a consultant complains about our meetings … but doesn’t want to skip them

A reader writes:

I have a team with locations throughout the U.S., both in office and remote, comprised of full-time associates and contractors. Because we need to be very collaborative, we have off-sites everyone is expected to attend and participate in, live, in person. In a typical day of an off-site, there will be meetings all day, some of which are company-required training, and a social event at night, over the course of two full days.

One consultant on our team has Celiac disease and also seems to be easily fatigued. He just joined us two months ago and expressed a number of reservations about travel when I made the offer, asking for an extra day at the hotel to recover, which I granted him, and direct flights only, which I also granted, and he warned me that he tires easily.

So far he has attended two of these team sessions and has left early or missed entire portions both times. He has blamed food cross-contamination and fatigue and has been very conspicuous about this, telling other people on the team all about his gastrointestinal distress and complaining quite a bit about the illness and how long all of our meetings are. (Nearly everyone else is exuberantly positive, so I don’t think this is how the majority feels.) It’s been distracting, and some of my other direct reports (including a manager) have felt like he’s set a bad example by leaving a mandatory training and not attending other parts of the day that her team spent a lot of time planning.

We just confirmed a date for an upcoming session, and he asked that we spend the entire week in the city we’ll be in rather than two days so that there aren’t so many back-to-back meetings, which is just not possible for budgetary reasons. Because of that and his lack of attendance at the last two events, I suggested that he dial in remotely for this next event. This seemed to upset him and he mentioned new precautions with him bringing his own food to prevent this situation from repeating itself.

While I value his contributions in his day to day work, I don’t really think he adds value at the off-sites because of his complaining and lack of attendance, and do not want him to attend in person. I think it would be better if he dialed in and did not bring down the collective morale. My question is whether he has any protections, due to having an illness, that could get me in trouble if I did not allow him this third chance. He is, as I said, a consultant, but would love to also know if your answer would vary if he were a full-time employee, just for my own sake.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 161 comments… read them below }

  1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    You ever read something that you know will be in the back of your head the next time you need to request an accommodation?

    Feels bad man.

    1. King Friday XIII*

      Yeah, explaining why I need accommodations around digestive issues is bad enough without worrying that people don’t want to put up with me in person.

      1. Rosemary*

        It sounds like people don’t want to put up with him because of his excessive complaining, not because he simply explained his issue.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          From what I understand celiac is *painful*, and cross contamination is a very big deal. Of course he was complaining.

          1. Wait but*

            “telling other people on the team all about his gastrointestinal distress and complaining quite a bit about the illness and how long all of our meetings are”

            This goes beyond letting the organizers know that there was a problem with the food he was provided.

          2. Allonge*

            If his celiac is to this level, there may not be a satisfactory way to provide him with food made by someone else. Certainly OP / the company should try but everyone I know who has this level of food allergies brings their own food.

            And that’s only half of the puzzle – my celiac is lighter but if I needed to feed myself independently, two days are much easier in a foreign location than five, so I don’t quite understand why that’s a better solution than joining online.

            1. Michelle Smith*

              Because he’d have more time to rest and to go to the bathroom without feeling pressured or rushed.

        2. Cha0tic*

          When your boss is doing everything they can to not accommodate you, sometimes you need to make your disability extra visible so your peers and your boss’s peers understand the true nature of what’s going on.

        3. Nonym*

          I agree but on the other hand, people were also complaining and judging him for not attending some sessions. That might be why he felt the need to over-explain: in the hopes that people would be understanding of his absence at some events. It seems like a catch-22: if he says nothing, people judge him for being absent for no reason; if he says something, people judge him for complaining (and still somehow judge him for his justified absence). It’s a tough spot to be in.

      2. NYC Taxi*

        The issue is his constant complaining to coworkers, not his digestive problems. What purpose does complaining to coworkers serve? What does he expect them to do about his situation?

        1. HR Exec Popping In*

          Well there is complaining and there is explaining which could sound like complaining. When you are not able to operate at your best, it can be helpful to explain to others why so that they don’t think you are disengaged, don’t want to participate, bored, lazy, etc.

          1. The Shenanigans*

            Yeah. There are a LOT of people that hear any kind of explanation, no matter how logical or reasonable or matter-of-fact, as a complaint when it’s disability-related. People get remarkably defensive when they even think they might be asked to do something slightly out of their routine to accommodate someone else. I’d bet a great deal that this attitude is coloring the LW’s memory of the situation here. I’d also bet he tried to talk to her or HR before about accommodations and was blown off. I suggest she step back and have a real, honest conversation with the consultant over what it is he needs exactly without being defensive about it. I’m sure he has ideas that are workable for everyone. Working with people means making accommodations, period. The more people who can reframe the discussion of accommodations away from a special need to just simple good manners, the better.

      3. fine tipped pen aficionado*

        Further down someone shared a link to the update to this where it seems like the LW approached the situation with more compassion and things appear to have worked out to everyone’s advantage. I found it reassuring and you might too. :)

        1. misspiggy*

          Thank you, this is a very tough issue for several of us and it’s good to know it’s not all bleak.

    2. Woodswoman*

      I agree- my daughter has Celiac disease and works SO hard to maintain a sense of normalcy at school while balancing her health issues. I worry that someday she may have a boss like OP, who, while maybe not intentionally malicious, definitely comes off a little dismissive of the very real challenges being faced by the consultant.

      1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

        Just posted above but repeating in case it gets buried: Further down someone shared a link to the update to this where it seems like the LW approached the situation with more compassion and things appear to have worked out to everyone’s advantage. I found it reassuring and you might too. :)

    3. Nesprin*

      I can guarantee everyone else is not “exuberantly positive” but may have the energy to fake it better.

    4. ferrina*

      I don’t think the accommodation is the issue. The issue is that the accommodation isn’t enough (which I think the LW understands). It sounds like the company needs this participant to attend more than what they have been able to with the current accommodations, and LW isn’t sure how to revisit that conversation.

    5. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      I feel so sorry for this poor man. He’s trying so hard to be a “normal” employee despite is illness.

      1. Not Working*

        I’m not sure he is, though. “Telling other people on the team all about his gastrointestinal distress” is not trying so hard to be a normal employee.

        I know what Celiac is like and I have enormous empathy for him. But complaining about the meetings, asking the entire company to make ridiculous adjustments (taking a whole week of travel instead of 2 days?!), complaining to coworkers (which is not the same thing as alerting higher-ups to a problem), going into detail about GI trouble – I understand why his behavior is causing an issue.

    6. Michelle Smith*

      Yep. For some reason this letter hurt more reading it the second time around. Probably because I have gone through accommodations processes since then and had a horrible experience at an off-site conference where I had to pretend I wasn’t in serious physical distress and where I could barely eat any of the food. Good times.

  2. Mill Miker*

    It kind of sounds like the employee does find value in attending the off-site, but doesn’t have the endurance for the whole thing.

    If that’s the case, having him call in for it takes away a lot of the benefit to him, while not at all addressing the “can’t handle a full day of back-to-back meetings” problem.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      How much benefit is he having if he goes home sick a lot, though? Seriously doesn’t sound worth it to me.

      1. Jaydee*

        Isn’t the benefit of an in-person event supposed to come from the collaboration and the opportunity to get to know your colleagues informally (e.g. by chatting between meetings, eating lunch together, doing the social events in the evening together)? Virtual attendance might allow him to participate in the meetings, but if participation in the meetings is the only point to these on-site events, they could just be held as a series of virtual meetings. Virtual attendance would not allow him to chat with the people sitting next to him, make it a point to introduce himself to people in other offices he hasn’t met, etc. It would exclude him from all the social and team building parts of the event, which it seems like is the point of the events.

      2. Sydney*

        You’re not the person who needs the accommodation though, and it’s simply not for you to say. Respectfully, as a person with a chronic illness, I get really tired of able-bodied people telling me what I will and won’t benefit from based on their perception of my illness.

    2. My Useless 2 Cents*

      Yeah, the marathon like nature seems to be the biggest issue. Couldn’t you work a schedule out where he attends the most important mandatory meetings but maybe remote in for some of the others meetings from his hotel room or some other space so he’s not back-to-back-to-back?

      I do think he needs to take more of the reins on the food issue. From other people I know with Celiac, they are extremely careful on food choice and locations when eating out because it is not good when they aren’t. It’s a pain but it’s essential.

      1. Jaydee*

        I think a lot of time the impulse with these types of in-person events is to pack as much as humanly possible into the available time to ensure it’s “worthwhile” for attendees. I would hate to travel for 2 days to have only a couple hours of meetings that are actually useful. But I also don’t think it’s necessary to pack the schedule with 8 hours of back to back meetings both days, plus a social event at night.

        Figure out what sessions are most important to do in-person and make some of the others virtual. Build in longer breaks between sessions. Set up areas where people can sit and chat during those breaks. Maybe start the sessions a little earlier in the morning – people won’t have to get their kids ready for school or walk the dog or commute like they normally would to get to work, so even as decidedly not a morning person I can easily make it to a conference breakfast or opening session at 7:30 if I just have to shower, dress, and catch the elevator downstairs from my hotel room. Have a longer break between the last meeting and the social event (e.g. last meeting gets done at 4, optional reception starts at 5:30, social event starts at 6:00). Make sure the social event wraps up at a decent time so people can go to bed early or have some time on their own to decompress. Those things can really make a multi-day event a lot easier to handle.

  3. Three Flowers*

    So it sounds like these are monthly events, requiring air travel and two nights away from home, with a 12+ hour workday including mandatory fun?? Sounds awful even for people who are perfectly healthy and have no home or caregiving responsibilities. Add on the fact that the company apparently can’t hire food service providers that don’t poison this employee…wow. LW needs an empathy check, and I hope COVID killed this practice entirely.

    1. Three Flowers*

      Which is to say, it‘s pretty awful that LW’s approach is “do I have to give him this third chance,” as if it’s his fault, rather than “I’m so sorry our caterers screwed up and exacerbated your chronic condition. We’re not using them anymore. How can we adjust your schedule at these events to make them productive for you, and what do we need to look for in our new caterer?”

    2. Happy meal with extra happy*

      There’s enough in the letter for people to offer valid criticism/concerns to the OP without concluding that they’re lying about everyone else enjoying the offsites. Many people would find value in them and wouldn’t find them awful. Your experience is not universal.

      1. Three Flowers*

        Uh…I never said OP was lying, and I don’t know why you are making this about what you presume to be my personal experiences. I said these events sound like they would be burdensome on many people. Which they are. I’m sure there are also single, childless, highly energetic extroverts who enjoy this sort of thing, and organizations that do them in a way that is actually productive. But many people do not, or have to deal with things like finding overnight childcare to go to a company rah-rah event that may be less productive. It should not escape our attention that this burden is going to fall most on women, disabled employees, and lower-paid employees who have less financial cushion to handle the un-reimbursed expenses involved. And that doesn’t even address LW’s treatment of this particular employee.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          The OP explicitly says “Nearly everyone else is exuberantly positive, so I don’t think this is how the majority feels.” So, it may sound awful to you, but it’s not awful to the vast majority of those actually attending/involved.

          1. Rosemary*

            Agreed. And if this is part of a job and you don’t want to do these things…don’t take the job? I used to have a job that required a lot of travel. I knew that when I took the job, and at that point in my life I actually enjoyed (most) of it. When I got to a point in my life where it was less appealing…I changed roles.

            1. Punk*

              Sometimes corporate hotel events packages have stipulations that guests can’t bring food in. You can be okay with traveling but then arrive at the hotel and realize that logistics and scheduling mean you can’t leave and get your own food.

              1. Rosemary*

                I highly doubt that a hotel would balk at someone bringing their own food in because of a medical condition. Even many restaurants will allow outside food to accommodate restrictions/special diets. I had a co-worker who kept Kosher and she always brought her own meals to restaurants (sometimes even had them delivered directly to the restaurant) and it was never an issue.

                Also it sounds like these meetings are not necessarily “big corporate events” as much as they are team meetings.

              2. Bubbletea*

                I have coeliac and I’ve never had that problem (other problems? Yes. That one, no). In general if they are doing an event they would rather you provide your own grub than risk cross-contamination and being liable (I guess).

                It’s also wise because it gives you more options than the usual plain chicken with a potato and also avoids the awkward moment you realise that for the third day the only gluten-free option is smoked haddock. (And no, there were no sides. Salad, had croutons. The rice…also had croutons? The vegetables….had breadcrumbs mixed in and I am just assuming they were the crumbled up croutons).

          2. SleepyWolverine*

            Right. Because other employees who do find it exhausting and excessive would certainly *never* feign enthusiasm in front of their boss about a job requirement they find burdensome.


            1. Helen of What*

              exactly. I would hate this but if it was required I’d pretend to be enjoying myself. Because a place that doesn’t think twice about monthly overnight offsites is gonna get weird about anyone who doesn’t go along with it!

          3. Flipperty*

            “Nearly everyone” isn’t everyone, and again: taking the LW at their word doesn’t mean accepting that their perception of other people’s behaviour is the only objective reality. People are not mind readers.

        2. The Person from the Resume*

          I did think that making it a 5 day event instead of a 2 day event is NOT a reasonable accomidation budget-wise, but also could possibly burder a number of attendees who have arranged thier life around being gone for 2 days/3 nights and suddenly find they’re being asked to be out of town for the full work week instead. In some ways, the work/work/work 12 hours a day nature of the trip makes the overall length shorter and helps those who have responsibilities at home like kids, pets, people they are caring for, evening social activities at home, etc.

        3. Sweet 'N Low*

          I’m a single, childless, highly energetic extrovert and this *still* sounds awful to me. Now, it would be a different story if it was for something I actually liked doing. I would be delighted to go to monthly events like this for my side job that I’m passionate about. But for my regular day job? The one I go to do I can pay my bills? Absolutely not, no way, 0/10.

          If OP is correct that their staff legitimately enjoys these events, I have to think that they’re in some kind of passion-fueled industry. I can’t fathom an entire group of accountants or HR reps or project managers all being jazzed about this kind of thing.

          1. Distracted Librarian*

            I just attended an event with this kind of schedule that was related to my side gig (about which I’m very passionate), and it was still exhausting. I ended up skipping out on a few events to rest. This really is A LOT.

        4. Caliente Papillon*

          I mean if I had these issues and was offered the option to attend virtually I feel like I’d happily take that option, since as you say the whole thing is so onerous anyway….?
          I say this as an office manger who has set up multiple off sites including a conference like this and accommodated the celiac sufferers in our group, and was thanked heartily.

      2. Cat Tree*

        The people attending may very well like the events, but it’s still worth considering these issues because many people will self-select out by leaving for a different job after a short time or never even applying if they know about the events. This is an example of how systemic bias happens.

        The managers can have great intentions, but if they’re never considering how these things disproportionately affect different groups of people, they’re making the workplace less diverse, which is also a business concern because they have a smaller pool of candidates to choose from.

        1. Distracted Librarian*

          This right here. It sounds like these events are monthly, which is a lot for anyone who has to arrange caregiving (for people or pets) as well as anyone with health issues. This kind of expectation very likely would cause a lot of people to self-select out.

      1. Antilles*

        The employee joined two months ago and has already joined two team sessions. OP also mentions a third session is “upcoming”. So maybe it’s not a firm requirement of once per month / every four weeks, but that’s what it’s averaging out as thus far.

    3. Antilles*

      For your last sentence, I would guess that Covid *has* killed this practice (at least on such a regular basis).
      The only justification OP gives for the existence of the in-person monthly meetings is a vague “we’re a very collaborative company”. Which is often just a way of saying “inertia”. So then Covid hit, the meetings went remote, and worked basically fine.
      Then when someone suggested going back to in-person, now the company has proof that they can keep things rolling without needing to cover the huge cost of flying the entire company to HQ about once a month.

      1. Rosemary*

        My small company went 100% remote during the pandemic – we gave up our office space, and will likely now always be 100% remote. BUT we do have company-wide in-person meetings every few months. Can we do our jobs without them? Of course. Do they add intangible value to the team? Yes, I absolutely would argue they do.

      2. Been There*

        We are back to doing our big collaborative meetings in person because fully remote or hybrid didn’t work nearly as well.

    4. Wait but*

      You know what would be more awful? Extending the event to 5 days for everybody in order to accommodate a guy who is loudly unhappy with every option offered.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Extending it to five days would be an undue burden, but this is not “a guy who is loudly unhappy” this is a guy who is struggling to manage an autoimmune disease which makes events like this difficult and is expected to just suck it up and go or to just suck it up and stay home, which is terribly unfair.

      2. Not Working*

        The fact that he suggested the ENTIRE team spend a WEEK on this trip instead of 2 days really calls his judgment into question. And I’m kind of surprised his preference would be to have to deal with the food issue for 5 days instead of 2.

        1. Sydney*

          I’m not so sure that it calls his judgment into question though, considering none of us were there and heard the full context of the conversation. I also have an autoimmune condition and I actually really love traveling for work, but traveling to the site then immediately going to back-to-back meetings then traveling home with little time to rest is extremely hard on me. Perhaps he suggested that instead of monthly meetings, they move to week-long quarterly meetings where there is a little more downtime in between meetings/sessions. I know that chronic illness sufferers are pretty annoying to able-bodied people but the automatic assumption that we are just persnickety complainers gets real old real fast.

          1. Giant Kittie*

            I’m a lifelong sufferer of chronic illness who very much refuses to let other people downplay it, and I would never be so clueless as to expect not only my workplace, but all my coworkers, to take on the extra burden & expense of extending a 2 day event into a 5 day event. The entitlement here is off the charts.

          2. Not Working*

            Except there’s nothing to suggest that his request was…entirely different from what the letter says it was, so I’m going to stick with the information we have.

    5. Looper*

      Seems like they are very upfront about this in their hiring practices, and some industries attract people who like to work this way. Maybe this business has a strong track record working this way and therefore that’s how they run their business. Not everyone wants to work remotely, a lot of people enjoy traveling for work, a lot of people dig conference life. Not every job is or should be the same.

  4. Jane Bingley*

    Cross-contamination is a real issue for people with celiac disease. “Gluten-friendly” or low-gluten options are unacceptable – their food truly does need to be prepared with absolutely no contact with any gluten-containing ingredients, no matter how small.

    It’s not whiny to be physically ill. It’s not a negative attitude to not be fully present while your immune system turns on your intestines and damages your body at a cellular level.

    The consultant wants to participate and doesn’t want to be seriously ill. These are not unreasonable or incompatible requests, and I think you have a moral obligation to go out of your way to meet them.

    1. J!*

      The consultant wants to participate and doesn’t want to be seriously ill.

      This this this! It could apply to so many issues. LW, do you think the consultant enjoys feeling awful and doesn’t know that people are being weird about something that you have not adequately helped accommodate even though he asked about it in advance?

      I do not have celiac but I have a different health issue that has come up on work trips despite my best attempts to prepare coordinators in advance, and it feels so bad in every way.

    2. GlutenFreePharmacist*

      100%! I have celiac and am in my early 30s. If I get “glutened,” I am physically ill, usually for days. I travel a decent amount for work and have learned to pack snacks in my checked bag, but all day events (often with very little food options to fuel you for the day) is exhausting even when you haven’t had contaminated food.

    3. HonorBox*

      Agree with you 99% of the way. That said, if his being ill results in long-winded discussions of his gastrointestinal issues, that’s not helpful or overly friendly to everyone else. So if there’s a way to accommodate the consultant and then emphasize that oversharing details of a trip to the bathroom (and I’m assuming that just on the read, so I could be wrong) are not helpful to the rest of the team’s morale.

      All that said, allowing him to bring his own food and working with him to ensure he can participate in the absolutely necessary things would be the best course of action. It’ll show him that he’s valued and isn’t a “problem” and it’ll give a good example for others who might need something similar in the future. Thinking about someone who is going through cancer treatment or recovering from surgery or pregnant who might need a bit of rest during the day.

      1. Anat*

        It’s possible that he has to keep explaining he’s feeling ill (really, really ill) because he has to keep justifying skipping some of the meetings, over and over again. If he’s just allowed to tap out without everyone jumping on him, that might help.

        1. HonorBox*

          True. I just know I’ve worked with people who almost gleefully overshare details of GI stuff. A lot depends on what he says because you’re absolutely right that having to explain over and over would be exhausting.

      2. Not Working*

        “if his being ill results in long-winded discussions of his gastrointestinal issues”

        That’s the part that gets me I think. It’s one thing to say you’re unwell and there is a polite way to do it – going on and on and GI issues is not it.

    4. NeedRain47*

      I don’t know about a moral obligation. Employers don’t really have those. Individuals might, but companies don’t, especially not toward consultants.

      That said I hope LW never suffers a chronic illness and encounters someone who views them this way, cause it sucks.

      1. JelloStapler*

        It is painfully obvious in at least America that no company feels any urge to be mindful or caring about anything but their own bottom line.

          1. Rosemary*

            Seriously. I am fortunate enough to work at a company where they DO in fact care about employees.

        1. Lawful Neutral*

          But it is often in the company’s own financial interest to do the morally right thing.

          Maybe the next caterer they choose that is better with gluten is also cheaper, or has better options–higher morale for employees during the meetings.
          Maybe reshuffling the schedule to put less burden on the workers during the meetings makes them more productive–more work done for the same amount of money, higher morale for employees.
          Maybe seeing an ill coworker accommodated makes other workers happy that their own human needs will be accommodated–higher morale and higher company loyalty.

          Higher morale and company loyalty means less turnover, attracting and hiring talent is easier, less time and money spent on training new workers, work itself goes smoothly and is more successful.

    5. Chirpy*

      Not just gluten-free ingredients, but also sometimes utensils that have never touched gluten. Some people really are that sensitive, and even thorough cleaning doesn’t always remove all traces of gluten.

      1. Lynda*

        Not to mention: no fried food as might be gluten contaminating the oil
        No blended drinks as might be cross contaminated with oat milk from oats not processed in a gluten free environment
        Clean utensils for buffets
        No contaminated utensils or pots in the kitchen…

    6. Punk*

      People also don’t realize that a lot of sauces and gravies are thickened with flour. Soy sauce has gluten in it. Any meat or vegetable that is presented in a pan with the sauce already on it is not safe. Premade salad with croutons isn’t safe. Soups that appear to be dairy-based might be flour-based in big shelf-stable batches. Barley and malt flavoring contain gluten. Hotel event catering cannot and will not accommodate any of this.

    7. Caroline*

      But the consultant wants a large, large amount of extra money to be spent accommodating him specifically, to the extent that he wants the travel to go on for a week, rather than 2 days. The OP has in fact tried to accommodate him quite meaningfully.

      We also don’t know if the cross-contamination was via the work catering or elsewhere.

      Also. He spent a substantial amount of time precising his digestive issues on both occasions.

      Surely, remotely accessing the meetings he wants and needs to be at would solve a lot of these issues?

      1. Rosemary*

        Yes, I think it is nuts to think that spreading the meetings out over the course of the week to accommodate him is remotely reasonable. Budget considerations aside, what about team members with caregiving responsibilities at home who are able to manage 2 days away from home, but for whom a full week would be a significant burden? Or someone with a weekly medical appointment.

      2. Lydia*

        I do think asking that the gathering be spread out to a week is unreasonable, but it’s possible this person is just fed up and when asked what the OP is supposed to do about it, just gave an answer. That sounds like frustration to me, especially when confronted by the thought that he has to solve all the issues instead of it being a collaborative process. His choices are either: don’t attend and don’t experience anything he enjoys about going or suffer through the day eating only gluten-free snacks, which many are carb-based, even if it’s not wheat or risk eating what’s offered and getting horribly ill. That is emotionally and physically exhausting. Why can’t the OP offer actual support, like special catering or a compromise of him tapping out and attending virtually when he can’t be in person anymore?

    8. Looper*

      It really felt like the LW was telling this guy “whatever, dude, take care of it!” and then getting annoyed when he didn’t. But like, he CAN’T take care of it. He’s at a hotel where he has no control over anything, not even the itinerary. It doesn’t seem like LW ever asked: what can I do to help? What steps can we take within these available parameters? Instead, dude is throwing out hail marys like “make the conference 4 times more expensive” and LW is giving him one option: don’t come. LW was really failing as a manager, would love to hear an update about that one.

  5. Tinkerbell*

    Yeah, I think this OP needs to do some thinking about what parts of the event are “mandatory” because they actually will affect the work their employees do versus which are “mandatory” because they want everything to be fair and if one person has to do 48 hours of scripted company time, everyone should. It’s reasonable to expect this attendee to actually attend the former but not the latter.

    1. Artemesia*

      Agree with this. If he could be excused from some meetings it might work for him. And the food thing needs to be perfect — which means very particular catering that is reliable or bringing his own food and reimbursing him for that. Give it another try asking him to suggest a schedule that would work for him. All day and travel is tough on anyone and tougher if you are coping with a chronic illness.

      BUT it is also not unreasonable to not have him making a big fuss about his GI tract in the meetings and social events. Regardless of the reason, talking about one’s illness in a business setting is inappropriate. It is one thing to say ‘Sorry I had to opt out, my illness was kicking up’. or something, but it sounds like he is spending a lot of time moaning and whining about his limitations. Not professional. No one should have to hear about someone else’s bowels at the social hour or business meeting.

      These limits on swanning about and making the focus one’s chronic illness would be true of anyone with such challenges — the person whose chemo tires them out so they have to skip long meetings, or who has MS that flares up. but no one should be spending a lot of air time in a business setting going on and on about it.

      He is a consultant. Does he need to be there? If it is good to have him there, then adapt the schedule for him if that will work. If it won’t then beam him in. but his situation should not be the conversational focus of the meetings and social events. He needs to hash this out with his manager and keep it out of the meetings

  6. fort hiss*

    As someone who gets extremely exhausted by in-person events and has tricky food allergies with cross-contamination a huge problem, this was definitely a downer letter. I don’t make a fuss but I don’t hide it when the food issues make things tough. Then again, I would love the dial-in option. Thanks for the kind answer either way, Alison.

    1. Artemesia*

      It sounds like you handle this entirely appropriately but it sounds like the consultant IS making a big public fuss. He should make a fuss with his manager if that is what it takes to get something worked out, but that does not belong in the meetings with colleagues, except a quick, ‘have to sit the afternoon out, see you for tomorrow’s training.’

    2. 2 Cents*

      I don’t have the celiac/food issues part, but I do have a medical condition where this kind of scenario (travel + all-day meetings + social events) would knock me out! I could probably attend everything, but I would be wiped out. I can’t imagine I’d be that effective in every single session, since I’d probably be yearning for a nap in the afternoon and wishing that evening event was strongly optional.

      1. Lydia*

        People who have disabilities that can be easily accommodated shouldn’t have to excuse themselves out of jobs because the employer won’t be reasonable.

        1. GythaOgden*

          It depends. It’s also a two-way street: businesses have their own concerns and while they have to accommodate their staff, (a) this guy is a consultant so he falls under different rules and IIRC has fewer rights than an employee would and (b) Accommodations do have to be reasonable.

          I can definitely empathise with him, but I can also empathise with the OP as well. I’ve been sacked once for having an autistic meltdown at work even though my boss was trying hard to keep me on. I dropped a piece of equipment and it was the last straw for her; her words were ‘I’m sorry for you and it must be hard to be in your situation, but I need this work done.’

          It prompted me to get actual help and was better for me in the long run and I’ve been nine years at my current job (although planning to leave as soon as I get another offer). I’ve actually just self-selected out of applying for a job because although the previous person in it was based only in our office, the new person needs to be able to travel to two other towns, since our local org was merged with two others to form a larger area. One town is easy to get to; the other is two hours away by public transport and requires going into and out of London. It’s only once a month, but I’d be in the situation of the subject of this post, and because I can’t drive along the hypotenuse of the triangle due to my own handicaps, I don’t think I’d realistically be able to do the job. The logistics are not in my favour and there are bound to be people out there who can perform the necessary travel.

          Unfortunately, business needs often trump accommodations. In situations like these and like mine, the company really needs this facetime, and the job I wanted to apply to requires travel to this place, so, yeah, I have to select myself out.

          More facetiously, my ambition as a young adult was to be Prime Minister. I totally could try, even now at 43. I don’t think I’d get very far — wrong temperament, wrong political opinions, but my stamina is shot after an ordinary work day so God help me if I had to fly to Uzbekistan tomorrow and Santiago de Chile on Friday! (OK that’s a tall order even for Rishi Sunak, but he’s actually a year younger than me and has made it to the top. Closer to home, my buddy from the LSE was briefly leader of the Liberal Democrats and I was actually pretty envious of her achievement until I realised the exhausting schedule of your average politician, never mind a national leader, and her fall from grace was just as meteoric as her rise).

          Luckily there are lots of other jobs out there. I’m not being forced to take this job by the government as if I were being sent to Siberia or something. It sucks being disabled, but many people have to make do and work with their issues. Businesses also have to work with their resources and strategies and this guy is taking the [pffft] with his behaviour.

        2. Giant Kittie*

          The business is being MORE THAN reasonable. It’s the employee that expects both the business AND his coworkers to take on the burden & expense of extending a 2 day even into a WEEK LONG one simply to accommodate *him* that’s not being even remotely reasonable.

  7. Rebekah*

    I wonder if a compromise would be allowing him to come with the understanding that he can skip any sessions he needs to and dial into those sessions from his hotel room? That will allow him to attend fully while not having to be physically present the whole time.

    1. Lily Potter*

      I think that this is a great compromise – though I’d have a talk with him beforehand about toning down the oversharing about his digestive system and about toning down the general negative attitude.

    2. Glacier33*

      I was going to say the same thing. Then they can attend when they feel best and recoup in their room and dial in when that works better for them. I did not see Allison’s reply as I’m out of free INC articles and refuse to pay for another subscription.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        A suggestion– look into the archives for her original post on this site so you don’t feel lost. You just miss the updates/enhancements she makes for the INC readership, so leave a little flexibility in your interpretation.

    3. stacers*

      This is exactly the solution.

      The OP’s emphasis on ‘morale’ and his effect on it is troubling and seems overly sensitive. I also found this to be overblown: “set a bad example by leaving a mandatory training and not attending other parts of the day that her team spent a lot of time planning.” You can easily explain to others that he has a health situation and the time spent planning was for everyone, not just this one man, so how is that planning time a factor?

      She should reach out in kindness with an earnest attempt to make it as smooth and workable as possible for all involved. Certainly, turning a two-day event into a weeklong one isn’t workable, but accommodating his comings and goings seems the least they could do.

  8. GI Disease Haver*

    I think this is bad advice. My company does one of these once every couple of years, but it sounds like this company does this every month, which is a lot even for perfectly healthy people. It’s difficult to understand the stress that travel causes to people with serious GI diseases, either, unless you have one.

    I do think it’s inappropriate for him to be complaining to everyone, but he might be overcorrecting so people don’t think he’s flaky or whatever. Overall, this letter is not coming from a place of compassion and I wish the advice had reflected that.

    1. Cha0tic*

      I will admit, I sometimes fall into the overcorrection camp here. The way this manager seems to be approaching the issue could seriously harm the employee’s perception among his peers — so he’s being out and proud with his disability to tell the counterpart of the manager’s story. It’s a mental calculus many don’t understand until and unless they become disabled.

    2. Mf*

      “ It’s difficult to understand the stress that travel causes to people with serious GI diseases, either, unless you have one.”

      This this this. OP, please try to compassion with this guy. Travel is probably much harder for him than you even realize.

      1. Betty*

        As sorry as I am that others have to deal with this, I’m so glad for the validation. I don’t have celiac, but I have a very sensitive gut, and if I’m not super careful, I’ll be sick for aminimum of three days. It’s hard to be super careful when you’re traveling, and my gut is also affected by high altitude or pressurized cabins (or something about flying), so that doesn’t make it any easier.

  9. Marketing Ninja Unicorn*

    I have a lot of sympathy for this consultant, but asking for what should be a two-day event to be spread over the course of a full WEEK is ridiculous. First of all, no one’s budget could handle that level of swell. Second of all, people can arrange their lives to be away for two days a lot more easily than they can for a full week. It’s not fair to ask everyone else on the team to more than DOUBLE their time away just for one person.

    I think OP needs to decide what is mandatory for this person to attend and what is ‘would be nice if he could,’ and then lay it out for him like that. It’s obvious his health issues indicate he can’t be there all the time, which should be fine.

    You can’t penalize someone for tiring easily or skipping the social fun (and you might think it’s fun while he thinks it’s awful, frankly.) But you can absolutely tell him that no one needs or wants to hear about his gastrointestinal distress. I firmly believe there was cross-contamination and it was awful for him, but no one else needs a blow-by-blow of that.

    1. Woodswoman*

      I agree, to an extent, but I would bet the consultant is hyper-aware that his behavior may appear flaky to colleagues who don’t know what he’s going through. He very well may be so vocal because he doesn’t want everybody to just think he’s blowing things off.

      1. Artemesia*

        This is an important point. He needs to make it clear he has a chronic condition that makes it hard to participate fully but he absolutely does not need to be talking about the symptoms and the issue endlessly. the boss can help him out here by saying ‘Josh has some chronic health issue that make it hard for him to put in a full day on site and so we have made some adaptations to make it work for him.’ so the employee doesn’t have to billboard this. It is possible to be both ill and inappropriate in talking about it and very much talk about it is inappropriate.

      2. NotRealAnonForThis*

        …or because “excuses” get minimized.

        I’ve had at least one unprofessional discussion with a coworker who just had to know why I wasn’t eating XYZ…well, because it’ll give me hives on any body part that it touches and will make my throat swell shut and projectile vomit? Couldn’t just leave “no thank you” alone for the 20th time in front of everyone? You’ll get the gory.

        Yeah. This letter is my worst nightmare. At least when they “forgot” to get safe food options for me for an all-hands, the organizer jumped through their bum to make it okay so I wasn’t starving all day. But to project this level of “he’s a problem” at someone with a chronic condition that he’s telling you is making things more difficult at these things? Woof.

      3. another_scientist*

        I appreciate everyone sharing this angle, because it had never occurred to me. I like to keep private stuff private, but I am also working from the assumptions that people have good reasons for doing what they are doing. If you;ve been judged or mistrusted previously, I can better understand this oversharing strategy.

    2. Young worker*

      This seems unfair – imagine telling a migraine sufferer that they’re not allowed to talk about how conference rooms lightening is giving them migraines.
      If he’s being graphic about it, sure ask him to dial it down so it’s not a visual on what’s happening on the toilet, but I’d be wary of saying you can’t talk about being sick.

      1. NeedRain47*

        It’s unfair, but it’s very realistic as to what happens when you talk about a chronic physical problem and how it effects your work. People don’t want to hear it, and when they do hear it they tend to assume it makes you worse at your job than someone who doesn’t suffer migraines.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        I mean, it’s fine if you say “oh this lighting is really bad as a migraine trigger for me, I wonder if we can turn some of them down”. But if you follow that with descriptions of the pain, how you hope it doesn’t also give you GI symptoms, and then how specifically your GI tract is affected–listen, I too have migraines and I don’t want to hear the specifics of yours *while I am in a work meeting*. If we sympathetically discussed our symptoms together in the social hour that’s one thing. But if I’m thinking about this next kickoff meeting for our new strategy, I’m not down to hear about exactly how the pain in your head feels on a moment by moment basis. It’s not the saying you have a medical issue. It’s the going on to be very graphic and descriptive about said medical issue. That needs to stop.

      3. V*

        Lol. As a person with chronic migraine I will never take a job I can’t work remotely again. People don’t want to hear that the lights are a trigger. They don’t want to turn them down. They will turn them back up even after I explain the issue. They will comment about colored lenses or desperation sunglasses (you look like you have a hangover!) They will act surprised that I have a migraine “again” yes that is what chronic means thanks. They’ll comment that if they had my migraines they’d be on disability (good f’ing luck.) They’ll tell me how they had a migraine once and how can I stand having so many? (Like I have a choice!)

        People are very uncomfortable with chronic illness and it doesn’t take over sharing to get them to behave badly. At all.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Now remembering the manager who insisted on turning on all lighting circuits for the area near his office and would not accept the offer of area lamps for his office…

          1. V*

            There’s always one obnoxious overhead lighting fanatic. We had one who would come in at the start of the day and loudly exclaim that the area I sat in didn’t have its lights on yet, then ‘helpfully’ turn them on for us before going to his desk on a different part of the floor.

            No amount of “we’ll turn them on when we’re ready” would get him to stop.

            1. GythaOgden*

              We just converted our building to LEDs and it helped enormously for me; I’m definitely triggered by bright lights (I wear a wide-brimmed hat all summer) but LEDs have a certain quality that is much more migraine-friendly. I also went on anti-anxiety meds which soothes the migraines into being curable with ordinary painkillers. They have just brought out combined ibuprofen/paracetamol tablets and they are a godsend. It’s obviously going to be very personal for everyone exactly how their migraines are triggered and what helps them, but the one thing I don’t tend to do is give people any kind of play-by-play.

              I tend to either creep off to a darker and cooler environment, stay in bed if I can (I can’t WFH so that’s frustrating) or if I’m at work I keep paracetamol, ibuprofen and beta-blockers on hand and they usually do the trick.

              I think the issue here is not that the guy has issues, it’s that he’s finding it difficult to find the right way to express it and oversharing. I work with someone who gives me a running commentary on her life and while she steers clear of medical issues, sometimes it really just is too much — particularly because I have issues myself and she often overshares to the point at which I’m having to appease her by listening to hers but never getting her to listen to me. He’s not the only one who matters here — OP needs to get the work done and her colleagues probably have their own concerns that they don’t overshare about. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as it were, but someone who hogs all the attention can be wearing on others despite the legitimacy of their struggles.

        2. NeedRain*

          This all. It doesn’t matter if you rarely mention it, don’t describe it, and don’t ask for anything. People still gonna judge you. Not everyone is like that, but enough that no one with chronic illness will avoid being seen negatively b/c of it.

      4. metadata minion*

        For pretty much any comparison of “just imagine if people did this about (other marginalized population)!” people do, in fact, do this :-/

    3. Three Flowers*

      Re the week-long thing: I agree that it would be ridiculous to ask to spread a one-full-day event across a full week. In fact, it’s so ridiculous I wonder if that’s what he actually said. (I mean, there are definitely clueless people in the world, but that’s a whole new level.) It would be entirely reasonable to suggest that these things be a business week once a quarter instead of these marathon meetings once a month. That’s five business days instead of three (an easier schedule for everyone), and the hotel cost would probably be made up by the savings on plane tickets.

      That’s speculation, of course, but it would be a better way to handle it. (Or a week twice a year, maybe.)

    4. Jaydee*

      I wonder if he’s including the travel days in his calculations, so he’s seeing it as 4 days (travel day, 2 days of meetings, travel day). In that case, he may only be asking to add one day, which is worth considering if they can spread things out a little bit more so the schedule isn’t so packed.

      Or, if they have 2 full days of meetings, I assume people are traveling the day before and after, so maybe they could try to schedule the flights to allow for some meetings or social events to be moved onto the travel days. So instead of Day 1 everyone flies in, Day 2 and 3 packed with meetings and social events, Day 4 everyone flies home you could have Day 1 everyone flies in and there’s a social event in the late afternoon/early evening. Day 2 and 3 meetings with longer breaks between them, free time or optional, loosely structured social activities in the evenings, Day 4 wrap-up meeting in the morning and then everyone heads to the airport.

    1. Contrast*

      How interesting! I wonder what changed between “I emailed him back that I would be able to have him dial in remotely for this next event. This seemed to really upset him,” and “I took the advice to ask whether we could have him attend remotely in the future rather than travel for our meetings, and he was happy to take me up on that.”

      1. ecnaseener*

        I’m guessing the first email had hints of the “since you’re so whiny I don’t want you there” attitude that came through in the letter, and that’s what actually upset the consultant. Hopefully the second time, after reading the advice and comments, LW was nicer about it.

      2. DrSalty*

        I thought the nuance between Alison’s approach and LW’s approach was have a conversation with him about what he wants to do vs telling him what to do. Maybe when it was phrased differently (or presented as an option rather than an edict) participating remotely was received better.

      3. Qwerty*

        My guess is the first response was defensive – most likely fear for his job or feeling that he was being excluded for his disability but could be other reasons like wanting to be able to attend (in theory). The second conversation took place after both consultant and OP had time to think, and the OP probably took Alison’s advice on a more gentle approach that focused on the consultant’s experience.

        Sometimes asking someone a second time yields a more productive conversation than the knee-jerk reaction to the first question.

    2. J!*

      I would love to hear an update on this letter. How did the dial work out with the consultant? How has the culture of these trips changed in the past few years (since this was published pre-pandemic)?

    3. Lady_Lessa*

      Thank you for posting the update link.

      Being on the quieter side, I wonder if part of the consultant’s fatigue was due to too much exuberance by his co-workers. I know that I have limits to that, and I am a reasonably healthy person.

    4. Artemesia*

      This was the perfect resolution. I cannot imagine doing this once a month with celiac. I have some chronic issues that flare up with a lot of restaurant dining and travel too — when I take long trips I get apartments for that reason. For someone with these issues, travel along is stressful even without cross contamination and it is so tiring. Glad it worked for this guy and they were able to resolve it so he could participate.

      We have a disabled person in a movie and a book group who cannot meet in person and she loved the days we did all our meetings on zoom. We now are back in person for the book discussions but we still dial her in and give her a seat at the table with a laptop — it isn’t perfect, but it lets her be there and since only her window is ‘on’ it is an almost lifesize person at the table if virtually.

    5. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Thank you for sharing! It seems like the LW took the feedback to heart and approached with greater compassion and arrived at a better result. That really dulls the bad taste the letter left in my mouth.

  10. Gluten_Bomb*

    “The whole team feels that [disabled people talking about their disability and pointing out a lack of accomodations] is setting a bad example and bringing down morale” … this is just beyond disheartening as a person with a wheat allergy, chronic pain, and dysautonomia. Often times food sensitivities are comorbid with other medical conditions and people with disabilities would only feel that it’s necessary to share the food ones given our justified fear of being discriminated against, or in this case uninvited from the work event. It’s very possible this employee just doesn’t want to go into his chronic fatigue issues with LW & team at length since a lot of people react by not understanding or worse not taking it seriously. I understand his asking for a more spread out event may not be financially feasible but the LW’s tone around all of this just makes me so sad. I also raised eyebrows at everyone else being “exuberantly positive” … are they all young and able bodied? Do they have families that arrange their lives around travel this frequent? Are they also exhausted from a full day of work plus an all night event and just too afraid to say it?

      1. Anna*

        Ya. . . honestly, the “some of my other direct reports (including a manager) have felt like he’s set a bad example by leaving a mandatory training and not attending other parts of the day that her team spent a lot of time planning” line in particular raises some red flags for me on potential ableism in the company culture as a whole.

        Like, I see a bunch of comments here on the contractor giving lots of details on his illness being inappropriate, and like, more generally I agree that GI issues aren’t great workplace conversations. . . but if the contractor knows his coworkers are responding to his decreased presence by escalating that they think he’s setting a bad example, ofc he’s going to give them details. Because at that point it’s become necessary for him to not be seen as lazy / flaky, and even *with* details his coworkers appear to still be responding to him like this. That’s a big problem! Honestly, I’d reframe the issue in your brain from “contractor doesn’t understand it’s impolite to spend lots of time talking about bodily functions to coworkers” into “did we create an environment where employees feel safe to take needed accommodations w/o overexplaining, and if not how do we fix that.”

        Also, if you don’t get a concrete answer from the contractor on why they want to attend in person, it might be worth rephrasing it as “do you have concerns about attending remotely?”. Are these sessions well set up for remote participants? Are coworkers going to be snarky about one contractor being remote when they’re all attending in person? Is the contractor worried about any potential risks to their career development if they miss the forced fun social events?

        There’s a problem somewhere, but I suspect the issue is not the contractor

        1. J!*

          Not for nothing, who is the contractor “setting a bad example” for? They’re a consultant/contractor. Part of the point is that they’re not typically held to the same norms that full time employees are. Is this person being misclassified in addition to being mistreated?

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      I’m like their acting is amazing. being exuberant for 12 hours? I wouldn’t be able to be that way if the company gave me free tickets to Disney World and said next week’s work is on us

  11. Llellayena*

    Alison, can one of the links to other articles at the end of your “revisiting” letters be a link to the original letter? Sometimes the original letters have updates (like this one) that would be nice to re-read.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      + infinity-ing the suggestion to have it linked somehow, since the OPs are going to get all the same advice and criticism they did the first time all over again. (Don’t get me wrong, the criticism was justified the first time because of the OP’s tone, but they took it to heart and acted on it. No need to beat a dead horse.)

      Then, articles like this, especially since it worked out well all around, can be a good opportunity for people to share their own experiences and get advice for if they find themselves in the same situation

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Alison does that on updates, but the purpose of articles like this is to drive traffic to the partner site. It’s part of how Alison gets paid. And getting paid is what helps her to produce all the free content that is available here.

  12. BellyButton*

    I would evaluate which things he needs to be at in person and which ones he can dial in from. He could dial in from his room and not participate in person in everything.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I’m not sure if his room is worth it? If he’s getting sick off strange food, spending his time in a hotel room still means he has to get food from somewhere in a strange environment and still may get sick. And traveling alone is very tiring as is even without medical stuff, but just traveling to be on the phone from a hotel room? Not that effective either. I can see where the OP is coming from on just wanting to make sure he doesn’t have to travel and doesn’t have both of these issues making things worse.

  13. HonorBox*

    I was pretty sure of this as I read, and then I googled and found out I was probably correct. My understanding from people I know with celiac disease is that fatigue can be a symptom. So consultant being tired isn’t abnormal. I can’t do certain foods and if I get some of them accidentally, I also want to just climb into bed and sleep, so I get it.

    I said above that it would be awesome to offer accommodations and work with this consultant both for his own standing in the company and as an example for others who might be going through something at some point that would require some sort of similar accommodations. A woman expecting a child would need an alternative to a cold cut bar at lunch and may need a break to rest. A person who is going through cancer treatment might need to slip away to rest. There are all kinds of examples, and each might require a small accommodation to allow the person to participate as fully as they’re able. Working with that person to ensure they can attend the critical parts of the meetings while also understanding that they may need to slip away to rest, may need to grab different food, may need something else will build goodwill for everyone as they look at these trainings through their own lens.

  14. Cassi*

    Honestly as someone with celiacs disease it is SO STRESSFUL anytime I’m relying on anyone else for my food. I’m going to a wedding this weekend and I asked if there would be any food I could eat and was told “everything but the fish.” There is bread on the menu. There is salad which almost guarantees croutons. The glaze on the chicken sounds like it’s highly probable that it’s made with soy sauce so…gluten. So literally I’m planning to smuggle in cheese sticks and leave early if needed.

    Here’s why it’s frustrating: I have no contact or control over my food, thus no control over what I know can make me ill.

    Once, at a prior job, my department was having a day long training and planning to order pizza. The solution for me: walk back from the quasi-offsite (it was a venue so whole other side of the building) to microwave some of my own food and then join for lunch probably a 20-minute round trip. The number of times work provided food without anything I could eat: more than I care to think about. I sometimes played Russian Roulette with my immune system to not feel like I was being difficult. Because I am not a difficult person. I am a person with a medical condition and others always think you’re fussy. Luckily I’m okay with more cross contamination than some people so I usually am okay when I take educated risks. Not everyone is as lucky.

    There would only really be fatigue if the employee is consuming gluten (by accident like I might at the upcoming wedding or by peer pressure when there are no options and you want to participate). My first question to OP: are you actually taking time to address the accessibility of safe food? Not phoning it in but doing the work. Regardless of if whether this legally required it’s the good-person thing to do.

    The way you talk about their celiacs disease is focused on YOUR experience and the other team member’s experience instead of the individual’s legitimate health concerns. Think about that.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep. Your last paragraph really hit home for me.

      Your comment about soy sauce is telling. It is really, really difficult to avoid gluten. It’s everywhere.

    2. Dragonfly7*

      “Honestly as someone with celiacs disease it is SO STRESSFUL anytime I’m relying on anyone else for my food.”

      This entirely. Dining out can be done safely if I ask the right questions, make the right requests, and the kitchen staff follow them, but there isn’t a guarantee, and I am still learning that skill. The number of people who assume the gluten will “burn off” like a bacteria is scary. I can be very understanding of some situations (there often isn’t ROOM to accommodate safely in something like a food truck, for example), but some folks aren’t willing to try.

      I haven’t even tried any overnight / traveling events yet. I would really like to.

      1. Cassi*

        The people who think gluten will burn off scare me the most. I’ve had this comment too many times.

  15. Peanut Hamper*

    Wow. Two days of back to back meetings and then evening events. I’m exhausted just reading that. I just can’t imagine doing all that while managing an autoimmune disease.

    And while I’m sure everyone seems “exuberantly positive” I’ve also worked at places where the happiness police are constantly monitoring everybody’s facial expressions. It’s possible he’s voicing what the others are merely thinking. I always worry when the message is “oh, everybody else just loves this; why don’t you?”

    Like someone else said, I hope COVID put the kibosh on this. I work remotely, participate in training, collaborate with people I’ve never met in person, and attend our three-hour summer picnic and our three hour winter dinner, and it all works just fine.

  16. Kella*

    I know this letter is old and the situation handled, but for anyone in a similar situation: If you’re not familiar with the world of navigating chronic illness, then you probably don’t know about the constant balancing act that we have to practice regarding discussing our health conditions. If we never talk about our health, people assume the reason we’re leaving suddenly is flakiness or apathy. If we talk just a little about our health but don’t share details, sometimes people fill in what they think they know about that health condition and undermine the severity of our condition. If we share too much about our health condition, then we’re being a downer and bringing down morale, even if we’re doing it in an attempt to convince people that yes really, our illness is that bad.

    It’s entirely possible that this employee was sharing too much detail. But before giving that feedback to a similar employee, I would carefully consider the ways that our society scrutinizes people with chronic conditions and whether that unfair scrutiny is playing into the reactions to the employee’s discussion of their condition. Try to temper these reactions with compassion for the fact that this person is SICK and actively suffering from symptoms that will likely continue for days after the event is over. If you are primarily thinking about the way the person’s illness is negatively impacting *other people* rather than thinking about how it is negatively impacting *the person who is sick*, you may need some additional education and reframing regarding chronic illness.

    1. Anon Celiac*

      This is amazing. As someone with Celiac Disease, thank you for putting this phenomenon into words. You explained the impossible balancing act perfectly.

  17. Nay*

    Ah yes, my favorite part about being gluten free…being labeled as a complainer when there is nothing you can eat.

    1. AllergiesSuck*

      try being allergic to tomatoes. they’re everywhere and not always included in ingredient lists (since they’re not one of the more common allergens it’s not legally required). people use them as garnish in otherwise perfectly edible dishes. at least most people these days are aware of gluten-free requirements. oh, you mean you can’t just take the tomatoes off your sandwich? sorry!

  18. Sharon*

    If this person were an employee, you would need to have a talk with him about which accommodations will best help him to do the job and manage his health, since your suggestions haven’t worked out.

    However, since he’s a consultant, you shouldn’t really be managing where or how he does the work he’s contracted to perform as long as he does it, and you can also negotiate whether or not to pay his travel expenses as part of the services contract. Have you considered whether this person is appropriately classified?

    1. Synergy*

      I was curious about whether they could make monthly travel and training a requirement as well. I thought whether or not place and manner of work is dictated and whether training is provided where part of the criteria for someone being an employee, but I don’t know to what degree those things need to be true for the person to be misclassified. But surely a required, monthly offsite that lasts 48 hours would be odd unless the person agreed to it in their contract.

  19. Raida*

    I think that you should frame is as:

    StaffMember, you’ve told me your fatigue and your gastrointestinal concerns make these days difficult, you spend a lot of time at them complaining about this, I’ve made accommodations for your fatigue, we’ve had your dietary requirements met.
    As these accommodations are not working out, based on your complaints, I’ve suggested for you to dial in which will address the travel fatigue and the dietary safety.
    You immediately said there’d be no dietary issues this time, and that you want to attend in person. Even though I’ve stated there would be no changes to the schedule and you cannot be in the city for a week for fatigue, so those issues will still exist.

    So. As the person deciding to attend in person:
    You attend the mandatory sessions.
    You engage in the sessions you attend.
    You inform me if something happens to your food.
    It’s fine to inform me of an issue that you’re having and need to deal with, that’s my job.
    You will tell me if the schedule is too much.
    You will tell me if there’s a food issue.
    You and I will figure out how to manage these things, there are non-mandatory sessions that might work well for your fatigue, or maybe you’ll be able to dial in from your room for some sessions.

    As such, we need to move to a secondary issue that I’ve mentioned before.
    I don’t know if you’re aware of just how much you complain with detailed descriptions of gastrointestinal illness symptoms, fatigue, the schedule, the entire two day event. It’s quite a lot, and it’s what prompted my suggestion to go remote as you clearly and consistently state that you are unhappy and uncomfortable.

    So if you *want* to attend. If you are jumping in when I offer remote options to tell me about how you’re going to bring your own food specially to make sure you *can* attend. Then I want you engaging, and I want you to limit complaining – as I said, you tell me directly and we work out a plan.

    You want to come, you are volunteering, you are putting in effort to do so.
    So act like it, please do not spend two days discussing how terrible you find parts of the event. If you do, you will simply be remote going forward to ensure as many issues as possible are removed and it’s as easy as possible for you to manage the schedule in a comfortable environment.

    1. Lawful Neutral*

      I think this focuses too much on the complaining. So many people with celiac’s upthread have pointed out that complaining about symptoms could really be this guy trying to avoid seeming flaky or disengaged.

      If I were in the contractor’s shoes and my manager came back with “Here is our plan, and part of that is stop complaining” that would not make me feel accommodated.

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