) a better fit for, the company wins by having the individual out of the role, and the coworkers win because having someone leave of their own volition in a timely manner is often far less stressful than a termination.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          “…there is no way you will ever avoid their wrath…” <= This right here, this is how abuse works. Also major bonus points for "Duke of the Banana Brigade."

          1. EPLawyer*

            But minus points for only saying banana hat and not pointing out it is also jaunty.

        2. Cait*

          It’s completely possible that the boss might have said, “I don’t care what’s going on in your personal life” but since his first reaction was to back off (even though it was short-lived) doesn’t suggest to me that he’s a completely unreasonable, hateful troll. Definitely not a good boss (and sounds like a complete AH of a human being), but still not completely without empathy. And if “I don’t care what’s going on in your personal life” was his reaction, the result might be the same but at least OP would’ve done their due diligence.

          And I don’t fault them for job searching during their PIP (esp. since it sounds like they’d been struggling for a while with little improvement), just that I don’t think every PIP is a guarantee of being fired so anyone put on one should treat it that way. It may have felt that way for OP but I wouldn’t want others to think it would be the same for them at their job.

      7. I have RBF*

        So the OP was hired by the boss, but not trained by said boss, then had their life turning upside down while they were trying to teach themself a job with an abusive, bananapants boss.

        They may not be perfect, but they are not at fault for doing the best they can. The boss is an abusive idiot.

      8. The Shenanigans*

        If the boss had handled their end of this in even slightly more rational ways, I’d agree. But sometimes, one person’s behavior is SO out of line, SO abusive, and SO irrational that it kind of does let the other person off the hook in the situation. Sure, the OP can take this as a lesson to ask some really detailed questions about fit, culture, and management in interviews. And learn not to hide when things are going south at work. But that’s for their own edification and personal growth. In this situation, the boss is so very wrong that it doesn’t really matter that the OP is less than right.

  13. CityMouse*

    So in order to get medical documentation LE would presumably have to visit their doctor and get a letter, which itself costs money, probably more than lunch costs. This is why the employer is particularly ridiculous. are they going to pay for the unnoticed Doctor’s visit too?

      1. Guacamole Nob*

        I’m not sure if that’s a typo or if you meant to rename Guacamole Bob to Guacamole Nob, but I for one approve of the name change.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        This is the kind of customer who calls to berate us because they counted the pepperonis on their pizza and there’s one less than last time.

    1. Allonge*

      To be honest it’s even worse – I got diagnosed with celiac at 13. This was a few decades ago in a different country – my current GP may not be able to give me a letter without performing some tests. And a lot of people discovered gluten intolerance by experimenting on their own – it’s not something you need documentation for in general!

      OP, I work at a fairly bureucratic org. Sometimes it’s an option for us to produce our own documentation as a ‘declaration of honor’ when getting an external confirmation is very unpractical. Would this be a possibility? They really just want a piece of paper to file with the exceptional reimbursement.

      My other suggestion would be that you go to your boss (if they are at all reasonable), explain what is happening and say ‘as Z department was insisting on all kinds of documentation, I have now spent X working hours on settling this. I get paid Y amount/hour,so this is already over the cost of the new lunch, nevermind the time of the person from Z’. And let boss make a call or two.

      1. time_ebbs*

        I was thinking the same. I was diagnosed well over a decade over and over time, those original records have been lost. I still get new doctors who question it (one tried to insist I do a “challenge test” so it could be retested, another one tried to change my record to “presumed celiac” because they couldn’t see the original biopsy test results). While I’m fairly sure my GP would write me a letter if I asked, that’s basically playing doctor roulette.

        And Allonge raises a far point about intolerances (or foods that trigger IBS/GERD) which don’t have a formal “test” like celiac but instead rely on elimination diets & personal experimentation. You might be able to convince your doctor to write a letter but the whole thing could be a pain (especially as intolerances/IBS/GERD are often not taking seriously).

        1. Zweisatz*

          Wow those doctors are worryingly callous. Also didn’t these tests only work when you’ve recently been “challenged” with gluten? So they’re essentially asking you to make yourself sick to prove an established medical diagnosis??

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Yeah, that’s quite awful. Guessing they are the ones who trained Dwight from yesterday’s letter.

            1. time_ebbs*

              This challenge test idea was in fact from a gastroenterologist at a teaching hospital! She was annoyed that college me didn’t realize the importance of transferring records & that by the time I saw her many years later, there was no way to get them. This was also when gluten free was becoming a trend diet so she wanted me to prove it was a valid diagnosis; the implication was I could have made it up. I joked that she was prescribing “cupcakes”, got the prescription I needed renewed and then did no follows up with the doctor. Fortunately, I then moved and a standard GP took over the prescription and believed me when I said I had celiac.

              My celiac diagnosis led to others in my family being diagnosed (including my nibbling who mostly asymptomatic until they went gluten free and then shot up in height) and I’ve since developed a second autoimmune issue that people with celiac often also get. So hopefully it won’t be as much of an issue when I move next year and need to find new doctors.

              1. LRL*

                I had a GP insist I do a blood test for celiac after not eating gluten for years. I protested and said it would come back negative because of how the tests work. The tests look for the immune response- if there is nothing to respond to they come back normal. She assured me the “tests are really good these days.”

                The GP ran the test anyway. It came back normal. She then apologized to me because she talked with her colleagues and now understanding how the tests work. She then prescribed that I eat four slices of whole wheat bread every day for two weeks and come back to test again.

                I never saw that doctor again. I also protested the charges and didn’t have to pay for the test.

                1. I have RBF*

                  She then prescribed that I eat four slices of whole wheat bread every day for two weeks and come back to test again.

                  She suggested you make yourself sick enough to end up in the ER for a test? Yikes! (Most of the gluten intolerant folks I know would have been sicker than a dog by the third day.)

                2. Bob-White of the Glen*

                  Diagnosed. Hospitalized. It’s all the same.

                  (Sorry you had Dr. Idiot, MD.)

        2. Artemesia*

          onions make me sick — they don’t kill me, but sometimes I wish they did. I have not way to document this, but the onion soup lunch still won’t work for me.

          1. HonorBox*

            Same here. And garlic. I like them both but they really don’t like me back. I’ve been tested and I’m not allergic, but will absolutely refuse to eat something for fear of feeling crappy for a few hours. I also don’t eat red meat. If a work-related event has roast beef sandwiches with a garlic aioli, I will absolutely go grab a bite to eat somewhere else. And I’ve never been questioned about it.

            The fact that the LW is being asked to document something like gluten intolerance but not the red meat thing… and the vegetarian coworker is not being asked for anything is absolutely ridiculous. Especially with documentation that notes that the catering company screwed up. What an absolute waste of time and money. I hope someone above those causing the extra work step in and let them know how silly they’re being.

            1. ferrina*

              I’ve been tested and I’m not allergic, but will absolutely refuse to eat something for fear of feeling crappy for a few hours.

              Really good point. A food intolerance may not meet the threshold for an allergy, but will still severely impact your regular activities. Your company shouldn’t want you to get sick while at a work even when it’s easily avoidable! (though if I’m wrong, then I’d rather be sick via hangover than sandwich)

              1. Flare*

                Right? I use the word allergy because the thing that happens to me for a food group that is not soy, nuts, shellfish, gluten, lactose, eggs, or whatever the other common one is, is a systemic response but it’s not an anaphylactic one. I’ve been told this means it’s not an allergy, but rather a sensitivity, but as the response is that the skin on my legs and maybe arms swells, cracks, itches like an absolute MFer, and sometimes bleeds just like through the skin (it’s super gross), I feel that sensitivity is not the right damn word. The food group is one that is in virtually everything you might find at an ordinary buffet or large-group-service kind of meal, or in an airplane meal, and generally at a restaurant I will be able to find roughly one entree that doesn’t include it.

                Because I am broadly careful, I can (now, after being careful for years) tolerate occasional small amounts of the foods to which I respond negatively and be mostly confident I at least won’t bleed, but not large amounts, nor frequent small ones. So if the lunch has [item] in the ingredients, I actually do need to know if it’s like, there’s a half teaspoon of this in the four gallon container or like, you will get a chunk of this in every bite (or where in between), and yeah, I’d like to read the label please.

                Getting a diagnosis for this is literally impossible. Where I live basically the only medical food testing that one can get, whether by elimination diet or something else, is about whether the food item causes one to cease breathing or breaks one’s ability to complete the digestive process. Everything else, there is actually no availability for, ever. Ever. I self-diagnosed via elimination a decade ago because believe it or not, that response, which was growing increasingly worse, was very unpleasant. My life is way better since I started avoiding, except in how inconvenient it is, and even if I could do a challenge where I live, oh please no.

                I’ve had to pay for meals at conferences etc a lot, and my org has told me there is nothing I can do other than get a diagnosis on file AND prove that the meal has nothing for me. So like, if it has 18 things I should not eat, and also some very sad translucent watermelon and large bitter brownies, I was able to eat those last 2 things, so voila, I was able to eat the meal. I did not make up this example. :|

                1. Cyborg Llama Horde*


                  I’m lactose intolerant, and I could probably get a doctor’s note for it if I really needed one, but it would be a matter of emailing my doctor and saying, “Hey, can you write me a note saying that I have a dietary sensitivity?” It’s on my file, but it is 100% self-reported, and while it would not be DIFFICULT to prove that it’s legit, it would be extremely unpleasant. For hours.

                  And if I had a less amenable doctor, I’d be completely screwed.

          2. onetimethishappened*

            Same, with onions, garlic and dairy. While I don’t have it documented I am allergic it really upsets my stomach. Often times for a few days.

            1. Therese*

              I have the same intolerances as you! A question for you, how do you describe your dietary needs? Do you say you’re allergic to garlic, onions, and dairy – or just say you don’t like them/make you feel bad? I’m trying to figure out how to explain my needs to people without getting too much into gross territory (like the honest answer as to why I can’t eat these is way TMI). But I’m not allergic like hives/not breathing so I don’t like to say allergic. But my response to these things is pretty bad, so just saying they make me feel bad doesn’t fully describe the two days and nights of misery I will have after eating too much of them.

              1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

                I’m not @onetimethishappened, but I do a fair amount of meeting organizing (including ordering food). Language that atteendees use which might be useful include:

                *I’m intolorent to…
                *I avoid…
                *I have an allergy to… (If they don’t clarify whether this is also a contact allergy, I will follow-up, like for gluten and nuts)

                All of which I work with the caterer to accommodate.

              2. Kyrielle*

                “I’m intolerant to” or “I’m sensitive to” or “I can’t eat”. Sometimes people will see you accidentally get fed the thing and when you don’t go into anaphylaxis they’ll think you’re a liar if you said you were allergic. (As if even allergies can’t be different from anaphylaxis – but an allergy might eventually get to that point, whereas my lactose intolerance will never rise to anaphylaxis. Although statements about what it will do are definitely TMI.)

                1. OtterB*

                  I describe it as “intolerance” or “sensitivity” for my daughter. Her IBS symptoms are being well controlled by a low FODMAP diet. If she’s eating out, I look for something on the menu that’s gluten-free and has no onions, garlic, milk, soft cheese, apples, or pears. But (a) it’s not high-level sensitivity – for example, if the french fries are cooked in the same oil as breaded products, that’s okay, while it’s not for someone with celiac, and (b) mostly it’s cumulative, so a little bit of the things she’s sensitive to will probably be okay, but somewhere there will be a tipping point, so we try to avoid the obvious so that we have some room for error on the non-obvious.

                  Coming back to the OPs question, I understand her organization needing documentation to accept an expense item that’s against policy. We just went through an audit checking our compliance with federal grant requirements and this was absolutely the kind of thing the auditor would have dinged us on if we didn’t have it. BUT it’s still ridiculous to require medical documentation; it should be enough to include a statement that the employee is sensitive to these food items, had requested a meal meeting those needs, and didn’t receive one through the meeting because of a catering error.

                2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

                  I’ll say “I can’t eat dairy” or “dairy allergy.” Is ‘allergy’ technically incorrect? Yes. But with some people, “Dairy allergy” vs. “lactose intolerant” is the difference between deciding that yogurt is okay, or two tablespoons of cream is fine, or sure, it’s swimming in butter but that’s no big deal. There are people whose lactose intolerance would be fine with that, but I’m not one of them, and since “allergy but not a contact allergy” is language that means I’m probably not playing roulette with gastrointestinal distress, I will use it.

            2. lilsheba*

              My husband has the same thing but his are garlic, any kind of peppers including bell peppers and dairy. The peppers are the worst ones they will cause misery for hours. I am fortunate I can eat anything.

          3. Bob-White of the Glen*

            For me it’s raw broccoli. Cooked broccoli is fine. But if I eat it raw I’ll be bent over with severe stomach pains less than an hour later. Obviously not an allergy. And nothing else affects me – raw cauliflower, carrots, onions, etc. all fine.

            To not acknowledge that some people can’t eat some foods, or that if you select a special diet (i.e. vegan) it should be honored is ridiculous. Sorry you are going through this OP.

        3. Observer*

          (one tried to insist I do a “challenge test” so it could be retested,

          For Celiac?! I hope you fond a new doctor, because this one was not only callous, but an incompetent idiot!

      2. Miette*

        I think this is the way to go. I also have to believe that whomever is a level or two above the expense reimbursement team is going to be appalled to see this happening. I don’t know if you have capital you want to spend, OP, but if it was me I think I would push this uphill and see what happens.

        1. Pogo*

          Seems like someone else may have approved the vegetarian’s report and then this one got to someone who is not good at critical thinking. It’s absolutely bonkers, pushing back more and asking for assistance from a manager may help.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, this feels like another rogue accountant crusade a la Guacamole Bob that would get squashed quickly if it were escalated. Unless OP bought one of those gold-flake-encrusted burgers, there’s no way this is a reasonable use of the expense reimbursement team’s time.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Even if it was, most places I’ve worked it would just be, “The max you can spend on lunch when lunch is not provided is $X according to our per diem tables. We will reimburse you for $X, and the rest of the cost of your gold-flake-burger is yours to bear.”

      3. JayNay*

        yes, what Allonge is saying is the way. Don’t get sucked into an argument for providing a doctor’s note for what is probably a less than $20 expense.
        Go to your boss and say something along the lines of – “i’ve having some issues getting this minor, necessary expense reimbursed and it’s been time-consuming to follow up on this, what do you advise?”

        1. Totally Minnie*

          If your boss is willing to go to the finance person’s boss about this, that might be the fastest way to resolve the issue.

      4. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        I was diagnosed in 1993. There IS no documentation. I am so livid for this OP I can’t even form words.

      5. Dahlia*

        “And a lot of people discovered gluten intolerance by experimenting on their own – it’s not something you need documentation for in general!”

        This is me and lactose intolerance. People asked if I was diagnosed and like… no, it was just kind of obvious when I would drink milk and then spend the next 6 hours unable to leave the bathroom, you know?

        1. I have RBF*


          How do I know that I am intolerant of soy oil? I eat it then end up in the bathroom less than an hour later.

          How do I know that I can’t handle dairy without help any more? If I eat it straight, I end up in the bathroom. If I take enough lactaid, I don’t.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      My doctor has never even been able to get to the root of my gluten intolerance! It’s common in people with psoriasis, but no one knows why. I’ve had the celiac blood test, but it didn’t show anything, and I don’t want an invasive test to tell me I can’t eat something I already know I can’t eat. I’m sure my doctor would give me a note (although he hates doing admin for stupid nitpicking bosses) so I would probably say: “I can’t bother my doctor for something like this; medical documentation is for lengthy time off. I can give you photographs of rashes and digestive issues, but that would involve me eating gluten, so it’s probably easier for you to provide the documentation from your side. Can you show me the policy where dietary requirements are not covered by expenses?”

      1. Zweisatz*

        I would honestly throw my boss at it if they’re reasonable at all. They have to see that this is a waste of both work time and company budget (how much did that meal cost VS. this protracted discussion in work hours?).

    3. Kwebbel*

      So, LW, I’m conscious that I’m not helpful at all, but I can tell you what I would have done here. I would have eventually complied, but I would have totally wasted their time before doing so. First, I’d send multiple clarifying emails: “Does it need to be from a doctor, or will another medical professional work?” “Do they have to sign it, or is an official stamp okay?” “The doctor only does electronic signatures – will that work?” “Actually I’ve just found out they only do wet signatures. Is that still acceptable?” “Can I submit in DOC format?” “I’ve just found out they saved the file in DOCX format – is this acceptable?” Then, I would have uploaded the wrong document. I would have apologized and sent them the right attachment, called “v.2.0”. Then another follow-up saying, “oh, wait, the first document was the right one – please ignore the second.” “Oh, no it wasn’t, please use the second version I sent, called ‘version B’.” I would have done this for a good month or so – just to ensure the amount of time they spent on this task would have been way, way more than what the lunch was worth.
      This is obviously a terrible practice, so don’t try this at home. But I would have felt tremendously satisfied. Petty is as petty does, in my case.

      1. Great advice*

        Thank you SO much. I am currently shouldering over a similarly unreasonable situation (when I read this letter I thought, I know where this LW works!). This is exactly what I am going to do.

          1. bamcheeks*

            but if you could just shoulder over a frustrating work situation, how satisfying that would be!

        1. Kwebbel*

          So, it’s terrible advice on my part, and is of course definitely based on something I did about a year ago. I got this long copypasta on my company chat that was, well, although I understood where my colleague was coming from, a bit passive-aggresssive. It basically said “this is to inform you that you haven’t filled out this form…you have been contacted about this several times…you must fill out this survey today as the deadline has already passed…PS, I will not respond to any queries you may send me so I can manage my inbox.” The thing is, they actually hadn’t ever sent me a message about the topic.
          So, the form was asking me what I wanted to do about a software license that was expiring. My options were (a) keep it forever, (b) keep it for 6 months, or (c) lose it immediately. But…the survey was 3 questions, and each one was actually the same question, just worded slightly differently. So…I might possibly have given different answers to each of the 3 questions? It was awful. I shouldn’t have done it. And it felt great.

      2. Miette*

        Love it. This also makes me think whether these people even know what such a letter would look like. “Hey you know my doctor, Dr. Vinnie Boombatz, he said no gluten. Here’s a note.”

    4. JSPA*

      It’s not like gluten intolerance is hard to self-diagnose, unless you need to differentiate between, “is this celiac, is it wheat allergy, or is it non-celiac IBS triggered by wheat proteins through a non-allergen pathway.”

      The, “I cramp, bloat, block up and cr-p my guts out if I eat any wheat product” is intrinsically a self-diagnosis. (Supposedly there are mysterious cases where they do resort to feeding you a tiny bit of gluten in a doctor’s office–I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has had this done, though.)

      Celiac can be suggested / supported by a biopsy (but only in the context of symptoms triggered by gluten) and wheat allergy by antibody tests suffer hugely from false positives.

      Thus, an intolerance diagnosis is just, “a doctor listens to you describe what happens when you eat gluten (or wheat), and writes the words ‘gluten intolerance/wheat intolerance’ into your chart.

      NHS Wales specifically says: “The best way of diagnosing a food intolerance is to monitor your symptoms and the foods you eat.”

      A UK NHS website says, “The diagnosis of wheat allergy is based on the history of a typical reaction after contact with wheat” and, “Positive allergy tests (skin prick or blood IgE) support the diagnosis where symptoms come on immediately or with exercise, but should not be used alone, as people can have positive allergy tests but tolerate wheat without getting a reaction.”

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Yeah what they’re asking of that LW is patently ridiculous for exactly the reasons you’ve described.

        I don’t have celiac or anything like that, but I do have a strong reaction to coffee. As in, if I drink it, I will have diarrhea for hours. I did extensive testing on my own. I tried switching to decaf, I tried cold brew concentrate, I tried brands that described themselves as “low acid,” and I went to a GI specialist. She did not give me a diagnosis. She told me that I should stop drinking coffee. I did and I stopped having the diarrhea lol. Some things do not require a diagnosis.

        Nonsensical that they expect LW to get documentation when the fact that she doesn’t eat meat is more than enough to explain why a meat sandwich was inappropriate for her for lunch.

      2. NotRealAnonForThis*

        (Supposedly there are mysterious cases where they do resort to feeding you a tiny bit of gluten in a doctor’s office–I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has had this done, though.)

        I’ve not heard of this for celiac – but it almost sounds like a “oral food challenge” which is considered a viable and doctor administered test for food allergies (the IgE mediated ones, which are true allergies) in a medical setting. I’ve done one myself – double blind version where you don’t know what you’re getting, allergen or control – and its kind of terrifying honestly. Oh, and I failed it miserably – meaning I had a pretty major reaction. If something like this exists for celiac, yikes on bikes.

        In any case, whoever is demanding the documentation is an arse. I went exactly a half round with OldJob’s billing about why I submitted for breakfast when breakfast was included. Once I pointed out that the included breakfast was not something I could eat without putting myself in the ER, it was covered, no documentation required.

      3. DataSci*

        My niece has an anaphylactic reaction to wheat, and they tried to do a food challenge with her (it works for some people with nut allergies – slowly ramping up exposure can desensitize the immune reaction so that they don’t need to worry about trace exposure) but unfortunately she reacted badly to the minimal first dose and they couldn’t continue. So it’s something being tried for wheat allergies, but AIUI celiac is a different situation and the challenge wouldn’t work.

      4. Freenowandforever*

        There’s also gluten sensitivity. My joint pain reduced significantly after I went gluten free. The need to do do, however, ended when my colon perforated and I had 15 inches of it removed. Apparently, that’s where the sensitivity occurred.

    5. CommanderBanana*

      I had workplace ask for documentation about my autism diagnosis…which happened 20ish years ago and all the records are in German. Was seriously tempted to copy them and drop them off with a German-English dictionary.

    6. ijustworkhere*

      Well, and some dietary restrictions are religious in nature. How do you document that? I especially appreciated Alison’s response that they are spending more in staff time than it would cost to just reimburse the letter writer. Too many companies can’t seem to figure out that a person’s time is a cost!

      1. Philosophia*

        One of the temporary help agencies with which I signed up during the Great Recession demanded a letter from my rabbi when I noted that I would not be available for work on the High Holy Days. (I’m not a member of any congregation, but the local Hillel Foundation was kind enough to assist.)

      2. Sopranohannah*

        And honestly, I don’t know why they couldn’t accommodate OP if it were just a strong dislike. A lot of people have foods that they just can’t tolerate. I can’t eat eggs without gagging. It’s completely psychological. If that was all that was on the menu, I’d have to get something else.

    7. That's Amore*

      The whole thing is ridiculous. Since LW also doesn’t red meat, they should just ignore the gluten thing and say, “I do not eat red meat, and since that is a personal dietary restriction and not a medical condition, I cannot submit documentation. Please process my reimbursement now.” I keep kosher and have been in situations like this (I can’t eat the provided food so I have to go out and buy my own). I’d be pissed at being hassled by my own employer over $20 or something, and I’m not going to provide proof of my religious practices. I already dealt with the inconvenience, just reimburse me!

    8. Random Dice*

      Not to mention, unless they have celiac, they don’t have medical documentation. (I’m guessing they aren’t celiac, since many folks with celiac don’t eat food they can’t verify, as they have learned not to trust some rando to actually follow gluten free protocols religiously.)

      I avoid gluten because my belly gets physically painful and then I turn into a singlehanded full-room Dutch oven that leaves my family begging for mercy. Try getting medical documentation for that – but also don’t expect me to eat gluten at work!

  14. Not James Joyce*

    I disagree with the advice to LW5. Cover letters should be in business formal language, if only because you’re demonstrating your ability to function in a business environment. There are always stellar writers who can break the rules and make the writing work; I suppose there are some industries that are sticklers for formality more than others. But you’ll rarely go wrong erring on the side of business formal usage, whereas if you sound overly colloquial, you risk alienating the reader.

    1. Mid*

      Formal language doesn’t mean you need to sound like a robotic template though. You can be formal while also still writing in a way that’s more conversational—you avoid slang, use proper sentences and relevant technical and business terms.

      “I’m so totally awesome at presentations.” = too casual but that’s not what’s being encouraged. Adding nearly meaningless sentences because they sound like Good Business Jargon is also bad advice though.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I write my cover letter in the same tone I would write an email to my boss or someone I don’t know well in a different department: clear, to the point and without jargon. I don’t spend a lot of time on having all the correct forms (i.e. “to whom it may concern”) or contractual language, which is what I tend to think of as business formal. On the other hand, I don’t have dozens or exclamation points or emojis. I think the result is both conversational and appropriate for work.

    2. Fikly*

      You’re either not a hiring manager, or you’re a hiring manager who is discriminating against applicants who do not know how to write formally because they are not from the “right” kind of background.

      You’re also assuming all readers are like you. I sincerely hope you are not doing any hiring.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        Are you trying to make out some kind of case that it constitutes disparate impact discrimination, if a business expects or prefers that a cover letter in a job application be written in formal business language?

        1. Observer*

          It depends on why they are doing it.

          If it ACTUALLY relates to business necessity, then no. If it’s just someone’s faulty imagination, then yes. Not legally, but morally.

          1. Glomarization, Esq.*

            If it’s somehow morally wrong to expect or prefer that a cover letter be written in formal business language, then it seems to me that we’re edging into “soft bigotry of low expectations” territory.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              I think Observer hit the nail on the head: if you are evaluating applicants on skills they need for the job, that’s good. If you’re evaluating applicants on having knowledge of white-collar conventions when those are not actually needed for the job, you’re gatekeeping people from other backgrounds.

              1. Hiring Mgr*

                That could refer to a cover letter itself though, not just the writing style. It’s a tough line to draw at times

              2. bamcheeks*

                But “write a conversational letter, not a template formal letter” is just as much testing for knowledge of white-collar conventions! It’s not a blow for equality or anything.

      2. bamcheeks*

        A letter that strikes exactly the right balance between “conversational” and “appropriately professional” is HARDER to write. A formal structured letter is much easier to produce.

    3. No no no all the way home*

      If you are new to Ask a Manager, I recommend reading through the archives to learn more about Alison’s advice. I think you’ll see that following her advice results in people “rarely go(ing) wrong” in their job searches.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Adding on: @Not James Joyce, more specifically, check out the “Happy Endings” and “Happy Endings: Friday Good News” on the topics page.

    4. bamcheeks*

      I’m a university careers adviser, and I think about this a LOT, and I can’t really come down firmly on either side of “less formal, conversational letters” or “formal business letters”. To my mind, the former are higher risk– if you get it right, yes, it will stand out, but there are an awful lot of ways it can go wrong. It’s a much harder letter to write when you are just starting out and don’t have a solid grasp on your own skills and strengths, or on the appropriate tone and level of formality for your sector. It’s very, very easy to fall into “cringe and totally inappropriate”. Whereas a decent formal letter is playing safe, but at entry level a solidly-written, well-structured formal cover letter which actually speaks to your personal strengths and skills and matches to the job description typically puts you in the top 25-30% anyway.

      I think probably my advice would be that a conversational letter is a great shout for someone with a few years’ experience, who knows their sector well, has a strong grasp of their own strengths and is a decent writer, and is absolutely essential for anyone in that position who is applying for jobs where writing and communicating are a key requirement. There are some new graduates who can pull that off — sounds like LW is one! — but when it goes wrong, it goes much wronger than merely “this is a boring template letter such as could have been written by anyone”.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I will never forget the cover letter I received years ago that opened, “To whom it may concern: Let me tell you a love story…”

        Business formal PLUS inappropriate and cringe!

          1. Hlao-roo*

            For those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend reading the “whoever told you to be creative in your cover letter has led you horribly astray” post from August 16, 2016:

            you [sic] wrist feels so free and graceful, perhaps even sensual against the cuff of your shirt’s random meanderings.

            1. ferrina*

              That letter was the only one that should have included an ask for an interview- I wasn’t convinced that that was a serious candidate!

        1. Quill*

          My best hiring communication ever was faxed to my boss, who called us in to… I don’t know… exorcise the fax machine? After it arrived.

          In total, the email read “I am very accomplished in [industry] 5 yrs experience Resume Attached – Sent from my iphone”

          Reader, the resume was not attached, and I STILL don’t know how you send an email to a fax machine.

          1. PotatoEngineer*

            There are email-to-fax services out there. Because *nobody* owns a fax machine these days, and walking all the way to the copy shop sounds like work.

      2. kiki*

        I think some of the issue comes with what is meant when we say conversational. In this context, we mean how you would have a professional conversation with your boss. I think some issues arise where some people interpret conversational as “how I would have a conversation with my bestie.” It can also be an issue, especially for people who don’t have much experience in the professional workforce, where somebody doesn’t know how to have a professional conversation and what that would sound like.

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Conversational doesn’t mean Buzzfeed language though. I don’t think anyone needs to be cracking jokes in their cover letters, but they don’t need to be pulling out a thesaurus either. Typically by the time someone graduates college they have some sense of what their written voice is, even if it’s not completely locked down. The issue with formality comes when they’re trying so hard to be professional it sounds like there isn’t a person on the other end of the page, which I think can be just as offputting as overly casual.

        1. bamcheeks*

          >>Typically by the time someone graduates college they have some sense of what their written voice is, even if it’s not completely locked down

          I very much disagree with this! It may be the student bodies that I work with. But in my experience about half of students where written communication is a significant part of their subject can do this (history, English, cultural studies, PR, journalism, film studies etc), and fewer than 20% of students in subjects which prioritise technical and practical skills (science, computing, visual arts and performance.)

          You’re right that the opposite is also true– some students will go too formal and stilted. But as I said, that’s less risk– a stilted cover letter which still accurately describes their skills and how they meet the job description is more use to an employer than one which is so informal it’s off-putting.

          1. Yorick*

            I kinda disagree too. Even in majors/classes with lots of writing, a lot of students graduate without being able to consistently write a complete sentence, much less having a consistent, pleasant written voice of their own.

            1. bamcheeks*

              Our employer engagement team (who constantly hear from employers about the quality of applications they receive from students) asked us why every student doesn’t have to learn how to write a CV as part of their course, and I explained that a majority of them do, but then asked them to remember the worst, most half-arsed, “what even is this I skived the class and I don’t get this asdlfaksjdflkasdjf lkasjdf oh god that’ll do” assignment they handed in as students, and they all kind of went, “oh… yeah.”

            2. MigraineMonth*

              My liberal arts college introduced a writing requirement where everyone had to take a “writing” course and get a portfolio of their writing approved for just this reason. (Unfortunately, my first writing course was really bad and didn’t actually teach writing, so I ended up taking more than one.)

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I know ‘colloquial’ and ‘conversational’ are often synonyms, but they aren’t always. In this case, I don’t think the style of cover letter being advised could be described as “overly colloquial” at all, if you look at the examples. I wouldn’t call the style advised against simply “business formal” either – of course it has to be formal and use business language, those are not the elements to avoid. The descriptions I would give to the two styles are: “business conversational” and “business forgettable”. The former contains the kinds of material which would further a conversation, and the second is full of really generic, formulaic stuff that people don’t want to talk about. For example if you look at the advice given to the letter writer: no one cares if you think you possess x and y skills, or if you want an interview.

    6. Peanut Hamper*

      You are confusing syntax with style. There is a difference between the two.

    7. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I think it’s definitely a case of “know your audience” and also knowing what you want in a job. I wrote what I consider to be an excellent cover letter when I was applying for my current job – and my boss and grandboss have told me that the letter definitely got their attention, in a good way – and it was pretty casual. But I was looking for a job in a fairly casual environment so I figured that if the letter was too casual for them, then I wouldn’t want to work there anyway.

      On the flip side, there is the situation like the one Alison pointed out – that lawyers don’t like contractions – so if you are applying to a law firm maybe don’t use contractions (and I’m thinking probably also keep your letter pretty formal).

      My writer mother is the one who told me, when I was in high school, to always know your audience, and I think of her words constantly. It’s appropriate in literally any situation where you are trying to communicate, whether that be with a public audience, people who might be reading what you are writing, or just having a one-on-one conversation with your spouse or kid or your boss.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        During the moral panic about texting abbreviations corrupting the minds of children (lol), I read an interesting article that pointed out that those kids were actually much better writers because they spent so much more time writing than previous generations. They were also much better at shifting between writing contexts, e.g. texting, email and schoolwork.

    8. Pogo*

      business formal is not the opposite of conversational. Especially when you are trying to convey actual information. If you throw flowery language at me I will think you don’t have anything useful to say. Also, what is “business formal.” Obviously it’s more formal than the email language I use with my customers/brokers which is really casual, but…that’s business isn’t it?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I’ve only heard business formal when writing things like policies and manuals.

    9. Smithy*

      I’ve gone to college career centers….I’ve also gone to independent nonprofit vocational organizations for job search support and been a fundraiser for nonprofits that do job readiness training/job placement.

      And maybe these days, college career centers are independently fundraising and have programs being rigorously evaluated. But nonprofits that get restricted grants, particularly from city, state, federal government for job readiness/job placement support…..they 100% are being evaluated for their programs. And these are not just programs working with individuals we think of as traditionally unemployed or with minimal education, but people transitioning out of the military, adults following a partner to a new city/country, those out of the workforce for a few years, etc.

      These programs are just about placing folks into jobs and have to prove that their programs work to donors. Certainly some of them are population tied (i.e. just for those leaving the military) but a lot more are just about serving the community they’re in. All to say, some cities on average, some industries on average – sure go more formal. But working with an organization that primarily has experience placing people with jobs in Omaha vs New York City. That’s who’s going to know those genuine differences.

    10. ferrina*

      The ability to write a formal business letter isn’t a great measure of how someone will function in a business environment. The important thing is the ability to communicate clearly

      I know plenty of people who are eloquent in very formal settings, but absolutely incomprehensible in day-to-day work interactions. They can make their points clear in 10 pages, but cannot communicate in 10 sentences. And most business professionals do not have the time to read 10 pages before I understand you- I want to be able to get the essential information in 2 minutes or less. I am constantly editing their work to make it more reader-friendly.

    11. Observer*

      Cover letters should be in business formal language, if only because you’re demonstrating your ability to function in a business environment.

      No you’re not. I’ve been in the workforce for decades, in a white collar, fairly high level job. Needing to write a letter or email or letter in “business” formal is something that happens so rarely that I am having a hard time remembering the last time I needed to do that.

  15. AnotherLibrarian*

    LW5: While I agree that too much formality or formulaic writing in a cover letter is not a good idea, I would caution you as well. I have seen far too many cover letters in my career that were too informal and were so casually written that I was concerned with the writers capacity to communicate professionally. On the other hand, I have also seen far too many which were so vague was to border on useless. I think the best cover letters are precise, specific, and feel engaging. A trick I have used is to pretend I am explaining to my best friend why I think I would be good at the job, write that down by hand, and then refine it. Good luck in your job search! Cover letter writing is hard.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      This advice reminds me of my first editor, who said the first draft of every story should be how you would tell it to a friend in the pub. Then, polish it up. It was solid advice.

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      As someone who’s hired entry-level folks, new college grads have a hard time getting the balance right. Half of them are robotically stiff and formal; the other half use text messaging abbreviations. In their defense, they have no way of knowing what a business email should look like.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I have not come across text message abbreviations! That sounds painful.

            1. bamcheeks*

              all of this sounds like the kind of thing that would baffle the under 30s as much as tape recorders. >_<

      2. Blueberry Girl*

        Yes, I had once that used texting abbreviations in my last hiring round. There was a “tldr” and I was like- of course, I am going to read this- it is a cover letter. I suppose it’s nice to see I’m not the only one. I always feel so bad. I always want to reach out and be like- You are not presenting yourself well here. Please don’t do this.

    3. Hiring Mgr*

      I don’t use cover letters myself but that sounds like a great strategy for writing a good one

  16. Jasmi*

    The gnat problem sounds pretty unpleasant….however I initially had a different mental image as I misread this as ‘Coworkers have infested the office with goats’.

      1. Random Dice*

        Screaming goats, though?

        Or fainting goats?

        Or what about that goat that had first responders certain that someone was yelling “help!”?

    1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      I read it as just “coworkers have infested the office,” and thought it was a really antisocial take on a return-to-office plan… Obviously more coffee is required before I try to read anything else!

    2. SarahKay*

      I, too, initially mis-read it as goats. Not sure which would be worse, to be honest!

    3. Rachel*

      I can’t believe this needs to be said but: gnats and other insects are disgusting and you do not have to work among them.

      I think this discussion will quickly devolve into a gardening discussion on things that successfully work to eradicate gnats. That is all wonderful in your personal life, please do feel free to do all of this and more at your own home. Gardening forums would love this kind of input, I’m sure.

      This is a workplace and nobody deserves to deal with gnats all day. The contributor shouldn’t have to take care of plants, monitor them, or deal trial and error while waiting for techniques to work.

    4. Peanut Hamper*

      An infestation of goats would probably eat all the plants and there would no longer be a gnat problem.

      A goat infestation may just be the answer here.

      1. Phony Genius*

        They could also eat your paperwork. (Though this may be a feature, depending on your line of work.)

  17. Fikly*

    Because as we all know, applying for a job when you currently have one is actually a crime – the LW would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for those meddling kids! Wait…

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes, that one was wild – how does this boss think all his coworkers got to work where they are? how did he get there? They all looked for work and (gasp) got away with it!

  18. LadyAmalthea*

    I am allergic to most fruit and cucumbers and keep kosher, which essentially makes me a vegetarian. this sort of situation would infuriate me, as I have no way of medically documenting my allergies effectively – I can get away with small amounts of certain things in the dead of winter, but as soon as there is any pollen in the air at all, I just have to be super careful.
    Trust people to be adults!

    1. Silver Robin*

      the number of times I have answered “kosher, or vegetarian if that is easier”… I have had coworkers who thought I was genuinely vegetarian because they rarely saw me over lunch and regularly saw me get vegetarian catered meals. Then they get really surprised if we all go to dinner somewhere and I order a meat meal.

    2. BubbleTea*

      I’ve been vegetarian my entire life, and after more than three decades without digesting meat, I doubt I actually could. There’s no medical evidence to prove that but there certainly would be if I were required to eat meat sandwiches (abundant, projectile evidence, ideally on the shoes of the person asking for documentation).

      1. Ann Onymous*

        Although in this situation, you’d be fine. Dietary restrictions done by choice apparently don’t need documentation in this office – just the medically necessary ones.

  19. GythaOgden*

    Dietary accommodations are so trivial and so common that it’s ridiculous to ask for documentation! And on the flip side, I also can’t believe a conference wouldn’t provide anything else, including vegetarian/vegan — that’s just bizarre when the last few years have been full of awareness of plant-based diets. I don’t have either medical or self-imposed restrictions — there are things I don’t choose to buy for myself but will happily eat if provided — but with all the publicity over food, you’d think that both the conference and the office would just rubber stamp the expense and move on. As noted, this is so trivial the expense of quibbling it is not worth the expense of just paying it out, but working in the UK public sector and having numerous issues with ‘penny-wise, pound-foolish’ management, I can believe that there’s some jobsworth accountant there gumming up the system. (It’s happening to us with our unpaid bill for post collection and turning into the worst example of bureaucracy ever. There aren’t enough facepalms in the world.)

    Regarding medical accommodations, the more significant the ask, the more important the documentation IMO. I got dispensation to be the dress-code interns’ worst nightmare and wear trainers rather than smart shoes because of my crippled ankle just for the asking (the compromise was that they needed to be black, so it was an excuse to buy a nice new pair for inside wear rather than the rather scruffy running shoes that give me more support while outside, but the black pair is also really supportive and comfortable and much less expensive — I know where to get a good bargain — so I’m not complaining). But the larger the impact on others or on a company budget, the more I’d expect to get documentation.

    Certainly, for something like a leave of absence in a role that is coverage-based where at least one other person would be restricted from taking leave while I’m out, it is entirely reasonable to ask for a doctor’s note and to be proactive about letting management know when you’ll be back. (Notes aren’t easy to get even in a free healthcare system — they liberalised who was allowed to issue them last year but for a long time they had to be in hard copy and signed by a doctor, and while they come as standard when you, say, leave hospital, in the past if unable to get out of bed you would have had to have someone collect them and post or hand-deliver them to work; we used to have HR in our building so we got a lot of people bringing them in to us on behalf of someone else. Now they have a secure electronic means of providing them and you can email them, which is a big relief — but it took a long time to get that sorted out!)

    Significant reduction or changes in duties would also come under this heading. If occupational health needed to buy me equipment to do my job, they’d probably want to communicate with my doctors and/or have me get a physiotherapist appointment. Thankfully, my mobility issues are largely irrelevant to my job, which is desk-bound, but were I to get worse, it would be a problem. We also don’t really have the equivalent of intermittent FMLA here — absence is monitored to ensure coverage needs are met, particularly among maintenance and facilities staff. While I think it would definitely be a sympathetic conversation, without the flexibility to give me a different role within the organisation without going through a full interview process, it might be hard to adapt my actual job to accommodate severe medical needs.

    But a $5-10 lunch? You’ve got to be kidding me. They should just pay it out of petty cash and move on.

    1. Delta Delta*

      That was my thought, as well. Someone is likely not inventing a food sensitivity to scam their workplace out of a $14 salad. The documentation was clear that the catering got mixed up, and if the company can’t conceptualize of the fact not everyone can eat a meatwich, then clearly the problem isn’t with OP. And OP could, in theory, not make a big deal about reimbursement for the lunch since it likely wasn’t a lot, but shouldn’t have to.

  20. DK*

    For the gnats, I’ve heard that watering the plants with diluted hydrogen peroxide helps. I don’t remember the proportions, but you can Google it; I think it’s just a couple tablespoons per quart of water. I haven’t tested it on gnats, but I did successfully get rid of some moldy-looking stuff in potted plants using peroxide. It’s harmless to plants because it breaks down to water and oxygen fairly quickly.

  21. 653-CXK*

    OP#4: Your boss is a total psychopath and will never change. You got out at the right time.

  22. The Rafters*

    The Gnat Problem: Garsum Fruit Fly Sticky Trap for Indoor and Outdoor, Fungus Gnat Killer for Houseplant,Mosquitos, Flying Insect, White Flies

    We ordered them from Amazon, and they are amazing! They started working right away and we now have an extremely limited problem. My coworker down the hall recommended them because they also had an infestation. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

  23. NerdyKris*

    For Letter 2 I’d go over their head. This just sounds like a low level employee deciding that gluten intolerance doesn’t exist and wanting to make a point about it. I’d go straight to HR to clarify the policy.

    1. Random Bystander*

      Yeah, it definitely seems time to kick it upstairs (either to LW2’s supervisor or HR).

      I mean for things like a food intolerance (vs conditions that can be definitively ruled out/in via a particular test), I think most people are intelligent enough to keep a personal food diary long enough to identify what food/beverage/ingredient causes a specific unpleasant consequence and then proceed to avoid the problematic item(s) without needing to go to a doctor to get official documentation that the item(s) need to be avoided. (Red wine is a migraine trigger for me, for example–even as an ingredient. I didn’t need to get a doctor to tell me to stay away from red wine–but I figured that out over 30 years ago, I don’t still have the records I was keeping when I was figuring it out.)

      1. Cait*

        Agreed. And might help to word it in a way that makes it clear just how ridiculous this demand is and why it’s a slippery slope to have different rules for different employees. “Jodie mentioned that she also had to get her own meal because she’s a vegetarian and there were no vegetarian options available. Her purchased lunch was approved without any request for medical documentation, ostensibly because vegetarianism isn’t a medical condition. Can you clarify why I am being treated differently?”

        1. My Useless 2 Cents*

          ‘Can you clarify why I am being treated differently?’
          I like your wording here. Respectful but clear they are walking a fine line between acceptable and discriminatory.

    2. *kalypso*

      I thought that, and also that they don’t realise that not all coeliac testing is equal. For most tests to be positive for coeliac you need to have eaten gluten daily for up to 2 months prior (depending on the actual test and the doctor), and so many doctors just bang the antibody test on the request form when asking for a fasting blood test for something else and then go ‘you’re not coeliac’, and of course the antibody won’t show up because the person has been avoiding gluten due to a correlation of symptoms and gluten-containing foods. Meanwhile, most other tests are expensive, significantly invasive and/or indicative only.

      And that’s before conditions where gluten is an irritant, temporary gluten-free diets for other conditions, that some people may be able to tolerate accidental gluten sometimes if they don’t have it all the time, and gluten sensitivity being an exclusion-only diagnosis at this current time. Sigh.

    3. HigherEdAdminista*

      This was what I suspected as well. As I have gotten older, I notice that we are all prone to prescribing motives and some people take those as fact. It sounds like whoever is in charge of this decided from the start that LW really just wanted to order their own lunch, so they are making it as difficult as possible for them to get reimbursed.

  24. The Rafters*

    For the gnat person, I know you are sick of spending your own $, but I did have to do the same thing. I also had to use a sticky in every. single. plant, including the succulents which gnats don’t seem to like. Threatening to toss the plants didn’t work and would have caused problems, so I had to take matters in my own hands.

  25. The Crowening*

    This is not a great answer for the gnat situation because the best answer is one that makes gnats go away and not your problem.

    but just in case it helps, making a gnat trap can be effective. Put apple cider vinegar in a bowl or mug. Stretch plastic cling-wrap across the top. Use a toothpick or sharp pencil to poke a few gnat-sized holes in the plastic wrap. They’ll smell the vinegar, go inside and not be able to get back out.

    I agree it’s smelly and inhumane and also gross to have a bowl of dead gnats. And if the plants aren’t removed and nothing else is done, the gnat trap is not a good permanent solution for those reasons. Works great though for temporary infestations.

    1. Kacihall*

      this gnat trap is the only one that works for me. Haven’t had a problem lately, but a couple times a year my office and my kitchen will get infestations. last month my dad complained that the fruit flies at his dad’s house were out of control. I made him one for his house (I’d seen a few) and told him to take one to his dad’s. He told me a week after I left that he didn’t think his house had a problem but there were a dozen dead ones in the trap.

      I usually put a drop of dawn dish soap in it, too.

  26. Bookworm*

    #2: No advice, just that sorry you’re dealing with that. If your co-worker got an exception without having to provide medical documentation then that should be that.

    #5: Good for you on asking. I wish I had known to ignore my school career centers and didn’t have to learn these things the hard way.

  27. Spicy Tuna*

    I started a new job years ago and brought in a plant for my office. I was immediately visited by the office manager who told me they had a no plant policy due to insects. Maybe the LW can speak to HR or building management about instituting a policy?

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      That makes me rather sad. This is definitely a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        We have a no-plants policy for exactly this reason and honestly nobody is sad. We’re at work. We don’t need to manage plants. There are plants outside that we can visit on our lunch breaks.

        And it’s not throwing the baby out with the bath water if it makes pest control a whole lot easier–it’s a necessary part of the process.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Agreed. We had this policy at our building due to mice. Before my time. But everyone’s right to work in a pest-free environment supersedes some people thinking it’s nice to have plants around.

          The plants have started creeping back in, and it’s setting off my allergies really badly, so I think I’m going to have to be a similar spoilsport really soon.

        2. Jackalope*

          The difference here is that the office is currently filled with plants. It sounds like most of the employees there have brought multiple plants and it’s reasonable to assume that they’ve done that because they really like having plants at work. So this would be a huge change for them that would almost certainly be a blow to morale. In some offices the No plants rule would be an easy sell, but given the current situation it would be better to try other options first. (And I’m not forgetting that the gnats are a blow to OP’s morale! But that’s why some of the other solutions should be tried first.)

          1. Observer*

            So, two things.

            Firstly, it’s not just a blow to the OP’s morale. For one thing, you don’t know who else is having a problem with it. And it’s “just” morale, it’s their health and ability to do their job with a reasonable level of comfort.

            Secondly, the idea that the OP has any obligation to spend any more time, effort or money to salvage the morale of the other staff is ridiculous. Yes, they like plants. But it’s still an absolute extra. What the OP is asking for is the *basics*.

            And thus, if facilities decides that the only practical way to deal with the problem is to get rid of the plant, so be it. They have their constraints, and getting rid of pest dues to a variety of totally unnecessary plants may very well be out of their capacity to deal with. Because, again, the *need* for a pest free workplace absolutely over-rides the *desire* for plants in the office. And that desire does not place an obligation on the company to expend significant resources to make it practical.

            If people care THAT much about having plants, they should have made sure to deal with the pests. They have not. That means that they no longer have standing to complain if the plants get banned.

        3. Phryne*

          There are many many studies on how the presence of plants in offices is better for people and air quality. If you don’t miss them, no problem for you, but I would be very unhappy if there were no plants at my workplace. Fortunately we have a contract for plant care in the building, so it is taken care of by professionals. (Also, I have never had or seen a problem with infestations in houseplants… but I see a LOT of comments here that people have the same problem… Is this a problem to specific geographical regions or climates?)

          That being said, people should not be asked to put up with infestations, so some sort of rules are required here.

          1. Observer*

            <I.There are many many studies on how the presence of plants in offices is better for people and air quality.

            Better than WHAT? And what kind of offices are we comparing?

            I’ve seen those studies and they really don’t do anything for situations like this.

            I’ve yet to see any study that comes close to indicating that a gnat infested office has any advantaged over one that doesn’t have gnats, even if the former has plants and the latter doesn’t.

            1. Phryne*

              ‘Better than WHAT?’
              Better that places with no plants. It is not rocket science.

              ‘I’ve yet to see any study that comes close to indicating that a gnat infested office has any advantaged over one that doesn’t have gnats, even if the former has plants and the latter doesn’t.’

              Not what I said and invalidating yourself as someone to take seriously unfortunately.

          2. Random Dice*

            Nowadays most offices have MERV-13 air filtering to handle COVID. Plants aren’t going to do better than a freaking MERV-13, I can guaran-freakin-tee you.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              Particle filtration, such as MERV-13 filters, doesn’t absorb vapors.

              NASA tested various houseplants to see if they could help purify the air on space stations, etc. and found that some plants can remove certain amounts of volatile organic compounds from the air, such as the stuff that outgasses from carpet, adhesives, paint, etc. Different plants were better with different compounds. (It’s probably pretty easy to search for if anyone’s interested. However, I don’t know how many plants (and which types) an office-sized space would need to make an appreciable difference.

              And I suspect they’d remove the plants if there were a gnat infestation.

            2. Phryne*

              I work in a college. The only change COVID made to our ventilation is that it is now on max all the time. It was already pretty high as there are easily hundreds (if not thousands) of people in and out of our buildings. we do not have aircon or climate control and the windows open.
              The plants are also there because, as I mentioned, their psychological value. People don;t do well mentally in an all concrete environment. Looking at plants helps. Maybe try it someday.

      2. Observer*

        This is definitely a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

        No it is not. Insects are a very real problem, and it behooves any reasonable company to take steps to avoid them. Plants, on the other hand, are *nice*, not important and if that’s the most practical way to avoid insects and pests, so be it.

        1. Phryne*

          I am sorry, but I simply will never agree that plants are just a nice and not important.

  28. Rachel*

    I think a lot of the advice towards the gnat problem is not actionable by the contributor because they do not have the plants. They cannot control the watering schedule or what is in the water or anything like that.

    Some other solutions like sitting next to a bowl of vinegar….I mean, this works for the gnats, sure, but it’s pretty gross. So are the gnats to begin with.

    This isn’t about what people are willing to put up with to have plants in their own home. This is about what is acceptable for a workplace. And in a workplace, I didn’t think this needed to be stated out loud, insect infestations need to be eradicated in the quickest and most efficient way.

    This is not a gardening issue.

    1. Orange You Glad*

      Agreed, too many of the comments are advice for getting rid of gnats. That’s not the LW’s responsibility. They just need to raise the issue with the appropriate party as Alison suggested. If it were me, I’d be complaining loudly and often to whoever had any ability to fix it (office manager, facilities, HR, etc) and continue to push that I should not have to work in a bug-infested office. I wouldn’t even opine that it’s the plants, just that there is an infestation that the company needs to act on. Let the powers that be determine what the plant policy will be going forward.

    2. House On The Rock*

      Completely agree, it’s a really disgusting situation. I almost gagged just reading the title of the question and cannot imagine working somewhere with gnats swarming around. To me this is no more about gardening than telling people not to microwave fish is about how to best flavor and cook fish!

  29. L. Bennett*

    LW1 — “I think it is because our leadership has a soft spot for her. Kathleen has had a tough life. She does not have a lot of friends and this job is her world”

    Strange how people who are mean, abrasive, and treat people like crap tend to have no friends, isn’t it? Then people feel bad for them because they have no one around them but…. they brought that on themselves. Actions, meet consequence.

    1. Cait*

      It really is a crap situation when a terrible employee is protected because the higher ups (who don’t have to deal with her daily BS) like them or just don’t want to deal with them.

      Besides what Alison said about drawing boundaries, I’d also suggest OP document everything. Every time Kathleen foists her work on someone else, every time she’s drunk dialed a junior staff member, everything she said on that call, every time she’s asked staff to do personal errands for her, every time she’s yelled, etc..

      At least then OP can have receipts if/when something comes to a head. Like the company being sued because she drunkenly declared something wildly inappropriate to a coworker over the phone at 11pm.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I agree. I’d also publicly back up the juniors when she pulls a stunt if I can. Or if Boss assigned something to Kathleen and Kathleen rolled it downhill, Junior might want to ask Boss to clarify the tasking. I think with a lot of these people as long as it’s not affecting anyone high enough up, they look the other way. You sometimes need to make it their problem. If she’s pushing boundaries by calling people drunk, that might also be a discussion to have with HR.

    2. Dust Bunny*


      Every time somebody’s parent or in-law pulls out the “you’ll miss me when I’m gone” line I want to tell them to be the kind of person we regret not having more time to spend with now. Except that would require them to examine and amend their own behavior, and we all know that that’s not the point.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Whenever I hear that kind of BS my automatic reaction is “I’ll never know how much I might miss you if you won’t go away.”

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      Right? I can’t imagine why Kathleen’s friend list is short. I can see why the LW is so exhausted and furious–she didn’t hire Kathleen, she isn’t friends with Kathleen, but she gets to deal with the constant drama and hiring churn because her boss feels bad for Kathleen.

    4. TrixM*

      And some people have sufficient survival instincts that they never, ever display the problem behaviour to people who can hand out consequences.
      I grew up in an abusive home with a man who had a ton of friends who loved him because he was “a great guy” socially. Even after that experience, I got taken in a few years ago by a man who used his friendly social relationships with women (including me) to convince young women in our community to meet him solo, where he assaulted more than one.
      Extreme examples, but I’m sure that the boundary-violating boss knows exactly what side her bread is buttered on.

  30. Heather*

    Someone must have a weird bee in their bonnet about gluten. Because they didn’t ask you for documentation for the red meat thing!!?— apparently they just accepted that that one was non-medical, and were fine with that. So asking for documentation on gluten makes zero sense.

    1. Myrin*

      Right? I was thinking that! By including the red meat issue, OP had effectually the same reason for buying her own lunch as her vegetarian coworker, so why do they keep harping on the gluten thing?

      1. Dr.Vibrissae*

        That was my thought too! The vegetarian got theirs reimbursed, this LW also doesn’t eat red meat so why require documentation? Plus, if I’m understanding the letter correctly, they have documentation from the conference to say that a meal they could eat was not provided. So even though the original agenda says lunch provided, the actual event was lunch not provided for these attendees, which was explicitly acknowledged. The whole thing is dumb, and I’d definitely follow-up with someone else, in my office that might include having our highest office admin try to solve it for me because she tends to know who to talk to to get things moving. Maybe the LW has someone like that they could go to in their office, sometimes its the side channels (rather than trying to go directly over someones head) that work best.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      Yeah, my immediate assumption was that their logic was “if it’s medical, we’ll pay but if it’s for any other reason – religious, ethical like vegetarian, due to dieting, possibly sensory, etc – we won’t.” Well, I also thought they might accept a letter from a religious leader to say they were not permitted to eat the meal, but it sort of sounded like “we will only accept it if the alternative is a possible lawsuit,” which would be really, really bad, but…I’m not sure if “we’ll accept it if it’s something like a diet or ethical reasons but if it’s medical, we require documentation,” isn’t even worse. Especially as it is likely to mean costs. And it’s just…bizarre.

      It does sound possible they have some bee in their bonnet about whether the gluten intolerance is “medically documented” or not, in which case it’s an unwarranted intrusion. As people have said above, even if it were simply that the LW found they felt better when they didn’t eat gluten, that is a perfectly valid reason not to eat it. I have a lot of dietary restrictions that are likely due to some kind of sensory issue but nothing diagnosed. Just “I am liable to start gagging if I eat that.”

      1. sb51*

        I can also see “vegetarian might be religious, and religious discrimination is wrong” vs “this is someone who is just picky and picky eaters aren’t a protected class”. (I’m not saying it’s pickiness, I’m saying that’s what the sort of person who’d make that assertion would think.)

    3. MicroManagered*

      Ehhhhhhh I could also picture this from someone who is just new or not very smart about their job too.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Asking for documentation in a haphazard and slightly illogical way is definitely common with early career HR and admin

    4. onetimethishappened*

      Also the cost of reimbursing someone for 1 lunch isn’t really that much. Obvisously we don’t know the exact amount, but it can’t be much more that $20. Its a bit ridiculous that someone is causing a fuss over less than $20.

  31. MsM*

    LW1: I’m also not optimistic leadership will do anything, but if they’re not going to do anything, I’m not sure why you can’t just employ the group bloc strategy with Kathleen directly. Step in when you hear her yelling. Don’t attend her events even if you do make the list. Refuse to let her reassign things, and let her take the fall if they don’t get done. Tell her you may not have the authority to make her treat her junior reports better, but you’re not just going to stand by and give them the impression this is something they should just accept as normal because no one else cares what’s happening – and if she runs crying to leadership, tell them it seems you are in fact in agreement that bullying is bad, so can they please explain why they keep giving Kathleen reports to bully?

    If the reason you don’t think that’ll work is because you can’t count on everyone else to hold the line that they’re not putting up with this any more, then I’m sorry to say you don’t just have a leadership problem, or even a Kathleen problem. The entire culture is infected, and you should keep your eye out for opportunities at a place where people recognize that maybe the reason someone doesn’t have a lot of friends is that they haven’t dealt with their issues in ways that make people want to be around them, and simply let them face the consequences of that instead of making excuses for maladaptive behavior.

  32. Lisa Vanderpump*

    “If Kathleen were a man, I think she would have been reprimanded by now for the inappropriate phone calls.”

    lol yeah, women are treated so much better than men in the workforce.

    1. Myrin*

      I’m quite sure this is referring to the very real fact that there are things women can get away with much more easily than men – sexual harrassment comes readily to mind, for example, and seeing how the phone calls in question are described as “late at night to talk about her personal issues for hours”, they might indeed be viewed as much more inappropriate when done by a man.
      (That the reason for these more lenient judgments is still usually misogyny or homophobia or both doesn’t really matter on the base level where it just is.)

      1. KayDeeAye*

        I’m sure you’re right, Myrin. The OP isn’t implying that men, the poor fragile dears, have it so much harder than women. They are simply saying that there is some questionable behavior that a woman can often get away with for longer than a man, and I think you’re right that late-night phone calls might be one of those questionable behaviors.

        I’m not saying a woman *should* get away with it, because it sounds extremely unpleasant. But there’s a reasonable chance she could get away with it, at least for a while.

      2. Splendid Colors*

        That’s how I read it, too.

        I asked a vendor not to drunk-call me for dates from the bar late at night and he forgot I’d set that boundary when he was drunk again. The third time, I contacted his company.

        He is no longer the salesperson for our district.

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      Yeah, but late night calls from a male boss to a female junior employee definitely has shades of sexual harassment that a company is more likely to shut down.

      1. Victoria Everglot*

        Some people tend to treat really gross comments or actions from women as harmless gossip/girl chat where they’d see it as sexual harassment if it were a man saying it/doing it. I loathe double standards.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          See: the recent letter/update from the guy who was being constantly harassed by the coworker who “didn’t like men as big as he was.”

    3. Qwerty*

      I think that quote is optimistic, given how often I have seen men engage in most of these behaviors with zero repercussions

    4. Observer*

      “If Kathleen were a man, I think she would have been reprimanded by now for the inappropriate phone calls.”

      lol yeah, women are treated so much better than men in the workforce.

      That’s not what was being implied. What was being implied – and it happens all the time – is that people can be very strange about what constitutes bad behavior. This comes up a lot.

      A common suggestion is “flip the genders and then see how it reads”. In this case, I’m pretty sure that most of management would realize that a guy calling women late at night to talk is a problem because it fits neatly into a recognized narrative. But if it’s a woman, well it “can’t” be sexual, and it may not be great but it’s only a woman.

  33. Not your typical admin*

    The requirement for documentation for food intolerance is ridiculous. I can’t eat cilantro. Even a little bit in a dish makes the whole thing taste like soap to me. I always though it was weird people liked it until I realized most people don’t experience the same taste I do. It don’t cause any kind of medical reaction, so I don’t need a doctors note

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Same and the couple of times I’ve actually gotten a dish at a work event with cilantro, they’ve let me expense something different no problem. I have a couple of food things and I’ve never had to say anything more than “whoops I can’t eat this”.

      I can absolutely see my doctor’s “this is not what I went to medical school for” expression if I asked for a note about cilantro. She’d write it, but she’d bang her head against the desk.

      1. Cyndi*

        Yeah I have no food allergies, but I do have a genetic aversion to raw tomato–I love pizza, tomato soup, ketchup, tomato flavored chips, but raw tomato tastes vile to me*. And catering from every sandwich place comes with it by default. When my workplaces treat us to sandwiches I just skip lunch if I can, or pick it off and suffer through the lingering tomato taste if I can’t get out of eating.

        *To stave off everyone’s immediate response to this: yes I have had homegrown tomatoes. My mom LOVES tomatoes and grows multiple kinds in her backyard to eat plain as snacks. I assure you she tried her darnedest to sell me on them for many years, and it’s not happening.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          *To stave off everyone’s immediate response to this: yes I have had homegrown tomatoes.

          Hahahaha I work with someone who has the same thing and every single time it comes up someone asks her this. Or “Oh but you need to have a fresh one with some salt!”

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          YOU ARE ME.

          I too despise fresh raw tomato and love all its variations that are not fresh raw tomato. Mine started when I was a wee thing and my dad gave me a slice of his tomato. I had only ever had tomatoes in sauce, etc., and the taste was so wildly far from what I was expecting that I never got over it.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      And frankly, why the hell can we just not like something because–we don’t like it?

      I personally do not like any kind of seafood, for instance. I have no intolerance or allergy, I don’t resent anybody who adores scallops or salmon. I mean no insult to any regional cuisines or cook’s creation. I, personally, do not, have never, and will never in the future like seafood.

      I’m not a six year old who is being coaxed into trying something besides chicken nuggets. I shouldn’t have to justify not liking a particular thing beyond “I do not like green eggs and ham, and if you don’t back off, Sam, I’m going to HR.”

      1. Dahlia*

        As an adult with borderline-ARFID (…and probably more borderline because denial), it makes people SO MAD when adults don’t like food. And it honestly becomes ableist, because it’s so often linked to things like autism. We’re just expected to change the way our brains are wired to be more convenient.

  34. person*

    LW#4 I’m sorry to hear about your difficult boss, and glad your mom recovered.

    I was fired after my young sibling’s terminal cancer diagnosis because my boss “couldn’t handle it emotionally”. Actual reason given.

    On the bright side, getting away from people like this is its own reward, as you found.

  35. ecnaseener*

    The PIP thing in #4 is a “fun” flip side to the problem Alison’s talked about before, where employees don’t seem to understand that a PIP means you get fired if you fail it — now this weirdo boss either didn’t understand it or didn’t expect LW to!

    1. KayDeeAye*

      This is my very favorite thing that I’ve read for the entire *week* – or maybe even month.

  36. MicroManagered*

    OP2 As far as what to do next, I would respond with something like “I do not have medical documentation of my gluten intolerance on hand at the moment. I am surprised to be asked for that because I spoke with my colleague Sally, who also had to purchase her own lunch since she is a vegetarian. She wasn’t asked to provide medical documentation for her dietary restriction. Is there a reason my situation is different?”

    If you get a response that’s anything OTHER than “oh whoops sorry” or similar, I’d talk to that person’s boss. I could see this being a simple mistake by someone new thinking “oh I’ll ask for documentation.”

    1. Your Computer Guy*

      I’d come back with “I’ve provided ample documentation for this reimbursement already. Please process it the same as the other requests from this event.” and copy my boss and the finance person’s boss on that reply.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep. Short, to the point, matter of fact. Best way to make the other person (rightfully) look like a jerk.

        1. MicroManagered*

          Nah cc’ing everyone’s boss for simple matters and trying to “make the other person look like a jerk” makes YOU look like a jerk.

          1. DisgruntledPelican*

            And quite possibly an idiot when it’s turned back on you that you actually *haven’t* provided the documentation that was requested. I don’t see any guarantee your boss or the finance person’s boss are going to be on your side.

      2. MicroManagered*

        Yeah that’s really aggressive for what might be a simple misunderstanding. I find starting with simple curiosity and politeness gets me a lot further with people, but you do you.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, exactly. This whole thing reminds me of the guy who was having his expenses nitpicked to the point where he got dinged for getting extra guac at Chipotle.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        Ah, Guacamole Bob! One of my all-time favorite letters, particularly since it ended so satisfyingly for the OP.

  37. HonorBox*

    LW1 – Tell any and all younger staffers that they a) should not take calls from Kathleen after work hours, b) should not run personal errands for Kathleen, c) are not to take work assignments from Kathleen if she is not their direct supervisor and d) are to report any negative reactions from Kathleen for any of the above. And have people document instances of any of this stuff. It will be helpful to have a running list of when she’s calling people, when she’s asking them to drop off dry cleaning or when she’s reassigning duties.

    While management may not be willing to do anything to stop Kathleen from doing what she’s presently doing, if there’s negative reactions, feedback or repercussions because she is told no, then they have reason to take actions. Coupled with the long list of what she’s doing to people or requesting of them, there should be enough data to help management get off their butts.

    1. LCH*

      would it be fine to tell them to just block her number? is there any reason she should be calling people on their personal phones? like, all communications should happen during work time. unless this workplace has a lot of remote workers?

      1. Victoria Everglot*

        Even if there’s a good reason for this group of coworkers to have each other’s personal numbers, I still think it would be okay for them to decide Kathleen in particular has lost the privilege.

  38. Hiring Mgr*

    Asking for documentation is absurd, as well as the nickel and diming to begin with. Reminds me of one company I worked at where they didn’t bat an eye at letting you spend $10K on a business class fight internationally, but got forbid you go over by a few dollars on your per diem..

    1. kiki*

      Yeah, I can see the initial confusion– lunch was supposed to be provided– but all this follow-up and making LW go to the doctor to get evidence has to have cost more in time and wages than the cost of whatever lunch LW ended up ordering. Very penny-wise pound-foolish.

    2. LCH*

      That is weird. They could just… only reimburse up to the per diem amount and leave it at that. The employee would then just cover the difference. That’s how per diems work…Why be upset?

  39. nightingale*


    I can confirm that a lot of career centres are regularly staffed with grad students because my uni hires students in the social work program to be student career advisors. Like what? I have been struggling to find a job and they tried to stick me with a BSW student and I was like no thanks, I don’t need someone upwards of 10 years younger than me who more than likely knows f**k all about the realities of the workforce, the affects of my autism on my employability, etc. so I didn’t go to the appointment and I finally rebooked with someone more experienced (hopefully it goes better).

    I’m not saying it’s bad to be a student and inexperienced cause we’ve all been there, but OP, imagine you being the one to give career advice? Versus someone who’s got several years of experience (eg Allison)? That knowledge is something that comes with experience.

    I also find that a lot of career centres (I have 2 degrees from 2 schools) have a formulaic framework/approach that tends to work ok if you’re an accountant or engineer or something… but not so well if you’re experience, field, or industry isn’t suitable to the formula. For example, I used to work with clients as an allied health professional and it would’ve been so icky to say “supported 75 clients and saw an average of 50% improvement on their wellbeing scores” because it feels like taking credit for their role in their own healing, it doesn’t account for the nuances and why some people are able to progress more quickly than others, or why others may never reach a point of being 100% symptom free. So the classic résumé advice doesn’t work for that, you know? And stuff I’ve learned from people like Allison has gone a long way to helping me move beyond the formula.

    1. Jaunty Banana Hat*

      There was an opening in my campus’s career center once, that I applied for after a friend who worked there told me I should (at the time I was dealing with being misclassified and thus underpaid, and my bosses were in no hurry to fix it, so while I liked my job, I was selectively applying elsewhere). I had a good cover letter. A solid resume. I know this because I got to the interview stage everywhere else I’d applied.

      I didn’t even get an interview, and my friend gave me the feedback that I needed to do a LOT of work on my cover letter and resume because the cover letter wasn’t structured enough and I needed to reorganize my resume to include my work goals/objectives rather than what I’d accomplished at previous jobs.

      I didn’t feel bad about not getting an interview, but I definitely felt bad for all the students going there for advice.

      1. nightingale*

        And it makes me wonder how many employers are “bad” at screening resumes and if that’s why people like me struggle / have struggled to find work because our resumes are technically good but don’t follow some bonkers formula.

  40. JSPA*

    was the letter was cut for length?

    I see this very differently if your coworker’s “personal stuff” is in any way sexual (or even romantic) or focused on the lives of her reports (vs “overly personal” in the sense of, “I’m so bummed about having picked out these hideous drapes, and the dog ate cheese and is flatulent.”)

    If she’s merely oversharing stuff that they find boring and didn’t need to know, and certainly didn’t need to be woken up to hear, I’d go with Alison’s advice.

    If she’s absolutely doing stuff that’s harassment, in the sense that it’s sexualizing the workplace, or if she’s interfering with her reports privacy by digging inappropriately to the point where she’s harassing them–the company is setting themselves up for a huge headache. For that matter, if she’s calling certain gender(s) and orientation(s) more than others, especially if she’s also retaliating against people for being unavailable, or favoring those who are personally available–that’s all kinds of problematic.

    First, legitimately work on thinking of her as someone who not only needs but deserves help. (If you’re telegraphing, “we needed to fire her years ago,” whatever you write or say will be read as a power struggle. Even if you’re right.)

    Then, name the major problem FOR THE COMPANY (which isn’t, “she’s a flake, and sometimes reassigns work.” That’s irksome for you, less so for them.)

    “We all sympathize with Kathleen’s good intentions, and we all from a place of concern for her. However, something doesn’t have to be done with an intent to harass or to discriminate, for it to be harassing or discriminatory. Ignoring her well-documented patterns of [literally whatever it is–calling only the women and gay men at 2 AM, or talking about body anxiety only with NB’s, repeatedly using the word “haunches” and interjecting “that’s what she said” with everybody] is setting us up for a company-wide harassment lawsuit. Additionally, enabling problematic behavior isn’t an act of supportive kindness! The longer we enable her actions, the longer it will take her to get help or otherwise commit to changing her patterns. Kathleen can be a dedicated and lovely human being at work, but she can also be a complete mess. All of us, including Kathleen, would benefit from “good Kathleen” showing up reliably. I understand that we hope to support her in getting there. But ignoring the problem does the opposite.”

    You’ve probably seen Kathleen sober, but you’ve rarely (if ever?) seen “sober Kathleen.” You’ve possibly seen Kathleen on her own version of good behavior, but you’ve rarely (if ever) seen Kathleen showing up knowing that she has to meet certain professional standards. She might turn out to be a pretty good coworker, if a combination of a behavior-focused PIP plus a directive to talk to EAP “for suggestions on how to achieve behavioral change” managed to break through the layers of entrenched denial and emotional damage that your letter alludes to.

    But if she can’t get there, it’s still the job’s business to protect her reports from workplace harassment (which is still workplace harassment, even if it is delivered by phone, in the wee hours).

  41. Somewhere in Texas*

    LW #4- I’m glad you made the most out of that banana (pants sitaution) and split.

  42. KetchYp*

    #3 All these remedies are missing the point. Plants don’t just have gnats any more than dogs just have fleas, and you wouldn’t bring a flea-laden dog to work even if dogs were allowed. I work with plants – taking care of rooms full of plants is my entire job, and we have a fungus gnat infestation from time to time and it’s a lot of effort to eradicate, we are constantly trying new things to prevent it. But if the plants at your office aren’t contributing to your company’s bottom line, they got to go. Gnats aren’t just something that comes with having plants, and you shouldn’t be spending your time fussing w diseased or infested plants just to work somewhere bug-free. The owners need to care for them properly or take them home.

    As for plant lovers who want to avoid gnats, I really reccomend taking a look at what potting soil you’re using and if it’s appropriate for the environment it’s going to be in (like an office vs a porch). Soils too high in peat moss or using a high-retention coco coir seem to get infested more.

    1. Antilles*

      I don’t really get why everybody is offering remedies. This is a facilities management problem at work. Period. Exactly the same as a broken faucet or a fallen tree in the parking lot or etc.
      OP is not responsible for this problem, OP doesn’t need to bring ideas to the table, OP doesn’t need to spend their own money on various chemicals. The only solution that’s needed is “politely request the office manager / facilities / whoever to fix the problem”.

      1. President Porpoise*

        You’re not wrong at all – and I also recommend pulling in Facilities or the landlord into the discussion – but as a gardener, I really love all these gnat solutions! Nematodes sound really promising.

        Impractically, OP could just get their coworkers really into cactus. If properly cared for, cactus soil should remain too dry to support gnat eggs.

        1. KetchYp*

          Nematodes are great. they also would require every single owner to be on board not just w the concept of using them, but with paying for them, choosing the right species. and executing the procedure properly, and doing this regularly, for the rest of their time with the company. so it would still require management to get everyone on board and to make sure the procedures are all being done correctly, taking into consideration that each plant/soil mix might need a different process. and it still might not help, because there is something about these plants that isn’t right for that environment. it’s an absolute waste of time and resources to indulge bad gardening

    2. DisgruntledPelican*

      I mean…I certainly wouldn’t put it past a lot of dog people to bring their flea-laden dogs to work. And while sure, common sense may say the plants should go, if the plant owners aren’t taking care of them or getting rid of them (as OP says they aren’t) and no one with any authority is willing to wade in and *make* the plant owners do anything (unknown if OP has tried that), OP’s left with doing their own pest control.

    3. TrixM*

      Completely agree. Get all the infested plants out of there, wait to see if the problem is gone. Then allow some plants in if they are cared for by the owners and immediately removed if they get visibly unhealthy/infested.

  43. kristinyc*

    Re: Gnats

    My office had a gnat problem a few years back, and the solution was to ban plants from the office. People were mad about it, but it worked. You shouldn’t have to deal with that.

    1. kiki*

      Yeah, I know it upsets people because there are likely a lot of plants not contributing to the gnat problem, but unless there is one specific plant identified that has a gnat problem and the gnats have not spread to any other plants, it just becomes too much to sort through and figure out.

  44. Jupiter Rising*

    “ Employers can legally require you to provide documentation to establish that you need a medical accommodation”

    True, but it does not have to take the form of provide a copy of your medically documented gluten intolerance. To request an accommodation, you do not have to provide a diagnosis, nor are they allowed to ask for one. A note stating how the accommodation will help you is what’s needed.

    It is a bit of a fine point with a food allergy, since documentation saying you need gluten-free food pretty much says you have a gluten allergy or intolerance. I just want to point out that you don’t have to give exactly what they are asking.

  45. HigherEdAnonymous*

    Re: the gluten thing. I know it’s different, but I almost sorta kinda understand the annoyance of whomever is stalling on the reimbursement. I would never do that, but I had a negative work experience that planted a little pettiness in me against gluten-intolerant people. My story is this: I planned a work event and there were a handful of speakers (all academics, which… don’t get me started on the entitlement that faculty display towards support staff in higher ed institutions). The speakers had meetings with the staff in advance of the event. I emailed them a bajillion times asking if there was ANYTHING we could do for them, ANY accommodations we could provide, yada yada. She even completes a form asking her if she has any needs AT ALL for the event, but writes “N/A.” The day of the event arrives, and this white, blonde speaker creates a huge scene because there is no gluten meal option for her. She complains loudly separately to the catering servers (who are getting paid $14 an hour and have no control over the food), vents to the other presenters, and then comes to me and passive-aggressively asks me if I have any gluten-free meals for her (in my purse, I guess?). Bewildered, I explained that I didn’t, that we would absolutely would have ordered her a special meal from the catering service if we had known, and I apologized something like six times while she just…stared at me before walking away. All of the feedback we got via the post-event survey was glowing, except for one person who wrote that they were “extremely dissatisfied” with the event because of the lack of food for them. Like, I get it, being hungry stinks, but also I’m not a mind-reader and you had SO many opportunities to tell me face-to-face or via email that you needed a certain dietary restriction accommodated. Also, there are plenty of to-go food options nearby, and it was a short event. It felt like a real faculty diva moment.

    1. kiki*

      This was one annoying person, though. Most gluten-intolerant people (and people with any dietary restriction) try to be as easy to accommodate as possible. There are people with every dietary restriction/preference who can be annoying. I once ordered food for an event where a large portion of the attendees would be vegetarian. It was really casual so I went with pizza– I got traditional cheese, veggie, and a specialty paneer tikka masala pizza. One attendee came up to me and complained that there was no option with meat. They could eat all the options (and even complimented the paneer tikka masala pizza), they just would have preferred something with meat.

      All this to say, people are annoying– don’t hold this lady’s behavior against all gluten-intolerant folks. If it weren’t the lack of gluten-free options, she probably would have complained about the brand of bottled water or something.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      While this does sound extremely annoying – and as a meeting planner I have had some similar experiences – this is really an apples-to-oranges comparison here.

    3. CommanderBanana*

      I’m also not really sure what the point of emphasizing the speaker’s race and hair color here was.

      1. Signed, A White Woman*

        Because white people with an over-inflated sense of entitlement are a thing. (I’m white fwiw.)

        1. Observer*

          Which makes it make even less sense that they are acting as though it’s a matter of being gluten intolerant.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            I don’t think the point was that gluten-intolerant people are the worst, just that entitled white lady faculty types will ignore every invitation to share their accommodation needs and then throw a fit that they weren’t accommodated.

    4. I should really pick a name*

      I guess I’m not clear why you’d extrapolate the behaviour of one person to all gluten-intolerant people.

      This seems to be more about the person being insufferable than about them being gluten-intolerant.

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Right but this kind of person is going to find something to be mad about. There’s only flat water instead of sparkling, the chairs are metal instead of wood, the sandwiches have iceberg lettuce instead of arugula…whatever gets their goat that day. I work for a person like this, who is actually quite lovely otherwise but anything about meals or event planning is like walking through an active minefield for whatever reason.

      You dealt with an unreasonable person who happened to be gluten free, that is not an indictment of gluten free people. I work with two gluten free people who will just not eat before they inconvenience anyone else, and I’ve had to twist their arms to get them to expense special food for themselves if the group has something they can’t have. It’s not a homogenous subculture by any means.

      1. HigherEdAdminista*

        I agree with this. I understand that the phrase gluten-free would take you back to that day, but it is very unlikely this woman would have been a lovely person if there had been an entire gluten-free buffet to eat. It sounds more like she saw an opportunity to exercise her issues by being nasty to a staff member, and she couldn’t resist it.

    6. Totally Minnie*

      This is a very good reason to dislike unreasonable people, but a terrible reason to dislike people with gluten intolerance.

      Sometimes people have medical conditions. Sometimes people are jerks. And sometimes people who have medical conditions are jerks. But that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to assume that everybody with that medical condition will be a jerk just because you had one bad experience with one person one time.

    7. LilPinkSock*

      And that means you are irritated by the entire gluten-intolerant population…why? (Also, I am not blonde, white, gluten-sensitive, or in academia, but I am wondering what her hair color and perceived race have to do with any of it.)

    8. Ellis Bell*

      But it didn’t prejudice you against blonde people, did it? Because that would be ridiculous. FWIW this encounter would make me disbelieve they were gluten intolerant at all just because of how disorganised they are (but yeah, she’d still get the type of food she asked for in future). I’m not deathly intolerant but even after being asked if I have accommodations, and requesting gluten free food in a timely fashion, I still pack my own ‘just in case’ food, because I am so very often let down at events. People do forget to prepare the very food they promised you. If you don’t have that basic expectation, or experience that you may be left hungry, you’re going to be left hungry.

    9. Observer*

      I know it’s different, but I almost sorta kinda understand the annoyance of whomever is stalling on the reimbursement. I would never do that, but I had a negative work experience that planted a little pettiness in me against gluten-intolerant people.

      Wow. You had ONE negative experience with someone and now you have pettiness against all gluten intolerant people? Sub in ANY group and read that back to yourself. Now tell me that this is at all reasonable in any way, shape or form? Even “kind, sorta, almost”.

      Considering that the story is about someone who is just a stupid jerk, telling this as a story specifically about someone who is gluten intolerant tells me that the prejudice probably existed before the story, and now you have something to back it up.

    10. Eva*

      Why does it matter she was white and blonde?

      She didn’t behave well but would you have written “this black speaker” or “this hispanic speaker” or “this asian speaker”? or even “this white brunette speaker”?

    11. HigherEdAnonymous*

      Aw, y’all. Relax a little, please. I appreciate the earnestness of the replies to my comment, but I think some of you took it a little too seriously. I promise I won’t discriminate against gluten-intolerant people. I am capable of recognizing that I found someone annoying and now carry a tiny bias against entitled white ladies with a gluten intolerance. I am also capable of being professional and kind while also being privately annoyed. It was a venting comment about a minor workplace drama! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ If you’re a white lady with gluten intolerance in academia and this comment made you nervous, uh…I guess this is your hint to be clear about your needs and respectful of the staff (hourly and exempt, a lot of whom are people of color) who help make your work possible.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        “I had a negative work experience that planted a little pettiness in me against gluten-intolerant people.” Those were your words. You don’t want them to be taken seriously, let the rest of us know somehow. I’m very happy to not take you seriously.

        I’m a gluten intolerant white lady working in education. Your comment didn’t make me nervous; it made me annoyed.

  46. Your Computer Guy*

    I’m a plant hoarder and I started using the Zevo traps for gnats. They plug into a wall outlet, have a nice shield for the sticky part, and emit a blue light that seems to really attract the gnats. Cleared my household infestation right up.

    For LW, I’d make the request to order some through the office manager or whoever does ordering, as the request would then put the issue on the radar of someone with some authority over/responsibility for the shared space. Then they either order and plug in the traps and it works, or they’re then more aware of the issue and maybe do something else about it.

  47. NoNutter*

    #2 makes my blood boil. Dietary restrictions are not always medical and even when they are they’re not always medical in the way you’d think or could get accommodation for. About ten years ago I thought I was having an allergic reaction to a peanut butter cookie so I went to an allergist who told me I didn’t have an allergy, but I had a panic attack in her office because I was so worried about possibly reacting, which happened every time I ate peanuts. She told me that even though I wasn’t allergic, it might be best for me if I just… didn’t eat peanuts. I now eat peanuts occasionally with no issue but it’s taken me ten years of anxiety medication trials and therapy to get to that place. If I’d been in LW’s situation 5 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to get medical proof that I couldn’t eat peanuts but that wouldn’t have changed the fact that I couldn’t. Would they have accepted a note from my therapist saying I was afraid to eat peanuts? My guess is probably not with this company.

    1. Victoria Everglot*

      The kind of people who won’t just take your word for it that you have a dietary restriction would probably see your “afraid of peanuts” documentation and take that as permission to stuff all your food with peanut butter so they could say “SEE THERE’S NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF” after every bite.

  48. Dust Bunny*

    My office has a strict no-plants policy specifically because of bugs. Granted, we’re in archives to the stakes are slightly higher, but nobody regrets not having to deal with the bugs. There are trees we can admire around the retention pond across the parking lot instead.

  49. garblesnark*

    I used to work for a Kathleen, except he owned the entire company.

    Not working there anymore is my favorite thing in my life. I’d sooner go back to the company that fired me for having cancer.

  50. Kan*

    OP#2 – this would have me fuming. I’m fuming on your behalf. I would escalate it to someone higher up in Finance (or have your boss escalate it to their boss) and make it clear that they are wasting your time, and their time, over a small department expense. Tell them you are not asking for an ADA accomodation – anymore than the vegetarian was – and that you will not be sharing personal medical information in order to obtain reimbursement.

  51. LilPinkSock*

    LW #2: Not illegal, but definitely a jerk move. I wonder if they would require documentation from, say, an observant Jewish or Muslim person–can you imagine the fallout from that?! I wonder if the person insisting you provide a doctor’s note is one of those who doesn’t believe anyone could possibly really need to be gluten-free.

    LW #3: Either someone with the authority to do so has to enforce better gardening practices, or they’ve got to ban the plants. It shouldn’t be up to you to resolve this really gross situation! (And maybe we all should stop offering the LW solutions to a problem that’s not hers)

  52. Jennifer Strange*

    #2 should go Ron Swanson and just type up “I can’t have gluten” on a piece of plain white paper then hand it to them.

  53. Academic glass half full*

    Letter number two could have been dealing with my finance department.
    And yes, your documentation should have been enough.

    I am on a food plan that requires meals at specific times, low sodium, low carbs, protein and there is no way that it is anyone’s business why this is medically necessary.
    I cannot wait until the conference provided breakfast at 9:30 am. Nor do I want to eat it. Usually a buffet of croissants, bagels, prepackaged sugar filled yogurt, and packaged cereals when my first meal of the day need to be at 6:00 am.

    What I have learned. Those rules are not going to change. So I don’t claim breakfast that day.
    I pack and carry the food (protein rich snacks, fresh fruit) that I need for the trip.
    I take the meal per diems no matter what is going on (for example, when I arrive at the location, I buy what I need for breakfast and keep it in my room)

    1. Academic glass half full*

      Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t be pissed off. It took me forever to calm down when finance bounced back a 1,500 reimbursement for a 15 dollar breakfast receipt because “the conference provided breakfast” which means she had to go on-line, look up the conference, comb through the daily schedules, to prove that I wasn’t following the Universities guidelines.
      I resented that there was this attitude that I was getting away with something.
      I WAS pissed off enough to take it to HR AND Disability services. And now I just play their game.

      1. I have RBF*

        Yeah, the conference isn’t really providing breakfast when you can’t actually eat that breakfast.

        A “continental breakfast” is not a good breakfast – it is basically sweet breads, FFS, which means that an hour later I will likely be sugar crashing and falling asleep. If I was gluten intolerant, there would be nothing for me to eat. If I was just avoiding sugar due to diet, there still would be nothing for me to eat.

        It’s a hassle to have to go get a separate breakfast when they supposedly are providing it, so it’s not something people do unless they have to, honestly. Your accounting is full of jerks.

    2. AnonToday*

      I am relieved to work for a place that just gives us the per diem ahead of time for meals, and we don’t have to bring back receipts, b/c they seem to trust that grown adults are capable of feeding ourselves according to our own needs.

  54. Observer*

    #3 – Gnats in the workplace

    I haven’t read all of the comments, but I did see several suggestions for how to get rid of the Gnats. The thing is that I agree that you should not be spending your own money on this.

    I agree with Alison. Go to facilities management, or your manager, or both. And just focus on the Gnat problem, not the plants. The plants may be the problem – or not. And, really do you even care? You just want the flying insects (whether they are gnats or fruit flies or something else) to GO AWAY.

  55. Observer*

    #1 – Abusive coworker.

    Alison is right. Please make sure that your staff are crystal clear that they don’t have to take Kathleen’s calls, and if they are not her direct reports, they don’t have to take on extraneous tasks she hands them. Put it in email. Make it official.

    But also, start looking for a new job. It doesn’t really matter WHY management is allowing this to happen. They ARE absolutely knowingly allowing someone to abuse people and that is really bad management. You are at a point where you still see the problem. Get out while that sense has not gotten warped.

  56. AnonToday*

    Good luck to LW3! Love, a person whose manager has infested our department and is working on infesting the entire building with fungus gnats but won’t get rid of the plant that’s the root of the problem.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      specifically, the roots of the plant are the root of the issue! Those buggers dive deep.

    2. Ensign Pulver*

      AnonToday, it sounds like your office needs a midnight plant removal ala “Mr Roberts” all the way to the dumpster instead of overboard…

  57. Dances with Flax*

    #4: Your old boss is batty enough to play Dracula without a costume!

    When you accepted your old job, you did NOT get married to the company; you agreed to trade your labor for the compensation they were willing to give you. Yes, that goes with the assumption that you will do your best work, behave with integrity and be professional – but that’s it. You did NOT agree to stay with them for the rest of your life – much less to do so while being verbally abused. (And even spouses to DO promise to stay with each other for life aren’t expected to do if THEY’RE being abused themselves!)

    Looking for another job after the first one isn’t working out is NORMAL; chances are that Batty Boss did the same thing at SOME point himself! With values and behavior like his, no wonder your old company was so dysfunctional – “A fish rots from the head on down.” Good for you for getting the hell out of there before its corporate “rot” started twisting your own expectations of what’s normal and acceptable – because that company was neither.

  58. Unkempt Flatware*

    In undergrad, majoring in linguistics, I once had an adjunct faculty tell me I needed to use topic sentences and follow a 5-sentence paragraph rule all with topic sentences. I couldn’t hide my shock and said something like, “I haven’t heard the phrase ‘topic sentence’ since I was in 5th grade” and he never bothered me again. It was so weird.

    1. AnonToday*

      Was it a linguistics professor that told you that? My undergrad degree is also in linguistics and that seems weirdly rigid b/c it’s exactly the way they teach elementary schoolers to write when they’re very young. I once had a job scoring the written part of standardized tests for 4th or 5th graders and nearly every single essay, intro, three topic paragraphs, conclusion.

  59. Armadillidiidae*

    I just want to validate LW#4 and Alison’s response! To me the formula “puts you on a PIP + is mad when you look for other jobs” is classic abuser: LW#4, he wanted to be able to ruin your life and make you grovel. When you (VERY REASONABLY) began job hunting, that gave you power to prevent him from ruining your life, so he freaked out.

    No wonder you have PTSD. I’m so glad you don’t work for him anymore!

  60. Somehow_I_Manage*

    Keep on plugging OP- it will happen for you. Entry level hires are very difficult because the candidates are all so similar (recent college grad, 1-2 years internship experience, similar salary demands). A formulaic letter would not address that disadvantage. A more personal letter is a valid approach.

  61. LG*

    Has anyone gotten good advice from their campus career center? Alison always says “some of them are good” when telling a poster that yes, their career center is giving them terrible advice, but I’d be so curious if anyone has gotten good advice from theirs! I remember mine was not helpful for me personally, but that’s because they were all about alumni networking and then didn’t have any alumni to connect me to in my field.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      The one at my local community college was decent, especially with the career/interest testing. That was followed up by a person working with me. The networking group was good, and I was able to steer at least one person away from a former employer.

    2. Quill*

      Some are good… some are good only for specific industries that the school has ties to

  62. Jan*

    OP4, glad you got out. You can’t win with people like that boss, and it’s good you’re in a better place now. Also hope your mum’s doing OK!

  63. Veryanon*

    Re: the dietary restrictions – I would ask for this to be escalated to whoever is this person’s manager. One of my favorite sayings right now is “just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do” and this is a prime example. Whoever is processing your expense report is choosing a very ridiculous hill to die on.
    Example: I recently had to fly cross-country on business. On long flights, I always try to sit on the aisle because it helps me manage the anxiety I inevitably feel on airplanes. Aisle seats don’t fall within my employer’s expense guidelines because they are more expensive. Similarly, you’re supposed to try to get the cheapest flight available. If I had done that, I would have had to fly from Philadelphia to Newark to Detroit to San Francisco, with several transfers and layovers. Instead, I booked the direct flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco, which was slightly more expensive, and booked the aisle seat. When my manager questioned me, I pointed out that my time and mental health were much more important than saving $100 when we work for a multi-billion dollar corporation.
    Moral of the story: there is always room for common sense.

  64. e271828*

    LW 4, there is nothing that controlling jerks hate more than you taking back control. You were entirely right throughout.

  65. Cat on a Keyboard*

    Regarding the gnats: Get a jar (or a few jars) with a small amount of apple cider vinegar in the bottom, clingwrap over the top secured with a rubber band, poke small holes in the cling wrap with a toothpick. Gnats go in but can’t get out… it will take a few days to see the effects as another commenter noted that there are likely eggs not yet hatched, but within a week or two you’ll thin the population enough to prevent resurgence.

    Complaining to office manager also good advice, this is just to keep yourself sane in the meantime.

  66. Skytext*

    Maybe it’s just because I’m old and cranky and my “give a shit meter” is empty, but I think I would go on the offensive and write back:

    “I was not provided a lunch I could eat due to dietary restrictions. It is irrelevant whether those restrictions are medical, religious, ethical, or just a matter of personal choice. I followed procedures and requested an acceptable meal in advance as is policy. The problem was due to a mixup on the part of the catering company, of which I have already provided documentation in the form of a letter of apology from (the conference, caterers, whatever).

    I find it horribly intrusive that I am being singled out and demanded to provide personal medical information about a private matter, for such a trivial issue, when I know at least one other coworker has already been reimbursed with no questions and no requests for documentation. Please process my request for reimbursement without further issue, or I will have to assume I am a target of harassment and will escalate this issue as far as necessary.”

    LOL don’t do this, but I am semi-retired and don’t give a shit anymore about pissing people off.

  67. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    3) Also, the “counselors” at the unemployment office. I have a friend who was out of work (IS/IT), never joined any “networking” orgs (different issue) but wasn’t getting any nibbles from his resume.

    I asked him to forward it to me. I saw the problem. It looked like boilerplate that was written by someone down at the unemployment office. And it was.

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