my 2 dating employees are cuddling in staff meetings

A reader writes:

I’m a youngish retail manager and I have two staff members about my age who are in a relationship. I worked with one at a prior location, and then she just transferred to my new location to work with her partner. (This decision was above my level.) It’s only been a few weeks but they are kissing at work (light pecks but multiple per day), cuddling during staff meetings, and generally acting as if they are a unit, not two different people (e.g., one person trying to call out for both of them).

Two complicating factors: they are the only couple in the store so there is really not a precedent, and they are also both trans so I want to circumvent any appearance that setting PDA expectations is about that, but it will inevitably feel personal since they are the only two people who need a PDA policy. The company has no written policy for people at the same level and is too large for us to just make one. What’s the best way to make it clear it’s about the professionalism of kissing/cuddling at work/speaking for your partner, not because of their gender identity? (They are not the only trans staff members by a long shot, just the only staff members in a relationship with someone at the store.) Also, for additional context, I met my partner at our job years ago and so have a pretty good idea of how very feasible it is to keep things professional in this particular context/company!

They’re cuddling in staff meetings?!

You definitely need to shut that down.

You don’t need a written policy to point to. There’s a ton of unprofessional behavior that written policies would never be able to anticipate but which you as a manager still have both the obligation and the authority to shut down. (In fact, I’d argue a written policy could even be an odd thing to have for something like this! It’s unlikely to come up a lot because most people will use better sense, and if it does, you can just deal with it directly.)

Meet with them individually — not as a unit, because you want to reinforce that when they’re at work, they’re not a unit — and say something like this: “I’m very happy for you and (partner’s name). I wanted to talk with you about managing the relationship at work. A few times one of you has called out for both of you, and I want to be clearer that even though you’re a unit socially, at work you’re two separate employees, not a unit. So each of you needs to call out for yourself — other than in an emergency situation, of course, where one of you genuinely can’t. We also don’t allow PDA at work — no kissing, cuddling, hand-holding, or other coupley behavior. It can make other people uncomfortable and is distracting, and we need your relationship to be a professional one while you’re at work. This isn’t specific to you and (partner); it applies to all employees here.”

That language should make clear that you’re not singling them out because they’re trans; it’s about professional behavior across the board. You’re emphasizing that these expectations apply to everyone (and even though they’re currently the only couple, future couples will be held to these expectations too). If they challenge you on that, it makes sense to loop in HR at that point — the way HR should always be looped in for liability reasons when someone is concerned about bias — but this is a reasonable approach to start with and has a good chance of resolving things.

Edited to add:

In the comments, some people are questioning why it’s relevant that the two employees are trans. It’s relevant because it’s really common for gender-non-conforming people to face more objections, and even violence, when they publicly show affection to a partner than gender-conforming people would. So the letter-writer wants to ensure that when she addresses this, it’s clear that they’re not being singled out because they’re trans.

{ 250 comments… read them below }

  1. Earlk*

    I can understand a company not having a policy about staff at the same level dating but surely there’s something about professional conduct?

    I would also say that pointing out it’s not just in relation to who they are might make it sound like it is actually because of who they are. It may be more helpful to include a professional conduct section in a team meeting because then it is very clear it is about everyone and address that calling out as a pair is against policy as a separate issue.

    Potentially unhelpful anecdotal evidence- when I was much younger and dating a colleague in a retail situation we were told that one of us was moving store and we could choose which of us it was. Our relationship ended in flames not so long afterwards so it was a good move for everyone.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s similar to doing a group email to handle individual behavior – it’s not effective, in this case everyone will know who you’re talking about so it’s awkward, and it’s passive management. Saying “this isn’t because you’re trans” would be overcorrecting, but saying “this rule would apply to anyone who was dating” is just making it clear that you’re referring to a standard expectation.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Also, the group email strategy never, ever seems to work on the person/people it’s intended for. Someone in psychology needs to name that phenomenon.

        I could send an all-staff email saying that people are no longer allowed to wear unicorn onesies to work, and I can pretty much guarantee that the one person wearing a unicorn onesie to work would either ignore it or read it and be like “must be referring to some other unicorn-onesie-wearing person!” and continue blithely wearing their unicorn onsesie.*

        *Substitute whatever behavior it is you’re trying to stop.

        1. Ali + Nino*

          Obliviousness? It’s so true. One day a coworker wore a tube top (!) to the office. The next day we all received an email about appropriate work attire. I doubt she made the connection.

          1. Be Gneiss*

            The person who the all-staff email is about *NEVER* assumes it’s about them. It’s a fundamental rule of the universe. (Conversely, the person who worries constantly about following the rules always assumes it’s about them!)

            1. Paul Pearson*

              So much this! Our office loves all-staff emails and I hear the people who we all know it’s about saying “who does that?!” You, Fergus! You do it! aaargh

          2. RegBarclay*

            To be fair, they might assume “if it was about me surely the boss would have said something directly to me” which is… a fair thing to assume in a functional workplace.

            It’s one thing to address it directly AND send an email, but all too often it’s just the group email.

          3. Greg*

            Just want to say that I love your screen name! Read that book years ago after reading Tom Reiss’ “The Orientalist”, which was supposedly about the guy who wrote “Ali and Nino”, though I later read that Reiss’ conclusions had been disputed

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          In my experience is a lot of cognative dissonance – the way you can hold the opinion that if somebody *else* does X behavior it’s wrong but you doing it is okay because a) ‘reasons’, b) ‘it’s different in my case’ or c) ‘I’m allowed to break the rules because of XYZ in my past’.

          1. Hot Flash Gordon*

            Or they’ll just rules lawyer about it and think, well, this isn’t a unicorn onesie because the unicorns are printed on the fabric, but it’s not like I’m walking around with a horn on my head.

            And then we have to have discussions about what is really a onesie, and are jumpsuits onesies, or what if I want to wear a unicorn-print shirt…and on and on until the manager is insane.

        3. Ace in the Hole*

          Yup. And the person who sometimes wears unicorn print socks that no one even sees will assume it was written because of them and take it super personally.

        4. People Are People*

          I used to have a manager who did the “manage by group email” thing and can confirm the above. Two events stand out: the person who was clearly the subject of the “business casual does not include graphic t-shirts and ripped jeans” came into my cube, wearing an anime themed shirt and tattered jeans, to ask me what was up with that email. Another time, the target of the “we have a no strong scents or perfumes policy” email stood in the aisle while applying her very strong-smelling lotion, to comment that she was so happy to have the policy re-articulated because she was sensitive to certain smells!

        5. Capybara Manager*

          … and meanwhile at least one or two people who wore a small, discreet unicorn necklace one time will be freaking out that the email was addressed them and wondering if they’re In Trouble.

      2. HonorBox*

        Also a group email might tend to single them out in a public way, too. Like, people who work with them know what’s going on so there’s a much better chance of gossip and backroom talk about them if you make a public statement in email or in a team meeting. Best to sit them down individually, as Alison said, and address the problem as you would any other couple doing the same.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      I assume they have a policy on professional conduct, but I’ve never seen one that explicitly called out PDAs.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Aside from the fact that *most* people would understand the workplace is NOT the place to be making out with your SO, there’s also the way that employment handbooks, workplace conduct policies focus on the actions of a single employee.

        So in the section about workplace theft, it may forbid unauthorized use, taking of employer property, but not explicitly forbid participation in employee theft rings, or conspiracies to defraud. Because the “don’t steal” part covers that.

        My guess is that many companies would have something more general like no conduct that is “unprofessional” or “disruptive” or … whatever the word is for physical behavior that isn’t normally done in workplaces, including public facing workplaces. (It’s a retail shop right? So it’s not just other employees being the audience of the PDA, but also customers.)

    3. hobbittoes*

      I think AFTER addressing it with the individuals in this couple, it might make sense to address it with the whole team/in a team meeting to clarify to other staff members who have been witnessing the couple’s behavior (and may be misunderstanding expectations as a result). Just something simple like “I wanted to clarify expectations for professional behavior as I realized we hadn’t addressed this previously: we expect everyone to behave as professional colleagues while you’re at work, regardless of personal relationships, meaning no PDA, etc.” … or something like that.

      1. Anonys*

        No, it would be really obvious that its about that couple specifically, which would make it bad attempt at a clandestine public shaming which is fully unnecessary once the conduct has been addressed 1 on 1.

        Since there are no other couples on staff, and most people wouldnt cuddle in staff meetings anyway, there is no reason to “clarify expectations” in general. If PDA from the couple suddenly stops, most staff will put 2 and 2 together and assume it was addressed by management (and be relieved).

    4. lovehater*

      Your anecdotal evidence is why I think they need to look at this more broadly. Romantic relationship good and bad needs to stay out of the work place.

    5. QueenPalmTree*

      My husband had a situation come up like this when he was a retail manager. Two employees started dating and it quickly became problematic on so many levels. Calling out when the other had a day off, coercing coworkers to swap schedules so they could work/be off together, extended hugs in back corners, overtly romanticized manner of speaking to each other while at work… They were spoken to repeatedly and basically demanded an accounting of every possible thing that could ever be said or done and whether or not it was ok. Then they went all in on trying to exploit loopholes and “inconsistencies”. For example, they were told no hugging at work – but another employee who had worked there for 20+ years routinely accepted “hello hugs” from a variety of older customers who she had known for decades… Cue the, “well that’s not fair, if we can’t do it she shouldn’t either!” In their minds there was no room for situational/relational differences and unless some behavior was explicitly named as being off limits, the answer was always, “but you didn’t say we couldn’t x, y, z…” (“But you said we couldn’t kiss on the sales floor, you never said we couldn’t sneak into a dressing room to kiss!”) Eventually HR had to get involved and they were told one of them needed to switch to different branch. They both quit instead.

      1. allathian*

        To the relief of all of their shift supervisors and coworkers, and most customers who happened to witness their behavior, no doubt.

    6. goddessoftransitory*

      Yes. I work with my actual husband (and two of our managers are married to each other as well) and believe me, this would NOT fly at our workplace. A quick hug or peck when one is leaving and the other is still on shift? Fine. Turning into a two-headed, eight limbed mesh of humanity during staff meetings? That’s a hard no.

      When you’re young and full of new love energy and you’ve found a somebody, of course you’re always down for snuggles! But the rest of the world doesn’t just exist as a backdrop, and your job especially does not.

  2. aarti*

    Who cares if they are trans/straight/binary/whatever? Cuddling in meetings is gross and distracting. Make them stop!

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      In this case the OP is concerned that she might come across as singling them out because they’re trans, so she understandably wants to make sure she addresses it properly.

      1. This_is_Todays_Name*

        The OP is overthinking it wildly then. If they’re the only ones cuddling, of course they’re singled out… FOR CUDDLING. If she has a gaggle of employees engaged in PDA then she needs to address it for everyone, but it sounds like it’s just these two. How can they claim “you’re picking on us” if .. they’re the only ones doing it? I have gay and trans children and they do NOT want to be handled with kid gloves. That’s just yet another form of “other”ing. Treat them as if they’re professionals who should know better. Period.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          Op says she’s a new manager, so I think it’s ok to want a sanity check to make sure she’s not singling them out. It could be her first such conversation, so I’d give some slack

        2. tinyhipsterboy*

          The reason it’s relevant is that we queer people have a long history of being called out for just existing and for our relationships to be seen as inherently sexualized or otherwise inappropriate, even if it’s literally just holding hands at the mall or something. It’s doubly so for trans people. It *shouldn’t* be an issue because they’re the only couple at the store (let alone with PDA), but it’s a reasonable concern. Hell, it feels really shitty to be discriminated against, so OP is being kind to them by trying to figure out how to make it clear that the issue is solely the fact that it’s PDA at work.

          1. This_is_Todays_Name*

            I get what you’re saying, but I’ve seen plenty of people try so hard NOT to “make it about that they contort themselves so far it ends up BECOMING about that in its awkwardness. The way to approach any workplace situation is to approach it matter of factly, the exact same way as the OP would anyone else. If it were me, I’d have said, “Yo, knock it off” right then and there and moved on with the meeting, or as soon as the meeting was over said, ‘You know better than to be snuggling and noodling in a work meeting. Don’t do it anymore.” But I’m also pretty direct with my team of 25 people. There’s an irony to tiptoeing around it because they’re trans, because she doesn’t to make it seem about them being trans, when if they weren’t trans, she wouldn’t be tiptoeing, soooo by default, it has been made about them being trans. My head hurts now.

          2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Yeah. OP may be “othering” but she is basically trying to be fair and trying not to discriminate. Given how touchy this subject is for so many people, I think it’s very wise to write in to someone who regularly deals with trans issues at work and who has a great track record in terms of being fair and kind.

    2. Watry*

      Right, but there’s a cultural history of PDA from queer couples being seen as more sexual or unacceptable than cishet PDA. OP is both trying to head off accusations of transphobia and ensure their trans employees don’t feel singled out for being trans.

      1. Ray B Purchase*

        Thank you for this explanation. I was thinking at first that their identities as trans was kind of a red herring. I kind of agreed without knowing why, that LW might want to approach the couple’s PDA a little more carefully than they might a cishet couple, and your explanation makes perfect sense.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        Yep, I think OP is being smart and thoughtful making sure they’re responding to it in a way that’s equitable.

    3. Ally McBeal*

      It matters because queer people are at a much higher risk of being physically or verbally attacked for PDA. People have been fatally shot or stabbed just for holding hands with their partner. Trans people experience violence at an astonishing rate simply for existing, whether or not they have a partner with whom they engage in PDA. It’s important to keep that context in mind when managing a queer/trans person.

    4. Queer Earthling*

      It’s because queer people are more policed in innocuous situations, like in public (it’s fun having to decide if it’s safe to hold hands with your partner or not!). Obviously it does not apply here in this situation, it is inappropriate behavior for the setting, but I understand the LW’s concern in wanting to make it clear that this is NOT because of their gender identity etc. because in many cases, “Hey, trans people, stop cuddling!” would be due to bigotry.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        There’s also a widespread belief that if an LGBTQ person mentions their relationships at work it’s ‘inappropriately discussing sex at work’ whereas if a straight cis person does it’s just an inoffensive fact. So I can easily see where OP is coming from in being cautious!

        (I think there’s states in the US where there’s laws being passed that stop trans people even mentioning their gender because it’s somehow seen as ‘corrupting children’, which I can imagine makes this kind of situation even more terrifying. Those laws are BS but they are there)

        But I think making it a ‘woah, not professional, nobody should act like that here’ statement across the board will be fine. As long as nobody gets away with it (straight, cis, able bodied, disabled etc.etc.)

        1. Queer Earthling*

          Yeah, Florida in particular has gotten terrifying in their laws. If you define trans people as cross-dressers, and then make cross-dressing in public into a sex crime, and then you make sex crimes punishable by death, and then you decide that capital crimes don’t require a unanimous jury for the death sentence…hmm…it’s almost like they have a specific goal here with regards to trans people. But several other states have put up laws about talking about trans and queer stuff in schools, etc etc. We’re having a grand time. (Luckily, none of the proposed bans on trans healthcare for adults have passed. Yet.)

          Anyway, that’s derailing a bit, I realize, but it is an example of why it’s necessary (and kind) for allies to be thoughtful about their approach with trans people. Because uhhhhh it’s a really rough time to be queer and especially gender diverse at the moment. If you’re an ally, asking “Why does it matter that they’re trans?” is ignoring the reality of the world we live in and the situations trans people face at the moment.

          1. Festively Dressed Earl*

            Orlando Shakes did an awesome throwback version of Twelfth Night a few years back. The female parts were played by men because Elizabethan era. It would be illegal now.

          2. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I keep wondering when Florida will use cross-dressing laws to arrest women who wear slacks or jeans or pantsuits.

          3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            I think it’s very important to factor in such horrors when dealing with LGBT+ community issues. I had no idea how bad it was in Florida!

    5. goddessoftransitory*

      Yep. Nobody likes feeling like an extra in somebody else’s rom-com.

      I’m guessing these employees are pretty young and this is only their first or second job. The sooner they learn that PDAs are for rainy days, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, and the tops of Ferris wheels the better.

    6. BubbleTea*

      My now-ex wife and I (both femme women) got shouted at for holding hands while walking in a park once. Literally the most innocuous PDA in existence and we still got harassed about it. If you think it wasn’t to do with our sexuality you’re naive.

  3. Sally Rhubarb*

    Your customers might have Thoughts (rightly or wrongly) about witnessing a couple of retail workers kissing at work too. “I’m here to buy a llama harness, not watch a couple of teenagers play grab ass” etc.

    So you can also coach it that way too.

    1. Observer*

      Your customers might have Thoughts (rightly or wrongly) about witnessing a couple of retail workers kissing at work too

      Yeah, and they won’t know about the gender status of your staff.

      PS Nothing wrong with customers being squicked out. It’s really not behavior that belongs at work.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I’m not squicked out by people smooching in public (unless they’re like, trying to eat each others’ faces) but I would be a little annoyed to see workers getting cuddly on the job.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Yeah. I live in the most romantic city on earth, Paris, we think nothing of the millions of honeymooners kissing in any of the unbelievably romantic areas and we see increasing numbers of LBGT+ couples joining in the lovefest nowadays. But I’d be annoyed if I saw staff kissing in a shop when I’m looking for someone who can tell me where to find laptop chargers.

      2. Siege*

        I mean, yes, there is something wrong with customers being squicked out. Kissing and other PDA is so weird for employees in a retail environment that I think my first thought would be that one of the employees is harassing the other, not that two nitwits with poor boundaries are working at the same store and dating and the company I wish to do business with can see no way to fix this.

        If you’re referring to letting transphobic/homophobic people be squicked out, that’s a different issue, because human rights aren’t a squick, and bigots don’t deserve coddling.

        1. amoeba*

          I think the point was that it’s not wrong of he customers to be squicked out, *because* it is indeed inappropriate behaviour?

          1. Siege*

            Yeah, it’s very unclear. After several rereads, I think you’re interpreting the “nothing wrong” bit correctly. My original interpretation was that people with Thoughts should absolutely be squicked, which is fine with me but I doubt is most people, particularly in a community where trans folks are comfortable with PDA.

        2. Observer*

          Kissing and other PDA is so weird for employees in a retail environment that I think my first thought would be that one of the employees is harassing the other, not that two nitwits with poor boundaries are working at the same store

          That’s all the *more* reason to be squicked out – or outraged, to be honest. Because what kind of manager allows that kind of thing to go on?!

          If you’re referring to letting transphobic/homophobic people be squicked out

          Absolutely not. As I said anyone with thoughts about the matter wouldn’t have any way to know that these are trans people.

          1. Siege*

            I don’t even know what to do with this bizarre belief that all trans people are unidentifiable as trans, and that completely leaves out gender-fluid and non-binary people. A lot of people (cis and trans alike) physically don’t conform to the current ideal of gender presentation held by bigots, and face violence because of it.

      3. Dahlia*

        I’m going to push back gently that some people do read as trans/queer even to strangers, and there is a muddy place between “I don’t want to watch people kiss while I’m shopping” and “I don’t want to see those queers even hold hands” and the violence that is more likely to follow one of those than the other.

        1. Siege*

          As a 6’4” cis woman I’m actively changing travel plans to avoid states where I’m more likely to face anti-trans violence.

          1. It’s Suzy now*

            Hugs. Sorry you have to do that.

            My six foot tall cis Mom has been mistaken for amab a number of times, going back decades, but because she hangs out in progressive spaces and a lot of her friends are actual drag performers, it’s always felt more charming than scary when people make that assumption.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          yeah, just read the YouTube comments under the video for Hozier’s “Take me to Church”. You see two men kissing (consensually), followed by some ugly violent retribution scenes, and there are loads of people commenting “men kissing, yuck” but who are apparently totally unfazed by the ugly violence that follows.

      4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Quite frankly, if it’s at all possible to guess their status, telling them not to cuddle on the shop floor will protect them from Customers who have Thoughts.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      I wouldn’t go down this path. This isn’t about trying not to offend or upset a customer with Thoughts (which can quickly go down a dark path for trans employees). It’s about professionalism.

      1. lovehater*

        This is correct. How a customer will or will not react is relevant to determining what is professional behavior at the store but it is not the only question to ask.

      2. C.*

        I don’t think this should be the main focus of the manager’s conversation with their employees, but I also don’t think it can be removed from the unprofessionalism of it all. A big reason why it’s considered unprofessional behavior is because it “squicks” out customers who come to the establishment.

        1. TechWorker*

          I’m just not sure this is true (in this instance though). There are a whole bunch of things that people might be stricter on in retail/customer facing environments than non customer facing ones, but I don’t think there’s any work environment where PDA in a meeting or during work in general is normal.

        2. lisa*

          I think it would be considered unprofessional behavior in any business environment, though–we don’t have customers physically in our place of business, but if staff were canoodling it would still be considered unprofessional. It would also be unprofessional before or after a store closes, back in the stockroom, etc. So I’d suggest focusing on coaching about it without bringing customers into it.

      3. Sally Rhubarb*

        Unfortunately it is a concern, if some customer makes a big stink about it. Never underestimate the power of an asshole customer.

        Best to nip this in the bud now.

      4. Observer*

        It’s about professionalism.

        Part of that is how customers react to stuff.

        To the extent this comes up, it’s important to focus on the fact that this would be disturbing to a lot of people totally regardless of gender. Because it is. And while the OP knows that they are trans, and thus wants to be careful, most people coming in to the store would not know this, and their reaction could therefore not be about how trans people are perceived.

          1. TechWorker*

            Yea… Observer I really don’t think this is the useful point you think it is. Especially since whilst OP might be certain that their company policies are not transphobic, I would be far less certain that all of their customers are not transphobic.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          You keep insisting that customers wouldn’t know they’re trans – on what grounds?

          Plenty of people are visibly gender-nonconforming. You have no way to know whether these particular employees reliably pass as cis… or whether they would even want to.

          1. Observer*

            Honestly, I don’t think it’s important, because the behavior is inappropriate regardless.

            I’m really sorry to have derailed this. It was not my intention.

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, honestly I think I would even remove the part about making other employees feel “uncomfortable” from Alison’s language. I think there is enough there without it and to me that is the piece that most risks coming across as targeted, even if you would say it to a cis/straight couple as well.

  4. Paul Pearson*

    I’d also strongly suggest taking a step back and making sure you are entirely objective. I have repeatedly been in situations where LGBTQ affection is depicted far more dramatically or stands out excessively more than is warranted. A lot of affectionate behaviour that just isn’t noticed between cishet people often garners massive attention and stands out hugely when LGBTQ people of the same.

    Obviously if they are cuddling and kissing and it is definitely behaviour you would definitely notice and speak about when cishet people do the same you need to act. But it’s worth assessing and being aware of hyper visibility that can cloud all of our perceptions

    1. JJJJShabado*

      I want to echo this sentiment. I missed that they were trans on my first read through. I do think objectively the cuddling is definitely wrong. The kissing I think could go either way depending on the frequency.

      You do want to coach professional norms, but we want to be aware of potential unconscious biases. This isn’t to say that’s what you are doing here, but we all should be aware.

      1. Need More Sunshine*

        I really don’t agree with the kissing going either way. I don’t want to see any of my coworkers kissing at work, even if it’s a peck on the cheek as one of them is leaving the office. A hug, sure, but especially in retail where customers are likely to be around, anything more isn’t appropriate.

        1. doreen*

          I think the kissing could go either way – but it depends on the type of kiss and the context. At the jobs I had in high school and college , many of my coworkers were my friends. I don’t mean they became friends when we met at work – I mean one or two friends got a job and the rest followed or we all applied at the same time. And most of us came from a culture where the normal greeting was an air kiss , so that’s how we greeted each other at work. That’s different from a situation where a single couple is kissing multiple times a day and cuddling in staff meetings.

          1. amoeba*

            Yeah, I think air kisses for greeting would be fine, anyway. At least here, those are actually seen as less intimate than a hug and perfectly normal for acquaintances or even colleagues!
            Anything you wouldn’t do with a friend but only with a romantic partner would fall under PDA for me. (I mean, one peck on the cheek in the parking lot in the morning, sure, whatever, who cares. Multiple times in the store during shift – no.)

          2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

            Yeah i agree, there’s a lot of varieties of “kissing” but this doesn’t really sound like friendly air-kissing from the information we have here.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              Yeah it didn’t sound like air kissing or even kissing in greeting coming and going. Those don’t seem like they would be a problem, because it’s just a greeting in passing as people are moving through their days.

              But it sounds like these two employees were in their workspace, working, or in meetings with other employees and the manager, participating in the meeting. They stopped, shifted their focus from being engaged in work activities to being physically affectionate with one another. In the presence of others who were still working along side of them.

              And sometimes did it repeatedly during their work shift (kissing, hugging) or in a sustained way (cuddling, hand holding).

              For me, I think the focus shift would be part of the issue. Like staff are in the workplace, working and suddenly one or two of them stop working to give a little love to their boo? Why? They are working, the loving up their boo can wait until they are off the clock. And a display physical, emotional intimacy like that is distracting.

              As a manager, if my employees are so focused on maintaining physical contact with a co-worker in the workplace, multiple times a day, sometimes for minutes or longer, I’m going to have serious doubts about their ability to focus on their jobs and behave professionally overall. And for co-workers, it makes things awkward …like, what if I need an answer from kissy-face #1 for a customer on hold… do I wait for the MO session to end naturally, or do I interrupt?

              1. KnittyProfessor*

                This is exactly it! Sure, there’s the “making other people uncomfortable” which is indeed both fraught and a thing. But the main concern is the distraction from the task at hand, the one they’re being paid for (I say as I comment on Ask a Manager at work)

            2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              the word “peck” was used, which implies more than air being kissed, albeit very briefly.

          3. Paul Pearson*

            I’m not a lover of kissing at work either – but, for example, my husband gave me a lift to work when my car finally decided that prayer, good wishes and fairy dust was not sufficient to keep it running. And when we arrived he kissed me on the cheek goodbye (probably more to annoy me but that’s us)

            That morphed into “Paul was making out in the car park” once it hit the office. Hyper visibility of gay relationships made a very innocuous gesture was blown very much out of proportion. I don’t even think there was (active) homophobia involved – it’s just that our affection tends to stand out so much more that it gets blown out of proportion

        2. Siege*

          As a customer, I don’t want to see store employees kissing, period, full stop, regardless of gender or gender identity. I feel like LW coming at this from the point of view these are her coworkers is skewing some of the responses.

          But I also don’t want to see my coworkers kissing.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            If they’re still on company property they should still be in “employee mode” not “significant other mode”.

          2. A Datum*

            Only if they are in the break room, out of sight of customers, and then just a peck.

            The thing about being on break is that if you are identifiable as an employee, you still represent your employer. If they are wearing store name tags or lanyards or even if they are well known store employees such that shoppers can identify them, they are vulnerable to discipline if a complaint about PDA gets back to the employer.

            So think about being employees of a mall store and canoodling in the food court on your break. It should be your break, but someone complaining to Mall Store Manager that Mall Store employees are canoodling could mean a warning when you get back to work.

            This is a Know Your Employer thing. If OP’s employer has any kind of policy about behaviors while wearing store name tags or whatnot, then OP should make sure they mention that when they talk to the employees.

          3. Buggalugs*

            If other staff significant others that don’t work there are allowed into their break area and have the ability to also show some PDA the staff couple cannot either. If you’re on a break outside of the work place including being off the property do whatever you want.

            As far as I’m concerned nobody should be able to tell you are dating/married while you’re at work.

        3. A person*

          Yeah… I’ve worked with a lot of couples in my career and even currently. I would not want to ever see them doing any sort of PDA at work. Even like a hand on back or shoulder. If you wouldn’t do it to a colleague you weren’t in a relationship with at work you shouldn’t do it to a colleague you are in a personal relationship with at work. Which may be a helpful way to phrase it also. I’ve had direct reports that we’re doing this that hadn’t learned professional norms yet… cis het… and have had to have that conversation with them. In my case, I didn’t supervise both so I also had to get the other manager involved. I definitely agree with having the discussions separately, but you’ll like need to do it back to back because they’ll talk.

      2. Jellyfish Catcher*

        The same expectation on PDA applies to all employees.
        My spouse and I worked in a small business (200 people) for years. We were in different departments but in the same meetings weekly.
        Some people didn’t know we were married.
        Kissing or cuddling is not ok. Hugs, holding hands, etc can wait until the parking lot.
        It’s not about anyone’s sexual orientation or history – it’s about professional behavior.

      3. Yikes Stripes*

        Yeah, no, kissing your coworker whilst at work is unprofessional, full stop. It would make me *extremely* uncomfortable to be around peers who were kissing, regardless of their gender or sexual orientations – and I believe that it could be contribute to a hostile workplace if any of their coworkers wanted to push the issue.

        And regarding potential unconscious biases: I’m not trans but my partner is, and we’re both very very very queer. I’m very aware of the risks and stigmas associated with being queer and in love where people can see you.

    2. Sally Rhubarb*

      They’re at work. Full stop. Doesn’t matter if they’re queer or straight, cis or trans, PDA at work is not acceptable.

      1. Health Insurance Nerd*

        Exactly. I didn’t get the sense from the LW that their perception was at all clouded by the fact that both employees are trans. We’re supposed to take the LW’s word that they are accurately representing the situation, and nothing in this letter suggests otherwise!

        1. Sally Rhubarb*

          And the LW even asked how to address this issue in a way that’s respectful to the couple’s trans identities! So I think they’re making the effort not to have their judgment clouded.

        2. JJJJShabado*

          I was not trying to ascribe any ill will towards the LW. I think the LW is doing right in this situation by realizing there are potential complications.

          In general, making sure we’re not going “Ugh, LGBT affection” I think is a good thing and just something to think about.

          (Re: kissing going either way, if they’re just giving pecks as a goodbye when they’re arriving, I would not have an issue with it. If they are kissing every time they see each, I would have an issue with that.)

          1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

            OP says it’s “light pecks but multiple per day”. And since this is a retail setting, they are probably doing this on the selling floor, just since retail doesn’t have much in the way of back rooms.

            1. Siege*

              Are you certain? My understanding is that the back room is both massive, containing everything a customer could want, and magical, able to fabricate anything the customer could want. :)

              1. Yikes Stripes*

                Oh my god, you just triggered my working-retail-at-the-holidays trauma SO HARD with that comment. Scuse me while I go hide under my table and cry a little

      2. CheesePlease*

        I work with my husband. There are a few other couples here. None of us kiss at work. At most the PDA is like, him placing his hand on my back as we walk out the door or something.

        No kissing, no cuddling, no caressing, no whispered conversations in the hallways.

        We keep it professional. Someone new assumed he was my brother instead of my husband haha. It’s not that hard.

        1. Seashell*

          I worked for about 3 years with co-workers who were married. I never would have known if they hadn’t told me. No PDA, no cutesy nicknames, no arguments about who was going to do the dishes, nothing.

          1. Siege*

            Leaving aside the issue that one was supervising the other, I had absolutely no idea two of my coworkers at a previous job were married until after I left. I did know two peers were married but it was because they entertained socially, not because they were making out at work.

            1. Lily Rowan*

              A coworker once told me about the ABSOLUTE SHOCK she had when she got a holiday card from two colleagues — she had no idea they were married!

          2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            This. I worked with my then-boyfriend at one previous job and worked with my partner at two separate jobs. Other than the occasional “I love you” sign when we meet for lunch, people assume partner and I are just friends. Likewise when my then-boyfriend and I worked together; people didn’t even know we rode to work together because we kept everything separate.

        2. Goldenrod*

          I used to work in the same building as my husband, but it was a HUGE building, and we had entirely different jobs with no overlap.

          One thing he’d like to do when meeting me in the cafeteria for lunch is put his arm lasciviously around me and loudly opine, “I think it’s fine for a boss to date his employee.”


        3. UKDancer*

          Yeah we have one married couple in my company. I work in tea pot manufacture with one partner and the other works in a different part of the company (say cups and saucer distribution). They’re not allowed to work on the same team or manage each other and are expected to behave professionally.

          I’ve never seen any kissing, cuddling etc on company time. They’re both completely professional.

          In my view this is exactly the right way to behave.

        4. allathian*

          Yeah, agreed. I’d been working at my current job for something like 5 years when I learned at a Christmas party that a manager in my department who wasn’t my manager, was married to a manager in another department. No PDA gave it away, just that the wife said something to her husband about a mundane thing like needing to go shopping on the weekend.

          A few years later there was an incident on a coffee break when a coworker, let’s call her Evelyn, said as she got up that she had to go to a meeting to be “sexually harassed” by John. She meant it as a joke, but Jane got up in a hurry and left without saying a word, and the rest of us around that table wore a shocked “deer in the headlights” look as Evelyn left to go to her meeting. The next time I saw Evelyn, I had give her the heads-up that John and Jane were husband and wife, Evelyn was shocked and apologetic, and left in a hurry to apologize to Jane. Evelyn was in her early 60s at the time but she has the kind of ageless vitality that lights up a room whenever she arrives, John was a handsome man who looked to be in his late 50s but was in fact about 10 years older, while Jane was about 10 years younger than John and looked her age. Both John and Evelyn have since retired, Jane’s still working for us.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        This. Kissing and cuddling at work is over the line for anyone, at any job.

        I’ve worked with couples before (they were in separate departments) and my uncle ran his own business with his longtime girlfriend, and none of these people was ever seen canoodling at work.

      4. Justme, The OG*

        Agree. I work in higher education in a department with many married couples. Have any of them ever shown PDA in the hallways? Not that I’ve seen, and there would have been talk if they had. It’s not something done in a professional context.

      5. Risha*

        Exactly. I don’t want to see people doing that at work. I don’t care if they are straight, gay, trans, cis. It’s not appropriate for a work setting. I’m there to work, not to see people kissing and cuddling. I’m guessing they also see each other outside of work, so the PDA needs to wait until then. And if I were a customer and saw 2 employees kissing and cuddling, I would not want to do business there. I’m no prude, but a workplace isn’t the right setting for such things.

      6. MicroManagered*

        Yes but the point here is that, maybe you don’t LOVE seeing a cis/hetero couple do a quick peck at work either… but if a pair of cis/het coworkers did the same thing, would it be equally noticeable and equally actionable?

        And not just “What do you think should happen in Hypothetical Internet Land” but what would REALLY happen in real life?

        In real life, would a cis/het/legally married couple doing a quick peck be overlooked? Or would the manager be equally likely to have a “HEY NO PDA AT WORK” talk? The comment Paul Pearson is just point out that LGBTQ+ (and other marginalized identities) sometimes have a different level of scrutiny on them and to be aware of that and make sure it’s not a bias here.

        1. SbuxAddict*

          In my business, I’m fine if a couple does a quick hello/goodbye kiss on the cheek or lips. A peck, not a make out session. Their gender or sexual preference wouldn’t be an issue.

          I’m not in retail, though. I think an office setting is a little different than a retail setting and I could see a retail store banning even the smallest kiss.

          I didn’t really get why the trans issue was brought up but from reading Allison’s edit, it makes sense to be careful about how the LW handles it. I am glad I read this because it wouldn’t have occurred to me to worry about that and now it’s on my radar.

        2. Twix*

          Yes, exactly this. It’s easy to say “This is inappropriate regardless of sex/gender/orientation/whatever else”. But there is a long history of sexualizing queerness and policing queer PDA very differently than cishet PDA, so the much harder question that we also need to ask is “Are we responding to inappropriate behavior consistently regardless of sex/gender/orientation/whatever else?”. I think we can all agree that, say, a quick smooch in the parking lot is something that would be overlooked for a cisgender heterosexual couple in a lot of places even if it’s Not Great, and that there are a lot of places where simply presenting as queer can endanger your job. Those of us who are queer are hyper-aware of that fact, so while the behavior described sounds like it very clearly crosses the line into Definitely Needs To Be Addressed, it’s very smart of LW to be aware of how addressing it might be across and asking how to approach it in a way that actively avoids feeling discriminatory for both liability and morale reasons.

        3. Head sheep counter*

          We’ve seen plenty of letters about folks behaving inappropriately affectionately at work. The advice doesn’t vary from situation to situation (when its consensual) and is… its not professional or desirable. So yes. People are enforcing norms regarding this issue regardless of protected classes or not. This letter does not have the whiff of everyone is acting out a porno but these two… because they are trans need to be called out on it.

          1. Twix*

            Well first off I don’t think anyone is suggesting that there is a whiff of that in the letter. It’s quite clear that that’s not the case. But the rest of your comment seems to miss the point. The fact that these norms are applied to everyone does not mean that they’re applied equally or equitably to everyone. Sometimes things can be universally seen as unprofessional, but “A bit unprofessional” for one group but “Very unprofessional” for another (for example dress codes and gender). Sometimes things can be universally seen as a certain degree of unprofessional, but are handled in very different ways for different groups (for example being rude and race or gender). That’s what LW is asking about – how can they deal with something that’s obviously an issue while avoiding any appearance of (or actual) bias, which is something many queer people are very sensitive to because it’s a very real thing we’re very used to.

            1. Head sheep counter*

              I think you’ll find that PDA and work are universally considered no-go areas unless your job is of a more intimate nature and then… its still probably got rules about co-workers (although… the mind boggles and HR must be super fun). I do think that rules can and are deployed differently for different people in all kinds of contexts. If this were the case – where the staff were hooking up all over the place and the manager was only cracking down on this couple… that would be problematic (and not just on the discrimination point). I am not sure why folks are conflating general problematic issues with this particular letter… as it seems about a clear cut case of don’t as one could hope for.

              1. Twix*

                “I think you’ll find that PDA and work are universally considered no-go areas”

                Yes, I don’t think anyone disagrees with this.

                “I am not sure why folks are conflating general problematic issues with this particular letter”

                Because that’s central to the question LW is asking. LW has to address this issue within the context of a society where queer people are often discriminated against for being queer in public in general and PDA specifically. Discrimination can happen when addressing a real issue, and when that issue is only with one person (or couple, in this case). It’s not just a matter of “Am I treating this person differently than I am treating their straight cis coworkers?”; you also have to ask “Am I treating this person differently than I would treat a straight cis employee doing the same thing?” No one is saying the behavior is fine or that LW is being discriminatory. However, it is very smart of LW to be aware of the societal context because avoiding the appearance of discrimination is also very important for a number of reasons.

      7. Rex Libris*

        This. My spouse and I worked together as newlyweds and kept it professional. It can be done. We simply didn’t engage in behavior that wouldn’t have been appropriate with any other coworker, when around others. We’re higher primates, we can exhibit some level of self control.

      8. I Have RBF*


        My mental test for this is “If I saw a cis-het couple doing this at work, would it be inappropriate?”

    3. legal rugby*

      I felt that it was brought up more to provide context that might be helpful as to why language was going to chosen with care. As a queer woman, working in close proximately to my wife, I have to coach my younger folks frequently on why certain identifiers don’t need to be brought up in behavioral conversations. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      I’m gonna go with the OP knows its beyond bounds. You shouldn’t be kissing your partner at work — even a peck.

      OP also says they aren’t the only trans people just the only couple. So its probably not the idea of trans people being intimate that bothers her. Its that its at WORK.

      I would leave out the “it might make people uncomfortable” though. Because that could lead to wondering if its the fact they are trans people doing it that makes people uncomfortable or just intimacy at work by anyone that would make people uncomfortable.

    5. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Thank you for saying this. As Alison said down thread, “it’s really common for gender-non-conforming people to face more objections to their showing affection to a partner in public than someone else would” and that’s a complicating factor that a straight cis couple wouldn’t experience in the same situation, even if they were both ostensibly about how PDA at work is unprofessional.

    6. Baldrick*

      I met my partner at work and I’ve worked with a lot of couples. In every case including mine no one knew about the relationships based on behavior and only found out if they were told. I don’t care about LGBTQ+ or otherwise… “affection” is not a work term.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        On that front, even in non-couple situations, physical affection can be problematic.

        I’m thinking back to one job where two of the managers were friendly. If there was an informal meeting at the end of quarter, when things were busy and stressful, one would often get up and start giving the other one a back rub. As one of their direct reports, it was not a great meeting to be in, … that kind of affection, physical care-taking wasn’t professional and changed the vibe in the meeting. And after seeing that display, would anyone talk frankly to one manager about their other or their staff, if there were work reasons to raise an issue?
        And that’s not even getting in to cases where things might not be entirely consensual due to power differentials, boundary pushing vs norms or politeness.

    7. Dinwar*

      The LW did, though. They took a step back, asked if the people being trans is an issue, and the answer is “No.” The answer would be the same if the couple were straight, interracial, homosexual, poly, or any other combination. The actions in question are not work-appropriate.

      The quick kiss thing I’d be willing to ignore; I think our culture is too averse to normal signs of human affection (not just romantic, either), and a quick peck is the sort of thing I’d have no problem with were one of the people an employee and another coming in to say hi during the day. But cuddling during meetings is both distracting to the others in the meeting and almost certainly distracting to the couple in question. And acting like a unit is inappropriate regardless of the nature of the relationship, and carries potential legal liabilities for the employer. It’s something I have seen married couples get called out for in the past.

      1. kiki*

        Yeah, I understand that it’s an important thing for managers in this position to assess, but it seems pretty clear from the letter that LW has spent quite a bit of time thinking about whether gender identity could be impacting their judgment. And LW gave pretty detailed descriptions of the behavior here. While it doesn’t necessarily sound absolutely egregious, it’s enough that I think it wouldn’t fly at most workplaces.

    8. Beth*

      This is a good note, and if it was just a quick peck on the cheek once in a while I’d tell OP to leave it. That’s normal behavior–it often is more noticeable when it’s us LGBTQ folks, because people don’t expect it, but that doesn’t make it unprofessional.

      This sounds like a lot more than that, though. Cuddling in staff meetings isn’t professional behavior no matter who’s involved. Even married couples don’t generally call out for each other (barring “Sarah is in the hospital, I’m staying with her, neither of us will be making it to work today” level emergencies). These are things that plenty of young people need coaching on, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. Honestly, as someone who was very much not out as a teenager…it’s kind of cute to see baby queers having the same struggles that I’ve seen baby straights have at work.

    9. JB*

      There is also the perception that action against such individuals needs to be more careful than with those fitting the invisible norm because it will be judged more critically. There are known cases where people have played the victim by playing the LGBT or race card when it’s just their behaviour (which is separate from their orientation or ethnicity) to garner sympathy.

      The key thing here is to establish that the workplace is not for any PDA full stop regardless of who is engaging in it. Same standards no matter what your personal identity or orientation.

  5. Rick Tq*

    Loop in HR first, so you have documentation this is a general behavior problem and not about them specifically.

    HR might be able to provide a standardized statement about professional behavior and what is not allowed at work (on the floor or the back areas).

      1. OP*

        OP here. This would be a great move but it’s a notoriously hands off/store specific company. HR is extremely uninvolved in day to day ops and it would be an unnecessary escalation culturally to loop them in for this. Thus why there is no blanket policy (either about professional behavior or specifically PDA). This mostly works well and gives us a ton of autonomy on the store level, but sometimes it would be nice to go to HR and get an answer for sure!

        1. Mztery1*

          But could you at least advise HR that you were going to have a talk with employees about PDA in the workplace?

          1. LW*

            I *could* but it would be so out of step culturally that it would seem to be weird judgement on my part, and HR is small enough/removed from us that I don’t think there would be much of a benefit to the staff members in the relationship, who are my primary concern in addressing this well.

  6. Risha*

    It doesn’t matter if they’re trans or cis, they should not be doing this. I’m thinking the other employees may be very uncomfortable watching this constant, unrestrained PDA, I know I would be. I’ve dated someone I worked with when I was young, many people have. But most people, regardless of their age, are able to control themselves at work. Please put a stop to it, this is very unprofessional.

    1. allathian*

      Alison already addressed this. LGBTQ+ folx can face violence just for holding hands in a public place where a cishet couple would get an “Aww, isn’t young love sweet!” reaction.

      That said, I do agree that the smart thing to do would be to emphasize that the rules against PDA apply to everyone, not just this particular couple.

  7. Iridescent Periwinkle*

    Their gender identities are not relevant here. People universally need to keep PDA out of a work environment.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s relevant because it’s giving the LW an additional layer of concern about how to address it; she wants to ensure they don’t think it’s the reason they’re being told to stop (because it’s really common for gender-non-conforming people to face more objections to their showing affection to a partner in public than someone else would). Obviously in this case there shouldn’t be PDA from anyone, but they’re young so she wants to make sure the way she addresses it makes it clear that they’re not being targeted because they’re trans.

    1. I take tea*

      In this context it is Public Display of Affection, as several people have said. At my work we have sometimes e-books that are PDA. Then it stands for Public Driven Acquisition, which means we’ll but the ones that are most popular. Because I’m twelve, I always snicker a little when I see the acronym.

  8. I should really pick a name*

    It can make other people uncomfortable

    I’d swap this out for something like “It’s unprofessional”.

    Remember, if they DO claim that you’re doing this because of their gender identity, you can try to explain to them how that isn’t the case, but it’s not a failure on your part if they don’t agree. You want to focus on ending the behaviour, and getting drawn into that argument could become a distraction.

    “Don’t cuddle on the clock” is such a basic employment norm that it isn’t putting you at any kind of risk.

    1. Sally Rhubarb*

      That’s a better way of putting it. Less loaded and drops the implication that the trans couple’s existence makes people uncomfortable. (Not that I think the LW feels that way)

    2. celestial seasonings*

      What I came here to say. The word “uncomfortable” is going to read as “uncomfortable about gender identity” whether or not that’s actually the case.

    3. Gondorff*

      To counter, “professional” has been used in employment for decades to police all kinds of things, including gender expression (it’s “unprofessional” for women to wear pants, as an outdated (hopefully) example). Identifying specific behavior that could make someone uncomfortable regardless of the gender identity of the people performing said behavior is a better direction to go here, in my opinion.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        My concern (as Sally Rhubarb mentioned) is that the word “uncomfortable” could quite easily be interpreted as implying uncomfortable with trans people cuddling as opposed to simply any people cuddling.

        Any suggestions for another word that’s less loaded?

      2. Boof*

        Well, it at least meeps the focus on their behavior (which they can control) and not other people’s reactions (which they really can’t beyond the former). A good litmus test for “professional behavior “ might be would they do the same thing with any of their other peer coworkers? If not, keep it for after hours.

      3. Anatical Tree Hugger*

        I agree, neither “uncomfortable” or “professional” is great. I do wonder if the script needs a why. As @I should really says above, not cuddling is pretty basic. The script would be:

        “We also don’t allow PDA at work — no kissing, cuddling, hand-holding, or other coupley behavior. We need your relationship to be a professional one while you’re at work.”

        Still uses “professional”, but with less emphasis on it.

        1. metadata minion*

          I like that — it frames it as professional vs personal, rather than professional vs unprofessional. They should be relating to each other as coworkers while at work, not as sweethearts.

        2. Anatical Tree Hugger*

          Clatification: That was AAM’s script, not mine, just without the part about being uncomfortable.

      4. Hannah Lee*

        If you keep the “professional” focused on their actions and focus while in the workplace, I think it still works.

        It is not “professional” if an employee comes to work and in the middle of the work day (on the retail floor their working at or in a conference room during a group meeting) they suddenly shift their focus from work, the thing they are being paid to focus on, to giving physical attention and affection to their SO.

        – Frequently during a given work day
        – Repeatedly on multiple work days
        -With sustained physical contact during the cuddling, the hand holding.

        Being focused on kissing, hugging, touching, cuddling with your boo means you are not working.

    4. Varthema*

      Yeah, I came here to say the same – it’s too easy a phrase for people (either the employees in in question or even just bystanders trying to “help”) to seize on and decontextualize, whether on purpose or accidentally because it’s a triggery phrase. I’d say as few words as possible and keep it to, as you said, “Please don’t cuddle on the clock; thanks for understanding.” Plus what Alison had about them needing to act as individual units and not a collective one in the context of their work. But leave its impact on others out of it. I like the approach that Alison often advises of saying it as though of COURSE they’ll be understanding – if you go into it making it a Big Deal they’re more likely to treat it as a Big Deal and that could spiral.

    5. mlem*

      Agreed; I think the “uncomfortable” language will automatically sound like catering to bigots here.

    6. irritable vowel*

      Yeah, I was a little concerned that the “it makes people uncomfortable” part of Alison’s suggested messaging could be interpreted by the employees as “…because you’re trans.” I think it should be made as clear as possible that this is something that applies to EVERYONE. And I also agree that a standard of professional behavior should be the focus rather than other people’s reactions.

  9. Not Elizabeth*

    It’s been a long time since I worked retail, but I don’t really see why it’s a problem that one of them might call out for the both of them. What does it accomplish to make them each call out separately?

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I think it’s more that they’re calling out as a pair in general. This suggests that perhaps they’re not being truthful about their reasons (unless they’ve both suddenly gotten food poisoning from the same meal) and are actually having a bit of Tuesday morning whoopie.

      I think the angle on this part is to simply schedule them apart from each other to minimize the impact of their simultaneous “illnesses”. It would also help to avoid some of the in-store nookie.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are a lot of reasons a business would want that. For example, they have a question about where X stands since Jane will be out that day and if Jane called in for herself they could just ask on that call. Or they want to avoid a situation where Jane announces she and Sara will both be out on Friday, but Sara never agreed to that and doesn’t want to use her vacation days that way. It’s reasonable to expect each person will manage their employment details, including communications about time off, themselves. They’re not a unit at work.

    3. Lacey*

      It’s for the same reason that a mom can’t call out for her child. The manager needs to talk to the employee directly about things that relate to their job.

    4. not nice, don't care*

      Anyone who has survived an abusive relationship knows that a hostile partner can do a lot of damage by acting in the victim’s name/behalf without permission or awareness.

    5. I should really pick a name*

      Generally, one employee doesn’t have the standing to speak for another.

      If one employee speaks for another and they’re wrong (intentionally or otherwise) this could present a problem.

    6. Ingemma*

      I assume it’s the same reason it’s a problem in my line of work – which is that you want that as an across the board policy so that you’re not having to make decisions / interpretations based on their relationship.

      On the less serious level, if one of them is slightly sick whether they come in should be something they’re managing themselves, not having their partner decide for them. (There’s a difference between your partner saying to you ‘you shouldn’t go in, this is what sick days are for’ and ‘I already texted BOSS, they know you’re not coming in.’) This one could be insidious or could just be bad boundaries.

      More seriously, some people act really badly in a break up and you don’t want to be in the position of having to determine if one person is sabotaging the other on purpose – or in a suspected coercive control / abuse dynamic you want no part in determining when and where to draw the line when you could just have a very reasonable policy that people manage their business own employment except in extreme circumstances.

      In general accepting call ins from one of them for both just puts stock you don’t need to as an employer in their relationship. Obviously if in the extremely unfortunate circumstance that someone is unable to contact it makes sense for their emergency contact to call in… but routinely there’s no need for it.

    7. mb*

      Most places don’t allow other people to call out for employees (obviously, except for situations where the employee is not capable i.e unconscious) – so my mother or partner can’t call out for me. It doesn’t really matter that they are a couple – each person needs to individually call in sick for themselves.

    8. Dona Florinda*

      I think it’s because most companies only deal with the employee directly, not the parents, partner etc, and the fact that partner is also an employee doesn’t change that. Sure there are exceptions, like one of them being too sick to even call out, but otherwise companies don’t deal with third parties.

    9. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Take the relationship out of the equation: should any co-worker be allowed to call in for any other co-worker? I think it’s pretty clear that they should not, so the fact that these two are dating doesn’t change that. (It doesn’t seem that they live together, but even if they did, they still should call in separately (assuming neither one is too sick to talk).)

    10. Dinwar*

      I would say it depends on the reasoning.

      If one of them is so sick they can’t reach the phone, yeah, call in. I don’t need to hear you dry-heaving from food poisoning or something! At that point it wouldn’t matter if you were their partner, a roommate, a parent, or a coworker–I’m just glad you have someone with you. (Seriously, if you’re not well have someone with you!! I literally just saw a notice of someone dying because they had a medical issue and no one with them, and I’ve almost lost coworkers that way.)

      On the other hand, if one of them is requesting vacation days for the other, that’s a problem. For a few reasons. First, it’s not the norm, and as others have pointed out it can raise alarms regarding abuse. Second, it’s retail and these are young kids, part of the whole point is to learn workplace norms. Finally, what if one of them doesn’t have sufficient PTO to take off? I’m not sure I’m allowed to tell X “I have to reject Y’s PTO request, they’ve exceeded their accrued time off.”

      I also suspect that it’s more than just calling in for them. The couples I’ve seen with this dynamic don’t seem to understand boundaries. If I’m giving X a raise and not Y, I don’t need Y in the room asking what they did wrong. If I need to correct something Y is doing, I don’t need X in there playing Council for the Defendant.

  10. Lauren*

    I would leave out the ‘making people uncomfortable’ part, which may be interpreted as because of being trans. Distracting and will not be tolerated from any staff is enough.

    1. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Nah, OP already stated there are several other trans people on staff and it’s a blanket statement and inclusive of all people. The 2 staff people need to know that PDA amongst any employees is going to make people uncomfortable and the wording that Alison said makes it clear the the uncomfortable part is the PDA and not the 2 specific people. If the statement was “you’re making people uncomfortable” then that would indicate the trans people. But instead stating “the PDA (share examples) is making people uncomfortable”, the focus is on act itself, not the specific people.

  11. Observer*

    You absolutely need to shut this down. Alison’s language here is excellent, as usual. Note that she doesn’t mention anything about them being trans, because it’s beyond irrelevant. Don’t even bring it into the conversation.

    Keep in mind that the problem is not that they are in a relationship, but that they are engaging in PDA in an a context where that is inappropriate for *any* romantic partners, and also trying to speak for each other in ways that are inappropriate, even if romantic partnership were not involved. Like you wouldn’t accept if someone’s parent or sibling tried to call in for them outside of emergencies where the person really couldn’t call in. So that’s where your focus needs to be.

    As Alison says, you don’t need a policy on this. But, you might want to look at your handbook and see if there does happen to be a policy in there – not about relationships, but about PDA and / or professional behavior.

    1. Sally Rhubarb*

      The opposite happened to me when my “roommate” and I had the same job. Management would grill me about where he was when he missed his shifts like I was his keeper or something.

      (I say roommate but he was a free loading ass. So glad all of those people are out of my life)

  12. metzengerstein*

    This is also happening at my workplace–two letters in a row! Sometimes I feel like all the bad letters are about my workplace. =D

  13. Lacey*

    I had a coworker who used to cuddle with her boyfriend at work. He didn’t work there. He’d just come in and sit on her lap and they’d rub their little noses together and whisper sweet nothings in the middle of our open plan office.

    It was eventually shut down, but for several weeks I think the rest of us were just kinda fascinated by their lack of awareness.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Good lord. I mean, I do that to my little tiny angel baby lap-dog, but I wouldn’t do it to another human!

    2. Generic Name*

      Oh my! In college, we used to call couples like this “love blobs”. Not the most charitable name, to be sure, but it was meant to describe that one couple who were always engaging in super mooshy PDA that generally made everyone around them uncomfortable. Couples doing this were often in their very first relationship. I’m sure it’s a combination of the cluelessness of youth with a hefty dose of wanting to shout their love from the rooftop.

      1. Lacey*

        Yeah, they were both very young.

        But we had other people just as young, and while that did result in some hilarious first-job faux pas, none of them were this cringe-worthy.

  14. AMT*

    The “no written policy” thing comes up so often in this column. To be clear, I’m not blaming the letter-writer for wanting a written policy, since a lot of employees *do* complain that they should be able to do unreasonable things because there’s no specific rule against it! That said, I’m an existential psychotherapist who has been doing a lot of reading on deflection of responsibility recently, and the authors I’ve been reading lately point out something I’ve seen a lot in my professional life: that people have an uncanny drive to place responsibility for their decisions on something external to them, like an authority figure, law, or divine edict. In these kinds of letters, it’s a piece of paper that says “you can’t do [unreasonable stuff],” even if the manager themselves was the one who typed up that piece of paper!

    Any manager who wants to say “this is not okay” needs to own their decision and say, “This is not okay, and not because there’s a rule against it, but because I can clearly articulate the reasons I feel it’s not okay. It’s not my boss saying it, and it’s not company policy–it’s me in my capacity as a manager.” Arbitrary rules can be changed, upper management can be circumvented, but it’s hard not to respect someone who believes wholeheartedly in what they’re saying, even if the employee disagrees. When you find yourself pulling the employee handbook card as a manager, it’s a sign that you either don’t have a coherent rationale for your policies, your organization is actively undermining your ability to take action when people don’t listen to you, or you’re too scared to assert your beliefs to your employees. Any of these things is a big problem.

    1. Siege*

      How much of that tendency, do you think, is driven by the knowledge that someone above them will overturn it and they’re seeking external support to try to stave that off? Because I think it’s a lot. My boss really likes to tell me I need to be more firm about deadlines for a publication, and then the moment I do she’s either needing an extension herself or she’s undercutting me by telling me the consequences she told me to set aren’t going to work for so-and-so. It’s gotten to a more workable point because I call her out on it, but it’s still this arbitrary revocation of authority that I and only I can have (unless my boss wants to manage our relationship with the printer and pay the fees for rush delivery) they makes it pretty pointless to assert it n the ways she thinks I should in the first place.

      1. AMT*

        That’s why I mentioned the “your organization is actively undermining your ability to take action when people don’t listen to you” possibility. It’s not always that the manager is afraid of conflict. Sometimes, the grandboss is the one afraid of conflict, and sometimes, that problem is just not solvable by the manager themselves.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Except this is a youngish person and it sounds like they might be a manager at a [mall shop or something similar], which means they are pretty much at the mercy of those above them. Enforcing a no-PDA rule that hasn’t been spelled out by corporate is not actually the same as standing up for your convictions even if your parents/pastor/whoever aren’t on board, if you need the job. If the PDA-offenders shoot back that it’s not a real rule, and absentee superiors don’t back her up . . . what’s the solution?

      1. AMT*

        That’s basically what I’m saying with that second-to-last sentence–that being afraid of asserting themselves isn’t the *only* possibility here. It’s totally possible that they could say “no PDA!” and that the higher-ups could be like “well…actually…” But I think it’s a good idea to try being assertive first unless they have solid evidence that their corporate overlords are going to undermine them.

    3. Anatical Tree Hugger*

      This is an interesting set of hypotheses about why people reach for a written policy. I do think you missed one of the more obvious ones:

      A written policy allows for more consistency and transparency.

      1. Lana Kane*

        I think that in this scenario, it’s more about being afraid to say anything because of the lack of policy. Which I believe is what AMT is referring to (as opposed to the general reasons for needing/wanting a written policy).

    4. Ace in the Hole*

      I don’t think your last bit is necessarily true.

      Clear, well-written policies help create consistency and transparency. Memory is fickle – how often do people think they are being fair only because they are misremembering the details of how they handled the situation when it last came up months or years ago? Or because they are unaware of their own bias?

      This isn’t to say that everything needs a written rule… but I do think written policies have a valuable purpose.

      1. AMT*

        I agree that written policies have their place. To clarify, the distinction I was trying to draw was between having clear policies and needing a 500-page nitpicking rulebook to back up one’s authority as a manager before one can act.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      You’re not wrong, but in this specific case where part of the conundrum is making these people in particular don’t feel like they’re being singled out for reasons other than the real one, having the written policy to point to is less about not owning it as a manager but rather having substance that indicates it’s not picking on them due to their identity. Yes, they can and should make that clear in how they say it in the first place, but it’s not about being scared to exercise their actual authority, it’s about framework for it being clear they’re not abusing that authority in this specific context. “It’s not you, it’s the general definition of ‘professionalism’.”

  15. Noseybrit*

    Generally to keep in with professional norms, touching your colleagues apart from the odd handshake here and there is a no no.

    Displaying affection detracts from the job at hand.

  16. legal rugby*

    I’m a queer woman who used to work at the same employer as my partner. Lines got blurred a bit when we had kids and periodically had to exchange information/stuff, but we never kissed or hugged at work, and in fact, had to push back on the assumptions we should work together on certain projects just because our departments were collaborating.

    Language that might be helpful: I coach on the side, and tell my players, many of whom are involved with each other: I don’t care who you date, but I should not be able to tell who it is by your behavior at practice or on the field. When you are here, I need you to focus on professional behaviors, and model how you want to play at the next level.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      “I don’t care who you date, but I should not be able to tell who it is by your behavior at practice or on the field.”

      I think this is a very helpful phrasing. It goes beyond addressing specific behavior which we all know some people don’t get. If you tell them no cuddling, they might think a hug is ok. (NOT claiming this is the case with this couple – Im speaking in general about how some peoples brains work)

    2. Observer*

      I don’t care who you date, but I should not be able to tell who it is by your behavior at practice or on the field.

      That’s a really good rule of thumb.

  17. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    I wanna know what the people above OP were thinking. It sounds like one person was transferred specifically to be with their significant other. Which is stunningly bad corporate management right there.

    1. Beth*

      Odds are pretty good that they didn’t say “I want to transfer so I can snuggle my boo on work hours.” Teenagers are young, not dumb. I’m betting they gave an easy to accept reason like “This location is closer to my school,” or took advantage of an opportunity like “You need more staff there? I don’t mind switching”.

    2. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      I mean, it’s retail. Most stores are happy to have people who want to work in their location at all. “Because my SO works there” is as good of a reason as any in a lot of circumstances.

  18. trans and tired*

    It does my heart good to see trans kids making the same dumb mistakes as cis kids their age, and their manager just wants to make sure when they shut it down that they’re not singling them out for being trans.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Ha! True, the idea that anyone in a marginalised group HAS to act 100% better than the rest all the time is rather unfair anyway.

  19. Keymaster of Gozer*

    The trick is to just say upfront that this isn’t appropriate behavior for the workplace. ‘Kissing and cuddling at work isn’t professional and we’d prefer all our staff act in a way befitting the workplace’

    That neatly sidesteps any ‘but you’re only saying that because we’re LGBTQ’ outbursts.

    Definitely keep an eye out for any other staff behaving the same – like if someone is regularly having her boyfriend round and kissing them in the workplace – because you have to apply the rules equally.

    It’s an uncomfortable conversation for sure – nobody likes telling someone who’s happy to put a sock in it – but it’s best to stop this now before other staff or clients start getting uncomfortable.

    1. Observer*

      Definitely keep an eye out for any other staff behaving the same – like if someone is regularly having her boyfriend round and kissing them in the workplace – because you have to apply the rules equally.

      I thin that a more important reason to treat that behavior the same way regardless is that it’s wildly inappropriate regardless. I think keeping that focus is going to make it easier to handle the situation well.

  20. Beth*

    I had a case, when I was young and working as a summer camp counselor, where a few campers (older teenagers, ages 16-18ish) were getting really intensely PDA-y with their partners. The behavior you’re describing–cuddling during meetings, public kissing, etc–sounds a lot like what they were doing.

    The girls involved were in my cabin, so I ended up being one of the people responsible for talking to them about it. Because it was several of them, I decided to talk to the whole cabin to give a general reminder of acceptable camp behavior. That was the wrong move. The girls in question absolutely did feel targeted and publicly called out, others felt weird about being reminded about appropriate behavior when they were already acting appropriately, it turned into a whole big thing.

    Based on that experience, I would definitely say to talk to these two privately. You can make a general policy after that–in fact, it sounds like a good idea to explicitly spell that out, since retail jobs tend to hire a lot of young people who might need explicit instruction on professional behavior. But don’t start with that. Start with a one-on-one conversation with each of them, get the air cleared ahead of time, and maybe give them a few weeks to reset their professional behavior and change their image before you announce the new official policy. I’d take an approach like “I’m happy for you and ___, you’re cute together. I met my partner here too, years ago! Let’s talk about balancing romantic relationships and professionalism in the workplace–I learned some lessons along the way that I’d love to share with you.”

  21. mb*

    People who are dating their coworkers need to behave as if they’re not a couple at work. That’s the professional norm. Their couple-y behaviour is both unprofessional and very immature. The fact that they are trans is irrelevant to shutting this down, but it does inform the manner in which it should be shut down. The manager doesn’t want the employees to claim that eliminating PDA is due to their being trans, rather than their behaviour being unprofessional. In that vein, as others have mentioned, using the word discomfort might imply that the discomfort is due to their being trans, rather than the behaviour itself. Simply saying that there needs to be professional conduct at work, so no PDA, and they need to each call out for themselves, and not as a unit, should be enough.

    1. K in Boston*

      “The fact that they are trans is irrelevant to shutting this down, but it does inform the manner in which it should be shut down.”

      Well said!

  22. Sincerely Raymond Holt*

    This reminds me of the episode on The Office where Michael and Holly get back together, and they’re sitting in the same chair in the conference room. It is icky to see couples doing “couply” things at work, like kissing, holding hands or other PDA. Please shut this down for the other employees and customers.

  23. She of Many Hats*

    The other concern is that this is a retail position which implies that they are customer facing. In the age of the Raging Entitled Customer (REC), with all the PDA, the couple is opening themselves, and likely, the company to complaints from the REC.

    1. Elsewise*

      Eh, I’m not so sure that that’s a great argument. The company is also opening themselves up to complaints from the REC by employing trans people. Target was hit with terroristic threats for carrying pride merch. An ally was shot this week for flying a pride flag. Heck, even without the trans and queer element, you can get REC’d for not having a sale, having the wrong sale, not carrying a specific item, or pretty much anything someone entitled might take issue with. “You’re opening us up to customer complaints” feels a lot more targeted towards queer people than a general “it’s not professional for anyone”.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        There is, however, a tipping point where REC are clearly being unreasonable, and complaints that a place employs trans people are way, way, beyond that. PDA is not.

  24. Ess Ess*

    When in the workplace, sexual harassment laws are in effect. No matter what orientation the employees are, PDA and sexual innuendo/kissing/cuddling fall under that category. The victims of sexual harassment are not just the people actively involved in the action, but also include the people who witness the inappropriate behavior in the workplace. It is the OPs legal responsibility to stop this before someone raises a formal complaint. A one-time peck on the way into the office is not pervasive behavior, but cuddling during work meetings and multiple pecks a day do fall under pervasive.

  25. EMP*

    A really simple bar for PDA in the workplace is if you wouldn’t do it with ALL your coworkers don’t do it with ANY of your coworkers.

    1. This_is_Todays_Name*

      Man, using THAT metric, I’d have to stop talking to EVERYONE in the office.

  26. Dawn*

    Hey commenters, trans woman here, and it is really valuable context to have that the couple are trans, especially if this is happening in America or Britain in the current climate.

    Work is obviously an exception to this, but I penned a piece just the other day on how “trans folks being affectionate in public (ok, not quite the words I used) is an act of both joy and defiance, and cis people should be very careful how they react to it.”

    It needs to be looked at through a different lens, if nothing else.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I love me some trans joy. I would love to see it when they smooch each other as they get into the car to go home. And maybe an adorable sharing of the same lunchbox during break.
      When we’re working, I’d rather stick to working personas though.

    2. Queer Earthling*

      Yeah, the people being like “Why does it matter that they’re trans????” are being a little obtuse. I hope it is unintentionally.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        No, we’re prioritizing “don’t do this at work”. In this context, it does not matter.

        Literally nobody here is saying LGBQT+ people shouldn’t be affectionate in public; we’re all saying that nobody, no matter who you are, should be doing this at work.

        1. Queer Earthling*

          Everyone agrees that they shouldn’t do this at work. This has been said many times. No one is saying, “Yeah, let the kids make out at work” at any point. However, y’all are asking why it matters that they’re trans; people are giving context as to why that might be a concern for the LW and why it’s thoughtful of the LW to consider that issue.

      2. Ess Ess*

        For this letter, the fact that the employees are trans is absolutely moot. This is a workplace issue. The same workplace rules apply uniformly. For those of us saying it doesn’t matter, we are saying that in the workplace it absolutely doesn’t matter. It’s not being obtuse. It’s treating this as a standard workplace issue that applies to every gender or orientation equally. It’s focusing on the only fact that actually matters or changes the situation IN THE WORKPLACE. Every person of every orientation should be treated equally in the workplace, and the trans status does not add or minimize the inappropriateness at work. Therefore, trans status does not matter. This behavior violates the same sexual harassment rules at work, whether by trans, straight, queer, or any combination of orientations/genders.

        1. Dawn*

          Hi there, it looks a little questionable when what I just said about it mattering that people are trans bugs you so much that you write an entire paragraph pushing back against something I didn’t even claim, FYI.

          Again, I said that work is the exception. However, it’s absolutely relevant as to how it informs the OP’s response in a climate that is largely hostile to the existence-in-public of trans people.

  27. Middle Aged Lady*

    Ah, young love! I managed young people for years and AAM is correct that no policy will cover all the things they do/don’t do when they are learning professional norms.
    I like AAM’s suggestions to make it very clear that it isn’t about them personally, but that it isn’t professional. I used to ask for feedback about my gentle corrections to be sure my undergrad employees weren’t feeling singled out by what I said. Issues around wearing a lot of cologne used to really hurt their feelings sometimes, like ‘this is part of my identity,’ which surprised me at first.
    I think the OP is being very kind and sensitive to the possibility they are being singled out for being trans. And it’s not just the PDA, it’s one calling out for the other and acting like a ‘unit’ that is part of the issue.
    Good luck, OP!

  28. Blarg*

    Am I the only one reading this and thinking about especially restaurant jobs when you were 20 and in hindsight it seems there were no boundaries? Haven’t thought about this in a couple decades but holy crap did I do some inappropriate stuff with coworkers in the kitchen/back rooms back in the day.

    I’m cringing now just being flooded with memories of my late teens and early 20s. Thankful I grew up! (Also wore a strapless dress to my first office job a couple times til a manager talked to me. And I remember being somewhat privately indignant about it).

    1. UKDancer*

      Sharing the cringe. When I was a teenage student I worked in a castle during the university vacations as a tour guide. I had a rather intense and rather too public flirtation with one of the chefs in the castle restaurant (who was in his 20s, in a relationship and had kids). I should probably have known better and he certainly should have had more judgment.

      One of the older guides had to tell me that it was uncomfortable for the others in the office to have to sit through and deeply unprofessional.

      As an older woman I wonder what the heck I was thinking and cringe at my idiot teenage self.

      1. Middle Aged Lady*

        Hormones. I crushed badly on a married coworker at a restaurant and made him uncomfortable at times. Mortified now!

    2. WellSimon*

      Related cringe: local eatery. One of the regulars got involved with one of the kitchen workers. Both 20s. He would often come out and stand behind her barstool with his arms wrapped around her. It just seemed so odd even though one of them didn’t work there. It was just a bit over the top.

  29. nm*

    I used to teach a class where one student started bringing a boyfriend to class and being all cuddly during lecture (iirc he was enrolled in the same university, but not this class, which was about 20 people). I felt deeply uncomfortable explaining to the student that this wasn’t allowed, but there were literally not enough chairs and desks in the room.

    1. Dinwar*

      That could have been me….My wife and I did that at a colloquium class in college, back when we were dating. We’d sit beside each other and hold hands and had a notebook where we’d write to each other. The professors were concerned–until they saw that the notes we were writing were about the lecture. We were actively listening and considering the implications and doing all that stuff that teachers always want students to do.

      We did save any PDA beyond hand-holding until after the lecture.

      1. Petty_Boop*

        I think it’s different in a college class and AT WORK in a professional setting. The standard for behavior, right or wrong, is much lower for a student than an employee.

        1. Dinwar*

          Agreed–I’d never do that in a work setting–but nm was specifically talking about teaching a class, so I figured my amusing anecdote was relevant.

  30. Coin_Operated*

    In every retail store I worked for there never seemed to be any sense of professional norms. I was called constantly by managers because they kept mixing me up with other employees who had the same first name as I did and I’d be arguing with them over the phone that I was not the person they were trying to reach. (In some fairness there were a lot of seasonal workers with high turnover, and often managers would cover different stores so they may not know all the employees, but it was still annoying when they’d argue with me and then accuse me of lying that I wasn’t who I said I was to get out of trouble for someone else’s no call no show). It was a good thing I was good friends with the general store manager, because I had to yell at a lot of the other managers for their incompetence, and most learned eventually to just to leave me alone because I was good at the job.

  31. Alex*

    I have to admit that I was guilty of this when I was young and stupid and oblivious and working in my first job. My manager gave me a “Hey, cut it out!” and that was that. Sometimes people, especially young people, just need to be told something that should be obvious.

  32. ShakinMyHead*

    Is anyone besides me baffled that the LW thinks that w/o a policy he/she cannot tell people NOT TO CUDDLE IN A STAFF MEETING? At what point does common sense and “no that’s just not professional” come into play? The first time they were snuggling and smooching, I’d have said, “Yo, keep it professional you two, or you’ll sit on separate sides of the room next week!” or something similar. That LW needs to stop tip-toeing around what is CLEARLY unacceptable behavior in the office.

    1. Coin_Operated*

      It’s retail, lot of young workers there, so I wouldn’t expect them to behave professionally.

    2. Antilles*

      The explanation to your bafflement is described in the first sentence “youngish retail manager”. OP likely hasn’t run across a situation like this, retail management training (if any) probably didn’t address this sort of thing, and the policy handbook also doesn’t address this.

      Me as a mid-30’s person who’s been managing projects and people for a decade, with a good grasp of the limits of my authority and a solid understanding of managerial discretion? I’m doing just like you are and cutting it out in the moment (or perhaps right afterwards, as appropriate).

      But if I’d had this situation a decade ago, when I was new to managing people and still a bit unsure about how much authority I have? I could definitely see past-me writing this letter and wondering if I needed an actual policy to cite to back up my position.

    3. Observer*

      Is anyone besides me baffled that the LW thinks that w/o a policy he/she cannot tell people NOT TO CUDDLE IN A STAFF MEETING? At what point does common sense and “no that’s just not professional” come into play?

      This comes up a LOT. I bet if you searched “we don’t have a policy” on this site you would come up with dozens of letters. Because there are letters from managers who think that they can’t mandate something without a policy; managers who think they need to create a policy whenever something comes up; and staff who think that their manager can’t / shouldn’t come down on them for something because there is no policy.

      Now, obviously that makes sense. But I’m talking about letters like this.

      In fact, it made me think of the letter about a pair of youngish employees in a call center pulling stuff like this (kissing each other’s hands and foreheads, among other things…) and there was a blow up about it. One of the things that was perplexing the OP is that there was no policy covering things like this.

      OP, if you want to see how some of your staff may feel about your couple, you might want to read this post.

  33. Student*

    Think through, and do your best to spell out to the people involved, what specific behaviors are not acceptable. Give examples of things they’ve done recently when you tell them to cut it out.

    Saying, “No PDA!” and hoping to leave it at that probably won’t work with people who are already engaged in PDA at work. There is a nontrivial chance that they don’t have the same intuitive understanding of PDA-related social boundaries you do.

  34. jojo*

    I guess I am just a rude person. Personally, I have no problem telling people to save it for the bedroom when in a public setting. I was at the pool my 4 year old and a couple in their early 20s was all but right in front of all the kids. The guy had the nerve to go to work and complain the next day. We worked is sister offices. So did the girls dad.

  35. xy.dll*

    As a gay trans man, I’m not a fan whatsoever of the implication I or anyone else needs special, emotionally supportive language that it’s “not about transness or anything” during such predictable discipline.

    In an accepting, professional setting where other LGBTQ* people work, I would assume AUTOMATICALLY it isn’t the problem. The fact you single out queerness as a considerable point in what’s supposed to be an accepting environment worries me significantly and, honestly, makes it seem that you’re biased towards inaction or softer discipline because of their LGBTQ* status.
    The idea that queer people are constantly on the offensive against even the slightest microaggression, and aren’t capable of interpretting negative feedback outside of the context of sexuality and gender, is an upsettingly normalized stance that bigots latch onto because well-intentioned Allies justify it.
    But we’re people. We know nobody likes PDA, queer or not. We can tell when someone only hates it because we’re gay, and we can tell when you’re patronizing us because you think we’re “more sensitive than other people”.

    I, and many people like me, don’t want you or anyone else considering LGBTQ* status in situations like this at all, negatively OR positively. It’s patronizing at best, and positive-bias bigotry at worst.
    Please do not do it.

  36. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    This is retail. It’s huge that there’s no policy on PDA because surely it’s important to behave appropriately around customers? OP doesn’t mention customers and the meetings are surely not in front of customers but if they’re openly cuddling at meetings I doubt they’re holding back on the shop floor.

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