a hoarder at work is causing a mouse problem

A reader writes:

I work in a lab at a university. Back in August, we starting noticing mice. One of the employees in a leadership position, Julie, has a hoarding problem. Her office is full of so many piles of stuff you can’t walk through it, and there are closets full of her stuff as well. She has brought back seeds and organic material from all over the world, and the mice definitely originated in one of these piles of stuff. They are now all over the lab.

We had university facilities come to make a pest control plan. They took one look at Julie’s office and said, “We can’t do anything until she cleans up her stuff. Otherwise the mice will just keep nesting in there no matter what we do. So contact us once the stuff is gone.”

It has been three months. Julie has done a partial cleaning but moved a lot of stuff into an empty office, and now there is a weird smell coming from that office. The closets have not been cleaned. There are more and more mice being spotted. There is mouse poop all over my desk and possessions, even though I keep my office clean and free of food.

I keep sending emails about mouse and poop sightings, keeping a polite tone but saying that I do not feel this is a healthy work environment. The higher-ups calmly respond saying that Julie “understands” and is working to correct it. Numerous employees have tried to talk to her, to no avail. Several of us are working from home as much as possible out of disgust.

I brought up making an HR complaint against Julie to the university, and I was told that is inappropriate and unkind to her, and that we should be able to work it out among ourselves. I have also been told a few times that Julie has a mental health problem, so we should be kind and understanding to her by not escalating it or getting angry.

It has now been months. Last weekend, I got disgusted emails from students who were doing lab work and saw mice. I forwarded it to ask about the progress of the cleaning. Now the whole lab just got an email about an upcoming staff meeting, where it is suggested that we all spend 30-60 minutes “pitching in” to help Julie clean out her stuff.

I do not want to go through the stuff, and I do not think it should be my responsibility to do so. I feel disrespected and I said that to our director and the organizer of the staff meeting. I was told that I am not obligated to help at the staff meeting if I don’t want to.

I sense these coworkers are annoyed with me because of my persistence. The meeting organizer wrote, “I don’t know what to say. I am just trying to find a solution. Julie has a mental health problem.”

What is reasonable in this situation?

You are the reasonable one.

It’s true that hoarding is a mental health problem, and Julie should be treated kindly and compassionately. But that doesn’t mean “allow her to create hazardous or filthy conditions for others.” It doesn’t mean “we can’t do anything until she decides on her own to clean up her stuff.” It doesn’t mean “we can only take tiny baby steps because we don’t want to upset Julie.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal law that protects employees with disabilities at work, requires that employers work with employees to find “reasonable accommodations” that still allow them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. It does not require accommodations that would pose what the law calls “undue hardship.” Your employer is not required to let Julie hoard in her office, to accept dirty or hazardous conditions, or to resign itself to mice. It would be perfectly legal for them to say to her, “We need to clean up this space in the next two weeks. It’s up to you whether you’d prefer to be part of that process or if it would be easier to work from home on the days when it happens.” They can say, “We’re open to modifications that will make this easier on you, such as adding an additional shelving unit in your space, but once those shelves are filled, nothing more can be added.” They can say, “If there are other ways to make this easier, let’s discuss them.” If Julie says the way to make it easier is to let her continue hoarding, they can kindly explain that’s not possible. They can hold the line that the space needs to be clean and vermin-free.

As for what to do … rather than making an HR complaint against Julie, what about making an HR complaint about the situation in general? Because it’s not just Julie — it’s also the higher-ups who are refusing to act. (In fact, they bear more of the responsibility than Julie does.) Since some of your coworkers have indicated they’d find that “unkind,” you should mention to whoever takes your complaint that you’re concerned about retaliation and ask if you can be kept anonymous. In some situations, there’s no way to investigate a complaint without compromising the reporter’s anonymity, but this is not one of those situations. It sounds like there are dozens of people who could have reported it, including students, or the university could have found out about it some other way, like from cleaning staff.

{ 848 comments… read them below }

  1. anononon*

    A wonderful example of where the toxic positivity of #bekind or #goodvibesonly can be inherently harmful to everyone.

    1. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

      Being kind doesn’t have to mean ignoring issues or letting people be inappropriate or disruptive and excuse it as mental illness, it can mean addressing issues in a sustainable, supportive (but firm) way that doesn’t humiliate or degrade the people in question.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          In the words of the Witch in “Into the Woods”: “You’re so nice/You’re not good, you’re not bad/You’re just nice.? I’m not good, I’m not nice/I’m just right.”

          1. Waiting on the bus*

            I was genuinely miffed that the witches’ song went nowhere. As it turns out, she wasn’t right and the baker and the kids were able to defeat the giant just fine.

            I always felt that either the baby or at least the girl should have died in the fight; someone innocent whose death could have been prevented if they had let the witch sacrifice the boy.

            1. But…*

              What she was right about was that the giant was just as much a person as the humans in the story. They were not morally innocent.

            2. ADD*

              The witch was right, at the time. They were so focused on being seen as the “nice” one while pushing blame for everyone onto everyone else (when in reality the blame was everyone’s – and no one’s) instead of taking responsibility to fix the problem. If sacrificing Jack was the wrong call, there needed to be another plan, and none of them had a plan other than “let’s ride this out and hope someone steps up to do something.”

              It’s only after the Baker decides to take responsibility for his son that things turn around, they four of them work together to come up with plan that takes advantage of each of their individual strengths, and they manage to defeat the giant. So the witch was wrong in that sacrificing Jack was the only way forward, but she was right that at the time no other way forward had been proposed.

              1. ADD*

                (And I’ll add that I think this is more clearly evident in the stage version of the story than in the movie, where the Baker’s father is an actual recurring character: alive in Act I in disguise as the Mysterious Old Man, and appearing as a spirit/memory in Act II where he performs, with the Baker, “No More,” one of the more important songs in the show (which was, unfortunately IMO, left out of the film.))

                1. Stacey Kratz*

                  This is exactly why I don’t really like the movie version, despite some good performances! Cutting out the Mysterious Man and “No More” cuts out the heart of the story.

                2. LongTime Reader*

                  Yes! Running away doesn’t solve problems is a central piece of the story. Love love love Meryl Streep but agree about the movie

              2. thoroughbred*

                It’s a lab for pete’s sake! Doesn’t this kind of mess really interfere with the work? And shouldn’t that concern the higher-ups? Is Hoarder really qualified to be working in a lab situation if she’s creating unsanitary conditions?

            3. Modesty Poncho*

              I always took “just right” in that phrase to be the way Goldilocks’ porridge is “just right” – I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m a perfect balance, or I’m some third thing that’s better.

              1. ADD*

                I have to admit that I NEVER considered that interpretation of that line, but knowing how clever Sondheim was as a lyricist, it’s so obvious now that the line had to have a double meaning like that intentionally. You’ve just given me even more appreciation for one of my favorite musicals, so thank you very much!

        2. CommanderBanana*

          ^^ This. I am kind. I am not nice. I will take kind over nice any day. Nice will sit and make sympathetic noises and walk away feeling assured that they’re a Good Person(tm). But kind will take action.

          1. Birdie*

            You describe a former boss of mine to a T. Everyone loved her because she was “so nice,” but I found she wasn’t kind. And a really craptastic manager. She was so worried about being nice and everyone liking her that she didn’t dare stand up for her own team when other departments steamrolled us.

        3. Hills to Die on*

          There really is such a big difference between kind and nice / polite. They are being polite to Julie and unkind to everyone, including her.

        4. Lizzianna*

          I know some people roll their eyes at Brene Brown, but her quote “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind” really does fit here.

          Avoiding the topic and talking about Jane’s “mental health issues” behind her back is “nice.” Facing the topic head on with compassion and empathy is “kind.”

        5. Typha Cattail*

          Have they, though? I wouldn’t normally associate any kind of personal sacrifice with “niceness.”

          LW’s coworkers + bosses are sacrificing aspects of their own well-being and risking their physical health because they choose to endure the mice and odors indefinitely.

          It seems likely a choice made to prevent harm to Jane: social harm if she’s outed as having a stigmatized disorder, financial harm if she gets fired or demoted, psychological harm if she is put on a PIP or faces intense scrutiny.

          Choosing to take a hit to prevent harm to someone else, particularly someone you see as vulnerable or marginalized in some way, is definitely the kind of choice that falls squarely in the realm of kindness.

          Polite people would be nice to Jane’s face, then politely inform the appropriate authorities of the biohazard behind her back. After all, mice and animal feces are unsightly. They’re definitely not nice.

          This kind of reasoning demonstrates why “kindness” as a value can’t exist on its own. It can become just as toxic as any other trait. It needs to be balanced with others: wisdom, truth, and courage should also be in play here.

          1. Lunita*

            I don’t think that has to be the case-since when did being polite become synonymous with being two-faced, or going behind people’s backs? It’s possible, as AAM explained, to politely give Julie the options, none of which should include letting her keep that mess indefinitely.

          2. Mongrel*

            Polite people would be nice to Jane’s face, then politely inform the appropriate authorities of the biohazard behind her back.
            Could this be an OSHA issue?
            If HR aren’t going to do something then find someone who will

            1. Dog momma*

              This is a health department issue at least. people can get very sick from rodents and their feces. and I believe you can report anonymously.
              OSHA, probably an issue since it’s a lab.
              talk about not caring for the rest of your employees… geez.

              1. Mongrel*

                Thanks, wasn’t sure who’d be appropriate as the relevant agency in the UK (Health & Safety Executive) would cover both facets.

          3. Distracted Librarian*

            Also, “kindness” to one person must be balanced against the impact on others. You could sort of argue this approach is kind to Julie but it’s quite unkind to everyone else who has to work in the space.

            1. Typha Cattail*

              +1 Yes! This is a more concise + direct way of saying what I was getting at. Balance! Balance prevents toxicity.

              Balance kindness to Julie with kindness to everyone else in the lab. Balance kindness with wisdom + other good traits.

      1. boof*

        Yes! Being kind means enforcing boundaries in a respectful fashion, not letting them be trampled.

        1. Wintermute*

          yes! as a child of an abusive parent I had to learn this so hard, but I love you calling it out. I actually go even further, for my own health and I frame as it’s a mean and wrong thing to do to hide a boundary and let someone violate it without knowing it.

          I was well into adulthood before I realized boundaries were okay to have and were not an attack on someone. This lead to relationship issues because I didn’t feel it was OK to set a boundary so I went along but was internally very uncomfortable or even in physical pain or discomfort. I literally didn’t even feel okay telling a friend “don’t invite me to your house before dinner time, like 2pm, have no food in the house and nothing nearby and not tell me we are just not eating that night at all until after transit has stopped running.”

          The problem with that is everyone around you can FREAKING TELL when you’re really unhappy, it’s obvious. INCLUDING THE PERSON YOU WERE TRYING TO NOT UPSET by minimizing your needs and being as small as possible.

          And in turn good people will be distressed you are in discomfort. I had to reframe it in my mind. If I allow someone to make me uncomfortable or harm me without even telling them it’s unethical and immoral and wrong because I am making them complicit in hurting someone without giving them the tools to avoid that harm.

          If I say “I have not eaten I we need to arrange food access or I must leave before the busses stop so I can eat at my dorm.” I have given them the tools needed to make a choice. If they decide “nope you don’t get to eat” they are being mean to me and that’s wrong. But if I just accept discomfort I have forced them to inflict it on me by not giving them the necessary information to avoid it. I made them violent against their consent by throwing myself onto their sword basically in a desire to pre-emptively self-sacrifice to mollify.

          And yes I know the food is a silly example but there are other far more serious.

          1. Wintermute*

            I can’t edit so I do want to add to hopefully forestall some obvious points– yes this is only for bigger stuff, if I’m just mildly uncomfortable once that’s no big, and yes sometimes it IS noble to sacrifice yourself for others especially loved ones. The food thing was a repeat pattern which is why it’s a good example because doing it once is bad planning it just kept happening.

            and the “sometimes it’s noble” isn’t useful for someone recovering from disordered thinking. Just like the way you talk about food and how to relate to it very different to someone recovering from an eating disorder, you have to start from a different place when you are trying recover from a lifetime of dysfunctional patterns.

            The end point remains that in serious cases you owe it to people to give them the information to minimize harm if you know they are at all an ethical person who would not want to do harm.

      2. Shakti*

        Yes this!! This is actually genuinely kind and it’s not kind to have people work in dangerous conditions and mouse poop is actually very dangerous!! It’s not kind to Julie and it’s not kind to any of the other people

        1. Wintermute*

          Thank you for calling this out!!!!

          mice are not benign. Hantavirus, Lassa Fever, Tuleremia, Leptospirosis (perhaps most common), anthrax, the bubonic plague virus… rats and their feces can be extremely hazardous it’s possible that if the government found out about this situation the building would be declared temporarily unfit for occupation and a health hazard until cleaned AND STERILIZED.

          They need ozone generators and the kind of gear used to clean up crime scenes and accidents not everyone grabbing a box.

    2. Lily*

      Do they not have hanta virus over there? I love animals and am honestly emotionally distressed if someone kills the mice (not that I don’t see the necessity here, sad world) but after seeing how a particular strain of hanta virus caused several young people to loose their kidney functures in an hemorrhagic fever I don’t get how people can see mice poop anywhere and think this is an adequate working area?? Are they just really oblivious?

          1. irritable vowel*

            That was my thought – this is a lab safety issue not only for the people working there but the integrity of the samples or whatever. OP should consider involving EHS (Environmental Health & Safety) at the university, since this is more than just an HR issue.

              1. Hazel*

                Absolutely! Is there a joint health and safety committee or workplace health and safety legislation in your area? Can you figure out where a request, followup and actual complaint needs to go? Focus on the documented health hazard – not the people. Also, wouldn’t putting papers in sealed bins at least help, without forcing the other issues? Its pretty basic to also quarantine organic matter like seeds in tins.

              2. Just Another Zebra*

                If OP wants to try one more “soft pitch”, I’d make the report to HR with the caveat “If this isn’t resolved in 7 days, I will have not choice but to report the situation to EHS, which could result in XYZ.”

                Because even without the lab situation, it’s an issue for fire safety, for air quality, for potential for diseases… the list goes on.

                1. Laser99*

                  She should absolutely notify the health department, but she should not mention it to anyone. It seems the powers-that-be are casting LW in the role of “creating a drama,” “stirring up trouble,” and so forth.

              3. Nesprin*

                +1 Lab EHS people are going to be your allies here. Aside from the hazard of things falling, and being unable to leave in case of emergency, wild mice are DANGEROUS to lab mice- they carry pathogens that lab strains do not have and often do not have any resistance to. LCMV could destroy your mouse colony.

                PS: the hantaviruses found in the US southwest typically do not cause kidney failure- new world hantaviruses attack lung and heart capillaries and are typically 10x more fatal than old world hantaviruses (~30% vs. 1%).

                1. JustaTech*

                  Yes about the risk to the lab mice! If/when the senior PI of one of the mice labs finds out about your wild mouse problem there will be such a blow-up, even out of the most even-keeled PI.

                  These wild mice could very literally be risking the *entire* university’s research colonies, potentially decades of work. Even if the OP’s lab isn’t in the same building as the research mice, it’s still a risk. I am amazed and horrified that it’s been allowed to go on this long.

                  EHS should be the OP’s first stop, and then maybe the head of their university’s animal facility.

                  I’m sorry that Julie has a hoarding problem, but this is 100% the fault of the lab’s PIs – they should know the risks and have done something ages ago.

                2. Nonanon*

                  +1. If ANY lab animals are used, wild mice are a MASSIVE biosecurity hazard (like the USDA can shut down your facilities massive).

                3. Clare*

                  I’m with Laura. This lab could be doing research into something like turbomachinery. If that’s the case I can more easily understand the “Meh, it’s not like a mouse or two will affect the experiments” attitude. Not that that’s an excuse, but it could be the reason they’re being ignored.

              4. Hannah Lee*

                Ding ding ding ding!

                Because this isn’t a “we have to help Julie manage her stuff” issue
                This is a “this workspace has a rodent infestation.
                – It is unsafe for our employees and can no longer be occupied.
                – Also, the infestation may have already compromised the integrity of the lab (materials, equipment) and possibly all of the lab’s work product” issue

                1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                  How much time and money do the PIs want to spend re-running experiments that didn’t work because things might have been contaminated?

              5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

                This, for sure. There are HR issues in here, but the big thing is the health and safety risk. This is unsanitary. The OP’s belongings are getting destroyed by mouse droppings.

                It shouldn’t matter, but I’m curious how much time the decision-makers spend in the lab. Are they minimizing how gross this is because they don’t have to experience it directly?

              6. AngryOctopus*

                100000%. It’s so against OSHA standards to have mice running free around your lab space that I have trouble putting words to how wrong it is.

                Hell, go straight to OSHA. They’ll shut it down right quick.

              7. goddessoftransitory*

                Yes. This isn’t about Julie. It’s about the health and welfare of the staff and the viability of this lab as a respected research center. You can bet that if I had samples there and heard about this I’d be furious.

              8. Kimakishi*

                Honestly at this point I’d skip all university related stuff and call OSHA. This is a huge concern for everyone and mouse infestations can cause other damage that isn’t necessarily visible to a layperson. OSHA will be /extremely/ interested in solving this problem and are also super invested in keeping the identity of complainants secret

              9. Festively Dressed Earl*

                Especially since I count at minimum six different times the mouse issue has been addressed and ineffectually dealt with or outright ignored since August. It’s regulatory agency time.

            1. Ophelia*

              Yup. My mom worked EH&S for a university for a large chunk of her career and she would shut this down IMMEDIATELY. Like, close the lab until it’s dealt with levels of “shut this down.”

              1. That girl*

                This!!!! Like shut. it. down!!
                Have people forgotten also about leptospirosis? You can die from that!
                I would be going strait to the OSHA authorities and informing my bosses and HR, in writing, that I would not be returning to the lab until the situation has been rectified. AND helping Julie clean out her rat-infested office, I would most certainly NOT be doing!

            2. Else*

              Yeah; I’m wondering what kind of lab this is not to be aware of that, or that the PI is so unconcerned about contamination.

      1. Wendy the Spiffy*

        Great point! One of my colleagues at a former job DIED from Hanta virus that he contracted while doing some home renovations (Washington state)

      2. Beka Cooper*

        Also allergies and asthma. I used to have pet rats, and worked in a pet store where we sold pet rats and mice as well as had a wild mouse problem (so much rodent food on the shelves). After 4-5 years of exposure to rats and mice, I developed an allergy to their urine. Despite wearing gloves when I cleaned up our shelves of pet food that constantly got chewed into and spilled everywhere, I would still get hives on my arms above the gloves.

        Years later, I thought we could have pet rats again, since I now have kids old enough to handle them and socialize with them if I couldn’t. We got some rats and I learned that my allergies have now developed into respiratory allergies too. I think I’ve also read that children who grow up in an environment where they’re exposed to this can develop allergies and later asthma (I could be wrong, it might have been about cockroaches, but it might have been about both).

        1. xylocopa*

          Oh man, my sympathies – I had pet rats for many years, then when I was working in a department where some labs had rats I started recognizing that I had an allergy.

          And yeah having worked in a lab, and working now in a place where we get some occasional mice, I’m shaking my head at OP’s situation. There is no way that you need to put up with mouse droppings on your desk.

      3. Momma Bear*

        Mouse droppings ON MY DESK would be a “I’m not returning to the office under these conditions” kind of situation. If I know that the issue is a coworker’s office and no one wants to act, then I cannot do my job. And shouldn’t a *lab* have cleanliness standards so as not to affect the results? I also wonder how much department funds are wasted by Julie traveling and returning with samples that get eaten by mice. Or if the mice eat anyone else’s work. Or what effect it will have when students refuse to work in your lab with the mice.

        I do sympathize with Julie having a mental health issue but this is at the point where it’s literally infesting the rest of the office. I’d complain about any aspect of this that prevents you from effectively doing your job. And/or ask to work somewhere else when you absolutely have to come into the office.

        Even if everyone clears out her office, Julie will probably not take it well and will need follow up care to prevent it happening again. She may feel violated by everyone going through her things so I wouldn’t expect the problem to be fully resolved by a bunch of people and a trash can.

        Mice exist everywhere but the problem here is that there’s a Known Cause and pest management can’t be done because the cause isn’t being addressed. I’m sorry you’re being painted as the bad guy, OP.

        1. Hazel*

          Great points. In my area you can do a legitimate ‘work refusal’ if you are being asked to work unsafely – which the OP is.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          I work at a garbage dump. My office is literally right next to a giant steaming pile of garbage. Even so, I have never seen mouse scat ON MY DESK.

          OP’s lab is filthier than an actual garbage dump.

        3. Sloanicota*

          I do worry that OP being the biggest rabble-rouser (understandably and deservedly so, I mean!) but also refusing to help clean might be something of a bad look. I’m sure the person in charge is thinking “OP was the one agitating the most to get this cleaned up, and now they’re the one person refusing to help.” It is what it is, but it would help if OP came with some solutions – perhaps the numbers of some professional companies, ideas for budget fixers, I don’t know – something.

          1. Momma Bear*

            If I were OP, I’d return to 1. if it’s a mental health issue, then colleagues cleaning up her desk will not be likely to fix it (cite nearly any reference on hoarding) and may make Jane angry at them anyway, and 2. if it’s unsafe/unsanitary to work at their desk with the mice leaving presents, it will be worse to dig through the actual mouse nests. There are legitimate risks of illness (as someone else pointed out, potentially fatal ones) and *none* of the team should be doing this. If Jane can’t handle it herself, they need a hazmat crew. I’d refuse on multiple grounds.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            This is a hazmat crew issue at this point. OP isn’t refusing to clean up their own mess, they would rightly be refusing to re enter a hazardous area until it was professionally dealt with.

            The only bad look here is a corporate culture that allowed this to escalate to this degree.

            1. Lime green Pacer*

              I’ve discovered a few mouse droppings in my basement. I’ll be cleaning them up with a bleach solution and an N95 mask, since I haven’t got a hazmat crew to draw on. OP was almost certainly not offered any kind of PPE, given the casual attitude of her workplace.

          3. Rex Libris*

            This sounds like it’s way past “pitch in and help clean up” and heading toward “Contact ServPro for disaster mitigation.”

          4. Don't be mousey*

            “I do worry that OP being the biggest rabble-rouser ”

            If leadership refuses to act to correct this sitation, an anonmyous report to the county or state health department is in order — this in addition to any reporting to HR.

        4. Princess Sparklepony*

          Hoarders don’t usually take well to others cleaning their spaces. If they are present they will secret away things that are being taking away. If the cleaning is done when they aren’t present they will hold grudges and possibly spiral even further when all their preciouses are gone.

          It a weird dynamic to try to work around. I watched a few episodes of Hoarders and was really grossed out by the piles of junk and the attitudes of the people – and these were people who were looking for help, but it’s just such an overwhelming compulsion.

          Having the whole office/lab in to clean up Julie’s space is going to go really really badly is my first thought.

          I would love to see an update to this letter.

          1. Chirpy*

            This, I once had a coworker who was a hoarder, and I had permission from management to just make the stuff disappear and blame management for it when she wasn’t there. It was mostly paper scraps and empty boxes in the warehouse, but she freaked out over the smallest amount getting thrown out.

            She finally was gone for a few months for a medical issue and we all immediately got rid of all the stuff when I found one dead mouse. We left her one single shoebox sized box untouched. She had a fit when she came back, but management shut that down at least.

      4. Cohort 1*

        Only 8 of the continental U.S. states have not reported cases of Hantavirus: MO, KY, OH, MS, AL, GA, SC, and NJ, but it is found all over the world except much of Africa and Australia. GB seems to have very little.

        Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease in humans caused by infection with hantaviruses. [In the “Old World,” they get a version of hantavirus called Haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, which is just as charming as it sounds.]

        Anyone who comes into contact with rodents that carry hantaviruses is at risk of HPS. Rodent infestation in and around the home remains the primary risk for hantavirus exposure. Even healthy individuals are at risk for HPS infection if exposed to the virus….It has a mortality rate of 38%.

        We are not talking about being kind to a coworker, we are talking about a very serious health situation. And this is a lab of some sort! I can’t imagine what comes out of such a seriously compromised lab.

        1. Selina Luna*

          I live in the Four Corners region of the US, where hantavirus was identified in the United States. It’s a real worry here. I’m honestly surprised that the hoarder was allowed to let her workspace get to this point. I’m messy (I don’t think I’m diagnosable as a hoarder), and I get admonished for fairly tidy stacks of paper on my desk. I keep all personal food in rodent-proof bins or glass jars, so I don’t get into trouble for that, but still!

          1. JustaTech*

            Oh yes, Sin Nombre is no joke! (For the rest of the group, it’s the North American hanta virus first identified in the Four Corners area and is very deadly.)

            At the end of my time as a mouse colony manager my boss (who was desperate for any grant to keep the lab open) gave me a list of pathogens he wanted to work with to have me ask the animal facility managers which ones we could have. Sin Nombre was on the list, along with parvo and a whole bunch of other very contagious, dangerous bugs.
            The facilities managers said flat no (thankfully).

          2. Not Dina*

            I’m in Colorado (though not close to the corners) and came down with sudden respiratory issues a few hours after cleaning the pantry afrom a small mouse infestation. It turned out to be a coincidental cold but I had a panic attack in fear that it was hantavirus. Now my mouse prevention efforts start in late summer and they are (mostly) taken care of at their interim housing area on the patio.

          3. goddessoftransitory*

            That’s what really gets me–that ANY workplace would allow this at all, and a lab?? This is “once this gets out we are ruined” territory.

      5. BubbleTea*

        This is why I ultimately had to call pest control about mice in my kitchen. I was deeply uncomfortable with killing them, but as a relative pointed out, my other option was to start a mouse farm. As the parent of a young child, that wasn’t on the table.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          Here too – we had what I like to call “hot and cold running mice” – so many that it was like we had a tap for mice left on. Had to use pest control to get things under control, and then kill traps on an ongoing basis. I don’t like poison for mice – it’s cruel to the mice, they don’t always totally desiccate/mummify (which stinks), and if they escape into the great outdoors, they poison other wildlife that eat them – but it was necessary at first.

          I prefer kill traps – fast, efficient, obvious, easy to dispose of the mouse. I have plenty of those, but ever since dealing with the openings where they could enter the house and waging war initially, we’ve been mouse-free. I still keep the mouse traps around, though.

          1. Dog momma*

            Do you use steel wool at possible entry points? Brilliant pads if steel wool not available also works

            1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

              We have an occasional mouse problem at home (Victorian terrace, we are the only cat-less ones for several houses), and have been lining entry points with foil.

        2. añonfornow*

          I was trapping at my last rental home with the humane traps and releasing at a nearby wilderness area (where I knew they would probably just get eaten by owls and foxes but at least it wasn’t me) but truly I didn’t get the situation under control until I actually let my new (at the time!) kitten out of kitty quarantine and damn she destroyed the mouse population. My beagle and my old man cat had done nothing…my at the time 2.5lb kittten was on it. She even left one by my dogs food bowl as a gift.
          But yeah it took about a month of humane trapping + kitten before I stopped finding mice in traps and mouse droppings? I think I counted 30-40 in total removed or kills, including some babies and pregnant mice. Ugh. They say by the time you see one you’ve already got at least 10-15!! So gross, so glad to be out of that home

      6. Nomic*

        Oh god I completely forgot about hanta virus.

        OP, please go to HR. Mention the fear of retaliation above, but also mention hanta virus and the potential for exposure to lawsuits if that is discovered in mice.

        1. metadata minion*

          Nope; it’s much rarer in the rest of the country, but it’s still been reported in a majority of states. It’s one of those things where no, it’s not actually all *that* likely unless there’s an outbreak in your area, but it’s severe enough that you really don’t want to risk it. I work in a building with a persistent mouse problem because it’s old and leaky, but we at least put down traps and keep food in sealed containers and otherwise do what we can to keep them out.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          Deer mice generally, but not limited to 4-corners region. Although in a lab, I would suspect house mice, which wouldn’t carry it. They’re still disgusting and dirty and destructive.

          1. Kimakishi*

            Depending on the state, house mice can also carry the legit bubonic plague. Here in Ohio they do-I live in a 100 year old building and last year there was an attempt at a mouse problem, which my cat and the pest control company solved. But it’s not just hantavirus, house mice and deer mice can carry so so many diseases that are just awful

            1. Happy camper*

              As someone who had to administer bubonic plague medication to a not responsive child. It’s effing awful.

            2. Fishsticks*

              For a similar reason, do not EVER touch or mess with prairie dogs. They are potential carriers of bubonic plague and are routinely responsible for human infections with the plague in the USA.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            And frankly, I wouldn’t trust a virus as far as I could throw it. One mutation and boom. Not that that’s probably going to happen, but the odds are not zero.

      7. Dancing Otter*

        The hantavirus in North America are different than the European ones, but not less dangerous. More likely to cause respiratory syndrome than hemorrhagic.
        Ref. Centers for Disease Control website.

      8. Lark*

        Just to save people from hantavirus anxiety (something to which I am subject!), the mice which carry hantavirus are mostly outdoor/outbuilding mice – the deer mouse and the white footed mouse. Infrequently used camping facilities, sheds, etc are where you’d worry.

        You can also get sick from exposure to house mouse waste if there’s a lot of it, especially if you’re immunocompromised, but it’s not quite as bad as if it were hantavirus.

        I’m really shocked that this mouse situation is tolerated – due to circumstances outside our control, we had a very bad (though brief) mouse infestation last year at home, and it was so incredibly horrible. Utterly disgusting, much worse than you’d think if you’ve just dealt with the occasional individual mouse. And it required so much intense cleaning! Completely intolerable at work IYAM.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          That and bedbugs are “take every penny I have” hiring of professional cleaners who deal with hazardous waste situations for me. I don’t care what it costs, scrub every square inch while I’m burning all the clothing and furniture.

      9. goddessoftransitory*

        My first thought! Exposing the entire staff to a constant biohazard should drop OSHA or its equivalent onto this lab like a ton of bricks. Plus, what lab wants furry little contaminants running all over the place? Any data produced by it would be suspect at least.

        1. littlehope*

          Yeah, a rodent infestation is a genuine health hazard. Staff shouldn’t be expected to work in that environment, nor should they be expected – they shouldn’t be *allowed*, actually – to go in and clean it up. That needs to be done by professionals with proper training and PPE.
          I’m saying this as someone who has worked gross jobs in gross conditions, has pet rats, and is generally maybe more robust than I really should be about this kind of thing – this is actually not safe.

    3. Nea*

      Is it really good vibes towards mental illness or is it “Julie is too important to replace”? I have a feeling this would be a very different situation if Julie wasn’t in a leadership position.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Tenure is a lot less common that it used to be, but if so, yeah, they might not be able to fire her. (The fertility doctor at UCI who was convicted of various felonies, and was *on the lam in Mexico* only lost his tenure (on a vote by other tenured faculty) by a couple of percent.)

          But they can certainly reassign her to a different office in a small, standalone building at the far end of the parking lot.

          Or just make her clean up the office, or have it cleaned up by a professional crew.

          1. zuzu*

            One of the tenured profs at a former institution of mine lost the privilege of having an office door after one too many complaints from a female student.

            1. The Original K.*

              Ditto, although the rumor was that he was caught inflagrante delicto with a student. Regardless, he had no door.

            2. Sunny Day*

              Wow. They really sidestepped the main issue there. The DOOR isn’t the problem. The professor is the problem, doir it no door.

            3. Sunny Day*

              Wow. They really sidestepped the main issue there. The DOOR isn’t the problem. The professor is the problem, door or no door.

          2. The day of Sue*

            Tenured people can be fired, for cause. They get due process, which is why their firings might take longer, but “tenured can’t be fired” is a complete myth.

            1. catlady*

              But “tenured are hard enough to fire that many schools don’t try” is very real. Strongly urged to retire, reducing teaching loads or responsibilities, ignoring it entirely, or any of these other workarounds mentioned are MUCH easier and therefore reasonably common responses.

              1. H3llifIknow*

                Same in the Federal Civilian workforce. I’ve worked for several bosses who were “fired” …. meaning sent to another program office to be THEIR problem, because firing a civilian is a nightmare.

            2. Magenta Sky*

              The tenured professor I mentioned above was, in fact, fired for cause – multiple felony convictions, and fleeing the country to avoid prison – but it required a vote by the tenured faculty to approve it, and it was a close thing.

              The whole *point* of tenure is to make it very difficult to fire professors.

              1. linger*

                One former colleague was eventually forced out after being convicted of poisoning birds in a public park. (Cue Tom Lehrer song.)
                The process took two years. Until he actually left, he could not be replaced, which left the rest of us shouldering his workload.

        2. Selina Luna*

          Tenure only means “can’t be fired” in a bad school. Decent schools that have tenure, have “follow the documentation process to fire someone.” I admit, though, that a lot more of the bad schools make the news and a lot of people even within good schools, even within management positions have the misconception that tenure means that you can’t be fired.

          Incidentally, tenure does not exist for a lot of K-12 teachers, at all. The reason it’s difficult to fire K-12 teachers is because it’s become a deeply difficult and toxic job that is both underpaid and overworked, and as such there is a massive shortage of teachers in the US right now.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I’ve never heard of tenure for any jobs other than professors at college/university.

        3. JustaTech*

          Could be. My experience (two very different institutions) is that professors tend to accumulate stuff because they don’t move once they get tenure.
          When I worked for a library of an Ivy there was a tenured professor who managed to have something like 20 cartons of books in an office that was maybe 10X10.
          At my undergrad we joked that the more organic a professor’s field of study was, the messier their office was. As in, the physical chemistry professor’s office was very clean, the organic professor’s office was stuffed but tidy, and the ecology professor’s office was heaps of papers everywhere and 10 pairs of shoes under his desk. But even the ecology professor’s office wasn’t *dirty* – and he had animals living in there (housed appropriately) that would have made it very clear if there had been mice. (The snakes would have freaked out if there had been mice.) We even managed to keep the crickets contained.

          But even if Julie is tenured, there should be other tenured or otherwise more senior people to complain that her mess and the mice are impacting their work.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        Or everyone is just afraid of confrontation, whether Julie is confrontational or not. It’s pretty common for people to be cripplingly embarrassed to tell someone “you’re doing something that has a very negative effect on other people.”

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Yeah, I’d guess either afraid of having a difficult conversation and/or a degree of possible prejudice against mental illness (like they think that having a mental illness means “she won’t be able to cope with criticism”). Or possibly just a lack of understanding of hoarding and of what constitutes a reasonable accommodation so they feel the “easiest” thing to do is just to…not deal with it.

        2. AnonORama*

          Particularly “you’re doing something *gross* that has a very negative effect on other people.” It’s hard to say “this is disgusting” in a way that doesn’t come across “you’re disgusting,” and probably harder with a mental illness issue on board.

        3. goddessoftransitory*

          This reminds me of the letter a couple months back where the entire office had formed itself into an unconscious cult around not upsetting one person–the entire place was freaked she might notice a dead bird and start crying. No one person in any workplace should have that much power!

          1. Mister_L*

            The manager of that one person wrote in because they got a new (higher) manager after a merger who pointed out the office jumping through hoops to manage one persons feelings was unprofessional.
            The manager LW thought the situation was appropriate.

      2. Chirpy*

        From experience with my hoarder coworker, it’s probably a combination of “it’s too hard/awkward to deal with because it’s gone on too long” and “this person is likely to scream discrimination if we try to make a reasonable ask”

    4. Overit*

      Or is it that there are too many people who break out in hives at the thought of even being around or aware of the possibility of a potentially unpleasant conversation?

      I had a job once where I was the designated “Person who gets to have Potentially Unpleasant Conversations” (dress code, hygiene, etc). I was always amazed at how some people would take a day off on the day of the Potentially Unpleasant Conversation. And the sheer number of ostriches was stunning, who would urge ignoring the problem no matter how bad it was.

      1. Zweisatz*

        Could be a mixture of both.

        I do wonder if the people downplaying the issue also work with mice-droppings-covered desks or if they are comfortably in a different building…

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Like that boss from a few letters ago that wanted the LW and others to work in a black mold infested building rather than temporarily get the “nice” offices.

      2. Sally Forth*

        This is no longer a hoarding issue. It is a health and safety issue and needs to be addressed as such.

      3. Magenta Sky*

        I get all the scammy telemarketing calls, because everyone in the office knows (and they are correct) I have no hesitation to simply hang up on them.

        1. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

          I got to the point with certain repeat offenders where I would put them on hold and see how long it took.

          Nothing I learned as a receptionist was as valuable as how to say no. Politely, but decisively, and often repeatedly.

          1. La Triviata*

            I read something (in another AAM question, I think) that an office had a dedicated extension that would connect with a recording of screaming monkeys; there didn’t seem to be an end to the recording. I’ve asked for this, but no luck so far. I’ve resorted to telling sales callers that we don’t take sales calls and hanging up on them. One person called back, angry, that I didn’t connect him with the “appropriate” person. Another calls every day and asks for a call back.

            1. Mister_L*

              If an actual person is calling and not just a robocall that plays a tape an old fax can also be very effective.

      4. Mrs. Hawiggins*

        I remember many jobs ago a supervisor asked our CFO to have a talk to said supervisor’s employee who had a body odor issue. This too was a mental health related thing so it was delicate but it got to the point where people were refusing to work with the person, and icing them out of projects and meetings to keep it that way. The CFO said, “YOU have to tell her, this is part of what supervising is like.” Turns out this supervisor asked three other people, including me to do it. Me. The receptionist. She eventually did. The employee cried, and took time off for health care. Tough, but I always hoped she got help and care she deserved.

        You would NOT see me in an office where there’s mice or mice beans everywhere. How can NOBODY do anything. We’ve all watched that show enough to know what the root cause is, but I’d be petty enough to say my doctor/lawyer/mom informed me not to return to work until this is resolved. Yes this is sad, but it’s going to make somebody really, really sick.

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I don’t even get “good vibes only” from this – though there’s definitely some emotional sensitivity. I’m getting “we don’t understand how to handle mental health in the workplace”. This seems like risk averse and uneducated management, who could be corrected if they would go to HR for support but seem to think HR is some kind of nuclear option. I don’t know if there are existing dynamics that make them feel that way, but this is really a situation HR needs to oversee or advise on because the people doing it do not understand what their obligations are.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I find it fascinating how often “risk averse” types will worry about the risk of doing a thing, but totally ignore the risk of not doing a thing. Yes, there are risks with having a serious talk with Julie (which, as you say, would be substantially reduced by getting support and guidance) and following through on a reasonable plan to clean the space.

        There are also risks with letting this continue, like people getting sick, people not wanting to work there, ruining experiments, becoming pariahs because the mouse problem spreads to other parts of the building and those individuals get PISSED.

        1. sparkle emoji*

          And it won’t take too long for students to stop enrolling in any classes that take place in this building. I’m sure the fact that a science(?) building is infested with vermin has made its way through the college grapevine.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          This. “I did nothing about the problem that was repeatedly brought to my attention” is not the winning legal strategy some people seem to assume it is.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            The “but Uncomfortable Conversation is Uncomfortable!” codicil really doesn’t help as much as they think it does either.

        3. learnedthehardway*

          People’s perception of risk is very skewed. It feels more distressing to take an action to deal with a risk than to do nothing about an equally serious possible risk.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        That’s pretty much what I was thinking too, but you’ve phrased it so much better than I did.

      3. Turquoisecow*

        I don’t even get “good vibes only” from this – though there’s definitely some emotional sensitivity. I’m getting “we don’t understand how to handle mental health in the workplace”.

        100% this is it. Hoarding is difficult to deal with when it’s a close friend or family member (have known a few). As a coworker it’s definitely beyond my pay grade to know how to handle it. Not excusing the bosses for not figuring it out when it became a health and safety issue but yeah, this feels more like a “I don’t know how to handle this” thing than a “let’s tiptoe around Julie and be nice to her.”

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          With hoarding (as I understand it) the disorder really needs in depth, ongoing therapy, and I can guess a lot of workplaces are hesitant to say “you need to get this medical treatment right now” because of legal issues. I can understand nobody really knowing what they can even say in that area.

          But the fact is, there’s accommodation and there’s allowing one person’s problem to take the reins and drive a whole company off a cliff. When you’re issuing edicts about having to stand boy/girl at the bus stop or wear even amounts of rings on each finger, not disciplining an employee for shoving a coworker down in a bird panic and breaking her arm or similar, the problem is no longer that one person’s; they’ve spread it out like a duvet over the entire place.

    6. I Have RBF*

      At my last university job, we had a “go along to get along” thing that, quite frankly, enabled bullies. If they were “more senior”, you had to essentially agree with whatever BS they were spewing or you weren’t a team player and were violating the “go along to get along” rule. So they kept doing things that were more about resume building for the senior people than stuff that actually made the work easier. I often got dinged for not being a proper doormat by saying, essentially, the emperor had no clothes, and got laid off when Covid hit.

      I do not like positivity and collegiality if it enables bullies to run roughshod over front line workers.

      On the hoarding problem, can people advise her to see someone about it? IIRC hoarding is related to depression, but I’m not a psych professional, so I might be wrong about that.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        It can be related to depression, though isn’t always so – there is often a connection to trauma.

        Unfortunately, I think it’s come up here before that employers cannot require employees to seek out medical or mental health treatment. It’s just not the right wheelhouse for that kind of thing, beyond maybe an EAP recommendation. It’s possible Julie is already seeking treatment, but it can be a slow path. Or she isn’t. One thing the employer is getting correct in this instance is addressing how Julie’s symptoms are impacting the workplace and her colleagues. Essentially, it’s up to Julie to figure out the best way to manage her symptoms – but she has to manage them.

        1. Aha*

          I think it’s a little more ambiguous than that, though, and there are some ways in which an employer can require an employee to seek treatment. It gets complicated, but if a medical condition prevents the employee from performing their job duties, they can be required to have a medical evaluation. From a similar angle, an employer can require an employee to seek treatment for a condition like substance abuse. There’s no “reasonable accommodation” for being drunk at work, so the employer can (and should!) set parameters for continued employment (ie attending and cooperating with treatment). The employer should also be proactive in helping the employee understand their rights re: FMLA, etc. There is a world of difference between having an unmanaged condition and having a successfully managed condition. It sounds like this person’s hoarding behavior sufficiently impacts the workplace that these actions would be reasonable.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Or like that old AAM letter where a person had a weekend long anxiety attack over a coworker not saying “goodnight” to them. They ended up having this big spiraling confrontation with that person who rightly insisted they be kept away from her. The LW was legitimately mentally unwell (and in treatment) but it didn’t change what she did or shield her from the consequences to her career.

      2. H3llifIknow*

        My colleague’s wife is a hoarder. It is so hard on him. It is, in her case, related to anxiety and OCD. Anxiety in the form of “what if I need/want/don’t have access to….” and of course OCD in the form of “I simply cannot throw things away.” He would “sneak” a bag of trash out periodically, and you’d think with ALL THAT SHIT she wouldn’t know, but she always did and it was always ugly. She eventually got on meds, felt better and went away for a week while he and his daughter cleaned and cleared the house. It was hard for her when she returned, a lot of tears and recrimination, but they kept things that they felt were important/sentimental to her and over time she is now MUCH better. But it took patience, it took therapy and medication, and it took being willing to be the BAD GUY once in a while. It was painful to watch/hear it all play out (we shared an office).

      3. Chirpy*

        Most of the hoarders I’ve known have trauma from loss/not having enough/not having control over their lives (people who grew up in the Great Depression, etc), or executive dysfunction issues where things pile up until it gets too overwhelming to start to fix.

    7. JSPA*

      it’s also true, however, that only Julie holds the keys to the collected materials, which

      a) may come from federal government or other official grants, and be protected in that sense

      b) may involve her as the signatory for agreements on intangible cultural property / indiginous knowledge & heritage agreements

      c) may be effectively one-of-a-kind or irreplaceable (with documentation) and trash, if undocumented

      d) may include regulated species (invasive, protected, controlled-substance-adjacent) or be regulated for transfer and disposal

      getting buy-in isn’t optional, in those cases. It’s also something that the administration may reasonably not want to make general knowledge.

      Yes, the mice are already doing damage. But mice don’t answer to federal, state and international laws, agreements and regulations; university administrators do.)

      1. H3llifIknow*

        She does NOT hold any special “keys” for old equipment etc… that’s she’s foraged from the dumpsters, and seeds and organic material she’s brought in that harbored the initial infestation. That office is a SHARED space. So, while sure maybe they can’t go thru all the paper, they CAN and SHOULD go through the “I threw this away a month ago, why is it in HERE?” process, and remove what they legally CAN because it is NOT hers and it isn’t the office’s desire to have it there, and it isn’t a WORK item. Then, a firm, “if you take something out of the dumpster, trash, or hallway that has been set out for trash, you CANNOT bring it here; you MUST put it in your vehicle and take it home with you. Policy and enforcement are the only saving graces here until she gets therapy and medication.

        1. JSPA*

          Maybe there’s been an update that says she raids dumpsters; but that’s emphatically not in the original question.

          “Seeds and organic material from around the world” can very well mean “biological samples.”

          I’m in the greater bio sciences.

          “Field race” samples? To a random person, they are random seeds / grain. To someone who knows what they are, and where they are from, they are essential research materials.

          Ethnobotany samples? To a random person, they’re lumps of sticky resin, random seeds, crumbling leaves, a bit of reptile skin or bone.

          (Heck, real, usable samples may even be recognized and purchased after they’ve been dried into teas, or fashioned into trinkets, or some other process that makes them look like random detritus to a random person.)

          All of the above are hard to collect, expensive to collect, hard to bring back to the US properly. And yes, just like many other valid biological samples, they’re a magnet for pests.

          If the prof is hoarding half-bagels or raiding dumpsters, obviously, that’s something different. Anyone can throw out half of a moldy, petrified cheesburger.

          But given this is an academic department with labs, it is way out of line to assume that “being swamped and overwhelmed by attempting to curate too big a collection, and not curtailing one’s collecting” is tantamount to dumpster diving.

          Hoarding, and also the various other associated problems that can manifest similarly, exist on a continuum. Not everyone who obsessively over-gathers and fails to clean and organize happens to hold onto everyday detritus.

          Finally, let’s give some awareness how one’s life situation plays into people’s respect and perception of “gatherers.”

          Except for his extremely detailed notes and his family wealth (thus, plenty of space, and having other people to help clean and move and catalog items), Charles Darwin could equally have been dismissed as someone who accumulated “seeds and organic material from around the world.” I find it highly unlikely that he never had a pest problem, as a result.

          IMO, someone ought to be offering to help catalog and correctly store what’s valuable–starting from the presumption that there are, indeed, items of value.

          From there, one can more productively address that some items are past the point of recovery, and that others, lacking proper attribution and tracking, have reverted to being “just seeds.”

          But to start by assuming that absolutely anything mis-stored and rodent-attracting is “junk,” is to misunderstand how science works.

          1. an academic*

            If these are actual samples for research, it is wild that this person is OK with mice walking around willy-nilly eating and soiling them!

            1. JSPA*

              You can extract DNA from objects that are thousands of years old, and have seen plenty of pest activity.

          2. AngryOctopus*

            If Julie has precious and irreplicable samples in her office as it’s described, you know very well all those sample are contaminated and cannot be kept.

            If Charles Darwin stored samples in the present as he did in his time, they would also be deemed contaminated. We’ve learned a lot since his time.

        2. JSPA*

          I don’t mean physical keys (?!?) I mean, that if the bio objects include bio samples, that only she knows what they are, and why they are important. The key to the code.

          1. Mice is different than good*

            I agree with you… to an extent. Depending on the type of research, the requirements of grants, etc, she’s in violation of so many data and materials safe storage requirements that someone at the grant funding agency probably developed an unconscious eye twitch they can’t explain. My lab has to have a plan for storing hard drives in fire cabinets. I doubt her grants say that she will be storing samples in an ad hoc trash-based vivarium. Maybe Julie should be given a *supervised* chance to divert irreplaceable research materials but some higher authority should have the final say.

    8. WhoRescuedWho*

      Also, is it really “kind” (or legal) for multiple people to disclose that Julie has a mental health issue? And is Julie aware that’s being spread around? This seems like an awful response to all involved, including Julie!

      1. Enai*

        Look, if you’re hoarding garbage to the point there’s *mice* nesting in your *office* you’re way, way past the point where anyone aware of the situation might feasibly not notice you’re mentally ill. The smells, sights, and mouse poop can not be explained away with “eh, academia attracts ~*quirky*~ people”. Stating the plainly obvious is not disclosure.

        1. JSPA*

          You’d think, but…not so.

          Many older science buildings and museums have standing pest problems.

          After all, if you have a mouse lab in the building, you can’t treat for mice as aggressively as you would in a place where there are not highly valued rodents in residence. If you have a fruit fly lab, or a mosquito lab, or tribolium, or bott flies, you can’t treat as aggressively for cockroaches or “average nuisance” flies or other insects.

          (And we no longer have resident cats.)

          Given there are always a few labs working on plants (grains or otherwise) and there’s medium to grow the insects, and also used insect food waiting to be autoclaved, and, uh, yeah, sometimes the pest problem gets too intense and localized to ignore.

          But it’s not far beyond the pale to have some level of pest problem.

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            This might be a spot where an office cat could do some good work…. (Mickey the Space Cat would likely agree!)

          2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

            My Former Employers had mice problems in one set of buildings (connected Victorian terrace, this was of less concern than the fact that they were put up cheaply ~200 years ago and now needed shoring up due to the many many books), and rumour had it that at least one rat had been seen in the Library (London). There was an ongoing discussion about what would look worse: visible pest control substances or a Library Cat, but people are often allergic to cats.

    9. Clare*

      These people’s mixed up idea of what ‘kind’ is makes me want to scream! It’s not actually kind! At all! It’s just laziness and using some flowery words to sound fake-nice. Some of this example goes as far as being actual cruelty wrapped up with a polished veneer.

      Kindness would have been Julie’s bosses keeping an eye on her space and intervening well before it got unmanageable.

      Kindness would have been actively looking for ways to make sure Julie’s health didn’t affect her colleagues to the point where they were talking behind her back.

      Kindness would have been intervening at the very first report of mice.

      Kindness would have been making a plan to address the issue with Julie from day one, then having regular check-ins and changing the plan if required.

      Kindness would have been hiring in a cleaning company willing to do hoarding and biohazards, once things got to this stage, and giving the place a complete re-set.

      Kindness would have been being proactive to keep knowledge of Julie’s health condition limited to as few people as possible, instead of leaking it as the ‘excuse’ for their negligence.

      Sure, other people’s issues technically aren’t your problem, but you can’t abdicate responsibility for others and call yourself ‘kind’ or ‘good’ in the same breath. Neutral? Not bad? Absolutely. But not good. One isn’t obligated to be kind, but logically if you’re choosing to opt out, you don’t get to apply the label to yourself.

    10. MaineCat*

      As Brene Brown has said (paraphrase), “Clear is kind.” This is a regular talking point with ny staff. It is not kind to either the staff member with a problem or the rest of the team not to fix a toxic work environment. Kindness is in fact working to fix this for everyone, but respectfully.

    1. bamcheeks*

      yeah, I was thinking this sounds *extremely* academic. Some academics are allowed to bed in to their offices in a way which would extraordinary in any other sector. My PhD supervisor had a huuuuge office with piles of books everywhere, and somehow got away with smoking there *years* after the workplace smoking ban came in. I know another retired academic who is distraught to be asking to clear out his office several years after he retired, as the university has finally decided they want to re-assign it. It’s absolutely wild and this doesn’t surprise me at all.

    2. Justme, The OG*

      My first academic advisor in my masters program had an office that I’m surprised did not contain mice. It was floor to ceiling papers and books. I pity the people who had to clean it once he retired.

      1. datamuse*

        I was an academic librarian for 18 years. It was a regular occurrence for faculty to check books out, that we wouldn’t see again until those faculty members retired. (And woe betide us if we asked for them back, or did what we did with everyone else, which was charge a replacement fee once they’d been gone long enough.)

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          At my undergrad uni, the faculty offices for my major were in the library and every so often a book that hadn’t been checked out would be reported missing and it was because a prof was in the stacks and thought, “oh, I’ll just look at this in my office” and never got around to either checking it out or putting it back for reshelving.

        2. Middle Aged Lady*

          Can verify. Our university finally implemented a policy where the faculty had to physically present and re-check out all their books once a year because so many disappeared, never to be seen again. The outrage that ensued was wild! One old guy even persuaded the library to send our staff to his office to pick them up, check them out, and redeliver them.

        3. Seven If You Count Bad John*

          I worked in the library at my university as an undergrad and this was one of our pet peeves. The professors would say “why is it such a big deal, I’m not even using it anymore” THEN RETURN IT SO YOUR ADVISEE CAN FINISH THEIR GODDAMN THESIS

          1. AngryOctopus*

            Professor, we’d prefer that you ARE using it if you’re hoarding it in your damn office! This way you’re just preventing others from using it and you’re just using it as a doorstop! Return it!!!

        4. metadata minion*

          Ditto. We also thought we had a mysterious leak in a corner of the building for months until we discovered that a tenured professor was spitting in it.

          1. sparkle emoji*

            Ok, what? Why was he spitting there so often that it caused a leak? Was this a dip thing? I am suddenly more curious about this man than the letter

            1. Harper the Other One*

              I think the implication is that he was spitting there enough that the puddle appeared to be the result of a slow leak, and now I need to lie down.

        5. Scholarly Publisher*

          …and this is an advantage to multi-user ebooks that I hadn’t consciously considered — the faculty can’t monopolize them.

        6. Princess Sparklepony*

          I was thinking of that as well. I worked in a university library for a few years early in my life. End of the quarter, we would get renewal lists from professors and renew all the books on it. If we ever got those books back at one time we would have to build more shelves.

      2. GythaOgden*

        I was at the LSE 25 (O_o) years ago. My stuff might still be in one of the lockers in the main building basement.

        That said, my perma-broken ankle is a reminder of not hoarding. It never got to the pest stage, just the obscene amount of clutter stage. The pandemic was hard on a lot of people — a guy at work who is our fire safety officer and was a firefighter was drafted in at the beginning of lockdown to remove bodies from homes if necessary. He had to go into some awful places — people weren’t necessarily dying of COVID in large numbers at home, but he described the terrible situation of people whose mental health went completely to pot and had to be rescued from their own homes. My colleague was as compassionate as you could be while digging people out of these situations, and I’m very lucky I had some awesome friends who cleared the house for me and helped me put stuff back into it again. After restaurants opened up again, I took them all out for a banquet on my debit card.

        As autistic the one thing I’ve always craved is independence and I’m not going to let it happen again. Sometimes the only way of getting through to someone in this situation is laying down the law; whether it’s gravity (in my case at least) or the boss or whatever, Julie is just going to have to face the consequences at some point. It’s not terribly kind to let her continue to do this.

      3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        My wife’s grad advisor also had massive piles of papers on every surface, and somehow he knew where to find a specific paper he was looking for. The students referred to it as the “geological strata”, and at one point my wife snuck some literal fossils (very small trilobites) into the piles. If he ever found them, none of the grad students ever heard about it.

        1. Jaydee*

          I had a professor in law school like that. Office filled with books and stacks of papers. I want to talk to him about the draft of a paper I was writing for his seminar and he walked over to a book shelf, reached into the middle of a stack of papers, and pulled it out. I was quite impressed.

          1. La Triviata*

            I read a news story that Umberto Eco has so many books that he’s had some floors collapse from the weight.

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      I was thinking this, too, but because in grad school there were mice in my research lab’s offices and also often visible in broad daylight in the student center near the food court, at an incredibly well-funded, world-renowned institution that you’ve definitely heard of. Old buildings with a lot of students who aren’t particularly careful about storing food, cleaning up after eating, etc. make it pretty challenging to manage mouse problems, but ick.

      The mice bothered me a lot less than the rats I saw in the evening out back by the racks where I locked up my bike.

      1. Dr. Vibrissae*

        At the large University where I did my post grad work, out building had rats. they would wrestle in the ceilings in the evenings and it sounded like some one had loosed chihuahuas up there. The reason we couldn’t get them taken care of in a timely manner: the university had outsourced facilities maintenance 2 years earlier and there were more only 2 people responsible for pest control on a campus with over 80000 students. We would regularly get admonishments not to put out our own traps because rats were starting the bait and then dying in the walls, making things worse.

        1. MassMatt*

          Time to fire the company that got the maintenance contract if they think two people can handle pest control for a campus of 80,000 people.

          Put out traps, not poison. Either spring loaded rat traps (not mouse traps), or if you are squeamish or those are a safety hazard (and a rat infestation isn’t?), the have-a-heart humane traps. And then release them in the maintenance company’s office.

          1. Ama*

            Oh I bet the university intentionally contracted for that low of an amount, I bet it wasn’t the maintenance company’s call. Universities are pretty notorious for cutting support services to the bone.

            1. AngryOctopus*

              This. There’s zero chance that the maintenance company said “You need X number of people” and the university said “yeah, we’re just going to hire 2” and the maintenance people shrugged and said “suit yourself, we get paid for whoever we send over to work”.

              1. AngryOctopus*

                Ugh changed tack halfway through that comment. Excellent chance of presented scenario happening, zero chance of maintenance people saying “yeah, we think two people is more than enough”

          2. BubbleTea*

            There are four pest control officers at my local council, for a town with almost 300,000 residents.

        2. Tasha*

          The point of poison is that (theoretically) it makes the animal thirsty and they leave the confined space to look for water, rather than dying and decomposing in the wall/ceiling/whatever.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            … the reality is sometimes animals die in the walls anyway.

            Or they do make their way outside and then they, or their dead carcass, gets eaten by animals farther up the food chain, so it winds up killing not just a rat or two, but foxes, coyotes, hawks, owls, etc etc

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Ugh, I saw my first Boston rat last week, running alongside the apartment building. Thankfully it was outside. Stay there, buddy!

        Every large building probably has or has had some issues with rodents. I bet all the skyscrapers downtown are full of them.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Mostly with rodents you have more of a detente than an eradication. They are wily and adaptable and can get into places you think they can’t. This is why so many animal facilities are either in sealed basements, or several floors up in buildings. Gotta keep out the wild ones!

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        I still can’t get over how BIG rats are. I spotted one once when my workspace was being renovated that was the size of a puppy. I shrieked like every old-time cartoon of a housewife and if there had been a chair around, I would have leaped upon it like a deer.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          This one was on the small side, but definitely a rat and not a mouse. I’ve heard tell that wharf rats are huge. No desire to find out!

    4. Time for Tea*

      My partner works at a university and will have to fight academics to throw away things that have been obsolete since the 80s or earlier on a regular basis. You have to get things out of the buildings and in to a skip before someone claims it and moves it to another office to fester in. And the old food that’s left behind in cupboards and the like! I don’t know how he copes working there.

      1. Mine Own Telemachus*

        In my experience, sometimes they will take them out of the skip so you gotta be quick with that, too. When I worked at the library in college, we’d weed the collections in the summer to prevent people from going into the dumpster appalled that we’d thrown out “perfectly good books” (usually a massively outdated textbook or a Farmer’s Almanac from 1950).

        1. zuzu*

          At my last library, we had to do a “trickle” method of deaccessioning large parts of our collection because a) we were unable to reserve a dumpster in the summer in the one spot available for it for a massive one-time weed because the spot was already taken for a construction skip; and b) we needed the shelf space badly and couldn’t wait for summer. So we took stuff off the shelves, staged it in our basement area by the loading dock, and either shipped it out to other libraries who wanted it or tossed it little by little so no one caught on that we were throwing away massive amounts of our print materials.

          And yes, there was SO MUCH DRAMA about deciding to cancel a bunch of these subscriptions, within the library and within the law school, even though we had them in multiple formats and we were over budget. It was what I was brought in to do, and I was treated like I was destroying the library. That attitude is a big part of why I left. I just got tired of fighting with them over the basic functions of my job.

    5. TradeMark*

      Or a library. I shudder to think how things work in academic libraries – worst of both worlds :)

      1. higheredadmin*

        THIS! I think this is definitely a hotline call. They can be anonymous, and it puts it at a much more senior (and likely to want to shut down a situation like this) level.

    6. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The thing that stands out to me is that there’s a *lab* involved. Academia has a lot of dysfunction but lab people tend to be the ones to put their foots down.

      1. Ama*

        Yeah I’m wondering if there is a research standards office OP could potentially appeal to, or maybe push it more with the head of the lab. If it’s a lab with federal grants, they could get a surprise site inspection at any time and that’s not going to go well.

        1. Internship Admin*

          There’s often a compliance office or health and safety team that oversees the strict stuff. I’m wondering how they went this long without an inspector shutting it all down.

          1. JustaTech*

            EHS or even the IACUC (the people who oversee the ethical treatment of the research animals).
            If there were an infestation like this at the institution where I used to work the animal facility people would have come down like a ton of bricks on the whole thing – with the blessing of the head of the institution.
            Even if Julie is tenured, there are people above her to put a stop to the whole situation.

            1. Nonanon*

              I would also include vivarium (animal housing) managers in the “people to contact regarding my college’s mouse infestation” conversation. Mouse infestation is JUST to the left of what an IACUC would do (to my understanding it’s not outside their responsibilities, but if the lab doesn’t work directly with animals there’s only so much they can do), but your vivarium manager can contact other PIs and raise an… ahem… poop-storm, if you will.

      2. But what to call me?*

        Depends on the lab. The chemistry lab I worked in during grad school was a mess, as far as mysterious things spilled on counters and unlabeled bottles of chemicals that were presumably being used as waste containers. I was supposedly in charge of keeping safety standards up, but the lab’s PI didn’t seem to quite grasp that a second year grad student probably doesn’t have a lot of authority over a bunch of post docs.

    7. Sally*

      LOL doesn’t it?? There are some *extremely* unusual academics and hygiene issues often go along with them. People who make mid 6 figures but don’t shower or brush their teeth.

  2. Pidgeot*

    Would this be considered an OSHA violation, especially if the poop is getting everywhere? Similar to the letter previously about the office with bats.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      Yes, it likely would be. We had mice sightings at a prior job (building was in the middle of a large city), and an employee made an OSHA complaint, and it resulted in significant actions required by the employer, such as no longer allowing employees to eat at their desk.

      1. Toast*

        LW could maybe also try the Department of Health and Human Services, the Fire Marshall (if the items are flammable and/or would block someone from leaving the office in the event of a fire), the university Ombudsman as mentioned down thread, and the internal lab safety department at the university.

    2. ferrina*

      This is where my mind went, too. This is an inherently unhealthy working environment if their desk has mice poop semi-regularly and the mice aren’t being addressed.

    3. OhNoYouDidn't*

      I was thinking the same thing. If the interal system isn’t keeping things in check, then an outside regulatory system such as OSHA could be informed.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            OSHA is a federal agency. Many states have an equivalent, and OSHA generally lets them handle things, but the ultimate authority is not at the state level.

            1. cwj*

              Federal OSHA only covers private sector workers, but some states have OHSA-approved state plans that cover state/local government workers

              1. AngryOctopus*

                If you have a federal grant, like from the NIH, then you’re covered by OSHA, I believe.

                Even if for some reason OSHA didn’t cover you, they’ll point you in the correct reporting direction if you contact them.

      1. bamcheeks*

        really?! Is there alternatively legislation that covers public institutions or do they just — not have to worry about that?

        1. cwj*

          I think there are similar standards enforced by state agencies in states. Don’t trust me on this though. Realized after I commented that I didn’t know the specifics.

    4. Nia*

      If she does file an OSHA complaint she needs to be prepared for retaliation, it sounds like everyone would know who the complaint originated from.

    5. Antilles*

      It likely is and given that the higher-ups clearly don’t give a crap, I’m guessing the required step to actually address it would involve getting some kind of outside agency to actually elevate things.
      That said, I know academia has a ton of internal politics and strange dynamics, so hopefully someone actually in that world can chime in about whether this would be viable.

    6. Generic Name*

      Maybe things have changed in the 20 years since I was in graduate school, but most universities couldn’t even spell OSHA. I won’t go into details of what I experienced, but there have been several news stories about graduate students/post-docs dying/being seriously injured in lab accidents in universities that could have been prevented with basic safety measures (required by OSHA).

      1. Samwise*

        We’ve got OSHA posters in our building — large state university in a state with laughable “commitment” to workers’ health and wellbeing.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Being covered by OSHA and being actually complaint and inspected are sadly two different things. OSHA doesn’t have the staff to regularly inspect all facilities, or most places like that would see a right quick change.

          However, if they get complaints like this one (especially if you send proof), you’re gonna be a priority, so go ahead and report to as many Health and Safety places as possible. Someone is going to come over and shut it down.

    7. Smithy*

      Yeah, I would seriously consider filing the compliant around unsafe work conditions due to rodents, rodent feces, and a lack of measures to address the issue.

      While pest control has identified Julie as being a barrier to identifying the problem. And it’s very likely she is certainly a contributing factor, it may be a case that this office is right over a giant rodent colony or some other larger structural issues where unless everyone emptied all garbage outside – there would always be a greater than average mouse problem. All to say, right now the employer is not doing what it needs to ensure a sanitary working environment. And focusing on that can diffuse specific attention on Julie as the #1 problem when the reality may be that she’s 50% of the problem and the other 50% is how the building has been maintained over the years.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Also, “this will never be effective unless she cleans up, _so we won’t start until then_?” I get why a company wouldn’t want to guarantee success, but honestly, trying to contain the problem and failing is better than not trying, surely, until such time as the hoarding mess is addressed?

        1. Kevin Sours*

          They said “University Facilities”, not an external company. The difficulty with “containing the problem” until the “hoarding mess is addressed” is that the former tends to reduce the urgency of the latter. I’m sure that facilities doesn’t want to keep spending their budget in a futile effort because a lab won’t fix their problems.

          And note, even without any containment the hoarding has *still* not been addressed.

          1. Kyrielle*

            But meanwhile, Julie’s coworkers are living with a horrible mouse infestation. I agree, it’s not going to fix things until her office is cleaned out, but it could make them less-bad for the people around her. The thing to do is that, followed by hiring a company that specializes in helping hoarders (including, as others have pointed out, hazmat cleaning) to work with the university and with Julie to get that cleaned out – and make it clear to Julie that it *must* be cleaned out.

            It’s not going to be easy for her, and no, trapping for mice won’t entirely help without the other elements, but *something* is better than *nothing*.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              The problem is that Julie’s management won’t address the problem. Trapping the mice followed by cleaning out the hording might be the thing to do. But the facilities people don’t have the power to do that. And their isn’t any reason to believe that the first part would be followed by the second.

              How long should facilities continue to trap mice and drain their budget because lab management refuses to address the real problem? The only leverage they have to get the problem addressed is to refuse to provide service until that service will actually accomplish something. It sucks, but working your ass off so that people can continue to sweep problems under the rug also sucks.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            An external company would likely tell them the same thing. They can’t get the mice out if they can’t get to them.

            1. Kevin Sours*

              An external company is more likely to cash the check and do it anyway than an internal group that is going to burning their own budget to push that boulder up the hill.

              1. Kevin Sours*

                After properly documenting that it’s not going to do a damn bit of good if they don’t fix the root cause that is.

        2. Smithy*

          Yeah…especially as it comes to diagnostics. Just to rule out that there’s nothing more significant going on with the building or surrounding areas connected to things like the sewer/septic system.

          Cause right now the process seems to be a bit of deflection that allows everything to somehow be no one’s fault. Pest control can’t do anything until Julie cleans. Julie can’t clean because of mental health issues. Management can’t force Julie to clean due to their interpretation of being supportive of her mental health issues. See! No one can do anything and isn’t really at fault because we don’t actually know the cause of the rodents!

        3. Orv*

          On most campuses I’ve worked on Faculties is so under-funded that they’re basically a “no” department. I was told they couldn’t fix the heat in my office because my building is 50 years old and there’s just nothing to be done.

      2. zuzu*

        Julie’s not all of the problem. There are a lot of people who are declining to even ask Julie to clean up for Reasons. It’s Unkind. She Has a Mental Health Issue. You Need to Suck it Up. You Should Pitch In and Help.

        All of that is the weird politics of academic workplaces where Julie, who is likely tenured if she runs a lab, is seen as untouchable and therefore no one wants to try to force her to do anything. But that’s not at all true, because there’s always a mechanism to force someone to do something — even a tenured someone, and especially someone with a lab. Labs have standards they have to meet, especially if they are funded by federal grants. If she’s got vermin in her lab, that’s a violation of those standards.

        It’s a matter of finding the right lever to push.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Frankly, this is the kind of attitude (on the part of the LW’s management, that is) that leads to MORE unkindness and lack of flexibility around mental health! When someone’s told they’re being a big ol’ meanie for not wanting to sit in Mouse Poop Central and they should grab a broom and form a cleaning brigade like the forest animals in Snow White, they don’t tend to respond well.

    8. RPOhno*

      Yup, this is a very clear health and safety issue, especially in a lab, and my first thought was that OP should pull in EHS if they haven’t already.

    9. Sewshesews*

      i would 100% file an OSHA complaint. OSHA doesnt fart around and cant be ignored. It can also affect the univ. work comp insurance. i think this would solve the problem a lot faster than HR.

    10. Artemesia*

      this. And the health hazards mean colleagues should not have to clean this up. The university needs to have the janitorial staff with appropriate safety gear (respirators) come in and clean this out. Julie should be told to retrieve any valuables because it is a health hazard and will be cleared and discarded; she needs to take anything she wants to keep home by the end of the week as this weekend — or next Mon-Tues, the hazards crew will clear the office and sanitize it.

      I’d suggest this to HR today noting it is a health hazard and needs to be professionally dealt with — and if you can find some OSHA language put that in.

    11. RIP Pillowfort*

      It’s an OSHA violation and depending on what type of lab it is there could be some other regulations in play.

      Pest control is a part of NIH regulations for labs and for our materials labs it would affect our accreditation if you have an uncontrolled pest issue.

      I feel for the OP involved in this because I suspect this is a situation where the management is covering for Julie but not looking at the bigger health and safety issue. I would absolutely refuse to clean that office because I’ve dealt with hording on this scale in my personal life. It’s not just cleaning up the physical hoard but the damage the hoarding has done to the building long term.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “It’s an OSHA violation and depending on what type of lab it is there could be some other regulations in play.”

        This is where I would personally direct the energy, if internal avenues are cut off. Lab regulations tend to be stricter and quicker to act.

    12. Madeleine Matilda*

      Also consider reporting to the fire marshal as the hoarding may be causing fire risks and to your local health department. I used to work at a major research institution and the fire marshal regularly inspected our facilities. The marshal did not mess around and would issue citations to remediate any unsafe conditions that might be fire risks.

      1. Enai*

        Yes, the fire marshall won’t entertain any dithering about with “oh, that’s not nice, why don’t you help, also she’s mentally ill, and besides if we ignore it the problem will solve itself” or similar nonsense.

        1. Dog momma*

          As the hoarding has gotten worse, being nice or kind should have stopped long ago! This is a serious health hazard!

    13. kiki*

      Yeah, I understand why nobody had filed one yet because it was clear what the problem was and it seemed straight-forward to resolve (Julie cleaning out her mess), but it’s clear leadership is bungling this action until some larger force sets them straight.

    14. fhqwhgads*

      Yes. OSHA. For sure. Which makes their response more puzzling to me.

      Wonder if saying “well OSHA…” would change the reactions? But it sounds like they’re so fogged in about this situation nothing will make a difference.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I wouldn’t say, “Well, OSHA . . . ” to anyone on that campus. Even a trusted friend/colleague. They’ve shown they don’t care about workplace safety, and mentioning an enforcement agency will not make them care.

        All it will do is make it obvious who called them. OP should just call them, and say nothing about it.

    15. kbeers0su*

      Depending on the size of the university, they may also have a separate Health and Safety (or similarly titled) person or department. I’ve worked at several universities, and this position is separate from Facilities, because their work oversees not only this kind of OSHA stuff, but also large-scale issues (like COVID outbreaks and natural disaster planning). They would be your closest “local” person to handle something like this, and because they’re all about compliance, they’ll be able to hit all the nails discussed here (airborne disease, fire hazard, egress issues, etc.).

    16. TG*

      I honestly this this a pretty sever work violation – it’s absolutely hazardous and disgusting. I’m sorry but accommodations have been attempted; she needs to be forced to clean out her stuff and now allowed to spread it around to other offices also. I’m honestly horrified by the HR response!

  3. SJPxo*

    Not only is this absolutely disgusting, it’s a giant fire hazard and the University should be taking that, as well as the mice far more seriously!

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      we almost lost my cousin to leptospirosis (she was on a ventilator) after exposure to mouse feces in the workplace. This is far more dangerous than people realize.

      1. SJPxo*

        Oh gosh, yes I hadn’t considered that. I get that this lady has a mental illness but feel like they need to take it more seriously than they are and stop taking out their frustration on OP who is being very reasonable!

      2. Artemesia*

        exactly which is why colleagues should not be required to ‘pitch in’ and clear this mess. This is hazardous. A team of janitorial crew with appropriate protective gear should clear it out. Julie needs to be notified it is all going on X date and the office sanitized and anything she wants to keep needs to GO HOME before this date. And once it is done, she needs to be managed to prevent new hoarding.

        1. Regular Reader*

          Absolutely. Full hazard gear required wherever droppings are found.
          Julie’s office may have got past the point where it is just not be possible to ask her or others to clear the mess. At least not without insisting she is also wearing appropriate protective gear. Otherwise you are asking an employee to undertake hazardous work even though she has created the situation.

    2. urguncle*

      Survived an apartment building fire last year that was largely made worse due to a hoarding situation. While it did not cause the fire directly, we were displaced for weeks longer than would have been necessary as the tenant who caused the fire made the entire building unlivable until the hoard was removed. I knew about the hoard to some extent but didn’t say anything thinking it was the kind thing to do and I regret it a lot.

      1. ANinnyMouse*

        That sucks but now you know. We had a fire several years ago; started in the upstairs neighbors apartment. Lost 90% of our belongings (thankfully none of the occupants were hurt). I didn’t find out until after that a threat to burn something down is taken more seriously than a threat to kill someone. Guess who had been yelling in the parking lot that she was going to “burn your house down, burn your mothers house down” a few months prior? Yeah, upstairs neighbors girlfriend/wife.

        I regret not calling the police that day. and management (turned out the tenents were illegally subletting). At the very least it would have meant our fire was looked into with more detail to check for arson.

        You were trying to do right by your neighbor. And now you know and can share; who knows how many others you can help.

      2. SmallPotato*

        I think you may be a neighbor of mine – or this kind of thing is more widespread than I realized. The hoarding was so bad that the neighbor whose home burned wasn’t able to escape, and the whole building is still under construction to get it back to livability for the other poor tenants who have been displaced by this. It was such a preventable tragedy, but it felt kind at the time not to say anything/try to provide resources.

        So now my mind goes right back to that night whenever I hear of or see a hoarding situation – that, plus the dangers posed by the droppings, is enough to make me want to scream at this management to take things more seriously!

  4. Earlk*

    If they’re aware Julie isn’t going to be able to completely clear the office herself they should be hiring people specifically to do it or at least help.

    1. Elise*

      The other concern is that hoarding as a mental illness is a long process. It takes mental health help to be able to clear out a space. It’s not like they could just go in and throw everything out, as Julie would then likely suffer. The managers really should be stepping in and working with Julie to find a suitable accommodation, which includes cleaning out her office, while she works through her issues.

      1. Elsewise*

        That’s what I’m thinking- if Julie isn’t ready to REALLY clean out her office, having her coworkers there will just distress everyone. I’m imagining people accidentally throwing out something she’s not ready to let go of, people moving things she doesn’t want moved, Julie demanding that too many things get held on to… it’s going to be a disaster. Not to mention the embarrassment and shame she’ll likely feel for her coworkers being forced to clean up her office. No one is going to have a good time with this.

        1. Miss Fisher*

          We accidentally did this to my grandmother. Her house was getting cluttered with stacks of catalogues etc. We all went in one day and cleaned, throwing out the old magazines, etc. It caused a complete mental breakdown. We didn’t know at the time that she was a real hoarder. After she had to be moved out of her house, it took forever to actually clean as the closets etc were all packed with garbage.

          1. I Have RBF*

            My mother is a hoarder. She had bags with new stuff sitting in her (unusable) bathtub one time that I visited her, as well as trash on the floor, etc. I can’t even begin to help her to clean it up without getting her mental help.

            I have hoarding tendencies (I fear it’s genetic.) I draw the line at dirt and garbage on the floor, but I am disabled, so actually doing heavy cleaning is impossible for me. I also refuse to walk on trash/clutter, so it gets picked up. When I can afford it, I hire someone to come in and do the heavy cleaning like vacuuming, dusting, and scrubbing the bathrooms.

            Hoarding, and the tendency toward it, is scary stuff. It often gets triggered by scarcity, poverty, or deprivation, and has a really big depression component.

            I used to be unable to discard clothing that had holes in it, because I felt that I should be able to repair and reuse it, because new costs money, and what if I need it? I finally was able to actually discard worn out underwear and socks when I bought my house. I managed to convince my own mind that if I could afford a house payment, I could afford new underwear. But holy crap, fighting that battle with my subconscious was a prolonged mess. I now will donate usable clothing that doesn’t fit, instead of keeping it “just in case”.

            In order to make my ADHD not a contributor to the process, I have some rules: A. Don’t leave stuff in bags, put it away. B. When storing stuff, put it neatly into clear bins that are labeled, so you can find it again (my type of ADHD is “out of sight, out of mind.” If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.) C. Clean up spills immediately. D. Clean up pet messes immediately. E. Don’t buy stuff until you are sure you need it. F. When in doubt, label the storage.

            But the mental health angle is a real concern, and doing a cleanout without handling the mental health angle can trigger a worse problem.

            If you don’t have this problem, thank your lucky stars. As someone with hoarding tendencies who also knows some serious hoarders, it is absolutely a mental illness that is often triggered by poverty, depression, or anxiety, IME. The biggest trigger is poverty, to my view.

        2. Washi*

          Exactly. I did one of my MSW internships at a housing agency that helped people deal with hoarding with the goal not of a pristine apartment but simply passing their inspection.

          I would spend an hour working with someone with the outcome of them agreeing to let go of 1 book.

          The higher ups are putting the coworkers in a really tough spot expecting them to navigate this with a peer and it’s very unlikely to be successful.

          In the OP’s place I would probably lodge a complaint that the working conditions are affecting MY mental health. Because finding feces on my desk absolutely would!

          1. MassMatt*

            I get that this is a serious mental health issue that needs treatment, but question the notion in several comments in the thread that this is or should be the employer’s responsibility.

            Most cases of hoarding happen at home, and often end with a hard deadline from a landlord or local board of health threatening to condemn the property. Does the employer own the property, or is there a landlord?

            The employer needs to address this issue, so far their response seems to be “we’ve tried nothing, what ELSE can we possibly do?!” and having COWORKERS… clean out her office?

            1. boof*

              Exactly – given what I understand of hoarding “not causing julie distress” is not a reasonable goal for an employer, nor is “fix julie’s mental health”. The goal has to be something more like “get facilities clean by X deadline with a minimum of distress to Julie where able”. Ideally they’d work with a hording specialist to figure out how to do that but Julie’s almost certainly going to be distressed about losing stuff, which HAS to happen unless maybe she just takes it all home (shudder)
              And she will need long term monitoring to make sure she isn’t rehoarding too.

            2. Observer*

              but question the notion in several comments in the thread that this is or should be the employer’s responsibility.

              I don’t think that most commenters think that it’s the employer’s responsibility in the sense of their issue to get her treatment. But it *is* their responsibility to recognize that since this is almost certainly a mental health issue it is just not going to be as simple as getting all the other staff to do the clean up.

              1. AngryOctopus*

                Yes. It’s the employer’s responsibility to 1-acknowledge the issue exists and that it impacts other people, 2-resolve the issue. 2 will probably involve referring Julie to the EAP/equivalent (which they hopefully have?), and giving her a strict deadline at which her office will be cleaned out, by professionals whose job it is to clean out biohazard spaces. Then an exterminator comes in to deal with the mouse issue. At no time should this be made any employee’s problem. Their contribution should be along the lines of “please let us know if the issues continue after the cleanout/exterminator, so we can address it right away”.

      2. OhNoYouDidn't*

        Because this is a work situation, and because it’s potentially hazardous, IMO it’s not the company’s job to help Julie work through her mental illness. Accommodations (reasonable ones) are one thing. Letting her create a hazard is quite another. They have a professional obligation to make sure that their work place is clean, safe, and up to professional standards. It’s not their job to hold Julie’s hand or offer professional (ie psychological) help on the job. That’s not reasonable. She may suffer through the process, but that’s her issue to deal with. Right now, and for the past months, the rest of the team has been suffering and continues to suffer.

        1. Ellis Chumsfanleigh*

          Yes, they have an obligation to make sure that their work place is clean and safe and, clearly, they dropped the ball on that in the past.

          But now that they are finally going address the issue and get things cleaned up, they can choose to do it in a way that is less traumatizing to Julie rather than automatically opting for the way that is most traumatizing for her.

          They can have a clean office *and* be kind to Julie.

          1. nopetopus*

            Not really. I don’t know how much experience you have with hoarders, but in my experience ANY action to clean will cause distress to the person doing the hoarding if they aren’t ready to do it. And Julie is clearly not ready. I’ve witnessed family members become physically violent during help cleaning out, and that’s not a risk the office should take.

            I know it’s harsh, but Julie should be allowed one (1) day to take what she wants home, then be sent to work from home while a professional crew cleans out and throws away everything. Don’t allow her back in until it’s done. And after that, Julie cannot be allowed to store any more thing in her office or else they’ll be back to this exact issue in months or a few short years.

            1. Miss Fisher*

              But it is possible that she is hoarding the office because she has no more room at home so sending her home with more stuff is not a good idea.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                That’s not for the employers to decide or consider. I get why you would want to, but they need to be responsible for the areas under their purview and the working conditions for other staff.

                1. goddessoftransitory*

                  Yes. That’s out of her employers’ hands. They can and should insist that “as of X Date, this space is going to be professionally cleared” and stick to it.

                  It is going to cause her deep distress. But they aren’t doing it to be cruel to her, they’re doing it because the situation is untenable and cannot go on.

              2. AngryOctopus*

                Unfortunately they cannot be responsible for anything happening at Julie’s house. They do need to address the situation at work. They may be related things for Julie, but that doesn’t matter for the work part of it.

              3. Elizabeth West*

                Oh, she probably is, but that’s not their issue to deal with. The problem for the employer what she’s doing on their property.

            2. Aggretsuko*

              I come from hoarders and as far as I can tell, nobody’s figured out how to handle them psychologically. I gave up years ago and I will just have to spend years throwing out things once the time comes.

              I think at bare minimum Julie needs to not be allowed to hoard seeds or whatever is bringing on the mice.

          2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            I agree with your point in general. The challenge is that this is a significant health hazard. There is a limit to how much additional time can reasonably be spent on supporting Julie when it delays the necessary cleaning. That’s the crux of the problem already – leadership has already waited 3 months for Julie to be ready to clean.

            There should be mental health support made available to her and it would be great to give her some paid time off that doesn’t come out of her usual PTO after (and possibly also during) the cleaning. Or, if they insist on waiting for Julie, give everyone else PTO until it’s sorted.

            1. boof*

              I’m gonna say, if this is a lab, like the kind that students are doing major parts of their degree requirements in, giving them PTO for months does not make up for them being unable to use the facilities. Students make no money or a pittance in exchange for the degree.

          3. Observer*

            But now that they are finally going address the issue and get things cleaned up, they can choose to do it in a way that is less traumatizing to Julie rather than automatically opting for the way that is most traumatizing for her.

            Not really. Until she works through her problems, actually clearing out her space to reach a point where it’s not a breeding ground for rodents is just not possible in a way that is not going to be painful and possibly traumatizing. Because throwing ANY of this stuff out without her consent is going to be a huge problem for her, and she will not consent to throwing anything away. *Maybe* they could get her to consent to one or two things a week while keeping her from bringing in more stuff. But that’s going to mean a process that will take an inordinate amount of time, even if they could keep her to it. And the organization is out of time!

            1. I Have RBF*

              Yes, it will be traumatic for Julie. There is no way around that now. If she had gotten help earlier, it wouldn’t be an issue now.

              Do not let her be there when you clean things up. Have a mental health professional be there when she comes back to the office. There will be tears and freakouts.

            2. goddessoftransitory*

              Consent, to coin a phrase, has become academic. It’s not the employer’s job to provide Julie endless space for her hoard, nor is it safe or financially tenable. If she wants her stuff, she has to take it somewhere else, period.

              There’s no way this won’t be traumatic for her. But her potential trauma has been running the show until now and it’s all mice all the time.

      3. zolk*

        Gotta disagree–Julie’s mental health is important but her office is creating a bio-hazard, and that has to take priority. She can take some time off but that office needs to be emptied and bleached so that the actual pest control can begin. It is not fair to everyone else! Throwing everything out is the only solution.

      4. Chairman of the Bored*

        If disposing of all the trash and anything contaminated with rodent waste is the only way to remediate the health hazard is the only way to address the immediate health hazard, isn’t management required to do this even if it causes Julie to suffer?

        You can’t let an *active* safety risk continue to exist because somebody will be mentally disrupted by the mitigation steps.

      5. Artemesia*

        they should absolutely be throwing everything out; it is contaminated. First let Julie have a few days to take HOME things she wishes to keep — after that it is hazardous material to be removed and thrown out.

      6. Keymaster*

        Actually I’d suggest they give her some time off (and strongly suggest professional help of whatever nature) and while she’s not there get inthe professionals and gut the room and deep clean it.

        1. Jessen*

          That was my thought as well! The office has to be professionally cleaned out, but the best option to do so may be to give her time off and a push to use it to start mental health treatment. Not tiptoe around the issue and expect everyone else to deal.

        2. LCH*

          yeah, this is why HR needs to be notified. because Julie’s supervisors aren’t going to do this. HR needs to step in and say, this person needs to be on some sort of leave.

        3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Exactly. She should be warned about when the cleaning is happening, so she can choose to be there or not, depending on which is less traumatic for her, as long as it’s clear she can’t interfere with the cleaning. I’m sure it’s going to be difficult for her, so she should get some additional PTO for this.

          1. boof*

            She should probably not be there, but the warning is to give her time to take anything she really wants to out – and the warning should be, like, 2 weeks lead time max.

      7. mb*

        The co-workers can contract life threatening issues and diseases. While Julie may indeed need time, a lot of therapy and medication to work through her issues, a safe work environment must immediately be established – not over months to years while co-workers are breathing in, exposed to and probably eating mice feces and fleas and mold.

        1. Observer*

          safe work environment must immediately be established – not over months to years

          Yes. This is at the heart of the issue.

      8. Dido*

        Who cares, Julie’s mental health doesn’t come before everyone else’s physical health and she’s obviously unwilling to change. They can’t force her to go to therapy, they can only control what she does in the office.

    2. ferrina*

      Professional help is definitely the right solution. They need:

      1. Mental health professional who specializes in hoarding to provide guidance on the least disruptive way to clean out Julie’s space and strategies for her to maintain her space going forward.

      2. Bio-hazard cleaners. There are mice nesting in Julie’s office. This is not “have your coworkers help” or even regular housecleaner territory. Yes, this is a low-grade hazard, but still should go to someone equipped for this.

      3. A lawyer to help navigate the ADA. Cause having mice across the building is absolutely an undue hardship.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Echoing point 2 in particular. Also one who is fully briefed on Julie’s issues and an agreed way to deal with them (I’m thinking rules about what can be thrown, what can go into appropriate storage, what is cleaned and retained, and what say Julie has about these).

        I understand this is a particular health hazard for pregnant people, which is another argument for getting it dealt with soon by the right people.

        1. Observer*

          (I’m thinking rules about what can be thrown, what can go into appropriate storage, what is cleaned and retained, and what say Julie has about these).

          No. The only say Julie gets is whether to take stuff home or not. Nothing can be cleaned and retained, and it’s not the job of the organization to store any of this stuff for her.

          The only possible exception to cleaning is stuff that has a hard and non-porous surface that can be bleached relatively easily. Anything is just not reasonable.

      2. Productivity Pigeon*

        Agreed 100%. They need outside help. This has gone way beyond any internal, “keep it in the family”-solutions.

      3. Yoyoyo*

        Yes, and I feel like point #2 is particularly important. It’s not just that LW doesn’t think it should be their job to help clean (it shouldn’t); with this level of hoarding and mouse droppings, it is a biohazard that needs people with specific expertise and equipment to handle.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        Any employer who honestly expected me to clean a mess like that would get an earful and my resignation (and I’d probably call the local news, to be honest.) This isn’t a “pitch in and help/it takes a village!” situation. This is “do not come in here without a respirator and having had all your vaccinations.”

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Yes. Asking others to do who are not professional cleaners/trained in hoarders will most likely result in Julie having a meltdown and ultimately not getting everything cleaned up. This is not an we are all in this together situation, this is a management needs to manage situation.

    4. cleo*

      yeah, I agree – hiring a service that specializes in working with hoarders seems like the reasonable accomodation here.

      A quick google turned up a lot of hits for hoarder cleanup services in my metro area. The LW could even suggest a couple services to their higher ups – the services I glanced included language about working with hoarders compassionately.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Like, they’re aware it’s a mental health problem. So hoping the mentally ill person who cannot manage social (or health) norms is going to abruptly become able to do so and fix it all is not a viable solution.

    6. Teacher#472*

      Exactly– and I didn’t like their suggestion of having co-workers come in to help clean. That seems like the worst alternative and will pit her against them. If she has a therapist, she should ask them to recommend the best protocol for a quick clean-out. If she doesn’t, she should find one.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        This. The co-workers cleaning may pit the rest of the staff against Julie, be mortifying for Julie as her colleagues go through her stuff, and is a health hazard.

        1. Enai*

          It is also mortifying to the coworkers. I would not want to dig through someone’s stuff against their will, and I’m reasonably sure any random lab scientist is ill equipped to deal with Julies psychological distress about the clean-up. Even if it were a psychological lab. Research psychology is quite different from the therapy kind.

      2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

        One set of former employers tried this on an office cleaning day (the person in question had also not come in on time, probably to avoid doing the cleaning). It did not go…happily. (By which I mean she got angry and put everything back. All 20 packets of chopsticks.)

    7. Lilo*

      There is no version of “reasonable accommodation” that requires coworkers to put their health at risk. The employer is being absurd here.

      1. Keymaster in absentia*


        If a coworker was suffering from a mental illness that meant they honestly couldn’t stop randomly slapping people would the accommodation be ‘deal with it’?

        Or if they couldn’t stop hurling abusive rants at people would it be ‘deal with it’?

        Once it is negatively impacting other peoples health, physical or mental, it’s not reasonable. This is a serious, serious health hazard that could kill. We’re right up to ‘letting a person with active RSV come in and cough everywhere’ levels and I am not joking.

        Health officials, formal complaints and the professionals are needed.

        1. Observer*

          Or if they couldn’t stop hurling abusive rants at people would it be ‘deal with it’?

          We actually had a post about someone like that, that the employer was not reigning in.

          This person would have meltdowns and yell at people, saying all sorts of inappropriate things. She’d even call people at home at night. And from what the LW said, she was also being pretty abusive to her staff (she flipped out at the LW when the LW left a thank you note for her assistant, because no one is allowed to talk to her assistant without her permission!) Management was doing nothing about this. (I found it especially horrifying that they even allowed her to have an assistant.)

          I can think of a few other letters where abusive bosses were allowed free reign.

          1. Observer*


            That’s the initial letter.


            #1 is the response.

            Another one:

            Update: https://www.askamanager.org/2020/04/update-my-boss-has-violent-tantrums-and-punches-holes-in-walls.html

  5. cindylouwho*

    As someone who also works in a university lab, but one that deals with mice consensually (lab mice) lol, I can say that they are disgusting, full of bacteria, and I would be losing my mind if this was happening to me at work.

    1. Sciencegirl*

      I worked in a mouse lab during my postdoc and if I never have to deal with mouse poop it would be too soon. My parents own cabins and when we were staying there over Christmas there was some mouse poop I cleaned up and it gave me flashbacks of cleaning cages.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        Yeah, honestly, my biggest reason to not want a cabin right now is that any place which is closed for a few months can end up attracting unwanted pests. And it’s hard enough keeping a singular house in something less than disaster.

      1. cindylouwho*

        I just meant that I consented to having mice in my workplace :) I certainly can’t speak for the mice!

    2. anon for this*

      As someone who also works with rodents in a university lab, I feel the people working there also need to take a good hard look at the quality of the results coming out of such a messy environment.

      And the risk of exposing the lab animals to disease would have led to a huge investigation by the university animal welfare and research ethics authorities.

  6. Your Social Work Friend*

    I think you should also consider, if escalation to higher ups fails, making a complaint to an outside body (OSHA, the labor board, whoever it would be appropriate to) about the fact that your work environment is unsafe. Mice are vermin. They carry diseases. You can get sick if they are in places where you keep, say, your water bottle or coffee cup and the crawl over it with their germy little feet. Also, un-fun fact, there is such a thing as paper lice and the only way to get rid of them is to destroy the things the are on. It’s not uncommon in hoarding situations. Not to mention that the organic matter could be breeding mold if it’s gone off, which is obviously terrible for everyone’s health.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep. It’s a big step to take but it sounds like you might be at the point where that’s appropriate.

    2. Enginerd*

      Second this. OHSA, city health inspector, building code enforcement, heck you could probably get the fire department to take a look at it. Just because she struggles with mental health issues doesn’t mean everyone else has to have an unsanitary and unsafe work environment.

  7. AnotherOne*

    All I can think is- are they trying to avoid a massive charge from the Facilities dept by getting everyone else to help “clean out” Jane’s stuff?

    I can’t even imagine what Facilities would charge to do that.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Either that or they know that Facilities solution would be to come in, fill two dozens black bin bags, and leave, and they think that a group of Julie’s colleagues will be more “sensitive”, sorting through everything and keeping the “valuable” stuff. Which is probably what you do *not* want in a hoarding situation, because Julie is going to resist anything being thrown out and you run the risk of multiple people spending upwards of a whole day on this and there being no real improvement at the end.

      1. ferrina*

        The poor colleagues are absolutely not equipped for this. Even if they are in the Psych department, it’s not their job to manage a colleague’s hoarding tendencies.

        That’s without considering that Julie’s stuff is probably full of mouse poop and nesting mice will be somewhere in or nearby.

        1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          I’m not easily grossed out or startled, but uncovering mice while cleaning is definitely past my comfort line. Dead ones would be gross, but what in the world should you do with the live ones? I’m not killing a litter of baby mice.

          1. ferrina*

            Just put them outside. Natural selection will take care of the rest.

            Someone whose cats love to bring “presents”

      2. Temperance*

        Which, frankly – NONE of it is valuable, or salvageable. It’s all contaminated due to mice droppings.

      3. Elitist Semicolon*

        This is more or less how my former job resolved a (mouseless) hoarding situation. The director told the guy (after many repeated requests that he clean up) that either he clean it all out gradually over two months or we’d call facilities to do it all at once. Even then he didn’t make any attempt until facilities brought in two giant bins and left them omiously in front of his office door.

        1. allathian*

          Absolutely. Wild mice in the US carry leptospirosis (thankfully I’m in Finland and it’s been found in the Baltics but not here), which can be lethal for humans; mild cases aren’t necessarily diagnosed but the death rate is about 10% for severe cases requiring hospitalization. So effective PPE is necessary when cleaning mice droppings.

          Basically everything in that office needs to be thrown out by people in hazmat gear, after that it’s time to call the exterminators.

          I hope the poor employee gets some help for her mental health issues, but it’s way past time to act here.

    2. Nea*

      I wonder if it’s either “look, if you work there you know what’s really important to keep” or, far more likely “Stop complaining and do something about it yourself, then.”

    3. Ama*

      Universities are pretty notorious for expecting employees to take on all kinds of things that they are not really equipped to handle, partly because they don’t want to spend money and partly because many faculty and high level administrators have an attitude of “well we’re all really smart so we can handle this thing we actually know nothing about.” This has the side effect of creating a culture in a lot of universities where everyone tries to ignore problems because they know if they flag something as a problem it will become theirs to solve (seems like this is part of what OP is dealing with).

      Source: worked in university admin for 10 years and have spent the last 10 years working in a nonprofit that works closely with universities.

    4. Orv*

      100%. Facililties (or whoever is responsible for waste disposal on campus) will charge them by the worker by the hour to clean it out, and they either don’t have the money in the department budget or don’t want to spend it.

      Where I work we’ve occasionally resorted to this to handle faculty who retire and leave offices full of stuff. They (and their families) aren’t always happy about it because they were always going to come get that stuff “eventually,” but it always came after they were given a deadline and usually after they tried just writing “DO NOT DISCARD” on everything. We’re short on offices and can’t just let emeritus faculty squat in them forever.

  8. OrigCassandra*

    If there’s an ombuds office at your university, OP, I might give them a call. They often know the university bureaucracy pretty well and can give you guidance not just on whom to talk to, but what to say and how to cover your butt.

    A good ombuds office should be confidential — nobody will know you talked to them or what you said.

    1. I work at a university*

      I echo this one.

      Comments about “oh, that’s just like a university” aren’t helpful IMO (haven’t we all spent enough time on AAM to know that any workplace can surface challenging and odd situations?) but sometimes internal politics work differently. The ombuds will know what kind of internal politics you need to work through, and it’s literally their job to help you think through if and how you want to make a complaint and related working conditions.

      Source: Last spring I had a conflict with my own academic supervisors and I spent about 45 minutes one day talking to the ombuds. It was really helpful in giving me a sense of what my options were and what resolution I might want. I wound up resolving the conflict another way, but it was a good ombuds experience.

      1. The day of Sue*

        Thank you for this comment, especially the second sentence. The “Universities suck” comments are unhelpful and immature. Anecdote isn’t generalizable.

    2. kbeers0su*

      I mentioned this above in another thread, but outside an ombuds, your university likely has a person or office responsible for Environmental Health and Safety things for your entire campus. They would handle not only the compliance issues here, but also larger issues like natural disaster planning, so they’ll know the whole span of issues that may exist in this situation.

    3. Manders*

      This is possibly the most useful comment I have seen on this thread. I often forget about our ombuds office, but it is indeed a great resource.

    4. Academia*

      Yes. This is what OP should do immediately. I genuinely think Alison might want to update the post with this specific advice.

  9. soo*

    oh man. We have had this issue at work. We have mice, we have issues with people who leave food out in ways mice can get at it. They get told to stop doing it or else, no excuses because this isn’t about them, it is about everyone else. Any one who knowingly doesn’t comply will be forced to comply – aka desks will be searched. We all know who doesn’t comply.

    1. A. Smith*

      My very first thought was that the university higher-ups are worried about a lawsuit from Julie if they push too hard. Perhaps it would be helpful to even name in whatever complaint that you understand there’s a fine line to walk here but that it can’t possibly be illegal to create and maintain a workspace that is safe (it in fact illegal NOT to do that) and as such, there has to be something that can be done that isn’t the wait and see plan.

      I will say I often am understanding of a manager’s plight. Making a lot of people happy is difficult (and shouldn’t be the goal, really). But in this case, this is cowardice and it’s a shame. It’s also easy to say let’s wait and see when you don’t have mice running all over your stuff.

      This is also indicative of a larger workplace culture wherein everyone has a title and no one seems to have the power to do anything. A million people with leader titles and no leaders.

  10. nopetopus*

    This makes me feel better about my office’s hoarder. They take expired food out of the trash and put it back in the fridge, but at least there aren’t vermin involved!

    1. I Have RBF*


      Just “expired”, or actually gone off? Expiry dates don’t mean what some people think they do. “Best by X” does not mean that it is inedible at X+1, but “Discard after Y” can mean that.

      But, once it’s in the bin? Even if it should not have been dumped, it is contaminated now, so it stays, IMO.

  11. A. Nonymous*

    Death to the “Saying someone else’s mental illness negatively affects you is UNKIND” way of disordered problem solving in 2024.

    1. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

      Some people use that excuse to do everything they want with no boundaries or consequences, and it sucks for everyone who’s trying to maintain a stable and respectful community/office/school

      1. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

        Agreed! We need to stop with tiptoeing around and accommodating the ‘you-have-no-empathy-if-you-don’t-let-me-do-whatever-I-want-no-matter-how-it-affects-you-or-anyone-else’ crap. If handling this reasonably and compassionately while ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of her coworkers upsets Julie that much, that’s on her.

    2. Not my coffee*

      I wish I could highlight this comment to make it more visible.

      “Unkind” is thrown around all too often.

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        Being kind here would actually be holding very firm in that this needs to change and there is no other option. HR and bosses who are shrugging it off and pointing to her mental illness are unkind here.

        1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

          Exactly! As bad as this is for Julie’s colleagues, Julie is the person suffering most from the managers’ refusing to intervene. She’s in the epicenter of the nesting and is also damaging her professional relationships and reputation for as long as this continues.

          External structure is actually often the kindest, most supportive thing you can give folks dealing with mental illness as long as it’s a structure suited to their needs, delivered from a place of compassion.

          This sort of “kindness” does not come from a real place of caring about Julie. It comes from aversion to conflict and feeling like or being seen as a bad person.

          1. Susie Occasionally(formerly No)-Fun*

            I agree. The managers are living in the world of “don’t wanna deal with it,” but dealing with it is literally their job. And trying to push it onto Julie’s colleagues is not kind to anyone.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          Being kind would be calling in the sort of professional service that specializes in cleaning up and supporting a hoarder so that it’s less traumatizing. Unkind is expecting her coworkers to have the capacity to do so.

          1. I Have RBF*


            Management needs to get a compassionate hoarding cleanout service with proper hazmat gear to handle the mouse problem.

        3. AngryOctopus*

          It’s pretty unkind to allow Julie to continue to suffer from her mental illness while spending time in an office which is probably negatively contributing to her physical health as well.

        4. goddessoftransitory*

          Not only in the obvious ways, but it’s so unkind to Julie in that she’s being lensed solely as “the problem/mentally ill” one and very likely actively sidetracked off of committees, work trips, seminars and other things that are essential to her career because–well, she’s ill. Poor thing can’t be expected to DO anything.

          This is not how an adult professional wants to be seen, and HR telling the entire office (who’s already grossed out and angry) to just blame Julie without blaming Julie is really cruel.

      2. Ink*

        It always feels childish, too. The “mom is being mean to me, she told me I have to make my bed” of adult relationships :/

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep. Your desire to be kind does not trump my right to a workplace free of biohazards.

        And the word biohazard needs to be used liberally here, because that’s what this is. Not a quirky issue, or an unfortunate mess. A full stop biohazard.

    3. Zap R.*

      Yeah, agreed. This a trolley problem situation. Sparing Julie’s feelings is not as important as protecting the dozens of other people she’s putting at serious risk.

      It should never have been allowed to get this far but it has. I understand the impulse to want to clean up in a way that’s least distressing/disruptive for Julie but that ship has sailed.

    4. Elbe*

      The response of management screams, “This is a difficult, uncomfortable situation that I would like to avoid dealing with, but I also want to feel like the good guy.”

      Allowing Julie to create this kind of work environment for everyone else is much more enabling than it is compassionate.

  12. Nia*

    I have significant doubts that university HR is going to see any meaningful difference between complaining about Julie and complaining about the situation.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      No but if you’re naming management in the complaint they have a lot less say over whether or not you submit it.

  13. lunchtime caller*

    This is a very real health hazard–google hantavirus, an incurable lung disease that you catch by being in confined areas for long periods of time with rodent droppings. Everyone should stop coming in full stop until this is fixed.

    1. Mary Anne Spier*

      This. Breathing in mouse poop is bad news. OP, don’t let anyone sweep or vacuum in her office. kicking up the dropping dust is dangerous. you need to clean everything up with a wet mop/cloth only.

      1. Artemesia*

        You don’t need to clean up anything — a crew with hazmat gear needs to do a thorough cleaning, remove and discard and sanitize the office. Julie’s only involvement should be to take anything she wants to keep home before this starts.

        Classic incompetent management afraid to manage. It is also unkind to let someone contract a serious disease from mouse droppings.

    2. CommanderBanana*

      Yes. I think mice are adorable. I also know hantavirus is no joke. It will kill you. There is no treatment or specific cure for it. There is no vaccine.

    3. Miss Fisher*

      Yes, on the hoarding shows, the cleaners do not go in to do a cleanout when they are vermin unless they are suited up and masked for a biohazard.

    4. el l*

      Yes. It’s not safe.

      Besides – it’s a lab. Presumably there are things that could be contaminated by mouse poop, fur, etc.

    5. allathian*

      And leptospirosis. Less lethal than hantavirus, but it can still kill you, or at the very least put you in hospital on a respirator.

    6. Punkkin*

      Yes, I was waiting for someone to bring up the disease exposure risks! I know they’re different in different areas of the country, but it’s still not something to mess around with!

      An alternative is to somehow get the students to bring this up on social media and with local news and then get alums involved (if the university has an active and invested alum base.) That’s how changes happened at my institution, though you risk your job big time by going this route.

  14. zolk*

    I work in a university, and if someone was hoarding to the point of mice here, it would’ve been solved immediately. How is this happening??? Who are these administrators? You may also want to call occupational health and safety or something equivalent about the issue. This is a bio hazard.

    1. rural academic*

      My suspicion based on the letter is that departmental leadership is trying to handle things in-department and not get the wider university resources involved (except for the call for Facilities).

    1. Aquablue*


      And call your local fire department. This is definitely a fire hazard as well. Pretty sure the fire department would be livid knowing this is going on. Your coworker is putting other people’s lives at risk. This is serious.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Plus decades of her colleague’s work, if there are specially bred animal colonies (legit ones being studied, not Julie’s) that could perish in a fire or otherwise get cross-contaminated.

  15. MHG*

    Mouse poop is really hazardous to people with conditions like asthma. This is absolutely a workplace safety thing, and OP is being not just reasonable, but seems like the only one who understands the gravity of it. I could not come to work in a situation like this.

  16. Snarkus Aurelius*

    “Pitching in” doesn’t solve the hoarder problem though. If Julie doesn’t do it all herself, then she will go right back to hoarding as soon as she can. If anyone tries to help, she will see what’s getting pitched and insist that this “one thing” can’t be tossed, but she’ll do it for most everything in her office.

    My parents are hoarders. I had a physical fight with my mother over milk that was two months expired. She still wanted to drink it even though it had chunks in it!

    1. Artemesia*

      Once the office is cleared and sanitized, then Julie needs to be on notice that no storing will be allowed in the office and she needs to be managed.

    2. Anonymous for this one*

      Oh man, I feel for you. My mom is a hoarder too and it is so hard to deal with her. When my dad was dying, the only thing he wanted was to be able to die at home and my mom had too much crap in the house for a hospital bed to even fit, so my siblings and I spent days working 12 hours a day cleaning up her house with her fighting us every step of the way. We would fill up trash bags of literal trash and she’d go behind us and get the bags out of the dumpster to sort through it to see what priceless heirlooms we were throwing away (spoiler alert: none). That’s not even getting into the food in the fridge that was three years past its best by date. And of course, a month after my dad died, her house was back in the same shape like we hadn’t all busted our behinds to clean it up just weeks previously. You can’t force a grown person to go to therapy if they won’t, and I cannot work like a dog for a week every time I go to my hometown to see my mom, so I have just kind of given up on the situation. When she dies, we’ll just burn down the house rather than clean it out. Kind of joking kind of not….

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, there’s no point in even trying to deal with the hoarder and their stuff until they die. There is no solution to the problem as far as I’ve been able to research. We had to do that with my grandmother, I’ll have to do that with my mother. A friend of mine says she’s just going to call 1-800-JUNK after her mother dies.

        1. MissB*

          We thought that would be our tactic with our mom, but when she ended up in the hospital after a fall, we discovered that the house (owned by a sibling) wasn’t livable. No appliances worked, the hot water heater was fried, the floors were ruined in spots. It required an entire gutting of the house.

          On the plus side, the house is now perfectly clean. We visit frequently and the sibling that owns the house has absolutely zero problems with throwing stuff out including furniture stored elsewhere on the property. The sheriff does not care as it is the sibling’s property and the rental agreement is absolutely on their side, not on mom’s side. She can only get angry- and does- but she’s in her mid 80s so pretty much we just let her get angry and she’s back to normal in a few days. She will not get mental health care.

          We had an office hoarder. Since we all went remote, no one cares anymore. I’m

        2. Kimakishi*

          I love my godfather to death, but my sister and I (the likely inheritors from what he’s said) have already agreed that we’ll do a walkthrough of his house for anything sentimental and then just hire people to take everything inside to the dump. Thankfully it’s not trash, just Stuff (the basement is uh. Well. It was inaccessible when I was a kid and nothing has changed in the decade plus since) and they do clean regularly, they just accumulate Nonsense. I think I was 15 or 16 when I was at their place, helping them load the camper for a camping trip, when I finally forced him to get rid of stuff that he bought for Y2K. This was in 2010 or thereabouts. Turns out leveraging ‘would you try to feed /me/ this’ is super effective on an old man who loves you

        3. Boof*

          I think like any addiction change is possible but only 1) if the person wants to change/ agrees it is a problem and 2) does a lot of work and maintenance to change. 3) support and help clearing the junk helps too but only if 1 and 2 are in place.

      2. Satan's Panties*

        And the fact that all this was happening so her *husband could come home to die* made no difference. Sounds like my mom. Even after my dad had a heart attack (mild; he lived almost 20 years afterwards) and paramedics had to heave piles of junk out of the way to get a gurney in, she didn’t clean up. “Whaddya mean, what if I have to call 911 again? They got in the first time!”

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Oh lord, my ex’s grandma hoarded food for 20 years in the freezer. His mother had to haul it to a dumpster streets away in the middle of the night or else she would have retrieved it.

    4. NothingIsLittle*

      I’m a recovered hoarder.* You’re absolutely correct about the process, but it doesn’t actually matter because this is a work problem not a hoarding problem. Julie’s hoarding is presenting a health hazard to her coworkers. Any employer is not qualified to fix Julie’s hoarding disorder, but is obligated to clean the hoarded space.

      I hate to say it, and I know it sounds unkind, but if Julie can’t keep the hoarding out of her workspace enough for it to be a safe environment, then she needs to be removed from the office or fired (maybe permanent WFH?). I cannot imagine what accommodations could possibly be provided that would actually help other than remote work, but it’s simply unacceptable for a shared workspace to be hoarded.

      *I say recovered because I no longer actively hoard; I still have the attachment problems and processing issues associated with Hoarding Disorder

  17. Reluctant Consultant*

    Agree that you are well within your rights to escalate this, but also you may want to consider some options for helping Julie out. No its not your job, but you have to work in that environment so worth a shot. I volunteer at a dog kennel where we often have had mouse problems. We are largely able to solve that by keeping everything in sealed plastic bins. Julie may be having trouble because the implication is that she has to get rid of stuff, which is probably very triggering for her. It might help to see if you can help her contain rather than dispose of her belongings. Suggest that the office pay for a number of clear tubs for Julie to put stuff in. Obviously during the first organization of this stuff she is going to have to sort through and remove any mouse evidence, but once that initial clean and contain is done, hopefully the facilities guys can help get the rest of the place de-moused.

    1. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I just don’t see how this will do any good long term. Best case scenario is that her office (and other offices?) become filled with plastic tubs. One’s place of employment should not be long term storage.

    2. Rachel*

      Julie is triggered.

      Julie’s actions are directly causing an unhealthy and unsafe work environment.

      Both are true. Julie’s triggers need to be handled by a medical professional.

    3. Your Social Work Friend*

      I think this is well meant, but it doesn’t solve the problem of there being an overabundance of things that include organic matter. Also at this point, much of the things that are being hoarded will need to be pitched for sanitary reasons because it’s likely covered in mouse droppings and urine.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Some plastic, yes. We have an old Victorian, which means that there are too many ways for rats and mice to get into the walls. Our garage has them. We store things in hard sided plastic bins that are not easy for rats to chew. But we have to be constantly vigilant, and store the most attractive stuff in triple layers. We also feed a couple feral cats (yes, we TNR), which helps cut down on some of it.

    4. cassielfsw*

      If I were Julie’s boss, I would do this:

      Julie gets a week off and is strongly encouraged to get psychological help.

      Biohazard crew comes in during that week, removes EVERYTHING (it’s all hazardous at this point), thoroughly sanitizes the office, and repairs any mouse holes/other structural damage to the office.

      When Julie comes back, she gets ONE (1) large plastic bin to use for storage. No other storage allowed, and this is strictly enforced. Anything stored in Julie’s office not in the bin will be thrown out once a week, no exceptions.

      It sounds harsh but IMO, anything other than strict management is the equivalent of putting a six-pack in front of an alcoholic and telling them they can only have *one*.

      If the university provides long/short-term disability coverage, Julie might need to use it.

      1. Keymaster in absentia*

        From a former hoarder: I absolutely endorse this course of action. She needs no more accommodations.

        From a former virologist: that room will need to be gutted and sterilised. Animal (including human) waste that’s built up is a serious clean up job that goes beyond a mop and bucket. In severe cases it can mean replacing the floor.

        Everything comes out. I like the idea of her having one box in future but anything that’s got rodent waste on it needs to be disposed of.

        1. NothingIsLittle*

          Also a recovered hoarder, and I agree. The only possible accommodation I can conceive of is permanent remote work.

      2. Yoyoyo*

        I like that you said a biohazard crew should clean instead of, you know, Julie’s coworkers. This type of hoarding remediation requires specialized equipment and expertise. I imagine the “organic material” likely has mold at this point, not to mention the mouse droppings everywhere and likely urine. You can’t just rifle through it and throw it out without PPE and training on how to handle these materials.

    5. JustKnope*

      OP is in *no* way responsible for helping Julie deal with this. It is a serious mental health condition and her coworkers cannot be the ones to make gentle suggestions or give her resources. That’s just not fair.

    6. NothingIsLittle*

      I know your heart is in the right place, but as a recovered hoarder this is not a solution. The kindest thing the office can do is be straightforward with Julie that her office is unacceptably dirty and give her a short amount of time to relocate the hoard. Fixing the disorder has to come from Julie and will take time, but the hoard itself must be fixed now.

  18. Fierce Jindo*

    As someone with hoarding tendencies, I want to register how deeply unkind it is to Julie to have *her colleagues* cleaning out her stuff. These jokers think they’re being compassionate, but by making up their own unacceptable solutions instead of acknowledging that they’re in over their heads, they may be setting her up for a lot of humiliation and pain.

    1. Elsewise*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking! Having her coworkers help clean things up is probably the worst possible solution.

      1. Don't be mousey*

        Co-workers indeed shouldn’t be disposing of Julia’s contaminated belongings, but that’s for health and safety reasons.

        It’s clear she won’t dispose of them herself and someone else — probably a hazmat team, at this point — will need to intervene and dispose of the contaminated belongings for her. I couldn’t care less whether this solution is “unkind” to her; it’s a public health threat at this point, and she ignored every opportunity to clean her office herself before it became a threat.

        Julie’s feeeeelings do not outweigh every else’s right to a safe workplace.

        1. Fierce Jindo*

          Who, in the comment thread you’re responding to, do you read as saying that Julie’s feelings outweigh everyone else’s health and safety? I suppose I didn’t spell out that I think professional cleaners need to deal with the stuff; I took it as read.

        2. Fierce Jindo*

          …Sorry for the double-post, but I’m really stuck on you describing a mental illness as “feeeeeelings.” It’s really gratuitously unkind.

          1. allathian*

            I didn’t read it like that. The reason the employer is unwilling to do anything about the hoarding and allowed it to go as far as it has is that they’re being too considerate of Julie’s feelings.

            Sure, getting in a crew in hazmat gear to dispose of everything in Julie’s office and to exterminate the vermin will be expensive, but it won’t be nearly as expensive as the consequences of an employee getting sick with something nasty like leptospirosis or hantavirus. What if someone dies and their relatives sue the university for something like corporate manslaughter?

    2. Cat Tree*

      You’re right. To a hoarder having everyone go through her stuff might feel as personal and violating as showing bank statements or her diary.

      1. GythaOgden*

        …sometimes it’s necessary. It’s part of the problem — I have hoarding tendencies too — and part of the solution is often just to chuck the crap out. It is painful in the short term, but in the long run it can be really liberating. Someone upthread has said that while hoarding is a mental illness, and thus the person has attachments to the stuff that seems unbreakable without devastating consequences, when you can just get rid of it and see the bedroom floor (and I’ve never really been at the point where things have rotted or had vermin infestations, but I have been at a very low point myself and my ankle is now permanently lame) it is like when it finally rains on a humid day.

        I’m never going to be Marie Kondo, and I’m ok with that, but I can at least look people in the eye when they come round, and that’s progress.

        1. Observer*

          and part of the solution is often just to chuck the crap out. It is painful in the short term, but in the long run it can be really liberating.

          True. But I would think it’s much better when professionals you don’t know does that, then people you know and work with (who may not be able to conceal their revulsion.) It’s like people who are embarrassed when they throw up in front of co-workers, but not when it’s in front of their GI. Not that they did anything wrong in either case, but one is the kind of memory that can make people blush when they remember it middle of the night, and the other is just slightly regrettable.

          So, yes, chuck the stuff. But don’t make the coworkers do it. Especially not with her around, as is implied!

        2. AngryOctopus*

          Yes, the stuff has to go. But the point is that having her colleagues do it is actually more of an unkindness than having professionals do it. Professionals DGAF what they’re throwing out, they don’t judge, they just come in, assess the situation, and do what has to be done.

    3. Ink*

      Oof, you’re right. It’s inevitably a “solution” that will turn into a public shame session. Objectively, not just through the lens of Julie’s disorder. You can go in with no ill will for Julie, determined to be kind and helpful with this thing that isn’t your job, but how many mouse nests in does that outlook die? I’m guessing far fewer than there are in her office. Now you’re surrounded by frustrated, disgusted people who are ALSO doing a task that’s absolutely not in their job description… and Julie, whipped up into acute distress, trying to keep as many mouse-infested, moldy, useless belongings as possible. How many people could POSSIBLY come out the other end of that with their personal and collegial respect for her intact?

      1. Enai*

        That, and also: such a cleanup would feel to me like I’m intruding on the hoarders intimate space in a most unwanted way. Like I had to read aloud a random section of their diary and listen to others read other random sections of the same diary. Intimate, intrusive, repulsive even without mice and rotting garbage and stink. No thank you, I’d rather remove my own toenails with pliers.

    4. black cat lady*

      Yes, I’ve watched the TV shows and it’s definitely unkind to have other people go in and throw away a hoarder’s pile. What they see as useless junk, the hoarder sees as valuable treasure.

      That said, having mice poop everywhere is a VERY unhealthy environment for everyone working there. I understand Julie has a hoarding problem, but that does not mean everyone else has to work in a toxic zone.

      Perhaps bringing in a professional to help Julie cope as the hoard is dealt with would be a viable option. Long term counseling may help her from just recreating another hoard in six months.

      1. GythaOgden*

        This gets my vote. I found someone really amazing. She is my own age, so she doesn’t flex her seniority like some of my other friends, I pay her for what she does and it feels so much better after she’s been in. She has also addressed the issue of acquisition as well, and helped me with things like Unf*ck Your Habitat/Pomidoro methods of getting stuff done.

        It’s not cheap but it has taught me a lot and is thus worth a lot.

      2. Dog momma*

        This is not a kind/ unkind issue! This is a threat to public health!
        Y’all need to stop saying that.

    5. Samwise*

      Actually the problem with coworkers doing the cleaning is that it’s unhealthy for the coworkers

      Julie’s (or anyone’s) mental health issues do not trump anyone else’s (or in this case — everyone else’s) right to work in a clean, safe environment.

      Since Julie has proved to be unable to clean up the mess herself, someone else has to do it. “Someone else “ should not be her coworkers. It needs to be professionally cleared and cleaned.

      1. Fierce Jindo*

        There can be more than one problem with something. I was pointing out one that the rest of the discussion *hadn’t* already been about.

    6. JustaTech*

      I can think of two reasons why the (utterly ineffective) bosses want the colleagues to do the cleanout:
      1) not having to pay facilities/specialty cleaners. This is probably most of it.
      2) colleagues who are also experts in this area of research are the best positioned to be able to identify what in Julie’s office is valuable *to the lab’s research* and therefore should be salvaged (at least long enough to be autoclaved and then scanned).

      All of the solutions here are bad: Julie can’t clean up the space, the space *must* be cleaned up before the mouse problem turns into a catastrophe, and professional cleaners can’t identify what is both valuable and potentially salvageable (meaning data that could be digitized, not keeping the contaminated paper), so then lots of research will be lost too.

      All of this could have been prevented by decent management and having a system for storing materials coming back from research trips (the seeds and stuff) that would have limited the hoarding to paper, which is less likely to attract mice.

      1. Observer*

        colleagues who are also experts in this area of research are the best positioned to be able to identify what in Julie’s office is valuable *to the lab’s research* and therefore should be salvaged (at least long enough to be autoclaved and then scanned).

        I don’t buy it. For one thing what are the odds that she has anything that should be saved. (If there is a good chance that there is stuff in there that the lab needs, then that’s just another layer of outrageous irresponsibility on the part of management.) But also, you don’t need to have the staff doing the cleanup to get their input on possibly salvageable items.

        1. JustaTech*

          Right. The *only* reason to ask the staff to look at the paperwork (the other material is hopelessly compromised) is if it is actually irreplaceable – the site where the data was collected had a devastating fire, or is in a war zone or something like that.
          And the person making the decision about “irreplaceable” can’t be Julie – it should be the boss (who should have do to the evaluation, maybe by video held by a trained and suited cleaner).
          But 100% this is management’s problem.

    7. Observer*

      These jokers think they’re being compassionate, but by making up their own unacceptable solutions instead of acknowledging that they’re in over their heads, they may be setting her up for a lot of humiliation and pain.

      That’s what happens when people put a priority on being “nice” of being sensible, kind and functional.

      These is a reason people talk about “toxic positivity.” *Genuine* positivity doesn’t harm people but faux version that ignores reality hurts people.

  19. Roscoe da Cat*

    This is in a LAB???? How can they ensure that experiments are not contaminated and equipment is protected?

    This sounds like the management is bending over backwards to help her but are really just using that as a excuse not to have unpleasant conversations.

    1. Indolent Libertine*

      + eleventy bazillion! How how HOOOWWWW in the name of all that is holy is this not completely compromising all activity carried out in this lab?!

    1. Nesprin*

      There’s typically also institutional guidelines- the biosafety people & environmental health and safety can also help.

      1. Manders*

        I posted this, but the reality is that I work at a public university in a BSL-2 facility and we do not have pest control people coming through our labs or offices, as evidenced by the cockroaches I see around here. There’s a whole lot of “who is going to pay for it?” from the university about basic services like this.

        Our BSL-3 lab, however, has very regular pest control, because you do not want plague and the like getting out on the backs of bugs into the general population.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          You can make a complaint about that, because you certainly should be having pest control come through. I never ever see them, but I know we have them where I work because they put out feeler traps (insect glue traps that should be indicative of an issue/infestation before it gets out of control).
          Also, the university pays for it, and I hope they like paying fines too, because those can pile up fast.

  20. Rachel*

    Ask what date the dumpster will be there and wear gloves and a mask while you put in 30 minutes throwing away her garbage.

    1. Emily*

      It’s not LW’s responsibility to do that, and LW is well within her rights to push back on that (I would as well). This is the university’s problem to solve. If Julie is not going to be made to cleanup her office herself, then the university needs to hire someone to do it.

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        Not only is it not the coworkers’ responsibility, but the employer can’t reasonably force other people to put themselves at risk of exposure to contaminants or pathogens to solve the issue.

      2. myfanwy*

        Definitely totally inappropriate for coworkers to even try dealing with this. Ultimately it’s going to have to be a professional job, because a) no one untrained and without protective kit should be rooting around in mouse poo dust and b) Julie clearly isn’t well enough to do this. She literally can’t clean it up herself, she won’t be able to see what needs to go. That’s the illness.

    2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      What do you propose OP does with the baby mice? There are probably mice nesting in the piles, which means litters of squeaking pink babies. Should she take them home? Squish them? Leave them somewhere ‘wild’ where they will inevitably die, likely slowly? Leave them to grow up? There are no good options.

    3. Rachel*

      To clarify, I don’t think anybody in the administration will procure the much needed dumpster.

      I would agree to their face that I will help because they aren’t going to do it. Then I would look for another job immediately because I don’t want to be employed by people whose judgment is so horrendous they think this is remotely acceptable.

      Then I contact every single organization listed in this thread and I don’t stop.

      Mostly, I focus on getting out of this absolute nightmare.

      1. Emily*

        Agreeing to their face to help is not a good idea. LW should make it clear she is not going to do that for health and safety reasons.

    4. Calamity Janine*

      just gloves and a mask?

      nah, this is when you – genuinely and not just for show, though it will also cause a decent spectacle – go see if you can borrow full hazmat suit and respirator from another lab’s closet. and then wear that.

  21. Phony Genius*

    In addition to all the health issues, since this is a lab, these mice (and what they leave behind) may very well affect the lab results. This directly affects the lab’s ability to function as intended.

    (I’ve heard of lab mice, but this is ridiculous.)

    1. Ink*

      LW’s lab may be approaching the point where the mice start wearing lab coats and experimenting on the humans. Sounds like they’re well on their way to complete conquest of the building

  22. Elizabeth*

    Next complaint needs to be to student services. Every college and university is phobic about anything that might cause a student to go elsewhere. If they hear from students that the lab is a health hazard, they will do something about it so the students don’t want to leave.

    I agree that complaining about the situation should not be confused with complaining about Julie, but I wouldn’t feel secure that the school HR would understand the difference.

    1. Elitist Semicolon*

      If this were a situation in the rec center or dining hall or the football stadium, I’d agree with you. But after more than 20 years of working at a uni that ignored complaints about a PI engaging in aggressively bullying behavior until a grad student committed suicide and also ignored complaints that a PI was falsifying data and that grad students were being blackballed by the rest of their major department when they raised the issue, I can say that admin doesn’t care about individual labs affecting its image or enrollments – only about the most visible parts of the university.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        I think we work at the same university, Elitist Semicolon.

        The sad thing is that I can’t be completely sure.

  23. Gecko*

    This is a case where the higher ups equate ‘being kind’ with ‘turning a blind eye’ and that’s irresponsible toward Julie and the wider staff group. They have a responsibly to manage the problem, with some kindness and respect to Julie’s bigger issues, and ultimately resolve it. It isn’t fair or safe to Julie or her colleagues to allow this to continue and frankly toxic positivity has a lot to answer for.

  24. AnyaT*

    Getting colleagues to “help” clean out the office is not going to work because hoarders won’t let anyone throw out their things. There are a lot of deep-rooted mental issues at play especially if they come from a poverty background. Having colleagues spend a day holding things up and asking if Julie is ok with disposing of it is just going to waste everyone’s day and cause a ton of stress for everyone involved.

    I think direction is going to have to come from an outside body with legal authority like OSHA. Students should also be complaining officially to the university administration and OSHA. Nothing like the potential loss of student tuition and unwanted public scrutiny lights a fire under university higher-ups.

    1. Elbe*

      Agreed. The problem isn’t that Julie doesn’t have enough time/energy to carry these items, so getting people to ‘help’ isn’t going to do anything but embarrass her.

      The problem is that she can’t part with them emotionally, and that’s not going to go away when a bunch of her coworkers show up and start rummaging around.

  25. yllis*

    Yes, you are the reasonable one but as someone who worked over 10 years in academia that tends not to matter much when it comes to getting things done.

  26. DramaQ*

    Having worked in academics and in a lab I am going to bet that Julie brings in A LOT of money despite her hoarder situation and that is why they are tip toeing. They don’t want to lose what she’s bringing in.

    There is a professor at my former workplace that hoards chemicals and doesn’t store them properly. To the point where facilities refused to clean his area. I refused to touch anything in his lab without gloves on.

    When they built the new building the solution was to build him his own chemical closet. Which he filled with all his old chemicals and then proceeded to fill the lab up with new stuff.

    I half joked that if there is ever a spark in his lab he’ll take out half the campus. I was told by chemical safety his fines are extremely high but they can’t do anything beyond that. He brings in too much money to the university so they are encouraged to turn a blind eye to it.

    It’s insane what they can get away with as long as they bring in $$.

    Not only is this a health and safety hazard it could be destroying your research depending on what you are doing. Droppings, hair, little feet crawling all over stuff is contaminating your materials. There is no way that lab is clean. If you are doing anything with DNA or RNA I wouldn’t trust it. If you are doing animal work there is a HUGE risk that you will spread disease to your colony. If you do work with animals you can try IACUC. They usually have balls in enforcing the rules. Losing her animal license would be a big incentive for the university to step up.

    1. yikes on bikes*

      Yes, this is a good idea. IACUC is very strict about what takes place in any facility where lab animals are used. This should be reported to any governing agency that you can. OSHA will also take this very seriously- there are all kinds of issues that come with this. They spread hantavirus, bubonic plague, rat bite fever, salmonellosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis, leptospirosis, and a bunch more diseases; being confined in rooms with them or their droppings and nests causes breathing difficulties especially for those with pre-existing conditions or allergies; they can spread other parasites like fleas, ticks, or mites; and if they’re nesting in giant piles of paper, that’s also a huge fire hazard. You can also go to your local health department, fire department, legal department if the university has one. Also encourage students to protest and report if they come to the lab at all, the university may listen to them over you. Or if you don’t think it will put your jobs at risk- you and your coworkers working only from home until the space is cleared by a professional bio-hazard crew?

    2. Sympathetic University Staff member*

      My dad was a safety manager in the chemical industry for years and I’m so very appalled to hear about the university turning a blind eye to the faculty member with the chemical hoarding issue.

      Ultimately what we have in this situation and that one is people not taking seriously the real safety implications of their community.

      1. Jam on Toast*

        Years ago, I taught a literature class in a chemistry classroom (they were renovating several buildings, and classes were being shoehorned in every nook and cranny). I never opened the chemical storage. I never touched the chemicals. I just taught in the space that had chemical storage. I still had to complete all the safe chemical handling storage training and I had to get my students to sign forms about safety protocols, too.

        I don’t care how much money someone brings in, everyone needs to follow health and safety rules to ensure everyone is safe and not at risk of death or long-term illness. That’s literally why these rules exist!

        1. AnonORama*

          With respect to bringing in the dollars — I mentioned this above, but I can’t imagine a site audit team from a federal (or other) grantor being thrilled to see this. It probably wouldn’t move the needle with Julie, and it may not be realistic for this particular site and how it’s funded, but I could see the suggestion of a funder site visit being a catalyst to having the cleanout done, and done professionally. (Read: not by any colleague who can be roped into helping.)

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      She better be bringing in enough to build an entire new facility for when this place inevitably catches fire or unleashes the literal plague on campus.

  27. Pink Candyfloss*

    OP, a vermin problem is a public health issue. Your local department of health is going to be more responsive than HR, it sounds like, in this case. Even an anonymous report will trigger a site visit. Once local authorities get involved, watch how fast things move.

  28. Maleficent*

    We had a hoarder in our office. He picked a fight with the fire department over some issue and as retaliation, they conducted a fire inspection in our area and flagged his desk specifically as a fire hazard. They were absolutely correct and the fire safety issue forced my colleague (and his boss, who had been previously unable to muster/enforce any changes) to finally shape up the working area.

    If HR doesn’t work, request the safety office and/or the local fire department come over and conduct a safety inspection. Get that unsanitary, nasty pile of junk out of there.

    1. That Girl*

      Ha! That reminds me that when I worked on campus the Safety/OSHA compliance guy was the biggest hoarder around! ( Lovely man, but his office was . . .impressive)

  29. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    You know what is unkind? Making people work with mice and the attendant droppings rather than address the actual problem.

    This company is right up there with the one that said they had to line up boy/girl at the bus stop in even numbers to help out a colleague. No asymmetrical jewelry, etc. It just puts a burden on everyone else while not helping the person at all.

    1. Emily*

      Exactly! This letter is a perfect example of one-sided “kindness and understanding.” It is only being shown to Julie, and no one else.

      LW, I hope you take Alison’s advice and make a complaint about the situation in general. This is definitely unhealthy and unsafe and I am sorry you are having to deal with this. You are also absolutely justified in refusing to clean Julie’s office for her. If the hire ups aren’t willing to force Julie to do it herself, then they need to hire professionals to do it.

    2. Observer*

      This company is right up there with the one that said they had to line up boy/girl at the bus stop in even numbers to help out a colleague.

      These guys are even worse! The other situation was insane and management was being stupid beyond belief. But I don’t think they were risking either the work or the health and safety of staff. *This* management is doing both.

      1. AnonORama*

        Right. Those rules were annoying the crap out of everyone, but no one had to deal with ACTUAL crap as far as I can recall, which is actually dangerous.

  30. Ink*

    On the extremely dubious upside, students are seeing and complaining about the mice. Hopefully some start making formal complaints (and you could sugget that to any who come to you). The higher ups probably care WAY more about tuition $$$ than employee morale, and eventually this is going to start seriouly tarnishing the school’s reputation.

    1. Pippa K*

      At my university, the way to solve this immediately would be for a student’s parent to complain, using the words ‘hantavirus’ and ‘exposure’ and ‘liability.’ An employee using the same words would (at my institution) be treated dismissively but a parent would get results.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep. OP if you really feel ill equipped to report this, or scared of retaliation, this is a great thing to encourage.

        I would much rather see you report it yourself, this is a lot of extra steps, but you’ll know the politics involved and what might be effective.

      2. Elitist Semicolon*

        At my uni, that would go nowhere unless the parent were also a major donor. And by “major,” I mean “can afford naming rights on their own.”

        Also, at all the unis I’ve been at/worked at, the majority of students working in labs are grad students, just because of how their degree programs are set up. There may be a few undergrad hourlies, but for the most part it’s Masters/PhD students and postdocs, and parental complaints aren’t relevant for that group.

        1. Pippa K*

          Possibly I work somewhere unusually attuned to “parents as *potential* donors” and “parents as more litigious than employees.” Both of these takes have actually been mentioned in the past, and I’ve seen it work on issues like harassment, where the university did not give one single damn that women faculty were being harmed for years but solved the problem right speedily when someone asked if they were sure the harassment had never been directed toward a student. So yeah, know the politics of your institution, but my suggestion here was in line with others pointing out that when employee concerns get brushed off, sometimes it’s effective to have it pushed beyond “just employees.”

  31. Maleficent2026*

    Does your lab currently receive grants? You could approach it from the point of view that if whatever organization gives the grants were to find out about the mice problem, your lab would be in danger of losing money. And is no one else concerned about their research being contaminated by the mice and everything else that comes with them?

    1. Observer*

      You could approach it from the point of view that if whatever organization gives the grants were to find out about the mice problem, your lab would be in danger of losing money.

      Very much this. Especially if she also happens to bring in money. Because then they have to value one income stream vs another.

  32. BecauseHigherEd*

    SO–transporting soil samples and organic material across state or international borders can be a crime, and universities are often responsible for monitoring the flow of organic material and samples used in scientific research. (Not to mention the issues that may come from samples being contaminated and compromised from sitting in the office.) Obviously that’s not the point of this letter, but there could actually be serious ramifications if samples are just in her office beyond causing a mouse infestation–I’d bet she’s in violation of university policies about storage and disposal of matter used in research and reporting and transporting organic matter from outside country.

    1. Qwerty*

      THIS – I got hung up on that detail from the very beginning and came to the comments to see if anyone else would bring it up. If what the mice are eating are “seeds and organic material from around the world” there’s a whole other legal issue about responsibly storing that kind of material and the negligence to possibly spread specifically foreign disease or non-native species.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          I don’t know about DOT – I don’t think they enforce policy – but APHIS absolutely would be. Probably also Homeland Security, if there’s any chance the samples might contain organisms that are considered bioterror agents. (The chance of this is higher than one might think.)

          1. Sally Rhubarb*

            I can only speak to APHIS from the pet health certificate side, but they do not fuck around.

    2. Elitist Semicolon*

      I used to be responsible for making sure all the permits for transporting samples was in order and when I left the lab and handed it off to a new hire, he ignored all the deadlines and renewal notices and left everything to languish in a desk drawer. When the lab manager discovered this a year or so later, she went straight to the PI, who read the guy the riot act. So, yeah – there are potential additional issues with university and federal policies going on here if Julie’s bringing samples from wherever.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      If she’s in California or Hawaii she could be bringing the literal wrath of God down on her boss’s heads–you can’t even bring an orange across the state lines and trying to bring your pet to the Islands requires D-Day level logisitics.

  33. Research_staff*

    If this is happening in a lab, can you complain to your university’s Division of Research Safety or Research Integrity, OP? They should be monitoring cleanliness and safety standards in labs, and this sounds like a huge issue for being able to keep your research accurate and uncontaminated.

  34. The OG Sleepless*

    I’m seeing responses from everyone involved except Julie. What happens when somebody in authority says, “Julie, this is creating a biohazard and it’s not fair to everybody else. Clean out or completely seal everything in here that is dirty”? Because that has been done, right? Right? What did she say or do when directly spoken to?

    1. Nea*

      Julie is in leadership herself, so the question becomes which person has enough authority to order her around. And to echo another comment on here, if she brings in a lot of money, there are even fewer people willing to upset her.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      I think some version of that talk has already happened, based on this part of the letter:

      Julie has done a partial cleaning but moved a lot of stuff into an empty office, and now there is a weird smell coming from that office.

      Based on my cursory knowledge of hoarding, Julie doesn’t see most of her stuff as dirty/needing to be cleaned or disposed of. Hence moving a lot of her (dirty) stuff into an empty office.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep, that’s correct. And it’s worth noting that if Julie is a diagnosed hoarder, anyone removing her stuff is going to be HIGHLY traumatic and if the employers really want to be “kind” they should bring in mental health professionals to help navigate that.

        But not navigating it is not an option and given that this space belongs to the university, Julie has no rights to be treating it this way regardless of her conditions.

      2. MassMatt*

        This is a reason why I disagree with the part of Alison’s advice about providing Julie with additional shelves. Giving a hoarder more space in which to hoard is not a solution, it literally expands the problem. Julie is already expanding her hoard to an additional office. How many offices are going to be turned over to Julie for her hoard and the mice? And soon, probably, rats.

        1. JustaTech*

          And if you’re on the West Coast of the US (west of the Rockies) rats can have plague. (As do most of the ground-dwelling rodents, and sometimes tree squirrels. Don’t touch dead rodents.)

    3. Ellis Bell*

      It’s just simply not enough ask a mentally ill person to be less mentally ill. The leaders have to actually step in here and do something without Julie, they can’t expect the very source of the problem to be the solution! Yeah, usually in typical situations you ask the messy person to be less messy. It sounds like the university have applied the usual tactic and then completely thrown up their hands because the problem is slightly unusual and the typical solutions don’t apply. In that email to OP when they said “I don’t know what to say” what they really meant was that they don’t know what to do.

  35. Anon for medical reasons*

    I’m a hoarder, diagnosed. I had an experience when I was a young adult at college and my mom cleared out my bedroom with no input from me, and she didn’t tell me until after the fact. Yes, she owned the house and had the “right” to do it, but that was the wrong way to handle it. It was traumatizing to me!

    I share this story to show that I have sympathy for Julie. BUT that doesn’t mean she can just keep hoarding to the detriment of everyone else. It also means that she is unlikely to be able to fix the problem on her own, unless she has a medical professional working with her. Yes, this will be hard for her but the situation needs to be resolved.

    1. Looper*

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I find it frustrating that the leadership of this university doesn’t want anyone to be “mean” to Julie but simultaneously seem tp be forming a posse to descend upon her office and clean it out for her as though that isn’t the exactly wrong thing to do.

    2. Steve Oh*

      But it was also probably traumatizing to your mom to have a room in her home destroyed that way, as hoarding causes very evident and expensive damage. People deserve a clean and safe space to live and work.

      1. Anon for medical reasons*

        …I never said otherwise? Did you actually read my comment? Please try reading things more thoroughly before responding.

        1. The day of Sue*

          You wrote that the way your mom handled things was “wrong,” which is what I think Steve Oh was responding to.

      2. GythaOgden*

        Yup. It was also traumatising to me falling down the stairs over some books and breaking my ankle so badly my door

        I will always need a cane and be in some low-level pain as well.

        In this case Julie is exposing other people to animal-borne disease. The person who contracts any of the illnesses enumerated here and dies may be cleaner than Julie but Julie is the one who exposed them to the disease. I’ve watched someone die of an aggressive, incurable disease and boy, that was traumatic.

        Sorry, but yeah, while it can be traumatising for the person at the centre of hoarding for stuff to be cleaned out, it’s not a victimless situation. I totally get the mindset Julie is in and how stressful it is to be made to face up to things, but the laws of nature sometimes have the final say.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Oops, missed off a part of that sentence. ‘…my foot [not door] ended up at right angles to my leg like in a bad slapstick cartoon’. In between trying not to vomit at the sight of it, and screaming in agony while trying to crawl upstairs to get my mobile phone to call for help, I was quite curious about how the nerve endings in my sole were confused by their weird positioning relative to the carpet and how it felt like they were grasping at the air like little tentacles.

          But yeah, pain, agony, humiliation…the laws of physics don’t really care about the niceties of mental health when they’ve just done the whole ‘unstoppable force meets immovable object’ business.

        1. MassMatt*

          No, most serious hoarders have psychological problems. That doesn’t change the fact that the hoarding and mice infestation cannot continue.

      3. Don't be mousey*

        +1. And it wasn’t the “wrong” way to handle the problem if you did nothing to address it yourself.

    3. Observer*

      but that was the wrong way to handle it. It was traumatizing to me!

      What would have been the “right” way to handle it?

      1. Bay*

        I want to hear more about this too– I imagine being told beforehand and having a chance to save a few things would make a huge difference?

  36. Annie Blue*

    Try contacting your campus Environmental Health and Safety office. I work on a campus and we would not tolerate this … no matter how much money the professor is brining in.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Presumably that office was told about the situation since pest management was brought in. They said nothing can be done until that office is addressed. But apparently left it to the lab to address.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I am one of confused by Facilities role here, since in a UK university they would be responsible for both ensuring there wasn’t a rodent problem or a fire safety hazard. It’s weird to me that Facilities’ attitude is “we can’t do anything” rather than escalation through their own chain of command until the Director of Facilities is telling the Head of Biology that Julie’s office WILL be cleaned on 23 January and the labs will be close w/c 29 Jan when an external extermination service will be in.

      But this is probably because professional services staff and middle-managers have taken over and ruined the glorious serenity of academics etc etc.

      1. An*

        It might be less “Facilities can’t do anything until…” and more the Facilities will be a scorched earth answer, which doesn’t sound like what they want.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Yes, but where I work it wouldn’t be up to the department to choose! A department is responsible for teaching and research; Facilities is responsible for the buildings and maintenance and you don’t just get to say, “no thank you, we like the mice thank you”.

    3. That Girl*

      Ha! When I worked on campus, our Safety/OSHA compliance parson was the biggest hoarder around!

  37. Lilo*

    How does your school not have a lab safety office? This seems to fall firmly in their purview. Seriously side eyeing a school that doesn’t follow lab safety protocols. You can and should lose PhD and post doc candidates over this, which will destroy your lab.

  38. Sundae funday*

    This is terribly gross and in a logical world, would be taken care of right away. This being academia, I have my doubts about any formal channels working, especially HR. You mention students being in the lab- that’s probably your best leverage. Can you get a scathing article in the student newspaper?

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Oh that’s an interesting approach. I’m not sure how you could do it without harming Julie even further than management has already, though. That challenge is what would make it such a great assignment for a student journalist, but it feels like the stakes are too high for a real person who is clearly dealing with enough already (and will soon be dealing with even more if management chooses to act as they should).

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I think the idea would be to prompt administration to act, regardless of whether it exacerbates Julie’s mental health.

  39. Observer*

    Who has been “informing” you and telling you to “be kind”? (rolling my eyes SO hard at that!)

    More importantly, who is organizing the cleanup, and what is their authority? How is organizer going to make sure that Julie actually *allows* you (ie the rest of the staff) to do the cleanup? The fact that they say “I’m just trying to find a solution” tells me that they do NOT have a plan for that.

    Don’t ask anyone to complain to HR. And stop complaining inside your department – that’s not getting you anywhere and it’s just going to make it harder for you to do anything else without facing issues. However, the “staff meeting” where everyone is going to “help” Julie is almost certainly going to fail. If the cleanup actually happens, well, that’s all to the good, but I wouldn’t plan on it.

    Once the cleanup fails to happen, you should consider making a complaint – not against Julie, but *in general*. Either to HR, whoever your Ombudsman suggests, OSHA or whoever. But do not complain about Julie.

    What you should be saying is something like “We have a serious mouse infestation, to the point that students are complaining and every morning when we come in we have to clean mouse dripping from our desks and belongings. Facilities has been called but they won’t deal with it until all of the food, junk and other materials are cleared out of Julie’s office and the spare office she put some of the stuff into.” And yes, ask them to keep this anonymous.

    Julie’s problem is not your business and is not yours to address. What *IS* your problem, and something that the university is obligated to address, is the rodent infestation. And by framing your complaint in those terms – you have a rodent problem, this is what has been tried, and this is where the situation stands – you make it harder to brush off. And you also make it easier to focus the discussion of the actual needs of the job, not on how terrible someone is being or how their mental illness is manifesting.

  40. Web of Pies*

    Woof, this is a bad situation for everyone. I would band together with your coworkers and WFH until the situation is resolved, and maybe insist on moving the students (not Julie) to another lab that’s actually clean. You can just make it about the mice/health concerns, not about Julie (for the toxic positivity people who are worried about being ‘mean’).

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      So Julie can then go mess up another lab? Until Julie’s actual hoarding is addressed its a game of whack a mole (mouse). Address one obvious thing, move on to the next without fixing the underlying problem — Julie cannot hoard in the office, period full stop.

  41. ANONBananananana*

    My father was a hoarder, thankfully not one who kept garbage. But he had piles and piles and piles of things. To the point that when he died we found out about 11 (yes, ELEVEN) storage units around the city he lived in. He was an engineer and high level executive at many companies throughout his career. At each of those companies his hoarding would escape his office, into a closet, into another office, until at some point HR would come in and insist he get rid of things. At that time, he would typically hire someone to come in and move it all to storage unit, as we found out after his death.

    I have also had to deal with this situation at my last company. We had facilities pack up the man’s (another engineer) 3 offices and 4 closets onto a pallet, shrink wrap it, and deliver it to his home. I drove by his house not too long ago, and after5 years the pallets are still sitting in his driveway.

    The company, as an accommodation, could hire someone to clean it up and deliver it to her home. Or she should be told she has a week to do it or will be fired. It is a health issue at this point.

    1. Keymaster*

      If the stuff has mouse waste on it then one cannot deliver it to her home – that’s extremely hazardous material and needs to be (ideally) burnt by professionals.

      Honestly, I’ve been a hoarder (at the really gross level, before I got treated for schizophrenia) and while if this were a personal situation I’d be advising more of a gentle understanding removal process – this is a workplace. Different rules.

      When my mental issues started negatively impacting those at work I didn’t get an understanding sit down with my boss – I got told ‘this cannot continue. Either you get treatment and a change in your behavior or you’re fired’.

      It was the horrible meeting that ultimately saved my career. Because I did get professional help and I did get better.

      1. ANONBananananana*

        Oh, right, but yes, they need to hire professionals to deal with it and to clean the offices.

        1. Keymaster in absentia*

          Oh very much agreed. She needs to not be in the building, hopefully with professional guidance, and the professionals need to gut and deep clean the rooms.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        I really appreciate your insight into such issues, and your willingness to be transparent about your own struggles. I’ve noticed your comments over the last few years, and I admire your steel-toed compassion.

  42. Looper*

    If they truly believe that Julie has a mental health problem, then assigning random coworkers to “help” clean her office is the LAST thing they should do. It is well researched that hoarding cannot be solved by just tossing all their stuff (which is exactly what I would do if I were in the position of Julie’s coworkers). Leadership needs to seriously step up including but not exclusively hiring someone who is an expert in this area to assist Julie and to clean out the office. They are literally making everything worse with their inaction.

    1. Ashley*

      I mean has no one watched the show Hoarders? I have family that thankfully we keep slightly below qualifying for the show, but the fastest way to increase a hoard and have major issues is for someone to throw their things away.

      1. Lime green Pacer*

        Oh yeah. My husband’s issues with keeping too much “stuff” (which, fortunately, are not huge) stem from when his mom would “clean” his room and throw out his things when he was a child.

  43. PRM*

    Do you have an EHS office? We *just* came off a mice infestation in my office spaces (old East Coast University) and were sent home for weeks until the extermination was complete. I get faculty — I really, really do — but this is a workplace hazard.

  44. Almost Empty Nester*

    First step is understanding that this is a biohazard situation, and you and your coworkers should under no circumstances be attempting to clean her office out. Aside from the resulting humiliation for her, professionals should be cleaning it because of the biohazard issue. Shameful that your management has allowed it to continue once it was discovered, putting the rest of you at risk to avoid resolving the situation.

  45. Poison I.V. drip*

    “She has brought back seeds and organic material from all over the world”

    Unless Julie has some kind of research waiver, how can that be legal? Even if she has a waiver, it doesn’t sound like she’s handling these exotic materials correctly. Potential liability for her AND the university.

    1. JustaTech*

      And if she did have all the paperwork, that means that these seeds and stuff were important research materials! I say “were” because now they’ve all been eaten by the mice and aren’t useful for anything. So all that hard work was wasted because Julie’s bosses never implemented a sample cataloging and storage system *and* ignored the hoarding until it was a disaster.

      This is like the early 20th century “archeologists” who didn’t keep dig notes, or hid all the “good” finds under their beds and wouldn’t let anyone else study them.

  46. the-honey-eater*

    I was tested last summer and was also surprised to learn I had developed a cockroach allergy. My doctor said it was more the particles given off when they die inside buildings and start to break down was doing it. An air purifier in my basement (very buggy) office and some glue bug traps did the trick.

  47. Juicebox Hero*

    Oh, man, flashbacks to Dr. Crap, a biology teacher at my college, so called because he had kind of a fixation on, well, crap. And not in the cool Terry Pratchett kind of way. His eyes would actually glisten and he’d actually drool whenever he talked about it. He nearly fell off the walkway into a peat bog because he saw a pile of coyote scat and got so worked up he forgot where he was walking.

    He was a hoarder and his office was a horror. We used to dare each other to go in. There were books and papers piled up so high they blocked the windows halfway up. The desk was covered with stacks or more stuff interlayered with groups of 10-12 Snapple bottles (peach tea), with more books on top, lab equipment, and other random objects. There was a pothos vine that grew up from the desk and trained up to the ceiling, over the remaining window, and around the corners of the ceiling. there was enough floor space to sit at the chair and that was it.

    If he was the last person to use a piece of equipment, the lab manager usually just found it easier to order a new one rather than either search for it or expect Dr. C to actually look for, let alone find, the thing.

    He passed away between my sophmore and junior years and apparently it took weeks to clean out an 8’x10′ office and make it livable again.

    But, you know, he had tenure.

      1. Juicebox Hero*

        Oh, no, it wasn’t like that – I should have been clearer! He didn’t have any actual crap in his office (at least I hope not). He just got really excited about it whenever the subject came up. And his specialty was soils and ecology so he managed to bring the subject up a lot.

          1. A Simple Narwhal*

            Me too! I’ve never been so happy to be wrong about where I thought a story was going.

    1. I Have RBF*

      There was a senior scientist at one place I worked whose office was a complete paper hoard. Stacks all over the place – books, reports, files, notes – to the point you couldn’t find a place to sit in there. When he died, they had to go through it all to see if there was anything useful in the mess. Before he kicked off they would make him move offices occasionally to get the worst of it tidied up.

  48. Anne Shirley*

    Please update us on this. This is horrific.

    Since higher-ups and HR are such kind-hearted souls, maybe they should stop by and take some mice back with them to their offices.

  49. AnonyMouse*

    OSHA can investigate actually anonymous (you don’t have to give your name) complaints, rather than only confidential (we’ll do our best to not share your name unless compelled). If HR or ESH won’t deal with the issue, it’s time to bring in outside help. I’m sure the university’s liability and workers comp insurers would not be pleased with the situation but that is a drastic step.

  50. Falling Diphthong*

    We should be able to work it out among ourselves.
    That’s not how dealing with someone with a severe mental illness that is now affecting and harming other people works.

    I feel like someone is envisioning the staff saying “I really understand! I super understand!” and Julie then replying “I feel seen! I will clean everything out by next Thursday!” and then actually doing that. This is not actually going to happen.

    This reminds me a lot of Captain Awkward’s piece about someone stepping on your feet. You are allowed to prioritize getting them off your foot even if they aren’t doing it on purpose, didn’t mean it in a foot stomping way, have a cultural tradition of stepping on the feet of the lesser, have a mental illness that causes them to stand on people’s feet, etc.

    Outcomes matter, and somehow the higher ups here have become enamored of “Julie feels supported and not criticized” as the only outcome. I would lay money that the people setting this standard are not in the mouse infested areas and it’s all safely academic to them.

    1. Zap R.*

      Yeah, this is an issue that comes up a lot in social justice spaces. Someone says “Hey, this disheveled guy is screaming violent threats at unaccompanied women on the streetcar,” and then someone else says “Stop clutching your pearls! This person is sick! Have some compassion!” and then no one can argue their way out of the discourse ouroboros and the guy just gets to continue screaming violent threats at unaccompanied women on the streetcar and no one is happy.

    2. Elbe*

      Just because someone is framing this as being about “kindness” and “compassion” doesn’t mean that that’s actually the root cause.

      I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the LW’s boss doesn’t feel confident handling the situation and is using kindness as an excuse to do pretty much nothing about it. If you sat this person down and asked, “What do you think is the best thing for Julie in this situation?”, I’m pretty sure he would say getting compassionate help.

      Frankly, handling the situation this way is BAD for Julie in the long term, even if she’s able to feel better about things in the short term. All that this is doing is validating her feelings that the situation isn’t THAT bad for her colleagues and that she shouldn’t really have to change.

      1. JustaTech*

        Given that this is a university, I’m very willing to bet that Julie’s bosses have never had any formal management training, let alone education in how to deal with difficult management situations, which is at least part of how things got to this state.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      “Take care of it among ourselves” is how people get locked in attics and outbuildings. It’s not kind or “village-y” to expect her colleagues to handle this or her.

  51. CDK*

    I’m a research administrator at a large university, previously a lab manager, have lots of experience in academic bureaucracy.

    OP, at a certain point you need to band together with other employees. HR needs to know what is happening and intervene. If it’s a PI standing in the way of this issue being resolved, go to the department. If it’s the department, go to the college. Once you have mice nesting, it’s no longer a situation where coworkers need to pitch together to clean out a dusty closet. The university needs to hire a biohazard cleaning service to address the clean out. No one should be going into a space with mouse poop and pee without the appropriate PPE.

    All of this is a HUGE liability for the university in terms of student and staff safety. Additionally having a pest infestation can have an impact on the validity of research and experiments.

    1. Keymaster*

      No one should be going into a space with mouse poop and pee without the appropriate PPE

      Even with my experience in a viral research lab I still wouldn’t volunteer to clean up a place full of biohazardous waste, even were it in the lab building. Agreed, it’s a job for the professionals who clean up hazardous situations.

      I’d strongly suggest the room be gutted – everything is disposed off and the place made safe again (if there’s caked on waste this could take days if not complete replacement of floors).

      I’d advise OP put it this way: if the hoarder was coming in, crapping into unsealed plastic boxes and storing them in a room would you tiptoe around it and say she needs to be handled gently?

      It’s the exact same health risk. As long as this continues she will NOT get help.

  52. Rodent-free academic*

    Students are complaining? Then you’re one step away from students covering the situation publicly in the school newspaper. Which is one step away from the local news covering it. Is that what your higher-ups want? Do they want tuition-paying parents reading those articles? How about whoever funds your lab?

    File the reports. File all the reports. OSHA, HR, everything. Suggest that students file reports. Document/photograph everything. See a doctor who will insist on accommodations for the sake of your health. And refuse to work at your mouse-poop-ridden desk until a hazmat team has cleaned your lab. This is unacceptable, and tbh, Julie’s mental health is in second position to the health hazards being caused at this point.

  53. In My Underdark Era*

    this is a good point. the university really ought to cough up sealed plastic containers for everyone in the office, not just Julie, because while it likely originated in her office it’s affecting everyone’s offices now. sealed plastic tubs are a godsend when you have pests. it also might alleviate some of the alienation Julie must be feeling if *everyone* is putting their stuff in tubs.

    and like you said, she may feel more inspired to put all her stuff in tubs for the sake of keeping it, rather than being forced to get rid of stuff she doesn’t want to. I instinctively start thinking about how to address the root problem of hoarding, but this is a lab, not a home, and that’s not OP’s responsibility or anyone at the university’s. (and even if it were, it simply can’t be done on a timeframe that’s fair to anyone other than Julie!) damage control is the name of the game here.

    1. In My Underdark Era*

      ugh nesting fail, this was supposed to be a reply to the kennel worker suggesting plastic bins in the office

    2. Temperance*

      I don’t think Julie feels “alienated” at all. She’s 100% the sole cause of this problem, and has chosen not to address it.

      At this point, her mental health issues frankly don’t matter because someone is going to get very, very sick, if they haven’t already.

      1. In My Underdark Era*

        yes, her hoarding caused the problem and her saving face or feeling *good* about a solution are not as important as cleaning the space and preserving the physical health of everyone in the lab. I agree it needs to be dealt with pronto.

        but ime hoarding absolutely leaves the hoarder feeling alienated from others and filled with shame, and I think it’s worth looking at ways to mitigate that. (for one, having her coworkers go through all her stuff and toss it is like the #1 way to contribute to those feelings! on top of being a futile effort to begin with.)

    3. Bibliothecarial*

      Mice can still smell and be attracted to things in sealed plastic tubs. We had to start keeping bird seed in the fridge because the mice could smell it from outside (trailer house building) and would come in and make a mess.

      1. In My Underdark Era*

        ah, that’s too bad. my pest experience is mainly with roaches and plastic tubs helped me through that, I was hoping they would be similarly effective against mice. :/

    4. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Mice can chew through plastic tubs. We’re past that point here. Containment isn’t a solution.

      1. LCH*

        yeah, i worked on an archival collection that had plastic binders that had been chewed through by mice who infested the original owner’s storage space. it was wild.

    5. Observer*

      it also might alleviate some of the alienation Julie must be feeling if *everyone* is putting their stuff in tubs.

      Plastic tubs might help the others or not. But they are not going to help Julie in the least bit. If she *does* feel alienated, it won’t be because of the tubs, but because she is going to HAVE to get rid of stuff in the office. And there is nothing that the place can do about it. They should not even try.

  54. Keymaster*

    I was once a horder, and I used to work in a lab where we used lab mice (and rats) and when they are properly contained and bred they are fine.

    Wild ones though? Significant health risk. And mice poop and wee and that stuff is very hazardous which is why we had proper containment procedures for the lab mice.

    There comes a point with a lot of mental illnesses, including hoarding, where ‘being kind’ and letting the behaviour continue is doing a LOT more harm. What incentive is there for the hoarder to change? Everyone walks around the issue and it just gets worse.

    In a workplace scenario (don’t use this advice for personal situations) I’d actually say it’s kinder on her, based on my past experience, to give her a few days off, call in some professionals who clear out hoarding situations, plus a pest control team and completely gut the room(s) down to the bare floor and walls. EVERYTHING comes out, because decontamination would be nigh impossible at this stage.

    Does this seem cruel? Well, to her yes. But it can take a very clear ‘no, this cannot continue whatever your reasons’ stage for a sufferer of severe mental illness to get help.

    Bel;ieve me. Been there.

    1. Mona Lisa*

      Thank you for sharing your experience and advice. I think this is the most reasonable solution. Julie’s workplace isn’t going to solve the underlying mental health conditions and needs to address the immediate employment safety issues.

      1. Keymaster in absentia*

        And definitely report it to health and safety officials of whatever ilk are appropriate for the country you live in.

        Because, while I have a lot of empathy for my fellow people with severe mental illnesses, there does come a point where the well-being of others absolutely becomes the most important thing. And yes, sometimes that takes what can seem like incredibly uncaring actions from others before you realise that you’ve hit the point of ‘actually, I can’t cope and I need help’.

        I’ve spent time as a patient on psych wards, been on antipsychotics for nearly 20 years and still the most career saving moment I had was the manager who said ‘get help, your behaviour isn’t appropriate and if it continues you’re fired’.

        Because that was the moment in my life when I realised I couldn’t blame everything on my brain any longer.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I don’t think I’m a hoarder, but my mother was so my views of normal are pretty skewed, and I have ADHD so there are definitely often piles and things that could have been thrown out that are stuck in corners somewhere.

      My husband draws a firm line around mice. We live near the woods so I don’t necessarily attract them (everyone on our street gets them), but if I’m providing places for them to nest he’ll either clean my shit himself or he’ll (gently) bully me until I do it. And that hurts and gives me anxiety because I feel like I screwed up, but we figure it out.

      Love and kindness can’t mean enabling people’s issues. It just can’t. Especially not in a workplace at the expense of the rest of your staff.

      1. Keymaster in absentia*

        Sometimes the kindest thing is actually saying ‘no, you cannot do this any longer’

        I stopped drinking (my mental issues could fill a London telephone book) when my husband flat out refused to be in the same house as me when I was drunk.

        I got help when my depression led to seriously manipulative behaviour – friends left and some have never returned contact.

        I had to get help when my manager said my nasty insults and accusations of others were out of control (and I had a hoarding problem) or else I’d be fired. That led to my schizophrenia diagnosis and treatment and saved my career.

        Basically, I’ve screwed up a lot and not once has it ever been resolved by people letting me get away with it with no consequences. It hurt them, my boss says it was the hardest meeting he’s ever had to do, but it saved me and I will always be grateful to them.

        1. Emily*

          “Sometimes the kindest thing is actually saying ‘no, you cannot do this any longer’”

          Yes, 1000%! Being kind and being enabling are too often conflated, but being an enabler is actually not kind at all, and that is what the higher ups are doing when they allow Julie to continue this way.

    1. Bruce*

      Yep! That’s just one of the hazards. I had a huge infestation of mice and rats, it made my skin crawl to hear them at night. Finally found the way they were coming and going, sealed it up, and then kept trapping until I got the Queen Rat (who was massively pregnant and about to birth a whole new generation). ICK, ICK, ICK!!!

    2. BellyButton*

      Right! You can’t tell people to just go in and clean it out. Hantavirus is real and likely all over that place. I can’t believe it is being suggested that coworkers clean this up!

  55. Sympathetic University Staff member*

    I work in academia. My sincere sympathy LW, this is an unreasonable situation you are in. An HR complaint absolutely should be made because this is unsanitary and you and your colleagues need a safe, sanitary place to work. Period.

    LW, you should reach out to HR. Does your unit have an HR director or someone who is a human resources generalist, beyond just payroll? It sounds like a firm but compassionate conversation needs to be had with Julie and with the higher ups by someone with knowledge of the ADA, and someone who perhaps has a little emotional distance from the whole situation. I’m seconding Alison’s advice to make a complaint. You are working in a hazardous environment.

    Another potential area to get involved might be, if your university has one, an office of health and safety, The mouse poop is an issue. This is being ignored as a safety issue.

    It’s also ludicrous that you are being asked to help clean her office. That’s not your job. Frankly, it’s not the job of the normal cleaning staff either, which is partly why HR and the office of health and safety or whatever your equivalent is should be involved.

  56. Washi*

    This is why I hate the TV show Hoarders – it gives the impression that if you just breeze in and clean up a space, the problem is solved, when in fact it’s both traumatic for the person and will not on its own create long term change.

    Stand your ground on refusing to participate in cleaning OP. I can really only see this ending badly, or at best, having no really effect.

    1. Ashley*

      Actually I find the show super helpful because you can see where throwing away some single items cause major trauma and how the approval process needs to work. There is a balance for sure where some is lift safety, but I find the good therapists do work with the client to let them control as much as they can. It doesn’t mean without continuing support it won’t be just as bad, but I think it highlights why you can’t just go in and clean.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I think the impact of the show is a matter of empathy. It can be helpful see how severe this is and understand how it impacts the people involved. But some people just watch other people’s mental breakdowns for entertainment and that’s…well, gross.

        1. Nea*

          I’m positive that the point of Hoarders is to display mental breakdowns for entertainment. If they actually cared about their subjects (and their viewers) they wouldn’t take such ghoulish pleasure in filming dead pets, much less filming a pet’s corpse and then filming them handing it to the subject of the piece and broadcasting that person’s tears! Which they do All. The. Time. Someone on the production side of that show really, Really, REALLY hates cats specifically.

      2. Observer*

        It doesn’t mean without continuing support it won’t be just as bad, but I think it highlights why you can’t just go in and clean.

        From a therapeutic POV, you are correct. From a workplace POV, where safety has already been compromised and needs to be re-established, no.

  57. Clairelythebest*

    If you work in a lab, I would think the presence of mice would cause some serious concerns about contamination. Perhaps try approaching it from that angle? Are there grants/funding that could be lost if results from tests are brought into question due to contamination? I’m not saying results currently ARE contaminated, but I wonder if framing it in relation to potential consequences for the entire department may change responses.

    1. Sandra*

      This is the route I would take. Bring it up with the dept head and CC the associate dean in your area and make it more about loss of university research and data to move things faster. They will probably hire a student worker to scan in all the papers before pitching them and just have them come in once a semester to try and keep the office cleaner.

  58. CommanderBanana*

    There is a great column from Captain Awkward – and I think it may have been one of the crossover columns with AAM? – about a very similar situation with a coworker who was also hoarding in her office. Putting the link here will make it go to spam, but if you to captainawkward.com and search for “Cosette” it will pop up.

    Ultimately, someone in authority is going to have to step in to resolve this. I wouldn’t be above making an OSHA complaint if you think that’s an option.

  59. Sympathetic University Staff member*

    Also, just wanted to add, OSHA has regulations about vermin control in the workplace. There are very likely either federal or state regulations being broken which is serious.

  60. Hiring Mgr*

    This sounds like something that needs to be handled by facilities people or administrators, or whoever at the University would deal with health and safety things.

    I think this has gone beyond you and your bosses deciding what to do here. Someone needs to escalate

  61. Melissa*

    She has a mental health condition. Alcoholism is also a mental health condition, but a person would never be allowed to work drunk. Depression is a mental health condition but if someone is so fatigued from it that they constantly miss work without notice, they are generally not accommodated. Your office is using the line about mental health as an excuse to avoid handling a major problem.

  62. Temperance*

    Call the health department, anonymously, and report the issue. OSHA is great, too, but I imagine they’re much slower than a local unit would be.

    This is just disgusting.

  63. Jade*

    What’s happening is against the law. Use the law to fix it. Call OSHA. Sometimes the reporter can remain anonymous. Let them show up unannounced. No more excuses will be allowed.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I definitely would have quit by now and I fully give OP permission to do that if they’re able

      1. I AM a Lawyer*

        The moment I saw mouse droppings on my desk, I would have quit without having another job lined up.

  64. Chairman of the Bored*

    This is an active safety hazard.

    Mental health struggles do not justify tolerating the existence of an active safety hazard.

    Management should deal with it as decisively as they would address a gas leak or any other similar condition – mitigate the hazard as quickly and positively as possible. This probably means hiring a qualified biohazard cleanup crew to dispose of most of the contents of Julie’s office and her storage office.

    Once everybody is safe, they can follow up and see what accommodations etc might be helpful to Julie.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      Safety hazard on multiple levels.

      The mice are a hazard for spreading disease, allergens, and biting people. If mold is growing or if any of the samples are potentially pathogenic or include any hazardous chemicals, that’s another hazard since they’re definitely not stored properly. The clutter itself is a fire hazard. On top of that it almost certainly impedes access to evacuation routes and creates trip/slip hazards.

      And, depending on how the lab is arranged, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s blocking access to emergency equipment as well (fire extinguishers, eye wash, alarm pulls, etc). Is all your safety documentation accessible? Or is some of it (SDS binder, emergency plans, etc) in the boss’s office? If so, that’s an additional safety violation.

  65. H.Regalis*

    Hoarding is a serious and difficult-to-treat psychological problem. You all can’t fix this by pitching in and helping Julie clean up her office, and it’s ridiculous of them to suggest that you “work this out amongst [yourselves].”

    Mental health problems suck. I have them myself. “Do whatever is symptomatic of your illness” is neither kind nor an accommodation. It’s certainly not kind to every other single person working there.

  66. Bruce*

    Oof… reminds me of the Back Country Ranger we met on a trail in Lassen, he was heading to a ranger cabin for the night but said he always pulled his cot outside to sleep because it was the “Hanta Virus Hotel”… This is a real health hazard to everyone!

  67. mb*

    Unfortunately I cleaned out a Stage 5 Hoarder house of a family member. The disease pathogens present still give me nightmares -bodies of dead squirrels stashed in bags, mice and mice poop everywhere, fleas and ticks from the mice (Lyme disease, plague, typhus and tapeworm vectors), mold, mildew in the air and walls/ and rotten food. It’s a severe mental illness that “Working with” or “helping” the staff member is impossible except for the most seasoned mental health professional specializing in hoarding – and even then, at times, impossible. There is no doubt ADA documentation that must be completed, but subjecting other staff to it is out of touch and dangerous.

    1. The OG Sleepless*

      I had to do that for a deceased family member, too. It was a traumatizing experience. It doesn’t help that I’m a fairly minimalist neat freak, but it would have been awful for anybody no matter where they are on the neat/hoarder spectrum.

  68. Jessica*

    Making coworkers do it is the worst imaginable plan in every possible way, both in terms of their exposure to biohazards and the distress to Julie. I’ve read of people taking their own lives after a forced cleanout. This is a health and safety issue for sure but it’s also a mental health intervention for which random coworkers are not qualified.

  69. Adds*

    Somewhere an OSHA Inspector has died and is now rotating in their grave like a rotisserie chicken in those ovens at the grocery store.

  70. Sandra*

    Administration is already aware of the issue and they’re not going to do anything about it. My guess is that the hoarder brings in a lot of money, writes articles that get a lot of traction, and is in a position that would make it difficult to put her on a PIP or enforce anything. Unless she’s putting the reputation of the school or the research in danger, nothing is going to happen. It is easier and cheaper to get new staff than a researcher of her status.
    Good luck.

  71. That Girl*

    Am I the only one who is really, really tired of people claiming to be “Disrespected” when they really mean “annoyed?” Like, another person, choosing to do things differently from the way they would is an affront. I get that this is creating a problem for others, but that – in and of itself – is not “Disrespect!”

    1. WellRed*

      Anytime I hear “you disrespected me,” I think the person stating that is probably an asshle.

      1. Observer*

        You really think that the LW is at fault for noticing just how disrespectful their management team is being?!

    2. NMitford*

      I think that, in this case, the OP is saying that the management is not respecting their very valid health and safety concerns. This situation has gone long past ordinary annoyance.

    3. Observer*

      Like, another person, choosing to do things differently from the way they would is an affront.

      And what does this have to do with the issue at hand? The OP is not complaining that the admin is doing things *differently*. They are complaining that the Admin is putting her health and safety at risk, and putting the burden of the problem on them!

      I get that this is creating a problem for others, but that – in and of itself – is not “Disrespect!”

      Wait, are you really saying the knowingly causing a problem for others is *not* disrespectful? And that trying to blame people for pushing back on a genuine and serious problem is *not* disrespectful? And that expecting people to take on a dirty and unsafe task (that’s NOT in the their job description) without the appropriate protection and support is *not* disrespectful? The LW’s admin is doing all of those.

      If none of these is disrespectful, what DO you consider disrespectful?!

      1. Enai*

        Good question. I would also like to know what “disrespect” looks like for That Girl if “LW has to work in unsanitary conditions and is admonished for complaining” is apparently perfectly reasonable.

      2. That Girl*

        No, Julie is not being “disrespectful. She’s most likely overwhelmed by the way this has gotten out of control and incapable of even starting on the clean out (She’s made some effort, but all she’s been able to do is shift the mess – partially – to another space. Making the problem worse – by spreading it out – rather than reducing it. I could weep for her – I know how this can be. I think the uppers are pleading for “kindness” and emphasizing the mental health issue with the OP because the OP is taking this all so personally, as if this us something Julie set out to do TO her/him. Or as if Julie isn’t cleaning up because she thinks the OP’s concerns are trivial, rather than because she just . .
        can’t. And while the OP’s frustration and discomfort are real and legitimate, there’s a real lack of compassion shown by that word “disrespect.”

        1. Avery*

          Sure, Julie’s not being disrespectful. But the uppers are. In accommodating and enabling Julie, they’re showing lack of compassion to the OP, and to everybody else who has to work in a literal mouse-infested building and has their complaints about the issue dismissed without a second thought. That’s disrespect in my book.

        2. Observer*

          I think the uppers are pleading for “kindness” and emphasizing the mental health issue with the OP because the OP is taking this all so personally

          I don’t think that the OP is taking things all the personally. But given that her health and safety is being put at risk, and they are now being expected *to clean the mess* – and to do so with no appropriate safety gear! I would not blame her for taking this “personally”.

          Responding to legitimate complaints about an issue that’s probably violating the law and *certainly* violating an employer’s basic duty to create a reasonably safe workplace by “pleading for kindness”, expecting other staff to take up the slack and magically get the space cleaned, and throwing up their hands and saying that they can’t think of anything else is extraordinarily disrespectful.

          The issue here at this point is not why Julie is not cleaning up, but why the management has not done anything about it.

          And while the OP’s frustration and discomfort are real and legitimate, there’s a real lack of compassion shown by that word “disrespect.

          No. The REAL lack of compassion here is coming from you. You simply disregard the problem the OP is facing- and it’s a lot more than just suffering “discomfort”! You are totally minimizing it, and totally ignoring the utter irresponsibility of the management here. It doesn’t matter that they don’t “like” the OP’s response. The reality is that Julie’s behavior is a menace, and you don’t get to tell people that they can’t push back because they didn’t use the correct magic words to bring up the issue. Nor do you get to tell people that they need to be “nice” at the risk of their health!

        3. New Jack Karyn*

          It is entirely disrespectful to OP (and everyone she works with) to fail to manage this appropriately. It indicates a lack of respect for everyone’s health and safety. The uppers are placing more value on their emotional comfort than on everyone’s physical well-being.

          I’m not excluding Julie from this. She’s definitely suffering, but she has long past the point where her mental health problems are affecting others. We can give grace to those who are struggling, but this is too severe and too persistent.

  72. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    From the title, I thought fondly of an undergrad professor I had whose office was a disaster area… like step-over-the-piles-to-get-to-his-desk level. It was almost 100% paper (data, research). It was the sort of stuff that was hard to throw out because of laws and data being in paper format when he started (yes, it should have been in file cabinets, but he ran out).

    That said, I ALSO worked in a biology lab. There were bugs, and the professor I supported hoarded specimens (live fruit fly strains used for research), but it was well controlled and ordered – every specimen had a spot, was catalogued and labeled and on a shelf. Anything “brought back” from a trip or whatever would have had to be labeled and stored in an appropriate area. The industrial sacks of cornmeal and other food products (to feed the flies) were kept off the floor.

    Neither of these offices had mice issues (the lab had insect/roach issues, but the whole floor was full of fruit fly labs and food for them, so this was expected and kept contained as much as possible).

    So the issue is REALLY bad to have mice like that! Cosmically bad. I think not only does the university have to either insist she clean up or HIRE people to clean up, but they also have to say she can’t bring in things going forward that will attract pests, and anything she brings in for research that could attract pests (like seed samples) needs to be stored properly (in a freezer, in a closed jar, in a tupperware-like something).

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      “Cosmically bad” is right. I work at a garbage dump. My office is right next to a giant pile of steaming trash… and I’ve still never seen mouse droppings on a desk! I can’t imagine how bad it has to get for a lab to have worse rodent infestations than an actual garbage dump.

  73. lovehater*

    OP. The Director/HR/Everyone except you is so wrong. MICE POOP. On your desk. Covering equipment. No. No. Unacceptable. Should be immediately remedied. You can be kind while still fixing the health diaster.

  74. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    All of your science is being jeopardized by this. Partially-eaten, mouse-poop-tainted biological samples are no good for analysis any more.

  75. Ashley*

    This is really going to take a superior being willing to step in and address the issue. I would try and find someone high up the food chain that would have the capital to address the issue.
    At the very least, they should be having an exterminator come in and not say they won’t spend the money until the source is resolved.
    I would also escalate this with HR or file a complaint against HR. Yes Julie has an illness, but she doesn’t get to make everyone else sick in the process.
    From my experience it is amazing how long some superiors will allow the hoard to grow. I had a co-worker who had a hoard that was just allowed. Thankfully COVID risks made him WFH much longer then anyone else and suddenly his desk was needed for someone else (even though there where other spaces) which forced a clean and downsize. I have a lot of respect for that manager that they stepped up to deal with that after being in their role for only a few months as opposed to the old guard who let it grow to that point. They even did the deep clean themselves and didn’t ask anyone for help.

  76. Sharpie*

    This is extremely hazardous to the health of anyone working there. Mice are a known vector for all sorts of diseases, both in themselves and in the fleas and other parasites they carry. And they leave a trail of pee everywhere they walk, it’s not just the visible faeces.

    You need to make people aware that it’s a serious danger to the health of everyone working in that environment – and if the university won’t deal with it, students are going to go elsewhere. Absolutely report this to OSHA – I have no idea if they can issue fines for willingly ignoring things like this, but I bet they won’t ignore it.

  77. Joelle*

    Report it to your local board of health. They will (probably) cause the university to take action. The university is violating most jurisdiction’s sanitary codes, which unlike building codes are always in effect for housing and workplaces (at least in the US). This is rediculous, and so doing this would not be an overreaction.

  78. WellRed*

    I find the advice a bit disappointing. Julie’s office is a health hazard and probably a fire hazard. Quit it with the polite emails. Contact the ombudsman if you have one, contact your union, contact OSHA, contact health and safety, contact the lab accreditation body or hell, contact the student paper.

    1. LCH*

      yeah, i was thinking this. contact freaking everybody. i’d also include maybe the fire dept for safety issues. someone upthread mentioned the insurer for workers comp.

        1. LCH*

          yup, just notify everyone and see what sticks. i just reread and realized HR doesn’t know yet!! so definitely send in that complaint.

          you don’t just ignore someone with a serious mental illness that is causing major problems at work. she may not be violent (would they ignore that sort of behavioral symptom?), but it is causing safety issues to all of her coworkers/students.

          does the university really want the sort of publicity that happens if this issue causes student illness/death?

          1. Michelle Smith*

            The college I went to has had staggering tuition increases since I went in the mid 2000s. Last I checked it was up to something breathtakingly outrageous like $70k per year for undergrads. Imagine paying that much in tuition loans and finding out your college student kid is working in a lab infested with rats – whether they were sick or not, most people would have a fit of epic proportions!

            1. JustaTech*

              When I worked in a university lab there were extra (unwritten) rules about what the undergrads could be asked or allowed to do because “they have parents who care and might complain”. (Yeah, I have parents who cared that my boss asked me to work a 20 hour day for no good reason, but since I wasn’t a student no one would have cared about them.)

          2. Prismatic Garnet*

            +1, notify EVERY agency with the power to act on this. OP the time for action is overdue!

  79. LCH*

    other safety issues caused by mouse/rat infestations are electrical issues. they like to chew through wires.

    the higher ups at your university really are being idiots.

      1. littlehope*

        Yeah, we’re focusing on the mouse shit here because that’s what OP can *see*, but actually mouse pee is maybe even more of a problem. Rodents piss *everywhere*, and disease aside, their pee is very corrosive. You might already be at a point where the fabric of the building is so badly damaged that chunks of flooring have to be replaced, the electrics have to be rewired etc.
        And that’s *just* the mice, never mind the clutter, fire hazards and whatever else might be rotting or growing in there.
        This really can’t wait until you can find a way to make Julie feel okay about it (which you realistically won’t be able to do and is not your job anyway); it needs to be done now, because it’s a serious safety hazard on multiple levels, and it needs to be done by professionals.
        Julie needs mandatory time off, and her office needs to be cleaned out and checked over while she’s gone.
        If you can’t convince management to take action, then yeah, I think it’s time to go over their heads. HR or whatever health & safety authority is appropriate where you are.

  80. BellyButton*

    I would not be working anywhere where there was visible mice, mice feces, and the invisible trail of urine. I would march into whoever’s office and say I will be at home until the situation has been dealt with and I won’t be the one cleaning it up. It is not only disgusting, but unhealthy and dangerous. Literally dangerous!

  81. InHigherEd*

    Anyone else notice that it wasn’t clear if Julie had given permission for her boss to disclose her mental health condition? That would make the boss double full of bees.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Sometimes ADA accommodations can’t be fully confidential, you need to at least disclose you’re making an accommodation. I find it telling that the boss isn’t using the word accommodation, because anyone who heard it would laugh in his face.

    2. Temperance*

      I think the issue would have been quite obvious on sight, because she’s built up a hoard of garbage so large that it has created a rodent infestation.

  82. ProducerNYC*

    This happened at my last job. The person had expired food products, swag, books, and more piled so high that it posed a trip/injury risk to themselves and others. When coworkers would try tossing things, they would retrieve them out of the trash and put them back People literally tripped over plastic tubs filled with stuff trying to navigate around the storage containers. Facilities routinely threatened them with ‘it has to be cleaned up by x, ‘ but there was no real follow through, and any attempts at ‘tidying’ were shortlived. The items overflowed onto others’ desks (this was open seating area), and posed actual risks to everyone. They tiptoed around this person to everyone’s detriment. Last I heard it’s still ongoing.

  83. Ruby Ruby*

    This problem would quite literally kill me. I found out the hard way in grad school that I have a severe allergy to a protein in mouse urine. Like, being in the mouse room put me into anaphylaxis. I’m sympathetic to mental health issues, but not at the expense of my life.

  84. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    Being the relative of a hoarder, i have huge sympathy for the struggles of the hoarder and the struggles of the people who have to live and work with them.

    I realize this situation is waaaaay past this point, but when my relative started to hoard in their office, their boss put really specific limits on how much of any given material could be saved. My relative didn’t love the restrictions, but the manager was firm but also didn’t make it a big deal. I wish I knew more about the manager’s side- how much work they felt it was, etc., but kindly and firmly establishing limits before things got really bad served everyone well.

    I really hope everyone in this situation can get the help they need.

  85. NMitford*

    My husband is a paralegal for a federal government agency and was assigned for the three longest years of his life to work with an attorney who is a hoarder. Her office was so packed that she couldn’t work in it, meaning that she didn’t use her computer and dictated everything to my husband. Like my husband would print out her emails, take them to her in the law library where she worked because she couldn’t use her office, take down her response, and then go back to his office and type a response that started, “Attorney Jones has asked me to respond to your email as follows….”

    His office had to have some kind of inspection of how they were maintaining their files, and his superiors literally put Attorney Jones’ nameplate on the door of another, uncluttered office and put something like “HVAC Access” on the door to her real office to keep the inspectors out of the mess when she was unable to take meaning steps to rectify the situation in advance of the audit/inspection. DH referred to the uncluttered office at Attorney Jones’ Potemkin Village throughout his tenure with her.

    I guess he should be grateful that there were no mice.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Oh god. I’m wondering if we worked for the same person at one point. Fortunately I didn’t work for her, but she was in my department. Her office was a wall-to-wall sea of papers. Like she literally walked on top of stacks and stacks of papers like a mountain goat picking its way across a rock face. She also compulsively chewed her fingers and cuticles and her fingers were always bleeding, so any paper she DID touch had smears of dried blood all over it. I also found out while crossing paths with her in the ladies’ that she didn’t wash her hands (maybe because of the open wounds?). I got involuntarily full-body skin crawlies when I saw her and if she came near my office I would hide.

  86. Michelle Smith*

    File a complaint with anyone who will accept one, from HR to OSHA. This is unreasonable and you’ve been putting up with it for far too long.

    I am compassionate to her situation as a person who has had my own struggles with hoarding in the past. That doesn’t mean though that this behavior is acceptable to continue in the workplace, period.

    BTW, I think your employer is going to do everyone a major disservice by encouraging other staff to get involved in the cleanup.

  87. thelettermegan*

    So part of the problem with treating hoarding is that the way we often think it should be dealt with (tossing everything while the hoarder is not around) will significantly exasperate the illness.

    What does work is getting professional compassionate organizers (like Midwest Magic Cleaning) who can negotiate a cleaning plan with the hoarder, gain their trust, and then only throw away what the hoarder has agreed to. The organizer can effectively clean the place without triggering the disordered instinct to go get more stuff to hoard. A sense of safety can inspire the hoarder to get appropriate therapy.

    Maybe since this is an issue at the university, you could ask the psychology department to recommend someone? If you can find the right organizer, it could be a one-time expense without involving any volunteers.

    1. xylocopa*

      Probably better not to invite a whole host of further co-workers to participate in someone’s mental health situation.

    2. Rachel*

      This is a great solution for private individuals who need help with family and friends.

      This is a workplace with an inherently different set of rules and regulations.

      Julie does not have to agree to have her workplace cleaned. I do think they should give her time off work to pursue mental health treatment, but they do not have to subject everybody else to Julie’s biohazards while waiting for her to agree to throw things away.

      A workplace is different from a private residence. Julie should not have this much control.

    3. GythaOgden*


      The way my hoarding was sorted out was that I broke my ankle falling over books downstairs. I’m 44 (41 at the time of the accident) and will never be able to walk long distances without a stick. And I was lucky, because I could have fallen on a different part of my anatomy not so easy to put back together again.

      The mouse crap all over the place takes this from a problem that needs a delicate solution into something that requires a safety intervention. Julie can get the help she needs, but the stuff needs to be off the university campus before anyone gets seriously ill or dies. Neither gravity nor hantavirus care about being sensitive and respectful towards hoarding individuals, nor is a source of fire.

      Once Julie’s lab is no longer the university’s problem, her hoarding can get treatment or she can relapse elsewhere but they can’t go on like this for much longer without it being someone else’s needs for a safe environment that takes precedence.

      Either Julie is dealt with now or someone is going to get seriously hurt and then things will get really ugly. Practical steps can’t wait for someone to recover; it’s not kind for the people who work with her and who can’t be more invested in her mental health than she is.

      I’m sorry, but I learned this the hard way. I’m not perfect by any means, but there’s something about having a permanent injury that concentrated my mind and made me focus on getting help. The danger here is that it’s not Julie who bears the brunt of her mental issues — it’s a bystander. And if those mice kill someone else, Julie is going to be the responsible one and have more on her conscience than just an untidy office.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      All the stuff is covered in dangerous contaminants in a public space; you simply can’t promise a hoarder, that you’ll negotiate them keeping some of it! That can’t happen. There’s definitely room for some negotiation in people’s own personal spaces if it prevents backsliding in the long haul, but even then, you’ve got to prioritise immediate and pressing risks to physical safety if you’re in charge of the space. No one’s going to get better mentally, if they’re physically harmed before that can happen. This is one of those situations where a win-win option isn’t really possible. You just go for the most desperately needed and basic safety option.

    5. Observer*

      What does work is getting professional compassionate organizers (like Midwest Magic Cleaning) who can negotiate a cleaning plan with the hoarder, gain their trust, and then only throw away what the hoarder has agreed to. The organizer can effectively clean the place without triggering the disordered instinct to go get more stuff to hoard. A sense of safety can inspire the hoarder to get appropriate therapy.

      I have no idea if the actually works in real life at home. But it’s utterly not relevant here for a number of reasons. Keep in mind that the organization is not in any position to deal with treatment at any level.

      More importantly, they simply cannot “negotiate” anything with here. *EVERYTHING* needs to go. Either she takes it home or it gets tossed because at this point it’s contaminated and not salvageable. At this point they need to get rid of ALL the garbage, decontaminate the office and then keep her from creating a similar biohazard.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. Julie needs to follow the university’s safety protocols. The seeds and other organic materials need sealed containers to prevent rodents or other pests and to keep the samples from deteriorating. Her hoarding is destroying her own work in addition to harming everyone else.

    6. myfanwy*

      Midwest Magic are spectacular, but this isn’t the hoarder’s home, it’s a workplace that she shares with others and does not own. The solution in the workplace might exacerbate her illness overall and that is very unfortunate. But what she needs in order to create a sense of safety is just not something that can be achieved in a shared workspace. It’s not negotiable. She cannot keep contaminated items at work, and all the items are contaminated with mouse faeces/urine. These are absolutes, and yes, that is going to be very hard for Julie.

  88. xylocopa*

    I’m struck by the workplace’s simultaneous willingness to accommodate these issues–while ALSO apparently just going around talking to employees about their co-workers’ mental health. What a combo.

  89. Orv*

    Talk to the university ombudsman. They’re often good at negotiating issues that cross power boundaries, like between faculty and staff. They’re also usually a confidential resource so you don’t have to worry as much about retaliation as you might if you went to HR. (HR is often unable to do much of anything about tenured staff.)

  90. Cadmium*

    That is so gross and truly hazardous to the health of everyone who comes in contact with the office area. Definitely file a complaint with HR (both for the working conditions and management’s handing of the situation), file a complaint with OSHA, and if you’re in a union, 100% file a complaint with them, too.

  91. boof*

    option E: call hoarders :O
    … probably not but seriously, extremely unlikely Julie will get better on her own, it’s not reasonable to ask others to clean up her mess when that is no where near what their job is in general and in this case it’s probably an active biohazard risk – I think even hoarders would get specialists with special gear to clean up any animal infestations.

  92. Fluffy Fish*

    Your University very likely has Risk Management office. It’s the office that’s responsible for things like workmans comp, certifying that people can drive University vehicles, etc.

    They will NOT be happy with pathogen spreading rodents camping out in buildings. It’s a huge insurance liability.

    Contact them and include details about how long this has been going on as well what is (isn’t) being done.

  93. KatherineJ*

    Oh LW, I am appalled and somewhat livid for you being in this situation. As someone who works in labs, is responsible for integrated pest management, and health and safety at my own workplace, this is worth escalating. The mice are a health and safety issue on their own, but all the stuff is a fire hazard and potential issue for safety around slip, trip and fall or it falling on someone. Let alone the mice will have contaminated the lab space. I think this advice is spot on and I agree that you are the one being sensible here. Allowing this to continue is also not helping your coworker but also putting their life at risk everytime they enter these office spaces to use them and puts everyone else using the building at risk.

  94. LR*

    post a photo on social media and tag the university. that’ll get peoples’ attention!

    but yes, echoing that EHS is the right authority to appeal to here. they are often less overtly political than HR because they have extremely clear mandates regarding lab conditions that entail extremely clear ramifications if they are violated (like fines).

    1. Calamity Janine*

      the real extraordinarily dirty fighting technique that would make moves happen – though one of the moves would be telling LW to find a new career after putting this one to the torch – would be to not stop at social media.

      it’s also looping in any publisher of research done by or done near to the problem person and their office.

      “also there’s a mouse infestation contaminating our samples and lab supplies lmao” is one hell of a thing to put into the “here’s the limitations of our experiment and how we plan to do it better” section of a paper. it’s also a very large variable that can sink or swim many a conclusion. leaving it out semi-intentionally? it produces dodgy science. and someone calling out the dodginess in those professional means using a catty little “as a response to your paper here’s the important thing you forgot which is why every one should keep what you didn’t mention in mind when they ponder if you’re actually doing a science or nah” letter to the journal editor? well, the editor probably wouldn’t bite (thank God) but academia has also been split before by far pettier reasons. more importantly it’s a way for the institution to massively lose face on an international level… which then is going to make it much harder for them to get more grants for more research. “why would i give them money? they’re just gonna feed it to mice that poop all over the lab” is pretty clear reason to lose a grant. and given the publish or perish grant-heavy nature of academia in research universities…

      that would be i think way too far and something LW most certainly should not do. however it is worth keeping in mind when people rebuff LW for being irritated: this person is playing some games that can have truly massive consequences for not just themselves, or the lab neighbors, but the entire university. a major research department becoming known as a clownshow can hurt the entire institution. it really is a big deal on many levels!

      1. Boof*

        I’ in academia and dubious editors or collaborators would pay attention to such a screed.
        Social media and alumni and parents of prospective students, on the other hand, would probably have a field day with such juicy outre – definitely the nuclear option tho

        1. Lisanthus*

          It might be simpler — though yes, nuclear — to contact the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed and let the journal editors/research collaborators read all about it there.

          Then the university’s legal counsel will find out about it via the media. Again nuclear, but they have the power to crack down as well.

          And someone HAS to crack down for safety’s sake.

  95. Calamity Janine*

    if anyone needs me i am going to be screaming in bio major about all those now-ruined gathered specimens and samples. let us all hope that the rare seeds eaten by the mice aren’t THAT rare…

    the slim silver lining is that it makes things really easy to declare “all of this needs to be tossed and there is nothing to save of these samples”. stuff contaminated by mice does not make great science, on account of how you’re supposed to be reducing variables instead of introducing new rodent-based variables to throw off results. so if anyone is wringing their hands about missed contributions to science if you chuck it all… firmly raise an eyebrow until it is lodged in the ceiling.

    though i expect LW is way ahead of me in understanding this concern. i merely wanted to join the horrified chorus in the key of biology knowing lol.

    (now if you could get the mice organized and working at eating any escaped drosophila from the genetics labs…)

    1. RVA Cat*

      Now I’m imagining the mice ate the seeds of some rare Doomplant that they poop outside and it goes invasive like kudzu but it’s also that evil weed that burns people….

  96. Yup!*

    Oh boy, this reminded me of a manager I had when working at a hotel back when I was doing my BA. She would wear the same outfit every day for months–without washing it. Then when I was tasked to clean her office by *her* boss when she was away, I found old outfits stuffed into bags and hidden in filing cabinets. They smelled atrocious (and my manager did not smell too great, either). She was nice enough, but in retrospect (I was naive back then!) I think she was a barely functional alcoholic with a hoarding problem. I don’t know why upper management never stepped in, I guess because the department functioned ok.

  97. Smilingswan*

    I’m honestly surprised the lab hasn’t been shut down. Doesn’t this hurt the integrity of the experiments? You may want to contact whatever agency polices that sort of thing.
    I’d also imagine that you are losing students due to this. How’s your enrollment looking?

  98. Elizabeth West*

    Oh boy this is a toughie.

    Yes, hoarding is a mental disorder. Yes, it’s kind to work with Julie on the issue. But no, a workplace does not have to accommodate a situation that creates a clear health hazard for everyone else.

    They can provide Julie with EAP referrals. They can’t force her to get treatment, but the only other alternative. assuming she can’t work from home (if her home is even habitable), is to let her go if she can’t maintain a minimum standard of order.

    They need to put their foot down and clean it up. This is not ideal — with hoarders, a gradual approach is better — but if she isn’t complying and the area is infested, it’s time to haul in a dumpster and toss it all. The damage a hoard, not to mention vermin, can do to the space makes this an urgent matter. Plus they’re likely risking a lawsuit over the health risk.

    1. NothingIsLittle*

      I’d like to push back on the idea that it’s kind for Julie’s coworkers/employer to work with her on the issue. It is not their place and they are not qualified. The kind thing to do is set clear boundaries and enforce them so that Julie knows the expectations. Possibly, it is allowing her to work from home so that she doesn’t have access to additional hoarding space.

      I’m a recovered hoarder. I never hoarded at work, but if any of my coworkers had known about it and tried to get involved I would not have handled that well and the stress of them knowing and judging me (inherent to the idea that they are “helping”) would have accelerated my hoarding.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I should have been more clear. Working from home accommodations would be an acceptable option while she deals with the problem — I didn’t mean they had to manage her condition. Letting her hoard in the office isn’t good for them or for her either.

        I’m sorry you have dealt with this. I hope you’re doing better now. *hug*

  99. She of Many Hats*

    Depending on the type of lab this is: clinical, medical, research….having an untreated rodent infestation would a legal liability, endanger clients/patients as well as staff, cause failures/inaccuracies to research/experiments, and risk funding of the lab & staffing. Point these out to HR when you bring the issue to them. Then there’s the additional cost of clean-up when the infestation spreads to other labs, floors, & buildings and continues to do so repeatedly if the hoarding isn’t dealt with.

    Going to HR may be more impactful if it is done as a group to reinforce the impact the hoarding is having on the lab and department.

  100. Lizy*

    “It’s inappropriate and unkind to Julie to make a complaint.”
    OP’s response “It is inappropriate and unkind to EVERYONE ELSE to allow this to continue.”
    “We can all spend time pitching in to help Julie!”
    OP’s response: “We’re not certified for biohazard cleaning, nor do we have the appropriate equipment.” (assuming that’s all true)
    “I’m just trying to find a solution. Julie has a mental health problem.”
    OP: “Julie’s mental health should not affect everyone else’s mental AND physical health.”

    Ye gads…

  101. Dawn*

    I am probably nowhere near the first person to say this at this point, but if it were me, this is a place where I would complain to OSHA or a local health authority. Rodent droppings can carry, among other pathogens, hantavirus, and your coworker and management aren’t just creating a gross environment for you, they’re actively abetting a health hazard at work and they basically can’t do that.

  102. HonorBox*

    Julie likely needs some sort of accommodation, but as Alison points out, the employer is not required to accommodate by putting undue burden on itself, or by extension, the other employees. This is a hazard of significant proportions, and needs to be treated as such.

    1. If you don’t feel comfortable reporting it to HR, that’s fine, but that’s probably the best first step. Not Julie specifically, but the entire situation. You’re being forced to work in an environment where there are mouse droppings on your stuff and no one is actively trying to remedy the situation on behalf of all of the other employees in the lab.
    2. Suggest kindly to HR that it is a health and safety concern and then take it to whoever is in charge of that if nothing is done ASAP.
    2.5. It would be worth highlighting this all separately to whoever is ultimately overseeing your department, and perhaps someone like a provost or even university president. The potential (likely) contamination within the lab could invalidate research and other projects, and there’s a huge problem for the university there.
    3. If nothing is done swiftly, absolutely report it to OSHA or any other governing body you can think of.
    4. Do whatever you can to oppose the thought that everyone should pitch in to help Julie. This is a hazardous situation and needs to be addressed by those who know what they’re doing. Those with training will know what has to immediately be disposed of. If you and your coworkers are expected to do that, you’re still risking biohazard being left behind in the office.

  103. SleeplessKJ*

    This is a situation where I’d make an anonymous call to OSHA and the local health department. Mice spread disease.

  104. GreenDoor*

    “Julie has a mental health issue.” This implies that Julie can name what she’s got going on with herself. Now Julie needs to be an adult and work with her healthcare providers to come up with strategies for dealing with this and come up with reasonable accommodations to pose to her employers. I am eternally grateful to this site for reminding us all that “has a mental health issue” does not equal “we must let them do whatever they want.” I get not wanting to pile on Julie here….but OP should definitely complain about upper management. They are the ones failing the lab here. And I wouldn’t help clean. Even if you do work with pathogens and pestulence for a living, that’s not an appropriate ask here.

      1. Antilles*

        Especially since it’s likely that mice are far from the only issue here, they’re just the most visible one.

          1. zuzu*

            My roommate’s cats were terrible mousers, which we found out when we had a mouse problem caused by a gut reno in the adjoining rowhouse.

            When I got my own place and my own cats, I made sure I got ones that had spent a little time on the street so they knew how to kill. No way was I going to provide housing to a useless cat. You have one job!

            As for Julie, in a university environment, there are so few people who will tell a tenured prof what to do even when it becomes a health and safety issue or a matter of abuse of the staff or students. It’s everyone else’s problem, no one wants to act, and so nothing gets reported to the people who might actually be able to come in and clean out her office now that there are vermin.

            I’ve seen some pretty spectacularly hoarded offices in my time, but since I work in law schools, it’s all paper. Faculty offices are the black holes into which library books disappear for years on end, and we don’t get them back until the professors retire, when facilities has us come in and retrieve them (the profs will usually “donate” anything they don’t want to take with them, but we will select what we want from the office rather than allow them to dump them on us wholesale, since they’re usually 30-year-old casebooks and dupes of what we already have). We have to do mold checks of anything that comes in the door, and some are better than others. I can’t say I’ve done a severely hoarded office yet, because those guys hang on until the bitter end and go out feet first.

            1. JustaTech*

              I worked for a university library where the very most senior professors had their offices in the stacks. When we did a reno and had to move them even the librarians were amazed how many books they had managed to hoard in their very small offices.
              At least because they were still physically in the library there weren’t any mold issues.
              But absolutely some of those professors left feet first.

          2. Ally McBeal*

            My cat was feral for a couple years before I adopted her, but somehow she has apparently no killer instincts. I’m fortunate that I don’t have a pest problem in my apartment, but when I do get the occasional bug (BUG! not mouse), she’ll track/hunt it but then won’t even try to catch it. She’ll just stare at it until I notice she’s been staring at something for a while and come to collect the bug with my handvac. On the other hand, I once had a roommate with a cat who liked to toy with, eat, then regurgitate his victims in front of us, so it could definitely be worse, but I do wonder how my cat survived for years in the wild.

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              I’ll take a non-hunting cat over a mouser any day. My current kitty is kind of like yours… he “hunts” bugs and leaves, but that’s it. He’ll bring home maple leaves as if they were a trophy catch.

              My previous cat was a real hunter. Rats, gophers, hummingbirds, pigeons… you name it and I’ve probably found pieces of it strewn across the kitchen floor. I’d be delighted to go the rest of my life without mopping up rodent guts.

              Also, unless your infestation and/or hygiene is really bad, simply having a cat or two around will keep rodents at bay even if the cats aren’t active hunters. Rodents can smell if cats are around and won’t risk moving in unless they’re desperate.

              1. AngryOctopus*

                Oh yes. My house is from 1910, so there are mice in the basement because I’m not going to bother redoing the foundation. I have two cats, and nobody ever comes upstairs to the food. The only rodent I ever got in the house I suspect was carried up the stairs by the neighbors cats, and came in under the door because he was dropped and not dead yet. The cats stared at it (vole) and I had to put on the gardening gloves and catch it myself. Gave it a lecture when depositing it outside.
                We also have rats in the neighborhood but again, they’re too smart to come into a house with pets (harder for them to get in as well).

              2. La Triviata*

                My mother once had a cat that fancied herself as a hunter. When young, she once caught a bee (not a good result). Later, my mother would have yearly infestations of crickets, which the cat could catch. She’d eat them and regurgitate them, which led to small pools of vomit with legs sticking out. ick.

              3. Steve for Work Purposes*

                The best mouser I ever met was a muscovy duck. During the NSW mouse plague of 2021, a friend of mine kept poultry and between the chickens, ducks, and turkeys, she had zero mouse issues! The poultry were delighted with the enrichment, and one of her muscovy ducks especially was very keen. I joked that she should have rented them out as mousers.

                My cats kept the mice out of the apartment proper but not the attic, I could hear their claws scrabbling all night. I did have some get into my storage closet, but kill traps helped with those (the electric kind). But it was an absolute nightmare, the whole state was infested and it was an uphill battle for a while. And the one person in my apartment building who didn’t have a cat got correspondingly more mice invading her apartment.

                My cats are avid hunters of bugs but that’s about it. They were both born into RSPCA custody and any time outside has been either accidental or on a lead and harness. They’re great at alerting me if a spider gets indoors, but I don’t think they’d know what to do with a mouse. I am so glad the mouse plague is over, and that I’ve since moved to a different area that (fingers crossed) is less at risk of future ones.

              4. Bruce*

                Our old cat cut a wide swath through the wildlife when I was a kid, looking back I’m sad about it. The last time I saw him at my parents house he was sitting under the loquat tree looking up _longingly_ at the fattest squirrel I’d ever seen, it had feasted on fruit and had tummy rolls that hung down on either side of the branch… our cat was too old to chase him and the squirrel knew it.

          3. LCH*

            yeah, you’d probably need to get feral cats. most house cats i’ve known just play with mice a little, but that’s it. also cats are useful for deterrence (because of their smell/urine smell), but not sure it would work with such a major infestation.

            1. Happy camper*

              What cats are y’all getting? My domesticated loveys leave only the bile duct of their kills on my front door step

          4. Arabella*

            Ironically, domesticated rats are really really good mousers. I was stuck in a terrible apartment once where neither my landlord nor my roommates could be made to care about the mice. My pet rats enacted a precision strike on any mouse that got into the cage and tried to rummage through their stuff, though.

          5. Turquoisecow*

            I had mice in my old apartment and I got a cat (not for that sole purpose but it was a bonus). The entire time I lived there the cat never caught a mouse that I saw, but I never saw another one.

            Moved in with my husband and the cat obviously came with me. We went back to the apartment a week or two later to finish emptying it out and saw mice. So clearly the cat was a deterrent even if it didn’t kill any.

            Not sure cats are the best solution here, though.

      2. Miette*

        This would only cause a bigger problem: Having to deal with the results of a successful cat. My Big Boy leaves the heads on, at least, but my friend’s is like Kitty Hannibal Lecter.

    1. Reality.Bites*

      A few years ago I had a panel of allergy tests. I’m allergic to cats *and* mice. Also dogs, trees and cockroaches. I really wasn’t sure why they test for cockroaches – it’s not likely I’d have a partner wanting to keep them as pets.

      1. Barb*

        Cockroach allergy is a huge problem, especially for children with asthma living in poverty where roach infestation can be common.

      2. H*

        Because if you live in a city, you’re likely to be exposed. Cockroach is actually a major contributor to childhood asthma.

      3. Lenora Rose*

        The panel will be standardized and include any common-ish things people can encounter. There are a number of places you might encounter roaches, or react to their unseen presence, if they’re common in your area even if you know your own house is clear; other peoples’ houses, public buildings, private businesses….

      4. pennylanetx*

        My aunt is allergic to cockroaches and the allergy is triggered by the dust they leave behind (gross, sorry). It’s been helpful for her to have it documented for housing and workplaces to encourage regular pest treatment.

      5. Beth*

        Cockroaches aren’t common pets, but they are common pests, especially in dense urban areas. I’ve spent years living in spaces where they’re not an if, but a when–you can be as clean as you want, management can be as proactive about pest control as they want, if there’s construction happening on the building next door then there are going to be some that were hiding in the walls and are now relocating. It’s useful to know if your body can’t medically tolerate living in a setting like that!

        1. Clisby*

          Oh, yes. I live in coastal South Carolina, and you’re pretty much deluding yourself if you think you can completely protect against cockroaches. I do have the pest control company spray quarterly, which means I almost never see a live cockroach, but I see dead ones from time to time.

          People seem to have this strange idea that cockroaches only come around if you leave food out, or if you don’t clean up. At least where I live, they often come in for water. There is no amount of cleaning out all your drains that will deter them if there’s a dry spell.

          1. AnonORama*

            Yes, you really haven’t lived until a three-inch bug (four, if you count the antennae) jumps up out of your sink drain while you’re brushing your teeth.

          2. Uranus Wars*

            When I lived in Coastal SC I could always tell when the neighbors did pest control…and I am sure that it was apparent when I did mine.

          3. Hot Flash Gordon*

            Most roaches are attracted by standing water and can live in the plumbing (I lived in a very old building in the Midwest where German cockroaches are endemic). Also, fun fact, they love to eat the glue that is used for “wood” paneling that is common in mobile homes, which is why they’re so hard to get rid of.

          4. Dog momma*

            We live in the Midlands. Our roaches are called Palmetto bugs and they prefer outside. . they live in palm and other trees & pine needle mulch for those who aren’t aware. We cut down 14 dying trees and they almost disappeared. We also use a pest control company. Once in a great while we find one on the floor, as its easier to bring groceries in from the garage and the doors are open briefly, but they are almost never in the house. and they are very different from the German roaches infesting major cities.

        2. M2RB*

          Additionally, they are common pests depending on where in the world you live. A building could be absolutely pristine in Florida, and roaches will still move in simply due to the climate here. A palmetto bug is a type of roach, for those who’ve heard that term used.

        3. I Have RBF*

          Yeah, one apartment I lived in had roaches. No matter how many times maintenance came in and sprayed, they came back. IIRC, the eggs came in the paper grocery bags from some stores, and no matter how clean and sparse your apartment was, if the neighbors got them, you got them. It was so bad that you could never track which apartment they started in, because they would only spray your apartment if you complained, not the others around you. IMO, they should have just done regular spraying in each building all at once.

      6. Maggie*

        Cockroach residue is everywhere in the world, tiny particles shed off them so it’s all over the street, shoes, pets etc. It’s everywhere. Unpleasant to think about but it’s why roach allergies matter

      7. goddessoftransitory*

        Since roaches and people go hand in hand environment wise, it makes sense–lots of people who have “mystery” rashes and breathing problems are allergic to them but since they never see any…

    2. Nea*

      Cat owner here; finding dead mice – or worse, partial dead mice – everywhere is only going to add to the problem.

      1. Llama Llama*

        Right. My sister has two cats and the one thing she complains about is them killing or not killing rodents and just leaving them places.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          My former kitty used to catch mice and leave us the feet, liver, and the occasional eyeball. I’m not sure rotting offal/carcasses is an improvement over live mice when it comes to smell and spread of disease.

          1. Caebrine*

            Are you sure it wasn‘t the gallbladder? Apparently it tastes awful and after years of living with free roaming cats I consider myself somewhat of an expert in the gallbladders of local rodents and playing „guess the critter“.

            I am so sorry.

            But I agree, cats wouldn‘t be the solution here.

        2. Nea*

          I am permanently scarred by the memory of one of my cats celebrating her hunting victory by rubbing her limp trophy all over her head and face.

          1. SomeWords*

            Good heavens, I first read that as “rubbing her limp trophy all over MY head and face.” and was silently screaming.

        3. CommanderBanana*

          One of ours liked to bring them inside the house, alive, in the wee hours of the morning and then release them into the living room where the dogs slept. It was wonderful being woken up at 3 am by the resulting chaos.

          Yes, I think he did it on purpose.

          1. Jam on Toast*

            My cats like to play with any mice they find. They’ll bat them around, gnaw on them for a bit and then tuck their new toy away for ‘later’.

            Finding those carcasses, or worse, the not-all-the-way-dead-but-soon-to-be-future carcasses, literally sends me into a blind panic. There are no words to describe how viscerally I loathe mice. I can’t breathe, my hands shake, it’s an absolute phobia. My family knows this and does everything possible to ensure I don’t have to see or god forbid, dispose of the rare mouse that enters our old home, ever.

            But given my phobia, I couldn’t work in this office, ever. I would literally be in a state of endless adrenaline-fuelled panic, day in, day out and the impact on my work would be entirely negative. Julie’s hoarding isn’t something she should be shamed over, but she can’t be allowed to continue to impose the unsanitary conditions it creates on her co-workers, to the detriment of *their* physical or mental well-being. Period.

          2. Nea*

            You have to do what you have to do for excitement when you can’t read or work the TV remote. My cats built a parkour trail which ended by making a sharp left at the bathroom, jumping on the bathmat, and riding it across the floor. I think you “lost” if you didn’t jump off in time and smacked into the radiator.

                1. AnonORama*

                  I’m also a human (lol), and remember well my sisters and I trying to “ride” several unpadded small rugs around the wood floors of the apartment we grew up in! I can attest that it’s pretty fun if you happen to have an old-ass place with sloped floors.

          3. Arts Akimbo*

            My cat definitely did. He once brought a live pigeon into the house, we think to lord it over the other cat who couldn’t catch birds. Maybe he was trying to teach her, but I suspect he was just showing off.

            A hoarded environment is very, very good at hiding pests, and cats are often very good at stashing their kills. The only way out at the LW’s lab is to clean it. The university should really hire a professional crew rather than expecting students and other teachers to handle it!

      2. FlyingAce*

        If it was just one or two mice coming from outside, a cat can be an effective deterrent; at this point, though, I agree that it would be adding to the problem.

      3. Unkempt Flatware*

        Yep. Mine simply punctures them and I either have to dispatch them myself or the poor things get slowly eaten by ants and things.

      4. Lenora Rose*

        As someone who picked up a weird looking thing off the floor only to realise I was holding a mouse’s head… yeah, no.

        Cats are good for clearing a relatively low level problem (eg, normal non-hoarder house) or preventing a problem. But even then, they can and sometimes will leave mess.

      1. Cohort 1*

        Unfortunately, it sounds like they are well past introducing a couple of cats to the department or having coworkers “pitch in” to help clearing out. At this point there is mouse excrement, including mouse urine and saliva, all over the place. A normal clean-up will most certainly cause the virus bits to become airborne where the cleaners will breathe it in. This really is a hazmat situation that needs to be remedied by people with respirators, spray disinfectant, and experience. Many things that can’t be disinfected will need to be disposed of, such as someone’s favorite upholstered chair, and not necessarily Julie’s.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yep, this entire office needs to be cleaned out, gutted, and remodeled, probably. That’s not counting elimination of the mouse problem, which has obviously spread to other areas.

      1. Annie*

        Oooh, does that mean that there’s a hard rule about pets/animals in the building?? It would be great to be able to point to that in the handbook!

        1. Nesprin*

          The institutional animal care board will have the rules about pest free vivaria.

          It’s really incredibly important to have lab mice separate from wild mice- wild mice have pathogens that lab mice do not, and mixing the two can completely change experimental results.

      2. zuzu*

        I have a feeling no one has reviewed the health and safety standards of Julie’s lab for a while. She’s doing stuff with seeds, but how badly contaminated are they? Are her results valid?

        I wonder if her grants have any kind of conditions?

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Her results won’t be valid if the chain of her seeds includes “stashed in my office for X time” no matter how clean it is (isn’t, in this case, which is worse). Even seeds and plants need documentation, and if you’re doing anything with them, you have to be able to show where they came from and how they’ve been treated so you know your work is equivalent.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I was going to say–I am not a scientist, but it seems to me this version of storage renders any actual scientific study of the specimens worthless.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              This — I used to work in a materials testing lab and chain of custody was extremely important. If you couldn’t show where the samples had been, they became useless because you couldn’t show what conditions they were subject to, or if anyone had altered them in any way, intentionally or not.

        2. AnonORama*

          Ooh, maybe a funder site audit is in order? Not sure how this lab is supported, but I’m trying to imagine the expressions on the faces of some folks from, say, NIH if they came into this environment.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Honestly, that might be what it takes. I cannot imagine the grant committee, for example, that would renew funding for anything that relied on this lab in any way if they found out about this. People’s actual livelihoods and career-long studies are at stake here in many different ways!

    3. NewMolecularEntity*

      In a hoarding setting the cats will inevitably choose alternate litter box sites which will make the problem worse I would fear.

      1. Enai*

        Exciting new smells to add to the already fetid mix! Not good smells, but at least new ones! Also, more toxoplasmosis and other parasites to worry about! What could go wrong?

    4. Box of Kittens*

      This is pretty clearly a facetious comment, y’all! No one really thinks a cat is the best solution here

    5. MegPie*

      Yeah but what happens when the cats start to multiply? You get into “there was an old lady who swallowed a fly” territory.

    6. LilPinkSock*

      As much as I’ve loved reading the various tangents and Pearl-clutching in this thread…I don’t think this was meant to be a serious solution, y’all.

    7. JustaTech*

      When I was a mouse colony manager I read a fascinating book on mouse biology from a guy who was trying to deal with mice in grain storage warehouses in the UK right after WWII. Cats were totally ineffective. (The solution turned out to be plastic grain bags.)

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I live in a large city that has been having an exploding rat problem, and there are teams of terrier owners who bring their dogs out en masse to go ratting. Jack Russells and rat terriers are astonishingly effective at how many rats/mice they can kill in a short amount of time. My own old, chubby, mostly toothless pittie mix got 2 rats and some mice in the time I had her (please note I was not encouraging this and was as traumatized as she was proud of herself!).

        That being said, it’s a short-term fix and not a long-term solution if you don’t address the root cause of why you have a rodent problem in the first place!

        1. myfanwy*

          I 100% read this to mean that your city has a problem with exploding rats and was horrified and amused.

    8. SusieQQ*

      I’m surprised how seriously a lot of folks took this comment. It made me LOL — thank you for brightening my day with some humor!

      1. Prismatic Garnet*

        Agree, lol at the comment and ppl please stop correcting jokes as though they’re real

    9. Annabelle*

      I’m sorry no one got your joke, Precious :-( I thought it was funny
      (I’m also sorry it triggered a huge side-thread about cockroaches and now I’ve lost my appetite for lunch).

      1. Enai*

        Cats are still used for mouse control in prominent places though? Why wouldn’t people take the suggestion seriously when Larry, chief mouser of No. 10 Downing Street, is the member of UK’s government with the highest approval rating?

  105. Mad Harry Crewe*

    +1 to all the suggestions to go to EHS, OSHA, fire department, and other regulatory agencies. Hantavirus is no joke.

    In case this rec is useful to anyone else, I recently read _Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things_, by Gail Steketee and Randy O. Frost. They are psychologists working with and researching hoarding, and the book takes a realistic and compassionate look at a lot of different aspects of hoarding, including the behavioral patterns behind it, the many consequences, what is helpful for treatment, what causes further harm and escalation of the hoarding.

    Julie isn’t going to be able to change her behavior without significant work (and likely, significant help), but it is *absolutely not* on her colleagues to “pitch in” and “help out” – the employer has a responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy working environment to all of their employees, and continuing to harbor Julie’s hoard is in direct conflict with that. This is an urgent problem that is affecting everyone in the lab, and they do not have the luxury of an extended, careful treatment plan while she whittles her hoard down.

    Good luck, OP. I hope you report the situation everywhere and things get better soon.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Me too.
      I”m amazed the site H&S haven’t already stepped in to clear out this health hazard.

    2. Dog momma*

      I hope no one is having lunch or even a coffee at their desk..bc..mouse/ pee/ poop that you can’t see. I’d be taking a long vacation til this got taken care of

  106. Nysee*


    Since when do tenured positions and/or mental health issues take precedence over a filthy workplace which could be a health hazard to those with compromised immune systems? Or even those without. Never mind people having to work with mouse droppings on their desk.

    This is a case of being so opened minded your brains fall out. Whoever is in charge here has dropped the proverbial ball off of a 50-story building.

    What is management so afraid of? Julie will sue for not being allowed to hoard garbage that causes a vermin problem? Yet somehow the same people in charge have no such fear of their own workers getting sick, and thereby suing for negligence? AND THIS IS A UNIVERSITY???

    I’m out questions and my brain is spinning.

    1. LR*

      You must have never worked in higher ed ;) I worked at an R-1 and a tenured faculty there not only shielded an underling (who only had a BS, interestingly) from repeated sexual harassment complaints with HR but managed to get the university to sponsor a green card for him at a cost of tens of thousands even though that privilege is supposed to be reserved only for tenure-track employees (i.e. with phd’s and more).

      Where did she get off? She was married to the Dean of Science. She could do anything.

      I complained about all this in my exit interview and the HR lady was unsurprised and didn’t take any notes. Academia is a series of power-hungry fiefdoms where reality never penetrates. Nothing would surprise me anymore.

      Oh, and this was a place where undergrad tuition is now around 80k (in NYC) i believe.

    2. JustaTech*

      If Julie brings in enough grant money the university will ignore pretty much anything until it threatens other sources of grant money.
      There are plenty of stories of professors who are good at getting grants getting away with pretty much everything under the sun (harassment of every flavor) right up until they misappropriate funds or lose those grants.

      The thing about the mice is that sooner or later they’ll start impacting other people’s research and then the hammer will fall. Will it be better for everyone to deal with it before then? Yes of course. But university administrators can be painfully short-sighted.

    3. Miss Mouse*

      The reason this has gone on this long is because it’s a university. Administration (management) is faculty’s #1 complaint about how they “get in the way of them doing their job” and they’re a pretty convenient scapegoat for the cost of a degree. Unless this lab is in danger of getting funding pulled, they’re not going to do poop.

    4. yllis*

      Universities hate to deal with disciplining their tenured faculty or higher up admins.

      I left my job last year at a public university because the new director made my and many other people’s live hell. I was the third employee to leave who cited him directly as the cause.

      The university actually did something and demoted him to just faculty and he turned around and sued. So as great as it was they did something, I dont think theyre going to do it ever again that promptly (promptly being 8 months in this case even though he was still in a probationary period )

  107. Hedgehug*

    Oof. Definitely want to see an update on this one. Hopefully very positive for all involved parties…

  108. Prismatic Garnet*

    Anyone else who’s complaining/disgusted – students, coworkers, etc – urge them ALL to report the issue to health and safety, osha, H/R, whoever. Everyone has a stake here in forcing the bosses to act. Multiple complaints will be harder to come down on than one, and will spur quicker action.

  109. JustKnope*

    In the short term, I would try to get as many colleagues as I could to also refuse to group clean Julie’s office during this staff meeting. It is not sanitary, it’s not fair to Julie, and it’s not fair to the rest of the lab staff.

  110. fluffy*

    I had a similar experience at a workplace a bit over a decade ago. One of our lead engineers had a really bad problem with hoarding boxes and packing materials and such in his cubicle, which everyone just saw as a funny quirk and nobody wanted to upset him by having him clear the cubicle out.

    Anyway, one time he went on vacation, and while gone, I saw that his cubicle also had plenty of little mouse friends…

    In that situation, we were able to treat it as a health and safety emergency and our facilities people came and hauled away all the garbage, and after that we finally started enforcing the clean workspace policy.

  111. JaneDough(not)*

    If Hoarder cannot bear to part with these things, the she should rent a storage space and move everything to it.

    I don’t love this solution bc then mice are likely to find her stuff in storage *and* fan out to other people’s units; this happened to me at a new-ish and ostensibly clean facility, BUT my boxes were securely taped and contained non-edibles, so the poop was limited to corners of my unit. So this solution is better for everyone who uses the lab.

    1. NothingIsLittle*

      Suggesting a hoarder rent a storage space would actually accelerate the hoarding and would not keep the office clear of hoard. The only resolution is for her to be explicitly not allowed to hoard at the office and for that to be enforced. (I’m a recovered hoarder)

  112. JaneDough(not)*

    PS: If her office is so full of stuff that one can’t walk around, that’s a fire hazard. It’s distressing that she is being coddled while the obvious health risks are being ignored — and I write as someone who has more than a healthy amount of stuff (but no mice / rats / roaches, and not so much stuff that it’s a fire hazard).

  113. fingers crossed*

    This is crazy, that they’re just expecting you guys to live and work like this with such an obvious safety issue. I would recommend making reports to whatever local or federal agencies you can- OSHA, IACUC, public health department, fire department, etc. Could you also try to get it to the news? This whole situation being exposed in a newspaper or on the daily news channel would be absolutely horrifying to students, their parents, local residents, and anyone else watching, and that’s a huge “thing” that the school would want to quash. You can report anonymously to these places if you’re worried about retaliation, but ideally you and all of your coworkers would be flooding every agency possible with complaints until something gets fixed.

  114. Laura*

    You should figure which department this should be reported and then encourage the students to also send in reports. Maybe that would help.

  115. omg!*

    This happened at my work and after several warnings, the person was put on medical leave for a couple months and their office was cleaned out for them. It ended up having more repercussions than just rodents. The person’s role dealt with money, and there were loads of cheques and cash envelopes that had not been deposited or processed for the next steps.

  116. RagingADHD*

    You might want to mention to the people who want coworkers to clean up Julie’s piles that mouse poop can transmit not only salmonella and run of the mill nasties like that, but hantavirus. Hantavirus has a **36% mortality rate.***

    That’s worse than MERS. It’s worse than anthrax or smallpox, for crying out loud.

    Anybody in that office needs to be wearing PPE, especially if they are dealing with Julie’s piles.

    Leadership can talk a big game about being kind to Julie, but are they providing her with PPE to be in her infested and potentially infectious office, and insisting that she wear it? If not, they aren’t trying to actually help or protect Julie, they are just conflict-averse.

    But we knew that, right?

  117. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    The fact that your management is treating this as solvable with everyone “pitching in” to “help tidy up” calls their judgment and fitness for leadership in a lab environment into question. This is not just a matter of a space needing to be organized and swept, this is a person with a serious, destructive behavioral disorder who is causing a health and safety crisis in their workplace. Vermin carry disease, and they will eventually cause this building to be unusable. These people need a wakeup call in the form of an OSHA shutdown and some fines.

  118. CLC*

    Agree with everyone saying that this is a health and safety issue and it may have started with Julie but that hardly matters anymore. The university has a responsibility to solve this one way or another.

  119. Urban Fervor*

    We can assume there’s some sort of Rats of NIMH subplot playing out amongst the mice, correct?

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      This is Julie’s research; the field expeditions for rare seeds was either a cover story or an effort to find the best food for Nicodemus & co.

  120. academic reality check*

    Consider applying pressure anonymously through non-formal routes. An anonymous tip to a local/university news outlet that covers the university, with photos of the feces, might get coverage. The local health department might be another possibility.

    Knowing university admins, things will change at the first whiff of negative press coverage or external government inquiry, but not before.

  121. Zarniwoop*

    “ I brought up making an HR complaint against Julie to the university, and I was told that is inappropriate and unkind to her, and that we should be able to work it out among ourselves.”
    Managers saying “Don’t go to HR” is a recurring theme here at AAM.
    It’s usually not a good sign.

  122. Maureen*

    If you’re represented by a union, you should let your union rep know ASAP. Health and safety grievances are some of the easiest grievances to win, and even a crappy union rep will probably be able to win a grievance on this issue. If you’re not represented by a union but others in the lab (grad students, cleaning staff, whatever) are, they should reach out to the union rep themselves—this is the kind of situation where fixing the problem for one person will probably fix it for everyone.

    I’m also seconding the recommendations of complaining to OSHA and your local department of health. This is a situation where you should complain to as many different governing bodies as possible, you don’t need to wait to see if one solves the issue before reaching out to the next one.

  123. Brick Wall*

    My husband asked if I submitted this question because I ran into a very similar situation. I also work at a University. If you have an environmental health and safety group, you need to loop them in. The office is likely a fire safety hazard and they could write that up as a safety issue. Having a mental health diagnosis does not allow someone to put everyone else at risk. If the mice are going to impact your research results, you should also document that and send it to your department chair. It’s time to go higher up the food chain. You need to get the data from everyone with all the impacts. Is there an environmental air impact? Get that documented too. If the office is that full, then if any maintenance was needed, then they couldn’t do that. Go at it from a safety perspective. Then find your facilities liason and push on them. If they aren’t helpful, then go to your department chair. You need to put pressure on their boss’s boss because their boss obviously isn’t doing anything. Use the University system and their protocols to your advantage here.

  124. Ipsissima*

    Adding to the chorus of You Have To Escalate This, coming from a medical lab perspective:
    1. I don’t know much about the world of academia, but I think your university’s board of directors would be interested in hearing about this.
    2. This could constitute a fire hazard. You may want to contact the fire marshal.
    3. This almost definitely constitutes a workplace hazard. As others have said, OSHA and your state’s health department are who you want to contact here.
    4. This is absolutely a violation of laboratory standards. You can make an anonymous complaint to whoever accredits and inspects your lab, OR to any regulatory body that accredits any outside lab you send specimens to. CAP, Joint Commission, AAMA, etc.
    5. Depending on what your lab tests, the EPA may be another route for reporting. They may be interested anyway, given the importing of organic matter.
    6. As a microbiologist, please please please work exclusively from home, take vacation, call in sick, whatever you have to do to stay out of there until this is cleaned up by a hazmat. Hantavirus DOES NOT fuck around, and this is exactly how you get outbreaks. At that point, even the CDC or WHO will get involved. If you have to be in the lab, wear gloves and an N95, but really… just don’t be there.

    1. Bruce*

      When I had a rat infestation they chewed up the bottom of my dishwasher and created a leak that ruined the floor on that side of the kitchen. Now think of mice and rats in a lab… hey maybe it will be like “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM” ! Hmmm….

  125. Former Mrs.*

    Considering mice lack the ability to control their bladders and urinate freely as they walk around, this is a major health risk. Just because you might not see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. I’d make a call to the local or even state health department and report it, especially since students are now involved.

  126. Kitano*

    If going to HR and going to your uni’s facilities/human services doesn’t solve the issue in a reasonable timeframe (like 2-3 weeks), then I think the only option you have is to strike together with all your coworkers and students.

    Your leaders have made it clear that they will not address the situation properly on their own, so if the uni-wide systems don’t correct them, then you will have to do it yourselves.

    Make a TikTok and Twitter account for the strike effort and upload pictures of the mice, their droppings, and ANONYMOUS pictures of the mess (not filming anything that could identify Julie, even room numbers) until your department leadership does something (collect these pics/vids before the strike so you have enough content to keep posting for a few weeks).

    Tag the university, tag the city, tag the fire marshal, tag the student union, tag literally anyone who could help. List your demands clearly – 1. That this cannot continue, 2. That the department leaders should NOT be forcing staff and students to work in a hazardous environment, and 3. That the university take this into their own hands and hire a cleaning service to handle the issue. Personally, I don’t think there’s any need to bring Julie’s hoarding into this – leadership’s failure to address the health issues is the central issue you should rally around.

    Heck, use it as a chance to get more wages, too, if that’s also an issue for you! Ultimately, this is about a failure of your leadership to provide you with a clean and sanitary workplace, and it needs to be addressed through that lens.

  127. ee*

    What kind of lab is it? Who has the power to shut the lab down and pause research until the space isn’t a biohazard? That’s who you should talk to. At my university, the occupational health people didn’t have a lot of influence, but the veterinarians/IACUC had a ton of power and could get anything fishy shut down immediately. There’s gotta be someone in charge of inspecting the lab space for safety hazards that has the power to circumvent HR and pause research until the situation is dealt with. Once research stops, the rest of the university will care about the problem.

  128. Holly*

    This … isn’t actually kind to Julie.

    It’s going to give her the idea that this behaviour is safe and normal, just a little annoying thing that people have to work around. If this is her office, think about what her home must be like. Think of the risk of physical disease she’s exposed to on a daily basis (the same risk she has now brough to other people, no less).

    By pussy-footing around it, this group is reinforcing and prolonging the behaviour, potentially preventing Julie from actually obtaining the help she needs. As well as putting other people’s health at risk in the process.

    As someone who needed to be told difficult things about the way behviours caused by my poor mental health was negatively affecting others, I can tell you that I don’t think kindly towards the people who didn’t tell me and allowed dangerous behaviours to continue occuring. Those people were nice, they weren’t kind, they weren’t good, and in being nice they allowed(*) further harm to occur both to me and other people.

    I later went on to work in a mental health adjacent field and I think laypeople have got a core tenet of person-centered care completely backwards. We don’t physically, medically, legally or manipulatively prevent a person who is judged to have capactiy from engaging in a self-destructive behaviour. What we do is advise against it. HOWEVER, what we also don’t do is protect people from consquences of that decision. If I were helping Julie (as someone outside of her workplace), I would be making it abundantly clear that remaining employed and continuing this hoarding behaviour are two mutually exclusive things, not enabling her to contiue to do it. In fact, depending on how one interprets the duty of a mandated reporter, it might actually fall to me to report this to the health department, just like it would fall to me if I knew of a plan to commit physical violence.

    What it comes down to, is if Julie truly, honestly cannot help it, then she needs to not be in a situation where this behaviour impacts other people until she can help it.

    Because when the Julies of the world come out of that headspace they’re in, most of them are horrified to come to terms with the damage they have done. You help by maintaining their dignity, by assuming incompetence or emotional blocks over malice, by getting them the resources they need, by speaking and maintaining boundaries firmly but kindly. You don’t help by hiding, dismissing or minimizing destructive behaviour.

    And also, management has a duty to ALL of their staff, not just one. But I’ve got my little soapbox out to make it clear that Julie is actually being damaged by the current course of action by the colleagues, and the fact that said colleagues are on their high horses about doing the wrong thing is galling.

    (It can be argued they didn’t have a responsibility to act. But act they did, in the wrong way, is my message here.)

  129. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    In my experience the request to “be kind” is an avoidance tactic by the speaker, nothing more. Having worked in a variety of places with bad or ignorant or weak management, it seems like nothing changes until there is a direct financial threat to the organisation. Insurance costs quadrupling, being sued, funders withdrawing their money, staff off work on medical leave/ workers compensation etc.
    So far the OP’s workplace has dealt with this issue by telling OP (the messenger) to “be kind”. They evidently don’t have the competence or the desire to deal with it.
    My sympathies to you OP, I don’t know what kind of lab work you do but you are working in an unclean and hazardous workplace which is choosing not to protect its staff, or to value the work they are doing. Start your job search.
    If you can report the mouse infestation, the mishandling of valuable seeds and soil samples, the contamination of the lab etc to outside monitoring organisations etc, anonymously, please do so.
    My best wishes to you!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      “In my experience the request to “be kind” is an avoidance tactic by the speaker.”

      ^^ This. I’ve had similar experiences at workplaces where HR or management whined about how people weren’t being ‘nice’ to someone who was causing real hard to their coworkers or subordinates. I’m cynical, but now I equate ‘niceness’ with spineless performative avoidance tactics.

  130. Windy*

    I have a very, very bad rodent phobia. As in, can’t even see pictures of them without having a panic attack. I wonder how HR would manage my problem vs Julie’s. I would honestly quit if nothing was done, I could not work in a place with mice.

  131. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    There’s so much focus on Julie’s mental health but what about everyone else’s health!?

    What if a colleague had a particular physical or mental health issue that was being exacerbated by mice droppings? What then?

    I’m not saying it’s easy to solve but I think Julie should be given notice that the whole area will be cleaned by [DATE] for health and safety reasons, so anything she wants protected, she’ll need to remove herself by then. Do it kindly (and even ask the people brought in to reserve anything that she stands out as obviously important to keep) but bring in professionals to clear it out.

    And make sure Julie has support, IAPT, whatever she needs to deal with that. But clearing out the office premises is very reasonable.

  132. Keymaster in absentia*

    Just adding this as an example of how good management works:

    In the case where I was verbally abusive to others and had a hoarding issue several of my coworkers approached my boss with a ‘this cannot continue, we don’t feel safe’ statement.

    My boss, who is my friend some 20 years later, had what he regards as the hardest conversation of his career. The ‘your behaviour, whatever the cause, cannot continue. Either you get help, and I can give you the time off for that, or we’re starting the paperwork for your dismissal because this isn’t acceptable’

    I cried, I got angry, how dare they complain about me when they had no idea how hard my life was! I went home and during that long night realised that actually yes, I was facing unemployment.

    Went to the doctor convinced he was going to write a letter telling the firm I couldn’t be fired. He didn’t. I began the road to getting diagnosed and treated with a serious mental illness.

    2 years later the same boss nominated me for a company award.

    If Alison ever does a ‘good managers’ roundup I’d vote my former boss in.

    My coworkers were quite prepared to escalate to HR, the unions if nothing was done. A concerted ‘no. This stops now’ and willingness to escalate can work miracles.

    (And absolutely do not get involved in cleaning the mess up)

  133. RebPar*

    I think the key issue is that one person’s mental health issue does not give them the right to create an unhealthy environment for others. Mouse droppings on others’ desks?! That is a health hazard and totally unacceptable. This would need to involve HR and probably legal staff, but should likely involve a Performance Improvement Plan focused on immediately (within 4 weeks) establishing/maintaining a clean and safe workspace, while acknowledging accommodations that will support her ability to do that.

  134. NotSteamboatWillie*

    The smell of Peppermint essential oils will keep mice away from an area. put it on cotton balls or make up remover pads and stick them around your desk.

    As people have mentioned, if the lab works with mice, this could mess up research. People get fired for mixing mouse lines it ruins the results. Same could happen if these wild mice bring something into the lab.

    1. Wintermute*

      oof I cannot imagine what would be worse, a wild mouse mating with the lab mice and suddenly an entire department may have trouble knowing what knockout mice are really knocked out and which are miracle babies… or them bringing in LCMV and killing all of them.

      I am sure LW realized but in case they don’t– this could literally ruin lives. People could be prevented from graduating if their data is compromised and they don’t have the financial runway to keep up with grad school after wasting months to years on research that had to be thrown away. This isn’t okay, do whatever you have to to ensure no research is done in that lab tomorrow and no one is exposed.

    2. Enai*

      That doesn’t actually work, even at “the entire area smells strongly of cough drops like the building itself was eating cough drops the entire time” – levels of peppermint smell. And at some point, the essential oils themselves become toxic to humans and cause bronchial spasms or worse in humans. Tested for you on european house mice in my apartment. Even putting the stuff into their hidey-holes didn’t help. Closing the hidey-holes did.

  135. Wintermute*

    I get you don’t want to be unkind., LW, I don’t want you to die.

    Call the government tonight, every agency you can. Call the news if you have to, that building doesn’t need to be cleaned it needs to be sealed off and temporarily condemned . Mice are not benign this situation needs a professional cleaning company of the kind that do cr