manager is too close to an employee, is it OK to ask if coworkers have kids, and more

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

1. Can I tell a manager that he’s too close to his employee?

I oversee a group of employees broken up into smaller groups run by managers. One of them, “Jim,” manages “Sasha,” and four other people. Jim’s team sits in a separate building so I normally don’t see their daily interactions. Due to construction in my building, I’ve been sitting in an empty office near them for the past month, and have discovered that Jim and Sasha are extremely close. They get lunch together almost every day and spend long periods of time in each other’s offices (door closed or open) talking about personal matters. They get their work done, but often banter back and forth about it in passing to a point I would consider excessive. Today I heard Sasha playfully whine to Jim, “Are you really gonna make me do this?” for instance, and have also heard her flirtatiously say things like “I can’t say no to you” and “I know you tell me everything” in reference to work matters. They also text on their personal phones and have made references to sending each other things like restaurant recommendations, websites, and gifs or emojis over text.

Even if they’re not having an actual affair, I’m concerned with Jim’s ability to objectively manage Sasha, who is new in her career. Jim has pushed for her to get a raise, secured a better office for her (despite the fact that there are more senior people in worse ones), and gives her work that is high profile but easy, then sends emails highlighting her success to me and my boss, who hands out kudos. If I hadn’t been able to see the way they interact with each other in person I would’ve said he was just being a good mentor and advocate for her, but now it gives me pause. I’d like to say something but I’m wondering how to go about it, especially without concrete evidence of impropriety.

Yeah, Jim and Sasha don’t have to be having sex for their relationship to be inappropriate for a manager and a subordinate. What you described has almost certainly already raised concerns for the rest of Jim’s team about bias and favoritism: in the amount of face time/access Sasha gets, in how much Jim advocates for her versus how much he advocates for others, and in how fairly and objectively he is evaluating her work. Their relationship is likely to deter people from approaching Jim with concerns about Sasha, and they’re highly likely to be grossing out bystanders who have to listen to the flirtatious comments.

A manager has an obligation to avoid such heavy appearance of favoritism, not make colleagues uncomfortable with a sexually charged environment, and ensure they appear reasonably objective. Frame your conversation with Jim around those three things. You don’t need to get into whether they’re having an affair or not; keep the focus on the behavior you and others can see, and that’s inappropriate all on its own.

2. Is it okay to ask colleagues if they have children?

I recently returned to work following maternity leave with my first child. I took a new role right after I got back, which means I’m doing a lot of introductory 1:1s with a new set of team members. When we do the typical introduction part of the meeting, I summarize my first few years at the company career-wise and then mention that I’m coming back from maternity leave, mostly to explain that I was gone for most of the first half of this year.

Some people respond with a quick “congratulations” and then we move on. Other people are very excited when I say this and ask me questions about my baby, which I try to answer in brief, work-appropriate ways so I’m not the new mom droning on and on about him.

If my coworker seems especially interested or knowledgeable about babies, I’ve asked whether they have any children. I want to be reciprocal and hear about their lives. However, recently I was in a virtual 1:1 with a colleague who is a woman just a few years older than me. When I asked the question, she paused and had a weird look on her face, and then said no but she has nieces she’s close with.

I realized I could be opening a painful subject if someone is going through infertility or child loss. I don’t want to be hurtful (especially when we’re already talking about my own child). But on the other hand, I want to be warm and friendly with my coworkers, and don’t want to seem self-centered by not asking about their own experiences. Do you think I’m doing more harm than good by asking this question? Should I just answer the questions about my baby and then move on with the conversation?

It makes a fair amount of sense to handle it the way you’re doing — which is to only ask the reciprocal “do you have kids?” question if someone seems particularly interested in yours, since it can be a loaded question for a lot of people. But when someone is expressing a lot of interest in your baby, it’s not weird to ask … and you’re right that in some contexts it could even seem rude not to.

But you’re right to be thinking about this, and to want to be sensitive about the topic. While I was reading your letter, I was thinking that one option could be to broaden the question to something like, “Do you have kids in your life?” … but that’s a question that someone might feel even more awkward saying no to.

I think you’re okay just continuing with what you’ve been doing: being alert to other people’s cues.

3. Changing golf teams to get away from a sexist coworker

I work in a male-dominated industry, mining, in a male dominated profession, mechanical engineering. Most of the time my coworkers treat me the same as everyone else and I have no complaints. Except for one older, male coworker who is a little odd in general and makes vaguely sexist remarks fairly frequently. I don’t think he is being malicious or intends any harm but it’s always bothered me. As a recent example, our team was in a meeting talking about some office renovations that are coming up and he said to me enthusiastically, “You’ll want your office painted pink, right!?”

We have a team golf day coming up and I was given the heads-up that our grandboss has put us on the same team. I cannot stand the idea of having to spend an entire day with this man. Our department’s admin is the one who told me and asked if I wanted her to ask our grandboss to change the teams. I would love to be on a different team but I can’t think of a way to explain why I don’t want to be on his team that wouldn’t have the potential to open a massive can of worms about sexism in mining. Do you have any suggestions for what I could say to get out of spending an entire day with him that won’t turn it into A Thing?

She’s asking, so why not just say, “I don’t want to make a big thing of it but since you’re offering, I’d love not to spend the day hearing retro remarks about women from George”? If you’re concerned that will turn into it A Thing, then maybe: “If you’re offering and it won’t become a big thing, putting me on the other team would be great.” If even that might turn into A Thing, then I think you’re out of luck and you’d need to choose between a day of George or A Thing.

4. Participating in a medical study

My company has generous time off benefits. I’m allowed to use my sick time for medical appointments for myself and my immediate family. I’m thinking about taking part in a medical study, purely to get paid for it. If I do, some of it will be during work hours. Is that something I can use my sick time for, or should I use vacation time?

Probably vacation time. It’s not really in the spirit of what sick leave is intended for (and depending on your company’s policy, it might be outside the letter of their policy too). The exception to this might be for, say, a long-term study monitoring your risk factors and health outcomes (as opposed to “we give you this drug and observe the results”) since that’s arguably just an expansion of your health care.

{ 523 comments… read them below }

  1. coffee*

    Perhaps LW#2 could go with “You sound like you’re pretty familiar with babies!” and then pause to allow the other person to respond with “Yeah, I have 26 of my own” or “I’ve looked after my siblings/niblings/friends’ kids” or “Yes, I used to be a paediatric nurse” whatever?

    1. Boof*

      Yes potentially a bit less loaded than “Do you have kids?” (to be clear, I don’t think LW was doing anything wrong, but since they’re asking for a more neutral script I think that’s a good one!)

      1. Anonymous*

        It sure is!
        I also like Korean!
        (I know you meant to type “That”, but it gave me a chuckle.)

    2. Kay*

      Yes, this is a great alternative! I was going to suggest, “Do you have a lot of experience with kids?” That opens it up in a nice way to include all possibilities.

      1. Anonym*

        I like all of these! I’m in OP’s shoes exactly – recently back and really don’t want to bore the uninterested with kid details. Loving these scripts!

      2. Alanna*

        “Do you have a lot of experience with kids?” is a good one! I don’t have kids or even local nieces/nephews, but I have enough friends with kids that I can absolutely sustain an unusually lengthy conversation about raising small humans.

    3. Ellie Rose*

      I also prefer this. I don’t think LW#1 is being inappropriate or egregious, given the context
      provided, but this script is a very neutral option that gives space for the other person to share their own experiences.

      as someone who doesn’t like being asked if I’m not going to have kids, but doesn’t have a particular sore spot about it, being asked if I have kids *after expressing notable interest” like in her situation is very different than the annoyingly-common “so, now that you’re married, when are you having kids?”, so it seems fine to me

      1. ThatGirl*

        I agree. I don’t have kids, but I don’t mind if people ask once! It’s very different in the “getting to know basic facts about a person” stage than haranguing someone about why not.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, it’s the assumptions or the weird reactions to my responses that bother me. So “when are you going to have kids?” is obnoxious.

        “Do you have kids?” doesn’t bother me as long as the other person allows me to divert to talking about my niblings/cats/toffee embroidery project without making me not having kids a Thing.

        1. Goldenrod*

          “Do you have kids?” doesn’t bother me as long as the other person allows me to divert to talking about my niblings/cats/toffee embroidery project”

          Exactly! I always just say, “No – but I have a cat!” and then, most of the time, we end up talking about our pets.

        2. Chirpy*

          This, I get that asking if someone has kids is just a societal thing. It’s a problem when my “nope” gets questioned/ interrogated/commented on instead of the person just moving on with the conversation.

        3. Jack Russell Terrier*

          Right – it’s having the reply that steers things the way you want to go.

          For the longest time, I had eight nephews and no nieces. That was a great answer. Now I still say that I have nine nephews and one niece!

      3. But what to call me?*

        I think it makes a big difference whether someone is asking ‘do you have kids?’ (simple question about something that may or may not be true about you without assigning any value to one answer or the other) vs. ‘when are you having kids?’ or ‘do you have kids yet?’ (with the assumption that of course you’re eventually going to have kids built into the question).

        I’m in a field where we work with a lot of young children, and I do enjoy working with them, so I get questions like that a lot. I don’t mind ‘do you have kids’ at all, but ‘do you have kids yet’ is just obnoxious. The little double take some people do when I cheerily answer with something along the lines of ‘nope, and I don’t plan to’ varies between amusing and annoying, depending on my mood. I don’t know if I’d pull it off so smoothly if it was a matter of inability to have kids rather than a choice, though.

        At least I’ve finally reached the point in life where most people have stopped assuring me that I’ll change my mind when I’m older. Or maybe I’ve just finally hit on the right tone to convey that yes I know what I’m talking about and yes I’m perfectly happy with my decision.

        1. StarTrek Nutcase*

          One of the best things with getting older was people stopped the “you’ll change your mind” bit. I seriously regret I had not been confident enough years before to push back hard on that and the related implications that real women wanted children and if you didn’t you disliked kids.

          1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

            That has slowed down for me some, but even still in my early 50’s I’m told I can, “still adopt.” I often get the, “do you have kids,” question and my answer which is no, often stuns people. And not in the “oh I may have overstepped myself in a sensitive area,” but more “why not?” Then their face gets super weird when I answer that.

            As for the LW I would refrain from asking ‘do you have kids’ and let the conversation partner offer that up. They either will or won’t.

            1. Sasha*

              I think the issue is when people don’t have kids, but not through choice. I do remember finding it upsetting when people asked if I had kids, when the answer was “no but I want them more than anything else in the world”, or “no, I miscarried for the third time just last month”.

              I don’t think LW is doing anything wrong by asking, it’s an entirely predictable question. I also think you are going to offend far more people by not asking anything about their families when they have spent ten minutes hearing about yours – the number of infertile women is not going to be massive compared to the number of non-infertile people in your office. But for a minority of people, it’s a painful topic rather than simply an annoying one.

    4. Just me*

      I like the above suggestions, and I want to add: Another option is to ask an even more open-ended question like, “What do you do when you’re not at work?” or say, “So tell me about you!”

      Then people could mention family/kids if they want, or they could pick another topic.

      1. abca*

        Yes! This is so much better than the other options that still make you feel like you have to reveal something about yourself. Because just answering “yes” will feel evasive. You can be enthusiastic about children and still don’t want to talk about your own if you have them too, even if there is no trauma. It’s very common, and I don’t blame anyone who asks, but if we’re talking about ideal situations, then I would say, a more generic “so tell me about you” is the best.

        My children are grown, and when I’m asked these direct questions it feels weird not to acknowledge that (and even if I just say “yes I have two boys”, it’s so common to be asked “how old are they”). But that immediately puts me in a different older generation, to the person with the newborn who asked this. As a woman in a sexist ageist male dominated field that is not always great.

        1. My Cat’s Human*

          Yes, yes, yes! I went to my 40th HS reunion (500 miles from where i work). It was great fun, but i told no one at work – because 18 + 40 = now Im explicitly 58 years old.

        2. Pat*

          I feel the same. This is slightly off topic, but at work I am always walking a tightrope between not wanting to invite (conscious or unconscious) ageism and not wanting to hide myself. As I’m writing this, I realize that I’m upset that I have to (or at least feel like I have to) do this. I guess it is on the topic of asking/ being asked questions that can be hard to deal with. I would still rather find ways to get to know people at work and let them get to know me vs. keeping a distance at all times.

      2. freshly cut couch*

        agreed – there are many ways to show interest in a person without very direct questions. Even a simple “so, enough about me – how about you?” will allow the person to talk about whatever aspect of themselves they’d like to share.

        1. ina*

          Yes, this whole thread shows that maybe it’s the culture of my workplace or the city I am in or how I was raised, but “do you have kids” comes off as a very personal and not work-related. If you shared something, you did it of your own volition and that is fine, but if I haven’t told you, you don’t need to know. It’s off-putting to me in the same way someone asking “are you married?” or “where do you live?” or “how are things at home?” – we’re at work and I was being polite in showing an interest when you said something…I think the most neutral thing to say would be, if you really needed to follow-up, is “what’s new with you?”

      3. Lauren19*

        Yes! I usually phrase it as, “so tell me about your family.” This allows them to interpret ‘family’ however they want and talk about their partner, their cat, their kids, whatever!

    5. Lurker*

      Maybe LW #2 could be super broad and say, “What about you?” I feel like that also leaves it open for them to say whatever they feel comfortable with.

      1. SAS*

        Yeah, this is how I do it. It also allows for people who are very private about their personal life to share the areas they’re happy to share about without feeling like they’re being rude for shutting a question down.

      2. English Rose*

        Yes, this is my go to, or take it away from family to something like “What do you enjoy doing in your spare time” or similar.

      1. Lily*

        Yep, just don’t. If they ask you, it’s fine to say ‘how about you?’. But otherwise, wait til they raise it.
        And never, NEVER assume someone has kids.
        Or tell them they’re lucky not to have them.

        1. English Rose*

          Oh Lily, yes to your last point. I have finally learned NOT to respond to the “Do you have kids” question with “No, thank God”.

            1. Mrs Marple's Favorite Niece*

              Asking someone if they have kids is in no way a rude question good lord

              1. Michelle Smith*

                Maybe not, but when talking to someone who does have children or desperately wants them but doesn’t for any number of reasons, it can be seen as a judgmental or insensitive response. It’s really not necessary to add the “thank god” part. And I’m saying that as someone childless who also hates being asked.

              2. Crooked Bird*

                Yeah and I think Allison made that clear. “Sometimes ill-advised, proceed with caution” isn’t the same thing as rude.

            2. Eliot Waugh*

              Yeah, it can certainly sometimes be awkward, but it’s a perfectly average social question and not rude. Nor is “no, thank God” a rude response, anyway.

              1. Bk*

                It’s not that it’s rude, it’s that it’s going to be very upsetting if the person you’re speaking to (or anyone in the vicinity) has lost a child or has been trying and unable to have a child.

        2. Anonymous*

          Or tell them they’re lucky not to have them.

          That’s a terrible thing to say to anyone. As terrible as asking why they don’t have any kids.

          But neither are remotely similar to asking “do you have kids”. Especially in the context that the OP describes.

          1. Lily*

            I agree ‘you’re lucky not to have kids’ is not at all the same as ‘do you have kids?’ but when it’s not unusual for one to follow the other, you can understand why it might start to feel like a sensitive question.
            I’m glad you agree that it’s a terrible thing to say to someone – most people are not as considerate. I am not exaggerating at all – I lost track of the number of times during COVID lockdowns that I was asked ‘do you have kids?’ And my ‘No’ was met by ‘oh you’re so lucky…’
            Sure I get they were tough times and people are human and fallible, but gee it was hard dealing with a physically painful condition that affected my fertility, and having treatment options limited due to COVID restrictions, and being told I was lucky.
            Just be aware that people without kids dealing with a lot of questioning, stigma and insensitive questions, so sometimes the typical, polite questions are hard to deal with. I want to send the woman in LW#2’s story a big hug.

      2. Lilo*

        I had an awkward interaction with someone where she told me she’d quit her job to be a stay at home mom (we were at someone’s PhD graduation party and I had asked her if she was also in the program), so I asked her about her kid and it turns out he had died. It got very dark very fast

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Oh gosh. Yes, I only have one sibling, and they died a few years ago of suicide, so it’s always VERY awkward when someone asks if I have siblings. I would never say that I don’t, because I don’t want to erase their existence, but it’s always an awkward thing.

          1. There You Are*

            My brother committed suicide last year. When someone asks if I have siblings, I just say No. In my mind, it doesn’t erase his existence and it’s a factual answer. It keeps it from getting dark and awkward when making small chitchat with someone I’ll likely never be close to.

            I liken it to other surface-level social niceties like, “Hi, how are you doing?”

            Not saying you have to do what I do! Just throwing out another perspective in case there’s someone else who doesn’t mention their dead sibling and may be now thinking, “Oh, god, does that mean I’m erasing their existence??”

      3. Carrots*

        Yes. I was recently at a work event with a distant colleague, and thank goodness someone warned me ahead of time that he had recently had a child pass away, and he wanted to attend the work event as a way to take his mind off it. I might have accidentally asked him about whether he had kids. I can hardly fathom the awkwardness and hurt if I had asked. Now I know to never ask that question, and never to speak effusively about my own kids without lightly testing the waters first (casual mention of kids to see if the other person acts interested).

        1. JustaTech*

          Having once walked right into a similar situation (I asked a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while how his other half (wife) was and he said “she left me” and boy did I feel like a jerk!), thank goodness for the warning about your colleague.

          1. Ellie*

            I’ve asked the same question and been told his wife left him earlier that week… so I know your awkwardness. I was also standing next to my sister when she asked after her grandmother-in-law’s pet dog, that I knew had died but I guess she hadn’t got the news yet? That one was just as awkward.

            I also know a woman who lost her son at 5 years old, and when people ask if she has children, will chat about him and what a lovely boy he was, and how he died, for as long as the person will stay and listen for. Which I can sort of understand since she wants to remember him, and would prefer others do as well. But wow is it a sad conversation.

        2. Mrs. Hawiggins*

          My husband’s coworker forgot that one of their main vendor’s daughter died. Mr. Hawiggins was standing there when coworker asked the vendor, “Hey how is Sansa doing? Haven’t seen her in a while.” The vendor slowly turned and said, “Are you effing kidding me?” Replace the effing. And, walked away. Mr. Hawiggins pulled the dude by the arm and reminded him Sansa passed from suicide two years ago. There was no intent to be rude, and it was an honest attempt at being congenial and friendly but in some form that too is a lesson in just keeping it casual shop talk or how have YOU been because you never fargin’ know. Replace fargin’.

          How that dude forgot that I’ll never know because that guy was one of the largest vendors and the company sent flowers and contributed to the fund in her name. Horrible misstep. Unfortunate and not meant in an unkind way but…horrible.

    6. LW 2*

      Oh I really like this idea, thank you! Sounds natural without being quite so direct. I’ll try this!

      1. Amesip*

        I became a parent later in life, so I am familiar with both sides of the coin. I find that I am more open to hearing about other peoples’ kids now that I have mine. So I wouldn’t bring up kids unless the other person brings it up first OR there is something important going on with your kid(s) that may temporarily change your hours or your general demeanor in a noticeable way. I get it. It’s hard not to talk about them because they’re just…always there.

        I also advise that you try not to wax eloquent about the general joys of parenthood and how wonderful it is to watch X number of children grow up together UNTIL you are familiar with your coworkers’ kid-based situations. This can have unintended consequences, even if you obviously aren’t being malicious.

        For example, I was eating lunch with a new coworker (Jane) with three children: one in middle school and one set of fraternal twins (one with autism). Yes, I got all that information from that one conversation. What Jane did not know, and I certainly didn’t bring up in the moment, was that one of my fraternal twins died in infancy due to medical complications (leaving me with one awesome little boy) AND another coworker (Karen) at the table’s daughter also lost one of her fraternal twins. I knew Jane’s joyful comments about how delightful it is that she takes pictures of her twins growing up together and that the autistic twin is being looked after by the abled twin were not meant to hurt anyone. They did, though. I am not sure how to proceed going forward without making her feel bad and messing with our professional relationship.

        So I guess my point is put general feelers out for learning other coworkers’ situations, like others have suggested. Then save the effusive ‘my kid(s) are awesome’ talk for those who can relate. I have some of my best conversations like that with my older coworker, Cathy, who has adult children. Our stories are different, so I don’t mind when Cathy talks about planning fun visits with her grandchildren, and Cathy doesn’t mind when I tell her how proud I am that my boy successfully used a playground swing for the first time lol

        1. Birch*

          THIS. Avoiding the topic entirely is the best way to go, because you have no idea how painful it is for people around you. a basic update on your own situation is fine, but the details can be given if someone asks and opts in to that conversation.

      2. Crooked Bird*

        Yes and it draws out whatever *they* actually want to tell you about kids, it’s perfect really. I said it (well actually “you seem to know a thing or two about babies!”) to a cousin’s new husband at my last family reunion (as I watched him hold my baby niece more comfortably than my brother, a father of three, holds her!!) and he told me all about how he helped with his baby sister when he was 8 b/c his mom was on bed rest, and it turned into a whole neat conversation.

        Besides, a compliment is rarely a faux pas. Unless it’s about someone’s body or, uh, how they’re not like other girls, or uh, hm… I’ll see myself out.

      3. WorkingParent3748*

        I use “Do you spend a lot of time with kids?” with everyone who seems interested, and have gotten lovely stories about being an aunt, uncle, grandparent, nanny… It’s also a bit more conversational than “kids in your life”

    7. Burntliketoast*

      I love this response.

      I dont think the LW is weird to be asking about kide. But as someone who went through fertility issues at my worst time being asked directly would have bothered me. I am fine now despite no kids, but definitely could have been upset in the past. Also some people just dont want kids and thats ok too.

      I think for me the issue is the power dynamic. You are a new to them manager, and they dont have the track record with you to know how you respond to things, how reasonable you are, etc. So someone who cant have kids/doesnt want them might worry that you might treat them differently, etc. Just something to think about.

      1. LW 2*

        Power dynamic is definitely always an important factor but I’m not their manager! (Or anyone‘s manager.) These are fellow team members/coworkers I’m talking to.

    8. Anonymous*

      I have tried to use “Tell me about your family.”

      It is fairly neutral and allows for people to share or not as much as they want.

      1. Lurker*

        I feel like that is not a neutral question. I am estranged from my family and if someone asked me about them I wouldn’t really know what to say. If I say something bland like, “Oh they still live in {place where I grew up} then the follow up is always “do I visit much?” etc. I would rather have “What about you?” because it allows me to control the narrative – talk about family, or not – whereas your comment is more specific.

        1. Lydia*

          There is no such thing as a question that is universally okay for everyone, so trying to keep it as open to however you want to interpret it is fine. Having to constantly be on guard is not possible in any situation, let alone fairly spontaneous conversations.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be as open as possible, and the point about family not being a neutral question is very valid to raise in this conversation. I feel the same way. I have a very complicated relationship with my relatives and am going through some particularly challenging end-of-life situations with more than one person right now. In a recent meeting, my supervisor asked us to share what we’re doing this summer as an icebreaker and I blurted out that I was going to visit my family later this month. It was really awkward when she followed up to ask for more detail and I just…quietly smiled and tried to hold back tears without saying anything.

            Of course, there is no universally “safe” question, but it’s good to be thinking about and discussing these things because we care about being kind to others.

        2. Pumpkin215*

          I’m with you on this NOT being a neutral question. I don’t have kids but saying “tell me about your family” would be way worse.

          Where shall I start? The abusive drug addict or the absentee parent? How about the alcoholic sister?

          Deflecting this question can also make is awkward for people. I normally say “My in-laws are wonderful people! I like to spend the holidays with them”. To which some people that don’t get it will reply “No, no, no. I mean your REAL family”. I’ll respond “that is my REAL family”.

          Does this mean you can’t make polite conversation and ask people about kids, family, pets? It shouldn’t. I’m not offended by any of these questions, but I think people need to pay more close attention to how others respond to them.

          1. Lurker*

            Yeah, I’m not married and I’m child free, so I literally have no family that I’m close to or want to talk about when people ask me about my family. It’s super awkward because I don’t want to get into why we’re no longer close.

        3. Anonymous for This*

          You could still mention something about how you’ve been training a family member to walk on a leash, then pause and say that of course you were speaking about your 4-legged family member.

          Insert something appropriate if your family member is a cat.

          These days, most people appreciate the fact that we tend to think of our animal companions as family members and won’t bat an eyelash.

      2. Chirpy*

        I really love being asked “do you have pets?” as an opening question, because it’s a lot less loaded (more people have had pets at some point in their lives, and, if they want to talk about their family’s pet it does leave that opportunity, but it isn’t quite as emotionally loaded as kids.)

    9. Fluffy Fish*

      This is so good! It’s positive, complimentary and doesn’t veer into the territory of asking people about their reproduction which is just so loaded no matter how it comes out.

      This is my favorite part of AAM – when someone comes out with a gem like this.

        1. Lydia*

          Copied from above.

          There is no such thing as a question that is universally okay for everyone, so trying to keep it as open to however you want to interpret it is fine. Having to constantly be on guard is not possible in any situation, let alone fairly spontaneous conversations.

        2. Eliot Waugh*

          Almost any question can be loaded. We can only do so much to avoid tripping over other people’s triggers.

    10. Mynona*

      But why ask a question at all? Surely if you talk about your own kid, that’s enough of an opening for the other person to bring up theirs, if they are so inclined. Most parents jump at the chance ime. If you really want to find out more about the person’s life outside of work, maybe ask “what keeps you busy?”

      1. DisgruntledPelican*

        Because that’s how get to know you conversations work. You ask each other questions.

      2. metadata minion*

        I think a lot of this conversation is running into a…it’s not an ask/guess culture thing, but I’m not sure if there’s a term for it. Some people expect to be asked questions about themselves, and it’s a bit rude/oversharing to start talking about yourself without being asked, and definitely rude to not ask the other person about themselves in return. For other people, you’re supposed to bring up topics first, and it’s rude and prying to ask someone else questions about themselves.

    11. Nightbringer*

      I like this! I’m married but can’t have kids. I hate when ppl do the “are you having kids yet” then I tell them I can’t and that becomes a THING. I never wanted kids so I’m ok w my situation. I don’t need pity. This script allows me to talk about my niblings! I love being the cool aunt! Also, about my work! I love my job as a caseworker for adopted & foster kids.

    12. Goldenrod*

      Or what about something even more indirect, like, “I don’t know if you’ve ever changed a diaper? It’s tricky at first but you get used to it after a while!” or something along those lines.

      Then the person can chime in or not, like, “Yes, after my first two, I got the hang of it” or “I took care of my niece when she was a baby” or they would have the option to say something more vague, like, “I bet!”

    13. Sunflower*

      Asking if someone has kids is pretty standard, it’s giving weird/ disappointed/ surprised/ “someday!” type responses when they say no that’s a problem.

    14. JC*

      I don’t know about that one. I don’t have kids, and my not having kids is not a particularly sensitive topic for me. But! I am SO BAD at not making it awkward when someone asks me if I have kids. They always seem so excited to talk with me about something that we likely have in common, and then I just say “nope, I don’t,” and the conversation comes to a screeching halt. I know that this is 90% my awkwardness for not being able to carry the conversation forward from there, so I don’t blame them!

      For me, I think “You sound like you’re pretty familiar with babies!” would come off pretty similarly. I do often show interest in people’s children, because it is polite to ask questions about something that is important to your conversation partner. But I also am….very unfamiliar with babies? So if someone said that to me, it would be just ask awkward. Um…nope! Not at all familiar with babies, just trying to be a good conversation partner here!

      OP, for me, what makes it awkward is the sense that the person I am talking with seems very eager to talk to me about the kids we likely have in common (statisitically they are right; I am in my 40s), and that I have disappointed them by not being able to talk about it. So maybe staying away from that kind of reaction could help.

    15. Birch*

      This is a GREAT alternative especially for people who have lost a child and often feel weird, upset, conflicted, erased, and put on the spot about how to answer the question “do you have any yourself.”

    16. Pigeon*

      As someone actively going through infertility and who has dealt with any number of insensitive questions (knowing and unknowing), I would 1000% rather be asked this than “do you have children?” This is a great neutral question.

      I also want to applaud LW’s sensitivity not only in questioning her own sensitivity, but not dwelling on the topic unless her audience appears enthused. It’s bad to be asked about it directly, but sometimes it’s honestly worse when I’m supposed to be having a business discussion with colleagues and they get derailed for 20-30 min discussing their children, and fail to notice that I’ve not only completely dropped out of the conversation but am now wearing a fixed wooden expression. I can and do try to change the subject after a few minutes, but we all know that doesn’t always work.

  2. Joron Twiner*

    #3 Could you pick someone on another team and ask to be moved to their team? Then it would look like you want to “get to know everyone” and “network with people you don’t work with everyday” and obscure the fact that you’re trying to get away from someone.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I like this — you’re joining a team with your remote partner in Purchasing, not getting the heck away from George of the red flags.

    2. AnotherOne*

      From the post- I read it as that Dept Admin read George as a bit sexist and that LW3 might not want to be on a team with him, but didn’t want to make assumptions.

      I didn’t think LW needed to explain anything beyond saying “yes, you’d appreciate her handling that.”

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Honestly, if the OP has the capital to do so, baldly saying that “Yeah, George’s sexist comments get pretty old. I’d love to be on another team.” would be a public service and might put the CEO on notice that George is problematic.

      I mean, the admin basically acknowledged that George is a known issue. It’s not like the response is going to be a surprise.

      1. Chinookwind*

        Having worked in this type of environment, and seeing how George stands out from the OP’s coworkers with his behaviour (meaning he is a minority), I am willing to bet that they already know that George is a jerk and would not judge the OP for wanting to not be on a team with him (which is why the admin spoke up). The CEO wouldn’t know the team dynamics or George personally, so he wouldn’t know not to put George on any team with a woman or anyone else who George is rude too. But the admin does and probably already has in mind the ideal team for George – probably one full of people who will ignore his comments or, even better, humiliate him on the golf course with their playing ability.

  3. Just a Minion*

    Lw#3, I think the admin knows about this guy and his ‘comments’. I think she is giving you a heads-up and an out. Take it.

      1. Snow Globe*

        Which makes me wonder why the CEO wanted to put the LW on his team. Maybe he’s hoping that after a day together, they’ll end up being friends?

        1. Irish Teacher*

          It’s possible the CEO doesn’t know the individuals too well, if it’s a fairly large team and that he is just dividing it up alphabetically or by length of service or something. I know at work, stuff we’ve been divided by when making up teams has included, length of service, what table you sit at in the staffroom, that sort of thing.

        2. Burntliketoast*

          Unless the CEO is also on the team and is planning to observe and correct George in the moment. So the LW knows the CEO has their back and starts publicly shutting him down. I mean this seems so unlikely but I am hopeful?

        3. SarahKay*

          Or CEO has no idea that George is a dinosaur and just put people on teams based on their golfing abilities.

        4. Nobby Nobbs*

          I guarantee not one man in that company, including the CEO, thinks half gas much about George’s sexism as OP and the admin have to. It probably didn’t cross the CEO’s mind.

          1. Dona Florinda*

            This, x1000. The admin is probably aware of the George issue, but the CEO is most likely clueless.

        5. OP3*

          My grandboss isn’t the CEO and I have no idea how the teams were made but I would not be surprised if he had no idea about George’s comments.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*


      Its exhausting dealing with these archaic mindsets daily (I’m in a similarly male dominated space for work over here). I’m further sick and tired of being asked to be the bigger person and to do the work, so to speak, to correct them and show them the error of their ways, politely. (Bleep that noise, for the record)

      Take the out, trust that the Admin has a way to do this that isn’t going to be A Thing. I don’t even care if the CEO wants to be a part of this foursome and correct Archaic Dude in the moment, he’s not asked your permission to use you for this exercise so he doesn’t get to do that, thanks. You deserve to have a freaking day and outing where you’re not having to deal with the Patriarchy(tm).

      1. Chirpy*

        Side note: “bleep that noise” just really made me wish for a big bleep button to actually bleep out misogynistic comments in real life, haha

    2. Venus*

      Not only did the admin mention that the older coworker is on the team, but they *offered to change the teams*. This is a big sign that the admin knows, wants to help OP 3, and if it’s a senior admin then I’m pretty sure they know it won’t be A Thing and the change can easily be made. I like Alison’s wording as a way to make it clear that OP doesn’t want to complicate the golf day, but that shouldn’t stop OP from making the request. Do it soonest, so fewer people see the list and notice a change.

        1. OP3*

          The main reason for my hesitation to just ask to be moved is I don’t want to open a can of worms on sexism at site. We’d need a reason to ask grandboss to change the teams and I was having a hard time thinking of one that wasn’t related to the sexist comments. I don’t want to be part of some big investigation that will probably damage my working relationships that are otherwise good and give me the reputation on site as sh!t disturber. I work hard to be taken seriously and valued for my contributions and making a big deal of something like this could tank all that effort.

          1. Sandals and sneakers*

            Geo here – I can relate to this, all of this. Take the out from the admin. If she’s worked with grand boss for any length of time I’m sure she’ll be able to communicate why a change is wanted without have to be explicit.

          2. Leenie*

            Do you have any reason to think the admin wants to stir something up, or start a big investigation? Because it seems vanishingly unlikely that your grandboss would jump to an investigation because of a minor request. Most people don’t want to introduce more hassle into their own work, and will take the simplest path.

            So if you believe that the admin knows that this dude is a jerk and is just trying to make your life easier by giving you an out on a single event, take her up on that. The idea of making it about having a chance to network with other people is a good one. But unless you’ve seen aggressive investigations in the past, or other cultural factors that would support this single request being viewed as a big deal – I don’t think it would normally be viewed as a big deal. You just know how strongly you feel about this guy, and all he represents. So maybe it feels like it would look like a very strong move or protest on your part, but I’m betting it wouldn’t.

            In any event, I hope you get to enjoy the golf!

          3. Guin*

            I’m evil. I would totally be on Sexist George’s golf team and show up in blinding pink everything, a manicure, and full makeup, and beat his ass by twenty points. If I played golf, which I don’t. OP, are you a good golfer? Can you beat him?

  4. bamcheeks*

    LW2, aargh, I did exactly this to a new colleague the other day. We were talking about what my kids are doing over the summer holidays, and my dad spoiling the kids, and she said something like, “ahh well, it’s very different when you’re a grandparent!” in a very, “speaking from experience” way. I said, “oh, do you have grandkids?” (she’s about mid-fifties, about ten years older than me), and a look of, “what??!” passed over her fade and then she talked about her nieces. I felt terrible! And there’s no way to go back and say, “I wasn’t just making assumptions! I thought you were talking about being a grandparent in a personal way not just a general way!”

    1. Myrin*

      To be fair to you, I never would’ve thought what your colleague said could’ve had another meaning other than the one you concluded, as well – that is 100% worded like she has grandchildren as well!

      1. SemiAnon*

        And mid-50s is a perfectly normal age to have grandkids, too – that’s two generations having kids in their mid to late 20s, which is completely average in the US.

        1. Despachito*

          I had someone ask me whether I have grandkids when I revealed my kids’ ages.

          It was not inappropriate situation-wise (the person had his kid with him at the moment, we were interacting and he asked me whether I had kids and when I said yes asked about their ages).

          But I must confess that the unspoken part (“you are old enough to have grandkids”), while being perfectly true, still grated a bit.

          No biggie but I’d probably not ask the question if I were him.

        2. Clisby*

          Yes – I had my children at 42 and 48, and a number of times have been asked if they were my grandchildren. I just look surprised and say, “No! They’re my children.”

          1. JustaTech*

            When I started one job I had a coworker mention something about her granddaughter. I thought to myself “wow, I am *terrible* at estimating ages because I would have said she was maybe 40”.
            Nope, she was 38, she’d had her kid at 15, raised him alone, went to college with a toddler and he’d gotten married young.
            Now I’m 40 with a baby and I can’t wait until someone asks if I’m his grandmother.

      2. bamcheeks*

        This what I will tell myself when I wake up at 3am with low blood sugar and cringe about it, but it will not do any good!

        1. SarahKay*

          Google the poem “Things” by Fleur Adcock; it is the most perfect description of that 3am awfulness!

        2. But what to call me?*

          In my experience, *nothing* can overpower the 3 am ‘OMG I did a stupid thing how could I do that?!?!?!’ embarrassment. Logic doesn’t apply at 3 am.

          Just know that 1) what you said was a perfectly reasonable response to what she said and 2) her reaction sounds more like some combination of not having thought of herself as being grandparent-age (understandable, but not your job to anticipate) and possibly discomfort at the idea of being grandparent-age (silly, and definitely not your job to avoiding mentioning anything that might imply that a 50-something year old woman is a 50-something year old woman).

          Now, if her reaction had nothing to do with being grandparent-age and instead was more along the lines of being asked about grandkids when she either couldn’t have them or didn’t want kids in the first place… You still didn’t ask an inappropriate question. You didn’t assume she had grandkids, you *asked* in response to a statement that would naturally prompt that question. It’s highly unlikely she’s sitting around stewing about that terribly rude coworker who dared to ask her a very normal question, unless she’s *extremely* determined to pretend everyone thinks she’s 30.

          1. But what to call me?*

            Actually, if she gave it more than a passing thought after the conversation was over, it’s even possible that *she* had some embarrassed 3 am thoughts about accidentally implying that she was a grandparent when she isn’t. It’s amazing how good our minds are at brushing off other people’s minor social missteps while amplifying our own to ridiculous proportions (meanwhile everyone else has already forgotten ours because they’re too busy being embarrassed about their own glaring mistakes that seemed perfectly fine to us).

      3. Anonymous*

        To be fair to you, I never would’ve thought what your colleague said could’ve had another meaning other than the one you concluded, as well – that is 100% worded like she has grandchildren as well!


        Sure, she could have meant something else, but the question was totally and completely reasonable in the context.

      4. Rose*

        Agreed, her phrasing was weird. Generally when someone says “X is this way when you are Y” they’re indicating they personally have been Y.

        I’ve seen the same pattern first hand with my parents, but when I talk about it, I always say THEY are so different as grandparents, or it’s always crazy with the grandparents.

        Even if I was talking to a 30 year old and they said this, I would stop to wonder if they were a grandparent

        1. Katydid*

          Yup, I’ve known people who became parents when they were still children themselves. Some people are grandparents by 30.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      Why not go back and say you’re sorry you misunderstood? I’ve had really good results with that approach.

      1. TootsNYC*

        a week later?
        I think that would just make it more awkward.
        I mean, if it were a really offensive thing, yes, a sincere apology at any time.

        But I think a lot of people on the receiving end of this particular situation would rather that everyone just move on.

      2. Lydia*

        This would 100% make it more awkward, especially if the person doesn’t even remember the interaction.

      3. DJ Abbott*

        No, I meant in the moment. Or after a short time the same day.
        Maybe I misunderstood what she was saying.

    3. Shiba Dad*

      I’m mid 50s with no kids, let alone grandkids. I’ve observed how my parents spoiled my brother’s kids, so I could also state something like “it’s very different when you’re a grandparent”.

      That said, I wouldn’t get bent out of shape if someone assumed that I was a grandparent based on saying something like that. It’s a completely understandable assumption, IMHO.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Yeah, I think I’ve said something like that myself. But I’m in my early 30’s, so no one would assume the same. But when talking about my experience with children, I always make it clear that I am talking about my niecephews or friends’ kids.

        1. Venus*

          I notice your use of niecephews and encourage you to keep using it, but wanted to mention that nibling is a gender-neutral term for nieces and nephews and I love it!

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, if I said something like that I would consider that I’d opened the door to people assuming I had grandkids.

      3. Observer*

        That said, I wouldn’t get bent out of shape if someone assumed that I was a grandparent based on saying something like that. It’s a completely understandable assumption, IMHO.

        That’s the thing. Obviously, people need to be cautious about making assumptions about people and their situations. But if you need to think about every single possibility before you ever say anything, it makes reasonable social interaction pretty impossible.

        So, it’s not a good idea to ask people if they have kids / grandkids wihtout context. But when someone talks in a way that makes it sound like they do, it makes sense to respond to what they are saying. Especially since it’s generally not that hard to make it clear that you are not talking about your own kids / grand kids, but about siblings, niblings, and / or friends.

      4. Lydia*

        I haven’t been asked about grandkids (I don’t have kids, either), but I also know I’m coming up on the age where people might ask AND that it’s obvious I’m a middle-aged woman, so it’s not outside the realm of possibilities that a person may wonder and ask, if the conversation went in that direction.

    4. Miette*

      I think it’s just your colleague being presented with evidence of their age and just not being prepared for it in the moment. You did nothing wrong, but speaking as someone of the same age, it’s never easy to be reminded that, you know, I’m not 25 anymore. It’s not rational. It’s an us thing, bamcheeks, please do not feel bad because, even if they were momentarily taken aback, why would they say something like that and NOT think yours was a reasonable response.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’m in my mid-50s. I don’t have grandkids, but some of my friends do and have raved to me about it. And of course in my home country, where it was common to get married as soon as you were legally able to (18) and start having kids right away, a lot of my old classmates have been grandparents for ages. Plus she kind of walked into it with the “ahh well, it’s very different when you’re a grandparent!” Please don’t feel terrible! I would’ve simply said “no, but my friends do and I hear it is wonderful!”

      Now the comments that get people a side-eye from me are the ones I am now hearing people make when I tell them one of my sons is engaged and the wedding date is set for next year. At least half of the time, I get “oohhh you’re gonna have grandkids now!!” or “when are you having grandkids?” I don’t know! I don’t care! I’m not going to ask! It is none of my business! I never know what to say to it, so they just get my best deer in the headlights look.

      1. Noquestionsplease*

        100x this. My son and his girlfriend/partner have been together for a long time, and I get the “Are they getting married? Do they want kids?” questions A LOT. My response is, I don’t know, why don’t you ask them? It is SO not my business. They’re adults, they’re happy, that is all I care about. And frankly, I am not a “baby” person so I don’t care if they have kids or not. They have a nice dog.

    6. fhqwhgads*

      This isn’t on you. If she’d said “it’s very different for the grandparents” I’d waffle on whether she meant she was one, but saying “when you’re a grandparent” would be interpreted by 95% of people as her implying she was.

      1. Waiting on the bus*

        My thoughts as well. With the specific phrasing she used I think it’s completely normal to assume she was talking from personal experience.

    7. ina*

      Okay, I am up and down this thread saying people need to not ask the question but in no way is this similar. This is a completely valid way of reading her comment in lieu of her saying “I imagine it’s different when you’re a grandparent!” (something I have said in the past and I am by no means a grandparent!) – it does sound like she is speaking from experience.

      This one was a sticky wicket and unavoidable – I think the age connotation is the bigger issue, honestly.

  5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP4 (time off for medical study) – I think the situation is more nuanced than the answer suggests. OP said they want to do it purely to be paid for it, which I think means it isn’t really linked to a health condition they have in terms of being treated for it, but probably more like the safety and side effect studies (or a study that isn’t specifically about treatments e.g. effect of caffeine consumption on blood pressure or whatever).

    If that’s the case, it has more of the “double dipping” aspect and is more akin to taking a week of PTO to go and do a week of temp work with an agency.

    The other complication is level of risk from the study. It may be minimal (e.g. caffeine consumption for a healthy person), higher, or not well defined. So if anything goes wrong OP has potentially set themselves up for more sick time being needed afterwards. Maybe this is not so different from any activity engaged in voluntarily e.g. time off for skiing and then breaking your leg, but worth thinking about – it does feel a little bit different since the motive is to make extra money.

    I can’t see any variation of this situation where this would be an expected use of sick leave. It would be different if OPs motive was treatment of a medical condition they have and the doctor had recommended this trial, of course.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      A good search term for this is TGN 1412. It was the code name for a clinical study of a drug that went horribly wrong and caused six healthy volunteers to be hospitalised and suffer long term life changing effects.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        That case led to changes to clinical trial protocols. Although it’s possible that the drug being tested could cause a reaction that severe, it wouldn’t affect that many people at the same time due to the new protocols. It’s definitely the worst case scenario of participating in a clinical trial, but it stands out because it is so extreme.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I read Firestarter, I’m not volunteering for any drug study ever! Haha but seriously, I imagine it’s different today and there is a lot more scrutiny and safety protocols involved.

        1. JulieBoeBooley*

          Yeah, that story is terrifying! I’m OP#4, the study I mentioned gives me an impression of safety. They’re monitoring everything really closely and they have all kinds of safety protocols. I’ve participated in a clinical study before with no problems, fingers crossed this one goes just as smoothly!

          1. Sherm*

            I’m sure it will go fine! It’s in everyone’s interest for the treatment to be as safe. If something went wrong, it would be a huge splash of cold water on the project, and no one wants that. And odds are that you won’t be the very first person to volunteer, so they will have some experience.

    2. lost academic*

      I have to agree with this. If I’m taking time out of my day to go get medical testing, injections, follow ups, it’s within the realm of all of my past employer’s concept of using sick time (when it was differentiated from general PTO). Same goes for when I spent years dragging one of my children in for the COVID vaccine trials. I don’t think the potential compensation for a trial has any bearing on the type of leave you’d be taking.

      I realize the OP does happen to be someone who’s going to take part in a trial just for the payment, but I really don’t feel like that matters all that much. What if the OP were a surrogate mother just for the money? Would we expect all of those medical appointments to also be vacation and not sick time just because of the motivation?

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        > What if the OP were a surrogate mother just for the money?

        You know that is a good question and I am not sure about my answer to that. My gut feeling is that those appointments should also be vacation yes, but I also don’t feel fully that this is the “right” (in my mind, not right by some objective standard) answer. Hmm.

        1. Pippa K*

          Seems like if we go down that road, it would be a basis for seeing a lot of elective medical procedures as not an appropriate use of sick days. I definitely don’t want my employer assessing my reasons for medical care and denying sick leave if I’m “just doing it for money/vanity/personal preference and not a ‘real’ medical condition.”

          1. 2e asteroid*

            I think there’s a gap between what you should ethically do and what an employer should be assessing. If someone wrote in and said “my employee is taking time off in order to participate in a medical study, should I try to determine their motivation for participating in this study so I know whether it should count as vacation time or sick time”, the answer is obviously no. But that doesn’t mean the actual letter-writer whose motives are purely financial ought to be using sick time from an ethical standpoint, it just means that they probably could get away with it.

          2. GythaOgden*

            That’s really why the practical advice would be to make a judgement of your own such as 2e Asteroid suggests based on not just your own point of view, but your employer’s as well, and if you’re unsure, either ask about company policy or take PTO (on the basis that if you’re not sut

            I know it can be hard to talk about illness at work in some places, but in my system, you’d have to say why you took sick leave anyway (because of things like occupational health, which are for the employee’s benefit; it’s not a detailed thing at all but it is expected precisely because they want a heads up so they don’t discriminate against you because you’re off regularly without an explanation). At the end of the day, you’re being paid to do a job, and if you can’t do that job you’re not going to get kept on payroll — so management has a vested interest in ensuring their employees’ absences can be accounted for by a defined sickness rather than just random absences with no explanation. There’s also a clear difference between a medically necessary surgery like anything I might need done on my ankle, and participating in a trial unrelated to your own personal health and for which you’re being paid. If you look at it as a matter of degree rather than logic, it becomes a lot clearer (and would also distinguish between reconstructive plastic surgery, including gender affirmation, where you’d be allowed sick leave, and a nose job where you’d probably take it as PTO). To be honest, the distinction should be fairly clear to you at the time.

            So…it’s on the employee to judge responsibly. If you don’t want management interference in your health affairs, then you need to make those choices with respect for their perspective as well as your own.

            1. Anonymous*

              So I understand where you’re going with this, but I would argue that someone getting a nose job should still 100% feel okay with using sick leave for any time out. It’s still a medical procedure that is going to have medical effects on the person’s body that will keep them from working.

              (And do we really want to split hairs on this? Say, someone who’s getting a nose job because their face was terribly scarred from an accident can use sick leave, but someone who just doesn’t like their nose can’t?)

              1. amoeba*

                Hmmm, in my part of Europe (where we’re generally quite generous with sick leave!), purely elective plastic surgery does indeed not qualify and you have to use holiday for it! However, if there’s any kind of complication from the operation that requires medical care/more time off, it’s covered. But not the originally planned procedure and recovery.

                1. Emmy Noether*

                  This makes me think that an appropriate litmus test would be whether the procedure itself is covered by health insurance. At least in our system, purely elective plastic surgery is not, whereas complications from it, or reconstructive surgery after an accident (or plastic surgery that also has a health benefit to the person, like breast reduction to help with back pain) is.

                2. MissElizaTudor*

                  Replying to Emmy Noether:

                  That’s not a great litmus test. Plenty of things that aren’t purely elective aren’t covered by regular health insurance or require a fight to get them covered. It obviously varies by insurance and location, but some relatively common ones include certain parts of gender affirming care, dental and vision care, abortions, weight loss treatments, and fertility treatments.

                3. amoeba*

                  @MissElizaTudor a lot of those are indeed covered in our system! But yes, there are exceptions (like parts of dental care, although a pretty low minimum standard is indeed covered. Like, cheap fillings and dentures. So I guess overall it would still “pass the test”… Similarly, although you typically – annoyingly – have to pay for glasses, going to the ophthalmologist is free!)

                  But yes, this definitely only works if you have a good health insurance system, otherwise I can see it going horribly wrong.

              2. 2e asteroid*

                I would be totally fine with someone using sick leave for a nose job — as long as they’re getting a nose job because they personally want it. (Assuming there isn’t some specific policy otherwise; I’m talking about my personal compass here.)

                The ethics of getting a nose job because you’re being paid to do so by the Association to Improve Nose Quality (founded by a billionaire who really wanted people to have standard-looking noses?) seem considerably more dicey.

          3. MK*

            Surrogacy for pay isn’t an elective medical procedure, it’s a side job. An employer wouldn’t be unreasonable to object if an employee’s side job is making them miss a lot of work.

            I think the main factor should be if the trial is about some condition the employee has (or has heredity for/is high risk); then I can see it being sick time.

            Also, a paid participation might have to be disclosed per the employer’s rulebook.

            1. MissElizaTudor*

              But an employer would be unreasonable for objecting to an employee’s use of sick leave if the employee’s side job causes a medical condition that means they need to go to a lot of medical appointments.

              Surrogacy for pay isn’t just a side job. It’s also a health condition that needs monitoring and, sometimes, medical treatment. If someone was a surrogate for someone without pay, would you say “that’s not an elective medical procedure, that’s a hobby, so you can’t use sick leave for appointments”?

              1. MK*

                I wouldn’t use the word hobby, ut otherwise yes. Surrogacy for pay is not a health condition, pregnancy is the health condition; surrogacy is a job that requires one to voluntarily aquire the health condition in order to fulfill the terms of the job. It’s not accurate to say that the side job caused the health condition, like you would if you hapoened to be injured during your side job; in this case, the health condition is a prerequisite for the side job. If you are using sick leave for a surrogate pregnancy, you are using your employer’s resources in order to do your side job. If it’s not for pay, you are using your employer’s resources to benefit someone else in your life.

                1. MissElizaTudor*

                  Okay, I think that’s not much of a distinction/kind of nitpicky, but fine, I don’t think it changes anything to say surrogacy is a side job that requires developing a health condition. It’s a health condition that you have for the duration of the pregnancy, even while you’re at your main job. If you have a health condition, you can use your employer’s resources to manage it, including for medical appointments. That’s part of what sick leave is for, at least every place I’ve worked that has a separate pool.

                  If someone was a surrogate and ended up with a complication that made them miss a week of work, not just a few hours for an appointment, do you think it would be unethical to use sick leave for that? What if they’re pregnant and decide part way through that they want to put it up for adoption? I’m just unclear what the distinction is when the pregnancy affects the person the same way no matter if it’s a pregnancy for money, as a favor to a friend, or for having a kid to raise.

                2. King Friday XIII*

                  I use my sick time when Prince Tuesday is sick and can’t go to school. That’s entirely within the realm of normal sick leave, and yet it’s also using my employer’s resources to benefit someone else in my life.

            2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              So say I am home sick and I decide to work on a commission for a quilt. I can’t take sick leave for that day because I did work for which I might be paid?

              Look, its none of the employers business. In the US we get SEVERELY limited number of sick days. If someone wants to use them up by doing a medical study then they used up their sick days. They either have to take PTO on days they are sick or take them unpaid.

              We do not want employers judging and guessing what is “good” enough to be a sick day.

              1. Eliot Waugh*

                Seriously. And I do not owe as much loyalty to my employer as is being implied in a lot of these comments. Almost no employeer takes their staff into this much consideration when they make choices.

                Use your sick leave. It is part of your benefits.

            3. spiriferida*

              How do you feel about organ donation, then? I would view surrogacy as falling on that same spectrum, where it is an elective procedure for the person participating in it, but still has medical impacts that could result in the use of sick time or FMLA.

                1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

                  Also organ donation for pay is outlawed in many jurisdictions.
                  In the system I currently live under, “paid for (in part) by public insurance” would be a reasonable litmus test as this broadly coincides with “medically necessary”, with a fairly broad definition of necessary.
                  I do participate in a long-running medical study that involves questionnaires and a few tests every couple of years. It pays about enough for gas and parking; I don’t use paid sick leave for this. On the other hand, we have blood drives three times a year where my employer donates the room, snacks and drinks, and our time, i.e. we get paid as work time (but the Red Cross dies not pay us for the blood).

          4. Student*

            Y’all make this complicated when it seems really simple to me.

            It could potentially be either sick or vacation leave.
            So use up the one that expires first/doesn’t roll over/is otherwise harder to use, to get the most out of your work benefits.

            Worry about maximizing your use of own benefits. Let the company worry about managing those benefits effectively, setting out clear policies, etc. You’re not trying to commit fraud, here – just trying to use your benefits in good faith. So just do your best and trust that it is the company’s problem to figure it out and update their policy if they think they need to.

            I sincerely doubt they’re going to have a rash of employees out at the same time using up benefits on clinical trial research, such that it impacts their bottom line substantively.

        2. Tg33*

          As a surrogate, the medicalpp aontments during pregnancy ae for the health of the child, so that’s sick leave.

          The appointments before, for hormone treatment, scans etc. I don’t know about.

        3. KelseyCorvo*

          Makes me think of a former co-worker who owned an investment property and was always spending work time, or taking time off, to deal with tenants, contractors, etc. Yes, it’s a house he owns, but he doesn’t live in it – it’s a side business. But because many people own houses and understand what’s involved, they didn’t think of it that way.

          1. Sharon*

            Everybody has a life outside work that needs attention whether that’s family, another job, a hobby, medical care, going to the gym, remodeling their house, etc. I think the real question is simply whether the amount of attention the outside pursuits involve is compatible with the agreed upon commitment to the existing job. It doesn’t matter whether those pursuits are money-making or not.

        4. Irish Teacher*

          I just googled and in the UK, a surrogate mother has the same right to maternity leave as anybody else who is pregnant. I assume the same applies in other countries with statutory maternity leave, but can’t find any info for Ireland, I think because they haven’t really legislated for surrogacy here.

          1. Clisby*

            I looked it up and my state (South Carolina) has no laws about surrogacy. There is some relevant case law (law established by courts) but it sounds like it generally boils down to: The woman who gives birth to the child is the child’s legal mother. Therefore, surrogacy here involves an adoption. There’s no law specifically saying you can’t pay for a surrogacy, because surrogacy isn’t even mentioned in the law; but paying to facilitate an adoption is illegal. So maybe don’t come here if you want a straightforward surrogacy-for-pay situation. Not to mention that if the mother decides not to go ahead with the adoption, you might not have a leg to stand on in court.

      2. GythaOgden*

        In most cases that’s where you’d be taking PTO or annual leave. Just because something is health related, it doesn’t mean it’s actually sick time — otherwise you could probably claim that going to the gym was a thing you did on sick time. You may be able to do that through semantics but employers will have practical limits and not be open to rules-lawyering along these lines — they need to pay you for doing a job rather than being elsewhere.

        We’re fairly strict about using PTO for routine appointments like dentists etc. You’re expected to make them as close to the beginning or end of the day as is possible or take annual leave for them. The point of generous sick leave here is to keep you being paid when you’re not able to work or do other things. It’s not to keep you going through things you choose to do independently of any actual health need.

        1. Lydia*

          The purpose of annual appointments is to prevent having to use sick leave to stay employed. Dental care is healthcare and forcing people to use PTO for any medical care is ableist as fuck and I will die on that hill.

          1. JulieBoeBooley*

            Agreed that dental care is health care. One of my good friends had huge health problems as a teen/young adult. He had to drop out of sports teams, could barely breathe and get around, and had a heart attack when he was 19. Nobody could figure it out, we all thought he was going to die young. A few years later, he had a tooth extracted that was digging into a nerve, and all his health problems went away. All that was caused by a tooth! It’s a shame he didn’t have the preventative dental care he needed earlier in his life.

            1. Lydia*

              Someone I know developed an infection in their brain that caused a psychotic break because of a tooth infection, and that’s not even touching on Andy Hallett who played Lorne on Angel who died in his 30s from heart failure caused by an untreated tooth infection.

        2. M*

          That’s a bad policy.

          Preventative health care is more efficient for both the employee the employer than waiting until something goes wrong. Choosing to classify it as vacation makes no sense.

      3. new year, new name*

        Just adding my own experience here: I participated in a clinical trial a few years ago as a healthy (compensated) volunteer and used sick time for all the appointments (there were a lot of them, but they were all relatively short and spread out over a period of a couple years). My boss and close coworkers all knew about it and thought it was neat (it was an office full of curious science types) and my boss thought it was fine to use sick time just like we would for any other medical appointment. Obviously this might not be the case everywhere, and you have to know your office, but this is how it went for me!

        1. JulieBoeBooley*

          That’s interesting, I wasn’t expecting to come across someone who’d actually done this! Thanks for the feedback, that’s good to know. I suspect it would be more of a gray area in my office.

          I’m OP#4. I mentioned it in another comment, but the good news is my question is moot now. I was able to get into the weekend study, so it won’t impact my work hours. I’m still glad for everyone’s feedback in case this comes up again!

    3. sera*

      “It isn’t really linked to a health condition they have in terms of being treated for it, but probably more like the safety and side effect studies (or a study that isn’t specifically about treatments e.g. effect of caffeine consumption on blood pressure or whatever).”

      That’s exactly the distinction AAM’s answer made.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Yes, but the answer didn’t go into the nuance of the implications of that beyond just “something you do during vacation days” like a trip to the beach.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        I don’t think that’s quite the distinction Allison was making. She seemed to be suggesting a long term panel study where you’re basically getting an annual checkup from the study instead of your PCP might be sick time.

        What the commenter above seems to be saying, and I tend to agree with, is that testing a new treatment for a condition you have should be sick time, just like other treatment. If I enroll my diabetic child in a study aimed at getting FDA approval for an updated version of his current insulin pump, I’d count those appointments as sick time. It’s still part of managing his diabetes, along with appointments with his regular endocrinologist.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No — I was saying something actually related to your health would be sick time, but something like “we are going to give all test participants cholera and then give half of you a placebo and half of you a new drug to test” would not be.

            1. Ophelia*

              This is SO tangential to the topic, but one of the greatest twitter threads of all time was about a guy who participated in a dystentery vaccine trial (if you google “twitter dysentery trial” some summary article with tweet links will pop up).

          1. JulieBoeBooley*

            Oh thank goodness this test isn’t that, hahaha! But yeah, this study definitely falls into your second distinction, it’s not to help my health.

    4. Be kind, rewind*

      Getting paid for participating in a clinical trial is not like a paid job. You’re not getting gobs of money. It’s meant to be some sort of remuneration for your time and money. In fact, it would be unethical to offer anything too high because it would incentivize people in a way that interferes with informed consent principles.

      I would consider time spent in a clinical trial more like volunteer work. Clinical trial participants are crucial to the advancement of scientific knowledge. Getting a small sum in recompense is like volunteering for a museum in exchange for a discounted membership.

      1. MK*

        Ok, but no one would even think of using sick leave for volunteer work. I think the fact that this is a medically-related activity is tripping the OP up.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        Sometimes it’s volunteer work, and sometimes it’s an attempt to get early access to a new treatment for a medical condition! OP says they’d be doing it for the money, but I think many people genuinely want to try a new treatment. Even when it’s not pioneering a new treatment for a cancer that’s otherwise uncurable, there can be a bunch of reasons why people sign up.

        I know parents who enrolled their kids in trials of new insulin pumps – people in the US had been hearing from European parents (via Facebook groups and such) that the new version of the tech was a big improvement, so being in the trial was a way to get early access. The upgrade (which is now generally available and my kid uses) is much better at preventing abnormal blood sugar overnight, so that’s months or years of better sleep for parents and child for participating in the trial, even aside from the overall better blood sugar numbers. That’s not really volunteer work, it’s managing your kid’s medical condition, and I’d think using sick time for associated appointments would be fine.

        1. doreen*

          I understand what you are talking about – but not all clinical trials work that way, where it seems that all of the participants get early access to a new treatment. Some involve participants randomly getting either the standard treatment or the new treatment and in that case it’s hard to say that enrolling in a study where you may get new treatment A or standard treatment B is medical treatment when you could get the standard treatment without being in the study. Especially if there’s a huge difference in the amount of time away from work , such as if standard treatment B involves a couple of hours away from work every month or two while study enrollment requires a full day every week.

          1. JulieBoeBooley*

            This is a good point and brings up what feels like another gray area. I’m the OP and this particular study will not help my personal health in any way. However, I’ve done another medical study in the past that had the potential to help me.

            I have terrible dust allergies, and the study was for a new dust allergy medication. It was a double blind study, and I never actually knew if I got the medication or the placebo. I was hoping for the med to help me with my allergies. I felt a slight improvement, but that could have just been the placebo effect.

            That one was off hours and didn’t impact work time, though I would have been tempted to take sick time if it bled into work, since it could have helped my health.

            1. But what to call me?*

              I think that one, if it had been during work time, would have been a perfectly reasonable use of sick leave. For one thing, people try treatments all the time without knowing if they’ll work – allergy treatments being a common one. It’s not like employers wait to find out if the treatment actually improved your symptoms/cured you to decide whether it counts as sick leave.

              Double blind trials are a little different, because you might not receive any treatment at all, but part of the point of placebo trials is that the treatment itself also might not do anything at all, so whether you’re receiving a guaranteed helpful treatment doesn’t make sense as the standard for whether it’s sick leave or not. Unless we want to rule out using sick leave to receive any experimental treatments, which doesn’t seem right, as sometimes these experimental treatments do help when nothing else did.

              I’d say that if the point of the trial is to help with a medical condition that you have then it fits with the spirit of what sick leave is meant for. You’re either directly receiving a helpful treatment, getting a placebo that helps confirms the treatment’s effectiveness which will help you and everyone else get faster access to the treatment, or helping show that the treatment doesn’t work, which frees up resources to develop a new, better treatment. Either way, the goal is to address a medical condition you have, which is what sick leave is for.

              When it’s not to address a medical condition at all, that’s outside of what the employer probably intended for your sick leave. But on the other hand, I can also see an argument for taking a look at whether your employer treats you well enough that you care what they intended for your sick leave.

    5. ecnaseener*

      I’m waffling on this one. I think I agree that it makes a difference whether this is a clinical trial or an observational study; whether LW’s participating as a healthy volunteer or in the hopes that the intervention could benefit their health; etc. At one end of that spectrum, it’s akin to donating blood. At the other end, it’s “none of the approved treatments have worked on my cancer so a clinical trial is my best chance.”

      But in practice, the employer really only needs to know that it’s a medical appointment, not anything beyond that. Idk where exactly to draw the line of what can reasonably be called a medical appointment – does the amount of time factor in? I wouldn’t call blood donation a medical appointment, but if I’m donating bone marrow and it’ll take all day, it feels like that should count.

      1. JulieBoeBooley*

        This is an interesting thought. I’m OP#4, in my case participation in the study is not for my health, it’s purely for financial gain. I feel like it’s selfishly motivated, and I agree with everyone saying this seems like a use for vacation time.

        However, what about blood donation without compensation? I do that occasionally because it makes me feel good to help potentially save lives. I usually do it outside of work hours so I’ve never run into that situation, but would that be a vacation time situation too? What do people think about that?

        1. Queen Ruby*

          If it were all totally up to me (it’s not lol), I’d say anyone donating blood can take the time they need to do so and not have to use PTO or sick time. It’s a pretty quick process and donating blood is obviously a great thing to do because of the potential to help others. I think of it kind of like when companies host blood drives and employees can go out to a van in the parking lot, or whatever the set-up is, during work time to donate.
          And actually, I’d think of participating in clinical trials similarly. If it’s a quick appointment once in a while for a short time, I’d be ok with someone not using PTO or taking sick time for appointments. But I work in a clinical trial-adjacent field, so I very much realize the need for participants and appreciate their willingness to help advance the science, so I may have a different take on that.

          1. Dona Florinda*

            I know it’s not relevant to the topic, but where I’m from, blood donations constitute the equivalent of a paid day off, regardless of PTO or sick days. It’s a federal law that companies have to abide by, all the employee needs to do is present a note from the blood bank.
            On the other hand, it’s actually forbidden to pay people for medical trials (and surrogates, for that matter), so people who do it are volunteers and can’t be compensated. (I know this is not helpful to the LW, it’s just a bit of information)

          2. Gumby*

            Donating blood is normally a 2-hour commitment for me. Granted, 45 minutes or so of that is getting there and back (I guess I could look for a place closer to where I live but I have been donating through a particular organization for years and the closest location to my house is ~20 minutes away). But I seldom get in and out of the clinic in under an hour. Even when I worked across the street from a donation center it took my whole lunch break. The cookies/apples/cheese/juice volunteers are aggressive about sitting for the full 15 minutes after your donation! At least at the blood center I go to. I mean, they are sweet. And probably wouldn’t tackle me if I tried to leave anyway. But they are very persistent.

        2. GythaOgden*

          The only person who can tell you whether things would be ok here is your own manager. It might have to be a discussion where you disclose your plans, but that’s going to be part of the dialogue between you and your employer, because I don’t think anyone here can tell you for definite whether it would be ok or not.

          If you don’t want to have that discussion, it may be safer to take it as general PTO — then you can actually avoid having to disclose it.

        3. Hlao-roo*

          what about blood donation without compensation?

          I worked at a company that sometimes had a mobile blood donation van come to the office, and I donated a few times during work hours. Donation generally took about 30 min so I didn’t take any PTO (vacation or sick) for that time.

          If someone were leaving the office to donate blood so time away from work was an hour or two, I think that may be a vacation time situation. I have also worked for a few companies that offered up to eight hours of paid volunteering time. I think the idea behind that is usually to do a day-long volunteering activity (like volunteering for Habitat for Humanity or a local foodbank or similar during a workday) but depending on the company’s policy, it could be OK to use an hour or two of “volunteer time” to donate blood.

        4. amoeba*

          Yeah, I think if it’s actually organised by your employer, it would very probably be fine to do it during work time (we have that here on campus), otherwise I’d use flex time or PTO (or just do it outside of work hours, as you do). Definitely not sick leave though.
          However, if for some reason I end up having unexpected side effects the next day, I’d have no problem calling in sick. So somewhat similar to the nose job discussion above!

          1. Clisby*

            When my company did this, the policy was that donors could charge 2 hours to a particular cost code, so no need to take time off for the donation and resting up afterwards.

        5. cabbagepants*

          Some US states mandate that employers give a small amount of PTO for blood donation. My state, for example, requires 3 hours of leave the made available every 12 months. This seems reasonable to me.

        6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I’ve been donating pretty regularly since summer of 2020 (hadn’t done it before, but with the pandemic and the 2020 protests leading to people being injured and in hospitals, there was an extra demand for donor blood and my type is the most in-demand, so I started doing it). Never gave it a thought from that angle to be honest. I usually just say I’ll be gone for an appointment and will be back in 1-2 hours. I haven’t done the (plasma?) thing when it takes 90+ minutes to donate, so cannot speak on that. Mine takes 15 or so minutes and I pick a donation center close to my home and low-traffic hours.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Adding to this, now I recall that I did donate once or twice before 2020 as part of a drive organized by my employer. We didn’t have to use PTO or even flex time for it. We just stopped by, donated, got our Tshirt and juice box, went back to our desks, done.

        7. Not Totally Subclinical*

          I usually use vacation time when I’m donating platelets, unless I decide to bring my laptop and try to work one-handed. But my workplace also has a PTO category for blood donation that I can use a few times a year.

      2. learnedthehardway*


        That said, I’d be concerned about using up sick time for the study, then getting sick later or finding out that the study had some kind of longer term health implication – for which you needed sick time you’ve already used up.

    6. JulieBoeBooley*

      I’m OP #4. Good points, both about “double dipping”, and about the potential to need more sick time. You’re right, this isn’t linked to a health condition I’m being treated for, it’s a safety and side effects study for an untested medication.

      I had a feeling the consensus would be that I should use vacation time, but I was very curious what Alison and this community would have to say! My first impulse was sick time, since it’s medically related, but then it’s not for my health so I paused to think about it.

      Thinking about the potential for something to go wrong and need more time off from work, at that point does the commentariat agree that would be an ethical use of sick time?

      1. Pharmgirl2012*

        I think if you have an adverse reaction and get sick, that would be a reasonable use of sick time.

        I kind of see it like – if you go in vacation you use PTO, but if you get sick or injured while out and need to take off more time, that would be sick time.

        Since you’re not participating on this study for your own health needs, you are essentially a volunteer, and typically we use PTO for volunteer time. So anything related to that – meeting researchers, drug administration, testing and follow up would be PTO, but adverse reactions would be sick time.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        Thanks for writing in, even if you kind of had a feeling about the answer! It’s an interesting little thought exercise because there’s no clear-cut line about sick versus vacation depending on employer policies and the type of study.

    7. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I have two examples in my own history of how employers have dealt with:

      1. I participated in a study held by the university’s medical department (I was employed in a non-academic, non-medical arm of the university) that meant to train new technicians more than to provide anything to the study participants. I think that statement is key to why it was put on my timecard by my division’s director as “volunteer hours, regular time”. (The area in which my degree is and associated licensing legit requires a certain number of volunteer hours, which again, this likely played into it) I was expressly permitted to keep the $50 local grocery store giftcard, which was HUGE to me in the early 00s.

      2. My child is currently a participant in a long term (5 years) treatment study. Its not a new treatment, but its a longstanding proven treatment that does not differentiate between adults and children with required durations of treatment, and without going into the details, they’d like to establish that it should be differentiated. As we were enrolled in this study by our care team after a life threatening illness and the cascade of further life threatening complications (Everything is fine now! I promise!), my employer simply has me either WFH and flex my hours around appointments, or if I must take time, its standard PTO because its part of caring for an ill dependent. Why on earth would we be okay with a five year long term study? Uh, peace of mind. Its surrounding the scariest of the complications (DVT) and normally you don’t get 5 years worth of doctors making sure that everything is fine. Even the kiddo is fine with the appointments because, well, verification that everything is fine.

    8. Observer*

      The other complication is level of risk from the study. It may be minimal (e.g. caffeine consumption for a healthy person), higher, or not well defined. So if anything goes wrong OP has potentially set themselves up for more sick time being needed afterwards. Maybe this is not so different from any activity engaged in voluntarily e.g. time off for skiing and then breaking your leg, but worth thinking about – it does feel a little bit different since the motive is to make extra money.

      I don’t think that the level of risk has any bearing on the matter, at all. It doesn’t matter what the motive is. Whether the OP takes paid sick leave, other PTO or unpaid time, it really doesn’t make a difference. The employer doesn’t get a say about what risks the OP gets to take, and they certainly don’t get a say in the motivation.

      I’m also not sure that this is really double dipping. I think that the letter from the bakery manager about a wealthy employee that she was upset about sparked a pretty good discussion about this.

    9. ferrina*

      I think OP is fine to take sick time if they want. We use sick time for preventative care and to take care of sick dependents, and Phase I clinical trials (which is sounds like it might be?) are experimental care that will benefit others. If OP regularly has extra sick time, I think this would be a good way to use some of that (especially since in some states the company would otherwise need to pay it out, so that makes this a win-win for the company). That said, I’d be cautious about using a bulk of sick time in case you need it down the line.

      A note about the compensation- clinical trial compensation is not akin to working a second job. Whereas a second job pays you as an exchange for doing the work, a clinical trial is only reimbursing you for your time and inconvenience. Clinical trial compensation is actually forbidden from being an incentivizing factor- Ethics boards don’t want people putting themselves through undue health risks for money. And clinical trials are not risk free. Risk has been minimized through extensive study, but it’s still there (seconding Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd’s reference to the TGN 1412 trial).

      1. JulieBoeBooley*

        Yup, OP here, I think it’s a Phase I clinical trial.

        Good news that makes this whole discussion moot for me, I got into the weekend study, so it won’t actually impact my work hours. I appreciate all the feedback though, this helps if I ever do it again and run into the same situation!

    10. Herculepoirot6'3.5"*

      I think it depends if it is a “phase I” or a “phase II or III” study. In Phase I, the tests are often on healthy people to determine if the drug is safe or toxic when administered to people. This seems more inappropriate.

      In Phase II and III, the tests are usually on people with the condition being treated by the drug to see if the drug is effective (and still safety is an issue). This means you are being given the drug to improve some condition you have, usually, so that seems like an appropriate use of sick leave. For example, if a cancer patient gets an experimental drug in phase II trials, and it requires a little more time due to the trial, I don’t think it would be wrong to use sick leave.

      1. JulieBoeBooley*

        Ah, that helps! OP here. I’m pretty sure this is Phase I, it’s literally called the “Healthy Normal Study”, haha. I’m a healthy adult, which was their target demographic. I agree that vacation time makes sense.

    11. SBT*

      I personally would use the sick time for it and probably wouldn’t feel guilty unless I worked somewhere with an Unlimited Sick Policy. To me, if they’re limiting your sick days, then you’re choosing to do this medical thing (just like other examples mentioned here – elective or cosmetic surgeries, blood donations, etc.) and you’re taking a gamble here that you won’t need that sick day later on. And if by some chance you do need it and run out, well then, you’ll have to go unpaid/dip into vacation/do whatever your employer requires.

      If it’s unlimited sick time and this trial was going to result in several missed days of work, then I’d probably say it’s not in the spirit of sick leave and you should use vacation.

    12. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      > If that’s the case, it has more of the “double dipping” aspect and is more akin to taking a week of PTO to go and do a week of temp work with an agency.

      So, do you think that it’s bad to take vacation time and work during it? I agree that it’s not good for the person doing it, but it sounds like you think people shouldn’t be allowed to do this?

  6. lost academic*

    Shout out to all the other women in mining out there! Not in it anymore but it’s still awful in terms of sexism.

    1. waffles*

      It’s still awful. A small consolation is that we’re continuing to smooth the road for the next generation. Hang in there. George can stuff it.

  7. bamcheeks*

    “You’ll want your office painted pink, right!?”

    Can I be the first to say: WTF George.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I hope that all of George’s shots end up in a bunker, and it takes him 20 strokes to get it out of there!

    2. Caz*

      I like to think I would address that directly with something like, “what makes you say that, George?” Make him explain, in detail, just how sexist he was being. The more uncomfortable he becomes the better.

      1. Alan*

        I came here to say the same thing. Just innocent curiosity. “Why would you say that?” Over and over. Unless George has been living under a rock, he knows what he’s saying is inappropriate, condescending, etc. Call him on it.

      2. OP3*

        In the moment I did say something along the lines of “George, you can’t say stuff like that it’s not appropriate” and then he spluttered something and I just said “No, George, no”

        1. MsM*

          I like “no, George, no.” Although I’d be deeply tempted to start using it preemptively any time he opens his mouth.

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

            I like no, George, No too, I instantly got a picture of the OP holding a squirt bottle getting ready to squirt George for his stupid remarks, like you do with a cat.

            1. Not Australian*

              Being the current custodian (for my sins) of a cat named George, I can attest that this is indeed a frequent occurrence…

          2. BatManDan*

            I’m picturing a rolled-up newspaper, and lightly bonking George on the nose if he tries to speak or explain. haha.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          I actually think that’s even better, because while I don’t know George, I could imagine that kind of person replying to something like, “why would you say that?” with something like, “well, all girls like pink, don’t you? No matter how much you all deny it!”

          1. Observer*

            The kind of person that says that is not going to be amenable to explanations in any case. But that kind of response can make it pretty clear to by standers what is going on.

            I think that in the end, with the Georges of the world, you’re going to have to finish up with “No, George, no.” But for *some* of the people listening, the illustration of just how ridiculous the assumptions are can be very enlightening, more so that just an explanation. And it also short circuits one of the most common come backs. Like when you say “Don’t make assumptions about people.” someone almost always comes back with something like “No one is making assumptions”. But when George says “Well all girls like X, no matter what they say” that line really doesn’t work too well.

            1. Puggles*

              I would so be tempted to reply to George “ Well only if you paint yours baby blue with fire engines. Hmm? Hmmm?”

        3. Observer*

          In the moment I did say something along the lines of “George, you can’t say stuff like that it’s not appropriate” and then he spluttered something and I just said “No, George, no”

          I’m glad you addressed it in the moment, and I love how you ended off.

          Given that you have a good amount of presence of mind (I know that a lot of people would have been to stunned to respond), perhaps it’s worth coming up with some other come-backs. Like asking him why he would say such a thing. I think that those kinds of questions would help expose what’s wrong with the comment better than any explanation you could give. Maybe not to George, but to anyone who hears the conversation. It’s essentially the difference between showing and telling.

        4. ferrina*

          Beautiful! The mind painting of you just calmly shaking your head and saying “No, George, no” like he’s a dog….kind of fits!

          Also seconding Irish Teacher’s point on the “Why do you say that?” There are some people that are so entrenched in their beliefs that they will explain exactly why your genitals predict your favorite color and they will fully believe it. OP, your response left no wiggle room and no deniability.

        5. Sandals and sneakers*

          OMG you are the best. I’m going to have to use that. I’ve also found ‘wow, that is very dated language’ effective for racist/homophobic remarks.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        “Oh come all you young fellers so young and so fine
        Seek not your fortune in a dark dreary mine
        It’ll form as a habit and seep in your soul
        Till the stream of your blood runs as black as the coal”

    3. FashionablyEvil*

      I have (thankfully only occasionally) had colleagues say stuff like that and I just do the “look at them like they have two heads and say, ‘No, George.’ until it starts to get a little uncomfortable” approach. Put that awkwardness right back where it belongs.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yes, I have employed the “unblinking stare” combined with a “no” or “why would you say that” (as appropriate) to great effect in these situations.

    4. Caliente Papillon*

      That’s the opportunity to say “Wow, no- do you want yours painted pink?” In all sincerity. Fuck George.

    5. JelloStapler*

      Right? I mean I am a cisgender, averagely feminine presenting woman and still would not want my office painted pink in any way shape or form.

      1. Artemesia*

        LOL. My daughter, granddaughter and I all went to Barbie and none of us could find anything pink to wear.

        1. Clisby*

          My daughter couldn’t either. So she wore jogging shorts and sneakers and went as a Sports Barbie (the ones that already had flat feet.)

        2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          I would have the same problem! I have pretty much every color except pink, especially Barbie pink, in my closet.

        3. Joielle*

          Yes! I am an all black everything person… maybe like olive green on occasion but definitely not pink. I really stuck out at the Barbie movie but fit right in at Oppenheimer :)

      2. tangerineRose*

        I actually love pink, but if I worked in an office, I wouldn’t want it painted pink. That’s just over the top, at least for me. It’s a working space that belongs to the company, and who knows if the next person in the office will like the color. Besides, a pink office could make others see me as less professional.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. I like pink in moderation, specifically Barbie pink. The only pants I wear that aren’t black are blue jeans, and I have a variety of patterned tops, some of them include that color as a part of the pattern. I also have a Barbie pink cotton wrap that I sometimes wear to the office when it’s too cold for me. It’s definitely what I’d wear for a trip to the movies to see Barbie.

          But I still wouldn’t want a pink office, even presuming I could choose… Our offices have plain white walls, boring but neutral. Our meeting rooms have one accent wall that’s somewhere between baby blue and sky blue. The break room on my floor has a pea soup or puke green accent wall (absolutely hideous IMO), the one below is a fiery orange that makes me want to eat quickly and leave if I go there for coffee or lunch.

    6. Mockingjay*

      Throw the discomfort right back on that ass. Couple each response with an absolute blank stare, like frickin’ laser beams are drilling through George’s skull. Perfectly professional.

      “What an odd thing to say.”
      “Why would I want my office repainted, George?”
      “I don’t understand what you mean.”

      George, protesting: “it was a joke!”
      OP3: “I didn’t get it/It wasn’t funny.” *walks away.

    7. Recovering the satellites*

      I’m very confrontational about sexism after my career being derailed when I was young and more naive.

      The admin absolutely knows and is giving OP a way out, but I could not resist calling out that man.

      “I don’t understand your statement, please explain it to me?” (hopefully embarrasses him)

      “Why? Is pink your favorite color?”

      “Only if it matches your office”

      That’s being extremely nice especially if this person is constantly making undermining remarks.

      For more serious offenses I call it what it is, and if the company has a real HR we start the process of documenting until he gets it through his head.

      On the flip side, I’ve occasionally been able to mend the relationship and become good colleagues with men who viewed their gender as superior.

      Best of luck, OP. You’re not just winning for yourself but also for everyone this happens to.

    8. Phony Genius*

      If I was the boss and I heard about this comment, I’d be tempted to wait until George’s next vacation and have him return to a nice freshly-painted pink office.

    9. Architect*

      Very common type of joke in construction-adjacent industries. I have run across more than one general contractor who orders their spare hardhats in pink, because after ordering one for the female architect who visited (without asking her preference, and thankfully not me – I brought my own white one), they discovered they don’t walk off the jobsite because the (male) workers are too embarrassed to be seen in them. Which just perpetuates it all further

      1. Hotdog not dog*

        When I was an EA (about 20ish years ago) I had problems with my office supplies disappearing.
        I bought all pink office supplies, and actually still have a pink stapler, calculator, and floral file folders.

        1. Kit*

          My mum, in the pre-pandemic era, worked in a cube farm type setup (call center for a bank) and discovered that an oversized Hello Kitty pen was much less prone to spontaneously developing legs and walking off with whoever’d come to visit her desk.

      2. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        My mother is a general contractor, and she absolutely spray paints certain tools/equipment pink or purple because they never walk off the jobsites when she does that. She calls it weaponizing her feminism. And she has told her workers and subs that if they have a problem using a pink or purple tool, then they need to find another contractor to work for.

      3. Not Jane*

        Yep. I worked in the office of a roofing company and if any of the roofers forgot to bring their hardhat they were “shamed” by having to borrow the spare, which was hot pink.

      4. Student*

        I worked in a science lab. I marked all my tools with bright colors of high-visibility nail polish or paint.

        Bright pink is, indeed, extremely effective at deterring tool theft, and I took great advantage.

        For true mastery, try tools with built-in flower prints on them. Not only will those tools never get stolen, they will stay in pristine condition because your most careless and abusive-to-tools co-workers all inevitably have a deadly floral print allergy.

        1. JustaTech*

          I bought freezer gloves (lot hot mitts, but for protecting you from really really cold temperatures) in pink (because they were on sale) and lo and behold, they’re the only pair that’s never wandered away with the facilities guys.

          I hate that people are so afraid of that color, but I like not having to hunt for my gloves.

    10. Pink….*

      Pink… my least favorite color I would’ve literally exploded if someone said that to me like actually combust

    11. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’d give George a 1000 yard stare while asking “Why?” Let him squirm. Return the awkward to sender.

    12. Joielle*

      Right?? And it’s not even a clever joke, it’s just a weird thing to say.

      My dad is essentially a boomer edgelord (I don’t see him much) and he does this kind of thing all the time. I don’t argue with him anymore because it’s not really worth it, but nor do I suppress my face’s natural reaction, which is sort of a Kermit scrunch face thing. It does seem to take the wind out of his sails when I just look at him like I smelled something bad and then walk away! So… you could always try that, OP.

    13. There You Are*

      “That would be so weird, George, with both of us having the same color office. You can have the pink; I was thinking of a light dove gray.”

    14. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Re: #3, two ideas pop to mind:

      1. “You do know it’s the twenty-first century, right, George?”

      or, way more fun:

      2. “Great!! Then we’ll match!!”

  8. Ask a general question*

    #2 – How about you simply ask about their family instead of centering your question around children in particular?

    “And how about your family?” would allow the other person to mention kids/no kids/grandkids/pets/roommates etc

      1. Olive*

        All questions are potentially loaded. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask someone else an open ended question about their family if they have started their relationship with you by asking a lot of (inoffensive) questions about your baby.

        1. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

          I’m with you. That’s info that can be left to be volunteered, and even volunteering it is risky. Especially because people judge you on such. In conversation yesterday, someone mentioned that the kids were going back to school and things were busy. I said, “that’s why I didn’t have kids,” being a wiseass. I got a surprised, “You don’t?” and a judgemental side-eye.

          There are a lot of people who think there is something wrong with you if you don’t have a partner and offspring after a certain age.

          1. ADidgeridooForYou*

            I mean, in their defense, you gave sort of a sassy answer, so I don’t necessarily blame them for getting defensive/sassy back (I say that as a childfree woman).

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            ‘Family’ can be defined in lots of ways. We’re veering into not everyone can eat sandwiches territory, here.

            1. Willow Pillow*

              These comments are in response to a LW asking about the optics of asking questions about having children, family isn’t an unreasonable link. “All questions are potentially loaded” is IMO.

      2. It's OK*

        In one of my online groups, someone asked what lessons we had learned from our moms.

        One person replied, “BOLD of you to assume that my mother wasn’t killed by my stepfather when I was too young for her to have taught me anything.”


        I 100% feel that the responder was the one out of line, not the question-asker. And I don’t even like my mom. Was estranged from her for 6 or 7 years. So I wouldn’t have any warm fuzzy answers to that question.

        But no way would I ever push back and say that the question crossed boundaries, was insensitive, was offensive, etc. It’s totally valid to say, “My mom died when I was very young, but the best lesson I ever learned from a woman was my when my best friend’s mom told me [whatever].”

        The question can still be answered in the spirit in which it was asked, and we can all still learn something about each other in the goal of building relationships.

    1. Poppy*

      That’s a question that has had me running in tears before now. We don’t all have good memories of family.

      1. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

        I am with you.

        I can’t tell you how many times people have casually asked me, “are you close to your parents?” That brings up some complicated emotions.

    2. Old and Don’t Care*

      That’s a little odd. I’m over 50 years old; no one wants to hear about my sisters.

      I don’t have kids. If I’m asked I say I don’t have kids, or I have nieces, depending on the conversation. Then the conversation moves on. I think the OP’s instincts are good, and she can pivot if she feels that’s appropriate, but I think it’s fine to ask if someone has kids.

    3. Not Mindy*

      I often say something along the lines of “do you have a lot of family who live near you?” I think that it’s general enough that it leaves a lot of room for a person to respond with as much or as little information as they want.
      Of course there’s always the possibility of touching a nerve, but that’s true with pretty much anything that is said. I think that this (and your suggestion of “and how about your family?”) is pretty innocuous.

  9. Missy*

    I struggled with fertility for years. Kids aren’t in the cards for me. It is what it is, and I’m fine with it now!

    Asking if people have kids is just as normal as asking if they have a spouse or a pet. It’s not an offensive question; it wasn’t even when I wasn’t dealing with it actively. Heck, outside of a workplace (because laws), “do you plan to?” is even pretty normal, if a bit nosy.

    “Why not?!?!” is a rude follow-up, though.

    We’re not made of glass! Don’t let a loud few of us empty wombers dictate how you speak to people!

      1. Kristinyc*

        For sure. There are so many reasons not to ask, even if you’re doing it in a friendly/social way. At a team dinner last year, our (male) CMO asked one of my (male) colleagues if he and his wife were planning on kids (he was one of the only married team members who didn’t have kids yet), but… his wife had just completed treatment for breast cancer (which we all knew about), and so he had to give the response of “[Wife’s] doctor said we have to wait a while to even try, and we may not be able to.” He was clearly upset about talking about it.

        1. Clisby*

          He didn’t “have” to say that at all. He could have said something like “We’ll see.”

    1. Burntliketoast*

      I disagree. If someone had asked me if I had kids right after I had a miscarriage that would have been really upsetting. Just because its normal to ask doesnt mean its always ok. Yes, I am fine now and happily childless. But there was a time I wouldnt have been fine with it. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be sensitive to people in that situation.

      You also have to remember there is a power dynamic at play. She is a new to them manager, they have no track record of her. Someone who was childless (intentionally or otherwise) might worry that could affect they way they are treated. I have absolutely seen parents bond with other parents and it affect things in the workplace.

      Another commenter has suggested saying “You sound like you have a lot of experience with kids” etc. and thats a much more open way to approach it.

      1. JulieBoeBooley*

        I have to admit, ever since I lost my only sibling a few years ago, I’ve been very hesitant to ask strangers questions about family. For the same reason you mention, it being upsetting if you just went through a trauma. As someone with a really loaded answer to the simple question, “Do you have any siblings?”, I worry about provoking a loaded question to someone else without meaning to.

        I don’t mind at all when someone asks me that question, I just don’t know how to answer it without making everyone feel awkward! I don’t mind talking about him, he was a big part of my life, but it goes from small talk to deep talk pretty quickly, lol.

        1. Artemesia*

          Losing my adult son has made the question ‘how many kids do you have?’ or when they know of my daughter, asking if I have ‘any other kids’. very painful. Do I? What can I say without ripping that wound open? Deny his life? Discuss the awfulness of his death?

          People don’t know. I don’t hold it against them. but it has made me a lot more sensitive to how innocuous questions are not so innocuous for many people.

      2. Extroverted Bean Counter*

        I imagine if you were still emotionally raw from a miscarriage you wouldn’t be gushing over someone’s newborn, and the LW would have taken your perfunctory “congrats, welcome back!” and moved along. The letter itself is about taking cues from the people she’s talking to, and if it’s inappropriate to ask this of someone who has indicated they are super happy to be talking about babies.

        After my miscarriages I for sure would not have been spending an extended amount of time asking after someone’s baby. LW knows it’s not always okay, which is why she’s only asking sometimes – and doing an additional gut check about those “sometimes”.

        1. Orsoneko*

          Yes, exactly. This is a better worded, more concise version of the point I was trying to make in my comment below.

      3. constant_craving*

        She commented above and clarified these are co-workers, not people she manages, so there’s no power dynamic in this case.

    2. Constance Lloyd*

      I do want to note nobody has loudly told LW this question was inappropriate, she simply noticed it may have made a colleague uncomfortable and is looking for a more neutral and inclusive way to carry on the conversation. This is not only a kind and thoughtful thing to do, but it’s highly practical! Building rapport and properly networking requires navigating conversations with tact, and LW is just looking for a way to be more tactful in her small talk, which will in turn help her avoid small but awkward hiccups like the one mentioned in her letter.

    3. mreasy*

      I agree – if you’re talking about kids and the subject isn’t already upsetting the person, there’s no reason not to ask. I don’t have kids and I just say “nope.” Not the same but – I have been ask if I own or rent my apartment. Now, I will never be able to afford to buy, save for winning the lottery. Do I wish I could? Yes. But it doesn’t mean nobody can ask.

      1. mreasy*

        That said – absolutely no follow-ups about why not, or how they will change their mind, etc. It has to be a neutral Q. If someone asks if a colleague had siblings and they’d just had a brother pass away, or if they ask if they have pets and their beloved dog had just died, this question might cause sadness. But it’s not realistic to just avoid any topic that might have feelings involved…

      2. Moos*

        But you can’t really know if they question is upsetting to them, especially if you are their new manager, they might not feel comfortable saying it bothered them.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          They were talking about kids and grandparents. OP seems sensitive enough to pick up on nonverbal cues that it might be a sore point–and she didn’t! I think we can just chalk it up to an awkward exchange.

      1. Chirpy*

        Same, oof. It reminded me very much of a store I now boycott because the cashier just. would. not. drop. asking me about every possible female relationship after I answered her question about kids on mother’s day with a no. (nieces? siblings? cousins? boyfriend? She went completely down the list. Hi, I’d rather not be valued based on my relationships with others, I am an entire person. and this was a total stranger! )

    4. Santiago*

      Agreed. It’s really odd to me that some people expect us to treat every single issue as though every person is made of glass… and it’s wildly culturally intolerant. Conversation is cultural! Not everyone is a liberal American city person in their mid-twenties!

      Family can be sensitive, but a singular broad surface level question is okay. The middle ground here is that people can feed a conversation topic or let it dry up, to not be overly nosy (re: why not?) and to be polite and apologize if you upset anyone! The answer is not to constantly police everything you say for fear of harming someone!

      In before, I have a physical disability and I understand and emphasize with intrusive questioning… but I do have ways of dealing with and would rather have authentic conversations with people then feel that people restrain everything they say out of an oversensitivity.

  10. WoodyTiger*

    I get the impression that LW3’s dept admin has at least a clue that LW is uncomfortable and is offering to try and help. They’re probably asking because they don’t want to assume that LW wants to be rescued. So absolutely take them up on the offer!
    And if a reason is requested, one that avoids pointing out George’s antique and inappropriate opinions would be suggesting that the teams be mixed up to increase cross-interactions between staff, since it sounds like the teams have stagnated for a while. And given that the DA seems clued in, I suspect the chance of still being on George’s team is going to be low.

    1. Myrin*

      The OP doesn’t give any indication that she doesn’t want to participate and the admin has given her the perfect opportunity to get rid of the one thing she was dreading about it, so I don’t see why she should take a sick day.

    2. Burntliketoast*


      Golf is largely viewed as a male sport. She not only risks more sexist bullshit if she skips it, but it means that she is missing out on potential face time with the CEO and other important company figures.

      Career wise it does her no favours and only benefits George for her to skip it. She has an opportunity to swap. She should try that.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      Why do you suggest that, Jade? The LW has not said she doesn’t want to play golf or participate in the golfing day. In fact she says: “I would love to be on another team.” Why should she miss something she wants to do because of Bob?

      It’s pretty obvious from the admin asking the question, she knows how annoying the dinosaur is and is offering LW an out. LW should take it without any further explanation. Let the admin admin handle it.

    4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Why? Admin is giving her an out.

      As noted above, the Admin knows exactly how George is. Admin also knows CEO is either unaware or unwilling to do anything and just waiting for George to retire. So she is throwing a lifeline to OP. OP take it. Problem temporarily solved. See above for suggestions on how to handle George going forward if you are so inclined.

  11. TechWorker*

    For #2 to be honest if someone is struggling with not having children (through infertility or ‘other’) I’m not sure that asking the question in a roundabout way makes it any easier as a question. Some of the suggestions above (‘what about your family’, ‘you sound like you have experience with babies’) are still loaded ones if they desperately want a baby! I don’t think that means you should stop asking, just read cues and be prepared to move on as you’re already doing.

    1. Roberta*

      yeah, my husband and I have been trying for 18months now, and I am in a field where asking about family and children is simply par for the course. People are interested in each other’s lives, and that includes kids or lack thereof.

      I have a few stock answers depending on how I want the conversation to go, “no, lot of experience from when I worked at the day care for 5 years” “no, but my nephews are preteens now and they are WILD”, “no, just my husband and my cat, and she is delightful” etc. And 99% of people will pick up that cue and be appropriate.

      You did fine, OP. Aside from not asking any coworkers anything about their lives, there really is no way we can avoid base social questions, and you read the cues appropriately.

    2. Melissa*

      yes, it sounds like she’s doing fine! Read the room, and if you inadvertently make someone uncomfortable, move on as quickly as you can.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      As someone who has struggled with infertility myself (trying to adopt now), I would like to say that someone asking me if I have kids doesn’t bother me* because that is absolutely a natural question to ask someone, but if OP is trying to be more sensitive and avoid situations like the one described, maybe stop asking people that question and just let them mention whether or not they have kids in more casual conversation. Ask more open questions like, “How was your weekend? Did you do anything neat?” and you’re likely to find out quickly who has kids and who doesn’t.

      *I do absolutely LOATHE, though, when medical people ask me if I’ve had any pregnancies. No, but thank you for bringing up that sensitive topic. And it was the absolute WORST when I was involved in a vaccine trial and they made me take a pregnancy test each time I went in for a shot despite the fact that I’d gone through three failed IVFs, four failed IUIs, and I have an IUD to control my period. Oh, and I’m chronically single with no partner whatsoever. NO I AM NOT PREGNANT WHY ARE YOU BRINGING THIS UP EVERY TIME I COME IN HERE????? (And yes, I know it’s procedure but it really pissed me off that they wouldn’t take my word for it. They told me they make all afab people take pregnancy tests even if they’ve had hysterectomies or had gone through menopause. Stupid.)

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Uhhh, I had to take a pregnancy test 1-every time I got a Depo shot and 2-when I get an IUD put in. Despite being not partnered and having said birth control. It’s literally protocol. If they “took someone’s word” for it, and that person was unexpectedly pregnant and lost the pregnancy/had a complication? HUGE ISSUE. For a vaccine trial they can have their funding pulled and results discounted if they don’t follow protocol EXACTLY, even if nothing bad happened. It’s the medical equivalent of being required to card EVERYONE for cigarettes/liquor in retail. My mom might have white hair and walk with a cane, but if you don’t card her at the liquor store and there’s a secret shopper behind her, you can get in big trouble, and it’s even more fraught with medical trials.

        1. acmx*

          Just a note, I’ve never had to take a pregnancy test each time I received a depo shot. Even if I am not perfectly on schedule.

        2. Observer*

          I had to take a pregnancy test 1-every time I got a Depo shot and 2-when I get an IUD put in. Despite being not partnered and having said birth control. It’s literally protocol.

          That doesn’t make it reasonable or sensible. And it’s not going to save them from law suits, either, if they mess up.

          It’s the medical equivalent of being required to card EVERYONE for cigarettes/liquor in retail.

          Aside, from the question of whether this is a sensible protocol, it’s just not the same. On the one hand, the incentives all along the way are different. On the other hand, the potential cost of this kind of protocol can be far higher. If someone decides that they are just not going to get beer this weekend because they can’t deal with 30extra seconds involved in being carded, I doubt anything serious would happen. If someone decides that they can’t take a half a day off for a routine appointment (and even with rapid pee sticks, having to do the test makes things a lot more time consuming), the potential consequences could be life altering in a very bad way.

      2. doreen*

        That menopause thing – maybe stupid and maybe not. I know one doctor’s office just assumed I was through with menopause because of my age- and they shouldn’t have. And I know a couple of people who didn’t realize missing two or even three months doesn’t mean you are done with menopause.

        1. Gray Lady*

          I believe the rule is 12 months, right?

          Well I had TWO 10-11 month gaps before I was finally done.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah I think the point is to find a response that walks the line between “perceived as rude because poked a touchy subject” and “perceived as rude because spoke about self and didn’t inquire about the other person”. So I think the “roundabout” options are acceptably in the middle.

  12. Caz*

    LW2, enquiring if a colleague has children is fine and normal in a getting-to-know-you type conversation! If the person you are talking to does not, or is uncomfortable with the conversation, divert it elsewhere. What’s not OK is insisting that they will have children, that one can only experience true love through having children, that anyone who does not or cannot have children is to be pitied…and I’ve had all those from a manager (I am unable to have children and she knew that after I attempted to make the conversation as awkward for her as it was for me and *it didn’t stop her!* The rumour in the office was that a colleague of hers reported her for a similar conversation. She dialed it back after that, but never did stop.)

    1. Melissa*

      Definitely! People often ask how many children I have (one), which is fine and a normal thing to discuss. Once in a while, someone then lectures me about how I’m ruining him by not giving him siblings. That is the rude part!

      1. Fives*

        Ugh, I hate that. I am not “ruined” because my parents didn’t have other kids. Geez.

        1. Risha*

          Another only child here!

          Either they say my parents ruined me by making me an only child, or they say nonsense like how I was most likely soooo spoiled. They don’t know me or my parents, and don’t know I was abused/neglected by them for years. People really do not think before they talk. I guess they think they’re being cute/funny/whatever.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            What I always say to my friends who only have one kid: “You reached perfection on the first try!”

            1. SAS*

              That is a very sweet sentiment, but my friend who’s just had a second (only) child after losing her first baby would struggle to hear that.

      2. Risha*

        No matter what, you won’t be able to win with people. I have 6 kids and get comments how that’s so many kids. Now that I’m older and don’t gaf anymore, I am able to shut people’s rudeness down quickly and hopefully they’ll think twice before they make another comment on how many kids someone chooses to have. Or maybe not, because people are ridiculously rude.

        1. ferrina*

          Yeah, there’s no winning this. You have to have the exact number of kids that the Nosy Person thinks is right, and even then you have to have the correct age gaps between kids.

          But statistically, some people are able to skate below the radar more than others. IME 2-3 kids in 2 year increments tends to be the most common expectation from Nosy People. I wish more bystanders would call the Nosy Person out on their weirdness.

        2. Clisby*

          I’m the eldest of 6, and loved being part of a big family. (My mother’s closest-in-age sister also had 6 kids, and we all grew up together and are still really close.) I’m sure my mother got comments about “how many” kids she had – I hope she shut them down with “My mother had nine; I’m cutting back.”

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Ooof, your manager was terrible, glad someone reported her. I like Caz’ suggestion of diverting the conversation elsewhere if you get an awkward response to the question. A brief, “Oh, sorry,” would go a long way too, I would imagine.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I have a not-so-happy history with this but I don’t care if someone asks me. I only care if they keep prying. I’m in my mid-40s, never met anyone with whom I wanted to share kids, possibly could not have had them, anyway, for medical reasons, etc. But just asking if I have any? Pretty routine. Anything beyond that is too much to ask between coworkers, anyway.

    4. Champagne Cocktail*

      Oh wow. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

      I especially loathe the concept of “one can only experience true love through having children.” It’s so invalidating and downright rude.

    5. Observer*

      What’s not OK is insisting that they will have children, that one can only experience true love through having children, that anyone who does not or cannot have children is to be pitied

      I would add to this list “Why?” and “Are you planning to?”

  13. World's Best Auntie*

    LW2: I’m childless and not by choice. I LOVE kids, so will gush at coworker’s babies and often get the “Do you have kids?” question. It’s a natural question and doesn’t hurt me in and of itself. I’ll typically respond, “No, but I’m an auntie to 9 wonderful nieblings.” Most people don’t probe further, but start asking about my nieblings instead (which is absolutely fine! I love gushing about them!) – it’s only the people who don’t get the hint and who go on to say something like “Oh, but why not? You’d be an amazing mother” etc. who turn into a nuisance.

    (One colleague even said “Oh, do reconsider! Please!” … gah, that hurt!)

    1. Kat*

      Came here to say this! I don’t have kids, it hurts, I hate people pressing about it. But I love babies and am interested in my coworkers lives and would absolutely be gushing over your new baby. In that situation a question about my own situation isn’t unusual and I understand why you ask, and it sounds like you’re dealing with it sensitively and not then pressing.

      I do however still cringe over the time I met a new very senior coworker who had just moved continents for the role as a single parent and we were talking about their child, they asked me if I had children…and instead of my normal response about my niblings I said no, I have cats. Very senior coworker said something like that counts too, conversation moved on, they probably don’t even remember…but it still sticks in my head as a shining example of social awkwardness and/or outing myself as a crazy cat lady.

        1. amoeba*

          Yeah, I absolutely wouldn’t think twice about that response if I heard it (except to ask for cat photos!) And once I finally manage to have my own – cats, that is – I would also be happy to use that myself!

        2. Lady_blerd*

          That is usually my aswer to this question and that is probably why the colleague moved on.

      1. Random Academic Cog*

        I gotta say, my coworkers hear as much about my cats as they do about my grabdkis!

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I don’t have any pets currently so I say I have plant babies. Which I do.

        It’s an awkward question — I wanted them but never dated anyone I could have kids with, but if I say that, then I get “Oh well we’ll have to find you someone!” Um, you barely know me and I can’t do it now anyway, so no.

      3. Elizabeth*

        People who push me (or make offensive comments about people without kids) get to hear about the tragedies wrought by Braca-2 in my partners family and his difficult decision to be genetically tested (he was positive and that was decisive for us). Maybe they’ll think twice before saying stupid shit to someone else.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      PLEASE RECONSIDER?! Oh I do not know how you kept your composure – what a ridiculous and hurtful thing to say. At best it implies that you’ve made a poor decision about a life-altering thing and at worst you are digging a knife into someone’s heart.

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        TW: child death.

        I am very blunt. I grew up with strangers awkwardly pressing my parents about the “significant” (6 years! The horror!) age gap between me and my next sibling. As a child I got the impression they were often trying to figure out if my dad was actually my step dad. For those who pressed, my dad would always matter of factly explain yes, there is an age gap because our son died of cancer when he was 3. Oddly nobody pressed after that, and typically found their way to another conversation. If I were in World’s Best Auntie’s position I would either clam up in response to their rudeness or respond with a very uncomfortably honest answer.

        1. ThatGirl*

          My husband is 40, he has two brothers who are 37 and 19. We have gotten a lot of questions over the years from people who assume his dad remarried. Nope, just a big surprise, it’s not menopause, you’re pregnant!

          1. CommanderBanana*

            The caboose baby! My grandpa was the caboose by like…10 years or more between him and his next older sibling. Apparently at that time they referred to kids like that as the “change of life baby” because it was so common.

          2. Clisby*

            I was 48 when my 2nd child was born. This was back in 2002, and I was on a couple of the old usenet groups where I was talking about him. Somebody commented, “I assume you used a donor egg.” I was like, WTAF? First, it’s none of your business, and second, you assume incorrectly.

            It’s kind of like people nowadays don’t realize women (in modern times) have always been able to have children up into their 40s. I don’t mean every woman could – I got lucky. But it’s not some modern marvel of medicine. My grandmother was 42 when her youngest child was born.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, my grandmother had 9 kids who survived to adulthood and a boy who was a “blue baby” with a heart defect that meant that oxygenated blood kept circulating between the heart and the lungs and very little oxygen reached the rest of his body. He only survived after birth because there was a hole in his heart and he died when the hole closed. They couldn’t fix that in the 1950s, and he died when he was a few days old. My mom’s the oldest of the siblings and my youngest uncle’s almost 20 years younger than she is, and I’ve always considered my uncle an older cousin rather than an uncle, because he’s only 7 years older than I am. My grandma was 45 when he was born.

        2. Gila Monster*

          I have a history of infertility and pregnancy loss, and no shame about dumping that on someone if they start prying. I don’t owe them this education, but some days I feel more generous than others.

        3. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

          Blunt and matter of fact is the best way to answer questions you know are being intrusive. Return awkward to sender.

        4. Observer*

          I grew up with strangers awkwardly pressing my parents about the “significant” (6 years! The horror!) age gap between me and my next sibling.

          What on earth is wrong with people?! It’s not *worse* than “Please reconsider” just more weird. And BOTH are seriously bad.

          I hope that your father’s response made at least some of them think twice.

    3. DrMrsC*

      My stepsons were 8 & 10 when I came into their life. I was at an age where I knew I had no interest in putting my body through a pregnancy. Sometimes I refer to them as “our boys” sometimes I say my stepsons. (Depends on what feels authentic in the context). I can’t tell you how often people respond with a forlorn expression and “oh, so none of your own?” as though I have either failed at life or are to be pitied. It takes all I have to grit my teeth and change the subject.

      1. Jay (no, the other one)*

        We adopted our daughter and I still got “oh, none of your own?” on a regular basis and the worst was the people who said it IN FRONT OF MY KID. I wish I’d come up with a fast riposte that handed the awkward back. I never did. I either stared at them in shock or said “She is mine.”

        When she was in HS she told me that one of her friends found out she was adopted and said “What’s it like to be raised by strangers?” Her response: they’re not strangers, you idiot, they’re my parents. People say the stupidest things.

        1. Observer*

          one of her friends found out she was adopted and said “What’s it like to be raised by strangers?” Her response: they’re not strangers, you idiot, they’re my parents.

          I’m impressed! That’s a really good response to a wildly out of line, and probably pretty shocking, question. I’m sorry the kid asked her that, but you *know* that your daughter is god at thinking under pressure.

  14. pcake*

    “You’ll want your office painted pink, right!?” Looking him in the eye: “No, that wouldn’t be very professional. Why do you ask?”

    Why is it so many people are sure that people who make bigoted comments don’t mean any harm? You can bet they’ve had people call them on it before, yet they keep doing it, so they probably at the very least want to make you uncomfortable and to feel they’ve gotten one up on you. If they really didn’t mean any harm, you could ask them to stop doing it, and they would because they wouldn’t want to make others feel bad. Yet knowing they make people feel bad, I’ve never heard someone who routinely make these remarks NOT make it all about the person they’ve made them to/about being “too sensitive” or something like that.

    Just sayin’…

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Pink is not an unprofessional color. Suggesting that a woman would want her office painted pink is sexist but there’s nothing inherently unprofessional about the color. (Personally, I think a pale dusky rose would be a lovely color in an office.)

      1. amoeba*

        I mean, if otherwise the offices are white/neutral, any bright colour would probably be considered unprofessional. But yeah, certainly not pink specifically more than, say, orange or bright green!

      2. Beka Cooper*

        Oh my gosh, your comment just reminded me of a ridiculous interaction I had about the color pink in a professional setting. I was making up folders for a training, and the presenter had way too many handouts, and I was supposed to make all of the handouts different colors. At some point my supervisor happened to notice the folders and she went on a rant about how we should never use pink paper for handouts because it’s unprofessional. Like she felt fairly strongly about it. I think the men attending the training will survive the paper on one handout being pink! Better than the salmon color!

        1. Silver Robin*

          hilarious because I work with lawyers and they have colored cover sheets for different types of fillings…green, blue, yellow, and…pink! Pretty sure the courts (who made the rules) have no qualms about pink in a professional setting…

    2. Artemesia*

      It is 2023, there is no man in the workplace that does not know how inappropriate this kind of dig is. It is absolutely intentional. Todays old guy in the workplace came of age in the late 70s or 80s not the 50s; no one doesn’t know. Same with racism.

      1. OP3*

        My mom was an engineer in the early 80s, this kind of thing was absolutely normal back then. She was one of 3 women in her class of over 100. The 80s weren’t as enlightened for women in an industrial setting as you might think. I’m not saying he doesn’t know better just that industrial is soooo far behind the rest of the world on this stuff. I have to tell guys to stop calling stuff gay and using the r-word. In 2023.

    3. Observer*

      Looking him in the eye: “No, that wouldn’t be very professional. Why do you ask?”

      I’m going to agree with everyone who says that pink is not inherently unprofessional. But “Why do you assume?” stands on its own.

      No one is assuming what color George wants, and he is not assuming anything about anyone else. So why is he assuming about her?

  15. philmar*

    What is sexually charged about the interactions in #1? They may be friendlier than is appropriate for a manager and subordinate, and his bias in her favor may very well be a problem that needs addressing, but I don’t see how they “make colleagues uncomfortable with a sexually charged environment.” Even the LW says this is a matter of ethics and propriety, not personal discomfort.

    1. Be kind, rewind*

      Yeah, the “I can’t say no” is definitely suggestive, but IMO, the flirtatious aspect is secondary to the clear favoritism: more time together, more personal chatting, high profile but easy projects, high praise, etc.

      I would focus on that first, explaining not only actual favoritism but also the optics of it.

    2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Flirtatiousness is often about tone and facial expression as much as actual wording. Since we just have the words, we don’t have a complete idea of what is happening. OP does and says it is flirtatious.

      1. LW 1*

        Yes, it’s difficult to describe through text alone and reading the transcript of their interactions might be fairly dry. But there’s a certain pitch and tension in their voices that it’s blatantly flirtatious, along with the amount of teasing that they do, which is quite a bit for a subordinate/employee.

        1. Venus*

          I’d personally avoid the flirtatiousness part, because they might not see it themselves and feel that others are making too much out of it and are over-reacting. Sticking to the clear favoritism will address the core of the issue, and should eliminate the flirting.

        2. Sara without an H*

          Got it. You definitely need to talk with Jim, and it might be easier to frame it as a problem with apparent favoritism (for example, the long personal conversations).

          Since you only noticed the problem while you were working temporarily in their space, though, you may want to do some more investigation. Are there peer managers Jim works with, for example, and have they noticed anything unusual about his relationship with “Sasha”?

          Depending on how your conversation with Jim goes, I think you’ll also need a plan for following up after you move back to your own office. This may be a pattern of behavior that doesn’t resolve itself after one conversation.

        3. Smithy*

          I do think that while the tone and context certainly elevates your concerns, I also think that as much as you can focus on quantitative concerns – such as duration of time they spend time talking either in one another’s office compared to other team members – it will help focus on the favoritism piece.

          One point I noticed particularly was the point about being assigned high profile but relatively simple projects. This is a reality that definitely exists in my field – where two people can get assigned relatively similar work, but based on one detail, one person will get a lot more internal shine and attention despite doing very similar work to another colleague. Think of two IT tickets, but one is to the CEO and another to an intern. If one person is always repairing the CEO’s computer, regardless of the complexity of the issues, that has the potential to give them a lot more shine than someone just fixing the computers of more junior staff.

          I’m in an external field where for the most part, no two assignments are exactly the same – but some are inevitably more high profile and provided you show up and work professionally, far easier. And others, triple the effort and time, and you’d only ever end up with a fraction of the results because of the nature of the assignment. If she’s getting those high value, high reward projects all the time….that’s worth flagging alone.

  16. VioletDaedalus*

    LW #2 – Could you ask a more general “personal” question in return? “I’ve talked a lot about my baby/family, why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself?” You would reciprocate interest while allowing the other person to talk about whatever they feel comfortable sharing from their personal life, whether it be kids or otherwise.

    1. londonedit*

      I think this is a good idea. I’m childfree by choice, but I have a nephew, so I might well respond to LW2’s discussion of babies etc with something that indicates I’m vaguely familiar with how babies work. I wouldn’t have a problem with ‘Do you have any children?’, as long as the response to my ‘No’ wasn’t one of those pitying little head-tilts and ‘Oh…’, or any comment about why or whether or not I might change my mind. But I agree it can be a very loaded question, so I think doing what you suggest and saying ‘So, tell me a bit about yourself’ is better – that way, the person can choose what to focus on. Could be their kids, could be their dog, could be the fact that they do roller derby every Saturday.

      1. Anonymous*

        I love ‘tell me about yourself’. I’m also childfree by choice, and while I don’t mind the question, the asker should assume nothing, be prepared for a ‘no’ answer and ready to move on. In my experience, people often feel awkward when they get anything but a ‘yes’ response. At work, others don’t need to know whether or not I like kids or know anything about them, so I won’t reply by talking about nieces, nephews, other children I know (unless asked).

      2. Joielle*

        Childfree by choice here too. Once someone asked me if I had kids, I said I didn’t, and they responded with “What a pity, you’d be such a good mother!” and I was so surprised that all I could manage was “Oh… no. I wouldn’t.” LOL

    2. Purple Halo*

      I don’t think this solves the problem.

      I think we just have to accept that there is no question that seeks to establish a relationship with another person that does not cause discomfort, pain or offence to someone.

      Instead, we should focus on reading cues and responding appropriately.

      For the family question – there are plenty of people who don’t have good family relationships / acceptable (in the eyes of others) family etc. They might not want to go into this at work. A language teacher I knew had a student who was not doing the talk about your family assessment – turns out they witnessed parents being massacred and did not ever talk about family. Hopefully not something any of us will encounter. Personally I prefer the kids question, because I know the answer. For family one I don’t know whether to say no or not.

      I used to work with someone who found it prying if you asked them about things they did outside of work (how was your weekend style comments). Knowing this naturally I avoided any such questions – but I’m not going to apply that to others going forward, as I think it hinders positive relationships.

      I’d recommend sticking with factual questions that are easy to turn aside from (how about you? ), avoid motivations (don’t ask why!), and always be positive about their circumstances unless they indicate otherwise (commiseration is fine then). So if I asked about kids and you said cats – I’d show interest in your cats. If I asked about kids and you said I’ve got 12 and triplets on the way – I’d remark about your own little sports team or ask what sort of car you have.

      1. londonedit*

        But many people do find it very difficult to answer the ‘Do you have kids?’ question. It’s painful in itself. They could be struggling with IVF, they could have suffered a loss, or as I said above, even if they don’t have children by choice it’s inevitably awkward when you say ‘No, I don’t’ and the person who’s just been talking about their baby for five minutes doesn’t quite know how to respond. Simply saying ‘So, tell me a bit about yourself’ gives a person the opportunity to choose what they want to say, and it means they can direct the conversation in a way that’s comfortable for them.

        It’s kind of like how you wouldn’t – or at least shouldn’t – say ‘So, what are you doing with your dad for Father’s Day?’ if you don’t know whether someone’s father is still alive or what sort of relationship they might have. Sure, someone could respond with ‘Oh, I don’t tend to mark the day’ or ‘I’m taking my mother out for lunch’, and then you’d get the gist, but it still has the risk of being a painful question for them to think about. A better question, even if it is Father’s Day weekend, would simply be ‘Any plans for the weekend?’, and then there’s the option of saying ‘Yes, we’re having a big Father’s Day barbecue’ or ‘Oh, just planning on going for a run and meeting a friend for brunch’, or ‘Nothing in particular!’ or whatever.

        1. Purple Halo*

          But as I pointed out – some are offended by being asked if they have plans, or if they did anything over the weekend (this isn’t me exaggerating, I used to know someone for whom this was true).

          I personally don’t see how you form relationships without asking personal questions. These bland open questions would feel to me like speaking with the checkout staff – I’d feel like bland un informative half truths would be the expected response.

          I completely understand why people are upset by questions like “do you have kids”. Just as I know wishing someone a happy thanksgiving can be upsetting – if thanksgiving is a topic linked to pain for them, rather than happiness.

          But I don’t think the answer is to pull back and keep everything superficial – hoping the other person reaches out because you always play it safe. In a conversation about budget reports it would be weird to ask about kids. But if someone is actively continuing a conversation about kids it is natural, and not at all insensitive, to ask if they kids.

          I think if you don’t want to discuss children / your family / thanksgiving plans etc turning the conversation early is a good trick – or pre-empting the question with a half answer. Although I appreciate that this isn’t always practical.

          I think I am also realising how absolutely alone I am in my new job. I’ve been here quite some time – and barely know anyone. I’d love for people to express some interest in me as a person, and it saddens me to think maybe they are interested, but are hyper-aware of potential for giving offence.

      2. Bk*

        I am a person who does not ever honestly answer the question ‘what are you doing this weekend’ at work because yes, for me, that’s too personal.

        But there’s absolutely no way you can equate that with questions about children or family. Surely you have to recognize the difference in scale there in potential awkwardness or distress. ‘There’s no way to 100% anticipate how every person on earth will respond to various small-talk questions’ is absolutely true but it can absolutely coexist with ‘but some questions we can easily anticipate are more likely to cause harm, and greater harm, than other questions’.

        I just had a conversation with a higher-up where he didn’t accept my brush-off answer to ‘what are you doing this weekend?’ and essentially kept digging until I made something up. That’s fine. I understand 100% (based on his attitude and tone and what I know of him) that he was trying to be friendly, and I don’t mind making something up if it helps him feel like he accomplished his goal in the conversation. If he’d done the same kind of follow-up on a question about children or family, that would be a very different story and might involve HR!

        1. Bk*

          Also, because it seems like some people are just not picking up why people are objecting to the ‘what about your family’ alternative – it is actually a more fraught question. The LW’s original question is fine, though it’s also understandable to want to brainstorm alternatives. ‘What about your family’ is objectively worse for a few reasons:
          1. You’re still hitting on the original concern. People who are dealing with fertility treatments, who have lost a child, etc. are just as capable of connecting ‘family’ and ‘children’ as you are.
          2. You are adding additional concerns, with regards to people who have poor relationships or recent deaths or other trauma with other members of their family.
          3. You have made the question more personal and invasive. It is no longer a simple yes-or-no question that the person can choose to elaborate on or not; it’s very difficult to answer ‘what about your family’ or ‘tell me about your family’ without any ommissions feeling pretty significant to the person speaking, even if you don’t intend to follow up or pry.

          This is not ‘some people can’t eat sandwiches’, this is ‘you are suggesting a pork-only barbeque as if it’s a more inclusive meal option’.

    3. Joielle*

      I like that one! That’s about as general as it gets while still showing some interest in the other person. I’m childfree and not really a kids person in general, but would be happy to talk about my pets, plants, or travels.

  17. Uk reader*


    as someone who is childfree by choice and firmly in that camp, it is tiring to have that question asked because if you answer honestly and say no i don’t have children or want children the reactions and comments back are challenging to manage. “oh you’ll change your mind, you haven’t met the right person yet, but you would be such a great mother, who will look after you when you are old” and on and on the comments come. its very disrespectful. even if someone is on the fence about having children, its none of your business.
    we are living a life path outside the societal norm, we are well aware of that, we dont need your opinions and shock to be put on us. This is why a lot of childfree people can come across as standoffish in our answers to this.
    Then there are those who are childless for a variety of reasons and that is a very painful topic for them.

    I encourage everyone, there are so many other questions you can ask people/colleagues to get to know them outside of the topic of children.

    1. KateM*

      Yes, but the context for this particular story is that the person has been very interested in LW2’s baby in the first place, and also she is not asking about why not or whatever.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Yes that would be rude, although tbh if you ask why not I might say I don’t want someone acting like a fool in my house and then we both look stupid

    2. Inkhorn*

      “You haven’t met the right person yet.”

      The illogic of this makes my brain cringe. If someone doesn’t want children, the right person for them will be someone who also doesn’t want children.

      Not that the Real Women Want Babies crowd is hugely strong on logic…

      1. londonedit*

        No no, you don’t understand. All women secretly want babies, even the silly ones who say they don’t. They do! They just haven’t realised it yet. Probably because they’ve been doing selfish things. Find them a Good Man and they’ll be pregnant within days!

    3. Susan*

      I habe similar problems with all questions related to own parents/family of origin. I grew up in a very toxic and abusive (and cult-like) home, and I therefore had to cut off my entire family (which was very small, in part because a few other members had gone no contact and basically vanished years before I did) more than a decade ago.

      Coworkers often seem to be shocked when I tell them “I’m no contact with my entire family. This also means I’m spending almost all holidays on my own, which I’m usually fine with. I had good reasons for going no contact but don’t want to talk about them.”

      However, it has become much easier over the years.

      The upside is that most people then refrain from asking why I don’t have a husband or children either.

    4. Spearmint*

      Where does this kind of logic lead though? For example, I’ve been going through a long and painful breakup, so does that mean people should never ask people if they’re in a relationship? Some people have eating disorders, does that mean we can’t ask people what they had for lunch now?

      There’s nothing wrong with asking people basic questions about their lives (as long as you don’t press when you realize you’ve got a sore spot). That’s how you get to know people. If people asking you basic questions about your life upsets you, that’s your problem to deal with.

      1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        I think the issue is not actually with the basic first question–it’s because there are so many people who DO press, and/or who completely fail to realize they’ve hit a sore spot. The initial “do you have kids?” “what are you having for lunch?” “are you seeing someone?” questions are normal. But the follow-ups/negative reactions when your answer deviates from what the questioner expects are what turn those initial questions into something upsetting. Like, most of us just want people to accept the answer we gave, and not try to cajole us into giving more info/explanations/changing our minds.

      2. Purple Halo*

        This is what I’m struggling with with some suggestions.

        I think we all (or at least all the comments I’ve read) agree that it’s inappropriate to push a question, important to read the room and important to know that what is an innocuous question for you, might be painful for someone else.

        The disagreement appears to be with whether you therefore should never ask questions in the first place (or at least never that question).

    5. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      I’m childfree and I don’t mind the first question, but like you say, it’s the reactions and comments and follow up questions that make it so exhausting. I have found that I get fewer follow up questions if I respond to the first question with a laugh and reply like it’s the most absurd question I’ve ever heard, a la *laugh* + “Oh, no, I definitely don’t have kids.”
      IF I want to let the person know that it’s not because I hate kids, I’ll add “It’s much more fun being an aunt and spoiling other people’s kids.” But mostly I just act like they’re insane for even asking, and that seems to cut down on most of the extra questions–if I do get one, I just keep the same “yeah, no, not a chance” vibe, which pretty effectively stops it.

      Though I will say, the funniest time I got a question related to me having/not having kids was when I was telling some of my coworkers about how my husband and I were going to start fostering (cats). One of them missed the “cats” part of what I said, and she (being a parent of 3 herself and knowing that we have never wanted kids, but still like them) was like “are you sure you want to start with fostering 3 at once? That might be a lot.” When I replied that the worst part is keeping the litterboxes clean, she was visibly relieved. “Oh, you mean fostering cats?! I thought you were talking about kids, and I was trying not to be rude!”

  18. Delilah*

    LW#2, obviously this is very different for different people, but as someone who is having difficulties with fertility and was asked “do you have kids?” by a colleague very recently after joining in with a conversation about kids (which can be hard to avoid without making it very obvious depending on the situation, but also I like kids so it’s nice hearing about them!), it was painful having to answer no – if you can find a more general alternative to asking about someone’s life that you feel comfortable with then please do just in case.

    Aside from it being a sore point though, it also made me very conscious that I was talking to a colleague and I didn’t want to give any impression of trying in the very small chance it would effect anything to do with my work – really something I shouldn’t have to think about but I think it affected my demeanour!

  19. Green great dragon*

    LW3, the admin’s asked, they know George, they know what he’s like. You’re presumably happy to be paired with a different man so it’s not going to come over as LW can only socialise with other females, and the admin’s offered. Sounds like the people most likely to hear about it will understand this is a George problem, not an LW problem. As they should.

  20. I am Kenough*

    I had a stillborn baby last year, and workplace interactions are still by far the hardest. But the best piece of advice that stuck with me was: you don’t owe strangers your story or your truth. So generally I answer questions like ‘do you have kids?’ with a pause and then “no”, and move the conversation on.
    I think it’s an ok question to ask, but read the room and be prepared to change the subject!

    1. LW 2*

      Thank you for sharing your perspective, I truly appreciate it. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    2. Pikachu*

      I started a new job within a month of losing a pregnancy. I was 23 weeks along.

      Every time someone asked was a punch to the gut. But that’s what people want to talk about at work, so you just have to deal with it. My husband and I separated a few months after, so I also got another round of uncomfortable questioning when he did not accompany me to the holiday party. I usually just left to the bathroom to cry a bit if I needed to, put my game face back on and went back to be a functional work person again (or at least look like one).

      It’s the same thing as coming home and opening your mailbox to find more free samples of formula. Or the catalog I got in the mail a year later full of decorations and supplies for baby’s first birthday.

      I’m sorry for your loss. It’s a terrible thing to endure.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        I am so, so sorry for everything you have been through.

        It sounds less like this is an inappropriate question to ask and more that you didn’t get appropriate time to grieve your terrible situations.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      I am so sorry for your loss.

      I have seen some people online make bold statements that some normal questions are blatantly inappropriate. For instance, “Do you have siblings?” was considered a bad question to ask by a young woman who had lost her brother a few years before. I would argue that the initial question is okay and that the problem occurs if someone continues to ask questions or discuss the topic after it’s become clear that they don’t want to discuss it. Following other’s cues is vital.

      Alas, outside of my main team members, I do mainly stick to discussions about the weather.

  21. Boss Scaggs*

    I hope #3 gets to switch teams, and on the 18th hole it comes down to OP and George to decide the game, George misses a putt and OP sinks hers for the win

  22. Rachel*

    My organization has all time off (sick and vacation) in one PTO bucket in part because they don’t want to determine what is a legitimate sick time and what is not.

    What started this whole debacle is somebody who needed regular time off for adult braces. Debates went back and forth on if this is cosmetic or medical necessity and which bucket their time off should come from. The next calendar year, all PTO was the same.

    1. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

      I had braces when I was in my forties and was able to treat it as medical time off. I was seeing a doctor, who also had to address pain issues.

      I prefer having everything in one bucket. Keeps my business to myself unless I want to share.

    2. JulieBoeBooley*

      That’s interesting. At my company, if we leave, PTO is paid out but sick time is not. How is one bucket handled in that situation, is it all paid out?

      1. SometimesCharlotte*

        In my experience, if it’s in one bucket, it’s been all paid out. Which I love and hate. I love the idea of having my sick time paid out. I hate the idea that people are incentivized to come to work sick so they both have more vacation time and more payout!

  23. claritymoon*

    LW#3 – if you feel able to, you could respond to his little ‘jokes’ by asking him to explain them. “Why would I want my office painted pink? I don’t get it?” If he’s not completely oblivious, the ensuing awkwardness should highlight the inappropriate nature of his comments and make him think twice before doing it again…

    1. NaoNao*

      You know…I think this advice is well intentioned and might even work, but I’ve been thinking about women acting like they “don’t get” sexist remarks and I believe that may actually be reinforcing stereotypes about women being clueless, innocent, ditsy, and so on.

      I would consider a lighthearted but sharp zinger about the same level as George’s own remarks–give as good as she got. Something like “that’s right, and I’m putting a fainting couch in their too” with a smirk (or something).

      It’s been my experience that if one tries this “explain it to me” with the head tilt and the frowny face to these dinosaurs one gets marked down as a humorless b— or a tightass whereas if one zings back, one may get reluctant respect. Now whether or not you *want* that respect is another story.

      1. Silver Robin*

        or they think it is okay to make the jokes and you are “one of the guys”/”not like other girls” blegh.

        there is no surefire way to win, so go with whatever works for you.

        Personally, I am down to be the humorless b**** because it returns awkward to sender and lands the issue at *their* feet instead of making it my job to find the perfectly intoned joke that will manage their fragile sexist emotions. I generally balance this out by being warm and friendly to the not-sexist folks so the connection between action/reaction is clear.

      2. Esprit de l'escalier*

        I agree. I think I would go with a lighthearted “Oh George is being ridiculous again!” every other time, alternating it with “Oh George that is so dumb!” Or maybe, to emphasize how out of touch he is with the world as it is now, “Oh George thinks it’s still 1950 and there are no women MEs!” if that is not too ageist.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        Yeah, it’s a difficult needle to thread. Be too “innocent” (especially if the sexist remark is also sexual) and you reinforce stereotypes, be too flippant/cool about it and it comes off like it’s all in good fun, be too serious and risk being the stick in the mud and hurting your standing and career… there’s no winning strategy really.

        I try to do a mix of all of these, judging by remark and who is there to hear my reaction. I used to be more into zinging back, but the older I get, the more I’m really ok with being a stick in the mud. I care less if I’m liked, and I’m more secure that people respect me.

        The pink thing in the past I’ve either given a history lesson (“did you know pink used to be the boy’s color and blue for women/girls?”), or raised eyebrows + silence and let the stupidity hang there.

  24. Shiba Dad*

    OP3 – to make this scenario worse, you could get stuck sharing a cart with George. Do you really want to share a cart for 18 holes with George?

    You may not have much of a choice if George is old enough to qualify for the Senior tees. On a lot of courses the Senior tees are close to or the same as the Ladies tees. It would make sense to put the two of you together if that were the case.

    You know that he would insist on driving.

  25. a medical librarian*

    For #4, I don’t think it makes sense to split hairs about what types of studies count as “healthcare” or not. Observation studies are often not care, because they do not involve treatment, while “we give you a drug and observe the results” sometimes ARE care – those are usually done in two steps, one for safety on healthy adults, and one for efficacy on people who have the relevant disease. But in any case, I don’t think an employee should have to describe a study that they join to their manager so that they can decide whether that particular study can count as “healthcare” to that individual or not, especially since I would guess most laypeople don’t know a lot about how clinical trials work.

    This is all sort of moot, because of the OP is doing the study purely for the money they likely aren’t getting it for care, but I just think that the second part of the answer felt a little off to me.

  26. WokeUpFellOutOfBed*

    #2- As someone who had a scary, high-risk pregnancy and almost had a stillbirth, I do not think there is anything wrong with asking someone if they have kids- if they leave it at that. It’s a perfectly normal part of conversation. Obviously don’t ask it in an interview, though. Note, this is different than, “Do you plan on having kids,” or even, “Do you want kids?” That’s getting into “trigger” territory. In this hypersensitive, woke culture, we can only control so much when it comes to triggering people.

    1. M. from P.*

      I think it’s great when people are thoughtful about how an off-hand comment might affect another person!

      I have to say I do not miss the un-woke times when it was okay to make many kinds of bigoted or just plain insensitive/cruel comments that are much less likely to fly today. It’s certainly still not great but I think overall it’s a change in the right direction.

      1. Alice in wonderland*

        I think it just gets exhausting when OP has clearly explained the circumstances in which she asks this question, it’s clearly appropriate (people have asked her enthusiastically about her own kids), and then several commenters are jumping in to point out how it could be inappropriate if the person doesn’t want to answer or if they respond to a “no” with further invasive questions or comments indicating that’s a bad thing (e.g. too bad, why not, etc).

        The comments about how to rephrase the question to be more open-ended are welcome (I particularly like “How about you? Tell me about yourself!”). The ones pointing out, yet again, that not everyone can have sandwiches and so OP had better not say anything at all, can be a bit much.

        1. Punk*

          It’s because people are basing their responses on their personal experiences, because it’s hard to parse personal experience vs general norms, and people should be allowed to draw conclusions based on the things that have happened to them. If I had a new manager who was clearly eager to talk about her kids, I would feel obligated to kowtow and ask about them even if it wasn’t a conversation I actually wanted to have. And it might just be how the letter is written, but she doesn’t mention having these conversations about anything other than kids. So people who don’t ask about kids aren’t getting the same interactions with management that parents are getting, and that’s how these things start to snowball. Management is a new mom so she bonds with the other parents, and what about the rest of us who have fulfilling lives but are never asked about them?

          The short response to your frustration is “we’ve seen this before, and it tends to play out in a predictable way that will exclude me in other contexts.” It’s not that LW is asking about kids. It’s that she’s not getting to know anyone who isn’t a parent, and managers have an obligation to be more on top of the people element. I’m tired of politely listening to people talk about their wedding planning and baby showers (things outside of my frame of reference) when I know they won’t ask me about vinyl shopping at the flea market, or whatever other thing I did that they feel comfortable indicating they’re not interested in. Just because it’s the status quo doesn’t mean we can’t do better.

          1. Alice in wonderland*

            People going out of their way to apply personal experience that is *directly contrary* to the explanations given is always going to be annoying. It is possible to provide helpful advice without implying OP is out of line for perfectly normal behaviour.

      2. Jackalope*

        Yes, this. We are still fumbling around and trying to figure out how to have conversations that are kind and sensitive to other people, so sometimes we go too far one direction or another. That’s to be expected during a culture change moment like this. But I have to say that I’d 100% rather be around someone who is actively trying to be kind and is maybe going too far in their attempts to avoid possibly sensitive topics than someone in the, “Geez, you just can’t say anything these days!” category who is proud of the fact that they refuse to use kindness in choosing their vocab and topics of conversation.

      3. londonedit*

        Yeah, it’s nothing to do with being ‘woke’ (which, by the way, as far as I can work out seems to mean ‘actually caring about other people’) – it’s just about the fact that surely the world would be a better place if we just took a second to consider that not everyone’s experience is the same as our own.

        1. WokeUpFellOutOfBed*

          Well, of course! We’re in agreement there-we are all a product of our own unique upbringing. But there is nothing inherently wrong with ASKING someone if they have children. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’d also ask people if they have pets, or a garden, or if they’ve read any good books lately. Mountains out of molehills here, peeps.

          1. londonedit*

            Those things aren’t the same as asking someone about children, or parents, or any number of topics that quite obviously might be difficult. If you think your right to ask whatever you feel like asking takes precedence over the fact that you might be bringing up a painful topic, then no we’re not on the same page. It’s not about ‘triggering’ or ‘snowflakes’ or anything like that – it’s about context. In the context of work, especially where I don’t know someone well, I’m not going to crash around conversationally, assuming they have children or a husband or a mother or a religion or whatever. Those things are ripe for difficulty. As someone who tries to be a nice human being, I’d rather wait for people to tell me about those things by themselves – generally, if someone has kids it’ll come up organically in conversation anyway – instead of potentially causing harm.

            1. yvve*

              but “do you have kids” doesnt assume anything! its pretty normal, many people have kids and many dont,and as long as youre not being judgemental or pushy about it, its really no more triggering than “are you married” or “so do you like to travel?”

              1. Burger Bob*

                Agreed. I don’t have kids, don’t want them, and since we officially gave my husband a vasectomy last year, we can’t have them anyway. I truly do not care if people ask if I have kids. It always feels a little odd because the imaginary version of my life where I do have kids feels very foreign to me, but it’s a pretty reasonable thing to ask a woman in her 30s. What I do care about is if they respond with some kind of judgement when I say no. But if they just roll with it and move on and act like no is a normal answer (because it is), then it’s just another innocuous getting-to-know-you question.

            2. penny dreadful analyzer*

              Do you think asking people about pets can’t be difficult? People have a lot of strong feelings around pets!

              (I’ve also been known to have to do a bit of mental scrambling when people ask me what book I’m reading and it’s a book about politics in a situation where I don’t want to discuss politics, but fortunately I read a lot so I can usually just go back a few books until I find one that’s safe enough to discuss)

              1. Emmy Noether*

                Also, some people tend to react really weirdly when they find out that one doesn’t particularly care for animals and certainly doesn’t want any. Sort of like some people react when somebody doesn’t want children.

                I don’t volunteer the info that I don’t like animals (I don’t dislike them or wish them harm, I’m just not interested, and I don’t want any in my personal space), but that takes some quick subject changes sometimes, again smilar to the children thing.

                1. penny dreadful analyzer*

                  Ha, in the last year or so I’ve moved out of shared housing where my housemates had cats, into my own condo. Apparently most people’s thought process about this is “penny dreadful doesn’t have to work around other people’s cats anymore, so she can get her own now!” I’ve developed quite a repertoire of socially acceptable ways to explain that I’m not getting a cat, because people will think I’m a grouch if I just say “Hell naw, I’m enjoying finally living somewhere clean and quiet!”

                2. yvve*

                  ooh, hate that– ive got neither dogs nor children, but ive personally gotten way more pushy people asking why i dont like dogs. i just dont care for them! they are smelly and loud and needy, this doesnt mean i hate animals or have no feelings, yeesh!

              2. Kay*

                You just reminded me of when I asked someone about their dog – imagine my horror when they broke down crying because it has just died.

            3. WokeUpFellOutOfBed*

              I agree best if it comes up organically in the work setting. I wouldn’t just randomly blurt out the question, but the phrasing, “Do you have kids?” is not harmful or assuming or triggering. I work for a children’s hospital so I guess I’m not as offended as some of the commenters going off the rails here.

    2. Happily Retired*

      I’d rather be “woke” than comatose. Erring on the side of kindness is my preference.

    3. Admin Lackey*

      Quickly: How do you define woke? Because no one who uses that word the way you do ever has a good answer

        1. Leenie*

          “In this hypersensitive, woke culture, we can only control so much when it comes to triggering people.”

          Most of your comment read as perfectly reasonable. But that ending sentence seems to be not just looking for a debate, but rather itching for one. Don’t throw bombs and then pretend to be surprised that people react to them.

    4. ina*

      I don’t know if it’s really “hypersensitive” or “woke” to mind your own business…

      1. WokeUpFellOutOfBed*

        Not sure it’s about minding your own business as much as interpreting a simple question as offensive, triggering and all-assuming. Could be argued that a question like, “What are you doing this weekend?” is butting into someone’s business. Can’t win.

    5. Dahlia*

      The way you’re using “triggering” to mean “upset” is also really off-putting, by the way.

  27. The Person from the Resume*

    I’m surprised there’s not much said about #1 because that is some egregious appearance of favortism and inpropriety.

    Jim and Sasha are very obviously closer and Jim is more friendly and more casual (personal texting) than with any other of his employees and …

    Jim has pushed for her to get a raise, secured a better office for her (despite the fact that there are more senior people in worse ones), and gives her work that is high profile but easy, then sends emails highlighting her success to me and my boss, who hands out kudos.

    This is terrible. I suspect there’s impropriety even if it’s just Jim likes Sasha only as a friend more than he likes any of his other employees and he’s giving her all the perks he can because he likes her more. This is so bad, it must be dealt with now.

    As Alison said, it’s not about if there’s an affair or even just a mutual or one-sided attraction. I don’t think there’s any question that Jim has already shown bias already, and everyone else he supervises knows because they have been there the whole time before the LW’s office moved. It needs to stop ASAP. I actually think Jim needs to stop managing her ASAP because he has crossed very far across the line of appropriate behavior that he won’t be able to pull it back. Does that look like moving Sasha or demoting or moving Jim? IDK, that makes it harder but LW needs to take action now.

    1. Clisby*

      Also, OP says Sasha is new to her career. It’s easy to say she should know better than to behave like this, but Jim *really* should know better and instead is encouraging her to think it’s OK.

      1. Susan*

        I agree – if Sasha happens to be a decent person overall, she deserves better, too. In any case, she needs to learn how to get along with everyone in a team where she is not unfairly favored.

      2. The Person from the Resume*

        Jim is the biggest problem. He is failing at his job of managing fairly, and there’s probably some serious morale issues and job hunting going on on his team because everyone else knows that Sasha will get the opportunites, the bigger office, and the next promotion. That is why I mention a demotion for Jim as a possibility. He needs to stop supervising Sasha.

        Another option is moving Sasha, but I agree she’s not showing the favoritism (just taking advantage of it or accepting it) so she’s not really at fault. It’s just that it may be easier to move her – lateral transfer – than to move Jim if the LW decides that Jim can be taught the error of his ways and do better going forward. But I don’t think he can do better while supervising Sasha. It’s gone too far for that. And as a human being, Jim won’t be able to turn off the feelings (plantonic or romantic) he has for Sasha that led him to favor her in the first place.

      3. SereneScientist*

        Yes, agreed here. The responsibility lays with Jim to behave as equitably with his whole team.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Yes, letting this go on is not really in Sasha’s long-term best interests. She may not realize that getting a reputation as the favorite of a particular manager, instead of building her own record of accomplishment, will eventually come back to bite her.

    3. Unipotamus*

      I had similar thoughts. For someone new in their career, it’s possible Sasha is not aware of how this dynamic could tank people’s perception of her as competent and professional.

      Even without the overt flirting, which is unprofessional in a work setting and could be grounds for an HR complaint for a whole host of reasons down the road, people will tend to take a manager’s favorite person less seriously than others. The fact that she’s new could hurt her further. Afterall, her colleagues don’t have additional context or history to consider. If his team is seeing even more of this blatant favoritism than OP, then resentment is likely building.

      Either Jim knows what he’s doing or it hasn’t occurred to him. I’m not sure which is worse!

      Seems like Jim should be immediately removed from managing Sasha, and some management remediation needs to happen ASAP. This is a massive problem from so many angles.

      1. Tupac Coachella*

        Or Sasha could be perfectly aware that other people notice and their opinions of her are impacted, but not realize that it matters-if JIM sees her value and is helping her out, who cares what the “haters” think? She may not be aware enough of how workplace dynamics work to understand that your peer today can be your grandboss tomorrow, or your interviewer at your next job, or the person in the ear of someone besides Jim who has cool new projects to hand out and has no patience for someone who might expect special treatment (whether it’s true that she would or not, that’s a reasonable thing to wonder if you’re aware she’s been receiving it).

  28. Punk*

    LW2: I would just make sure you ferret out some other information about the people who don’t have kids. Are they big readers? Super into classic films? Obsessed with their local farmer’s market? There’s a risk of seeming like you only want to talk about kids since it’s the thing that’s relevant to you right now, but that means you’ll be having frequent conversations and gaining familiarity with some people over others, based on a perceived personal preference or social hierarchy. Women who aren’t married or who don’t have kids are often shut out of the conversation at work, and while its fine for you to talk about it, since you’re asking, you should make sure to ask other people about other things, even if those things aren’t your primary interest. As in, if I politely listen to someone’s story about their kids, whom I don’t know, I do expect that person to listen to my thoughts on the last book I read, even if they’ve never heard if it.

  29. Cinnamon Hair*

    I personally don’t like being asked if I have kids. I’m child-free by choice and don’t have any fertility problems that I’m aware of, but I find the question off-putting regardless. That’s just my quirk though.

    1. Alice in wonderland*

      I think that it’s normal for people to reciprocate interest. That’s part of building relationships. If someone brings up their kids and you ask a lot of questions and seem interested, you have them the opportunity to share about something they like. Them asking “do you have kids” is returning the opportunity to you.

      If I was giving advice to OP I’d do what Alison said and make sure you pay attention to how much enthusiasm others are showing. But if I was giving advice to you I’d say don’t show enthusiastic interest to an aspect of someone’s life you don’t want them to ask about in yours, because social convention will likely compel them to reciprocate.

      1. ina*

        > Them asking “do you have kids” is returning the opportunity to you.

        This whole conversation is enlightening on this topic because I feel I am very social and I don’t think I’ve ever had to invite people to share when we’re discussing a mutually relevant topic. Usually bringing it up (I have a dog, I have a kid, I have a Dyson vacuum, etc) is enough for someone else who identifies with it to feel comfortable sharing – this has always been my experience and my idea of a social norm.

        > But if I was giving advice to you I’d say don’t show enthusiastic interest to an aspect of someone’s life you don’t want them to ask about in yours, because social convention will likely compel them to reciprocate.

        This is rather dour to me. You can express joy for someone without needing anything in return and I push back on this being social convention – I’ve celebrated many births, expressed condolences, and talked effusively about people’s pets with them without people asking me things back…because I think they assume if I didn’t share, it’s not relevant to poke. I maintain some of the alternate phrases in this thread as a whole would creep me out, particularly – “you seem to know a lot about babies” is just…ah, yes, thank you…? I was a baby once myself…one year experience or there about’s….

        1. Alice in wonderland*

          Not trying to be dour, just trying to point out it’s normal human behaviour to reciprocate. Again, I said the advice I’d give anyone in OP’s position is to look for cues — considering some of the phrasing here id also a good option. But if certain common conversation topics are off limits to you, I think it’s good to be aware how conversations are likely to go and why. Knowing how humans are likely to interact can help you choose the best conversation paths for yourself.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      I’m child-free through luck and choice. Luckily I did not get married before I finally worked out that I did not want children, but I always just assumed I would have them because that’s what everyone does. Apparently some people like actually desire the responsibility of having children; who knew? I just thought it was something you had to do. The defualt to being a normal human adult meant you got married and had kids.

      And that underlying assumption is the problem / the off-putting part, I bet. It’s that having children is the default **NORMAL** and anyone who is not choosing marriage and kids is odd, wierd, unusual, must have a problem. And that assumption that kids is the default is extra burdensome for women because sexism assumes that the woman has a great materal drive but the man not as much paternal drive. And that the woman will **naturally** assume a much greater burdern of childcare.

    3. Joielle*

      Childfree by choice here too. I don’t mind being asked per se, but it always puts my hackles up a bit because WAY too many people keep pushing after I say no. If someone asks and then is normal about it, that honestly raises my opinion of them because of how rare it is!

      1. Clisby*

        I don’t understand why people find it difficult to believe someone doesn’t want children. It’s almost like they defensively think the person is judging *them* for having children.

        I don’t want dogs. I don’t want my own, I don’t want yours anywhere around me. But if you love dogs, then I’m glad you have a dog you love. Just don’t nag me that I’d love a dog if I just gave it a try. I wouldn’t, and putting a dog in my care would not be a kindness to the dog.

  30. HonorBox*

    OP1 – You definitely need to say something. Even if it is nothing, the appearance to others may be that it is something. And you don’t want team members feeling like they’re somehow getting “less than” because their manager has a more friendly relationship with a teammate.

    OP2 – What about steering completely away from kids and just asking them to tell you a bit about them. That opens a door more widely for them and perhaps allows you to get some insight into who they are more than just a parent.

  31. Fiona*

    I honestly don’t see the point in asking someone if they have kids – if they DO, you’ll find out very soon regardless. (Parents tend to bring up their children, either in conversation or the logistics of childcare). If they don’t, then asking has the potential to be uncomfortable. I just don’t think it’s worth it – you can ask all kinds of other mundane friendly questions and keep the conversation moving. I understand that in the case of the OP, it feels weird not to ask if they’re being peppered with interest about their own child but I just think people will volunteer this information if they’re indeed fellow parents.

    1. ina*

      Exactly. For me, OP is a new momma. People will ask about her baby because they know she likely wants to talk about the baby and they are happy for her, or at least, understand this is something big that’s happened in her life recently and want to give her some space for that. It’s polite and if you like a person even a little, you are happy they’re happy. Besides, in proper social situations, if someone tells you any news…you follow up on it. It’s hard to just go “oh ok, cool, anyway on the agenda…” when someone shares something personal or you’re making small talk before a meeting.

      Them: “My weekend was great, thanks for asking! My son just graduated from college!”
      Everyone else: “That’s great! Congrats, what did he major in?”
      Them: “Math!”
      Everyone who feels then inclined: “Oh my daughter majored in statistics at XYZ University / What are his plans? / oh, wow, that seems tough! / etc, etc, etc”

      I doubt anyone sincerely you have to solicit people at all. Anyone who wants to keep talking on the subject will, if the place & time allow. Just let them take the lead here, OP. In the least charitable view OP, you come off as nosy and tone-deaf if you ask.

  32. Jen*

    LW 1: please address this with the manager. The other people in his team have likely noticed it too (esp since you noticed after only a day or two near them and they always sit there) and are fed up with it. If you’re hesitating to address it, then I can imagine how they feel. They’re probably doubting that it’s an issue or maybe even afraid to sound jealous/bitter about not getting the same praise as her if they go to you or HR about it. You’re the only person with the authority to address it, so please do it!

  33. Sister George Michael*

    Definitely don’t ask ‘why don’t you have any kids’ like a colleague with a small child asked me (middle aged lady)!!

  34. Parenthesis Guy*

    LW #1 – Having a conversation with Jim may be necessary about this relationship and professional norms. Possibly Sasha also although not both of them together.

    I’d probably have this conversation after either moving Sasha or Jim to a different team. If there’s a reason why these two people need to be on the same team, then that’s a challenge. But it seems to me (and I could be wrong about this) like teams are reasonably interchangeable.

    I might also talk to other people on Jim’s team to get their perspective before doing anything. Their insights would be valuable, but it would place them in a difficult position.

    1. MsM*

      I do suspect there may not be a solution here that doesn’t involve removing Sasha from Jim’s chain of command somehow, but I don’t think OP needs to involve Jim’s team. They’ve seen enough to feel uncomfortable with what they’ve observed. That’s enough to say “this is not an appropriate dynamic for you to have with a subordinate, and it needs to be addressed.”

      1. HonorBox*

        I’d agree with the comment about not involving the rest of the team. They’re going to be put in a very tough spot. It may be extremely uncomfortable for them to be fully honest. And the LW doesn’t really need their thoughts, given what the LW has seen themself. Better to just address it with Jim directly.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      That was my first thought as well, to move Sasha. But you’d want to talk to a lawyer first, I think, because if the move can in any way be considered harmful/punitive to Sasha, then you have a potential sexual harassment claim on your hands.

      1. Parenthesis Guy*

        Can’t hurt to talk with legal, but if the teams are reasonably similar and require the same skill set, then it shouldn’t be an issue. Especially if people get moved for reasons.

  35. Safely Retired*

    I can appreciate not wanting to make “a thing” over the one older, male coworker’s remarks, but what keeps coming to my mind is a bit confrontational. Imagine that after one such remark…

    “Do you mind if I ask you a question? I work with a lot of different people here, but you are the only one who makes comments like that. What I’m wondering is, why is that? Why is it just you?”

  36. Capt. Dunkirk*

    When a parent is talking to me about their kids, I’ve noticed that a lot of times I’ll hear the phrasing, “I don’t know if you have kids, but with my kids… [parenting story here].”

    I think that works well because it leaves enough of an opening that the listener can jump in to say if and how many kids they have without being intrusive, but that opening is small enough that it’s not awkward at all if it’s completely skipped over.

    Being a non-parent, I’ve always skipped over it and have never felt a negative reaction for it.

    1. Clisby*

      “I only have cats, but they’re just as aggravating!”

      (Actually, I have kids and cats, and the kids are more aggravating.

  37. Miss Manners 2.0*

    LW #2 I think you’re fine to continue on the way you have been! Humans are weird and we sometimes step on each others toes (both literally and metaphorically). It’s ok! Avoid it when possible, apologize when you do, and move on.

    You’re only asking somebody if they have kids after they’ve demonstrated a specific interest in babies, which is totally reasonable. If you followed a “never ask anybody if they have kids” rule, you’d end up coming off as a rude to somebody else who expressed enthusiasm about your baby and was expecting a reciprocal interest in their life.

    Who knows what prompted that reaction? Maybe all sorts of tragic or traumatic things, or maybe she didn’t hear you properly and was thinking about her lunch that day! The point is, as long as your tone is clearly friendly, non-judgemental, and conveying “I’m just trying to get to know you a bit,” I think you’re in the clear.

  38. Not a Mama*

    LW#1: I’m childfree and this question makes me uncomfortable when asked because more often than not, it results in more questions about when I’ll have children. Then followed by, “you still have time!”, “you’ll change your mind!”, “everyone needs to have at least x amount of kids!”, “how selfish!”, “you don’t know what you’re talking about, just have one, you’d not regret it!”, etc. All of those comments I have heard in professional settings.

    And I know of a colleague who would love to be a parent, but due to medical reasons, she’s unable to have children.

    This question should never be asked in a professional or personal setting.

  39. oranges*

    LW3- Definitely request to be moved to a different team! Especially if the admin asked you first. She likely told you because she KNOWS he’s a sexist creep who says dumb and inappropriate things to you (and probably her). She’s giving you an opportunity to request a change. Take it!

    I’ve also found that people ask for way more things at work than I could ever imagine. Several years ago I had a small, but important-to-me request that I toiled about for weeks. Didn’t want to to seem high maintenance. Once I finally mustered up the courage to ask, I was told that it was totally small potatoes and beyond easy to do. “You have no idea the frequent fliers that come in here complaining and demanding things” Very eye opening.

  40. Charlotte McFeely*

    LW 2, I’ve just lost my baby, we had to terminate at 23 weeks pregnant due to medical issues. I wouldn’t think twice if you asked me in the context you describe. If I didn’t want to discuss children I wouldn’t ask any questions following your initial disclosure that you’d been on maternity leave. I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I can’t see that you’ve done anything wrong here.

  41. not a hippo*

    Jim is doing Sasha a huge disservice here. Anything she accomplishes will be seen as a product of nepotism/favoritism, whether it is or not.

    If you have the capital, definitely speak to Jim and possibly Sasha. Keep it factual but honest.

    Good luck!

  42. Orsoneko*

    A year ago, I was in a very similar situation to LW 2, with similar concerns after the fact that I’d asked an inappropriate question. I’m happy to see Alison confirm that my instincts were not completely off-base. I struggled with infertility and pregnancy loss prior to conceiving my son, and I was pretty much an emotional raw wound when it came to other people’s pregnancies and children. I absolutely felt like other people were getting pregnant AT me (and of course I know this feeling was irrational and uncharitable, which just made me feel worse, especially when the person getting pregnant at me was my own sister). So believe me, I get it. There was a version of me that would have erupted into a mushroom cloud of grief, self-pity, and resentment if asked whether I had children.

    But that version of me would never have initiated a cheerful conversation about anything with someone who had just returned from maternity leave, let alone a cheerful conversation specifically about their new baby. So if someone was actively asking about my baby and didn’t appear at all distressed or uncomfortable when I answered, I figured it was probably okay to ask if they had kids.

  43. EthelSamantha*

    I disagree strongly regarding LW4. No matter the motivation for participating in a study, it’s medical care. Letter writer could easily get a doctors note. And as has been mentioned many times on this page, our health is no ones business at work.
    Study and trial participants are vital to creating and improving medicine. Letter writer would be doing something great and shouldn’t be penalized because of their motivation.

    1. Jane*

      Studies and trials are vital to creating and improving medicine at a systemic level, but generally the intention of paid sick leave in our current framework is that it’s being paid out due to your or a family/household member’s actual, current medical need, which isn’t happening in this case.

    2. LJ*

      Volunteering at a host of places is good for society. Op has replied that it’s not a situation where they have the condition in question, just as a healthy volunteer

    3. ina*

      If the study is clinical, there is likely an MD attached to it somewhere who would be happy to write a note to get the participant to a study visit but I doubt it would be good enough for the job if they have a strict medical leave policy. Study visits are often in a person’s medical record if they get any treatment or consultation from a clinician, however it’s always classified as research rather than medical care.

      FWIW, I agree that a study visit is a good use of a sick day. Some research procedures do take a lot out of you – there are some common, mildly invasive research procedures out there (like a research endoscopy, etc) that a rest day would be helpful for… and in these cases, if you’re getting a procedure done, that IS medical….even if voluntary. You could debate at this point if any voluntary surgery or non-medical procedure counts toward a sick day at this point and I don’t know — I just think sick days don’t need to be policed this closely as a result.

  44. DrSalty*

    If the medical study is focused on treating a disease or condition you already have then I think it’s fair to use sick time. However, you are a healthy volunteer I think Alison is right.

  45. Don't Be Longsuffering*

    Depending on how long the situation with Jim and Sasha has been going on (anything over a couple of months), if I were another member of that team, the only solution I would find acceptable would be for Jim to be moved to another team. There’s no way the awkward hasn’t already affected the team. Even if they stop, no one will believe the favoritism isn’t continuing.

  46. ina*

    LW#2: Stop asking at all and for the reason you identified. If folks have kids or kids in their lives, they usually volunteer it. It’s a very, very awkward question in general (infertility, people who face family pressure to have kids but aren’t ready so it’s a sore spot, lost a child, against kids for themselves but like kids in general & don’t want to get into it at them moment, etc) and if you were the father rather than the mother, I think people would immediately see this.

    I don’t think its a good idea to ask “do you have kids in your life” or what another person said similar to “you know a lot about babies!” You’re a new mom – you can talk about your baby, especially if people ask. I see people replying about themselves as obvious here without you asking or needing to solicit it.

    1. HonorBox*

      I disagree. While I pointed out upthread that a more general question might be better, I don’t think this is “don’t ask” territory at all, provided the questions aren’t probing. This is a simple exercise in getting to know someone.

  47. HearTwoFour*

    #2, instead of asking direct questions, why not ask an open-ended question about something they want to actually tell you? I am childfree by choice, and prefer not to be asked about that in professional settings. But there are other things about me that I’d love to tell someone who wants to know me a bit better. Asking if I have kids is not going to uncover that information.

  48. Ladycrim*

    LW#3: if it’s within your power at all, can you arrange to get George’s office painted Barbie pink? “Well, you were talking so enthusiastically about the color…”

  49. A person*

    I don’t and won’t have children. I’m female close to 40. I don’t necessarily care if someone asks me if I have kids (especially if we were discussing their kids – it seems a natural question to ask in that situation) as long as the response to “no” or “no, but I love spending time with my niece” isn’t met with any judgment. That’s where people usually go wrong. The question itself is innocent enough but if it’s followed up with rude comments or more invasive questions then it becomes an issue.

    It sounds to me like LW is handling this situation just fine though. Being aware that it could be a fraught question and reading their audience and responding accordingly.

  50. Catabouda*

    For LW2 – I try very hard to use “Tell me about your family.” vs asking specifically about kids. “Family” can mean anything, and allows people to only share what they are comfortable with.

  51. TCPA*

    LW2: My default question in this scenario is: “Do you have special kiddos in your life?” This is only in response to someone asking questions about my kid. Lots of folks tell me about nieces, nephews, etc. if they aren’t a parent themselves! It seems to work well.

    In general though, I don’t ask if people have kids (or a partner) as a way of making small talk or general conversation. And I definitely don’t ask if people are planning to have kids! I also like to ask, “How do you spend your time?” instead of “What do you do for work?” since it cuts out the assumption that someone is currently employed, and opens it up for discussion about hobbies too!

  52. ElenaSSF*

    As sick pay goes I’ve never had a job that offered more than 10 days and most went 5 or none or pretend sick pay in that it comes out of your now not 10 but 13 days of PTO. Expecting more seems odd unless you’re very high up the corporate food chain.

  53. Former_Employee*

    I’m retired and very much of an age where many of my cohort have grandchildren. I have no problem talking about my nieces and nephews, that a number of them are married with children, and how I can’t believe that some of those children are already in their teens.

    The funny thing is that while I never wanted children, I was always interested in hearing about my co-workers’ kids and seeing pictures. (I was probably one of the few who genuinely enjoyed seeing the often-dreaded flip book of pictures of the new baby.)

    Most people have one or more children in their lives so if they express interest in their co-worker’s new little one, I see no harm in asking that type of question.

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