requiring a doctor’s release after medical leave, vaping on video calls, and more

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

1. Should we require a doctor’s release to return from a medical leave?

I am a director at a manufacturing company, and our positions have different physical requirements (sedentary to heavy lifting to outdoor work). When employees request time off for medical reasons, I’ll use my best judgement on whether they’ll need a doctor’s release to return. General rule is if an employee needs several days off and their position requires physical labor and/or has safety concerns, we will require a doctor’s release to return. Still, it’s dependent on the medical situation and job type, and sometimes they don’t fully divulge what’s going on. Which is fine, I understand the need for privacy. Sometimes I will have to request additional info, but I try to pry as little as possible and focus on side effects/concerns/etc. All employees are given info on FMLA, and we encourage them to request any accommodations. We rarely require a doctor’s note for the accommodation because we trust our employees.

I’ve been told by various people that this is a legal liability and harms our employees, and once I was told its “abusive.” They’ve insisted that if an employee discloses a medical issue, no matter how vague, we must require a doctor’s release to return. This feels invasive to me. Demanding a note feels like I don’t trust my employee to give me the correct info. If I feel that an employee is struggling, I’ll address my concerns with them then, but not all medical issues require releases to return to work. Sprained ankle at a desk job? Don’t need a doctor’s release. Sprained ankle for a mechanic that climbs ladders and lifts boxes? Probably needs that release.

The “abuse” comment came when an office employee was diagnosed with cancer. They initially requested a reduction in hours when they began treatment, which we gladly did (without reduction in pay) and worked with them to move some responsibilities. We encouraged them to take as much time as required for treatment, but they wanted to continue to work to keep their life “normal for now.” As treatment progressed, they decided to take time off, which we also had no problems accommodating. The abuse comment popped up when another employee pestered this employee for information early on in their treatment, found out about their lack of a doctor’s release, and promptly accused us of abuse as we did not confirm with that they were healthy enough for work (her treatment of this employee is a different story, and she was eventually let go for bullying).

Am I completely off-base? Are we harming our employees by not getting confirmation that they are allowed to work when they disclose medical issues? Or are we on the right track?

No, you’re not off-base. You’re treating your employees with respect, honoring their privacy when you can, accommodating whenever possible, trusting them to tell you if there’s an issue, and using common sense about when safety might require something more. Those are all excellent things.

Requiring someone to submit a doctor’s release before they can return to work regardless of the circumstances would be adding an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy that would undoubtedly frustrate your employees, delay their return (since now they have to go back to the doctor to get a release), and cost them more money, without any real benefit over what you’re doing now.

Don’t let yourself be thrown off by an employee who sounds like they had some sort of highly problematic agenda of their own (and which clearly wasn’t just the best interests of their ill coworker).

2. Vaping on video calls

I work at a company where everyone is fully remote so all meetings are online. There have been a few times where I have noticed coworkers vaping during meetings (even during meetings they were leading so they knew we could see them) and I found it a bit weird but wanted to get your take on it. Obviously I feel like it would be rude to smoke or vape in an in person meeting but since this was online I’m struggling to work out why it still feels a bit odd and slightly unprofessional? Is it just me? What is the etiquette here?

No, it’s not just you — in most workplaces, this would be considered unprofessional and a problem.

You’re expected to maintain at least some illusion of professionalism and adherence to work norms, even when you’re at home. And vaping on a work calls looks entirely too relaxed — it’s similar to if you were swigging from a beer as you led the meeting (which would be okay at some companies, but not at most) or were, I don’t know, flat-ironing your hair or leading the meeting from your blanket fort. It’s not that you couldn’t possibly be fully engaged while doing those things, but you’re going to look like you’re not.

When you’re working you give up a certain amount of freedom to do other things at the same time. Sometimes it can be mostly because of optics, but it’s a reality of work nonetheless.

3. My boss is assigning my employee work without letting me know

Today I was in a department meeting when my boss (the head of our department) called upon my direct report to give an update on a project. The only problem: this was the first I was hearing about this project! My boss had apparently assigned it to my direct report without looping me in.

This employee has been my assistant (helping me with my own senior projects) for about two years, and in addition to those duties he is now also starting to take on his own junior projects in our department (but always, so far, with my explicit oversight and guidance). My expectation has always been that I’ll have oversight of his work along with my own, and while this project my boss assigned him isn’t huge or complex, I was surprised to have it added to his plate without my knowledge.

I feel like I should say something to my boss, politely asking to be looped in when she’s assigning work to my direct report. But how do I even say that … and is it appropriate to raise this concern? I have a warm and cordial relationship with all involved, and I don’t want to cause drama. My boss has her own assistant so it’s not as if she’s short-staffed, and I think she saw this project as a “growth opportunity” for my assistant, so the assignment was coming from a good place. But how can I mentor him and support that growth if I don’t even know what he’s working on?

Yep, it makes sense to want to be looped in on what your employee has been assigned if it’s a substantial project or outside the normal course of what you’d assume he’s working on — not only for the reasons you mentioned, but also so you know his overall workload and available bandwidth. It’s reasonable to mention that to your boss and it’s unlikely to be a big deal; she probably just didn’t think about it and will be more likely to in the future once you nudge her about it.

But you should also mention it to your employee, too — i.e., “If Jane assigns you a project that will take longer than a few minutes, please let me know so that I’m aware of what’s on your plate.” That way you’re covering both sides of it and you’re less likely to be left in the dark.

4. When applying for a job, can I tell an employer that I’d need the high end of their salary range?

It has been many years since I last searched and applied for a job. I live in a state in which a salary range is required for job postings, which is great because I feel like it saves time and effort for both the job seeker and poster. My issue is that I often see postings with a wide salary range, with the low end being too low, but the high end being reasonable. Is it okay to include my salary requirements in a cover letter so they are aware I am not interested in the job if they are going to offer me the lowest salary posted? I don’t know if that would be off-putting to the person on the receiving end of the application, or if they would appreciate it so they can move on if they are not able to offer me the salary I would need to accept the position.

Yes, that’s fine to do! It won’t be off-putting to any sensible employer (you’re saving them time if they don’t want to pay the range you listed). There’s potentially some risk that by naming a range so early, you’re boxing yourself into that … but if what you learn about the job during the interview process makes you think a fair salary would need to be higher, you can always explain that at that point. And I’d argue that (relatively small) risk is outweighed by the benefit of saving yourself time if they don’t intend to pay the high end of their range anyway.

I do recommend trying to avoid naming a salary before the employer has named their own range (since otherwise you risk lowballing yourself). But in this case, they’ve already told you their range and you’re just clarifying where you’d need to fall in it.

{ 402 comments… read them below }

  1. Blanket Fort Forever*

    Leading the meeting from your blanket fort is new career goal. That is all.

    1. Jackalope*

      I came to the comments to see if anyone else now plans to start running meetings from their blanket forts!

      1. Inkognyto*

        maybe I already am.

        Video isn’t required at all for zoom meetings for remote work. A few use it, it and I turn it on for higher leadership. (VP/SVP), which is rare.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          But you need to show off your cool blanket fort otherwise others will not be impressed.

      2. Princess Sparklepony*

        Same here! I think it should become a contest to see who makes the best blanket fort. There will be prizes!

    2. AlwhoisThatAl*

      “You may be wondering why the view from my camera is quite dark……”

      1. Lydia*

        Followed by spooky flashlight under the chin. “It was a night much like tonight when the sales data came back…BAAAAD!”

    3. Somewhere in Texas*

      I forgot about the Blanket Fort letter and momentarily had a panic attack that it was about me. I once had to help do an internal recording for work, but our house was way too echoey, so I built a blanket fort for better sound quality.

      1. Phony Genius*

        Let’s keep it professional. You built a purpose-specific acoustic chamber.

        Now you can claim it as a business expense.

      1. Teapot, Groomer of Llamas*

        Now I wonder if it be unprofessional to have a virtual background that is a blanket fort.

    4. A person*

      We only have 3 conf rooms at work and our desks are open cubicles… so our rooms are frequently full which means sometimes we take calls from weird places for privacy. I took one from under the stairwell today which arguably looks like a fort.

  2. JMR*

    For LW4, what would that kind of statement on the salary requirement look like? I agree with the logic behind including it but I can’t think of how to word that doesn’t come off strangely.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “I’m looking for a salary of $X-Y, which seems in line with the range you posted.”

      Or just, “I’m looking for a salary of $X-Y.”

      Or, “I appreciate your transparency about salary in the ad. To offer transparency in return, I’m looking for the top end of that range ($X-Y) — and if that works for you, I’d love to talk further.”

      Or so forth, whatever version of that fits your style.

      1. A Pinch of Salt*

        I had this come up recently. Job posting listed a range with the highest only $400 over my current role. I usually wouldn’t even entertain switching jobs for that, but desperate times. I was up front and transparent that I would need the tippy top of that range to even consider it.

        Turns out…they don’t actually post the full range. Their offer came in $6K OVER that (with no negotiating…look at this place just giving a fair offer)!

        1. MigraineMonth*

          For my first professional job, the employer offered me a very good starting salary even though I hadn’t negotiated, so I accepted. Then they called me up a week before my start date to say they’d been doing salary benchmarking, and were now raising the offer by $2k.

          That $2k bought them a lot of loyalty.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        Is it just convention to list the top of the range for yourself?

        1. Magpie*

          Not necessarily. I’ve seen job postings where the salary range spans $100K because they’re not specifying whether they need a mid level or a senior for this role and would accept either. If you’re not experienced enough to be considered senior level, it would look out of touch to request the high end of that salary range and you probably wouldn’t even get an interview.

      3. Elitist Semicolon*

        I just wrote HR at a large private university to ask about the salary range for a position (because this place never mentions salary). They told me they do not provide that information and if I’m interested in the job, I should apply, and then they’ll tell me that info if they interview me. Never mind that it’s a waste to my time to write an application for a job I may not even be able to consider and a waste of THEIR time to interview (or even have a screening call with) someone who wouldn’t be able to consider the position.

        1. Rainy*

          If it’s University of Denver (the private one), they pay about half of what other universities in the front range pay for the same roles.

          1. Nina*

            If it’s University of Denver, aren’t they in Colorado and required to post salary anyway?

    2. Madge*

      Maybe, like, at the bottom of the cover letter? “Given my extensive background and experience as outlined above, I believe what I bring to the role will merit pay at the high end of the stated salary range.”

      1. MCL*

        One applicant for a search we just did added a short paragraph to the bottom of their cover letter, stating that they make $X at their current role and would not be able to consider an offer less than that. I work at a public institution where our salary listings are about a $15-20K range, and we always annoyingly list the minimum salary in the advertisement rather than the range. This person was applying from another department at the same institution and presumably knows how this goes and I appreciate that. I will say that the reactions on the hiring committee to this statement were… mixed. I am the hiring manager and have absolutely no problem with it but half my hiring team did not like that the applicant had included this statement. And these are all people I would consider reasonable – maybe a generational difference? All of those who didn’t like it are at least 10 years older than me.

        1. Rainy*

          Yeah, I’ve noticed a pretty clear split age-wise with this kind of thing, although you’re also going to see a lot more of it (the contempt or even dismay at someone implying that they are working for the money) in roles and fields where the fulfillment you get from doing the job is supposed to be part of your compensation.

        2. Betty*

          I guess they were shocked that the applicant mentioned money…? because it’s hardly shocking that someone would not want to be paid less than they’re currently earning.

    3. I am Emily's failing memory*

      I would handle it the way it’s done when the company requires it – which is usually either to have a sentence that says, “My salary requirements are in the range of $X-Y,” or a couple of lines below your signature you can have a line that just says, “Salary requirement: $X-Y” at the bottom. If I were hiring for a role and saw that in a cover letter it wouldn’t seem odd to me because I know so many crappy employers ask for it to be included with a cover letter, and I’d figure this applicant just assumed that they’d need to include it.

    4. Underemployed Erin*

      Some employers are not following the spirit of disclosing their salary ranges. The worst are the $0-2,000,000 ranges, but there are a lot of ranges that do cover $100,000 or more, and well that is quite a range.

  3. Rainbow*

    Not to go against Alison’s advice, but isn’t LW3 kinda micromanagement? Does the manager really need oversight of everything the direct report is doing day to day? Clearly I’m in a different industry, but I can be doing huge projects that my manager doesn’t have a clue about. Till they’re communicated to the wider department or it comes to my end of year review, or they simply just come up in conversation, of course.

    1. Artemesia*

      Your manager might not have a clue about the particular work, but they need to have a clue that you are doing this major project because they are your manager and need to know what you are doing — it is also critical for planning and assignment of further work. If she knows you are working on project A for the grandboss then she takes that into consideration in delegating work.

      1. Rainbow*

        My manager doesn’t plan and assign my work. Maybe I’m just taking about a totally different situation than OP and it’s irrelevant, to be honest.

          1. Nonny-nonny-non*

            I’m not Rainbow, but likewise my manager doesn’t plan/assign my work on a daily basis.

            I do financial analysis to support my site in one country while my direct manager (who overseas the European team of site-based finance analysts) is actually in another country. I’m physically located at the site and part of the leadership team there, and the Site Leader has closer oversight of what I do on a day to day basis and where my support is specifically needed.

            My direct manager has a higher-level view of what I do – he’d soon find out if I wasn’t getting the relevant finance reporting done, but otherwise he trusts me to contact him if I need help and lets me get on with it. We have one-to-one calls about once a month, and are on shared site-finance calls at least once a week.

            My direct manager also does my annual appraisal (with feedback from my site leader), would do any disciplinary stuff if it was needed, approves my vacation, etc. However, I suspect that while I don’t manage anyone, I’m in a more senior role than OP#3’s direct report, and possibly the same is true for Rainbow.

            1. Nonny-nonny-non*

              TL:DR it might depend on how senior Rainbow is as to how hands-on their manager is, but for OP#3 it sounds like they are rightly closer to their report’s activities.

            2. Solon*

              I’m similarly very self-directed. The specialist reporting I do is nominally part of my boss’s portfolio, but they don’t actually know anything about how to do it (which is part of the reason I’ve now found so many cans of worms in our processes that I could open a worm costco).
              I catch up with them once a week or so on what I’m up to, but otherwise I’m basically on my own. This is not a great situation, and also not the situation LW3 is in.

          2. Healthcare Manager*

            Artemisia – it’s called matrix management. When your line manager isn’t the one allocating your work but has responsibility for you.

            It has its own pros and cons and is common in project work.

            1. anonymath*

              Even when I was managing folks in a matrixed organization, I did want to know what they were working on. I felt it was important on the people-manager side to be able to advocate for them (more projects or less work, for instance, or “this work is very high level should we be talking about a promotion”) and connect them with resources (“ah I see you’re having trouble with dynamic creds, someone on product X was dealing with this and you two should talk”). I also wanted to see common themes across teams (“hmm interesting, that database administrator is causing trouble for you and you and you; hmm, seems like all our requests to the cloud team are being bottlenecked here”). Did people need my “permission” to work on something? No. They told me what they were working on. But if I’m not advocating, connecting, and kicking systemic problems up the chain, what the heck am I even doing as a manager? Like what’s the point, at all? So I’d be surprised by situations described by the LW.

              To get practical, one way I managed that stuff was to simply have a doc to keep track of 1-1 conversation, I asked people regularly, “So what are you working on this week? what are blockers? what are successes?”, and I tried to develop a discipline of doing quarterly reviews that folks could use in their mid-year and yearly reviews and leverage when going for promotion.

              1. JSPA*

                you sound wonderful to work for, and I hope your people have realized their luck in having you as a manager.

          3. clearlier*

            Managing workload is only one part of managing and some environments don’t require that a manager manage workloads (routinely so in agile environments). This doesn’t sound like it’s the case in the described scenario though and in any case a manager would expect to have visibility of any significant project (there are hints but it’s unclear whether this was a significant project though).

            This is mostly on the senior manager here but if I were the middle manager I’d also expect my report to have let me know about the allocation.

            If I’m the OP here I’d discuss it with my manager and try to understand why it happened that way. If it’s a one-off I’d brush it aside, if it’s part of a pattern of behaviour I’d be more concerned.

          4. Irish Teacher*

            It does depend on the job too. Like in teaching, the principal assigns classes at the beginning of the year, but that is just “you are taking 5th year English this year.” They have no say over which novels a teacher decides to teach (and unless they are an English teacher, probably wouldn’t have a clue what texts are even on the course) or how much homework the teacher assigns. They will have some say over disciplinary methods, but even within that, each teacher has a fair degree of latitude. Generally, there will be guidelines about what warrants things like detention, but teachers are generally free to assign things like extra homework at their discretion.

            In my case, this goes even further, as I am a learning support teacher and while I am sometimes assigned a student for help with a particular subject – “Johnny is struggling with Maths; can you give him some help with it” – other times I am simply say given a group who are exempt from Irish and based on the needs of the group, I decide whether to do say extra English (two of the most common criteria for exemption would be dyslexia or arriving from abroad and in the latter case, students may not speak English as their first language and may need help) or an additional subject or sometimes with older students, give them a study period. I have also done extra history with students who have arrived from other English speaking countries to catch them up on Irish history, but this is only if I have just one or two students.

            I guess I don’t really have a “manager,” in that nobody evaluates my work on a day-to-day basis.

            It sounds like Rainbow’s situation is different but industries do differ quite a bit.

            In the context of the letter though, it really does sound like the LW has reason to be aware of what the employee is doing on a day-to-day basis and that they are not in an industry where you are say assigned certain clients or projects and then left to get on with it. And even in my role, if the principal or deputy principal asks me to do something, I will usually loop in the SENCO, who is head of the learning support department, just to let him know I’ll be busy at such a time.

          5. RussianInTexas*

            Neither does move, and I am not at all senior.
            I do customer support, account management, and contracts, and I do the work that comes in on the daily basis without manager’s input or even knowledge unless it’s some kind of a special project that he wants me to work on, or there are some particular issues.

            1. RussianInTexas*

              It’s s a small company without any formal structure like matrix or agile, or anything.
              My manager approves my time off and can get involved in some work situations, but otherwise I may not hear from him for weeks.

          6. Ray Gillette*

            I manage a team that’s basically an IT helpdesk. I assign them occasional projects that they work on during slower periods, but typically their day to day consists of working tickets from the queue. I set expectations around tickets in terms of things like number taken per day, resolution time, etc. and manage them on those aspects. There are lots of possible situations where a person’s manager doesn’t assign them work directly.

            1. Lydia*

              But even in that situation, if your boss assigned another project during slow time and didn’t tell you, or your employee didn’t tell you, wouldn’t that be a little odd?

              1. Ray Gillette*

                It would be very odd, yeah. If my boss had a project that he didn’t want me (or someone on his other team) to handle, he’d ask me who on my team I thought would be best equipped to take it on. My example here is strictly to address the idea that managing someone consists solely of assigning them work. Just because the work happens by itself without needing to be assigned, doesn’t mean I’m not managing the people on my team.

          7. Rainy*

            I have a manager but I handle my own schedule–if something comes up that I need to pitch in on my manager will let me know what my piece is etc–but my manager doesn’t plan and assign my work day to day or month to month. There are some larger projects where someone might let my manager know that my expertise is needed, that sort of thing, but even then, it’s mostly being given a heads-up that someone needs me to consult and then the person I’m directly consulting with coordinates my involvement.

            I feel like a high degree of autonomy is pretty normal for what I do and the level at which I do it, but I expect it varies a lot by job.

        1. Roland*

          > This employee has been my assistant (helping me with my own senior projects) for about two years, and in addition to those duties he is now also starting to take on his own junior projects in our department (but always, so far, with my explicit oversight and guidance).

          This is very much not the case with this employee.

        2. Friendly Neighborhood Auditor*

          I’m also in Rainbow’s boat. My manager approves my PTO and completes the administration work required for a direct report. I’m a professional auditor and I manage my own work, as well as the activities of staff, based on the annual audit plan.

    2. Julian*

      I think it would depend on what’s bring assigned. At my job, tasks can be anything from looking up a payment and sending the attachment (5-10 minutes) to days and weeks-long research projects that require a lot of attention. My boss doesn’t need to know all the little stuff, but she likes to know about the big projects so she can judge our metrics accordingly, and keep an ear out for recurring problems.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      I think the direct manager should be aware of the existence of all projects that take more than a minimal amount of time. Not necessarily the details of them, but that they exist and how extensive they are. That’s not micro in the least, that’s just management. A manager should know how much work their report has, and should not be suprised by things in meetings or year reviews.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Yes, since in this and most other management cases, the manager is also assigning work and needs to know the employee’s availability. I once called a direct report to start a project only to learn she was travelling for an assignment that I did not even know existed. This meant we had to reassign work and inform the internal client that we could not deliver the report on time. We had a frank conversation upon her return about the need to keep one’s manager informed about these types of projects.

      2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

        My thoughts exactly. Also, typically your direct manager is going to be the one to do performance reviews and be involved with promotions and such. They can’t review something they didn’t know their employee completed and they can’t give promotions or pay increases if they don’t know that the employee is doing well in certain projects,

        Also, it kind of looks bad for the manager. What if someone else came and said that the employee did great on X project and the manager didn’t know anything about it. THat makes them look like they are not involved with their employees.

        1. not a hippo*

          Or worse, you aren’t aware of the task and the employee is failing to complete the project or making errors and you have to hear about it from a very pissed off member of the upper management. Not a good look!

    4. Green great dragon*

      I’m somewhat at a loss as to what your manager is doing that might be called management if they don’t have a clue what you’re working on. What would happen if you quietly started started doing freelance work alongside your current job, or just halved your work output? Would anyone even notice?

      Obviously that’s all fine if it’s what works for you and your company, but it’s right at one end of the management spectrum. There’s a lot of space before you hit micromanaging.

      1. amoeba*

        Depends on the system. In a matrix organisation, that would be the respective project lead’s responsibility (who generally isn’t the same person as the line manager). But it doesn’t sound like the OP works in that kind of environment, just wanted to mention that’s it not inherently unreasonable!

        1. Betty*

          I’m not familiar with matrix organization, but wouldn’t your line manager know what projects you’re assigned to even if they don’t know the ins and outs of your specific tasks on that?

          1. Excalibur*

            I have never heard of matrix organization, but my manager doesn’t have much insight on what I am working on at any given time. They can pull up a list of my clients if they want, but what I’m actually doing for each client can be very different and is a collaboration between me and another department to create deliverables for our mutual clients. My manager is there in case I need to complain about someone, someone complains about me, and for me to point out how much I have increased profits over the last year and this deserve a raise or promotion.

          2. TiredHiringManager*

            They would anywhere I’ve worked. I direct projects and manage people in a matrix environment. In my last role senior leaders met weekly to discuss issues with people and projects and made sure any staff issues or assignmemt changes were communicated to more junior managers asap.

          3. amoeba*

            Roughly, I guess, but not necessarily everything! I’m not even in a real matrix org, but definitely get roped into projects without telling my manager first. I’ll usually let him know during our one on ones every few weeks, but it wouldn’t be a big deal if I forgot to mention something (and sometimes due to absences, they’re much less frequent, anyway, so it might already be over and done by our next talk…)

    5. Lady_Lessa*

      I see it, also, as just keeping everyone in the loop. If I am back up to QC, I will let everyone who might need me for other purposes that I am. That way delayed responses are expected and/or they know which lab to hunt for me.

    6. Delta Delta*

      that depends on the job. Suppose Manager assigns 5 tasks thinking that those tasks will appropriately fill Employee’s time and can get done. Then GrandBoss assigns 5 more tasks so Employee is drowning in work. Manager could re-delegate some tasks so everything gets done, but if Manager doesn’t know this is going on it puts Employee in the position of having to tell two higher-ups they can’t do everything. Sounds like better communication all around would help this organization.

    7. L-squared*

      I was kind of thinking this too. Or at least it is position dependent.

      I can see how, in this situation where the person is literally OPs assistant, why it can make sense. But in my job, I can totally see a situation where my VP gives me a project without discussing it with my manager, as I’m a senior person in my department.

    8. ferrina*

      . I work in an extremely autonomous role, and over the years I’ve found it is super beneficial to keep my manager in the loop. It’s important for your manager to generally know what you’re working on, if only so they can help manage priorities, bandwidth, resources and communications.

      When manager isn’t in the loop– if I get overbooked, I can’t drop anything because my manager will be annoyed I dropped something. Even if it was the lowest priority, my manager doesn’t understand that something needs to be dropped and thinks I should complete everything (she doesn’t understand that requires an 80-hour week). I am responsible for getting my own resources, and my manager will poach resources from me for other projects but still expect me to get everything done in the original timeline. When a VIP asks my manager about the project she doesn’t know about, she gives an incorrect update or freezes up and gets angry because I made her look bad. (note: these all happened with a manager that wanted to be out of the loop and got angry when I tried to keep her updated).

      When manager is in the loop– I keep her generally posted on what I’m working on week-over-week, not on a daily basis. She signs off on timeline changes and helps adjust priorities when needed- for example, if there’s something that needs to wait a week because there’s a politically tricky conversation happening in the upper levels. She helps with communication and uses her authority to support and advocate for my work. She suggests resources that I didn’t know existed, and will happily give me recommendations that make my life easier. She will happily approve new projects, and only rarely tells me to wait because there is something that hasn’t been announced yet that would impact what I’m working on. (This is a different boss from the boss-not-in-the-loop- I love my in-the-loop boss)

      1. Rainy*

        Yes, same with me and my manager. We have weekly check-ins mostly so that I can keep my manager in the loop. I want her to know the general scope of what I’m doing, what my next 2-3 weeks look like (because things change fast), in particular my presentation and external meeting schedule because that really dictates how (or if) I can fit stuff in around it. Because I do have so much autonomy, I need her to know how much capacity I have for other stuff at any given time so that she doesn’t end up volunteering me for stuff that any warm body could do when I don’t have a lot of spare time for random tasks.

    9. Also-ADHD*

      I think it sort of depends. I’ll get asked to do stuff and do it without my manager knowing, but we use heavy project management tracking so she can see my capacity pretty easily. If the manager is just asking to judge capacity, maybe even be able to credit the employee for their efforts, then I think it’s not micromanaging! If the manager is asking to be looped in to really intense details or to have an unnecessary say, that’s different but the letter doesn’t give me that vibe. My company has a strong 1:1 and skip meeting culture and a lot of PM tracking data, so I am always thrown these days by situations like that actually. I have transparency of what my juniors/team I semi-manage is doing, what my peers are doing, and even what leaders are doing or people in other roles in my department because it’s all transparent in our systems, and that’s super helpful for planning! You know who is more at capacity if you need someone and so on. I think it avoids micromanaging actually though transparency so the system to let the manager know doesn’t have to be micromanaging— it could just be CCing the manager on an email or whatever.

    10. Anonynonybooboo*

      As a manager, I do need to know what my direct reports are working on. I actually encourage them to engage with the business, so this frequently happens – someone needs something, and they can deliver!

      That said, we are running one person short. Don’t worry – the job opening is posted and we are actively interviewing. But that means we are missing 40 hours of time each week; we have to be very efficient at what we are spending time on. The amount of work we have to do is already over our current capacity.

      I ask them to tell me:

      – If something outside of the usual scope comes up that would take more than an hour of their time. At that point, we need to either understand the need, or schedule that hour for a time convenient to us.

      – If they have a lot of requests that would take less than an hour of their time. So for instance, if they suddenly get 15 “small requests”, I will push back on the requestors asking for more information so I can schedule work.

      – If they plain don’t wanna. If they get a request they don’t want to work on (for whatever reason), they bring it to me. I can then either reassign it, do it myself, or go to the person asking for more information. A lot of times “don’t wanna” actually ends up falling into the next category – their gut is telling them something is off about the request.

      – If they feel like something is “off”. If the request feels like someone is going outside of their sphere of influence, if the request feels like something the requestor are trying to hide from others, bring it to me. And example of this would be “please install X on my machine” when X is a licensed product, we have no license request for this person, and it’s not a usual piece of software for their role.

      The short version of all of that is: I need to know what they are working to make sure my thin resources aren’t over worked, and I allow them to use “let me ask my boss” if something would take too long or feels wrong somehow.

    11. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      For me, as a manager, I need to know what is on everyone’s plate to assign new work fairly and reasonably. My boss taps my reports for special projects all the time, and that’s fine by me, I just want to know what kind of time commitment is involved over what span, and to a lesser extent, what area it’s in (we have a variety of subject areas that we cover). Usually the boss tells me but if not, I’ll hear it during my weekly one on ones.

    12. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Different roles need different levels of oversight. For an assistant, I’d absolutely expect to be looped into what others are asking them to do. If their primary job is assisting me, I need to be aware of drains on that capacity.

      I’m in a more senior role and no my manager (which is a loose term to begin with) has no idea what I do on a regular basis. But part of that seniority is knowing that I can manage my time and have the standing to say no if I can’t do something for some reason. An assistant talking to a grandboss may not have that standing.

      Part of managing a team and often a person is knowing how to efficiently allocate resources within that team – including time. Asking to be looped into to asks on that time isn’t micromanaging. Asking for constant updates and details might be, but a general understanding of workload is normal.

    13. Sneaky Squirrel*

      I don’t think the level of oversight varies on the job, but a manager should generally have an idea of what their staff’s workload looks like for planning purposes and also so they can be an advocate for their direct reports if any issues arise.

      From a growth perspective, I would want to know what my direct reports are doing so I’m recognizing their accomplishments too. If my direct reports are taking on major projects where I had previously only given them smaller projects, it could be a sign that my direct report is growing out of their old responsibilities or that I should consider a bonus for going above and beyond their normal responsibilities.

    14. learnedthehardway*

      Disagreeing – the manager needs to know what their employee is doing, so that they can manage the employee’s workload, ensure the right priorities are being covered, and also performance manage the employee. They don’t have to be overseeing every single thing, but they do need to know what the employee is doing.

    15. Momma Bear*

      Something as simple as cc-ing the boss on a big project or having a routine one-on-one where all tasks can be discussed can clue in the manager without micromanagement. Many people at my company work multiple projects concurrently and if that tasking is not known/brought up in a status meeting, then the PM may not be aware. Not knowing could mean that Project A derails Project B. I think wanting to know when significant projects are assigned by others is not out of line. Most of the time my boss ignores the FYI emails but sometimes he does chime in with important input/direction.

      OP can encourage the employee to discuss prioritization with them. It is not always about who assigns the task, but the impact of that task. My boss knows the bigger picture and can advocate if I need him to push back on something at a his-peer level. I don’t do this often but sometimes everything is on fire and there’s only one hose.

      And thirdly, if employee is often doing tasks for Grandboss and they are of a particular type, is it an indication that Grandboss needs a dedicated EA? Or dedicated time from OP’s team?

    16. JustaTech*

      I’m reasonably senior and my manager still knows all the projects I’m working. Mostly that’s because he’s working on them too (we’re a small group), but even when we were a bigger group and he wasn’t involved in one of my projects he still knew the general info, so he could support me with resources/info/ providing backup.

      One time my 2x boss waited until my manager went on vacation so he could assign me a frankly stupid project. He waited until my boss was gone because while I couldn’t push back on the dumb project, my manager could have (and would have, it was a waste of time/resources).

      I also once had a senior manager assign me a high-visibility task without telling my boss or me. Like, if I hadn’t happened to look at a chat from a meeting I missed, I would have had no idea that I was supposed to give a major presentation on a completely new technical topic. Then my manager was annoyed because it looked like the senior manager was setting us up to fail.
      So sometimes you want your manager to know about your projects so they can provide more context on the politics of it all.

    17. SoThenISay*

      As a part of my role I naturally take on work assigned by different stakeholders, and sometimes my boss. But, my boss needs to know what my workload is and what I have on my plate to properly gage if I’m overloaded and heading towards burnout, or if I have room on my plate. She’s awesome, so if people are giving me things that shouldn’t be mine, she can speak up on my behalf. If my workload is low and I can take on more, she needs to know that too, so I can be productive and engaged. It’s not micromanaging, it’s good managing.

    18. A person*

      This varies widely depending on the nature of the work and the experience level of the employee. I manage entry level employees and I would want to be looped in on anything that extends longer than same day requests. It’s not because I’m trying to micromanage them, it’s because, as Allison said, I’m trying to make sure I don’t overload them with other work if they e already got something on their plate that is taking significant time. I’ve had that happen before with very green employees. They just sort of do whatever someone tells them in the moment so if too many people are giving tasks without manager input it can be a mess for prioritizing.

      Now that said, I am much more senior and my boss definitely doesn’t know every last thing I’m doing daily. But he does know the main big things and generally if someone adds something significant to my plate we have a discussion about it, usually initiated by me. It’s helpful for both of us because I’m not always at resource assignment meetings so he needs to know if I do or don’t have bandwidth to add things.

    19. Nina*

      You may be in an unusual industry? Everywhere I’ve worked, my direct manager has at least a vague idea of what I’m doing, either because they assigned it to me or because I said ‘hey I’m doing a project for Grandboss, so I don’t think I’ll have bandwidth for $project-you’re-about-to-give-me unless there’s something else I can drop’.

  4. Emmy Noether*

    For #3: I have a grandboss who does this. The company and the team have grown substantially in the last years, and we now have processes in place to assign and track projects. Grandboss, however, will often still do it the way it worked when we were small: simply walk up to a person and assign them a task or project.
    We mostly deal with it by having the employee loop in the management level(s) between them and grandboss and adding it to the tracking. Grandboss is really competent and good in other ways, so working around him for this type of thing is considered annoying but worthwhile.

    1. Elsewise*

      Yeah, my Grandboss does something similar occasionally. (She usually remembers to loop my boss in, but every now and then a line of communication gets dropped.) However, my boss has a really detailed 1:1 agenda template where we’re encouraged to fill out our big priorities for the week, so she catches anything there. Might be worthwhile for LW to add on something like that with their report?

    2. zuzu*

      My grandboss at my last job used to do this. Only he usually picked the person in my two-person department who couldn’t say no to him for his special, pointless, time-consuming projects.

      I got a few of these projects, but I would push back on him and I would also loop in my supervisor because I was NOT doing wild goose chases. Eventually he switched to my coworker because she wouldn’t push back and she wouldn’t inform our supervisor until she was well into the weeds or her involvement in his projects started to become a problem with getting her other work done.

      1. zuzu*

        I should mention that grandboss, who could not deal with confrontation or make a decision but was certainly vindictive and did not like women who challenged him (like my supervisor, who he demoted for no reason), is the main reason I left there.

      2. JustaTech*

        Oh man, I had a grandboss who would do that – he even once waited until my boss was on vacation to assign a project he knew my boss would reject (because it was dumb and had no scientific validity, and my coworker and I knew this too, but we couldn’t push back).

        My grandboss also once stuck his head in my office early Friday morning and said “Hey, can you do that analysis on that data? I need it by 5 and I’ll be in meetings all day.” And then was gone before I could ask “which data?” because we had two very different projects running that I could have done “that analysis” on – not to mention a few older unfinished projects that he might have been talking about.
        In that case not only did I tell my manager, but I ended up asking half the team which data they thought he was talking about.
        (That grandboss was terrible about remembering to use nouns other than “thing” or “data”, which is important when you’re working on projects as large as a floor centrifuge and as small as a single blood cell. I don’t miss working for him.)

    3. Web of Pies*

      My boss will NOT STOP doing this, everyone is so stressed and my reports are doing way more than I know about, it’s awful. I guess he thinks it’s “easier” to just circumvent the managers and go right to the people producing the work, but it just makes it impossible for managers to manage. Don’t do this if you are a boss with managers under you!!

      1. House On The Rock*

        I’ve been in my position over a year and I’m just finally to the point where most of the time my boss remembers to loop me in when he asks my direct reports for something. I know he thinks it’s “easier” and “saves time” to go right to them, but I end up spending way more time playing catch up than I would if I knew from the get go.

      2. Cicily*

        A lack of trust for certain, and a fear of low-level risk-taking. I’ve worked in a similar environment you describe, and, given that there are only still 24 hours in a day, 1- and 2-alarm fires grew exponentially because manager swept them under the rug because she could only get to so much in a day.

        Honestly, managers who refuse to learn how to grow, trust, and learn from the managers who report to them shouldn’t be managers.

    4. FashionablyEvil*

      Well, I don’t know that I would say I am glad about this thread, but I am glad that I am not the only one with this problem. It’s maddening!

  5. Seal*

    #3 – Ugh. I’ve had 2 bosses in a row who thought nothing of assigning work to my staff without looping me in and it’s maddening. In the first case, most of my staff was good about immediately looping me in and I made a point of politely asking my boss for clarification once I found out. But they wound up empowering a couple of troublemakers who were thrilled to have the ear of their grandboss, which became an issue once the first boss left and the next one started. That boss, in addition to regularly doing end runs around me, had no managerial experience, was easily manipulated, and had no boundaries with the staff. The troublemakers empowered by the previous boss immediately took advantage of the situation by sucking up to the new boss and badmouthing me and the rest of my staff. While my staff continued to keep me in the loop when their grandboss asked them to do something, they were increasingly frustrated by the situation and left for better jobs, as did I.

    The biggest thing is to make sure all of your staff knows to let you know if your boss assigns them work. Due to the power differential, most staff members won’t push back if their grandboss asks them to do something, even if it makes them uncomfortable, and may not be aware that their boss doesn’t know or that they should say something. Really, it’s part of taking care of your staff.

    1. English Rose*

      Agree, getting your staff to let you know is key to this. I’ve also had a boss who did this – tended to play ‘favourites’ with my team members. And I never could train boss to keep me in the loop.
      So in every 1:1 with each of my staff I would cover off progress on every project they were working on. That gave a structure to my requirement for them to let me know anything new their grandboss had passed down. It built mutual trust.
      (Except for one political player who as you say was thrilled to have the ear of the grandboss, but that’s another story.)

    2. ferrina*

      Exactly! I had a grandboss that did this, and I had similar outcomes. Most of my staff would loop me in, partially because they knew that I would provide the knowledge and support they needed to succeed (Grandboss was rather underhanded and had a tendency to set people up to fail). One of my staff members decided she would go rogue (she got mad that I wouldn’t promote her when she was making regular mistakes), and stopped telling me about what she was doing. She created a mess with some of the political dungholes she stepped in, and almost got her favorite program cancelled. I had to step in and do some fast talking to keep it intact.
      She also underestimated how much other people talked to me- I was discretely keeping tabs on the work she was doing via a friend in another department (which is how I knew when to step in). The friend had previously enjoyed working with that direct report, but when she learned the direct report was going behind my back, my friend lost a lot of respect for her.

  6. JusrAThought*

    For OP1, likely just me but in my initial read of post, there was interchangeable use of ‘I’ versus ‘we’ in describing situation as well as several references to ‘they’ when describing responses to requirements. I guess that makes me wonder where you really see where you feel you are in this issue, if that makes sense. I feel like you need to decide the ‘you’ in this situation as more than middle person who is just reacting, if that makes sense.

    1. Green great dragon*

      For what it’s worth, I read it as someone sufficiently senior that they can speak for the company, or at least a large slice of it. So we is the company, but LW has a large say in what the company does.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        I read it this way too.

        I don’t know why people need to quibble over semantics like this. The letter would make sense if the LW had used “we” exclusively, “I” exclusively, or a mix of both, as they did.

        LW seems to have their act together, is treating their employees fairly, and with respect and dignity, and that is the part that really stuck out for me. My hat is off to them.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Indeed. Bravo, LW. Don’t let the ex-employee who was *bullying a man with cancer* make you doubt yourself.

      2. ferrina*

        Exactly. I read it this way too. It also felt like someone acting in an HR capacity, which can be blurry to draw the line between We the Company and I the Individual (since HR’s whole job is to act on behalf of the company). It didn’t strike me as particularly odd.

      1. jj*

        This isn’t nitpicking tho – like, nitpicking is saying “you used xyz, but you should have used abc”. This commenter is saying something different – that the ambiguity of the wording makes it hard for the commenter to understand certain nuances, and is in turn wondering if this then might be a useful site of reflection for the LW.

        1. Lana Kane*

          I agree. The context of the comment read to me like genuine confusion. People just process language differently and what can be clear to some can be muddled to others.

        2. Observer*

          Yeah, but what people are responding is that this ambiguity is not really relevant to the question. The actual question is whether a company needs to require a ton of information and / or a medical release for every single situation that may have a medical component, regardless of the circumstances.

          In this context the answer doesn’t really change, whether the OP is *the* one who sets policy, they are asking on behalf of the policy setter(s), or they are part of the group of policy setters.

          1. Peanut Hamper*

            Exactly. The question was asked and the question was answered. Quibbling like this is nitpicking.

  7. Martin Blackwood*

    Ngl for #1 it took me a couple reads to comprehend the “abuse” comment because I was expecting to be more “You’re controlling and abusive because you’re requiring me to get a doctor’s note when you didn’t for Tim” and not “You’re so neglectful and abusive for letting Sasha come into work without her doctors note”

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Sounds like some DARVO shit. “I’m not abusing Bob with bullying, *you’re* abusing Bob by trusting him and respecting his wishes.”

      1. OhNo*

        I had the same thought. I can’t figure out any other read on that, where respecting an employee’s privacy as much as possible, using sound judgment, and trusting employees would somehow actually translate to “abuse”.

        1. Lulu*

          The best way I could figure out to interpret the “abuse” comment was that they think that not controlling someone’s autonomy is abusive. Essentially that people are not capable of determining their own abilities and needs, and they need an overseer/protector/authority figure to make decisions on their behalf. It’s infantilizing, it’s troubling, and I can see that if that’s a deeply held belief, they’re someone the company needs not to keep around.

        2. constant_craving*

          The only read that makes sense to me is the the person thought their coworker with cancer was being forced/pressured to work rather than wanting to. I could see calling it abusive to pressure someone to work through a serious medical condition. But more likely it was just someone causing trouble given the context the letter provides.

      2. Observer*

        Either that or extremely paternalistic and controlling. (I wonder if she has any children, and how she treats them.) Or it could be a combination of both.

  8. Warrior Princess Xena*

    LW1: The only time I can think of when a ‘release note’ like this would be reasonable would maybe be if you’re in an indistry requiring some level of physical fitness, an employee suffered a workplace injury in a physical job, and for legal or liability reasons need to be recertified for heavy work. It doesn’t sound like your job is any of these. I agree with you that you should grant your employees the grace of treating them like adults who can manage their own physical needs.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Yes, totally agree. LW1, you sound like a considerate and capable manager who trusts your employees, and doesn’t treat them like children when they have a medical concern that’s not going to create a safety issue on the job.

      A workplace injury is a different scenario. In that case, worker’s compensation rules typically require a physician to document that it’s safe to return to work. Using myself as an example, my doctor provided authorization that I needed to take time off work, later could do modified work, and eventually cleared me to return to my usual role. All of that was required by my employer’s workers compensation insurance.

      1. Delta Delta*

        This. Also, suppose someone’s job is physically demanding, and they get an injury while off work hours. It makes some sense to get medical clearance in that situation, as well, specifically so that the employee doesn’t re-injure themselves or aggravate a prior injury. On one hand, there could be worker’s compensation consequences with an aggravation, and the company wants to protect itself that way. On the other hand – the normal human beings who care about other human beings hand – you really do want to make sure people are okay before going back to work so they don’t get hurt.

        1. Observer*

          Yes. Which is why I like the OP’s distinction – they wouldn’t ask someone at a desk for clearance for a sprained ankle, but they probably would for someone climbing ladders and carrying heavy stuff.

    2. Brain the Brian*

      Yep. I work a desk job but had to get a release to return work several years ago. The reason? I’d had a seizure *at my desk*, and my employer needed a signoff that there was nothing about my work environment would likely trigger another. If I’d had my seizure outside the office and just needed a day off to recover, I wouldn’t have needed the release.

    3. FashionablyEvil*

      Our short term disability insurer requires a medical clearance to return to work. Basically, if you’re out more than a week and trigger STD coverage, you need a note. Otherwise, we assume people are using their sick leave as they need to.

      1. Random Bystander*

        That’s the way it is with my work when I had cancer (two years out, now). So, I’m guessing that if short-term disability is used, the medical clearance is required in the same way that it would be after a work comp claim, and not so much by the employer as the company managing the disability claim.

      2. Nate*

        Yes, my employer requires a note after all fmla (including childbirth). I was under the impression this is federal law?

        1. Bumblebee Mask*

          It isn’t federal requirement but it is a good way to do it. If a doctor’s note put you out, a doctor’s note should be required to come back, even if the initial note said employee can return on July 7. This is to be sure nothing in their situation changed between the time the initial note was written and their estimated return to work. Now, it is ridiculous to require a note just because a person has been out 3 days, which is the policy I had at a previous employer and I think it is at my current employer as well. I’ve had a cold bad enough to keep me out for 3 days.

          Once upon a long time ago I had a woman come back from her pregnancy leave too soon (as in she was out maybe a week). I had a note releasing her but 3 – 4 months later she started hemorrhaging and had to be out significantly longer as a result.

          1. Lizzo*

            Just curious…in the case of your pregnant employee, was the fast return to work merely a personal preference, or were there other things at play (e.g. leave was unpaid and she couldn’t afford to not work, factors pertaining to partner’s leave policy)?

            1. Bumblebee Mask*

              IIRC she was the VP of a sales group and was worried about being out for so long. We had company paid STD and the state had pregnancy disability leave so she could have been out longer than the FMLA 12 weeks had she wanted.

              1. Cj*

                I’m somehow not getting the connection between your two comments.

                your initial comment said she was only out for something like a week after she gave birth. this comment says she could have been out longer than the FMLA 12 weeks she wanted.

                did she actually want 12 weeks but think she shouldnt be gone that long? or are you talking about 12 weeks of FMLA she needed to take after she hemorraged?

          2. the Viking Diva*

            A doctor’s note would not have helped in this situation- dr could not have predicted risk of hemorrhage 3-4 *months* out.

            1. Bumblebee Mask*

              Yes and no. Since we had a doctor’s note returning her to work, she couldn’t come back when the hemorrhaging happened and say we forced her to return when she wasn’t physically able to be back. In this case it was protecting us.

      3. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, that’s how we do it too, and short term disability is managed by a separate group so your own manager doesn’t need specifics if you don’t want to share them.

      4. ferrina*

        Yep. I think this is how my company works too- you’ll need a medical clearance if you’re returning after STD. You definitely don’t need medical clearance if you’re taking sick leave or parental leave. I’m pretty sure you don’t need medical clearance if you’re returning from FMLA unless there’s extenuating circumstances (like there’s reason to be concerned that you are likely to have a medical emergency at work).

        Note: our work is all desk jobs. If there were physical components involved, it makes sense to get medical clearance if there was a reason to be concerned (such as a sprained ankle in a job that requires walking 8 hours a day). LW’s policy seems really reasonable to me.

        1. Lauren*

          For where I work (a Big Ten university in the US) a doctor’s clearance note is a requirement when returning from FMLA.

    4. Snow Globe*

      I think the LW sounds like a reasonable manager and making these kinds of decisions on a case by case basis might make sense. But, depending on the size of the company, the lack of clear policies can be problematic, if other managers aren’t very reasonable or don’t have good judgment. If there are multiple managers involved in determining when and why a doctors’ release might be necessary, it’s probably a good idea to try to put in some guidelines (which lean towards respecting employees’ privacy and making things easier for them) rather than trusting all of your managers to make the same reasonable decisions.

      1. Observer*

        But, depending on the size of the company, the lack of clear policies can be problematic, if other managers aren’t very reasonable or don’t have good judgment.

        Clear policies don’t have to mean “we do the same for everyone” though. And in fact, trying to do that can create its own set of problems practically, ethically, and legally.

    5. Chauncy Gardener*

      This. And also if the employee was on short term or long term disability. The only way they would be able to come back to work is with their doctor’s OK.
      (In the US)

    6. Stephanie*

      OP works at a manufacturing plant with operators, it sounds like. I’ve worked in manufacturing (and other industrial settings before) and it’s not uncommon to need a medical release for some of the floor work. If it’s a unionized environment, there may be provisions in the contract requiring this too. Usually is things where physical labor is a job requirement and the employee has to be given medical clearance to lift 50 lbs or whatever the job duty is.

    7. kiki*

      I think for jobs with a real safety risk, it makes sense to require a medical release note. You wouldn’t want somebody who operates machinery to return to work a bit early because they feel fine, but then have something happen.

      But outside that, I think it’s best to trust your employees. I might be sure to tell employees that they can take as much time as they need and make sure they know all their options (extra FTO, short term disability, working remotely, etc.), but I think it’s best to just trust your employees.

    8. EngineerMom*

      Yes, this.

      Someone close to me has a mental health condition that occasionally requires FMLA. Her job requires a doctor’s note for ALL medically-related “return to work” (including maternity leave!).

      Her psychiatrist, the doctor doing the prescribing, the only doctor they’ve decided they’ll accept a note from (she also sees a therapist, GP, endocrine, etc.), and is unavailable during the last 3 weeks of her leave, until 2 weeks after she’s supposed to return to work. (No, this doesn’t affect her treatment, as the actual medicine involved are just one part of mental health treatment)

      So, she has to get a sign-off on a return to work 3 weeks BEFORE she’s even supposed to return. It’s really stupid, because she might not actually be ready yet, or she could be ready as much as a week or two sooner. But she’ll have zero flexibility because of the employer policy.

      1. Observer*

        the doctor doing the prescribing, the only doctor they’ve decided they’ll accept a note from

        That may not be legal. I think that they are required to accept documentation from any member of the care team that would have access to all of her relevant records, which her GP should have.

    9. Momma Bear*

      If someone was injured and there’s workman’s comp or something involved I could see a release being required. But otherwise if it’s not broken, why fix it? Especially if the only one complaining is a Problem Child themselves? Was it a real concern or just deflection?

  9. Number Cruncher*

    For OP#2, people vaping on a video call would drive me nuts personally, but I will admit a bias against the habit in general. One of my team managers paints her nails in team video calls and has openly said that’s what she’s doing. She doesn’t see that as an issue, as her hands are off camera, but you can see she’s looking down distractedly and I feel like it’s rude to whoever is presenting. I just think that if you wouldn’t do it in an on-site meeting, don’t do it on camera.

    1. OP #2*

      Oh wow. Yeah painting your nails on a video call feels quite rude and mostly just odd behaviour. Totally agree that if you wouldn’t do it in an in person meeting then don’t do it on a call.

      1. coffee*

        I have wished that I could paint my nails at work, since the time when you’re attending meetings that only require you to listen and sit still would be perfect drying time for your nails (your brain is busy and your hands are still). So I hope that helps explain it.

        But!! I have not painted my nails at work, because it looks like you’re not paying attention/not taking things seriously/it’s just generally unprofessional (and also, in person, the smell really bothers some people).

        1. Emmy Noether*

          I have painted my nails in videocalls from home when I had my camera off and didn’t have to speak (much) or take notes. It is, indeed, a very convenient time to do it. I take care that no-one can tell that’s what I’m doing though.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            As someone who listens MUCH better if my hands are doing something, I think that sounds fine. But I agree it’s just about doing it discreetly. The optics around being visibly distracted on a call just aren’t great.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Yeah, I’ll subtly do crochet, cross-stitch or doodling during meetings where I don’t need to be particularly engaged, but then again I’d do any of those things in an in-person meeting. Even if someone does figure out why I keep glancing down, it’s still better optics than me falling asleep.

          2. Cherries Jubilee*

            Yeah I’ve done that too but never on camera or when I might need to speak!

      2. Master Procrastinator*

        I think people can sometimes let workplace norms slide when they’re WFH because there’s a subconscious connection between being home and relaxing. How much of that is OK might vary between workplaces, but I think I would be a bit baffled and distracted by people openly vaping, painting nails etc. in a work meeting, regardless of culture.

        I don’t agree with a hard line on equating in person meetings with conference calls. Broadly, the same rules apply, but being together virtually is a different experience to being in the room together. I have ADHD and find it much harder to concentrate on video calls than I do in person. If I’m not taking notes, I need my hands to be busy with doodling, fidget toys etc. to help me focus and listen better. Granted, I try to be subtle about it if I’m on camera, because I want to demonstrate that I’m listening and not distract anyone else.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I note several of the things that hit a gut “no” are associated with smells–so the person reasons “I couldn’t do this when sharing the conference room air with other people, but that’s the only problem.”

          Pre-pandemic I recall this debate re knitting, and whether it lands as “a thing someone can do with their hands while focusing their attention elsewhere” or “splitting their attention with half on their hobby.” Doodling, which also falls into this space, is particularly easy to make look like note taking on a zoom call vs in person.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I agree on the smells. I wouldn’t paint my nails in the office even if it was on a break or something. You can’t just make a smell disappear right away if it turns out it’s bothering someone.

    2. L-squared*

      I get your point, I do.

      But, the things people will do in meeting, like doodling and knitting, seem to be accepted. But looking down is happening just as much and can be seen as just as rude.

    3. Delta Delta*

      Guilty! When I was in-office I used to do my nails all the time when I was on hold or in a meeting if I could keep the polish below the camera (had my own office and the smell didn’t leave the room). Now that I work from home I also do my nails below camera. The way I’m positioned it looks like I’m taking notes. And a lot of times I AM taking notes so you’d never know the difference. (A lot of times I’m doing a crossword puzzle but nobody needs to know that)

    4. ferrina*

      There’s two things at play: impact and optics.

      Impact: Does it actually affect your ability to participate in the meeting and get what you need out of it?
      Optics: Does it look to other people like you are able to fully participate and get what you need out of it?

      I’m ADHD; impact and optics are always at odds. I need to do something with my hands in order to listen, but others can find that distracting. If they are constantly trying to guess if you’re listening, that’s really hard for them. For me, I’ve taken to doodling for in person meetings, and sipping tea for virtual meetings (or having camera off). It’s not distracting, and it gets me the stimulation I need. Painting nails is definitely bad optics (and for a reason! You need a degree of focus on your nails to not paint your whole finger, and that focus pulls your focus from the meeting)

      Optics can also include a gross-out component. If someone was on camera constantly blowing their nose, it would be distracting from the grossness factor. This is where vaping falls for me.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Same with the ADHD, and part of me really wishes we didn’t have to worry about optics. But so much communication is nonverbal and it can really put off the person you’re talking to if you look distracted, which can make their part of the interaction harder. Basically I wish humans were simpler lol

      2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        Recently, I was listening to a talk in person, and the person was speaking slowly and it was hard for me to concentrate and what I did was translate what they were saying into pictures in my mind (kind of like a mental rebus) and it was super helpful. Tip for my fellow ADHDers.

      3. Smithy*

        This is a great way of thinking about it – it’s sort of how I think of places that have “no dress code” does not mean that showing up in a wetsuit to work would be ok.

        However, the reason for a wetsuit not being ok is the same for why lingerie is also not necessarily ok – and has to do more with the Impact/Optics dynamic. However, if my wetsuit is a variety where I can just put a long skirt over it, or pair of pants/suit jacket and the top part of the wetsuit reads as a top, most “no dress code” places won’t care. But to that Impact/Optics thing – the optics may be fine. But during the summer, if I end up smelling like I had a hard work out that morning, the impact is still of someone wearing dirty work out clothes to work.

        To the point of ADHD, often there are points where pushing back about impact/optics. Like if perhaps the reason I smell a bit sweaty at work in the morning is not because I’m wearing my gym clothes at the office – but because I take the bus an hour to the office and that’s tough in the summer.

    5. Nonprofit321*

      I had an executive level boss who used to paint her nails at the office because then they could dry while she responded to emails. It takes less than 5 minutes to paint your nails, I honestly admired it about her and felt like it was a good norm to set for the younger women at work that it wasn’t a big deal to take 5 minutes of personal time at your desk. She had an office with a door as well so the smell didn’t bother anybody. I sometimes paint my nails in my WFH job now. I think what bothers everybody is different. I dont have an issue if someone is doing something else in a meeting because you usually don’t know if that’s their fifth meeting in a row and they’re just taking notes or responding to a quick text or trying to find their good pen or what.

      1. M*

        She sounds great! Keeping your hands busy during meetings helps so many people actually be engaged and contributing, I’m all for not judging people about things that don’t even matter.

      2. wendelenn*

        If I tried to respond to emails (presumably meaning TYPING) while my nails were drying, I’m sure they would be a mess! That’s some talent right there.

    6. ursula*

      I had a coworker (same level as me, and a friend) who vaped during meetings with me during the pandemic. It drove me nuts but I never said anything because I couldn’t really find a principled reason to object – what’s the impact, really? This person also had a lot of issues with professionalism across the board (I like them a lot as a person and they are extremely smart, but I’m not sure I would hire them) so I just wrote it off as another example of them being them. I guess this is just to say, I’m still not sure there’s a good reason to dislike this behaviour, but your colleagues still very much might!

      1. JustaTech*

        My feeling on visibly vaping during meetings is that, now in the 21st century, almost everyone who smokes/vapes during the work day has to take a break and go outside. Thus smoking/vaping is presented/perceived as a leisure/break activity, rather than something that is done *while* working.

        I know that this did not used to be the case, but it’s not something I’ve ever seen except in old movies/TV shows (the smoking on the submarines in The Hunt for Red October was completely wild to my husband and I).

        1. Girasol*

          I started working before smoking indoors became bad thing. My first lesson in PC support was that when someone says “It won’t boot up!” I should look for an ash tray. If there was one, check the PC’s air intake for that telltale smoker’s coat of fur (nearly always there) and then say “I hope your backups are up to date.” It seems weird to think how little time has passed between smoking being something anyone did anywhere to the point where even being seen inhaling nicotine on a video is unprofessional.

    7. Stephanie*

      Oh heh, guilty as charged with painting nails on calls (looking at all the nail polish bottles on my desk right now). But my department has an aggressively camera off policy (there are people I’ve worked with for 2 – 3 years who I don’t know what they even look like).

      My MBA program went virtual during the pandemic and I would paint my nails during Zoom lecture sometimes. I did text my friend one time to confirm “Hey, is it obvious I’m painting my nails during lecture…?”

      1. Delta Delta*

        I have 6 nail polish bottles on my desk right now. Dark blue, light blue, red, gold, shimmery pink, shamrock green. Firmly on Team Nails as long as it’s not disruptive and it’s out of the camera view.

    8. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I agree that it’s too casual, but it’s not necessarily true that she’s distracted. I listen better if I’m also doing something with my hands. I am also on a lifelong crusade against the idea of attention only looking like neurotypical attention. Looking at the speaker is not an accurate indication of attention and looking elsewhere is not indicative of lack of attention.

    9. Well...*

      I am really sick of people vaping where it’s completely not okay to smoke. I’ve had to deal with people vaping near me on public transportation, inside restaurants, and the worst one was while I was sitting in a Starbucks at the airport (like, inside, past security).

      1. Jay (no, the other one)*

        Totally agree and hate the whole thing – but at home is the right place to do it if you’re going to do it at all. I would not want to see it on a Zoom call and I probably wouldn’t say anything unless the person was very junior, in which case it would be more “you should know how that comes across….”

    10. Momma Bear*

      I agree that you should have at least the same level of professionalism on a video call as you would in the office. If you would not be doing your nails in person, then wait until after the call. I limit my activities to things like drinking coffee/water.

    11. MicroManagered*

      I painted my nails during a call this morning LOL.

      The meeting was a brainstorming session, so there was literally no need to use my hands for anything and having them occupied actually kept me from picking up my phone or multi-tasking. However I was not on camera and would nev-er do that on camera because of the optics!

      1. Well...*

        yes, I have to keep myself more busy with my hands on Zoom meetings than in person if I want to be able to focus/remember what was said. I’m either taking notes on camera or doodling off camera.

  10. M. from P.*

    I think LW3 was looking not just for a reality-check on whether their expectation is reasonable but also for advice on how to broach the topic with the boss in a non-adversarial and respectful way.
    I mention this because I’m always impressed by Alison’s scripts. After years of reading the blog I wish my workplace was English-speaking so I could just shamelessly use them word for word (instead of having to translate/rephrase).

  11. The Count of Monte Crisco*

    My employer requires a doctors note to return after 3 days of being out for illness or getting hurt, and it’s an office job. Lots of people seem to think this is perfectly reasonable, but it feels like micro-managing to me.

    Like, yes, of course I can see why they’d want a note if the employee has some kind of restrictions (can’t use right hand, can’t lift more than 10 lbs, etc) but having to get a note just for getting a cold?

    1. anon24*

      I agree. I think it’s ridiculous for illnesses, even for a physical job. I’ve had respiratory illnesses or GI bugs that have knocked me down for a few days, but there’s no point in seeking medical treatment. I can manage my symptoms just fine from home and just need rest, there’s nothing a doctor can do. By making me get a note I’m now wasting their time, taking an appointment away from someone who needs it, and spending my own money on a copay. Nowadays there’s telehealth, but not everyone has that option. I can see for injuries, but for illnesses I think it’s a stupid policy. Trust that your employees know their bodies and their limits and if there’s an issue address it then, don’t make everyone suffer.

      1. Cj*

        it is ridiculous for relatively short-term illnesses, for all the reasons you list. and I absolutely believe employers do this to make you prove you were actually sick, not to make sure you are okay to return to work, since that doesn’t make any sense for something like a cold or GI illness.

        so you go to the doctor to prove to your employer that you really are sick. you stop at the drugstore on the way home to pick up some cold medicine or Pepto-Bismol, (because there’s nothing the doctor can prescribe that will help you). a coworker sees you at the drugstore when they know you’ve called in sick, and tell your employer you must not have really been sick because they saw you out and about. that has definitely been at least one letter on AAM.

    2. londonedit*

      ‘Fit notes’ or ‘fit to work notes’ are pretty standard in the UK. We can self-certify for up to 7 days, but for a longer sickness you usually need a ‘fit note’ from your doctor to return to work. Either it’ll say you’re fit to go straight back to work, or it might say you’re fit to return to work with XYZ accommodations (like you can’t do any heavy lifting for two weeks, or you may be able to return on a part-time basis or whatever).

      1. SarahKay*

        On the other hand in the UK we don’t have to pay (or claim on insurance) to see our GP, so it’s a much lower burden on us.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          On a third hand, getting an appointment with the GP to get that darn note can take a very long time. (Although this depends on your postcode. I’m having serious medical issues at the moment and trying to get an appointment is an uphill struggle).

          What I prefer for my staff is technically I’m supposed to need a note after a certain amount of days but I’ll let it slide if it’s only a few days over.

      2. Sasha*

        Yes, but it is just absences of more than 7 days – most doctors refuse to do them for shorter periods of illness (because it is a waste of their time, a waste of an appointment, and a letter saying “Wakeen tells me he had a cold yesterday which is now better” is completely useless.

        If companies want bespoke occupational health physician input for their staff, they should pay for it. If they want to put unnecessary hurdles in the way of their staff taking statutory medical leave (which is what this is usually about), no you can’t waste public resources on that.

      3. Green great dragon*

        But fit notes are usually used to support time off, and sometimes Drs are generous. I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at someone returning before the time in their note if they said they felt better.

      4. Isobel*

        Just to clarify, as a UK GP who was had this conversation many times… A fit note either says you are not fit to work, or that you are fit to work with restrictions eg phased return or no heavy lifting. A “back to work” with no restrictions note does not exist. The employee can go back to work when the note expires, or sooner if they feel fit to do so, without seeing a doctor first. Link here if any uk-based people want to check:

    3. ferrina*

      Agree- that’s really ridiculous. Are they trying to verify that you had an illness, or that you are healthy enough to return?

      If they’re trying to verify that you had an illness, wow, they don’t trust their employees enough to know when they’re sick? That’s not a great working relationship.
      If they’re trying to verify that you are healthy, that is such a waste of your time and co-pay. You’ll have to get a last minute or walk in appointment, waste an hour or two to see a healthcare professional for 5 minutes, then they’ll have to take chart notes and write an official note for you to go back, and that’s a terrible use of everyone’s time for a pretty routine health event.

    4. Umami*

      Likewise where I work, which does feel like babysitting. Luckily it can be as simple as a MyChart message from the doctor so employees don’t actually have to visit a doctor for clearance.

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      As HR in an office setting I am STRONGLY against doctor’s notes unless there’s a safety concern. Or someone is missing more than their allocated amount of sick time, I might ask for one there just as a CYA (we get audited regularly). Otherwise it’s an unnecessary burden on someone who should be focused on getting well.

    6. Critical Rolls*

      Are they requiring a doctor’s note that says this person is fit to work again, or that they were indeed ill during the time in question? I have seen the latter policy in numerous places, but never the former.

      1. Lana Kane*

        My employer requires a doctor’s release when returning from FMLA leave. It’s not technically required by FMLA but if an employer decides to ask it, it has to ask it of everyone. Since sometimes there might be genuine concerns about someone being fit to come back (we’re in healthcare), it has to be applied across the board.

        1. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

          What if the FMLA leave is for a family member and not the employee? Do they still require a doctor’s release? Or a death certificate if the family member died (I used FMLA while my dad was dying to help take care of him)?

  12. M. from P.*

    Re: Q2, would having a cup of tea on a call come across as unprofessional? I’m thinking specifically of calls with students. When I talk for long, hot tea soothes my throat but it just feels off to openly drink tea during a Zoom teaching session.

    1. OP #2*

      I don’t think so as drinking tea, coffee and water in an office is fairly standard and people know its normal to get thirsty during long meetings or presentations.

    2. Master Procrastinator*

      Genuinely horrified by the prospect of a workplace that disapproved of tea drinking in meetings! I’d quit!

      1. IchKriegDieKrise*

        For me, the bar is would I do it in a face to face meeting. I drink water and coffee during in-person meetings and when I teach, so I continue when I have those on Zoom. Vaping in person (or nail painting) wouldn’t be very professional, so I wouldn’t do them in a Zoom meeting.

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        Not sure if I would be able to get through most meetings without my tea.

      1. ferrina*

        I have constantly had a cup of tea or coffee as my faithful companion throughout my whole career. It has not held me back.

    3. kiki*

      I think just about everything you would do in an in-person meeting is fine to do via zoom. So for a meeting you’re leading, you probably wouldn’t, say, eat a messy sandwich in person and you probably shouldn’t do that on a call either. But it was pretty normal at my office in-person to have a small, quiet snack while in a meeting where you’d primarily be listening, so I’d say the same applies to a virtual meeting. In person, folks would be drinking tea or coffee all day in meetings, so it’d be strange to say that can’t continue just because the meetings are virtual.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Wih the caveat that you should mute while eating or drinking, and, when appropriate, turn the camera off or move away from it while eating (or blowing your nose). The camera can highlight in a way that in person activities do not.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I turn off my camera while eating an entire meal because I don’t think anyone wants to see that and I get self-conscious.

        Well, except for one recurring meeting, where the meeting organizer is convinced that if I have my camera off then I’m having connection issues, and will spent the beginning of every meeting asking if I’m able to hear her. I’ve explained multiple times that I just have my camera off, but she’ll forget by the next week. So now everyone in that meeting gets to watch me shovel food into my mouth.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          What would happen if you left your camera on for the meeting start, and then said something like “I’ll be eating lunch, so I’m turning the camera off but I’m still here and listening”? (Yes, every time if necessary.) Or would they just bug you about it mid-meeting instead?

    4. Pippa K*

      Hahaha in prepandemic times my students knew if I showed up to a lecture without a caffeinated beverage they should check if I was ok or had been replaced by an alien in disguise.

      We are human beings. It’s fine to sip tea while talking to people.

    5. Observer*

      Q2, would having a cup of tea on a call come across as unprofessional?

      I think that, as others have noted, this is fundamentally different.

      Just don’t be the guy who wanted to drink nonalcoholic beer.

  13. HR Lady*

    Although I don’t vape or smoke, strongly disagree with #2. No different than people taking smoking breaks in front of an office building. Unlike beer/alcohol, smoking during working hours usually not against a code of conduct. I see it no different to drinking soda or eating chips on video – unhealthy personal decision but not unprofessional

    1. Number Cruncher*

      I think the context of being in a meeting is important here though, if people want to vape in their own homes between meetings that’s their business (and their ‘smoke break’ if you will), but if you’re in a call that’s the equivalent for me of being in a meeting room together. Personally I will drink tea / coffee / soda etc in a call because I would bring that in to an in-person meeting as well, but I don’t eat on camera as I wouldn’t bring chips to a meeting. If I’m in back to back calls and I know I won’t get a break to eat, I might turn my camera & mic off for a few minutes if I’m not needed and quickly eat a snack, but I wouldn’t graze throughout the call.

    2. amoeba*

      I mean, I’d say eating during video calls would also qualify as unprofessional (no matter how healthy the food!)

      1. NP08*

        Plenty of people eat on camera during meetings or go off camera and put into the chat that they’re finishing up lunch etc. The idea that it is unprofessional seems somewhat out of touch after three years of pandemic induced Zoom life. It is not uncommon in many orgs to have back to back to back meetings so sometimes there is no option but to eat at the same time.

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          This is a mixed question IMO. Meeting with outside counsel–no way would I eat. Very informal meeting and no chance to eat otherwise, would eat (always off camera if possible but potentially on camera). And then sort of a sliding scale in between depending on formality level of the meeting, how well I know the people, whether I have to do a lot of talking, can I have my camera and mic off at least intermittently.

        2. JustaTech*

          Yes to this – if I am scheduled for wall-to-wall internal meetings that run through lunch, you bet your buttons I’m going to eat in that meeting! At least with video meetings I can be on mute and turn my camera off.

          Once I got dragged into an emergency meeting during my lunch time and I just apologized to my coworkers and ate my liverwurst and onion sandwich right there in the conference room (because I was spending all afternoon in the lab and you *can’t* eat in the lab).

          But also, lunch meetings are a normal thing! Never in my professional life have I seen a workplace where it was OK to smoke and work. Heck, even when I was a kid the one person who liked the occasional cigar at my parent’s office had his own air scrubber and only did it maybe twice a year. Anyone else who wanted to smoke had to go out to the alley.

        3. amoeba*

          Interesting – maybe a cultural thing as a “real” lunch break is very much the norm here, so I’ve literally never seen anybody eat on camera! People would probably be understanding if you had to skip lunch due to a packed schedule (although a half hour break is mandatory, anyway), but then I’d certainly turn off my camera…

    3. Myrin*

      You say it yourself: “smoking breaks”. This person is in the middle of a meeting (sometimes ones they’re leading!), not taking a break.

      1. ferrina*

        Exactly this. It’s not something that people do during in-person meetings.

        It’s also distracting for others in the meeting. I would be ridiculously distracted by someone vaping in a meeting, and at that point you’re ruining your colleagues experience of the meeting. Similar to someone cleaning their house during a meeting- it may be normal and not distracting for you, but for those of us watching, it’s extremely distracting.

    4. ClaireW*

      yeah for my husband who vapes, taking a quick vape (as in a breath in, not filling the room with clouds or something) is equivalent to taking a sip from a cup of coffee. I cannot grasp how that could be considered unprofessional?? I get it in person because it impacts the other people, but when working remotely nobody is impacted… people used to smoke in offices all the time and it was never unprofessional, just gross!

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Because times and customs change. I would find this terribly unprofessional and would really question somebody’s professionalism if they did this in a meeting.

      2. Aelfwynn*

        “people used to smoke in offices all the time and it was never unprofessional, just gross!”

        People used to do a lot of things in offices that are now widely considered unprofessional and inappropriate. That argument is very similar to “this is the way things have always been done”, which is not a good argument to continue to do anything.

        A sip of water/tea/coffee/etc. is different than taking a hit from a vape pen. Everyone needs to regularly hydrate throughout the day (more often than eating, which can also be acceptable if your camera is off or you say something like “sorry, I’ve been in back-to-back meetings all day and I need to grab a snack.”) The issue with vaping is the optics (which you may argue about but the fact remains that folks are going to think it’s unprofessional and is this really the hill you want to die on?). It isn’t a necessity – just wait until you’re off the call/off camera.

      3. M2*

        Times have changed. People know the impacts of cigarettes and vaping and it’s unprofessional and not the same as taking a sip of coffee. I wouldn’t only question the persons professionalism that did this, but their judgment and as a manager look more at their quality of work and whether or not it impacts promotions.

        People want to WFH well then Zoom meetings are like being in an office meeting and what you wouldn’t do at your office don’t do on a zoom meeting wait for it to end. If you can’t wait an hour or two to vape then how could you wait at the office? You can’t go vape or smoke every 30 minutes in an office setting that would be considered unprofessional.

        1. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

          One of the hardest working administrators in my office goes down to smoke once an hour. And it’s no secret to anyone that she does this.

          I was quite surprised at just how often she took these breaks. But then I also learned of her dedication to her job and how well she does it.

          It’s probably a form of stress release for her.

      4. Lily Rowan*

        I am fascinated by how people think vaping is so different from smoking cigarettes. I was thinking about someone I know socially who used to sneak away to smoke a cigarette, but now just takes a puff of the vape any time.

        I still think people would not think it was controversial to say you shouldn’t smoke a cigarette during a remote meeting when you are on camera.

        1. Eliot Waugh*

          Same, and it drives me crazy. I get that vaping doesn’t smell the same as cigarette smoke but it still smells and it’s still smoking. I thought I’d finally escaped being around smoking everywhere and now we’re right back to it, just with vapes.

          1. Aelfwynn*

            I was at a baseball game last year, and someone was openly vaping in front of me. She was absolutely incensed when the security guard told her she couldn’t vape in the ballpark.

            There’s a time and a place for everything, people.

          2. lilsheba*

            no it’s not smoking, nothing is on fire, it’s a fine mist. And it never smells bad, generall it smells like some kind of food. And the great thing about vaping is it can be done anywhere, it affects no one else.

            1. Eliot Waugh*

              It doesn’t smell bad TO YOU. Many of those “flavors” smell very gross and cloyingly sweet to me, and I know I’m not the only one.

              If I can see something blowing in the air, I don’t want it near me, whether it’s mist or smoke. And especially if it contains nicotine.

              If you’re so addicted you can’t take it outside, consider that that might be a problem.

            2. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

              It does affect other people. The mist is full of carcinogenic chemicals. I don’t want to be in any indoor space someone is vaping in.

            3. atalanta0jess*

              “Never smells bad” is certain subjective. I sure don’t want someone vaping near me where the smell might be on my clothes, in my kid’s face, etc.

            4. Critical Rolls*

              In person, it’s still a case of someone putting mystery chemical aerosols with strong smells in the air I am breathing. That does affect me. Kindly don’t.

            5. Butterfly Counter*

              “It can be done anywhere.”

              I mean, technically that’s true. But so are a lot of things that a person just should not do, not only in meetings, but in public in general. I can be crass about examples, but you can use your imagination. And if a person can see, hear, smell, taste, or feel it, it is affecting them (all but feel relate to vaping).

            6. JustaTech*

              Just FYI, at a high enough concentration, even a “fine mist” can and will set off the smoke alarms.
              Signed, person who had to evacuate the building three times because someone was testing the smoke machine.

        2. Seashell*

          People can vape things other than nicotine, so it strikes me as similar to drinking something that may appear to be an alcoholic beverage at work. (Wasn’t that a previous letter or discussion?)

    5. Cat Tree*

      In many workplaces, smoking in front of the building is also not allowed. More places have tobacco free properties now.

        1. lilsheba*

          Which I find ridiculous. If I still vaped they could just deal with it because it’s not the same as smoking, I don’t care what anyone says, it’s NOT the same.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            It sets off my asthma just the same, so I certainly would appreciate people not doing it directly in front of my office door. But designated smoking areas and designated vaping areas could be separate if people who vape are worried about smelling like smoke or inhaling smoke or whatever else. There’s space for compromise.

          2. JustaTech*

            In my city the law is the same for smoking and vaping any substance – not in any business, not within 25 feet of the door to a business (or bus stop). Since it’s the law, no one needs to feel put upon by their coworkers.

            Though we did have to have a conversation with the construction site next door because they set up their designated smoking location directly in front of our air intake, which rather defeated the purpose.

          3. wow*

            Hearing reports of what it can do to a young person’s lungs, it’s very damaging. No, not the same, but could be worse.

            I feel sad when I see someone under 30 vaping or smoking. It is not news how bad smoking or vaping is for you.

    6. Eliot Waugh*

      First, having potato chips and soda sometimes is not an “unhealthy personal choice”.

      Second, smoking during a meeting would be just as unprofessional as vaping. There’s a reason people are expected to smoke during breaks, not in the middle of the office.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think that norm is due to the air quality issue, though. It used to be normal to smoke in the office, on the plane, etc, and then it got pushed out of shared public spaces. If you worked invisibly from home (Hemingway or Dorothy Parker pounding on a typewriter) you could smoke while doing that.

        I agree with the (non-global) consensus that vaping reads as relaxing with some form of inhaled drug and you shouldn’t do it in a meeting. But in the sense that group behavioral norms are not necessarily going to be following some strict logic.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Yeah, it’s actually super interesting from a sociological perspective! Is it that 50-odd years of no smoking in workplaces has so thoroughly cemented “smoking=not at work” in our minds, or is it specific to vaping, its reputation, the fact that you can’t find see old movies with people vaping in business meetings?

          1. hey you*

            More like 30 years. I started in 1987 with the feds and my supervisor smoked like a chimney in his cubicle that was open to the rest of us who had no walls.

    7. Peanut Hamper*

      For what it’s worth, I am disgusted by employees taking their smoke breaks in front of a building. I don’t smoke, so why should I have to breathe in their filth just to get in the building.

      And yes, many organizations around me do not hire smokers, as it results in lower health insurance premiums. And like illegal substances, many of them will test for it.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Oh wow that seems like a lot, I’ve never heard of testing for nicotine.

        1. Eliot Waugh*

          Usually it’s an insurance thing. It saves the company a lot. Which has its own ethical issues, but I’ll refrain from a socialist rant today, I guess.

        2. Pescadero*

          It’s gotten pretty common for health care facilities here in Michigan –

          “LANSING, MI – At a difficult economic time when many people face uncertain job futures, Sparrow has revised its hiring policy in order to allow the hiring of applicants who test positive for tobacco or nicotine as part of their pre-employment screening process as long as they attend a smoking cessation program.”

          “Detroit Medical Center recently joined several other Michigan hospitals in implementing a tobacco-free hiring policy. Applicants to the Detroit-based health system must pass a physical nicotine screening test before getting a job”

    8. Boof*

      I admit, i just think it’s a bad habit (like, legit fairly unhealthy – unless vaping only water, but does anyone do that??) and should just be avoided/ normalized as little as possible

      1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        This is where I come out; I don’t want nicotine consumption to be normalized.

    9. Also-ADHD*

      I mean, I think on camera in a Zoom meeting is a bit different, especially WFH you can excuse yourself, go off camera, etc. I sometimes turn my camera off even to eat or sometimes drink if I need to! Just because it’s distracting.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Agreed, I absolutely don’t eat on camera (and try to drink through straws so I’m not fogging up my glasses or throwing my head back or whatever). I know people have to eat when they can and it’s not something I’ll call people out for but I still don’t love it. And people know it’s unprofessional to an extent – it happens way more on internal meetings than client meetings, for instance.

    10. Umami*

      I think of the meeting time as a separate bubble of work when you’re WFH, and regular office norms for meetings should apply. The norms help define what is appropriate in a setting, so if the setting is ‘meeting’ then your location shouldn’t define the norms.

      1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        But there are different norms for in-person meetings and phone meetings, specifically because people can’t see you on phone meetings, so Zoom with camera off is more like a phone meeting.

        1. umami*

          Yes, camera-off is completely different, I’m referencing on-camera meetings where the behavior is visible.

      2. Curious*

        Smoking used to be the norm, until people learned the dangers of second hand smoke. And, I assume from what others are saying, there are harms to others if you vape in their vicinity. So, now, the norm is to not smoke or vape anywhere near others.

        That rationale doesn’t apply if the smoker/vaper is remote. So, why is it a problem? Because it evokes relaxation? So does drinking coffee or tea. A mechanism for drug delivery? Umm, caffeine is a drug.

        Well, maybe it just seems “unprofessional.”. I gotta say, it seems to me that norms that people don’t like are “oppressive,” while norms they like are “professional.”

    11. Cherries Jubilee*

      You wouldn’t smoke cigarettes on camera and vaping should be treated the same.

  14. Grith*

    LW4: I’ve done very similar when approached by a recruiter. They were proposing a job that paid between [current salary] to [current salary +10%]. It would have been a first step into management which was interesting, but I was also happy in my current job at the time.

    So I sent the recruiter something along the lines of “looks interesting, but I’d need to be looking to the top of the range to justify a move away from a job I’m currently happy in, and I suspect for a first-time manager they will be looking at the lower end of the range?”. Recruiter agreed and we decided not to go any further with it.

    I think you need to expect that as the most likely outcome from naming a top-of-range salary early in the process. If you think you might not be qualified for that salary, or aren’t particularly excited about the job, get it out there early and either get a nice surprise or save everyone some time. If you think you could actually prove that you’re worth that salary and would be excited to move for it, best to keep that to yourself for now and hope they fall in love with you in an interview *before* money becomes a talking point.

    1. mreasy*

      I did this in the phone screen for my last job – and I needed the VERY top of their range, literally the higher number named, in order to move (as I would be taking a pay cut at that level). I got the job and the salary! But definitely mention ahead of time.

  15. femetee*

    3 – There is a possibility that the higher manager has told the assistant not to tell you. Which evidently is pretty bad in itself.

    2 –

    1. BethDH*

      This possibility seems less likely to me than that it was just an unclear process for letting people know, based on the facts presented.
      The employee seems to be at a moment where they are shifting from being OP’s assistant to having a more independent role in the office. To me you always ask a personal assistant’s boss before assigning them work, but in a lot of workplaces you don’t tell an individual employee’s manager first, and instead you expect the direct report to keep the manager looped in on their own. It’s part of the typical increase in responsibility and control that comes with experience.
      OP notes that this shift is quite recent, so there’s a good chance their direct report is still assuming old methods of communication while OP’s boss may be assuming the report is doing the updates.
      If that seems likely to OP, OP should add a bit to the discussion with their boss about getting on the same page about the employee’s role, as there could be other changes in how the employee manages their work portfolio that boss is expecting.

  16. Boolie*

    #3 manager not looped in – my own manager once upon a time had us recap our tasks for the week and send him a bullet-pointed email before every weekly team meeting. That could quickly mitigate any gaps.

    1. That’s the ticket*

      I like this idea, and it helps to have something to reference when it’s bonus or raise time

    2. ferrina*

      I’ve done similar where we kept a running list of projects we’d review during weekly 1:1s.
      I love this approach

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s a great practice. Even if it’s just a quick “what’s on your agenda this week?” at the top of every meeting, some version of a recap solves a lot of these problems.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I do this on a daily basis for Scrum (and it helps me not feel on-the-spot when my turn arises).

      Grand-boss or higher comes to me with a request? I just open a ticket, assign them as the stakeholder, and prioritize it wherever it fits in my queue.

      (I’m a programmer, for whatever that matters).

    5. Two Dog Night*

      Yeah, my boss is *very* hands off, but I send him a status report every week listing everything I’m working on and what’s going on with it. Sometimes I need him to help me prioritize or push back on something, and that works better when he has an idea of what all I’m doing.

      LW 3, if your employee is starting to work more independently, this might be a good time to set up regular 1-1’s instead of meeting more casually, as well as a more formal way of keeping you updated on their projects.

    6. JustaTech*

      I do this for my boss, though really it’s for me so I know what I did last week and what I’m expecting to do this week.
      You wouldn’t think you would need a list like that, but given that I once completely forgot about a major project by the time year end reviews came around, it can be super useful.

  17. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP2: It’s unprofessional. Basically the rule here is if you wouldn’t do it in a meeting room then don’t do it in a zoom call.

    So no loud belching, no scratching your bum constantly, no drinking booze, no smoking/vaping (you legally can’t do either in the office), no sitting there in your nightdress with curry in your hair…

    1. negligent apparitions*

      LOL, speaking of burping in the office, on Wednesday (after a four day weekend for me and six days off for my assistant), I burped without thinking of it because I was so used to being by myself in here!! I was so embarrassed.

    2. Jay (no, the other one)*

      I’m pretty sure “curry” is autocorrect and I am very much enjoying the visual!

  18. Don't Call Me Shirley*

    LW 3 – talk to the boss. I suspect it’s possible that this employee no longer is at the stage they need to be an assistant and they are getting work of their own. Junior and/or new people need more supervision and mentorship but consider that you need to “let” this person work more independently.

    If your boss is assigning work and they’re completing it independently to the expected standard, maybe you need to look to your own role in this.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I think this is a little disheartening and rude. I don’t get the sense that the OP doesnt want their employee to do bigger projects or to stay as an assistant. They were just surprised that they didn’t know about this project. And if there is other work being assigned to him, they might want to prioritize tasks. Or they may have an idea for a project themselves for him but now with this project he wont have enough time to complete it.
      It’s kind of hard to judge if someone is ready to move to up to another role if you don’t know their input on all of their projects.
      We also don’t know what the employee’s role was with the project. Just because they gave the update doesn’t mean they were doing the project on their own. They could be part of a team and that the CEO just wanted him to give the update. maybe to give more experience speaking about projects.

    2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      Also forgot to add, that if the employee is not an assistant anymore then the OP needs to be made aware. This way they can look for someone to fill that role.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is an odd read. It is SO common for assistants to be treated like a communal resource, being asked to do tasks or projects outside the scope of the person they’re assigned to doesn’t indicate anything except that they’re good enough at their job that other people find them reliably and competent.

      There’s also a “just an assistant” tone to your comment I don’t love. Have you ever worked with an EA? That’s a highly paid role that requires a lot of skill and expertise and often juggles multiple projects and priorities. That doesn’t mean their manager or key executive doesn’t still want a general idea of what those are.

  19. Peanut Hamper*

    #2 — I draw the line at biological necessity versus vanity/addiction.

    If you are in a meeting and talking, of course you will need to take a drink every now and then. Water, coffee, tea are all perfectly acceptable, as are sodas in most places. I probably wouldn’t have a problem with energy drinks, even–some people just need a higher dose of caffeine to get going/keep going.

    But there is no biological need for vaping. It’s an addiction, surely, but that’s why we have breaks. The same is true for painting your nails. They are distractions, if not to you, at least to some of the other people you are in a meeting with. I mean, I love chocolate, and eat it every day (I have a hard time getting through my day without it) but I’m not going to sit there in a meeting and eat a chocolate bar, or even M&Ms.

    As for eating in a meeting, again, this is why we have breaks. Save your concentration (and others’) for the meeting, and save your lunch/snacking for your breaks. If you are in back-to-back meetings and don’t have time to eat otherwise, that is a completely different problem.

    And yeah, I get it–you’re working from home. But you’re still expected to act and present in a professional manner. When I have to be on screen (which is rarely) I dress appropriately, at least from the waist up, not in an Iron Maiden t-shirt. The thing you gain when working from home is that you get to be more relaxed most of the time but the thing you give up is that you are still expected to maintain a certain level of professionalism and decorum when you are on screen.

    This varies, of course, from industry to industry and from company to company, all of which have different cultures. But if I were the only one on screen vaping, or painting my nails, or eating a slice of pizza, I would really have to question whether this is appropriate for my workplace or not, and wonder about the impression I am making on others in the company.

  20. Eliot Waugh*

    I take part in 12 step meetings* and even we ask people not to smoke or vape at meetings both in person and online. If a bunch of us alcoholics in recovery can manage for an hour, including newly sober people, so can your coworkers.

    *Obligatory note that I can only speak to my own experience at these meetings and I am not a representative of AA.

    1. Peanut Hamper*


      And I’ve always heard that AA meetings are always fairly heavy coffee and tobacco areas. Interesting.

      And congratulations on your recovery journey! Sending you good thoughts!

      1. Eliot Waugh*

        Coffee yes! And people definitely smoked in meetings in the past but since many meetings are hosted in churches, and most churches also ask for no smoking indoors, that’s largely become a thing of the past. I’m sure there ARE still meetings where people smoke but I’ve never been to one.

    2. PhyllisB*

      I can concur. My daughter is 7 years sober and she has invited us to some meetings with her ( that aren’t closed, of course) and they do not allow smoking/vaping during the meetings, but as soon as the meeting is over, they hit the doors lighting up. I have heard them remind people to at least get away from the front of the building so nonsmokers don’t have to walk through it.

  21. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (direct report assigned work by my boss) – the other reason the manager needs to be aware of things like this is because of the scenario where someone else in the company wants to know something about the project, would have asked the report directly but he’s on PTO or whatever, so asks OP since they are his manager, only to get a response of “what project?” which makes the manager look foolish and out of the loop.

    I wondered if the “grandboss” thinks OP isn’t giving the report growth opportunities enough or quickly enough.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I don’t think that there was anything with the CEO. It sounds like they all have a good working relationship. I’m guessing that it was a miscommunication. Like it didn’t even occur to them. Or maybe the CEO thought that the assistant would let the OP know and the assistant thought the CEO told them.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This sounds right. I think OP just needs to bake in a line of communication about workload on a regular basis. “Communicate a little better” is the solution to a lot of problems, really.

  22. Don't Call Me Shirley*

    Bingo. Grandboss thinks that the junior is being held back. I’ve had this issue with coworkers who see a only communicate through the hierarchy and all decisions are top down environment, which sends smart junior engineers running. Grandboss may be feeling out if the junior is ready for more, and trying to make sure OP doesn’t take the opportunity away by closely supervising.

    1. JustaTech*

      But then why wouldn’t grandboss tell OP “hey, I’m giving your junior a project and I need to see how they do flying solo on this one, so I need you to be hands off for this one”?
      Or just say “Hey, I think your junior is ready for more advanced work, I am giving them this project.”
      Or even “I think your junior is ready for more advanced work, give them a project to work on solo”.

      Like, why should the grandboss need subterfuge when they’re the one in charge? And if the grandboss thinks that the OP is micromanaging, shouldn’t the grandboss address that directly and separately with the OP?

  23. WellRed*

    A friend took FMLA a few years ago to care for her mom. I think it was several weeks. Her toxic manager required a note from her mother’s doctor so she could return to work.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      What!!! I would love to see the look on the doctor’s face when she asked that.

      But now that I’m thinking about it when I was a teenager I had some serious medical stuff going on and my mom worked at a toxic and dysfunctional place. I think she had to get a note from my doctor stating that she took me to my appointments or something. I know I had to have one for school, so I could be marked as an approved absence. But I think he needed to give her one too.

  24. L-squared*

    I feel like the vaping question has come up here before. And honestly, I don’t get the big deal.

    To be clear, I don’t smoke, and never have. But what bothers me about smoking isn’t SEEING the smoking, its smelling it. But if you aren’t affected, I’m not sure why it bothers people.

    Yes, some things are districting on video. I’ve seen cats walk across a screen, seen children walk in, had people snacking. All of it “can” be distracting. But I’m not bothered by it.

    For this site being so fine with people knitting and other things in physical meetings, that I’d find ACTUALLY distracting, this just seems like people being puritanical that people are smoking in general.

    1. LTR FTW*

      I agree! I don’t smoke or vape but I do have a team member that vapes on calls. I don’t care, it’s not like I can smell it. I think people are just anti-vaping.

      I wouldn’t care about nail painting either since I can’t smell it. I can’t see any distinction between that and a doodling or fidget toys or whatever. Lots of people focus better if they have something to do while listening.

      I will say that when eating during calls, folks I work with often turn their cameras off. Just because stuffing food in your face on camera is awkward! But if it’s just something like a few pretzels (and they’re not presenting) it’s NBD and nobody cares.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Vaping on video calls has come up at least twice before here (I’ll link in a follow-up comment):

      “is it weird to vape on a Zoom call, should you go to grad school to avoid a bad job market, and more” from April 7, 2020

      “employee is vaping on video calls, my speaking style seems all wrong for the South, and more” from June 16, 2020

      I don’t get the big deal.

      I can try to explain my thoughts on the matter a little bit, because I think I would be a little bothered if I saw someone smoking or vaping on a video call (haven’t been in that scenario, so can’t say for certain).

      I was recently watching a TV show that took place in the 1980s and when one of the characters lit a cigarette in the kitchen, I had a visceral reaction of “gross! smoking inside where you prepare food. ugh!” Did not react that way to the scenes of the characters smoking outside, so I have very much internalized the “smoking is an outdoor activity” social norm. I think I would have a similar (internal) reaction if I saw a coworker smoking inside their own house on a video call.

      For vaping, I think the unprofessional associations come from mostly/only seeing people vape in social settings. It’s less of a “gross” reaction, more like seeing a coworker on a video call in a T-shirt and a backwards baseball cap when the expectation is that everyone wears collared shirts even when working from home. It feels like too casual of an activity for the workday (to me).

      1. ClaireW*

        I think your last point is probably a big part of it honestly – I wouldn’t even really think twice about someone vaping, but I work in tech, so people are in baggy tshirts or hoodies in our calls (one guy in my team always has a cap or beanie on even though he’s in his own house lol). It’s a very casual environment so as long as someone is clearly listening and involved in the call, something like vaping would seem as irrelevant as a water bottle or using the scrunchie around your wrist to put your hair up.

        1. L-squared*

          You know, maybe this is my issue too. I’m in tech, so people in T shirts and a cap isn’t a big deal. So because of that, vaping also wouldn’t be a big deal.

          I can see how if you were on a team of accountants or lawyers, things might be different.

      2. LTR FTW*

        Oh jeez nobody I work with wears a collared shirt either! It’s strictly t-shirts and hoodies for all of us. My boss rocks a ball cap all the time. I think “professional norms” vary pretty widely by industry.

    3. ClaireW*

      Yeah, I don’t vape/smoke and never did, my husband does though, but I don’t think it would bother me to see someone else do it on a call. Like I’m not distracted by someone drinking coffee or taking notes, even people with treadmill desks etc that are bobbing up and down – it’s a little distracting if they’re full-screen and not just a little window, but not so much that I’d consider it “unprofessional”, so I’m surprised how many folks here disapprove. I’m not in the US though, so maybe it’s a cultural thing.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I would totally concider people being in meetings while exercising, including treadmill, and I would concider calling vaping unprofessional as well.
        Anything you wouldn’t do during in-person meeting.

        1. L-squared*

          You wouldn’t have your cat crawling across your desk in an in person meeting either, but people seem to be fine wiht that when it happens on occasion

          1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

            There’s a difference between “cat walks by” and coworker plays with/brushes cat during meeting. Vaping feels more like brushing your cat than cat wanders by.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Some people actually do find that distracting and unprofessional! (I’m not one of them, but yknow). I think it’s a “know your norms” thing. Different professions/industries/offices just have different expectations on a lot of things.

    4. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I think it goes along the line of eating while on the video call. And if they are speaking while doing the vaping its going to cause noise, The long drawn out breath noise can be really annoying to some.

    5. Risha*

      I agree with you. People are judgy and because they find something disgusting or not professional, they try to project it to others. FTR, I do vape so maybe I’m biased (it’s the only thing that keeps me from smoking real cigarettes). But like you said, there are cats walking across the screen, dogs barking incessantly, kids screaming/crying, people eating a full breakfast on camera and everyone seems fine with that. But god forbid you vape. Either all of it is unprofessional or all of it is ok. It’s not right to pick things that you personally find disgusting and say it’s unprofessional. What’s the difference between someone taking a couple pulls of their vape and someone eating a pork roll/egg/cheese sandwich on camera? What’s the difference between taking pulls of a vape and a dog jumping up and barking nonstop? If you can ignore someone eating on camera, surely you can ignore someone taking a couple pulls of their vape. A dog barking or a kid crying is way more distracting than if I took a few discrete pulls of my vape and exhaled off camera.

      And for those that say if you wouldn’t do it in person, it shouldn’t be done on camera. Then the pets and kids should be kept away from the camera too since we wouldn’t bring them into the office for our meetings. Also, we’re not in the office, we’re at home. With that line of thinking, then people should dress at home the same way they would dress if they had to go into the office.

      I’m so happy I never have to be on camera for our meetings.

      1. Eliot Waugh*

        I’d expect a person eating to turn their camera off, a person with a dog barking to turn their microphone off or otherwise make efforts to stop the noise, and a person with a kid in the background to turn their camera off or take care of the distraction. In order to be polite to each other on video calls, we minimize distractions.

        1. L-squared*

          As far as eating, it depends.

          I have 0 problem with someone having a couple of chips during a meeting. If it was a whole sandwich or something, that may be an issue. But again, the amount of people I’ve seen with pets in their shots is HUGE, even if they are making noise. I just don’t see how people would find that fine, and vaping some issue.

          1. Eliot Waugh*

            Norms don’t always make perfect sense. Having pets indoors is seen as normal and expected. Smoking indoors isn’t.

            1. Risha*

              Vaping isn’t smoking, and it’s also inside my own home. It may not be normal in your opinion for people to smoke/vape inside the home, but for many people it is normal. Having pets indoors is expected, but not to hear someone’s dog barking/whining nonstop during a meeting. Many people would not be bothered by that and some would actually find it cute.

              Maybe you find all of it equally distracting and would expect someone to not eat on camera or not have their kids/pets making noise, but most people don’t feel that way. It’s judging those who do activities that (general) you don’t agree with, so it’s labeled as unprofessional.

              Why would it be a problem if I took a couple quick pulls of my vape (in my own home) and exhaled quietly off camera? I still don’t understand why someone’s definition of unprofessional is applied to everyone. If it doesn’t affect me or my work, I don’t care what people do. Does it affect my coworkers’ job if I take some pulls of my vape? People should really not concern themselves with what others do unless it’s directly bothering them or preventing them from getting their work done. It’s always ok to judge smokers/vapers and I don’t understand why.

              1. Eliot Waugh*

                Frankly, I just don’t understand why taking pulls from your vape cannot possibly wait until after an on-camera meeting.

                1. Risha*

                  So can eating and drinking. I don’t understand why it would bother you what someone does in their home. Why would it bother anyone? Sure, I can wait a bit. But the people who want to have a full breakfast or snack can also wait for the meeting to be over. The dog can be put away until the meeting is over.
                  Your definition of what’s professional is your opinion only. Likewise, if I’m vaping, it shouldn’t be your concern as I’m not bothering you at all by doing it. People really need to not concern themselves with what others do, or at least apply their professional standards equally.

                2. Jennifer Strange*

                  Risha, eating and drinking can’t always wait. Those are biological necessities. Vaping is not.

              2. JustaTech*

                Because in the vast majority of modern offices people are not allowed to smoke or vape indoors so they take a smoke break. Thus smoking and vaping have been identified with “taking a break” – ie, not working.

                So a person who visibly smokes or vapes on camera is presenting the visual of “on break” – even if they are fully engaged in the meeting.
                Then add in that a lot of people have very strong opinions about smoking and vaping, and you can see how many people will consciously or unconsciously read vaping during a meeting as unprofessional.

            2. Pescadero*

              “Norms don’t always make perfect sense. ”

              Most norms don’t make any logical sense at all.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            That’s interesting because the chips would bother me more, if the mic was on.

          3. Risha*

            Exactly. Not only have their pets in view of the camera, but often times their dog is barking/whining, jumping all over and everyone is saying how cute it is. I said in another comment that I don’t care what my coworkers do, as long as it doesn’t affect me or my work. You can eat, drink, smoke, have your dog barking, whatever. Too bad other people don’t have that same thought process. If it doesn’t directly affect you or your work, it should not be your concern. So what if I take a few discrete pulls of my vape and exhale quietly off camera? Why does it matter? It’s no different than someone eating lunch or whatever else people do

            It pretty much boils down to the fact that it’s ok to judge those who smoke or vape. No other unhealthy activity is judged the same way. People apply what they consider gross or unprofessional to everyone else. There are things I find gross and unprofessional that people do, but I keep it to myself because it’s not my business and it’s not bothering me.

      2. Umami*

        Granted there are things at home that are difficult to control. But if people are doing their best to uphold professional workplace norms by controlling what they can and a good faith effort toward those other distractions to mention, it’s more acceptable. Behaviors such as eating messy foods or vaping are all controllable and are simply viewed differently because they are not acceptable in the workplace. A workplace meeting should follow the same norms as much as possible regardless of format. I would say even animals being needlessly distracting on a regular basis isn’t going to read well if others are managing their spaces more professionally. Of course, different work places will have different levels of tolerance for these things.

      3. lilsheba*

        Risha I so agree with you!! We are at home, and these things are going to happen, and people honestly need to worry about other things.

        1. Risha*

          Thank you! It’s because some people personally find smoking/vaping disgusting, so they want to apply their standards to everyone. If it’s not professional for me to take a few pulls of my vape, then it’s not professional to eat on camera either. People really need to mind their own business. If it’s not preventing them from getting their work done, then what I do in MY home should not be their concern at all. I am guessing these are the same people who watch every move their coworkers make when actually in the office.

          1. Broadway Duchess*

            I’ll admit that I do find all of it unprofessional, so it would give me pause to see someone puffing away while we are engaged in work. I feel the same about eating, nails, knitting, etc. and in my industry, it’s uncommon unless it’s an actual lunch event. The difference with kids or pets showing up is that there is an unpredictability to a kid (hopefully infrequently) needing attention or needing to grab a swig of caffeine during a meeting vs. the idea that nails simply *must* be painted at this moment or vapes *must* be pulled right now. YMMV, and does.

      4. constant_craving*

        While a kid crying or a dog barking may be more distracting, those are typically in situations where the person isn’t intentionally having those things happen, but it is unpreventable for some reason and comes up. If someone is just not even trying to keep those distractions away that’s another thing, but that’s going to be pretty rare. In contrast, vaping is an intentional choice.

        I don’t think it’s the end of the world and it is going to depend how formal the meeting is, but I think overall it suggests a pretty casual approach to the meeting. In many situations, that’s not going to fit well. In others it will be just fine.

    6. Mill Miker*

      I wonder if there’s a bit of circular reasoning to it all.

      Personally, if I think about it, there shouldn’t be a problem with vaping in a call. But enough people have a problem with it that it’s still a “business norm” to not do it.

      And then it’s not the vaping itself that seems unprofessional, but the disregard for the business norm that calls their judgement into question.

      So it’s not just the “Vaping is unprofessional” people vs. the “Vaping is acceptable” people, there’s also the middle group of “read the room” people siding with whichever of the other groups has more power at the time.

      1. Hrodvitnir*

        I think this is the best take.

        I find the anti-vaping* sentiment pretty ridiculous, but (a) I lean very much toward not minding any of the other things listed as comparisons, and (b) there is indeed a totally circular but very real “it’s not done” reasoning.

        *I don’t smoke or vape and think tobacco is the devil, but I really hate that the fact vaping is worse than nothing has turned into “it’s just as bad” as cigarettes because… it’s not. It is not. It is, in fact, much less bad. Issues with dodgy additives can be legislated and are not inherent to the process. And as an asthmatic, it’s approximately 100% better for me existing in public. :)

  25. pally*

    #4: I too reside in a state where they require job ads include a salary range. And some of those ranges vary widely (like greater than $100k between ends).

    I asked the HR person about this and she explained that absolutely no one would be offered the high end of the range. Rather, their ‘philosophy’ is to make an offer at the exact middle of the range.

    Granted this is just one large company’s practice.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      If no one gets an offer at the high end of the range, then the range isn’t really the range. It’s a figment of someone’s imagination.

      1. Ben*

        It very quickly gets into, like, metaphysical questions about what the definition of a “range” is. Is it reasonable to set the high end at a level that you might conceivably pay to the world’s most perfect candidate? Because you know that you are almost certainly never going to pay anyone that amount, so the high end is basically illusory. But if you happen to find someone who commands it, you want the ability to pay them. Ultimately I think it just depends whether the employer is acting in good faith or not.

    2. Observer*

      I asked the HR person about this and she explained that absolutely no one would be offered the high end of the range. Rather, their ‘philosophy’ is to make an offer at the exact middle of the range.

      Your company is asking for trouble. These states’ equivalents of the DOL have started going after company’s that post clearly phone ranges.

  26. Hiring Mgr*

    If someone is a good colleague, boss, employee, etc, I have to say I don’t really care if they’re vaping, knitting, rolling steel balls, eating salad, eating chips, drinking soda, coffee, or whatever on a zoom call. But, it’s still an optics thing so tread carefully

      1. NP08*

        there are plenty of times in-the-office where people eat together and you might have to see someone else eating. 8+ hour workdays mean sometimes our fellow humans have to eat, even during a meeting.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          It’s different when it’s not in the meeting.
          Watching people eat on screen while having a meeting feels very different than in the actual “eating” environment.

          1. Carlie*

            I think a big part of it is how “close” you are to their face in an online session – in an in-person environment, you have what, 3 feet of space between you and their head. But on screen, everyone’s camera is within about 12 inches of their face, so the view on screen is their mouth RIGHT THERE OMG. So anything involving your face – chewing, smoking, drinking, slight head movements, are all exaggerated because your view is so close to them compared to in a life situation.

    1. Pine Tree*

      One of my coworkers flosses with those little floss pick thingies during zoom calls.

  27. EngGirl*


    I actually recently did this with great results in a phone screen. When it was my turn to ask questions after a couple of questions related to the role I asked about salary range and they gave me a range that I would need to be on the high end for. I just said that I wanted to be transparent and respect everyone’s time and mentioned that I would be looking for something on the upper end of the range due to the high cost of living in their area. I had a number in mind and they ended up 5k over it with a truly amazing benefits package.

  28. Over It*

    #4 I think your approach is perfectly reasonable and should work at most private sector and non-profit employers operating in good faith. I will say that government can look different. In my jurisdiction (U.S., non-federal) government jobs are given a grade with steps within that grade. All positions are posted within the entire grade’s salary band, even if the position isn’t budgeted for the top of the band. Union employees get a step increase each year, so the top of the band is what the salary is for someone who’s been at that grade level for 15+ years would make, but generally not realistic for a new employee. HR always offers the bottom salary, and if you meet more than the bare minimum requirements for the job you might be able to negotiate to start at a few steps higher than 1, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll be starting towards the top of the range unless you’re very experienced and the position is unusually hard to fill, or you’re making a lateral move within government and are already towards the top of the band. For example, I just hired a GS-9 position and was required to list the salary range as 58-74k, even though we had only budgeted a max of 66k. One person dropped out when I told them we’d be unlikely to meet them at the top of the range, which I can’t hold against them. HR offered the person we ended up hiring 58k initially. They really only had the minimum experience for the post but ended up being able to negotiate to start at a step 2 instead of step 1, which was 60k. I think it’s fair compensation for what this person brings to the position, but very far from 74k, which was never even an option to begin with. I think this system is crappy, but tl;dr government positions list salaries and often the range is quite large, but they often don’t intend to hire anywhere near the top of that range.

    1. Dr. Doll*

      state government here. I have to list the whole range but then in the job description narrative I give our real range. then if I invite someone for a phone screen I remind them of the real range and any other constraints such as the in-person requirement, and confirm they understand before proceeding.

      1. Over It*

        That seems like a good workaround! Our HR has to approve job descriptions as well, and would never let us do that :( I am not a fan of our ridiculously rigid hiring processes or our HR in general. I miss the flexibility of hiring in the non-profit world where I came from, where it was fine to hire a strong candidate who didn’t meet 100% of the listed requirements as long as there were no dealbreakers, and offering someone a few thousand in additional compensation wasn’t always a huge deal. But I certainly don’t miss the non-profit pay, so ultimately that tradeoff is worth it.

  29. Camellia*

    My company has no issue with two sick days in a row. If you use three sick days in a row, they require a doctor’s note. Not to ‘explain/excuse/justify’ you needing to miss work, nor to disclose any medical information, but simply to attest that you are now ABLE to return to work. It applies across the board, to everyone. Does it sometimes force a person, who may be out with a simple cold, to have a doctor’s visit? Yes, it does. But it is impartial and requires no judgement values of any kind, so most of us think it’s a reasonable policy.

    1. WellRed*

      It’s not. I’m an adult. I can judge for myself that my cold is sufficiently gone so that I’m up to working. And where are all these available last minute doctors appointments?

      1. RussianInTexas*

        Yes, this. Last year my doctor couldn’t see me for 13 days after I had an ER-worthy accident. For a cold? lol
        Or will you require for me to go to the urgent care, pay $150 vs $35 to just have the note that says “yep, it’s a cold”?

      2. Victoria Everglot*

        I wonder how many people go to work sick because they don’t want the headache of having to take a fourth day off to go to the doctor after their cold has already passed the worst stages.

        1. Paris Geller*

          Can speak from experience: a lot. My former employee had this same policy. It was horrible and honestly, such a waste of time and money. Sick time is part of my benefits. If my work performance isn’t suffering and you believe I am a competent adult, let me recover in peace. Our policy also required a doctor’s note if you were sick the day before or after a holiday, which is why I dragged myself to a CVS clinic one Christmas Eve (because we did not have that day off, only Christmas) just for them to confirm it was indeed a cold/infection. One of many reasons I no longer work there.

      3. Lynn*

        A former manager of mine told me to get a doctors note when I had a cold.

        So, I called my doctors office and explained that to a nurse.

        The nurse told me that the clinic and the doctor would not make an appointment unless I had a high grade fever that was not going away.

        I e-mailed my manager that so he would know how my doctor and clinic operated.

        This is one reason why I let a cold take its course and just call out for 2 takes maximum.

      4. Umami*

        We accept a note from the doctor in the employee’s MyChart, they aren’t required to actually visit the doctor unless the doctor requires it. I agree that the rule is nonsensical, though.

        1. Carlie*

          That starts to get into the issue from a previous LW, about counting email time and smallest billable units. It still takes a few minutes to review the chart and write the note, and that adds up. I just saw an article recently about how much physician burnout has increased because of the extra load of electronic access to doctors that isn’t counted in appointment hours.

        2. JustaTech*

          Ugh, there’s one major hospital in my area (research hospital, so the folks who do the complex stuff) that is going to start charging for MyChart notes if they take more than “nominal” time – up to $98 for people without insurance!

    2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      Yeah, I worked someplace that had that policy too. I had a bad virus and had to wait a few days to be seen by my doctor. I was NOT going to pay the extra money just to go to Urgent Care. My job was not strenuous, and I didn’t work with the public or with food, where I could have transmitted my illness to others.

      I think the employee should maybe explain a bit more why they are out, like I’m out with a virus or I broke a tooth and need to be out for a few days, etc. But there are few times that an employer would need a doctors note to come back:

      The employee had surgery and they want to make sure they are well enough to work. Especially if the job requires something physical like driving, lifting, etc.
      The employee works with vulnerable population (young kids, people with disabilities, nursing home, etc) and they need to be cleared to make sure they are no longer infectious.
      They work with food.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      HR here – mandatory sick notes for days out is a practice that’s becoming more and more outdated, and it can introduce real equity issues (“just” a doctor’s visit can be a big deal for people with kids, people who can’t afford a copay, people without reliable transportation, people who are immunocompromised and really shouldn’t be in a place like a doctor’s office without good reason, on and on).

      Treating everyone the same is often not the equitable approach. Humans – and policies – can handle nuance.

    4. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Ugh my company is like you can’t use three sick days in a row which is a nightmare for me. ( weak to respiratory)

    5. Fluffy Fish*

      A note after 3 days is a flat out terrible policy. A run of the mill illness can put you out for a week+. Adults dont need to have their illnesses micromanaged and vetted by an employer.

      Having some kind of threshold? Sure. But it should be more like 10 working days.

    6. Observer*

      . But it is impartial and requires no judgement values of any kind, so most of us think it’s a reasonable policy.

      That’s hair raising. If the only good thing you can say about a policy is that it prevents a manager from using their judgement, that’s a terrible place to work.

      This is NOT a good policy at all. Unless you have a very unusual workforce, the vast majority of the visits (and expense in most cases in the US) are absolutely unnecessary. The *actual* results are probably that people try to avoid that third day even when they really should stay home (which is probably the unstated but real reason for the policy) and people who wind up being out *longer* because of this requirement.

  30. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

    #1 Well that’s a new one. Typically requiring doctors notes for every health related absence is considered over excessive and I would say THAT would be abuse. Not trusting your employees to know their own bodies and supporting them in whatever they needed.
    The only time a doctors note should be required is if the health thing is directly related to their job. So if someone drives a forklift and had eye surgery you need to get a doctors note clearing the person for driving. Same thing if someone had a heart attack and does strenuous activity for work. But if someone is just out with the flu for several days, you don’t need a doctors note.

  31. cabbagepants*

    LW1, you just call it “medical” leave so I’m not sure if it applies, but when I’ve taken paid disability leave I’ve needed doctors notes to both start and finish the leave. For disability leave the whole idea is that you *can’t* work for the duration of the leave so I think it’s reasonable to have actual medical input.

  32. Kan*

    #1 – I think calling these absences “medical leaves” may be confusing things for me – most of what is listed sounds like “sick time” or an accomodation that the employer is voluntarily making and I agree that the OP’s instincts are right. But with my employer, a “medical leave” is something that triggers short term or long term disability benefits, and I think their policy is to require a doctor’s note demonstrating the need for the leave, and estimating the return date. They then require a doctor’s note “clearing” them to return to work, or verifying the need to extend the return date. It may just be policy. I’m assuming the rules at the beginning of the leave are to ensure that the benefits are fairly given across employees (everyone must demonstrate “need”) and at the end of the leave are to protect the employer from liability (to demonstrate that they did not pressure the employee to return early, against clinical advice.)?

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      Does your employer require the doctors note before leave because the employee is using FMLA? Otherwise I don’t understand why the employer needs a letter before hand?

    2. medicality*

      That’s the typical terminology I’ve seen in HR docs. Taking a few days off for the flu is just PTO. Medical Leave means you’re neither working nor using PTO, but instead invoking short term disability insurance (STDI) or FMLA or both. (Or, commonly, combining PTO, STDI, possibly LTDI, etc.)

      If I took 2 weeks PTO, no paperwork required. If I took 2 weeks Medical Leave, I’m asking the company to pay me via my STDI policy rather than PTO. And every STDI policy I’ve seen requires you be under the care of a doctor who can attest you are too ill to work over the time period STDI is to pay out.

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      My employer doesn’t offer disability but, semantic choices aside of how an employer refers to it, there is a difference between just taking a few days sick leave and needing to be off for an extended time be it continual or intermittent.

      Extended requires FMLA at my employer which in turn requires documentation from a dr’s office.

      1. cabbagepants*

        I think the distinction between sick leave and disability leave is often more than semantics because the former is paid by the company and the latter is paid by a third party insurance company. The third party insurance company, being an insurance company, will not take anything on faith but will require documentation.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          My reference to semantics was in referring to something as sick leave or medical leave or long term sick leave extended sick leave etc etc. Also in scope of the employer – not third party disability you pay for.

          Disability leave would be a very specific kind of leave. Not all employers offer disability leave.

          1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

            In my state, short-term disability coverage is a requirement, and it’s provided by the state. (Well, it’s probably provided by an insurance company, but my point is that it’s not a company thing.) I’m pretty sure it’s one of the things where employers and employees each pay a part, so part of it shows in our paystubs. Long-term disability is separate and large employers often offer it as a thing you can opt into (and pay for at group rates).

            1. Fluffy Fish*

              I must not be being clear in what I’m saying.

              Unless the employee applies for disability leave directly through the employer, its not really relevant to the the issue of when it would be appropriate for an employer to require medical clearance. Because the employer would not be privy to that information.

              I have disability as a courtesy payroll deduction – however its is private insurance that my employer has no say in and would never see the documents nor if I ever applied to use it.

              This is an issue of time off for medical reasons and what documentation would be reasonable to request and when.

  33. Victoria Everglot*

    I think LW and their company has the right idea, treating people as individuals. It’s a very employee-friendly policy. It sounds like having a doctor’s note to come back to work after having severe dizzy spells would be required for people driving a company car or climbing ladders, but not for people who sit at desks. Requiring notes to help you keep employees safe isn’t a bad thing, and not requiring sick employees to provide notes that wouldn’t change anything isn’t a bad thing either!

  34. The Person from the Resume*

    LW#1 writes a long question, but in short …

    Is trusting an employee’s judegment about if they are able to work and rarely requiring a doctor’s note validating they are capable of returning to work (or working at all) abusive? The LW is asking because an employee who was ultimately fired for bullying told the LW that it was abusive to trust an employee with cancer about his health and not require a doctors note to allow him to work.

    No, not at all. Requiring doctor’s notes for things you can trust the employee’s judgement on is usually the problem and considered the overstep.

    1. Over It*

      I agree. Nothing in here is abuse. And even when companies *do* require people to get a doctor’s note for small amounts of sick leave, that isn’t abusive either. It’s a terrible policy for plethora reasons and companies should knock it off, but it’s not abuse.

  35. ijustworkhere*

    LW 1 I think the other issue to consider here is that it seems that a standardized and transparent process on how these decisions are made is absent, which can lead to accusations of favoritism or discrimination. I don’t think it’s wrong to do what the LW is doing, but some better explanation of how these decisions are made (to require a note or not) would be good for everyone–that way you aren’t re-inventing the wheel with every request.

  36. Dona Florinda*

    OP1: my mom chose to continue working while she was still undergoing chemo. She had been on a paid leave for six months and couldn’t stand not working anymore, so she went back to work four days a week. If someone tried to speak for her, saying her return to work was “abuse”, that person would be getting an earful.

    You’re not the one in the wrong here.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      My boss also worked as much as possible during chemo. It was how she maintained normalcy. She is…a formidable woman, to say the least, and I can only imagine someone trying to say this to her. People need to stay in their lanes.

    2. negligent apparitions*

      My dad did the same. He worked in a hospital, so he would go down the hall, receive his radiation, and come back to work. He only stopped working (retired) to spend time with my mom when he knew he didn’t have much longer to live.

  37. ashie*

    Re Vaping: I was on a video call last year with a group of people I didn’t know organizing a celebrity to visit our organization and film a TV segment for their show. I was so turned off by the one guy who was vaping on the call… come to find out, that was the celebrity. So I think it’s completely unprofessional but if you have the personal clout I guess do whatever you want.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep. That’s a reality with celebrities, executives, experts…there are people like this in every field. Clout and power changes the rules, unfortunately.

  38. Governmint Condition*

    On #1, last year, my boss had surgery that required him to work 100% remote for a few weeks, instead of the standard 50%. His doctor’s note granted him a “reasonable accommodation for a temporary disability.” In order to return to 50%, the state required him to get a doctor’s note certifying him to return. At his next doctor’s appointment, where he expected to get the note, the doctor didn’t want to give it to him. Not for any medical reason, but because the doctor knew that the boss could remain 100% remote without it, and assumed that the boss wanted this (he did not). They had a very awkward conversation before the doctor wrote a note allowing him to phase back into 50% (starting with 20%, etc.).

    In summary, the veracity of doctor’s notes will vary with the doctor.

  39. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

    OP1, just want to commend you for not tolerating bullying in the workplace and terminating that employee because of bullying. How I wish that could’ve happened in past jobs where I had both bosses and coworkers who bullied and threatened me endlessly; my life and career trajectory would probably have turned out much different. (Instead it was tolerated and ignored by upper Mgmt.)

  40. negligent apparitions*

    Totally agree that OP3 should be at least looped in on what direct reports are being asked to do. I have an assistant right now that my boss will occasionally give projects to and sometimes it is so completely out of her scope (and wheelhouse) that I have to reel him in. She would never push back, so I need to.

    On the contrary, at my last job I managed our communications specialist who needed to interact with the rest of the team in order to get their job done. Because of some weird office dynamics, the entire office ended up ONLY communicating with them through me, despite me telling them, over and over again, to work directly with comms. I had a way to see their projects they were working on; putting me in the middle was completely unnecessary and took up way too much of my time. That person only lasted ten months and I was gone one very long year later.

  41. Observer*

    #1- Question about medical release.

    I think it’s healthy to take feedback from people around you, even ones who are lower in the hierarchy. But at the same time, it’s important to understand whose feedback you need to ignore. Taking feedback on what is abusive to staff from someone who “pesters” someone into revealing confidential medical information? Absolute ignore. Someone who you had to let go for bullying? That’s almost a caricature.

    I don’t believe that you have a legal liability here. You might want to run this by your lawyer, but I would make sure you are talking to a labor lawyer and one who understands that it’s not their job to shield you from every possible potential nuisance suit, but rather to keep you within the realm of legal and reasonably protected from *legitimate* suits.

  42. Garblesnark*

    Re #1: I will say that not all office work never needs a doctor’s release. For example, I once had a surgery inadvertently shut off my vocal chords for a bit, and I think a release to return to my regular duties made sense in that case (since talking is part of most jobs). But it sounds like the LW is already using good judgement here.

  43. OP1*

    OP #1 here, I’m glad to know my gut is in line with Allison said! There is a little confusion in the comments on sick versus medical leave so I wanted to clarify:
    1) The employee who was sick initially didn’t ask for medical/disability leave, or FMLA. Just a reduction of hours & to move the more strenuous tasks off his plate. It was at this point my other employee butt in and said basically said “because he told you he has cancer you must require a doctors note. He’s going to work himself to death and you’ll be aiding in that and that is abusive because you aren’t stopping it”. It was wild. Not my best hire.

    2) We’re a smallish company, and I wear many hats (operations, regulatory compliance, HR, and probably 8 more things), and am responsible for implementing policies and making sure they’re being followed. I did appreciate the comments of checking our handbook to see what it says, and it is admittedly vague. I can easily button that up so it gives more guidance on the nuances behind requiring doctor notes.

    Thanks everyone!

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      I think your current approach is awesome, but I feel like I need to point out the one weakness of it that I haven’t seen mentioned, so that you can guard against it: when you’re tightening up your handbook you also need to make sure to make it extremely clear that pressuring an employee in any way to come back to work after an illness or injury is a firing offence, because that’s why doctor’s notes clearing people for work exist: so people aren’t pressured or guilted or subtly manipulated into coming back too soon or doing more than they safely can.

      And the thing is, you would never.

      But you need to take precautions not against yourself but against the person who eventually replaces you, the person who is doing your job while you’re on leave, and the next person with bullying tendencies who sneaks into your workplace there, so as to limit their ability to do damage before you catch up with them.

      Also, if you want to be even awesomer, and you clearly do, you can reimburse the fee for the notes, which makes things fairer between the admin and the forklift operator.

  44. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

    > And vaping on a work calls looks entirely too relaxed — it’s similar to if you were swigging from a beer as you led the meeting

    We’ve got a vocabulary problem here. It sounds like Alison assumed that the vaping involved is cannabis but it could well be tobacco. I still agree with the general advice that it seems unprofessional, but for me part of it is that (at least where I live) it has been decades since people routinely smoked at their desks. In any case, the vaping coworkers should be aware of optics, and if it looks like it could be pot, they are giving people a chance to assume that it is pot.

    1. JustaTech*

      Same, in my state smoking is not allowed in any business or workplace (that isn’t your own home), and hasn’t been for many, many years.
      One consequence of this is that everyone that you might see smoking or vaping is, by definition, *not working*.
      It is observed to be the thing that people do to kick back, relax, de-stress or just take a break.
      I wouldn’t assume that someone who was vaping was vaping weed, but I would assume that they are chilling.

    2. Hrodvitnir*

      Oh, you know, I was thrown by that comparison and I think you might be right. I think the perception remains the same (ie: problematic, but know your office), but I was bemused by comparing vaping nicotine to drinking alcohol.

      I was first introduced to the concept of vaping wrt cannabis, but as it’s got popular/easily available I now associate it with nicotine by default (if context-specific). Not sure how ubiquitous that is.

  45. Arglebargle*

    #1: as an already overworked primary care provider, I HATE companies that require excessive documentation for their personnel to miss and to return to work. I have to fill out an average of 30 forms like this A WEEK and they are NOT short. I am of course happy to fill out forms for patients who need them but requiring medical clearance to go back to work when the patient is able to fulfill the requirements of their job and is not infectious makes no sense. It takes up my time, the patient’s time, and takes an appointment away from someone who might urgently need it.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      What would happen if you had a standard letter on your office letterhead just saying “Patient Name is cleared to return to work” and stapled that to the form (or emailed that in PDF to the company)? Would that work at all, even for some of them?

  46. Windaria*

    I disagree with the answer on the vaping question. I think most people must be too young now to remember the days when smoking in the office and in meetings was extremely common. It fell out of favor because of the second-hand smoke impacts it had on coworkers (and the nasty smell), but that doesn’t apply in a zoom situation. Frankly, I think it’s no more inappropriate than drinking a cup of coffee during a meeting.

  47. blink14*

    OP# 1 – this a requirement at my employer for leaves longer than 5 days and we actually see a lot of benefit from it. I’ve done this for surgeries and a serious illness, and I didn’t find it overreaching or burdensome, because I’m already consulting them about when I am able to start returning to normal activities. Our managers are also not allowed to contact us for work related items until that doctor’s release has been received by HR, which in some cases has been a benefit for employees with managers who are not really understanding the situation. If you go on paid leave (so, beyond taking accumulated sick time), there are multiple forms required, and to return to work does always require a doctor’s release.

    That being said, being out for a few days shouldn’t require that unless there’s a specific reason (like it’s a highly contagious disease situation). Most people use their sick time responsibly and honestly.

  48. PlainJane*

    I had kind of the opposite problem with the doctor’s note. I had emergency gallbladder surgery and, while it wasn’t a major deal, it was enough healing time on my abdominal muscles that it wasn’t a good idea to do things like lift chairs and boxes of books, which are a part of my job normally. I did want to go back to work, and they told me to tell the doctor not to make any notes to this effect, since “there’s no such thing as light duty.” While I’m sure that informal accommodations could have been made–though in practice, they were not; my manager had me setting up furniture for a program the first day back–I was taken aback by being told that I needed to get an okay from a doctor, but I was to inform the doctor what he was supposed to say in the note.

  49. Silicon Valley Girl*

    Vaping during a video meeting reminds me of 1960s Mad Men era meetings where all the execs are smoking. Sure, smoking in meetings was part of the culture at that time, but it isn’t now in most workplaces, & likewise vaping during a meeting (video or in person) isn’t appropriate in most workplaces.

  50. Peccy*

    Re it being ‘abusive’ To have someone come back to work without a doctors note… before completely dismissing it I would try to gently investigate with both the employee and the third party complainer whether there was pressure applied to return. The idea that it’s abusive only makes sense if they were pressured into coming back without anyone bothering to check if they were well enough to return. It’s also possible the complainer is just way off base! But something to investigate before you decide it’s completely without merit

  51. Cj*

    I was out sick the last week of February 20 20 with a really bad respiratory illness. I don’t usually go to the doctor for that type of thing because there’s nothing they can do anyway, but I was wheezing pretty bad, and they gave me an inhaler. I really think I probably had covid, but of course there were no tests for it at that time, and hadn’t been publicized much in the US yet. I read in our handbook when I started the job a few months earlier that we needed a doctor’s note if we were out for more than 3 days, so I did get one while I was there. when I gave the note to my supervisor, he was kind of confused because he didn’t even know that was supposed to be a requirement, and said not to worry about it in the future.

    on a related note, my nephew was really sick with a respiratory illness that same week. a few days before he got sick, there were some people from Wuhan, China visiting his office that he was in close contact with. he’s convinced, and he’s probably right, that he had the original version of covid. but just like me, there was no testing at the time, so he’ll never know for sure.

    1. PlainJane*

      I was sick around the same time with a nasty respiratory sickness–the doctor sent me back to work despite the fact that I had lingering laryngitis and couldn’t speak for a week–and I thought it was an early Covid, but when I did have Covid for sure, I think it wasn’t the same and was just a coincidence. The cold or flu I had in February actually hit me harder! (I was SUPER LUCKY with Covid; it just sort of washed off me for some reason.) But the February one didn’t have any gastrointestinal symptoms and I never lost my sense of smell (except for not being able to sniff much), so I think it was something else. But I read a lot about it when I started wondering, and they do think there were a good number of rogue cases running around undiagnosed because who was going to the doctor for a sore throat, fever, and stuffy nose at the time?

  52. Betty Spaghetti*

    My company is remote, and almost all meetings are cameras off in the 2 years I’ve worked there. For some reason everyone has been turning cameras on in the last month (summer mood? Idk) and I decided to participate on camera with a call I was mostly leading.

    When I finished presenting I started hitting my vape (nervous habit, particularly) totally forgetting I was still on camera. Absolutely humiliating, especially because no one said anything until afterward when one of my associates was like “boss… didn’t know you vaped….”

    Sorry to writer #2 and sorry to my colleagues!! I’ve since quit!!

  53. Coin Purse*

    Re: vaping and oddly casual behavior on camera…..I had a colleague attend a team meeting in a bathing suit out by her pool. It was very off-putting since she gave the vibe that we were interrupting her tanning. I think people need to at least take a look at how their behavior comes across in a remote setting.

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