coworker talks about religion all the time, HR director won’t stop asking me to go kayaking, and more

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

1. Coworker talks about his religion all the time

I have a coworker who talks about his religion frequently and loudly in our open-concept space. Currently I’m far enough away that, while I can tell that these (one-sided) conversations are happening, I blessedly cannot hear every word and can easily tune them out. However, that will be changing in the next couple of months, as I will be moving to the workspace directly adjacent to his. Worse, the religion he is so keen to discuss is the same one I myself was raised in and left (due to the fact that I personally find this particular church to be dishonest and immoral). The thought of having to sit and listen to him casually proselytize this religion at work is giving me anxiety! Would it be okay for me to gently push back against discussing this subject when it comes up? If so, can you give me a script or a tactic to do this in a professional way? Or is religion such an untouchable subject that I will just have to deal with it?

The opposite, actually — you are protected by federal law from unwelcome religious proselytism at work. If you ask him to stop and he refuses, you can escalate to your company’s HR because that would be religious harassment, and they’re legally required to put a stop to it.

You should first tell him clearly that you don’t want to discuss religion at work. Any of these would do it:

* “I don’t want to discuss religion at work.”
* “I consider religion very private and don’t want to talk about it at work.”
* “I’m not comfortable discussing religion at work.”

If he continues after that, bring it to HR — and definitely use the word “proselytize” if that’s what he’s doing, as well as “religious harassment” either way.

Alternately, a different option would be to raise it now, framed as “I’m concerned about moving my desk next to Cedric because I don’t want to hear religious proselytism while I’m working. Can you ensure he stops or move me somewhere else?”

2. We get in trouble if we take all our allotted sick days

My husband has a very generous PTO package that includes sick time, personal time, and vacation time, all banked separately, and two weeks off paid during the holidays that does not come out of their PTO bank (plus regular holidays).

They technically have 12 sick days, but in practice, it’s only 10. Why? They write you up if you take sick time after already using 10 days. Someone was recently fired after using all of their sick days (I don’t know the full story though and there were other issues, but it was generally known that using those last two sick days, and possibly going beyond, was part of it). I’m not sure what the consequences are if you used up all 12 and try to take an unpaid sick day.

I imagine that if you’re otherwise a good employee, it won’t go further than a write-up, and a valued coworker did push back on the write-up after an obvious medical incident (broken limb) and was successful. What do you think about this? When asked why they don’t just have 10 sick days, the response is usually “because then they’d (the higher-ups) start writing you up after eight.” I know that the big boss gets a bonus if not all of the sick days are used (this guy allegedly has taken kickbacks in other situations that have screwed over employees as well, so he’s kind of scummy and I’m sure this is the reason for the policy).

If someone were to get fired for using their sick time (not beyond the 12 given days), would they have a case for wrongful termination, if, hypothetically, they didn’t have any other performance issues? Is there something wrong with this aside from just being an icky practice?

This is incredibly messed up! Don’t tell people they have X sick days and then fire them for taking X sick days. If you do, then they do not in fact have X sick days. This is such a weird way to make sure people are off-balance and don’t trust anything you tell them.

However, in the U.S., wrongful termination doesn’t mean “fired for something unfair.” That’s actually not illegal on its own. Wrongful termination is firing someone for a reason that is specifically forbidden by law, like firing someone because of their race or religion or as retaliation for engaging in legally protected behavior (like reporting discrimination or harassment). However, this would be illegal if they fired someone who should have been protected by FMLA or the ADA. If neither of those laws was in play, it could still be illegal if they enforce the policy in ways that have a disparate impact along race or gender lines (or any of the other protected characteristics) or if they were in a state that required offering 12 sick days (although among the small number of states that require sick leave, I don’t think any of them mandate that many days).

3. My HR director won’t stop asking me to go kayaking

I am employed by a large company with a fully operational HR department. I am a senior manager within the operations team. I frequently interact with the HR department and maintain positive relationships with all team members. A few years back, the HR director discovered that I have a penchant for kayaking during the summer, which happens to be an interest we share. Over the course of three years, as each summer approaches, the HR director insists on us going kayaking together. While I generally enjoy kayaking with others, my professional relationship with the HR director has made me somewhat apprehensive and cautious. I have made a concerted effort to maintain a professional and cordial dynamic with her and we do have a good working relationship. However, I do not completely trust her. I have seen how she treats people that upset her and get on her bad side. She wouldn’t just treat me differently but she may also treat the managers that I work with badly if I piss her off in some way.

In the past, I have managed to defer the invitation with responses like “Yes, we should do that sometime,” and then I move on without us ever making any solid plans. I was hoping that she would eventually drop the idea. However, with summer here she has brought up kayaking yet again. At this point, I feel compelled to accompany her at least once, even though I am not inclined to do so. I wish I could convey to her that I generally avoid socializing with colleagues, but she is aware that I am friends with a member of her team (a friendship that predates my employment), and we often spend time together. How can I politely decline her invitation without negatively affecting our working relationship?

Can you plausibly say you don’t think you’re going to be able to make time for any kayaking (even on your own) this summer because you’re swamped with family commitments? This would require that you not regularly post photos of yourself kayaking on Slack or so forth, but it could be the easiest way to shut it down.

Otherwise, I think you will need to point her to this story.

Read an update to this letter. 

4. When to tell my company about an upcoming medical leave when I don’t know the dates yet

I’m trans masculine (they/them pronouns), and am on the waiting list to get top surgery. My projected wait-time puts my surgery dates sometime between September and November this year. I’ll be out for at least a couple days for the actual treatment, and probably at least a week following that for recovery. (All of which is highly variable depending on how the surgery goes, natch.)

I’m having a bit of a dilemma on when to tell my company that I’ll be needing that time. From talking with friends who’ve had the same treatment, some of them got a month or two’s notice, some of them got a call that a place had opened up in a week, and would they like to take it. Given the state of the NHS at the moment, I will 100% be taking whatever I am offered. But there’s also a possibility that there will be further delays and I won’t get a date until early 2024.

Complicating the unknown dates is that Sep-Nov is our busy period. Normally folks are only allowed a day or two in a row of holiday time at that time of year. (Obviously I will be taking the time I need to recover and that’s non-negotiable, but just to illustrate the situation.) I’m one of only two perm staff who do my specific job, so losing me for a week will put strain on the team, and schedules will need to be changed.

Do I let my manager know that I might need to take medical time off sometime in that busy window, just so he’s got some warning in case it does happen, or do I wait until I have more concrete information from my surgeon on the dates? On the one hand, giving some warning feels like it would be kind, especially if the date does fall in our busy period, just so no one’s blindsided (and also to quell the intrusive medical questions); on the other hand, it’s early enough that since I don’t have concrete dates it feels like it might just get forgotten anyways or not be practical/useful information for him?

I’ve talked about it with a few friends and some are on the “more info is always useful” side, and some are on the “you don’t owe your employer anything” side. I was mostly convinced by the “more info” side, and started trying to draft an email to my manager about it, but I just couldn’t find words that made it feel … useful to say. I do have a 1:1 scheduled in a couple weeks which could be a decent time to bring it up verbally rather than in writing, but … again, I’m just not sure. Would you as a manager want a heads-up about a maybe thing, or would you prefer to not think about it until there was a set date? Is giving them the heads up a kindness or does it set expectations in a way that isn’t helpful since I don’t have a date yet?

To some extent it probably depends on the nature of the work and what your manager is like. All else being equal, I’d always prefer more info than less, but I’m not sure there’s much they can do with it here. But there is something to be said for mental preparation, so that when you do know your dates, it’s “here’s that thing I mentioned would be coming” rather than “surprise, I will be gone gone for 10 days or more during our busy period, goodbye.” It’s not that the latter is unworkable — sometimes emergencies come up with no advance notice and people make do — but when you have the option for the former, it can be helpful to offer it. So I’m in favor of that, assuming your manager is a generally reasonable person and won’t spend the whole time between now and then hassling you about whether you’ve confirmed a date yet.

{ 325 comments… read them below }

  1. Lemondrops*

    Primo clickbait for #3! And incredible story. But not sure what side it supports.. ;)

    1. RedinSC*

      I’ve given up kayaking after I was swallowed by a whale!

      It’s a good story to tell – yes! That was me…HR might believe it

      1. Yay! I’m a llama again!*

        That story has made me quite cross! ‘I’ll
        Stay out of the way of whales, but I’ll still get up close to otters and dolphins’ – no! Give them space! We’re intruding far too much on nature.

        Definitely an extreme example to share with HR director though.

        1. coffee*

          The whale article had a link to a story about a woman being attacked and injured by an otter, and frankly I’d rather take my chances with the whale!

          You’re right, though, we should give animals space and consideration. It’s cool to see them but they’re out there trying to survive, and we should respect that.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Did you see the one “Woman bit by octopus she put on her face”? And she ate it. When our tentacled overlords take over the earth, she’ll be first to go!

        2. Not my real name*

          I live near Yellowstone and we seem to have a higher than average number of idiots bothering bison this year. And of course, their king, the guy who decided to scare a bear. Luckily it was a lone young black bear and not a mama grizzly.

          1. Avid Reader*

            I read those stories! Someone tried to put a new born buffalo calf into their car???

            1. Elizabeth West*

              They had to euthanize that poor calf. The dingbats thought it was “cold.” Can you imagine being the park ranger and having to do that? Ugh. :(

              Don’t touch the wildlife, people. It has the necessary ability to live in its surroundings.

              1. Less Sad Story*

                That calf had apparently already been rejected by his herd and was likely to die soon anyway. Still a bad decision, but not the reason for the poor thing’s demise.

          2. ZK*

            Near Rocky Mountain National Park here and every year someone tries to walk up to an elk in the middle of the rutt. I watched (from safely inside the restaurant I was working at at the time) a man get chased around his car multiple times after he tried to walk up to a cow elk and the bull took great offense to that move.

      2. Chauncy Gardener*

        Came here to say this! The thought of getting swallowed by a whale has really turned me off kayaking for the foreseeable future. So sorry…

        1. Random Dice*

          I didn’t read the link so was wondering what was so clickbaity about kayaking and HR.

          Now I need to go read the article.

        2. Quill*

          Eh, I only ever do it in rivers anyway. I’ll take my chances with the snapping turtles.

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        As HR, I encourage telling the most ludicrous stories that miiiight have passing plausibility to get out of any unwelcome social events. I give permission to also weaponize this against other HR professionals. This one really asked for it.

      1. La Triviata*

        There was also a man diving for lobsters who was in a whale’s mouth. The whale spat him out, but it was a wild story (he had scuba gear so there wasn’t much danger of drowning, but definitely scary).

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      Well, that was terrifying.

      LW3 really needs to stop saying yes and expecting the other person to guess that her yes really means “no, and stop asking.” While of course LW not agreeing to a date and being noncommittal is a hint that her yes is insincere, HRina is going on her words, which start with yes.

      If LW is uncomfortable actually declining, she needs to say something more like, “Oh, my calendar is really packed, and I never know when I’ll be available,” or “my trainer has me on a challenging program, so it’s really hard for me to find time to kayak just for fun,” or even just “oh, I don’t know, I’ll have to get back to you.” But HRina keeps following up because LW keeps saying yes.

      1. BethDH*

        The power dynamics and the HR person’s known abuse of that makes it more than just OP being uncomfortable.
        I wonder if OP could get away with “if I go with you, I’m going to have to say yes to other colleagues who have asked and that would be awkward, I know you of course will understand that!”
        Basically because people who trample boundaries when it’s just them somehow often seem aware of boundaries that don’t involve themselves.

        1. Artemesia*

          This is one to have had a firm policy about socializing with co-workers or management or whatever. A never mix business and pleasure policy. Maybe it isn’t too late, but when you have an unprofessional vindictive HR manager it does get trickier.

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          I was going to say something along the same lines: “oh, I’m sorry, but I try to keep my work and personal lives separate,” followed by a vague line like “I’m sure you can appreciate that given your experience working in HR!” or something else that alludes and appeals to her professional experience. It could backfire, of course (“Oh, we wouldn’t be like that,” she might respond), but it’s not likely to backfire more than saying “yes, maybe sometime.”

          Or there’s always the direct but non-specific, “Oh, thank you, but no” followed by a pleasant smile and no further information.

          1. Silver Robin*

            right but LW specifically mentions that not working because they do have a friend at work that HRina knows about. Sure, the friendship predates the company, but that is nuance and nuance is tricky with folks like HRina.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I feel like the easiest solution is to just always be busy when HR person asks OP when they can go kayaking. Like, if HR wants to go on a weekday after work, shucks, darn, OP has plans with a friend already or haaaas to be home for dinner with their SO. (And as Captain Awkward says, even if your plans are to binge Netflix or wash your hair, those count as plans!) If HR wants to go on a weekend, well, OP is away the next six weekends (totally plausible in the summer, am I right?), too bad. No need to pretend OP isn’t going to kayak this summer, just that they are too busy to kayak with HR. Even if OP’s plans include kayaking, OP can use the excuse like, “Oh, I’m going with a friend who needs some quiet time with a really good friend and isn’t up for meeting new people” or something like that. But still, no need for OP to tell HR when they’re going kayaking; people who stomp boundaries like HR don’t deserve honest explanations.

      3. Just Me*

        Maybe it would be possible to say something like, “My kayaking time is a way to decompress from work—I’m sure you understand!” Which doesn’t suggest not going at all (because maybe you’ll end up kayaking in the same area) and achieves the goal of separating work from private time.

      4. Anon in Canada*

        This x100.

        Saying yes when you mean no (and expecting the other person to read between the lines and just give up) is NOT a kind thing to do.

        Take Nancy Reagan’s advice for once. Just Say No. More realistically, it probably won’t be a single word “no”, but your response needs to include some variation of “no” and must not include any variation of “yes”.

        1. Ennahawy*

          This is the very culturally biased opinion. In my culture (I am of Egyptian background) it is considered polite to say yes even if the answer is no.

          1. Anon in Canada*

            I’d fit better in Northern Europe (e.g. Germany, Netherlands) than Egypt then… I can move on from a clear no, but will be very hurt if (when) I find out that someone who said yes to me was just stringing me along.

          2. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

            I think there are micro cultures/work cultures at play too. IME (UK/ Australia), “we should do that sometime” – especially if repeated – means “no but I have goodwill towards you”.

    3. CommanderBanana*

      I’d be inclined to make up a shoulder injury that isn’t debilitating but prevents me from kayaking.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Squirrels do this too. It’s never happened to me, thankfully, but at my old house, they would occasionally fry themselves on the power transformer. Which of course made the power go out. :\

        1. Willow Pillow*

          My father had an old tire in his shed and he found it filled with pinecones one day – he cleared them out and put them in a garbage bag when he got an earful from the squirrel whose cache he was removing!

        1. Willow Pillow*

          Poor moose, it’s cute when the mountain goats lick cars but they aren’t allowed!

    4. Hello Sea Lion!*

      The incident in that story occurred a few miles away from my home and I and my friends all still kayak there regularly! I do remember when that happened. Worst that has happened to me is a sea lion banging on the bottom of my kayak just to say hello.

  2. Viki*

    LW 4, quite honestly if my employee told me “ hey I’ve got a surgery, I’m on the wait list, they’re thinking September and I’ll need about 11 days recovery,” I wouldn’t bat an eye.

    People know surgery is backed up, the main thing I need to know is the approximation of when it’s happening and the estimation of recovery time. Maybe I can cross train someone with the notice I’ve gotten, maybe I can’t but I can at least plan a heck of a lot better than two weeks notice.

    1. Limdood*

      I kinda disagree a bit here.

      I absolutely think the “heads up” is a good idea, but it’s lean towards telling them you have no idea when they’ll schedule you, that you’ve heard stories of people getting 2 months of warning, or people called up about a sudden opening next week, and that it’s important/crucial enough that you will definitely take the first available option. tell them you’ll be sure to inform them the moment you have a timeline.

      which is largely what the consensus has been so far, but with one key detail…. you don’t give them a tentative window ahead of time before you even know it’ll happen. this way they can’t mentally put you in the “isn’t here for us at the busy season” category in their head when the absence hasn’t (and might not) happen (at that time).

      1. Agent Diane*

        I’d agree with that approach. I’ve managed people, and am in the UK.

        If an employee told me they have much needed surgery planned but are waiting for the NHS to sort a date, I would totally understand. I would probably see about having a rough handover plan ready so if the employee gets a call to come in next week we can brief someone on picking up some of the work.

        I’d take that approach regardless of the nature of the surgery – I’ve had people out for a month after a wrist operation. And people off because of a family emergency. Managers are paid to cope with the unexpected but we appreciate a “this is likely to happen but who knows when” heads up.

        Good luck for when your surgery comes round.

        1. UKgreen*

          Agreed. I had to have a complex op on my ankle a few years back, somewhat before laptops and working at home kit were standard issue, and the NHS being what it is I knew I was a) likely to be waiting a while but b) also likely to get very little notice when the op actually happened. So I told my manager as soon as I knew I needed the surgery, and that I was going to be out of action completely for about a week and then would need working at home kit for about another 4 – 6 weeks, and we got it sorted out well in advance, which put everyone’s mind at rest.

          I ended up being ‘on call’ for the op for about three months in the end, and successfully worked at home after I’d recovered from the op.

          1. IndyDem*

            What is a work at home kit for you, because all we get is a laptop. That’s it, that’s our kit.

      2. Phryne*

        I agree. Give a heads up that you will have surgery upcoming in the next months. Everyone knows that those appointments are hard to time, and that you might not get much advance warning, but that way your boss can discuss with you what you can do to prepare for your absence like writing down anything important for a handover etc. They may not be able to plan replacement without a date, but you can makes sure all is prepared when it happens.

      3. GammaGirl1908*

        Co-sign. “Hey, Boss. I have a medical thing coming up that will require a couple of weeks of recovery. I’m working on scheduling it now, so I am not sure when it will happen, and it’s possible a date could come up with short notice. I may have plenty of notice time, but on the off chance a short-notice date opens up in, like, September that I need to take, I’m letting you know now so that I can keep you in the loop.”

      4. MicroManagered*

        I don’t understand what OP would gain by giving less information than they have? They know the estimated timeline, and it IS during the busy season, so there’s no harm in sharing that so their manager can make contingency plans.

        Unless OP happens to work for a really unreasonable manager, I think it’s silly to play games here.

        1. Random Dice*

          Because there is a lot of anti-trans bigotry out there, and growing, is my assumption.

          Which is why they just keep it light on details and focused on scheduling.

          1. Eukomos*

            I think they meant why not give all schedule details available, which I agree with. The nature of a surgery is private info, but unless the manager is known to be unreasonable then letting them know the surgery may occur during busy season will be helpful to them and not harmful to you.

        2. tamarack etc...*

          People are often less flexible than they should be. If I was told September and know that realistically it might very well be August, October, or November, I’ll be careful not to set the expectation that I’ll likely be out in September even if that’s the expectation the NHS/hospital /doctor set with me. Just make sure that September isn’t unexpected (and neither are the adjoining months.) And yeah, the reason for the surgery is not a relevant piece of information to pass on.

    2. Armchair Analyst*

      I agree.
      The LW went into a lot of detail in the letter. Understandably! It’s a lot to deal with for you and that’s rough.
      But your boss definitely does not need that level of detail.
      You’re going to be out for X days for surgery and recovery but you won’t have a lot of notice. And it might be at a busy time of year.
      I bet your boss has dealt with this before or if not, her boss has. They’ll be fine. Get the information out there, do good work, be ready when called. that’s all. no worries about the details.

    3. Something(s) Off My Chest*

      I was in this situation! During the pandemic, our top surgery wait times went from 12-18 months, to 18 months-5 YEARS and then the site I chose for surgery hired a surgeon when I was at the 11 month mark. When I had my assessment in the February I had told my manager probably not until the new year?

      I got the phone call at that time. At 11 months post request, not assessment. Less than 3 weeks later I was in the hospital and out for 6 weeks. They adapted and I was lucky because it was NOT busy.

      Anyway, I am SO HAPPY FOR YOU, OP.

    4. Bagpuss*

      I’d frame it as “I’m on an NHS waiting list for surgery – I am waiting for the NSH to let me know the date but it may be at quite short notice. When it happens, I understand that I’m likely to need 1-3 weeks for the surgery and immediate recovery”

      I don’t think that you need to say what the surgery is , and (fellow UK person here) I think everyone will recognise that the NHS is what it is and that you may get a date or short notice or have it rearranged.
      Best of luck, and so pleased to hear that you it lined up! (I’d also be inclined to give a range for the likely recovery time – I’ve had two friends have it done fairly recently – one was fine to be be back in work after a week and the other took over 3 weeks although was doing some WFH after about 10 days – it seems to be as much luck as anything else!

      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        I suppose this is pretty universally how public healthcare surgery works (in countries that have a public healthcare system) in non-urgent situations. They have a waiting list, they normally inform people about the time well in advance, but if there are cancellations they may offer a possibility to come at a very short notice. Also they may cancel at a very short notice if they have too many nurses on sick leave or something like that. If you live in a country with this system, and you’ve ever had surgery or know someone who has had surgery, you’re aware of this.

        1. Lydia*

          It’s not uncommon in the US for specialties. I needed to see a specialist and couldn’t get in until August, but with people having to cancel and change plans, out of the blue it was moved up by two months. It just seems that flexibility around anything healthcare related should be standard everywhere.

        2. I am Emily's failing memory*

          While I don’t know enough to know if it happens to the same extent, even here in the US with private healthcare, I’ve often witnessed people left in limbo waiting for a surgery date to open up for a non-emergency procedure, getting the date on short notice, and/or having the date rescheduled on short notice. I imagine the chronic shortage of doctors and nurses in this country, especially since the pandemic, is a contributing factor.

    5. Anon for this*

      Agree – I’m a manager in the UK and had an almost identical situation with a direct report who suddenly got notified of a cancellation and was able to get in with about a week’s notice. Because I’d already had a heads up that it was going to be coming at *some point*, I was in a much better position to be prepared and shuffle things around as needed.

      Whether you share what the surgery is will depend a lot on your boss and your role – in my case it was really helpful that they did share with me, because their role includes physical elements that they wouldn’t be able to do for a while post recovery, plus it meant we were able to confirm that we had special leave available which applies…

    6. A Poster Has No Name*

      Right? This is exactly what I’d go with. Some surgeries have waiting lists and lots of unknowns (hello, organ transplants!) and I don’t think the LW needs to be specific beyond “surgery, wait list, estimated to happen Sep-Nov but obviously not certain, I’ll need x time off when I get a slot.”

      1. Observer (OG)*

        I’d probably modify “I’ll need x time” to “I’ll probably need x time” because there is always a chance that it won’t be that way. And, sure, the manager should realize that, but it helps to make it explicit.

        1. JustaTech*

          Or maybe “I’ll need *at least* x time” because 1) it seems like everyone underestimates when they’ll be ready to be back to work and 2) if you don’t end up needing more time and can come back sooner, great!

          (I had a boss who had shoulder surgery who was certain he would be back in a week. We all nodded politely, wished him well, and planned for him to be out for about a month. He tried to come back after the first week, barely managed the commute and was miserable and went back home for another couple of weeks, working remotely.)

      2. starsaphire*

        This. I had a co-worker who was waiting for a kidney, and had been for years. They had everything set up in advance because, when you get that call, it’s NOW. Coverage, backups, keeping accessible files on their projects, etc., etc.

        Of course, we had reasonable human beings for managers, so that was a huge help.

        (Yes, they survived, and they’re doing great, and it was an absolute party when they came back.)

    7. Random Dice*

      Yeah I’m with you on the minimal-detail surgery notice. There’s really no difference from a strictly managerial standpoint between back surgery and trans top surgery. It’s on the books, will have X recovery but may be moved if the surgery scheduling gods so require.

    8. Too Stunned To Speak*

      There are some things that can’t be done in advance until the dates are known, but there is a lot that can be done with some advance notice of a leave of unknown dates:
      – Identifying coverage needs and approximate time involved
      – Determine whether to cross-train another employee to assist
      – Determine what the manager and/or coworker can say aside temporarily to cover those responsibilities
      – Train responsible parties and/or draft instructions for covered duties

      As long as your manager isn’t a jerk, I think more information is always better.

    9. JSPA*

      rather than get them worked up about busy season in specific, “due to covid backlogs, hoped-for cancellations, and general urgency, it could realistically be anytime from this August to next March. Given this overlaps our busy period, I wanted to mention it now, in case bad luck puts it in our busy window, as I’ll have to accept the slot when it opens. I’ll of course let you know when I am given an actual date.”

      1. Hazel*

        I like how you reframe as it as more about ‘here’s my plan to make it easier to cover’ rather than ‘I’ll be away’. That both assumes it is ok and makes the staff member proactive.

    10. Earlk*

      As a manager in the UK if you give someone a heads up about surgery it is helping the team and in no way hurting the person getting surgery. The level of detail on the procedure is up to the employee but if anyone I managed was doing this and I had notice I’d really appreciate it (also, if I did anything dodgy with their employment because of it I’d probably be open to legal action)

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        Really interesting reading the comments to LW4. All the Brits seem to be saying the same thing- NHS totally understand timings are inexact. Tell your boss so they can plan. No biggie.
        I think it seems a lot of the American responses are more mixed.
        Is this a reflection in the differences of workplace culture?

        1. Nina*

          (Also in a country with public healthcare, have lived in UK and US) This is most likely a public healthcare thing. You’re not paying for it out of pocket so ‘just delay it and they’ll fit you in because money’ is not a thing. Skip your slot for reasons of ‘work busy season’ and you risk everyone involved in scheduling it being mildly salty at you and also not getting another slot for years. When everyone in the workplace, including your manager and their manager and all the way up, has grown up swimming in the same water, it’s accepted that when your number comes up, you just go.

    11. elsie 432*

      I was in this situation. In Jan 2020 I was put on the list for a lung transplant. In the US, organ transplant lists are not entirely based on first-come-first-served. (Need, health, age, and other factors are considered)

      I agonized for many months about whether or not to tell my boss (a director). In August 2021 I gathered the gumption to tell her about the transplant, and that we would have ONE HOUR’s notice with a recovery period of several months. I also let her know I had been preparing documentation to allow others to cover in my absence. She took it pretty well.

      I finally had the transplant in March 2022… fifteen months after I was put on the list.

  3. Happy meal with extra happy*

    For number 2, some states do have laws that can make an employee handbook somewhat of a contract between the employer and employee, so if an employer doesn’t follow its own policies, there could be a case. HOWEVER, this is entirely state dependent, likely not that widespread, and even in states where it’s possible, there could be workarounds for the employer. E.g. in New Jersey, disclaimer language in the handbook stating that it’s not intended to be a contract could be sufficient to rebuff such a claim.
    Tl;dr: talk to an attorney.

    1. Vicky B*

      LW4 – I’m UK based as well, and started a new job last year whilst on the waiting list for an NHS operation. I opted to let my new employer know fairly soon after starting. For me, I just mentioned it when I was having a catch up with my boss a few weeks after starting and basically said “I wanted to give you a heads up that I’m on a waiting list for an operation. I don’t know when it’ll be, but hopefully within the next 12 months!”. I also gave them a rough idea of how much time I’d need off. I’m sure a fairly brief email would work equally well though.
      Obviously there wasn’t much they could do with the information at the time, but I think it helped that I’d already mentioned it when I got a call from the hospital asking if I was free in 2 days to have the surgery! Like you, I jumped at the chance to get it over and done with, but it felt easier to be able to just remind my employer about the surgery rather than having the conversation fresh.
      I made the mistake of under-estimating how much recovery time I’d need though, as I felt guilty telling them I’d need time off so soon after starting; so I’d definitely recommend being generous when telling them about recovery time. It’s better to over-estimate and return to work earlier, than under-estimate and end up trying to push yourself to work sooner than you’re ready.
      Best of luck with the op. I takes a long time to get there, but once you do, I found the nurses and staff to be absolutely amazing!

      1. Vicky B*

        That’s annoying – I didn’t mean that to be a response to a completely unrelated post!

    2. Totally Minnie*

      Honestly, I’d be job shopping at this point. A job where people are reprimanded and even fired for taking their allotted sick time and the boss is known for taking kickbacks that screw over his staff sounds awful, and I think it’s worth starting a search to see what else is out there.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yeah the “the boss gets a bonus when not all sick days are used” seems both counter to the nature of sick days and also incentive for this exact scenario to happen.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Yes, tying sick leave usage to a performance bonus for the boss implies that the boss has significant power to influence how many sick days people take, which is either not true, or not good if it is true.

    3. Certaintroublemaker*

      And absolutely put the company on blast on Glassdoor. Prospective employees should know, and who knows, it might get attention elsewhere in the company that big boss is gaming the unused sick bonus.

      1. Random Dice*

        And then send a note to the New York Times, which loves doing this kind of investigative journalism.

  4. Detective Rosa Diaz*

    Question for Alison — is it proselytism if the person isn’t actively trying to convert you, but just loudly and frequently discussing their religion, their religious activities, etc.? What about if they’re discussing their religion to somehow brag about how great it is, but not going as far as to suggest people join it?

    TBC, I am 100% aligned with LW1 on this being inappropriate and frustrating (and why I wouldn’t discuss religion at work, were I more religious). I’m just generally curious on what the standard is for it to be proselytism!

    So sorry you’re dealing with this LW1

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If it’s not proselytism, then it’s really fact-specific. If he’s just mentioning his church activities all the time, no. If he’s insulting other religions or implying people outside his religion are going to hell, yes. If he insists on talking to her about religion after she clearly tells him to stop, probably but it’s going to depend on exactly what he’s saying. If he’s talking to other people about religion and they welcome the conversation but the LW doesn’t want to have to constantly be working in the presence of that, it’s hazier (and so in that case, hopefully one of the other categories of “more clearly not okay” would apply).

      1. Anonymous 75*

        But it doesn’t sound like he is talking to LW, she’s just overhearing him talk about it to a 3rd party (whose interest or disinterest she does not know) and assumes that he’ll talk to her about it when she moves.

        while I don’t think religion or politics should be discussed in the workplace (unless you work in that field) the man is allowed to have the conversation with others who welcome it (which again we nor the LW know).

        1. Lily Rowan*

          But that’s why the question is literally, what can I do when we sit near each other, if he tries to talk to me about religion.

        2. HotSauce*

          I disagree. I think workplaces can limit topics to work appropriate only. If the coworkers were having a discussion about butchering a deer or a medical procedure with graphic details I don’t think it’s wrong to ask them to take it outside. Same with religion, politics and any other sensitive topic. I’m here to work, not to overhear the details of your colonoscopy or how much work your church supports conversion therapy.

        3. Jessica*

          I feel like a broken record, but given the way Christian hegemony in the West treats Christian activities (like celebrating Christmas) as normal/secular/not explicitly religious and any activity from non-Christian cultures as religious, I get real nervous any time someone is like “no religion in the workplace.”

          If you can say you’re leaving early to go to your son’s school Christmas concert, I should be able to say I’m leaving early to go to a seder, but in my experience the former is usually treated as a Normal Neutral Activity and the latter is “religious.”

          “No religion” usually ends up meaning “conform to white Protestant norms.”

          It’s pretty easy to say “don’t proselytize at work” and that’s a lot less harmful than insisting that anyone who isn’t a white Protestant has to hide all aspects of their identity that don’t pass as WASP because they appear “religious” to people who are culturally Christian.

          1. Silicon Valley Girl*

            In either case, someone could say “I need to leave work early for a family event” or “an appointment” without mentioning any religion.

            1. Jessica*

              That’s nice.

              But until you manage to create a world where the cultural norms aren’t Christian, “no religion in the workplace” remains code for “assimilate into white Protestant norms.”

            2. Allegra*

              In practice, though, this kind of policy means people of minority religions have to essentially hide their culture in the workplace. Like, a seder is something that secular Jews do, that’s not inherently a religious practice—but because it’s Jewish, talking about it gets labeled as RELIGIOUS under a no-religion policy. Similarly, a Muslim person saying “I’ll be abstaining from team lunch because it’s Ramadan” is immediately RELIGIOUS. Whereas someone saying “oh, I’m going to my parents’ place for the holidays” in December—we all know that means Christmas. But it’s unmarked and seen as default “American” culture, so it’s not RELIGIOUS, and that person’s not punished for talking about their culture the way the others are.

            3. Celeste*

              They could, but the point is that many people wouldn’t bother to be similarly vague about the Christmas concert, and their statement wouldn’t stand out as mentioning religion.

              It reminds me of, “I’m okay with gay people, as long as I don’t have to hear about it. By the way, did you see this picture of me and my wife on vacation last month?”

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Funny, I’ve come here from a discussion elsewhere in which someone pointed out what “political” means in discourse.

            Two genders: male and political.

            Two sexualities: straight and political.

            Two religions: Christian and political.

            Two races: white and political.


    2. Limdood*

      yeah, hopefully lw1 can get it shut down through (hopefully) accommodating management/hr or (if necessary) pointing out religious harassment… but it’s not a stretch to think that the antagonist in this take might be skirting the boundaries of the law without blatantly crossing it. the whole religious brag with the IMPLICATION that anyone who isn’t involved is somehow lesser, but without explicitly stating it, feels like it has to be on page one of the religious over-extrovert handbook considering how common it is…

      and if that’s the case, and LW1s management or HR is spineless….well, that’s a crappy situation indeed.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        Many companies would just move her seat back away from him rather than risk it though if it is borderline and he refuses to stop (obviously depends) since that’s much easier to do than many other potential outcomes and it’s not worth the liability even if he is technically skirting the law. That might not be true if LW were complaining about say the CEO giving religious anecdotes in a meeting or some other harder to address situation or with more powerful figures. But two regular employees in an open concept and one expressing religious harassment, it’s not that worth digging into “Is Todd just on the line here and would we win in court if we backed him?” vs moving a desk.

    3. HannahS*

      Speaking personally, I have found that things like, “I just wanted to SHARE that I think it’s really important to believe in something bigger than myself and my life got so much better when I gave Jesus my problems :)” are fairly obviously “witnessing” or proselytizing, and while a boss or HR rep who’s being deliberately obtuse might fall on “Oh but they’re just SHARING,” most reasonable people will recognize what’s going on. Especially because “witnessing” is a such a prominent tactic in Evangelical circles.

      1. Random Dice*

        Yeah. It’s not sharing, it’s preaching, and especially when LW has giant spiritual abuse wounds it’s not ok. It’s not ok any time in a secular organization, but that makes it worse.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      I had a proselytizer on staff and here’s what my boss and I did:
      – Guy talks about church activities – Fine

      – Guy says how other people should be more concerned about taking care of the poor, the way the people in his religion do – I spoke with the guy and told him he was welcome to speak about his charitable activities but framing it as “my religion is the only good religion” is unacceptable.

      – Guy tells his gay coworker that he should stop referring to his husband as his husband because “marriage is between a man and a woman” – Nope, nope, nope. Guy gets a warning. Coworker gets an apology.

      – Coworker of guy requests the guy stop talking about religion entirely, and the guy refuses, saying he’s legally entitled to talk about Jesus at work – Second warning and we inform the guy that his job is on the line and he will be fired if this happens again.

      The guy did stop talking about his religion but he would come in to my office from time to time and tell me I was persecuting him by stopping him from proselytizing. As long as he was doing his work and he wasn’t bothering his coworkers, I let him rant for a minute every so often.

      1. Yes And*

        Sounds like you threaded that needle beautifully. But that last paragraph rankles me (on your behalf, not at you!). “You’re persecuting me by telling me I can’t persecute others.” All the nopes in the world for that.

        1. Elsewise*

          I’m a queer woman, and when I was in management I had a direct report go to my boss’s boss and warn him she was going to go to HR over the religious discrimination she was experiencing… because one of my other reports talked about his husband in front of her. I wonder why she didn’t feel like she could come to me with that!

          He talked her out of it, and she was later fired for other performance issues (and racism).

            1. Quill*

              Nobody’s ever been right when they speculate about which system of discrimination spawns any other (sexism, racism, homophobia) but they sure are related!

              1. FrivYeti*

                It definitely seems like once you train someone to hate others irrationally, it’s easy to take those lessons and apply them to new out-groups.

                1. Quill*

                  Yeah, it seems like a scaffolding that makes justifying any sort of discrimination much easier.

              2. Good Enough For Government Work*

                Bigotry’s like crisps [potato chips]: nobody can ever stop at just one.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            This is a really good example to use when people don’t understand how white evangelicals view religious freedom.

      2. Jessica*

        This seems really sensible. I think the “your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose” rule is generally a pretty good guideline.

        If someone wants to wear a crucifix necklace or have crosses or whatever sort of Jesus paraphernalia in their cubicle, fine. If they want to say they went to a church potluck or whatever this past weekend, fine.

        But handing out pamphlets at work or verbally proselytizing is not fine. And if a coworker says “stop telling me about your church potluck,” even if that’s a subject that on its face seems innocuous, continuing is not fine. And personal effects in their cubicle are not fine if they fall into the category of denigrating other people (e.g. anti-LGBTQ stuff).

        They can argue that it’s a limitation of their freedom of expression not to be allowed to proselytize all they want. It’s a workplace, not a public square, and other people’s consent (whether it’s in being proselytized to directly, or indirectly by being present while it happens to someone else) overrides anyone’s individual freedom to engage in activities that affect others.

        If a coworker says they want to hear about Jesus, they can go out for coffee and talk about it.

    5. Detective Rosa Diaz original flavor*

      Hi, was just super confused reading your comment because that’s my username on here and has been for a while :’) how attached are you to it?

  5. TransmascJourno*

    For LW4: As always, Alison’s advice is super solid, but I’d actually plan for needing two solid weeks off post-top surgery. Speaking from personal experience and from knowing others who had the same surgery, one week post-op will still leave you pretty down for the count. That being said, mazel tov on your upcoming procedure!

    1. alone*

      Came to say the same thing. Recovery is variable, but I’m planning the same surgery and am definitely anticipating two weeks before I’m truly fit for work.

    2. AnonForThis*

      I had a breast reduction which is similar ish but probably slightly easier recovery and went back day 12 after surgery could really have done with a bit more time.

    3. angrypedestrian*

      I was also coming here to say the same thing. When I had my top surgery, I was completely off work for a week, then worked from home for a week (several years before the pandemic began, my boss dropped a laptop off for me to use because we still just used desktops at the office!). I probably COULD have started working from home the same week I had surgery, but I definitely shouldn’t have, so if you’re able to take a full week, you should do that.

    4. Something(s) Off My Chest*

      I ended up having to take longer due to complications, but I was an outlier and everything ended up being fine in the end. Had the complication not happened, I still would not have been able to go back until 3 weeks because of the nature of my job. They couldn’t meet an accommodation the surgeon put in place for me. :(

    5. Bubba’s mom*

      My vote is for giving your manager a non-time specific notice so she can make a plan.

      My son was also told 2-3 weeks before returning to work and there is a movement and lifting limitation on top of that. I always try to plan for…not the worst, but not the best. I prefer happy surprises. Also, congratulations! My son is recovering at home from his surgery last week and there’s now a physical and emotional weight off his chest. It’s lovely to see him so happy. I wish you a speedy recovery and a hassle-free time away from work.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Also, driving – the particular movement of turning a steering wheel is really uncomfortable post-reduction and augmentation.

    6. Leslie*

      Congratulations LW4! I’m happy for you! Sending good wishes that the surgery goes is easy for you and you recovery smoothly.

    7. Easy does it*

      I’d plan on closer to the six weeks off referenced above. At 3 weeks out for just 1 mastectomy, I had just had the drain removed, & limitations for the next 3-4:
      Light activity only,
      Don’t raise that arm above the shoulder
      Don’t use that arm much: no typing, don’t open sealed jars, no significant cooking, no dancing or working out
      Avoid crowds/jostling that arm
      Don’t lift/carry more than 5 lbs
      Don’t reach behind me
      Don’t drive much

      Hope you sail through it easily.

  6. JO*

    Are people using their sick days as if they were personal days and not just when they are sick? This would change my feelings about the company if it was just pushing back against misuse.

    For context of my question – where I am, sick days accumulate but aren’t paid out if unused. I have worked with people who ‘take a sick day’ because they feel they should work like vacation days rather than a safety net. Egregious misuse of this type was cause for write ups, but not legitimate use.

    1. Well...*

      I still don’t understand why is someone else was doing that, everyone should suffer and lose sick days? And how would implementing a secret maximum sick day amount stop people from abusing the policy deliberately? It would just confuse good and bad faith actors equally.

      I’m not sure I think the company is any more fair or competent if this is the motivation.

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      Seeing as how someone had to contest a write up for taking too many sick days when they had a broken limb, I don’t think this is a misuse issue. I think it’s a “We’re cheap, utterly lacking in empathy or common sense, and think that an employee’s illness is entirely their problem.”

      1. Observer (OG)*

        Yeah, that really stood out. This has nothing to do with abuse, but someone who *likes* to keep people off kilter.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      Even then, I could see requiring a doctor’s note for any days over 10 or even writing somebody up if this were the third year in a row they took 11 or 12 days because going right to the amount allowed every year could look suspicious and it is possible the full amount is meant to cover situations the company assumes will be rare.

      But even then, it is unreasonable to write somebody up for taking the full amount on one occasion. Even if there are people who are using them when they aren’t really sick, just assuming that means everybody who takes eleven days must be doing that doesn’t make sense.

      1. Magpie*

        Why would that be suspicious? 12 days a year means 1 sick day a month. Someone with a chronic condition could very easily need at least one sick day a month and shouldn’t need a doctor’s note to take their yearly allotted time to do that, and they definitely shouldn’t get written up.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          It’s not that it’s unlikely that somebody would be sick that often; it’s that being sick the exact same number of days every year and that amount equating exactly to the amount of days they get paid for is a bit unlikely. Most people don’t get sick the exact same number of days every year. I mean, it’s not impossible, but I could definitely understand an employer who gives 12 sick days a year getting suspicious if this is the third or fourth year in a row when somebody has been sick exactly 12 days and somehow it’s never 11 or 13.

          1. Magpie*

            I’m still not sure how that would be suspicious. Someone with a chronic condition might use up all 12 sick days every year and then use vacation days after that for any days they’re feeling too ill to work, or maybe they just need to work while sick the rest of the year once they run out of sick days. Businesses shouldn’t default to being suspicious of anyone who’s using their allotted sick time.

            1. ferrina*

              In addition to different people having different personal health situations, if the policy officially allows caregivers sick time for dependent’s illnesses, that will factor in as well. Especially for parents with young kids- infants can easily go through a lot of sick days.

            2. crohnie*

              That’s exactly what I had to do – I had a monthly infusion for a chronic condition, so there’s my 12 sick days right there. And then anything else when I was actually sick came out of vacation time.

          2. Emmy Noether*

            So it’s been my observation (in a system with unlimited paid sick days), that sick days are not evenly distributed between people. There are those that are rarely ever sick (maybe 1 day a year on average), and those that are sick quite a bit (more than three weeks every year). It’s probably down to a lot of factors, like chronic conditions, state of the immune system and disease vectors (read: small children) in the home, etc.

            So in a system with limited sick days, I could see those that in reality need 12-20 days a year, but only get 12, take exactly those 12 and drag themselves into work in an unfit state for the other days they are sick. So that would show up as “exactly 12” every year, but not because they are faking and taking too much, but because it’s capped from the employer side and they are taking too little.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              This! And even relatively healthy people might use up sick time for appointments, etc. (I worked somewhere that required exempt staff to use PTO in 4-hour increments. All PTO was in the same bucket, but it meant that I would use 4 hours for appointments that were definitely not that long.)

            2. Anna*

              Yep – chronic condition haver here, and ya, I can confirm the reason I take Exactly All My Sick Days, is that when I don’t have sick days, I still come in to work despite knowing I’ll be low-capacity. And people with chronic conditions don’t always “look ill” the way people expect them to.

              (Also, like. The “employee takes a sick day nearly exactly once a month, clearly this means they are Faking (TM)” take is pretty common. . . And I would like to point out that, for example, periods tend to happen about once a month, and there are multiple conditions that can make those excruciating. There are definitely reasons why someone would have a “like clockwork” pattern of sick leave, and approaching it from “well are you just using them like vacation” is a good way to end up in some *very* awkward conversations.)

          3. Elitist Semicolon*

            But none of that is relevant. Employees are told they are given 12 paid sick days. They should therefor be able to take all 12 sick days without anyone taking any notice or issue or counting up how many days they’ve been “sick” each year. What, is someone from HR supposed to come over and take their temperature to verify their level of sickness?

          4. EPLawyer*

            I get 12 sick days a year. If I use all 12 every year, that is because I am using my entire compensation.

            Messing with people’s sick days or trying to guess if it is legitimate use of sick days just leads to people coming in sick — and making everyone else sick.

          5. Pugetkayak*

            I mean, if you NEED more than 12 days each year but you aren’t going to get paid for them, you will probably end up dragging yourself to work on the other days. Trying to do FMLA or health accommodations can be so tedious. Just like when working in the office was more of a requirement you would come to work with colds to spread all your gemrs, etc instead of taking time off for it if you couldn’t work from home. You won’t get paid but also trying to take more time than allotted, even unpaid, can be a serious problem.

            But, why are we policing people’s time off? You give them the days and they decide when to use them. These are presumably adults that you trust to have hired. I honestly think people shouldn’t think too much about other people’s sick leave.

            I’m not a fan of sick leave and wish people everyone just had more PTO (and plenty of it!) so you don’t have this discussion. The person determines they cant be at work for any reason, you determine your business can afford to have this person out a certain days per year. Full stop.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              One of the arguments in favour of separating sick leave and vacation is that if they’re in the same pool, people are more likely to come in sick so they don’t reduce their vacation days. It’s in the company’s interest for people to stay home when they’re sick.

              1. Observer*

                That only works if you actually ALLOW people to take sick leave and don’t make all sorts of ridiculous policies. Never mind this letter, which is really out there.

                Look at how many companies require sick notes for any call out sick? Or require a note if you are out sick on Friday or Monday. Or require people to find their own coverage (sometimes it’s explicitly to keep people from taking sick leave, and others….) etc.

                1. Anonomite*

                  I’m mentally preparing myself to make a DEI argument against our sick leave policy when our union contract comes back up for renewal. Currently we accrue sick days, but can only start dipping into them if we’re out for more than 3 days. Before then we have to use PTO. This is so unreasonable for so many reasons, and our shop steward tried to argue that they negotiated “four more PTO days to cover potential illness, and that’s really generous!” Sir, if you have a chronic condition and have a ton of doctor’s appointments or have to take time for your illness, you eat through those extra four days in months. That’s before we start talking about parents, parents of kids with chronic illnesses, caregivers of elderly parents, etc.

          6. Observer (OG)*

            it’s that being sick the exact same number of days every year and that amount equating exactly to the amount of days they get paid for is a bit unlikely.

            Not at all unlikely when you have only 12 sick days! Because what happens after that is that people come in sick!

          7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            “Most people don’t get sick the exact same number of days every year.”

            That is correct – most people get sick more than the number of their allotted sick days in a year. They just come in sick, work from home, or take PTO on all the days they are sick after they met the sick day limit. I worked from home (with my boss’s blessing) for two weeks after an emergency retina surgery when I had to be facedown 24×7. I would put my laptop flat on the floor, get on all fours, and work. Was I productive during that time, not really. But we didn’t have sick days. I offered to take all my PTO for this and my wonderful boss said “don’t do it. Just work from home. If all you can do is check email, then check email.” That’s just one illness that would’ve had me use up 10 sick days if I’d done it that way. Not suspicious to me at all.

            What *is* suspicious to me (and may have already been addressed in other comments) is the combination of people being written up for using all 12 their allotted sick days, 10 sick days being okay, and this: “I know that the big boss gets a bonus if not all of the sick days are used.” Sounds like intentional fraud to me. Like they initially wanted to offer two weeks of sick time and then somebody said “wait a minute, but what if we offer them 12 on paper, only allow them to use 10, and collect the bonus?”

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Adding another anecdote to this, I worked with a guy who suffered from frequent migraines, that were not, for whatever reason, controlled with medication. He used to blow through all his PTO just… having migraines. We only had three sick days and he got migraines way more than three times a year. But on paper, he was hardly ever sick.

          8. Katy*

            All that tells you is they’re sick at least 12 days a year but they only have 12 sick days to take.

            If you get unbearable period cramps or hormonal migraines once a month, that’s 12 sick days right there. Very normal for much of the population.

        2. Potatogrip*

          Indeed I have a chronic condition and recently found myself explaining to someone, “I understand you find my symptoms alarming, but I am disabled every day. If I did not go to work just because I had brain fog or was moving slow, I would never go to work.”

          But oh! once in a while the joy of not thinking on a brain foggy day is so tantalizing.

        3. doreen*

          It could be suspicious not is suspicious . There are certainly reasons why a person might need to use 12 sick days a year – but there are also reasons why that might look suspicious. Like someone I once knew who knew that our sick day was credited on the 7th working day of the pay period and took the 8th or 9th working day off every pay period. She never called in sick on the 1st or 5th working day , because she never had any sick time until she come to work that 7th day.

          1. Magpie*

            Do you know for a fact that she was using those sick days inappropriately? Maybe she had a chronic condition and had been dragging herself to work every day while feeling terrible and looked forward to the day she could take off each month to recuperate a bit. You never know for sure what’s going on with other people so it’s usually a good idea to give people the benefit of the doubt.

            1. doreen*

              “Suspicious” means just that, suspicious. It doesn’t mean “know for a fact”. And she did get the benefit of the doubt. She took every sick day as soon as she earned it , worked a full day maybe five times a month between taking sick days , coming in late and leaving early , told everyone within earshot that her doctor would not fill out the paperwork for either FMLA or ADA accommodations and was under the impression that the fact that supervisors were permitted to excuse up to 14 minutes of lateness per pay period meant that she was entitled to that 14 minutes every pay period. Didn’t get fired or suspended although she did this for years. If she had a chronic condition , she would have been able to get the FMLA/ADA forms filled out ( and we had excellent insurance, so it wasn’t the cost of a doctor’s visit) so I’m confident that that wasn’t the case.

              1. ferrina*

                I’ve worked with that person, and while she was definitely gaming the system, that isn’t a reason to have a blanket policy that no one gets to use all of their sick days.

                Besides, folks like that often have other performance issues that managers can point to without getting into sick days.

            2. Pugetkayak*

              Right. And as a manager and leader in my company…I just don’t care. It’s your time. You could be taking a mental health day which, is a sick day to me. Stop thinking so much about your employees’ time off.

            1. Observer*

              This really irks me.

              Keep in mind that even with the most random distribution, call outs on Monday are going to happen on Monday. But there are also some good reasons why you should expect more sick days on Monday, even on a statistically normal office environment – there are many situations where a day of prep is needed, so Monday means you can do the prep on Sunday – one day out instead of two (eg colonoscopy).

              Then you get to the particulars. Again, there are so many things that could legitimately be going on. Like chronic illness that requires regular treatments, etc. People REALLY need to not jump to conclusions.

              1. Anonomite*

                This reminds me of the Dilbert cartoon when Evil Boss got angry and suspicious because 40% of call outs were on Mondays and Fridays.

      2. Jordan*

        Why would anyone get written up for using the sick time the company gave them? That doesn’t make any sense. Plenty of people probably need more than 12 days of sick time, but make do with what they’re given. Parents can get sick often because kids are little germ magnets. Chronically ill and immunocompromised people get sick easily or can have flare-ups that make it nearly impossible to work. They might use all their sick time, then either come to work sick or take vacation time to cover the rest. I can’t imagine anything more demoralizing than writing people up for using their sick time just because it “could look suspicious.” Is it really suspicious that some people get sick a lot? And that they’re not using 13 days because they aren’t given 13 days?

    4. LW 2*

      LW2 here! They have a generous amount of personal and vacation days in addition to sick days, so for most people it wouldn’t be necessary to misuse a sick day. At the end of the year, any unused sick time gets converted to personal time and rolls over. I’m not sure what their pay out policy is though.

      And I think this policy is solely for sick time. My husband and I got married last year, he used up all of his vacation and personal time pretty fast. Their vacation time resets July 1, but we want to leave on a trip after work June 29, so he’d have to take off June 30th but he only has a couple of hours left. He asked if he could take that day off anyway and they didn’t seem to care. But he has been very careful about leaving at least 16 hours in the sick day bank.

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

        Can you use personal days for whatever you want? Can someone just use the personal day from last year for their 11th sick day this year?

      2. EPLawyer*

        That literally makes no sense. We will not quibble over any other time off but you better not be sick too much? You are out of the office either way.

        1. ferrina*

          Seriously. That is so very weird. Usually vacation time is the amount that companies need to pay out, so that does have an impact to a company’s finances (they need to keep a certain amount in reserve so they can pay out vacation time if X number of employees leave at once). My understanding is that sick time can have discretion on whether you pay it out (I think to incentivize people not to hoard sick time and use it when they need it).

          It is super weird to try to police people’s sick time like this. Will someone misuse sick time? Yes, but there’s always someone who will misuse anything (Isn’t that a subset of Murphy’s law? Anything that can be misused, has?) But it’s more likely that someone uses all their sick time because they are sick

        2. Jaydee*

          I wonder if there are rules about how much advance notice you have to give to use your vacation and personal days (e.g. you have to put your leave request in X number of days before an absence of Y length) while sick leave is more often unplanned and you can just call out the morning of because that’s how being sick often works. It might be that the employer is trying (very poorly) to limit the number of *unplanned* absences rather than the number of absences overall? That’s truly the only thing that makes sense.

          1. doreen*

            That is the only thing I can think of that makes sense – but I’ve had workplaces with some apparently strange rules that make sense in context. For example , one where you were required to take sick leave rather than any other type when you were out sick. Sounds strange – why would they care if you took vacation instead ? The answer was that 1) the vacation accrual limit was much lower than the sick leave limit and 2) the sick leave could be converted to credit towards health insurance premiums and additional pension credit when you retire. The numbers work out differently for different people , but in many cases it would be better for people to hoard their sick leave and use some other type of leave and they did. If it was a day or two , you could get around it by saying you had a personal emergency but that wouldn’t work if you were going to be out for four weeks recovering from surgery.

        3. Zarniwoop*

          It makes sense in terms of “Big boss gets bonus if not all sick days used.” The WTF starts there.

          Who came up with that policy and why?

          1. JustaTech*

            It’s like the “perfect attendance” record in elementary school that was always won by some kid who’s parents sent them in sick (and managed to never be *so* sick that they got sent home).
            Whereas if you got a nasty bug and were out sick then you “failed” perfect attendance.

            (I’ve heard these awards have been phased out specifically because all they encourage is for sick kids to come in and share their germs.)

          2. Book Wyrm*

            I think whoever is giving him that bonus might be interested to know that this is how he is achieving it.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          It is utterly absurd and like I said in another comment, I suspect that the bonus (why does this bonus even exist? why is this boss getting paid if his employees do not use all of their sick time? what can he possibly do to make it happen that he would need to get rewarded) has a lot to do with this weird as heck policy.

        5. Kevin Sours*

          It makes perfect sense: “I know that the big boss gets a bonus if not all of the sick days are used”. Okay so why *that* policy is in place makes no sense but weird perverse incentives in management probably explain the difference in attitudes quite logically if you can map them out.

      3. Pugetkayak*

        IMO they are robbing their employees as if they didn’t give them their whole pay check. “Your salary is $50k, but if you accept the full $50k you will be written up. You should only accept $45k.”

    5. Texan In Exile*

      “sick days accumulate but aren’t paid out if unused”

      Then you can be darn sure I would use every single one of my sick days. There have been so many times I have worked through a migraine or a cold.

      If I have use them or lose them sick days? I will use them. And then I will work through my migraines the rest of the year rather than take vacation days for them.

      1. Anon for this one*

        I accidentally accrued (via rollover) about three months’ sick leave when I worked a job that was so consistently and overwhelmingly busy that I dragged myself in or worked from home for a few years running, regardless of whether I was actually sick. Sick leave didn’t get paid out, so bet your ass I started using them as soon as HR told me what was going on. Those are days the company officially pays me not to work.

      2. Gyne*

        That’s an argument to not give any paid sick time, though- if the sick and vacation time is separate, and sick time is meant to be “used in case of emergency” (caught the flu, woke up with a migraine, had unplanned surgery, etc), *and* employees were finding ways to maximize each and every “sick” day, I think it’s reasonable for an employer to conclude their employees were gaming the system and want to do something to minimize that possibility. It wouldn’t then make sense to increase the number of paid sick days because then employees would just be “sick” 20 days instead of 10. Or 40 days instead of 20. etc.

        1. Fushi*

          That doesn’t follow from Texan’s example at all. If employees are using all of their sick days when they have health issues (eg migraine) that they might otherwise have felt compelled to work through were a different policy in place, that is an extremely appropriate and healthy use of sick leave, not “gaming the system”!
          Zooming out to the wider context, assuming that the majority of your employees couldn’t possibly have legitimate reasons to take all 12 (12!) sick days is patently absurd, and itself a reflection of the bizarre assumption that people should just work all the time instead of taking care of themselves unless they’re literally too incapacitated to sit up that has pervaded American culture.

          1. Katy*

            Yeah, I have migraines frequently, but I’m a teacher, and it’s often harder to deal with having a sub than it is to just work through the migraine. So I only take a day off for migraine when it’s so bad I can’t drive. If I had a job where I could actually use my sick days for migraines with no repercussions, I would absolutely use them all. It wouldn’t mean I was gaming the system; it would mean the system was actually working.

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

      I used to work at a place that had an unusual sick policy: 5 incidents of sickness up to 5 days each. They had to change it because too many people were taking all 25 days off. What are the odds that every illness you have takes exactly 5 days to recover from? I don’t know what happened if you were sick for 6 or 10 days.

      1. doreen*

        I had a a job that was sort of similar – they counted incidents of sick leave for some purposes rather than days. An incident was up to three days – unless you had a doctor’s note. In which case 364 calendar days might be a single incident.

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        I worked somewhere that made you go on medical leave after 5. days, which meant that they paid you, but not at your full wage.

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

          One of the changes they made was IIRC requiring a doctor’s note after 3 days. And I distinctly remember that they said they would start automatically referring you to the short-term disability insurance after 5 days.

      1. ferrina*

        It matters, but not as much as LW2’s company is making it matter.

        It matters because they are misusing the benefit. Just because my office gives me free coffee doesn’t mean that I can run a coffee stand on the side with their supplies. Or if my company offers volunteering hours I can’t volunteer to hang out at home watching TV- that would be taking the benefit in bad faith. The benefit isn’t designed as an entitlement, it’s designed as a safety net.

        That said- every time an organization makes a policy that applies to a group of people, they need to assume that a certain percent of people will misuse the policy. That’s just how people are- a certain percent will take advantage of anything. That doesn’t mean that the remaining people (who have acted in good faith and in accordance with the policy) should be punished or have their benefit withdrawn. There’s a whole social calculous that goes into this- how does the company treat their workers in general? Are their compensation and benefits fair or generous? What do they ask of workers in return? What is the cultural norms in this company? Have expectations and reasoning been clearly communicated? How does recruitment and retention strategies think about and reward integrity? All of these feed into the question of “What do we owe to each other and to our company?”

        1. Teacher about to be on summer break*

          Taking all of the contractually allowed sick leave is not at all the same as taking the free coffee provided and reselling it to keep the profits. A more apt comparison to this letter writer’s situation would be that an employee gets in trouble for taking the free coffee that is offered every day, every day. It is not a misuse of the benefit to use the benefit in full. Employees are not misusing the health insurance benefit when they visit the doctor. Parents are not misusing parental leave when they take the full amount of time allotted. If this company wants to give less sick leave, then they should give less sick leave, not assume that people who use the “allowed” are misusing it.

          1. ferrina*

            You’re right- I was talking about the situation in JO’s comment and not OP2, but I didn’t specify that in my comment.

            In OP2’s case, there is no evidence that anyone is misusing the sick days and the company is behaving very badly in not allowing people to use sick time as promised (because 12 days is very reasonable)

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            I would say it’s more like if the company offers an allowance to pay for work clothes, and you use it to buy clothes you don’t intend to wear for work because you already have enough work clothes. As long as you turn up for work appropriately dressed no one will know the difference… but it’s still dishonest and misusing the benefit.

            Similarly, the purpose of sick days is to make sure employees can stay home when they’re ill without losing money. This is important for the employee’s wellbeing but also important to keep them from getting coworkers sick, prevent accidents, etc. Of course it’s fine to take all that’s provided if you’re actually sick that many days (and yes, colds/migraines/etc count). But taking a sick day when you feel fine just because you want an extra paid day off is not okay. That’s not what the benefit is for.

    7. urban teacher*

      Welcome to the Philadelphia school system where you get 10 days but are written up after 3 “occurrences”(1-3 days). It encourages people to overuse FMHA leave because it’s not penalized. It’s ridiculous and dangerous.

      1. Stuff*

        Aren’t teachers, due to constant exposure to children, far more likely to catch infectious diseases than the general population, as well as being in a perfect position to spread these diseases through the whole community?

    8. Quill*

      The problem with that framing of “abusing sick days” is that there is always going to be someone with ill intent policing what is a sick day – oh, you have a migraine? I can’t see it, so it doesn’t exist. Oh, you have some insomnia and shouldn’t drive? Not sick!

      Most places that claim people overall are abusing their sick days to take mini vacations are perceiving a lot of people who are ill as a problem.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yes yes yes. In the late 90s, there was a listicle circulating via email, “you know you are working in the 90s corporate America when…” and one of the items on it was something like “taking a sick day means you either cannot walk, or are in the hospital”. And 20 years later, it seems that some workplaces have not moved away from that far enough.

    9. The Shenanigans*

      If it’s about certain people abusing a policy and the company is punishing EVERYone, that actually makes it worse.

    10. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      We don’t know if people are doing this, but even if they were, I would wonder if this type of policy encourages people to feel justified in “misusing” the system. If you actively lied to your staff about you much sick leave they have, then penalised them for complying with the policy, don’t be surprised if they don’t comply with it.

  7. fueled by coffee*

    #2 Is your company big enough that Glassdoor posts would be effectively anonymous? Because even if there’s not a legal angle here, this situation sounds ripe for some scathing Glassdoor reviews.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Definitely – and they don’t have to be overtly scathing if you’re worried about anonymity, just dry and factual.

  8. Turquoisecow*

    #4, a few years back I had a medical issue that was fairly quickly resolved but in the process of diagnosis another unrelated medical issue which would require surgery was discovered. Since it wasn’t urgent, I had to schedule a follow up with my GP, then get an appointment with a surgeon, who wanted me to get an MRI, and then fir the surgery into her busy schedule. So I knew a few weeks in advance that I would have the surgery, but not the exact dates.

    I informed my boss that I’d be out, as well as the approximate recovery time, basically as soon as I knew I was going to have the surgery. Then I was able to talk to HR about how to go on short term disability and how all of that would work. As soon as I knew the date, I communicated that to my boss as well. I think he was appreciative because he was able to work with me to get as far ahead as possible with my work before I went out and also to get a coworker up to speed on the intricacies of my job. (There were a number of people with the same job title but different areas of responsibility so I had to quickly show someone some of the basic differences so they could cover the urgent stuff that I couldn’t do in advance).

    1. Storm in a teacup*

      LW I agree with all the other commentators saying to give your boss a heads up you have surgery coming.
      We in the UK all know the current backlog in the NHS and that if you get a date you need to take it.
      Having been on your manager’s side of the equation before – I had a team member that was due to have surgery at some point during our busiest part of the year (winter pressures!). By letting me know it may happen we were able to plan potential contingencies for it and it was a huge help for the team.

  9. Decidedly Me*

    LW4 – I would give the heads-up. There are probably things your manager can do in advance to make the leave time easier for the team, but it also makes abrupt time off feel way less abrupt. I had an employee who told me a few months in advance that he needed 2 weeks off between a two or three month time period, but would only have a day or two of notice before that happened (all completely legit!). There was some prep work we did and it was an overall smoother experience since I had gotten that heads-up. I’ve had a few other cases in my time of advance notice of unknown dates off and always really appreciate it.

  10. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP4 (unknown surgery date) – yes, talk to the manager. It isn’t really a case of “you don’t owe your employer anything” as some friends suggested, but more of a courtesy to the immediate manager and team (rather than the nebulous ‘the company’). That way, the manager can start thinking about what they need to do in the way of coverage etc if the surgery date is in the busy period. Of course, as a manager contingency planning should be in their mind anyway, but isn’t always!

    The complicating factor is the job only being covered by one other person. I assume it is normally a “can’t both take time off at the same time” situation. In that case what happens if the surgery comes up at a time the “backup” person is off. Does their leave get cancelled? Do they already know about the surgery situation? If they request time off during the possible surgery period will the manager approve it but warn them it might have to be rescinded? etc.

    1. TechWorker*

      I think the company would have to handle it in whatever way they would if both were sick at the same time, or one came down sick whilst the other was already abroad. It sounds like the potential surgery period is quite large; you could not reasonably tell the other employee any leave in that window at all has the risk of getting rescinded.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      With some advance notice, they may be able to look into temps without it being a crisis.

  11. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I had top surgery two years ago. They kept me in hospital for one week and I stayed home for three weeks afterwards.

    I didn’t have any pain from the surgery at all but having two large surgical sites on your chest is exhausting.

    Was also forbidden to lift my arms too high in the beginning and no lifting of heavy stuff for three months.

    The surgery isn’t all that complicated, especially if you don’t reattach the nipples, but the recovery is actually quite lengthy and exhausting.

    1. Appropriate alias for this topic*

      I want to echo this. The idea that you’ll be back at work after a week seems extremely optimistic to me. I have had my surgery 8 years ago this year, have been in online groups since before then and have never heard of anyone who has able to return earlier than 4 weeks in my own European country (in the US it might have been sooner, because of the lack of paid sick leave). Usually surgeon will just not clear people.

      Also realize that resting is an important tool in getting the best results! I stretched too far exactly one time during my recovery and my scar will forever be stretched in one spot because of that.

    2. WS*

      Yeah, it’s hugely variable. One friend was honestly fine a week later except for driving (not a big deal in their case because they used public transport). Another friend was absolutely flattened for two weeks and not great for another two after that. Neither of them had complex medical histories or complications in recovery, it was just different.

    3. lucanus cervus*

      Yeah, definitely don’t underestimate how much energy it takes to heal a big wound like that. However well it’s going, you really need to plan for being VERY tired.

    4. Just Another Techie*

      Not OP4 but I’m in the same boat as them. My friends who have had it have had such variable recovery times. I plan to message with my management chain to expect 4 weeks of leave, but privately I’m planning to get back to the office as soon as I think I’m able (and crossing my fingers that I land on the shorter end of recovery times). It helps that my job is 100% computer based so the restrictions of lifting and stretching don’t impact my work. But of course, I have no idea yet how well I will cope with the pain and discomfort, or how much the body’s work of healing will tire me out and drain my reserves.

  12. GingerHR*

    #4 – UK-based HR here.
    Even though this is something hugely important and personal for you (and good luck for it when you get the date!), it’s not really something major for a company. It’s really common that we are told vague details of possible time out, and not something that we’d question. I’d say thanks for letting us know, and probably mention that depending on the role, we might refer to Occupational Health post-surgery to make sure that we are putting any temporary accommodations in place so that you could return safely. Yes, it can be an inconvenience to have someone out, but the most important thing is that we don’t jeopardise someone’s recovery, whatever the reason for absence

  13. radiant*

    LW4 – I can give you my experience of this – it wasn’t top surgery, but it was a major operation that needed a decent recovery time off work.

    I was on an NHS waiting list for surgery, and the surgical team let me know that there might be an opportunity to get a cancellation spot whilst I was waiting for a confirmed date. I spoke to my manager about it, and just said “I’ll need three weeks recovery afterwards, I’ll give you as much notice as I get from the hospital,” and that was fine. I made sure I prepared some handover notes that could be updated on the fly (did the bulk of the ‘if this happens do this’ stuff whilst I was waiting, and wrote the time-specific stuff once I knew the dates I’d be off).

    I ended up getting a cancellation spot, with two weeks notice from the hospital. Because I’d given my manager the heads up it meant that he wasn’t blindsided and could easily mitigate me being out of the office. In those two weeks I also spoke to the clients I dealt with most often to let them know I’d be away from work (obviously I also had an out-of-office on my email), so for urgent stuff they could go direct to my manager for assistance but everything else could wait until I was back at work.

    I hope the surgery goes well for you, and that the recovery/healing goes smoothly.

    1. the Viking Diva*

      I like this framing in terms of ‘wait list’ – it makes clear that the vagueness is on the hospital side, not yours. Then ‘I’ll let you know once I have a firm date’ is enough. Just knowing it’s coming will help any reasonable manager plan ahead for tasks that require your involvement vs. those that (e.g.) someone else could do with a bit of warning about where to find data or files.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, everyone here will understand if someone says ‘I’m on the waiting list but I’m not sure how long it’ll take for my appointment to come through – should be some time towards the end of the year, but it might be earlier if there’s a cancellation’. That’s how things work and there isn’t much you can do about it!

  14. JJS*

    LW4, congrats on the top surgery!! Fingers crossed it goes smoothly and recovery is restful and healing is easy! I second the above “I’m waiting on a surgery date” language but depending on all the variables I recommend giving yourself more wiggle room if you can and saying you’ll need to be out for two weeks. If you feel great and can come back sooner, cool, but I was out of commission, like not even walking my dog, for two+ weeks.

    1. Random Dice*

      Seconding the congrats!

      As a total stranger on the internet, I’m thrilled for you that you can take this important step to make your outside align with your inside.

      Blessings on your recovery!

    2. Ariel Tritonsdottir*

      Thirding the congrats! I hope you have no complications and a speedy recovery LW4!

  15. misspiggy*

    #2: Everywhere I’ve worked (mostly UK) has had a policy of writing people up if they take a certain amount or pattern of sick leave, well
    within the official limit.

    This is apparently because evidence shows certain patterns of sick leave are linked to fraud or malingering. However, different companies had different standards for triggering a reprimand. Which made me doubt the evidence, or at least the way it’s applied.

    In practice this deterred dedicated but chronically sick people from taking time off, worsening their efficiency and output and making them feel they should leave.

    These policies made zero difference to the people who wanted to push boundaries by taking undeserved leave. Blanket targets are harmful and no substitute for good management.

    1. Mid*

      That’s horrible. Frankly, even if someone is clearly only sick on Fridays before a holiday weekend, it shouldn’t matter. Mental health is still health. Needing rest is still health. Writing people up for “malingering” is truly awful, especially given the long racist and classist history of that term.

      1. Random Dice*

        I didn’t know that “malinger” had racist and classist history. Thanks, I’ll go check that out.

        (If you have an especially good article I’d love the share, otherwise I’ll search.)

      2. Quill*

        Also prolonged stress can lead to illness as soon as the stress is removed – see the post finals crud going around every college campus.

        1. Fushi*

          Yep. I spent several years getting a migraine almost every weekend due to the difference in stress patterns between the work week and days off. So I effectively did not have weekends, and sometimes my weekend suffering would bleed into the weekdays. The fact that some employers would be all “Woe is me” about that type of situation is truly disgusting.

    2. Hedwig*

      A lot of HR places in the UK use the Bradford factor, which feels like it’s specifically designed to punish people who need a day of sick leave fairly regularly eg for period pain or migraine sufferers rather than a one-off absence that might last a couple of weeks

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        Fellow Brit here. I once had a direct report who would regularly fly to a European city to visit their family. The majority of the time they would call in sick the day after their flight.
        It triggered on Bradford score and we spoke about it – was it their sinuses etc….
        A number of colleagues did used to comment on it as it was such a regular pattern.
        Turned out to be a brain tumour – moral of the story is if you have an employee who works hard and they’re sick in a pattern like this, start from a place of concern and good intent.

  16. SwingingAxeWolfie*

    #2 reminds me of Jennifer Aniston’s workplace in Office Space:

    “You know what, Stan, if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair… why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?”

    1. Zarniwoop*

      Because “big boss gets a bonus if not all of the sick days are used” so for practical purposes it’s “two less than the official policy.”

  17. There's a G&T with my name on it*

    OP4: I know what you mean about writing a rather useless email. Save it for the 1-2-1 and have a brief conversation about it. We’re all aware how stretched the NHS is at the moment, so I’m sure your manager will understand the situation and be grateful that they have the heads up so that they can try and put some contingencies in place while you recover. Best of luck with everything!

  18. clock watcher*

    I saw someone mention state laws re:#2, but it sounds like one of my workplaces where it’s part of the CBA that you must always have at least 1 sick day on the books [also extremely generous pto for all types] – it was brought in [and agreed to by the union obv] because there were constantly people who used every day they got as soon as they got it and were going into no pay status – more dangerous for them than for the administration simply because of eventual issues with insurance and civil service. It’s under 5% of the workers who dance the line but if you do you get increasing discipline which can end with termination if it keeps happening within a certain amount of time. Many workers there retire with months and months of pto owed them!

    1. Mid*

      So they actually have one less day of sick leave than they think. If you’re required to have one day banked that you can’t use, it’s not really in the bank, is it?

    2. Silver Robin*

      that punishes people with chronic illnesses (including mental health here) who need those days? or anyone who is just more prone to getting sick (weaker immune system, folks with kids – especially little ones, and any other factors that boost chances of needing a sick day).

      sounds like that system needs to adjust to handle people who need those days as soon as they get them, instead of functionally giving folks X-1 sick days.

  19. Juggling Plunger*

    LW2: talk to a lawyer about whether this is a breach of contract. While there may be no right to sick days, your husband agreed to work for this company in exchange for a certain amount of pay and a certain benefits package, and if they don’t provide the benefits that have already been earned they may be violating an agreement. IANAL (but I was raised by one and once had a work situation that sounds related where the advice I got was that if I ever had an issue a breach of contract case would have been open and shut), so talk to a lawyer about the specifics of this case. And if the lawyer says that this isn’t ok, then the words “contractual obligation” can work wonders to get people to change course.

    1. Ferret*

      My understanding is that in the US it would be very unusual to have a contract in the first place so this may not be an option

      1. Juggling Plunger*

        A contract isn’t just a document with the word “contract” written at the top of it. It doesn’t even have to be written (though verbal contracts are incredibly hard to enforce). If you have an agreement with your employer to work for a certain amount of pay and benefits, you have a contract. It is usually a contract that can be changed at any time for any legal reason, but it’s still an enforceable agreement (my situation that I referenced above was in the US and was in a situation where I didn’t have a written contract but it was clear that the company had included health insurance in the job offer and wasn’t providing it due to an administrative screwup)

        1. Random Dice*

          Not to mention… even if one shouldn’t win a lawsuit, businesses often settle anyway.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      Unlikely to work. They’re not saying you cant take it. They’re just strongly discouraging you and penalizing you if you do.

      In the world of at-will, being fired for using all your sick leave is…fine unless it falls into the categories Alison described.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        There’s no functional difference between “you can’t take it” and “if you take it we will fire you”.

  20. LauraLou*

    “Of course we can go kayaking! We’ll have a whale of a time!!”

    *drops news article on co-worker’s desk*

  21. Annie M*

    #3: Mention a strained or torn rotator cuff has sidelined your kayaking enjoyment.

  22. CityMouse*

    #2 “All our best employees keep leaving for other companies!”

    Seriously, LW run. Don’t stay with a company that will play games and fire you for getting the flu or needing surgery.

  23. I should really pick a name*

    I know that the big boss gets a bonus if not all of the sick days are used

    That is absolutely ridiculous and clearly the source of the problem here.
    “You get a bonus if you persuade your employees to come into the office sick and infect each other”

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yeah, I can’t believe that so many people are really not picking up on this point. This is a terrible way to structure bonus packages and will lead to the kind of abuse that we see in this letter.

      Of course, that is nothing that LW can fix, but an organization with such a terrible policy is sure to have others. It’s a good indicator that it’s time to polish that resume.

  24. Potatogrip*

    OP4, do what everyone here is saying and let your leadership you have surgery coming on an unknown date IF and ONLY IF you are sure your manager is a reasonable person.

    Once I had a manager who was not a reasonable person, and as soon as I found out I had cancer and would need surgery soon-ish (ended up being 3 months later), I told her what I knew. She:
    1. Started writing me up for things that had been fine before
    2. Yelled at me for having a job she didn’t want to do (as it was her job to fill in for team members who were out)
    3. Hired my replacement even though I would only be out 3 weeks and there was hardly enough work for one person

    so uh… that might be an important consideration.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ This. I disclosed a chronic condition at my last job that had not caused any issues in the 5+ years I’d been there, but had gotten worse, and suddenly I was put on a PIP, my performance was criticized, any invented issues were blamed on it, etc. etc.

    2. Thomas*

      OP4 mentions NHS. Assuming they are in the UK, gender reassignment is a protected characteristic here. OP can reasonably safely tell their employer about their plans, and take the time off when they need to, and the company would be breaking the law if they “retaliate” and OP could take them to tribunal for compensation.

      1. Potatogrip*

        My medical condition was a protected characteristic as well. Illegal doesn’t mean impossible. In fact, most illegal things are illegal BECAUSE they are possible.

        1. Lead Balloon*

          True, but in the UK you can’t just be fired because your boss feels like it. Either they have to make you redundant (because they don’t need someone to do the work or they don’t need as many people to do the work, and they aren’t allowed to rehire within a certain length of time) or they can dismiss you for performance or misconduct, but that will generally have to follow a process because we all have employment contracts.

          They could decide to discriminate in other ways (not giving interesting projects/not promoting etc) which would still be illegal but more subtle. But it’s very unlikely that OP could find themselves out of a job by disclosing that they are waiting for surgery.

          1. Tumbleweed*

            In the UK you can be dismissed because your boss feels like it if you have under two years service in your current job. It is still illegal to dismiss for a protected characteristic but they do not have to justify why they have fired you until you have been there for two years.

            After two years they have to justify the dismissal (and you’re entitled to statutory redundancy pay if being made redundant) and you can argue unfair dismissal on grounds other than the equality act – before that you can’t.

  25. Purple Cat*

    #2 is such a challenge. And I think it depends on if it’s a coverage-based job or not. Coverage employees tend to have no-show escalation issues. So it’s not per se that they are penalized for using their sick days, but more that it was too many last-minute no-shows. Splitting hairs, I know, but…

    1. Justme, The OG*

      But I would always rather have to find coverage rather than have a sick employee come in and infect everyone.

    2. EPLawyer*

      If it were coverage based, they would know that sick days are a problem. And they are still going to get call outs and no shows, people will just call them personal days rather than sick days.

    3. The Shenanigans*

      Then they need to hire more people or change the sick leave policy. Punishing people for following the policy is never a fair or right option. The LW gives the reason they do it: The boss gets a bonus if all sick days aren’t used.

  26. That_guy*

    Re: Kayaking
    I don’t know if the suggestion to say even solo kayaking is off the table for the summer is going to work. I often go paddling right after work and have my ‘yak on top of my car during the day.
    Also, I’m not a fan of dissembling to avoid confrontation. I’d much prefer to say something along the lines of “I like to kayak by myself, so I’m going to decline” which is true in my case, but might not be for LW3. Of course that’s going to be more difficult since the LW has previously agreed to go.
    Or even better, just say that you want to keep work separate from the rest of your life and want to draw a hard boundary between them.

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

      Is there any trust aspect of kayaking together? The LW was talking about how they don’t trust the HR director, so I thought there was going to be some aspect there where doing a potentially dangerous activity like kayaking with them was a no go for that reason. But it seems to me (having kayaked all of once in my life and also watched the video of the whale swallowing) that it’s a pretty individual activity and it should be fine as long as you refuse any suggestions by your kakaying partner to go into a bait ball or strong current, you should be fine.

      1. Snazzy Pants*

        I don’t think it has anything to do with kayaking being a dangerous team activity, but I wouldn’t want to spend additional 1-on-1 time with somebody I don’t trust and potentially give them ammunition or the ability to say whatever they want about our time together.

      2. Local Sea Kayaker*

        Kayaker here. There are a lot of different kinds of kayaking! I’m assuming they’re paddling in calm flatwater on a local lake/river in conditions that have a lower risk profile: minimal wind/waves, warm water, warm air, close to shore etc. In that case, no.

        If you’re paddling open ocean or large lakes (like the Great Lakes in the US), in more advanced conditions (cold water, wind/waves), or paddling whitewater, then the risk profile changes and you would want to have a conversation with any co paddlers.

    2. Critical Rolls*

      I was coming here to say something similar. “Oh, kayaking is my time to totally unplug from work and everything, but thanks.”

    3. Silver Robin*

      LW mentions having a friend at work and thus feeling like drawing that boundary is harder with the HR person. It would be obvious that there are exceptions.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        LW says the friend relationship predates their working together, that’s an easy thing to mention if the HR person is rude enough to demand an explanation. The thing about boundaries is that people will either respect them (thus requiring no further explanation) or push back on them. It’s a losing game to explain boundaries to those who push back; they need to be given as little as possible to argue with.

        1. Silver Robin*

          True, but I do see why LW is a bit more hesitant because then HRina is going to be constantly pushing for “why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends…” (yes, I was singing that in my head).

          Add that to the fact that HRina retaliates against people and their associates for perceived slights. OP being okay with being friends with one person but not okay with being friends with her is potentially going to make her mad. If it were just OP dealing with the retaliation, fine. But OP would be opening up their colleagues to it too. So I understand being very cautious.

    4. Nomic*

      It kayaking like skiing, where once you are on the slope you just don’t interact until you are at the bottom because even a tiny difference in skill means you are very separated (not to mention what if I want to do black diamonds and you can only do greens)? If so, then what is the actual time spent together if you do an afternoon?

  27. Doc McCracken*

    LW4, I’m in healthcare and have witnessed/co-manager patients recovering from breast reductions and cancer related mastectomies, which surgery wise have many similarities to a top surgery. Please do not underestimate what your recovery is going to be like. It is very common to be dealing with drains and extreme fatigue while your body heals. Depending on the nature of your work, planning for remote work work and/or flex hours after your procedure could help your recovery AND help your bosses. Making these arrangements ahead of time might also help your flexibility if a surgery date opens up on short notice. Prayers for you as you navigate this.

  28. I should really pick a name*


    If you’re going to say “Yes, we should do that sometime”, you’re going to have to put up with her constantly asking.

    You basically have three options. Keep finding excuses not to go every time she asks. Bite the bullet and go. Or explain that it’s not something you’re ever going to be able to do.

    A few suggestions on how to do #3:
    “I don’t really have time for additional paddling trips”
    “The summer just gets too busy for me”
    “Thanks for thinking of me, but I try to keep a separation between work and outside” And if she brings up your friend, just explain she’s the exception because you were friends before being coworkers.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      If you keep making excuses (i.e., lies) some people are just oblivious and will never pick up on it.

      But some people will pick up on that pattern, and I’d put money on the bet that HR director is one of them. I agree–I think it’s better to straight up be honest with her and say that you prefer to keep work and personal relationships separate as much as possible.

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

        I dunno, if they haven’t picked up on the pattern yet, why would they now?

    2. kiki*

      I think LW saying they’re super busy this summer is pretty plausible, but it does potentially just perpetuate the problem and it might be hard to sell that they’re super busy every summer. And they’d have to be cautious about ever slipping and revealing that they don’t have plans on any given weekend.

      I like your last option which is pretty honest. There’s always the chance the director will react poorly, but it sounds like they’re someone who could react poorly to anything. LW continuously delaying might eventually turn the director off as well.

    3. Katy*

      I hate the “yes, we should do that sometime” as code for “no,” because sometimes it means “no” and sometimes it means, “I’m happy to do that as long as you plan it,” and though I can usually guess which it is, I’m never entirely sure I was right. I have a friendship that I recently let fade out because every time I suggested something I’d get the vague “yeah, let’s do that sometime,” and I figured it was safest to assume my friend didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. But I’ll never know for sure, and it means that when I say to mutual friends, “Hey, so I don’t actually want to do this group thing with ____ because I still feel hurt that she’s ended our friendship,” they tell me I’m probably imagining it and being oversensitive.

  29. madge*

    OP#1, start with Alison’s script. If that doesn’t work, based on my experience growing up in a high-control religion that labels former believers who say anything negative about said religion as “mentally diseased”, I would not hesitate to counter his religious views with your own and why you left. If he can’t enjoy bragging about his religion, he may stop. Or at least make sure he is quiet enough that he isn’t including you in the conversation. I would speak up every time I hear it. It’s religious and doesn’t belong in a place of employment.

    1. Random Dice*

      That would make me want to throw up, and I’d stop sleeping.

      Going to HR to stop illegal behavior in a secular workplace seems better.

    2. Jessica*

      I’m glad speaking up works for you, but for a lot of people with trauma from growing up in high-control environments, arguing about it is retraumatizing.

      1. madge*

        Then obviously this isn’t the solution for those people. For many people (me, and many in my survivors’ community), pushing back about it is empowering. I presume OP knows which one they are.

      2. cncx*

        Hard agree, also some people have valid social/personal reasons for not wanting to identify publicly as ex members of a religious group. So I don’t think op saying why they left is a good idea on that front either.

    3. JSPA*

      But then you’re both at risk of legal action, on the behalf the third party. And you’ve lost the high ground from which to file a complaint. So no, tempting though it might be, please don’t.

  30. cactus lady*

    #5 – I was once waiting to have a major
    surgery that required me to be out for 2 months and my HMO only scheduled them 30 days out. It was SO frustrating. I was in a similar situation as you, where they told me where I was on the list in terms of a 3-month period that I would likely end up getting scheduled during.

    What I did was talk to my boss and explain the situation. My surgery was different – I was injured and had a disability due to the injury, so my boss already knew something was up – but you don’t need to get into details. You can just say “I have a medical condition requiring surgery, and am currently on a wait list. I expect to get scheduled sometime between [dates] and will need X amount of time off, but I won’t know until they tell me and I don’t have any control.” My boss at the time wasn’t even that reasonable and this approach seemed to work. I think even if they can’t do anything, it goes a long way to demonstrate that you are thinking ahead and don’t want to leave the team high and dry. Good luck!

  31. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    LW1, that you are “blessed” to not be close enough to hear about his religion at your desk gave me quite the chuckle. Good luck.

    1. JSPA*

      But that does bring up an important distinction. People are allowed to use religious terminology, or even reference their own faith, in passing, in the workplace. What they are not allowed to do is require you to participate, agree, or be inportuned, as far as your own beliefs. “I feel like [Diety of choice] is really smiling on me today, the way my toast landed butter-side-up!” might set your teeth on edge, but it’s reasonable office small talk. Occasional “bless” formulations (bless you, oh blessed day, well bless me) also fall under conversation, not “religious discussion.” And “someone mentioned at services” is no different from, “someone mentioned at the dog park.”

      When you come from the same background, such that it’s easy to fill in the blanks, those passing references can feel like they carry more religious weight than they (literally) do. The LW will likely need to first make and then cull a list, so that they’re only objecting to overt religious opportuning, not unfortunate turns of phrase.

      Anything that can reasonably be answered with, “I’m glad you’re having a good day” or “I’m glad you’re feeling right with the universe”–do that, and if the conversation then lapses, everyone is fine.

      If that leads to more overt, “no, I said [deity name] to whom all praise is due, not the universe,” then you have a more solid basis for “I’d rather not talk religion or religious specifics in the workplace, but like I said, I’m happy that you’re happy, regardless.”

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

    Re #1 – I need my own advice. We recently did a big cube reshuffle and the person now in the next cube over (though she isn’t in the office every day like me) tends to have long, not-work conversations with people. I don’t know if she’s loud or she’s just really close to me. Just yesterday she spent 45 minutes talking 1-on-1 with someone about highway exits and dogs, and then later 20-30 minutes with six people(!) about a bunch of random stuff. I don’t care how much or little work she gets done, not my circus, but I need to do my own work and it’s very distracting. What do I do? Complain to her boss? Complain to my boss? Ask to move to a different cube even though we just all already moved? Bring in a professional development book and just go read in a conference room every time one of her conversations goes past a couple minutes?

    1. Critical Rolls*

      Although it would be better for her to be more considerate, do you already have noise-cancelling headphones? That might be an easy fix. Otherwise, once you’ve had a little time to get a feel for your coworker, you might be able to just talk to her directly. I would usually try a direct ask before going to a manager. If it’s still not resolved, then you can go to your own manager and say, “Hey, I find these long, off-topic conversations really distracting. I tried headphones, I tried talking to Jane, I’m not really sure where to go from here.”

      As a side note — is it that her work conversations don’t distract you in the same way, or that she doesn’t have many/they aren’t as long?

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

        I haven’t noticed her having any work-related conversations…

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I would speak to your own manager about it, rather than her manager. Let your manager bring it up to the co-irker’s manager.

      If the conversation is loud or the group is big, though, you could ask your co-irker to take her “meeting” to a conference room, as it is distracting for you.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I’ve decided to start thinking of my lost productivity when this or similar things happen as the business cost of having people in the office. That’s something employers must account for if it’s important for everyone to be in the office together.

      The real answer is that I would probably just be to talk to her in a friendly but straightforward way, or ask the group to take their meeting to a conference room (instead of you going in there). If it continues, that’s when I’d talk to my boss, but like most scenarios at work you should probably try addressing it with her or the group first. Or get a good pair of noise cancelling headphones, which are a godsend.

    4. Samwise*

      Have you said anything to your coworker directly? If not, you need to do that first. And if your manager is any good, she’ll ask if you’ve done that.

      Is it the volume she’s speaking at or the non work nature of the conversation? That is, if she spoke more quietly, would that solve the problem?

    5. HonorBox*

      I think you absolutely need to address it with her first. That’ll give you a chance to say to your boss, when you take it to them after it doesn’t work (sorry for the negativity) that you spoke to her about it and nothing has changed. And then, yes, take it your boss. It is probably important to mention that you’d be bringing it up no matter what, but these conversations are not work-related, though it really shouldn’t matter. Then let them address it with her boss.

  33. anony*

    #3 “I’m sorry for not being more straightforward earlier; I didn’t feel comfortable directly saying no when I was newer to the company, but the truth is that I like to keep certain boundaries between my work and personal life in general, and kayaking is one of those activities I use to get completely away from work.”

    1. Cleo*

      This is a perfect script to use on a reasonable person, but from what the LW wrote, their HR person isn’t particularly reasonable.

    2. JSPA*

      “I’ve already over-promised my regular kayaking buddies, and am catching grief for backing out on them. But why don’t you post on [local buddy-finder board]? It works well here, and anyway, it’s safer and smarter to select buddies based on attitude and skill level, rather than work location.”

  34. HannahS*

    Personally, I’d land on something like, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m on a waitlist for surgery. Given how the NHS is doing things now, I’m not actually sure when I’ll be called or how much notice I’ll get. It’s hard to know for sure how long I’ll be out afterwards, but I’ve been told to expect about two weeks (always give yourself a bit more than you think you’ll need.) I’m sorry I can’t be more specific! I’ll be sure to keep XYZ updated so that someone can take over easily while I’m away.”

    If they ask for more details or the nature of the surgery, my favourite option is to rapidly seize control of the conversation and issue an instruction. “Thanks, it’s not a crisis, just one of those things that needs to be taken care of and then the whole healthcare system melts down, you know? I’m sorry I can’t give more details about it because I don’t know much, but I thought it would be better to tell you something rather than nothing. ANYWAY, let me know if you have any ideas on how I can prep for being away.” and then leave.

  35. BellyButton*

    #2 I had the same thing at a job about 10 yrs ago! We had 12 sick days, at 7 days they have a “discussion” at 10, it becomes a formal “discussion”. I pushed back hard- and it was dropped, but I was very stressed out about going over 10 days.

  36. Tuesday*

    I don’t understand how #2 is legal at all! Your PTO is part of your compensation package. It would presumably not be legal to hire you at $80k/year and then only pay you $70k/year, so how is the company allowed to veto your time off like that?

    1. The Shenanigans*

      It is legal to do that, actually, as long as they don’t change your pay retroactively.

      1. JSPA*

        It’s not legal to keep saying that they are paying you $80K while paying $70K, though.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Companies and/or managers do lots of things that aren’t illegal. The consequences they bear for this vary widely.

  37. JTA*

    #2 We don’t get written-up for using our available sick days per se, but at a set number of days taken during the year, we are given an “official reminder” of that number of days used/available and our attendance patterns are a part of our annual review process.

  38. Observer (OG)*

    #4 – Surgery

    I wouldn’t mention it yet, but a few weeks out (so about the end of July) I would give your boss a heads up that you are waiting for surgery, you don’t know the exact dates, but so far you are being told somewhere between Sept. and Nov. Your boss is as familiar with the state of the NHS as you are, so when you tell him that you probably won’t have much notice but are going to have to take what you get, he’ll understand.

    Of course, this depends on your boss / HR being reasonable and somewhat sensible people.

  39. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #2 is the inverse of the “pieces of flair” bit from Office Space. How ridiculous.

  40. Always Bring Pickles to a Potluck*

    I’m always jealous of people who get sick time, even though it stinks that the LW’s husband doesn’t get to use all of theirs. I get none. And if I take four in a rolling calendar year I get a verbal warning. Five and I get a formal warning that prevents me from getting bonuses, raises, or promotions. Six and I get fired.

    Does this have a disparate impact on parents and especially mothers? Yes. Is family status a protected class in my state? Also yes. Does my company care? Absolutely not. They’re also big enough that likely no one would be able to do anything about it.

  41. TG*

    LW #1 – you have every right to work in a place where you do have to deal with someone talking about religion all the time; ask them not to discuss and then if they continue you should escalate it to HR.

  42. HonorBox*

    #1 – I’d not wait to say something to your manager or whoever is in charge of the seating arrangement. Since we don’t know exactly what the coworker is saying … as in, we don’t know if he’s inviting people to church or undercutting other religions or just talking to an engaged audience about religion … we don’t know if harassment is exactly the right way to frame this. Heck, maybe it would fall under that, too. But since we don’t know, I’d lean into the annoyance of being able to hear a coworker hold court about any topic. You’re across the room now and you’re hearing it. I’d go to your boss / seating assignment coordinator and just raise the concern that the guy spends a lot of time talking loudly, and you know that you’re going to find it very difficult to focus with that louder background noise if you’re moved closer. Ask if there’s a way to not be moved or moved to somewhere equally as distant from him as you are now. He could be talking about classic rock music, video games, golf, marine wildlife, his potted tomato plants… all of those at the volume and frequency he speaks would be problematic.

    1. Random Dice*

      Nah, go in calling it what it is, and let HR and Legal push back if they must. No need for the LW to softpedal on illegal workplace harassment.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I agree. Religious proselytizing is a different beast. Proselytizers don’t honor requests to stop, and sometimes it seems to encourage them. LW can probably hear the tone if not the words, and knows what’s going on.
        I would say something now. They might be able to accommodate you!
        I would frame it as, “it sounds like he’s proselytizing and I would be very uncomfortable sitting closer to that.”

        1. HonorBox*

          Not to argue, because I started down the path you’re on, but Alison did mention in the comments that content of the conversations could make it squishy (my words, not hers). I’m thinking that just as a proselytizer doesn’t honor a request, they might also try to push back on the content if they’re approached by HR. It wasn’t soft-pedaling as much as just trying to find a cleaner, quicker way to address the issue. And if the request isn’t immediately accepted, I’d definitely go, “Well I didn’t want to make this the issue, but I’m uncomfortable with the religious topics he’s discussing…”

  43. Accidental Manager*

    A little off topic, but I just have to bring your attention to a link in the whale story – ” ‘We all make mistakes,’ says woman who got bit by an octopus she put on her face ”

    Why do humans even need fiction? Happy Friday.

    1. BellyButton*


      “Yeah. don’t like people. I’ve met enough of them. People! What a bunch of b*stards …”

    2. Random Dice*

      I can’t wait to read this link.

      Octopi literally drill into and tear open mollusks! They’re dangerous on faces. Hasn’t she watched My Octopus Teacher??

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Probably not, because she then cooked it and ate it, and that gave me very strong trophy hunter vibes. I doubt she’d be interested in a documentary about a friendship with a cephalopod.

    3. Quill*

      On the one hand: what did she think would happen?

      On the other: I do have a picture of myself wearing a live sea urchin as a crown… (I put it right back, and also did not at the time know better…)

  44. ZSD*

    In addition to the states that require paid sick and safe days, there are numerous cities and counties around the country that have paid sick and safe day laws, and I believe some of those do require employees to be able to earn up to 12 days per year. Check to see if your city or county is one of those! Maybe your husband’s company is “complying” with the local law by technically letting employees accrue 12 days on the books, but then not letting them use all 12, which would in face be illegal.

  45. Aspirational Yogurt*

    #2 — We get 13 sick days a year at my organization. Back when I first became a supervisor, I was required to take a multi-part training for new supervisors through our HR dept (this is local govt, over 17,000 employees). In one of those sessions, someone asked what the minimum sick leave balance should be. The HR trainer looked at him and said “zero”.

  46. azvlr*

    I had co-worker who also talked about their religion all the time, but it was somehow different/acceptable. This particular religion was the majority religion in the small town where I grew up and I was a member of a different religious group. Evangelism is a big part of their faith. I disagree with a lot of their beliefs, to put it mildly, so I experienced lots of discrimination and microaggressions towards me growing up.

    So imagine my dismay on my first day when I saw the subtle indicators of their religion on their desk. Fully expecting to be proselytized, I stayed professional and kept an open mind. What I noticed was that their religion was just a very natural part of who they were, and that their conversation always focused on their activities within the church rather than their beliefs. They were also incredibly accepting of other people’s beliefs, including our other non-religious and often over-sharing cube mate.

    Believers are not open about sex, since chastity is one of their tenets, alcohol and drug use is more forbidden than in most faiths, and they generally don’t swear. I found myself really policing my own language so as not to spark any HR-worthy incidents. As I got to know this person, my respect for them grew, and I truly didn’t mind altering my normal sailor language. I now refer to it as the Hayden rule: If it would offend Hayden, it doesn’t have any place in a professional environment.

    If your co-worker can’t contain their conversation about their religion to their actions (“My weekend? Yeah, I went to church, then we volunteered at the food bank.”) then you shouldn’t need to put up with that.

    1. Random Dice*

      That’s really nice.

      I’m also lucky to know some truly decent, kind, humble people who are of a faith that is on broad brush enacting repressive and genocidal policies for everyone who’s not them. It’s helpful to remember that individuals can be different than the trend.

  47. Fluffy Fish*

    What makes the sick leave issue even more ridiculous is just how little that is.

    12 days at a regular 40 our a week job = 96 hours
    the 2 days they wont let you use = 16 hours
    the number of hours in a work year = 2080

    they’re being jerks over .00769… of a work year. they probably put more effort and hours into policing it than they’d ever realistically “lose”.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      I’ll also add I work for a relatively leave generous employer. I get 15 sick days a year with unlimited carry over. Sick leave is also used for dr appointments – separate vacation pool. I have been here 20 years.

      During that time I have:
      – Been a single mother solely responsible for sick kid who cant go to daycare or school
      – had 3 major surgeries
      – have a recurring chronic illness
      – cared for a parent after a major surgery
      – gotten sick like normal humans do

      I have 660 (82.5 days) hours banked.

      Sick leave abuse is a freaking myth.

  48. Spicy Tuna*

    #1 – this sounds pretty awful. I had a job where I had an office with a door that closed, thankfully, because I sat right outside a block of cubes where everyone was part of the same religious group (not the same church but the same denomination) and they would talk ALL DAMN DAY about their religion, and who was a “better” adherent to their religion, etc, etc.

    I could close my door, thankfully, but the office had an “open door” culture so it definitely made ME look like the one with the issue since my door was closed all day.

    Also, the constant talking – no matter the topic – was quite distracting.

    The issue was solved when their manager, who was in an office in another state, came for a visit, saw alllll the chatter that was going on and compared that with the amount of work that was getting done and laid off all but one person in the group.

    Not sure if that’s helpful to you. Maybe you could try earplugs?

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Pretty wild that this group couldn’t stop yammering about their religion for one day (or week, same thing) when they knew their manager was visiting. The audacity.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        With me, the topic was the 2016 election and the offender was my grandboss, whose office was directly behind my desk. His manager friend would come to visit every day and they’d have loud chats, with the door open, about one candidate and her emails, I used to dread coming to work. I’d worked with that guy in my previous job (he started out as my peer), had a lot of respect for him, loved working for him so much that I changed jobs to continue doing so no questions asked… but all the capital he’d built with me vanished over the course of that year. No happy ending in form of a manager visiting and putting an end to the chatting, because he WAS the manager. Eventually we moved offices and I was assigned a desk far from his in the new building.

  49. Kevin Sours*

    It would almost certainly not be worth pursuing but I wonder if you could get to something like “detrimental reliance on a promise” as a cause of action. Because getting fired for something you were explicitly told you could do *sounds* like it should be actionable.

  50. Just Another Techie*

    FWIW OP4, I’m in literally the exact same boat (just in the US, so the thing making the timeline fuzzy is when insurance will approve the surgery). One of only two people at my company with a niche technical skill set that is absolutely required for our major fall product launch to be successful, so I’ve really been stressing for months now about what happens with my team. Possible dates for my surgery are Oct-Dec, so I decided I’ll start telling management (and reminding them because they all have the attention span and working memory of goldfishes on speed) in August. That’s a reasonable timeline for starting to look for a contractor to cover for me while I’m out. Any earlier and there’s no way they’ll find someone willing to commit that far out, and any later and the market will be too tight to find someone decent. But between now and August I’m just worried and miserable :-/

    Anyway, best of luck with your surgery! I hope it goes smoothly!

  51. H3llifIknow*

    ” while I can tell that these (one-sided) conversations are happening, I blessedly cannot hear every word ”

    I see what you did there…. ;)

  52. Nicorette*


    I am a manager of someone who is currently out for 4 weeks (at least) for a gender confirmation surgery. She told me probably a year (or more) in advance of a general “just a heads up I’m doing this, probably at X time, and I may need X amount of time off” (and there were some other surgeries in-between). I appreciated the notice, definitely, and when as things became more definitive, let me know so I could make my higher-ups aware (with her consent) and plan on it. I’m thinking she told me the formal time maybe 4-6 month out when it was scheduled. Since we are in the U.S.A., I also talked about FMLA and that she’d need to get things moving on that, which all happened a little closer to surgery time.

    I will say, the notice was definitely nice, but I think it was such a nerve-wracking experience for her, and that kind of bled into occasionally giving me TMI which was really more to ease her aniexty than to necessarily provide me with relevant useful information. Not a big deal. I’m happy for her and will look forward to having her back when she and the Dr. say she’s ready. :)

  53. SLC is a blue dot.*

    LW 1 sounds like it could be in Utah… and If not, I assume some of the same nuances might be at play where the predominant religion of the state/region seeps into more than just one employee…the way fish don’t know they are swimming in water… I don’t have any real solutions, other than if you can speak to them directly and not involve HR using some of the scripts from Alison and other commentators that can be better for your career (not that it’s fair, but sometimes it’s the battles you pick)….

  54. Benjamin*

    #4 I am in the UK and I had top surgery earlier this year. I gave my manager a heads up that I was on a waiting list for surgery without giving any details about the kind of surgery, as this is not required. That was about two months before it actually happened, and I got my date quicker than expected. Once I had the date, I let HR and affected colleagues know, with about a month’s notice – just enough time to finish some tasks and prep for my colleagues to cover. My sick note was for six weeks and just said ‘surgery’, which HR accepted (as they should). I didn’t mind giving a heads up because I knew that I didn’t have to give any details beyond “I’m having surgery” (I’m out at work but I don’t want everyone knowing all the details of my transition). If your employer is decent, they will just wish you well and make sure you’re ready to come back when you do.

  55. Fleur-de-Lis*

    To LW #4: I recently supported one of the folks on my team (I’m the manager) as they navigated the uncertain scheduling of their own top surgery, which did end up falling on one of the busiest weeks of our year (and then they were out for 8 weeks for recovery). Because they shared the window in which they might get “the call”, we were able to plan for backup MUCH more effectively, as well as the additional time off they needed when their recovery ended up being a little more complicated than initially thought. For HR, all they needed was “surgery” notes, and that was fine. They chose to share more details with me and with our closest teammates – it happens to be the nature of our unit, though I don’t ask for anything that folks aren’t ready or willing to share about themselves, as I am also careful with my own disclosures so I don’t “dump down” on people whose jobs report up through my role.
    I’d err on the side of saying, “Hey, I’m on the waiting list for an important surgery and could have as little as 1 week notice but as much as a month, here’s the window, let’s make a plan for how to cover my work so I can hand off quickly without too much disruption”. I think sharing now is really the best idea.
    When my colleague had their surgery scheduled, we also talked together about how to address the change in appearance that they had with our colleagues, because it was significant in their case. In a department meeting, we ended up framing things as a reminder about their pronouns and corrected an issue about their name; some folks had been inconsistent with the gradual change on those important terms and having a reminder about others’ pronouns was helpful (we have a lot of non-binary people in our community). It was a real privilege to be able to support them as their manager in this critical time in their life, to earn their trust and keep it safe. It’s wonderful to see how much more THEM they are post-surgery. I don’t know how else to put it!
    I wish you every success in getting an early appointment and having an uneventful surgery and recovery, and I hope that you feel even more YOU when you are on the other side! <3

  56. Coin_Operated*

    You could also check with your State/city’s laws on using paid time off. In Oregon, where I live, it is against the law to reprimand or discourage people from using PTO.

  57. Machiavellian take*

    “However, I do not completely trust her. I have seen how she treats people that upset her and get on her bad side“

    This is why you must agree to go kayaking with her. You will get in her good side and probably in a big way. You will earn chits with her. When someone becomes the focus of her ire you may even learn ahead of time. Possibly you might even get compromising material on her in this way which means your job is secure.

  58. LW4*

    letter writer 4 here – alas that my letter was published just a few days after i ended up taking Alison’s (and the cast majority of the commenter’s!) advice by accident!

    Part of why I’ve been low-balling my recovery time is that I do already WFH permanently, and if I really want to, folks would be ok with me working from my bed, or doing half days, or whatever – my company is really great about felxibility around personal life stuff. But to assuage the concerns of the commenters in the same boat: if the surgeon says a month, I will in fact be taking a month!

    But yes, the situation got a little taken out of my hands: We were scheduled to have an off-site day on a morning when I had a call from the clinic scheduled. Normally I would just pop away from my desk for the length of the call, but that’s not as easy during an interactive off-site session, so I told my manager I wouldn’t be able to make it. He was a little frustrated with me about it – I think we got our wires crossed – but when I explained that I had to take a call from the NHS and briefly mentioned being on the waitlist for an elective surgery, he chilled out.

    A week or so later, during our 1:1, he started the call with “hey you mentioned elective surgery, so i went and found some documentation about how the company can support you through that if you want.” Which was really touching, honestly. I then did basically what y’all said to do: laid out that it’s a potentially long wait list, but my projected dates are sometime between sept-nov, and that it’s usually a minimum of a week of recovery, but that it’s highly variable, and I won’t know how long I’ll need for sure until I’ve had the surgery. He just took it in stride and asked that I just keep them up to date on any changes to the timeline.

    To give a bit more context for one or two of the commenters – my hesitation was less about the trans side of things (I am out at work, and I will be telling folks that it was top surgery once it’s done because it will be obvious in person), and more because I worry sometimes about management’s ability to keep long term things in mind. My company tries really hard to be good about this stuff, but things do slip thru the net, and I didn’t want this to be a situation where I said something way in advance and then everyone forgot in the meantime, leading to it being a surprise again when I did get my confirmed date.

    Also, thanks for all the congrats from folks, it’s made me smile a lot this morning. And good luck to the other commenters in the same or similar boats!

  59. Lobsterman*

    LW1: get a lawyer. They will help you document properly. Then when HR fails and you are told to suck it up, sue.

    These stories never end well.

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