coworker told everyone I’m having an affair but I’m not, colleague’s office is gun-themed, and more

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

1. Coworker quit and told everyone I’m having an affair — I’m not

I have a messy situation. Long story short, I’ve been falsely accused of having an affair at work. An employee, “Flora,” quit and has been telling people the reason is that she’s just so disgusted with this affair and how it has been handled. It’s a small company with lots of gossip. Flora contacted the alleged affair partner’s soon-to-be ex wife and told her a bunch of false information and gave her my contact info, as well as info about my husband. The ex-wife then contacted my husband and told him I was having an affair. Again, I was not having an affair.

I am not fully sure why Flora believes this. I don’t report to the alleged affair partner and never have, but I have to work with him since our positions align. There were two instances where our travel aligned to a different facility, but it wasn’t planned that way, and a few instances where we went to lunch together and he opened a door for me (???). Our office is not conducive to having private meetings, so we grab lunch to talk about projects.

HR has not said anything to me, other than asking how I was doing. Flora is now leaving reviews on sites referencing the affair (not naming me, fortunately). I like to keep my private life private and my initial hope was to just let this all blow over, but now I’m not sure. Is this something I should bring up with HR? How much info do I share? I’m super embarrassed by the whole situation and really don’t want to call attention to it, but the whole situation is just so far outside anything I’ve had to deal with that I don’t know who else to turn to for advice.

Please do talk with HR, because you’re being harassed and defamed as a result of your work there! Lay it out very clearly: A former employee is slandering you, posting false things about you in reviews of the company, and interfering with your marriage. There might not be much your company can do since Flora no longer works there, but she’s made it a work issue for you. You won’t be calling attention to it; Flora is the one doing that. It’s going to be very clear you’re not the one causing drama; Flora is.

You might also consider a short consultation with a lawyer. I don’t know from here whether she’s crossed any legal lines, but a lawyer can probably shut a lot of this down with a cease and desist letter. It’s worth finding out.

2. Coworker’s office is gun-themed

I moved to the U.S. a year ago and it has been a wild adventure. Although I worked at this company in an EU office previously, the culture in the U.S. is really different. The latest culture shock for me is that someone I work with occasionally (a few meetings a month) works from his home office and that home office is “gun themed.” When he is on video, it shows half a dozen different ammunition-related wall hangings — think different calibers of ammunition, a shotgun shell shaped thermometer, and an ammunition building station with a visible reloading tool and pile of ammunition.

Is this a reasonable thing in a U.S. workplace? Am I being unreasonable by feeling a bit uncomfortable with so much gun paraphernalia?

You’re not being unreasonable; loads of people, including in the U.S., would find that distracting and alarming, and a lot of workplaces would tell him to use a different background. I sure would, if I were his manager.

That said, there are parts of the country where this might not raise eyebrows.

3. I spend too much time chasing down signatures for birthday cards

We’re a small office (12-14 fully staffed, a mix of full-timers and part-timers, but since the pandemic, generally there are 10 of us). We have always celebrated birthdays with cards and cake. I’m the business manager, and somehow over the last few years, it has become my job to keep track of the card and make sure everyone has gotten the chance to sign it.

It’s not so much that I mind doing this, it’s just that we’ve been short staffed for almost four years and I have so much on my plate. For the last two birthday cards, I missed having someone sign (a different person on each, because neither of them are full-time).

I don’t want anyone to feel less than, forgotten, or left out (no Leap Year babies here!), but I’m struggling with this “low-value” task when I have really important things on my plate, but I don’t know who else could take it over. That feels like a weird task to assign an employee, especially when we don’t have a receptionist. Is my only option to keep struggling with this task (on average) one week per month?

Three options:

A. Let everyone know that chasing people down to sign cards has become too time-consuming and you’ll no longer be doing that. Instead, you’ll send out one message letting people know the card is in your office and to stop by and sign it. If someone misses it, so be it.

B. Move to online cards. However, you still might have the same issue with people needing to be reminded to sign, so if you do this, you should still just let people know once and not spend time chasing down anyone who hasn’t signed.

C. Stop the cards altogether. Let everyone know that it’s become too time-consuming and you are heralding in a new, card-less era. Emphasize that there will still be cake.

Personally, I vote for C because you’re overwhelmed and the other two options still involve you thinking too much about cards.

4. Invited to be a guest speaker and then blown off

Several months ago, I was contacted by a professor who teaches in the grad school department I attended. I have very good relationships with the department and I am often invited to speak at alum events, but this professor is new so we had never met. (Let’s call him Dr. Smith.)

Dr. Smith asked me to be a guest speaker at an alumni discussion he was hosting for his class. He told me there would be two or three other alum invited and asked me to prepare a 20-minute dialogue about my experiences in school and my current work.

A few days ago, I checked in with him over email and he sent me a Zoom link to attend (his class was virtual). However, I was unable to get into the meeting because it was set up to only allow people with an authorized school Zoom account (which I no longer had as a long-time alum).

I email Dr. Smith asking him to change the meeting permissions. When he finally responds 30 minutes into the class, he tells me there’s nothing he can do. He says he believes it’s a log-in issue on my end and tells me, “Maybe next time, thanks anyway.”

I feel frustrated that I spent time to prepare a speech and also stepped away from work to attend, yet my absence didn’t seem to be a big deal. There was no attempt to address the tech issue and no acknowledgement for the inconvenience to me. Am I overthinking this? How should I email back?

He was rude! Technical issues happen, but if he wasn’t able to figure it out in the middle of the class, he should have apologized profusely, acknowledged your time investment, and asked if there was a convenient time to reschedule, if you were still willing to. Instead, he was cavalier about your time, as if you weren’t doing him a favor that you put time and energy into at his request.

I don’t think you need to spell that out for him, but I also wouldn’t agree to do him any future favors, particularly if they involve you committing a block of your time. (However, if you really want to say something, you could respond with, “I put a lot of time in preparing what you had requested. Can I suggest you test the tech ahead of time in the future so that doesn’t happen to another guest speaker?”)

{ 662 comments… read them below }

  1. The Dude Abides*

    Re: birthday cards

    My office has about 30ish FT people. When we pass a card around to sign, there’s a small printed checklist that goes with it so people can mark that they’ve signed it. There’s no issues outside of the occasional straggler who will have a card on their desk when they come in.

    We also do sympathy and milestone cards, so the template comes in handy.

    1. nnn*

      The issue is that you still need someone to coordinate it–notice that it’s disappeared and is stuck on someone’s desk who’s on vacation, etc. It’s a pain to track when you have a heavy workload.

      1. princess pea*

        Yeah, I came here to say this. You’re overworked, you don’t have anyone to delegate it to, make your life easier and dump the cards! I bet people won’t care.

        1. Straight Laced Sue*

          I support abandoning cards. AND cake. Enthusiastic birthday greetings, yes. Extra work for overwhelmed people, no.

            1. SpaceySteph*

              +1 for this. My team does this and then everyone responds with their bday gif or message of choice and its fun and easy and free!

          1. jasmine boba*

            Do not abandon cake!
            could you switch to cake once a month for all of that month’s birthdays?

            1. SpaceySteph*

              Did nobody read the post about all the major overreactions?! Getting rid of cake is desperately asking for someone to rage quit and take all the staplers with them or something. KEEP THE CAKE.

          2. Hannah Lee*

            I’m all for abandoning the cards, but if the office seems to like the cake, keep the cake.

            With the cards, while they are nice, everyone has a birthday every year. So every year, everyone is signing a card for each of their co-workers. “Happy birthday!” While it’s an occasion, maybe, for the birthday person, it’s not a unique event. It’s not IMO a big deal to have people say Happy Birthday in person in between mouthfuls of cake. (Though, going by some of my previous workplaces, there’s a probability that one person will decide to go rogue and get a card anyway, maybe just from them because they

            And if the cake itself becomes a hassle, maybe convert to birthday brownies or whatever other baked goods OP could order online and have delivered the day before so OP isn’t running around to local bakeries, Costco, Aldi’s and having to lug a cake in. (Zingerman’s, Dancing Deer … or Goldbelly if you want a range of things to choose from and the company is willing to spend the $50-$75. Note: do not browse those sites unless you’re willing to deal with the cookie/brownie/cake/cheesecake cravings that will kick up)

            Personally, I’d rather not have company birthday parties for every employee, I’d rather just have them for work related things like someone retiring. But some people, co-workers REALLY like them.

            1. FK*

              For birthdays, my office does a cake (or other treat) rotation. The person who had the last birthday provides the cake for the next birthday. That way, the responsibility doesn’t rest on one person. We have 2 units that come together for this – about 16 people. (Participation is optional, but most have opted in.)

              The list of birthdays – with likes & dislikes/allergies is posted on a bulletin board. It’s a Word document stored on a shared drive, so easily updated when people come & go.

          3. And So it Begins*

            In my department our manager emails a “daily briefing” out and if it’s a birthday it’s always the top line. (It’s actually quite a useful thing, literally the email version of a meeting that could be one!) Any cakes are up to what individuals want to do for each other. Cards are reserved for things like births and deaths or people leaving.

            I’m all for cake if it’s around but I’d rather it be something less formalized than a lot of offices. I think we’ve found a nice balance.

          4. Nica*

            Yep, we’ve gone to cake in the break room for birthdays and everyone’s happier for it – almost no extra work and CAKE!

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Yeah, it’s always fun to celebrate team birthdays when someone else manages the details. A lot of enthusiastic folks in my workplace were somehow way too busy to take over the coordination of cake and card when asked.

            1. TomGraphy*

              I had a team where you were responsible for the person who had a birthday after you so we would share the planning overhead

          2. MBK*

            I found myself wondering whether anyone bothers to step up and handle the card & cake when it’s LW’s birthday.

        2. Kay*

          I came to confirm, as I am one of them – there are plenty of people who don’t care about a card – ESPECIALLY if you have cake!

          1. Enai*

            Yes, ditch the card and keep the cake. Cake is much less work for more reward: you have to order it and get it delivered or pick it up. Done. Plus, you get to eat some cake! Card, you have to buy a card. Sign it. Get Wakeen, Jane, Jennifer, Tom, Dick _and_ Harry to sign it, chase down ThatOnePerson who is never there, and then you don’t even get a snacky treat. Just for the birthday person to at best put the card in a box with all the other cards and forget about it, at worst throw it away the next day.

        3. Christine*

          A birthday card from my colleagues would be tossed into the recycling. I’m glad my workplace doesn’t bother with such things.

        4. OMG, Bees!*

          Part of me wants to see the follow up where people do care. Just reread the post the other week where 2 people quit over their food being touched in a microwave (and also past posts on coffee wars), some people will be insane over any little thing.

          Also, the Leap Year birthday post will always be the craziest AAM post.

      2. HigherEd Expat*

        At my previous employer there was one individual on each team who followed up within their team to make sure names on the team were crossed off. Depending on the team YMMV but that’s an option. (Of course I was in a touchy-feely office so that might have made a difference)

      3. Banana Pyjamas*

        A previous office I worked at also did the list, and it was the staff’s job to make sure everyone signed. Cards only got left on a desk after confirming the person was in that day and away from their desk.

        If LW wanted to keep cards it would be reasonable to tell staff they will only provide a card and a checklist of signatories. It is staff’s job to verify everyone has signed before returning the card.

    2. nnn*

      That’s what we do. It also allows people to check themselves off the list without signing the card if they want, or to pass it along without checking themselves off the list if they want to come back to it later.

      Basically, rather than one person chasing everyone down, everyone has the job of finding one person who hasn’t checked themselves off the list.

      This is also useful for money collections – people can put cash in the envelope without anyone seeing how much they put, or even whether they put anything. They’re just checked off as “Yes, I’ve already dealt with this”

      1. Hi-C*

        this is what my previous company did as well. also, have you ever sat and looked at all the signatures on a card like that? did you count the number to make sure everyone signed it? probably not. the person that receives it will most likely not notice if someone didn’t sign it. Get as many as you can get in a couple afternoons and then be done with it, if you missed someone, no big deal.

        1. HonorBox*

          We do this at my office. Our office manager hands the cards to someone and then they get passed around. It is my responsibility to find someone who hasn’t signed, and then ultimately they make it back to the office manager. She’s not spending any extra time chasing them down. And to your point… I’ve never actually looked to see whose names weren’t on a card.

        2. SpaceySteph*

          With only 10 employees though, and one is the birthday person so 9 signatures, the card is gonna look sparse if even just 1-2 people miss signing it.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            Yes, but the response to that is … *shrug*. A sparse birthday card is just not a tragedy. Sometimes a birthday falls in mid-August or late December and that’s just how it goes. Either way, LW does not need to spend a week making sure every single employee signs. If someone doesn’t sign, it is not the end of the world.

    3. Rara Avis*

      My workplace puts it somewhere and tells people to go sign it. We don’t do birthdays, but “there’s a get well card for Jane in the break room table.” “If you want to sign a congrats card for Tim’s new baby, it’s in my box.” No one tracks who does and doesn’t sign. No one has time for that.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        It sounds as though you only do cards for people who aren’t physically in the office, which is a SIGNIFICANTLY easier job to coordinate. You can’t stand in the cube farm and yell “Who hasn’t signed Janet’s birthday card?” when Janet is sitting right there.

        1. LK*

          My office puts the card in a folder in a specific spot and sendd out an email to everyone but the recipient letting us know where it is and the deadline. Then, depending on our schedules, we either sign it or don’t. If the recipient notices the card is there, they politely ignore it until it’s given to them. That said, we really only do cards for retirements or if someone is otherwise leaving after a decent tenure.

          1. alex*

            Same at my job. We’ve never done routine birthday cards, but we do them for milestone events like retirements, get well soon, condolences, an occasional college graduation (we’ve had both undergrads and grad students as employees). The cards get passed around while the honoree isn’t there, or we all sign them in a meeting when they aren’t present. I actually don’t think anyone is “in charge” except the manager who purchases the cards and then hands them off to the first person. Yet, somehow they all seem to circulate with everybody’s signatures.

        2. Daisy-dog*

          It’s not like Janet’s birthday is a surprise though. Yes, yelling about it in the office is not cool, but completely hiding the card’s existence is not necessary.

          And sympathy/get-well-soon/new baby cards might involve the person being on leave at that time.

      2. Introvert 101*

        This is what we do in our office as well: place it in an assessable spot (break room), send out an email out to everyone with the location of the card and the date that it will be collected. If Jane doesn’t sign it, then Jane can send the card recipient an email if she chooses. Usually, the person working closely with the card recipient sends the email out and collects the card.
        Cards in my office are for retirement, grave illness, family growth/decline instances. No birthdays (thankfully!).

      3. Momma Bear*

        We don’t as a standard do birthdays but for retirements and babies, someone close to the person usually coordinates this. If it’s not something you want to do anymore, OP, then start by leaving the card in your office for people to sign by x time and date. You might miss somebody but that’s on them. Everyone will know when the card is available and if the coworker is that important to them, they can buy their own cards.

        If someone really feels strongly, they can be the bearer of the task, but either way I wouldn’t continue to do it the way that negatively impacts you.

    4. Quantum Possum*

      I pass cards around with routing slips for people to mark, too. Before doing so, I go through and mark off the employees that I know aren’t in the office, to help reduce the risk of the card sitting on someone’s desk forever. Since I keep printed routing slips available and do attendance every day, this process takes approximately 5 minutes.

      If I lose track of the card, I send out an email with a picture of a milk carton saying “HAVE YOU SEEN THIS CARD?.” That usually gets a response within 15 minutes.

    5. Smithy*

      I think the difference of office size may come into play here.

      If you have an office of around 30, and you can reliably get 12-17 people to sign every card – that looks fine. Obviously some very popular staff members or more senior people may get closer to 30, but people understand that folks may be on vacation, out ill, traveling for business – and the 12-17 threshold looks ok in a card.

      With 10 people in an office, one person getting a card with 2-3 signatures compared to another person with 7-8 looks much different. It’s why some people prefer to buy cards with lots of text in the card so they can just sign their name, or a card that provides less space to write so they don’t have to think of much.

      In the 30 person office, I’m sure there’s will be someone who goes through to see who didn’t sign and count how many people signed their card vs someone else’s. But overall the optics will even out. Because of that, I’m also in support of just dropping doing signed cards, especially for birthdays. If it’s your tradition to give out a gift card, I do think that you can still use a birthday card or just invest in nicer branded stationary and do a royal we statement like “Happy birthday from all of us at Teapot Inc!”

      1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        I work at a manufacturing plant with about 30 people. I instituted anniversary and birthday cards last year. (Get well soon if someone is out on extended leave and bereavement cards for close relatives, too, but those aren’t as often, thankfully.) I distribute pay stubs on Thursday, so I have everyone there sign on Thursday when I’m handing out pay stubs. I try to make sure all of management signs the card, especially that person’s direct supervisor. However….if there are people off on Thursday, I can’t always circle back to them to get them to sign the card before I have to get it to the person, so not everyone signs the card each time. And no one has complained that not all 30 people have signed the card. I think if people see there was a good faith effort to get the card around, it’s appreciated regardless. Some people just sign their name (and we have one person who refuses to sign the card) and others write really thoughtful things in them- you just never know.

        Since we’re a small, independent company, the cards are a really inexpensive way to keep employee morale and appreciation higher than it was. Not as much as higher wages or benefits, I’m well aware, but it’s something small we can do regularly throughout the year. I wasn’t sure it was working until one coworker told me another keeps her birthday card from the plant on her fridge at home and another, the plant grump, went out of his way to thank people for signing his card.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          That’s such a nice discovery! I love that your cards are so valued. I definitely would keep my card on my desk or attached to a wall near my workspace.

    6. whyblue*

      In my current office, the card is left in a place all coworkers can access and an email is sent with a deadline for signing. If you are unable to sign it, because you won’t come into the office in time, you generally ask someone to sign you name as well. I think this is fine – most people just sign without any additional messages, and I do not recognize individual signatures anyway.

      In a former (much larger) office, the office manager took around all birthday cards for the next one or two months in one batch. Birthdays aren’t a surprise, everyone knew they were going to get a card, so no need to keep that secret from the recipient. This only left bereavement / new babies to be handled individually.

    7. Mo*

      Also – normalize people signing the card at the cake gathering. Person being honored gets card but doesn’t read. It’s on table nearby. People can go over and sign if they didn’t get a chance. We’d do that on top of the checklist. I’m

    8. londonedit*

      We switched to online cards in the first lockdown and we’ve carried on with that. It’s much easier! You just set up the card and send the link to everyone to sign it, and then it’s emailed to the recipient on the specified day. You might need to do a couple of nudging emails to remind people to sign, but overall it’s far more simple than trying to walk round the building with a card, or relying on departments to pass a card on.

      1. AuntAmy*

        We do this, too, but I don’t send reminder emails! I send one email “sign by this date and time” and if someone doesn’t sign, that’s not my problem to solve.

        1. Lydia*

          At my last job, I took over sending around birthday cards for our students (very small group of people). I would just print out the employee checklist and send it around. Every one of the staff knew what it was for and what to do with it. If it didn’t show up back up in my office, I would send out one reminder email and that would do the trick. Sometimes it was literally the only birthday recognition a student was getting. My point is a lot of folk seem very cavalier about not doing the cards when they can actually mean a lot to someone.

        2. Orora*

          Yup, this is what our office manager does and I love it. I like acknowledging birthdays, but it can be a giant PITA, so this way it’s up to everyone to do it themselves. Besides, we are a small office, but no one is going to be in a tizzy because so-and-so didn’t sign the card.

          Also, instead of cakes, we’ve switched to “Buy yourself lunch on the company credit card.” Yes, dollar limits apply.

    9. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Pre-pandemic we had team members across different states, and people emailed text to the person (admin or supervisor usually) who had the card at their desk. We’d collect those bits into one doc and slip a printout into the card.

      I’ve also had people reach out directly with condolences — even by IM, which was surprising at first but sweet as I shifted gears back into the 21st century.

      1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        My brother did something like this when my BIL had a broken limb with a cast — he sent out a message to the usual suspects to solicit a picture of the thing we’d draw on it or a description, with a color, and then did his best to replicate that thing on the cast. We have a widely spread friend group who met online, so getting there physically was never under consideration.

    10. Seashell*

      That’s what my former office used to do. We didn’t do birthdays, but for get well or retirement cards. I always handed it on to someone who was there, so a card sitting on a desk wasn’t an issue that I know of.

    11. Guy Buttersnaps*

      I buy birthday cards from either Zazzle or Cards Direct with a customized message on the inside, then I have the management team sign the cards once a month. The card is then mailed to the person’s home. It’s a MUCH easier process to navigate. We got rid of the cakes during Covid, and I just never brought it back. That whole situation was another issue all in itself!

    12. Hailrobonia*

      We used to do the same, but it was still a huge hassle, especially when you give the card to someone to sign, then they leave it in their office which is locked, or misplace it, etc.

      It was a huge hassle even for my office of 20 (to make matters worse, our executive director insisted on being the last person to sign and would critique what other people wrote for not being personal enough…. sorry Scruffy is brand new to the office so I don’t know him so what’s wrong with writing “have a fantastic birthday.”)

    13. Turquoisecow*

      My last two jobs have done monthly birthday celebrations – there’s cake/refreshments once a month to celebrate whoever had a birthday that month, we get a half hour or so in the middle of the day, people can come if they want or skip if they’re busy. But we never did cards. We do card for, like, sympathy, wedding, new baby, etc. but not birthdays. That would be a lot to coordinate, especially in months with many birthdays – and there’s always one that has like five people in it.

      My department was probably somewhere around a dozen people who got together for the birthday celebration, not unwieldy to pick up cookies once a month and book a conference room for half an hour. But cards would have put it over the top for whoever had to coordinate that.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, birthday cards sounds like a lot of unnecessary effort. And honestly I can’t imagine they mean that much to the recipients who know that signing the card was basically just another work task everyone had to do. I’d definitely just stick with cake!

        1. Lydia*

          Except you’re assuming that and there are a couple of comments here that prove you wrong right off. It would be best not to make those assumptions based on your feelings about work birthday cards.

    14. Peon*

      This is what we do, with the caveat that one has to hand it to a real person and not just leave it on a desk. Like a relay race baton. It makes it less likely to just get stuck somewhere. It’s also understood that if you don’t want to sign for whatever reason, you just check off your name and pass it on.

    15. Person from the Resume*

      I call BS. Someone is still managing this process and they quite possibly have to go track down cards and make sure the stragglers sign it because the LW said she’s trying to get everyone to sign.

      This is somewhat easier than the LW passing the card herself to everyone, but there’s still someone managing this process and finding the card when it goes missing. It’s not effort free and I’m surprised at everyone thinking this process works without someone in charge of it keeping track of it (at least minimally).

      1. LTR, FTP*

        There’s also the whole mental labor part, of having to track everyone’s birthday, remembering when it’s time to circulate a birthday card, procuring the cards at the store… and they you gotta run out and get a cake the day of the birthday, reserve the conference room… it sounds like NBD but it winds up taking considerable brain space. Plus there’s the gendered aspect of it all — never in my 30 year career have I seen a dude be the person in charge of birthdays in an office. It’s just a lot of thankless work and time that could be spent on something else, IMO.

        1. Quantum Possum*

          I’m going to have to bring up an exception – I once had a straight, middle-aged male grandboss who stayed on top of everyone’s birthdays and always made sure to acknowledge people personally.

          Let me be clear that this is the only time in my 20-year career thus far that I’ve known a man to be in charge of the birthday celebration wrangling…which says a lot. But I’d feel like a heel if I didn’t sing his praises, given how rare of a bird he is.

    16. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Same here. We also have mailboxes and if someone is WFH and not in the office that day, we put the card in the mailbox and chat them to sign it when they get back. We also put the date of the birthday and the day it should go back to the person in charge (me usually).

    17. Dry Erase Aficionado*

      I feel like option D is an email to the office staff minus the birthday person saying, “Joe’s birthday is coming up. Stop by my desk by Friday to sign his card!” and then if anyone misses signing it, it’s on them.

    18. Mary Katherine Gallagher*

      We do cards, but the person that used to collect signatures now just finds a good card and writes a message “from all of us here at XX!”

    19. TootsNYC*

      one nice thing about that list is that it gives everyone else the opportunity to participate in chasing down signatures.
      I’ve found that a few other people will step up and make sure a couple of people get to sign it.

    20. Goldenrod*

      “When we pass a card around to sign, there’s a small printed checklist that goes with it so people can mark that they’ve signed it.”

      I worked in an office like this, and honestly, I found it burdensome to sign so many cards, check off my name, and then find someone to pass it along to. And I wasn’t even coordinating it! It was just too much. Plus, it was pretty meaningless to receive such a card – most people just wrote the same thing in every card, and it felt pretty rote and insincere.

      I agree with Alison that dropping it would be best, but if you can’t do that, Group Greetings works great.

    21. Full Banana Ensemble*

      We used to do this in one of my previous jobs – not for birthdays, but for sympathy and milestones. Also about 30 FTE, and it worked pretty well, but it was also understood that it was our collective responsibility to keep the card moving, rather than it being one person’s job to constantly track its progress through the office.

      In my last job, to avoid having one person be responsible for planning all birthdays, each of us was assigned to one coworker’s birthday, and we had to buy the card, make sure everyone signed it, and bring in birthday treats. (We mixed it up every year, or whenever a new person started, so you rarely had the same person twice.) And no one wanted to be the one who half-assed someone’s birthday because it would come back around to you at some point. Granted, that was a very small office – 9 people – so it was easier to get everyone on the same page regarding how much effort to put in.

    22. Twisted Knickers*

      Another option is to have the person who coordinates getting the card just sign it, “Happy Birthday from the team!”, or some other message that clearly indicates the well wishes are being sent from everyone. No need to chase anyone down.

    23. SheepThrills*

      My former office has a similar checklist, with a rule that it had to be passed to a human. No desk abandonment. It was also run by a volunteer who had time and wanted to handle it.

    24. El*

      Alt option: Put the card out with the cake and invite folks to write a nice message as they come have a piece!

    25. Grumpus*

      I honestly could live without office cards. I think it would be fine to send a ‘it’s X’s birthday!’ announcement on Slack/Teams (with the birthday person’s permission) so colleagues can send their best wishes. The cards are going to end up in the recycling after a week or so anyway.

    26. Porch Gal*

      At my previous workplace of about 50 people we celebrated but once a month. The front desk person put the cards in the mailroom about a week before and sent a company-wide email reminding everyone that the cards were there. Those who signed, signed and those who didn’t, didn’t.

  2. Blackalyss*

    About the card signing – usually the minor jobs of birthday organizing, card signing, etc. were given you newbies usually entry level people or interns. I did it when I first joined my current company and it was a good way for them to learn people’s names and functions and for other people to talk to them. so maybe it can be designated to someone lower down the hierarchy?

    1. Jay (no, the other one)*

      Serious question: was it all newbies or just the female-presenting newbies? As someone mentioned above, I have never seen a man in charge of organizing cakes and cards.

    2. samwise*

      Please no. If you hit a hiring freeze or the only people who leave are not the newbie, someone is going to get stuck with that job for a long long time.

      If you have an office manager or admin assistant, it can be that person’s job. And I agree with Alison that everyone gets notified, maybe one reminder goes out, and that’s it. If someone doesn’t sign, they don’t sign — it’s not impeding any work, right? so just let it be.

  3. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – Another vote for bringing this issue to HR. While Flora has left the company, this lie still has the potential to cause problems for both you and your colleague John in the workplace.

    From a personal perspective, I think that having a chat with a lawyer is a good idea. A strongly worded cease and desist letter with the threat of suing her for defamation unless she retracts and publicly apologizes might be in order as well.

    Does John know all this has been happening? What’s his take on it? He should also speak with HR about the situation.

    1. Artemesia*

      Given the level of noise here, I think HR needs to probably make a firm public statement to staff as well as hiring a lawyer to confront the ex employee. It is outrageous that the OP would have to pay for this. It also seems to be pretty clear slander that might merit a lawsuit or threat of one. And the reviews should be taken down which is something a lawyer might be able to accomplish.

      I think the OP has to be very forceful on this one. And sorry you have to experience this.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        This IA an interesting intersection where it is both slander AND libel— both vernal gossip and online reviews.

      2. Phony Genius*

        I wonder if the other employees believe Fiona, or if the LW knows whether they do. That would help determine if HR should say anything. Potentially, it would also be important to determine how much their reputation has been damaged, and how much they could potentially be awarded, if they go as far as a lawsuit.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          I ran into a variation at a prior job, though I never could pin down who started the rumor (not just affair with a married co-worker from my former department, but also a lie about a resulting pregnancy, and then when there wasn’t actually a baby, people made assumptions) There was no affair, there was not even a flirtation, and there was certainly no baby at any time, I just was having a bit of a weight problem … perhaps brought on by job stress!!

          It was nasty, some previously collegial co-workers began treating me differently and there was at least one instance of me getting bumped from an plum assignment that required travel … because someone in charge decided it wasn’t safe for pregnant women to fly (or wanted an excuse to slide someone else into the role)

          People who knew me well / worked closely with me knew it was nonsense. But it was a big, gossipy company and word got around.

          I was late 20’s and naive, and didn’t realize that if nothing else that last one was actionable. I figured I’d just keep my head down, weather the storm and the truth would win the day. As I said, naive.

          OP can pin it down to one person spouting it. Pushing back on it make help all the gullible people who bought the lie realize their error.

      3. Momma Bear*

        I agree that HR needs to be more firm about this. If OP isn’t having an affair but the rumor is STILL that she is, then it’s likely to impact her and the other victim’s work. I wonder if it’s a case of mistaken identity? Either way, Flora has been harassing OP and for no one to take that seriously is a problem. It leaves the impression that you can just do an end run around trash talk anyone in the company, which is hostile and toxic. What else is going on in that hive?

    2. mb*

      Agree to both things – go to HR with an expectation that they rectify the situation since you’re experiencing harassment and consult your own lawyer with the cease and desist with the threat of a lawsuit unless Flora rectifies this. Anyone think Flora was the one having an affair?

      1. Lydia*

        It’s such a weird thing to fixate on! Why does Flora think there was an affair in the first place? How does she “know”? I suspect Flora sees any sort of friendliness between opposite genders as flirting, and going out to lunch with a man who isn’t your husband? Scandalous!

        Either way, scaring her with a cease and desist is appropriate and necessary.

        1. Selina Luna*

          Flora’s being toxic here. She reminds me of when someone tried to start a rumor that I was having an affair with another teacher at my school. Luckily, the one person she told laughed in her face and informed her that my “affair partner” was my husband, and that we weren’t being inappropriate (we weren’t even holding hands; we were just laughing at a little inside joke as we were walking to our car after school), and that even if it had been another man, it was none of her g-d business what I got up to outside of school hours and off campus.
          Said woman then came and demanded why I have a different last name from my husband. I told her that I just do.

          1. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

            Reminds me of a comment I saw on here of a journalist who accused someone of having an affair with Sen Sherrod Brown (I think) and she replied “I know, isn’t he dreamy? He’s also my husband”

            1. Susannah*

              Yes – it was the great Connie Schultz. And I give her props for being kind enough not to identify by name the young reporter who “outed” her on her relationship with Brown. Not sure I could have exercised that self-restraint.

          2. Enai*

            I would be tempted to reply something along the lines of “because I didn’t marry a relative”. Probably wouldn’t say it, but boy, would I want to.

      2. Observer*

        go to HR with an expectation that they rectify the situation since you’re experiencing harassment .

        And how are they supposed to do that? Issuing a statement might be a good idea – or it could make it worse, so the OP needs to think about that.

        But beyond that, there is not a lot the company can do because Flora no longer works for them.

        Anyone think Flora was the one having an affair?

        It could be. Or it could be that she’s a pot stirrer who needs to keep it up to justify her own misbehavior. Or both – these are not mutually exclusive choices.

        1. Tinkerbell*

          HR may not be able to change Flora’s behavior, but they can certainly reinforce to current employees that they expect better behavior from them and that anything that affect OP’s and the perceived affair partner’s work needs to stop!

        2. Coverage Associate*

          In some states, an employer can get a restraining order against anyone harassing an employee at work. The employer definitely can take on the legal expenses here, if OP agrees. I don’t know if the employer is obliged to. We know employers have to address harassment from customers, etc so there’s probably an obligation to take steps here.

      3. Just Another Cog*

        I wonder if HR or someone else in the organization could ask the company attorney to write that cease and desist letter. Flora is not doing the company any favors with the false information in her reviews.

    3. Typing All The Time*

      Agreed, also both of you should seek legal counsel. And John’s wife should also be brought in on this, if Fiona went as far as to contact her.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        I know. I’m sure we’ll never know for sure because even if we get an update Flora is unlikely to explain herself.

        My best guess was that Flora believes it to be true and is actually “disgusted with this affair and how it has been handled.” Given that this is the first the LW is hearing of it, that seems less likely than a second option, Flora has an axe to grind with the alleged affair partner and the LW is an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of Flora’s attack on him. Since LW didn’t mention negative interactions with Flora before, it seems unlikely she’s the planned target of the attack.

        This is wild, though, and I think HR and a lawyer should get involved in this. I don’t know what HR can do about an ex-employee, but there’s fallout within the company from Flora’s story and negative reviews with veiled references to it. The LW should get a lawyer and scare Flora to shut up. The LW shouldn’t have to, but I would want to get Flora to stop falsely accusing me all over town in this situation.

        1. Lydia*

          What’s really interesting is that if the axe to grind is with the alleged affair partner, why go to the OP’s husband? Why not reveal all to the guy’s wife? If the alleged partner is the target, it seems OP is getting all the damage.

          1. Skylark*

            It sounds like Flora only went to the guy’s wife, and she was the one who talked to OP’s husband.

          2. Person from the Resume*

            Flora DID NOT CALL the LW’s husband.

            Flora contacted the alleged affair partner’s soon-to-be ex wife and told her a bunch of false information and gave her my contact info, as well as info about my husband. The ex-wife then contacted my husband and told him <

        2. LCH*

          but if this is the first OP is hearing of it, how does Flora think it has been handled? i mean, did Flora say something to the company prior to resigning? it doesn’t sound like anyone knew about this prior to her leaving and starting her crusade. truly bizarre!!

        3. Hazel*

          The company should get a lawyer and get Fiona to stop! It’s damaging their company reputation via the false reviews, and it is exposing the fact that while an employee, Fiona was allowed to harass and defame a colleague, the OP. Do they really want either of those things out there? Also the OP should have gone to HR long ago and said this has to stop, because management has obligations to stop harassment. I think OP and commenters are seeing this as a personal issue and it is not. This is totally unacceptable in the workplace and it damages both the OP and company’s name.

        4. ThatOtherClare*

          I can see this being the case. There’s multiple ways that this could come about, too. If Flora has a crush on him and is mad that she can’t have him, she might be projecting all over Letter Writer: “Obviously she’s having an affair with him, I would in her shoes”. Or he might have caused Flora some real or perceived harm and she’s not handling it in a healthy way.

          There’s so many possible reasons for Flora’s behaviour that there’s every possibility it might not blow over without outside help.

        5. Auntie Social*

          Seems like Flora needs to be deposed about her “truths”. A couple of hours of being deposed, with OP in the room, should rattle her. Then I’d tell her that she has to stop her lies or the company can’t give her any references.

    4. Festively Dressed Earl*

      I’m waiting for a letter from the alleged affair partner asking Alison how to deal with this fixated lunatic in his office.

    5. NobodyWorksHere*

      I’m curious if OP1 has a warm/enthusiastic personality at work. People love to gossip about women who fit that profile and will assume the tiniest things are flirtations/insinuations/worse.

    6. MCMonkeyBean*

      Sounds like Flora reached out to his wife as well as OP’s husband. It sounds like he’s in the middle of a divorce, in which case this is probably a huge issue for him and he would almost certainly be discussing it with his lawyer!

    7. RunShaker*

      on OP#1, what concerns me is that Flora gave out your contact information for OP and her husband. And then the online reviews. I realize OP wasn’t named in reviews but I would be concerned that Flora will start to do that. To me Flora is escalating and has crossed too many lines and for what purpose? Why? That to me is what is worrying. I hope OP does speak with HR and insist HR engage/pay for the attorney to send the cease and desist letter. As noted by some of other commenters stories, this could cause issues with OP’s career.

    8. Florp*

      Yeah, OP should document everything they can–screenshots of the reviews, names and contact info for people involved and people who have been on the receiving end of Flora’s gossip, and have at least a consultation with their own lawyer. While I would love to think HR or the company’s legal dept. would intervene on OP’s behalf (and pay for it), you always have to remember that HR represents the company, not the employees. OP needs to protect herself.

    9. AlienationOfAffection*

      OP#1 – a lawyer is a great idea. in some states an alleged affair partner can be brought into a divorce proceeding and even sued for a lot of money. getting your ducks in a row now and learning how to protect yourself may save you a lot of time and hassle down the roade, and maybe can avoid being brought into the divorce mess. hurt people do all sorts of unpredictable things.

    10. TG*

      I agree with this – talk to HR immediately and an attorney. Also your do workers wife reached out to your husband so I assume your co worker knows as well so you might want to suggest he tell HR this isn’t true as well. If you can sue this woman – Flora – who’s making this up, I would also. This is an awful lie to be spreading!

  4. Jolene*

    #1 – there has to be more to this! I’m not questioning LW’s veracity. I mean, there has to be something LW doesn’t know here. It’s so strange for a coworker to decide to make it her mission to discuss a supposed affair between two people that has nothing to do with her – to the point of contacting people’s spouses?!

    1. Quantum Possum*

      It’s strange, but stuff like this absolutely happens. People get ideas fixed in their heads.

      Oh, the things that I’ve had coworkers and employees swear are happening, when nothing in reality supports what they’re saying, lol. Perceived affairs are a common subject.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        I had a particularly nutty coworker insist for years that our facilities officer was purposely mucking with the HVAC register next to her desk as a way of secretly flirting with her. Reader, said facilities officer was gay as a picnic basket (although the HVAC registers were, indeed, all screwy — hers and everyone else’s included).

        1. Quantum Possum*

          Bahahaha…oh man, that’s classic.

          I long ago stopped being shocked by anything that humans say or do. Part of this is because I volunteered for a crisis hotline for 10 years. Whatever capacity for surprise I had left after that was quickly wiped out once I became a manager.

        2. Miss Muffett*

          I mean, I’m a long-married woman but would 100% be here for someone flirting via HVAC if it meant I wasn’t freezing at my desk!

      2. Anne Shirley*

        I had a coworker who was absolutely sure that I had had a secret boyfriend since I was 14 (among several other things all relating to my love life). The only thing I had ever told her about my love life was that I did not have one. But she dearly loved to talk about men and as it turns out had a very active imagination so she decided to use it for her own entertainment.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          Jeezy Creezy–there’s a time and a place for fan-fic and the office … just isn’t it.

        2. Lydia*

          People should enjoy their active imaginations as long as they a) don’t think they’re actually happening and b) don’t actually bring it up to the person you are writing your steamy novel about!

          1. Emily of New Moon*

            Better yet, write it in a paper journal (so that there’s no way it will get leaked to the internet) and use fake names just in case someone finds it.

      3. Keely*

        This happened at a university I worked at, except it involved students and a professor. The rumor mill was viciously accusing a professor of sleeping with two grad students. It got to the point of one student putting it in a PowerPoint that was presented to the entire class at an official school engagement. It was entirely false, except they didn’t know I was actually the one having a relationship with the professor as a fellow staff member. We kept it entirely secret BECAUSE of the rumor mill and no one suspected (or at least dared to say it out loud). I even had to tell students to stop slandering their classmates when they tried to gossip about it with me because I was just a little older than them.

        It was awful and had the two students sobbing. The university refused to deal with it because it was one of the most mis-managed, nepotistic places I’ve ever seen to the point they almost lost accreditation.

        1. AnonProf*

          Oh, that sounds terrible.

          I had a by comparison only slightly annoying fake gossip situation – I’m a prof, was quietly dating another prof, and a third professor said he’d heard from a student (and gathered others to hear) that there was a rumor that the man I was dating had engaged in a specific sex act in his office with a student in exchange for an A.

          My boyfriend was unbothered, on the grounds that it would be very hard to find any evidence of a student getting a grade other than the one the grade book demonstrated they had earned. (And it was untrue and implausible.) I thought, but did not say out loud, “Huh, he doesn’t even particularly like that specific sex act.”

          The colleague who gathered people to say he’d heard the rumor was, of course, the person who started the rumor.

          1. Emily of New Moon*

            “I thought, but did not say out loud, “Huh, he doesn’t even particularly like that specific sex act.”

            That would have been hilarious if you had actually said that out loud.

        2. Sharpie*

          That kind of thing can ruin a professor’s or teacher’s career, the university should have come down like a ton of bricks on the perpetrators of that horribly misguided so-called ‘joke’.

          1. Birdie*

            And, as someone who was once on the student end of a vicious rumor like this, it can also damage the student’s reputation and university experience.

            1. Satan’s Panties*

              Reminds me of Susanna Kaysen — you know, Girl Interrupted? She did not appreciate the film of her story. Remember in the movie they had her sleeping with her professor? That. Never. Happened. It was a vicious, unfounded, false rumor. Very hurtful in real life, and outrageous when the movie presented it as fact. Ugh.

            2. birb*

              I have a photo of a fake boyfriend on my desk for this reason. It’s been young Damon Albarn, young Jarvis Cocker, young Morrissey, and is now young David Byrne. I change it when someone recognizes and calls me on it.

              1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                You have excellent taste in fake boyfriends. Dumping Morrissey for Byrne was also an excellent choice, because Steve has gone crackers nationalist, but Dave is still keeping it art school weird.

              2. Emily of New Moon*

                I remember reading a book for my high school English class where the protagonist did something similar. I think it was “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin.

          2. Nebula*

            Yes, one of my friends at school had a crush on a teacher when we were 16-17. She was not subtle about it. She found out several years later when she bumped into another of our former teachers that someone on the staff had taken my friend’s obvious crush and run with it, to the point that the poor teacher in question had sent a whole staff email denying that he was having an affair with my friend! That had apparently been a ‘joke’ at first too, but clearly people had started to take it seriously. He had never shown my friend any particular favours or attention, he’d just been rather uncomfortably on the receiving end of a teenage girl’s crush – then this rumour started which could have ruined his career.

            When people do things like that, not only does it harm the person involved, it also makes it more likely that genuine instances of abuse won’t be taken seriously in future. I can just imagine another teacher getting away with actually doing what he had been accused of by saying it was just gossip, like it had been in this case. It’s horrible.

            1. Winstonian*

              Curious: what was your friend’s reaction when she found out what happened? I hope she was properly horrified.

              1. Nebula*

                I think she was mostly baffled and also upset that the adults who were supposed to have some duty of care towards us had treated this as a bit of gossip. No one ever asked her at the time whether this was true, and therefore whether she was being taken advantage of. With the benefit of hindsight, she thought that was a pretty awful way to have treated her as well as this teacher.

                1. MigraineMonth*

                  That’s my reaction as well. If you even suspect there’s an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a minor, there are well-defined steps that you are morally (and legally, if you’re another teacher) obligated to take in order to investigate the situation and protect the child.

                  Gossiping is NOT one of them.

                2. Observer*

                  With the benefit of hindsight, she thought that was a pretty awful way to have treated her as well as this teacher.

                  Yes. This is completely true. It’s pretty gross, and makes me wonder how (of even IF) they handle genuine abuse.

            2. Emily of New Moon*

              That’s why I made sure not to tell anyone (except my therapist) about the crush I had on my favorite teacher in high school; at least not until after I graduated and there was no way it would get back to him.

          3. AnonProf*

            Both my boyfriend and the guy who started the rumor had tenure, so nobody was getting fired or even reprimanded. No specific student was named, just “a rumor” about “a student” (otherwise someone could have asked the student).

            Absolutely agree gossip about people engaging in sexual relationships that are prohibited because of power imbalances should be stopped. This was/is not a great workplace.

          4. Rage*

            Years ago, I worked at a hospital, and one of the cafeteria employees (who mostly ran the cash register) suddenly didn’t turn up for work one day; no call, nothing.

            We learned later that he had been arrested for indecent liberties with a minor, and were stunned. The hospital ended up terminating him for “job abandonment.”

            It came to light a few weeks later that the accusers had made it up; he was released and the arrest expunged. What happened was he was dating a women who had adopted her 2 nieces (they were, like, 14 & 15). They didn’t like that their aunt was dating someone because it took the focus off of them. So they made up the story to get him out of the way.

            Their aunt found out the truth because the girls wrote notes to each other about the plan, and one was found. It was terrible all around.

              1. Rage*

                No. I mean, I know he didn’t come back to work, though he did pop back to to visit on occasion. He moved on to something else, but I’m not sure if it’s because they didn’t want to hire him back, or if he just decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

        3. Pretty as a Princess*

          Wow that is awful for those students. I would think that the Title 9 office actually should have gotten involved.

        4. Bad Wolf*

          My final year of grad school, one of my classmates got it into her head that I was sleeping with our (happily married) professor. I was definitely not. While it’s true that all of us were on friendlier terms with the faculty than the typical student/teacher relationship (we were all grown-ups and soon to be their peers) no one was sleeping with anyone.
          Anyway, grown-ass woman in her 40s decided to give me the silent treatment and talk sh*t behind my back to anyone who’d listen. Neither the school nor the professor tried to shut it down. I was one foot out the door, so just rode it out till graduation. But the last few months kinda sucked. Very scarlet letter.

      4. Irish Teacher.*

        This was with students, teenagers, so not adults, but still. My brother once had students utterly convinced he’d been in a car accident and shocked when he arrived for class that day. “But sir, I thought you crashed your car this morning.” This was utterly bizarre, especially as a) he didn’t drive and the students should have been aware at least that he walked to school in the mornings and b) he’d been at work all day.

        So yeah, people get really weird things into their heads.

        However, this is particularly weird because not only has the coworker gotten something so odd in her head, but she seems to think a) that it is her job to do something about it (contacting the alleged partner’s ex-wife would probably even be over the top if he and the LW were having an affair) and b) is apparently so distressed over something that isn’t even happening that she is leaving her job over it. Again, even if they were having an affair, it doesn’t seem like anything to quit your job over. Not when the LW doesn’t report to the person they are supposed having an affair with or anything.

        My only thought is that possibly the coworker is trying to stir up some kind of trouble for the alleged affair partner and that the LW is just caught in the crossfire. Like that the coworker hates that person for some reason so when she decided to leave her job, she lied that it was due to him and then also lied to his soon-to-be-ex-wife to cause trouble there. Though even that doesn’t make much sense because if she wanted to make a false allegation saying he caused her to leave her job, there are many things that would make more sense to invent than “he’s having an affair.”

        1. The OG Sleepless*


          This reminds me of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where the rumor started that he was dying, to the point that “Save Ferris” got painted on a water tower.

          1. Lydia*

            It’s so interesting how these things take off, especially amongst teenagers. When I was in 9th grade, a rumor started that a student had been suspended by the Vice Principal for wearing all black. We all believed it, of course, because we were teenagers and all authority sucked. Then it was all “wear black on Wednesday in solidarity, they can’t suspend us all”. I will never forget sitting in the lunchroom and the Vice Principal walking in wearing all black. Black pants, top, shoes and a long black trench coat. The amount of cool she became after that cannot be measure in human terms.

            All this to say, it’s weird enough when a whole group of emotionally underdeveloped teenagers believe a rumor; it’s an entirely different thing for one person to so passionately believe it on their own that they cause this much ruckus.

            1. Pottery Yarn*

              We had a similar situation in high school. A bunch of upperclassmen decided to wear all black to a mandatory pep rally and sit together in the bleachers, and the administration got all kinds of fired up about how “disrespectful” it was. Meanwhile, my friend (who just likes wearing black in general) was interrogated about his involvement in the stunt because he happened to also be wearing all black that day…like he always did.

        2. Orv*

          One of my friends had this happen! He stuffed his car into the ditch and got taken to the dentist to have a couple broken teeth taken care of. (It was a car with only lap belts and he’d smashed his face into the steering wheel.) While he was gone the school bus went by the car, which was still in the ditch, with the radio still on because he hadn’t bothered to switch it off. By the time he got to school everyone was convinced he had died in a car crash.

        3. OMG, Bees!*

          “even if they were having an affair, it doesn’t seem like anything to quit your job over”

          Exactly, this has me wondering what Flora was like to LW1 before she quit, if she secrets hastes LW1 or something. Or merely lying for the real reason to quit, as something on Flora’s end doesn’t add up here.

      5. Typing All The Time*

        People can have vendettas against others for reasons that make no sense or based on emotions. I had an ex-colleague who was jealous of me and tried to make me look incompetent around others. I was hired for a job she applied for and she wrote to my new boss saying awful things about me. I wish I hired an attorney and sued her for defamation.

      6. Oryx*

        We had a coworker who swore up and down Colleague A and B were having an affair. To the point of calling it out in the middle of a group meeting when B wasn’t even there to defend herself and it all became very very messy.

        Turns out she was half-right: Colleague A *was* having an affair, just with a different employee.

        1. UKDancer*

          When I was at school we had a married pair of physics teachers (Mr Jones and Mrs Jones) and we all were convinced Mr Jones was having an affair with the biology teacher Ms King (based on no evidence whatsoever I should add) and made up a song about it. We were quite disappointed when Ms King moved to take a job at a different school as head of geography and decided it was because of her broken heart.

          In our defence we were 13 at the time and teenagers are fairly silly and melodramatic in my experience. Grown ups have no excuse for being as silly as that.

          1. The OG Sleepless*

            Sort of like the meme that says “Breaking Bad” is actually fanfiction written by Mr. White’s students, because nobody has any idea what he does outside of school.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yeah I think we thought teachers went into cupboards after school and didn’t realise they had independent existence. I was quite surprised once to see the headmaster in a shoe shop buying shoes, because I kind of thought he just existed at school.

              1. Mad Harry Crewe*

                I encountered my 6th grade science teacher at the movies maybe a year after being in her class – I want to say we were all seeing Galaxy Quest. I didn’t exactly believe teachers were stored in the cupboards overnight, but I certainly didn’t think they did normal things like see movies at the local multiplex.

          2. Siege*

            When I was at school, there was a married pair of vice-principals who worked at separate schools. Mrs H worked at the middle school that fed my high school (they shared an athletic field) and Mr H worked at the high school. It turned out Mrs H was having an affair with the high school principal, a fact revealed when the principal abruptly resigned late-ish in the year and moved, and was merely one of the factors in why I had four principals in my high school career.

            But to be fair, I don’t think there were any student rumors about it.

          3. Jill Swinburne*

            When I was about 7 I spotted (from a distance) my teacher in town with the principal. I remarked on this to my mum, who ummed and arred and so I decided that he must take all the teachers out.

            They were, of course, actually having an affair.

      7. ScruffyInternHerder*

        As a woman in a male dominated field, can agree that it happens because people get ideas fixed in their heads. Some of these ideas are ridiculous, such as “women can’t handle (x) industry” or “men and women cannot ever be platonic friends or work associates, EVER”.

        I have had to vehemently argue that I do not appreciate the innuendo that I am unqualified for my job because I slept my way here and that if I so much as hear a rumor of it again, I will go legal-nuclear. The ONLY thing I ever did to “earn” this is be a woman. The person doing the insinuating in that case had known me for less than a week, but “knew” that I’d slept my way to my position, and “knew” with whom.

        1. Jamoche*

          Yeah, I have an ex-friend and former coworker who believed “men and women cannot ever be platonic friends or work associates”. She told my mom that I was having an affair with her husband, and Mom – who didn’t believe a word of it – immediately turned around and told me. Truth was, *she’d* had a male friend that became an affair and she was projecting.

          What made it worse was we’d been on a software engineering team – I was a developer, she was on testing – and the team had the usual lopsided male-female ratio, and we were all friendly. So was she actually implying that I also had affairs with a dozen guys?

      8. Zona the Great*

        Totally. We had a letter like this here once where LW said the front desk receptionist threatened her to stop talking to the man the receptionist was sure LW was sleeping with.

    2. Ladida*

      I think the ex coworker is clearly a deranged person. She contacted the spouses and also listed the affair as her reason for quitting her job, even mentioning it in online reviews of the company. Even if the LW were having an affair, this behavior would still have been completely over the top.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Yes. Yhe $64,000 question is, what what is up with Flora that this is her hill?
      I can speculate the hell out of it, from:
      -Flora likes John and is jealous.
      -OP looks like the woman Flora’s husband cheated with
      -OP got projects Flora thought she deserved do -Flora confabulated reasons
      -Flora has a Loki streak and wants to watch the world burn
      to medical or emotional issues

      But even if we know it’s because her life long mentor swore to her this is true and her mentor “would never lie” why will she not let this go?

      Sorry, OP that you have to respond to this. But you do. It will not go away.
      Good luck.

      1. Arthenonyma*

        – Flora knows (or thinks she knows) that John is having an affair with SOMEONE and has incorrectly “deduced” that it’s LW1

          1. Lydia*

            -Flora is the only person in her group of friends NOT having an affair and therefore assumes everyone is having an affair and is taking it out on OP, because why can’t Flora get that action too?

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        My guess is that Flora’s beef is more with John than the OP, given that it’s his partner (or ex-partner) she contacted and that the LW is just caught in the crossfire.

        It could be that she fancies John and wants to split him and his partner up or that she hates him and wants to cause trouble for him or…who knows? It’s bizarre however you look at it.

        1. Sasha*

          Or Flora had an affair with John and that is why his marriage is breaking up.

          However, like many affair-havers he didn’t actually want a committed relationship with Flora, just a quick shag on work trips.

          So she is now a woman scorned and is either a) making the whole thing about LW up to cause trouble for John, or b) has decided the only plausible reason John is immune to her charms is that LW already has her claws into him.

          Flora is batshit either way, obviously.

      3. Baby Yoda*

        I can speculate the hell out of it, from:
        -Flora likes John and is jealous.

        My thoughts exactly, Just Petty.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, this is a very likely explanation. Can’t rule out medical reasons, too, but I have no idea what could be done about that even by a lawyer (IANAL and IANAD). My friend’s teacher colleague was accused of sexual harassment and/or misconduct by a former student (now in his early 20s) and thank goodness the student’s parents knew that the poor student had a medical condition that caused him, among other things, to make such false accusations. I have no idea how the whole thing was resolved WRT police, lawyers, etc., but it was a terrible thing for the teacher to have to go through even knowing he was innocent.

    4. Nameless*

      My theory, which I touched on below, is that Flora & the male co-worker had their own affair, and he broke it off, and now she’s trying to figure out who he moved onto and has landed on OP.

      1. Sherm*

        I don’t know if the male co-worker is involved, but Flora could be doing some hard-core deflecting. Sometimes people making strong accusations are doing the very thing they are accusing others of.

      2. Bitte Meddler*

        Since Flora’s stated reason for quitting is that she cannot abide how the company is handling OP’s [made-up] affair, I wonder if Flora was having an affair and HR came down hard on her, and now Flora is grasping at whataboutism straws. “You punished ME for having an affair with a co-worker, but what about OP & John, hmmm?? This is going on right under your noses and you don’t even care!”

    5. Llamalupe*

      I definitely get the sense Flora is interested in LW’s colleague and is jealous. Or she may be trying to deflect if she was an affair partner (especially if you live in an at-fault divorce state). The fact that she called his soon-to-be ex seems … telling.

      Please take care, LW. May be worth seeing a lawyer first and taking their conclusions to your company’s HR. Especially if Flora is trying to drag you into your coworker’s divorce proceedings somehow.

    6. Over my head in bananas*

      Yeah this is super weird. It’s such a specific fixation, and it sounds like Flora keeps doubling down.

      OP, please go to HR and a lawyer and have them shut this down. If Flora keeps peddling this outlandish story, eventually people will start thinking “no smoke without fire” and your reputation will be affected.

    7. Ellis Bell*

      There’s definitely more to the story with Flora. Quitting in moral outrage over colleagues having work lunches and travel means she doesn’t have, to put it mildly, great judgement… so I doubt that this is her first wrecking ball. I wonder how well OP knows her backstory. It’s also possibly really poor judgement to think she’s legally safe to talk smack about OP publicly without naming her. I don’t know the exact legalities of OP’s location, (and this is aside from burden of proof and proving malice and injury) and but in a lot of places, when you don’t name, you simply defame more people. Flora has potentially defamed every female colleague (I’m assuming OP is a woman being punished for working with a man) at a certain level at this company and in this location (and the men too unless she named this poor guy as well). Im hoping OP does have a legal option, or at least even if Flora is legally free to harass, that at least Flora is ignorant enough to be scared off from doing it and smacked down.

      1. MK*

        People like to cry “lawsuit”, but in reality it’s often an empty threat and many know it. Is this slander? Yes. Does OP and/ or her company have a case? Depends on the law where they live. Is it going to be worth it to pursue legal action? Almost certainly not, and sadly in cases of slander or libel, the result is that the lies are spread even more, and not everyone will believe you, even if you win. Sometimes a letter from a lawyer scares the slanderer and they stop. Often they know the other person is unlikely to spend the money, time and energy to go through it. Or they actually revel in the idea of a public showdown.

        1. Quantum Possum*

          None of that means that the LW shouldn’t contact a lawyer. Please let’s not discourage people from seeking out legal advice.

          1. MK*

            Let’s also not dispense #notlegaladvice on the internet, when we aren’t lawyers and don’t know the jurisdiction.

            1. Quantum Possum*

              I don’t see anyone dispensing legal advice here? Other than “seek professional legal advice.”

            2. darsynia*

              ‘Consult a lawyer’ is hardly legal advice that needs jurisdiction-specific careful treading. Courts aren’t the only thing they’re for; a reputable law firm and a dispassionate, serious-sounding cease and desist might go a long way to reassure OP. As to whether it would inflame Flora… well, that’s where having a professional to consult about one’s own liability and options would come in handy.

              1. HonorBox*

                Exactly. What Flora has done is both slander and libel, since it was spoken and written. Talking to a lawyer might result in LW being told it would be difficult to pursue and to let the dust settle. Or it might result in a C&D letter being sent Flora’s way. That would (I believe) at least give LW recourse should Flora continue to spread the false information. We’re seeing something like this play out in the news RIGHT NOW where someone is reprimanded for saying something even though they’ve been told not to…

        2. Chinookwind*

          Don’t forget that this slander has harmed the OP’s marriage. Even if her husband 100% knows it is not true, the spectre of infidelity has been cast upon their marriage. And the OP has now had to defend herself against this lie to her husband – Flora has caused damage to that marriage without a doubt.

    8. Keymaster in absentia*

      Oh I had a coworker convinced I was shagging another coworker because I occasionally had lunch with him. A woman alone with a man? Can’t be friendship, must be nookie.

      While she never went so far as to track down my husband she was very vocal on the company forums and office about it. Made it all about ‘the morals of today’s youth’ (I was 26 at the time and newly married) and such. I was very relieved when our boss got wind of this and told her straight up ‘it’s none of your ****ing business and you’re being an arsehole’. Working in engineering has some benefits.

      But had she not been at the firm and contacted my husband I think I’d be in the same panic as OP. I’d know I was innocent but here’s someone making a hell of a lot of noise about something. Did I say something that she misunderstood? How do I clear my name?

      I’d go with Alison’s recommendation of HR and layout all the facts. But definitely get some legal advice too.

    9. Skitters*

      Remember the letter about the Co-Irkers who insisted that the woman she worked with was having an affair with a married man? It was her own husband. People are crazy.

      Also, the letter about the woman who kept tabs on when one woman she worked with was carrying on with a colleague and wanted it to stop..
      Busybodies are seemingly everywhere.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yeah, I thought of the “my employee insinuated I was having an affair … with my husband” letter too (from June 20, 2017). Some people will jump to “affair” with very little evidence (or no evidence). There was also the “my coworkers think I’m having an affair — but I’m not” letter (from June 28, 2016) where the strength of the “evidence” was “male employee and female employee are friendly.”

        1. Mystic*

          I thought of that letter too and my first thought was is this the same coworker just at a different place?

    10. DJ Abbott*

      I was wondering about that too. Flora might be having an affair herself and trying to deflect any attention, or she might be hiding something else, or she might be the kind of person who thinks any two people who are being courteous to each other and having lunch meetings are having an affair.

        1. Baldrick*

          Based on what I’ve seen from politics, the people yelling the loudest about the problems with LGBTQ+ end up being caught in gay relationships themselves. I’ve also noticed that if someone unfoundedly accuses their spouse of cheating then it’s very likely that they are themselves cheating. There is a human tendency to attempt to deflect away from one’s bad behavior by yelling loudly that it shouldn’t be done.

          1. MsSolo (UK)*

            It’s the “I wouldn’t be doing it if everyone else wasn’t doing it, so the only way to change my behaviour is to demand everyone else changes theirs first” logic, where the person has spent so long refusing to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions that they seem to genuinely think that the only solution is for everyone else to make it impossible for them.

          2. Elle*

            No offense, but as a queer person, I would really love people to stop spreading this idea. It’s misleading (because it’s untrue) and unhelpful (because you’re essentially saying that for most instances of homophobia, the fault is somehow a gay person, not, y’know, homophobia).

            1. Quantum Possum*

              Projection is 100% a thing.

              you’re essentially saying that for most instances of homophobia, the fault is somehow a gay person, not, y’know, homophobia

              No, I think that Baldrick is saying that in some cases of homophobia, the fault is with internalized homophobia that is vomited out unto the world as active homophobia.

              1. New Jack Karyn*

                The implication is that the worst/loudest homophobia is from queer people, and not actually straight people. I think this is both false and harmful, and lets straight folks off the hook.

                1. Quantum Possum*

                  No, the implication is that the loudest anti-gay politicians are often secretly gay and self-loathing, and they project their internalized homophobia onto others.

                2. Quantum Possum*

                  To clarify, I make the distinction because Baldrick specifically mentioned “in politics.” Politicians are (fortunately) a tiny percentage of the population. They are also (less fortunately) mostly white men. So it’s a much smaller group than the general population. It’s also a group that’s quite prone to low self-esteem (masked by pompous confidence) and deception.

            2. ThatOtherClare*

              I read Baldrick’s statement as saying that people who desperately want to pretend they belong to a group who doesn’t do X, can often pretend to deeply despise X with high ferocity and zero nuance. Whereas, those who actually belong to a group who doesn’t do X don’t care as much – because they’re not spending lots of time worrying about the consequences of being found out.

              So a closeted person might feel safer being vehemently homophobic while a straight non-closeted person, even in a homophobic society, might feel safe enough to say “I know what our Pastor said last Sunday, but I’ve met a few gay people and they were actually all really nice.”

              Or alternatively a person having an affair might feel that their secret is safer if they loudly denounce such things at every opportunity. The hope being that people might say “Oh I can’t imagine Flora ever having an affair, she’s so anti that sort of thing”.

              It’s not that closeted gay people are often bad, it’s that they’re often scared – for obvious reasons – and people who are scared can act in similar ways. The shared characteristic here is being a human who is scared, not being gay. When society changes so gay people aren’t legitimately terrified of excoriation they won’t be vehemently trying to avoid it. I suspect adulterers will still be behaving similarly though.

          3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            I don’t think that’s true in general. Rather, if the story looks like “anti-gay pastor/politician caught in hotel room with another man” it’s likely to be framed in terms of hypocrisy. If that same homophobe was having an affair with a woman, it’s not seen as hypocrisy, but as ordinary human frailty. Also, being straight is the default/unmarked state–we would be surprised to hear something like “she was accused of having a heterosexual affair.”

            1. Quantum Possum*

              being straight is the default/unmarked state

              Very true. But I don’t quite agree with this…

              we would be surprised to hear something like “she was accused of having a heterosexual affair.”

              …Just because we’re more likely to hear “she’s a homewrecker” or “she’s a maneater” or “she seduced him” than “she had an affair.”

              The ways in which we talk about relationships and sex are too often loaded with judgment, biases, and disdain. It’s a big part of the fundamental societal rot underneath all of these nasty symptoms.

    11. Dek*

      I mean, I have a coworker who’s apparently made up and spread the rumor that another coworker is having an affair with someone who works in the same area (because a man and a woman can’t be friends and hang out at work I guess?), but even then afaik, it hasn’t gone THIS far. I’ve been here 10 years and only just found out. (But then again, I do try to stay well away from rumor-making coworker to avoid issues)

    12. Dust Bunny*

      Nah, the OP says it’s a small, gossipy office. I can absolutely see a busybody with a grudge taking a few non-cues (accidentally aligned travel; a couple of lunches) and blowing them up.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Taking it to the next level (quitting over it, calling spouses, etc) is fortunately rarer, but busybodies are gonna busybody.

        Some people just can’t let their judgement go and are willing to send their own career up in flames just to punish someone else for a perceived sin. (My guess? Later Flora will wonder why she can’t get a another job and probably blame OP, with no understanding that she did it to herself.)

        1. Observer*

          quitting over it, calling spouses, etc

          The calling spouse says that she’s after John in some way. But the quitting part? I’m not so sure she actually did quit over it. She could have quit (or been “allowed to resign”) and is now using this as the excuse.

      2. Amanda*

        Former Canadian university prof here.

        I was drawn into a massive investigation at work predicated on the idea that I had an affair with the student and was misappropriating funds to take him to exotic locations for work meetings.

        It was super-awesome when my lawyer (this was back in the aughts) announced at the inquiry table that “the student in question is a homosexual.”

        The person who started the rumour that led to the investigation was my boss — someone I had reported for drinking on the job and being absent from work 4 days out of 5 and was herself under investigation. For some reason, that did not land with the higher-ups before the investigation started.

        I decided to leave academic as a result (this was the last straw, and at a top-3 university at that) but was able to get a year-and-a-half severance even after I was cleared by the university AND the RCMP.

        They did not fire my boss.

    13. Peopleareweird*

      I’ve mentioned this before on here, but as a college student I had someone I worked with at two events (a man in his late forties?) tell everyone he could that I was a stoner. He even kept me from being hired for a big event bc he called in and advised they didn’t want any “drug addicts” around VIPs. I didn’t find any of this out until years after I graduated college.

      His reasoning? I had spoken to him exactly twice, about music I liked, and apparently my favorite band being the Beatles and loving old 1920s/30s jazz had him convinced I did pot. I have never done any drugs, and am, in fact, a severe asthmatic who can’t even be around cigarettes. Like, can’t be in a building where people have smoked cigarettes.

    14. CommanderBanana*

      Remember that LW who was accused of having an affair with – wait for it – HER OWN HUSBAND by an office gossip?

    15. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, even if there *were* an affair, it is absolutely wild for any third-party to be this invested in it.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        The most generous explanation I could think of is if Flora once had a partner cheat on her with a coworker and now she’s projected her own history onto OP and wildly overreacted to a scenario she made up based on what happened to her.

    16. Observer*

      I mean, there has to be something LW doesn’t know here.

      Eh. Some people a just toxic.

      Look at the linked letter – that’s a perfect example of someone spreading rumors that have nothing to do with the victims’ behavior.

      1. Abogado Avocado*

        Agreed. Let’s not blame the LW. After working for decades, there are people who revel in creating chaos at work and who learn that one way to do that is to spread unsubstantiated rumors.

        As for those who are saying, “Eh, what can a lawyer do?” A cease and desist letter can be surprisingly effective for stopping the sh– stirrers. And, if said stirrer is stupid enough to reply, “You can’t make me shut up about”, then they’re just asking for entry of a temporary restraining order because: (1) they’ve admitted to spreading slander, and (2) they’ve admitted they’ll continue to spread it despite being advised it’s false.

        1. Observer*

          As for those who are saying, “Eh, what can a lawyer do?” A cease and desist letter can be surprisingly effective for stopping the sh– stirrers.

          Yeah, I think that a lawyer’s letter has more of a chance of helping than HR at the OP’s company.

          But, I would suggest the OP check with a lawyer about this.

    17. Irish Girl*

      Anyone else trying to figure out what the office could actually have done about the affair? And why would they need to do anything if there is no supervisory issues here? Or no fraternization policy in place?

    18. Mr. Mousebender*

      I had a co-worker up until a few years ago who just LOVED inventing and spreading gossip. Nothing quite as scurrilous as in this story, more “the reason Colleague is going on holiday to India is to enter an arranged marriage”, “it’s Colleague’s birthday” (that one happened several times a month, every month!), and in one case “Colleague’s surname isn’t X, it’s Y”.

      The only reason I can think of is that he was SO bored with the reality of office life that he felt he needed to make his own entertainment.

      And that guy was much less malicious than Flora seems to be. Sometimes people just do stupid stuff – or, in Flora’s case, thoroughly evil stuff – and no, there DOESN’T need to be a good reason for it, other than “some people are lousy human beings”.

    19. HotSauce*

      I 100% had something similar happen to me many, many years ago. To the point that when the supposed affair partner was transferring halfway across the country my coworkers assumed I was going with them, which is how I found out this rumor had been going around for awhile. Turns out the other person told people we were in a secret relationship. I barely knew them, outside the occasional hello & have a good weekend. People are weird.

    20. iglwif*

      When I was in elementary school, a non-trivial proportion of students were 100% convinced that one of the science teachers, male, was romancing the other science teacher, female and married, because they … were spotted eating lunch together in the science classroom.

      People have extremely active imaginations.

  5. TMNT*

    3) As a recipient I 100% do not care to receive a birthday card from co-workers. Alison’s suggestion of still having cake available is a winner.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I’m glad that my office makes cards optional. When people join, they’re asked if they want to get a virtual birthday card, which is the only thing we do for birthdays. I also think that signing cards should be optional – I like to do it myself and we’re a fairly small team so it’s not a constant thing – but not everyone has the time or inclination. People should get one request and then that’s it.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        My office does e-cards that are mostly just a vehicle for sending animated gifs around and I like it. It’s low effort. All you have to do is start a card and tell it who it’s for and what date to send itself, and then send the link around. People either “sign” it (add a gif and a note) or don’t.

        And then on your birthday/work anniversary/whatever you get a link to a giant pile of silly gifs and kind notes. Which is lovely.

    2. Jackalope*

      To comment on the other side, I personally enjoy it and still have all of the cards that have been signed by my groups of coworkers because they give me warm fuzzy feelings even when they just signed their name and a phrase or two.

      1. Winstonian*

        Same. I love the cards. (also as someone who has had this task it doesn’t take a lot of effort or time).

      2. Baldrick*

        If you enjoy them so much that you’re willing to organize them then it’s a great solution. LW doesn’t have to do them any longer, and if anyone really wants to do that work then they can volunteer.

        1. Jackalope*

          I’ve done it before, but right now we have someone else who handles it and does a good job (as far as I can tell). We have an opt-in system where those who want their birthdays acknowledged will put their names and the dates on a list and then a card goes around with everyone’s names in it. Those who want to can sign it, everyone crossed their name off after they get it (whether they signed or not), and the the card is given to them on the day of (or closest business day).

      3. Florence Reese*

        Same, specifically the cards from my small (~10 person) office. That place was a toxic dumpsterfire, but I still have a great deal of fondness for my coworkers and direct boss years later. When I moved to a larger team, the cards became much less important to me because it was less personal. I do think the relatively small office size is a big factor in this — I would maybe poll some people to gauge how much the cards mean to them, because stopping them suddenly could impact morale.

        That said, I was the card person in my office. I would just put the card in a safe, slightly-hidden spot and tell the signers where it was and when they needed to sign by. I tried to do it a few days in advance so we could catch all the part-time staff, but that didn’t always work and I eventually just accepted that “most of the office” was good enough. It never seemed to be an issue; when someone got the whole crew on their card, it was just a special edition :)

    3. Dek*

      Yeah. We do retirement and sympathy cards, but birthday cards seem a bit much. We don’t even do individual parties, just one every quarter for everyone who had a birthday then (it bothers me a bit that it’s at the end of the quarter, instead of the middle, which would make more sense, but hey, whatever, there’s cake AND you don’t have to sit alone while people sing at you)

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I agree; ditch the cards for birthdays. If you want to continue doing cards, they’ll be more meaningful if they’re reserved for rarer events like bereavement, retirement, get-well-soon, etc.

        Though you’re playing with fire if you get rid of the cake. In my experience, nothing taps into our primal instincts like free simple carbs.

    4. AndersonDarling*

      So agree. I have a few cards that were given to me by co-workers that have thoughtful messages. But I do not care about a card with a bunch of signatures, especially if someone had to twist arms to get those signatures. I absolutely, do not want to cause anyone any suffering by collecting signatures for a generic birthday card.
      If a card needs to accompany a gift card or gift, then just put “From the Team” and end it there.

    5. animorph*

      Same. Birthday cards are just full of awkward messages of people trying not to copy what everyone else has written, and it goes straight in the recycling. And even better when it’s said with cake!

      OP, if you really want to do a card, you could always give one with the cake but just sign it “from all of us at X Company!”.

    6. Adric*

      Dave Barry’s wisdom to the rescue:
      “There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age 11.”

      We all have birthdays. They all come around once a year. If another adult you have a casual social connection to doesn’t notice yours, it’s not a problem.

      1. Jackalope*

        Totally fine for people not to want their birthdays recognized, but it’s also fine to be an adult – even an adult over 21! – who enjoys celebrating their birthdays, including with other people. Dave Barry does not get to dictate that those who feel differently than him are childish.

    7. sara*

      At our (somewhat distributed) office, you get a slack message in the general announcements channel from the office admin for your birthday or work anniversary. And then folks can leave you well wishes there or when they see you (or not at all if you don’t know them).

      It’s nice, in obtrusive, and also done via scheduled slack messages I assume. Cake would be nice but logistically challenging to provide evenly (big mix of WFH, in person, and in person but 90% of the time out in the field).

  6. office hobbit*

    Loving the depth of experience visible in the single sentence “Emphasize that there will still be cake.”

    1. Katie Impact*

      I think an outright majority of the recent stories about people losing their minds over trivial issues in the workplace were food-related.

      1. ceiswyn*

        I legit once left a job because the company that bought us out took away our free Friday breakfast pastries.

        (More because their handling of that issue was a symptom of their attitude towards employee happiness generally and our satellite office specifically, but still, do not mess with my bagels.)

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Reminds me of when Ireland started cutting costs during the recession. I correct the State exams and they made a load of cuts to our expenses, etc, but the one thing that got the most complaints was there is a training day before we start correcting and we used to get coffee or tea and doughnuts and pastries for our break and they cut the doughnuts and pastries.

        2. Polly Hedron*

          Several of my previous workplaces had free pizza on Fridays. We knew it was time to job-hunt when the pizza stopped.

        3. Jamoche*

          Our company had a nice little snack bar with about a dozen options that switched to “healthy snacks”: some sort of rice/grain “cake” thing that looked more like something you’d put out for the birds, replacing plain M&Ms with peanut – and we had people with severe peanut allergies – and other things that just sat there, week after week.

          Our managers had a discretionary budget, so shortly thereafter our team had its own tasty snack corner.

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            I think the thing they replaced with the banana chips were the roasted almonds, and I saw red. (I’m allergic to bananas, and it’s more medically significant than my bell pepper intolerance.) The excuse that time was, I think, some form of greenwashing.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        One of the unexpected lessons AAM has driven home for me is that once you set an expectation of simple carbohydrates, people become extremely passionate about it. Excuses like “Martha retired and that’s why she doesn’t bring in lemon cake any more, which is why there is no longer lemon cake on Monday” do not fly.

        Also the unexpectedly high number of haunted office parks.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Sugar and caffeine. Those are the first priorities before anything else can be dealt with.

    2. Nola Sue*

      I live in New Orleans and two Fridays ago there was no king cake in the break room. Traditionally office management provides the first king cake of the season to get the ball rolling.

      I half joked to another coworker that should be a total legitimate reason to give when you’re asked “why did you leave your last job?”

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          I would immediately wonder who in the admin staff recently left their job.

    3. FrogEngineer*

      “The Enrichment Center is required to remind you that you will be baked, and then there will be cake.”

    4. Dek*

      Words of wisdom from my youngest brother when he was about 4, whining about having to go to an event.

      “It’ll be borrrring!”
      “Well, what’s not boring, Jack?”
      “When there’s cake at the end.”

    5. AnonForThis*

      I worked at a company where someone got up at the all-hands staff meeting and introduced her self as “the lady who cancelled donut day”. I’d been at the company for five years at the time and had no idea what she was talking about.

      Apparently there had been free donuts once a month *over a decade previously* when the company was smaller. In a true example of shoot-the-messenger, more people knew that this woman had made the announcement that leadership had decided to stop than had been part of the company back when there was a donut day.

  7. Nameless*

    For the first letter: I wonder if Flora’s half-right and there IS an affair being had, but she misidentified LW1 as being one of the parties. That also leads me to wonder if Flora & the non-letter-writing half of the alleged affair has an entanglement of their own previously and her anger is about him moving on to someone else; I mean if AAM has taught me anything it’s that people can care about very strange things, but her anger would make way more sense if there was a personal connection.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      There is something strange there which is that John is getting divorced (mention of soon to be ex wife). Of course people get divorced for all sorts of reasons and an affair (with OP, Flora or anyone else) may be nothing to do with this… I would be really curious to know whether this affair talk started before, or after, John’s divorce became known.

      1. lyonite*

        Or she heard about John’s divorce, has outdated notions about women and men in the workplace, put two and two together and came up with a mare’s nest. Flora is so completely wrong about the OP, and so out of line regardless, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe she might be right about anything.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Yeah, even if Flora were right that there’s an affair, her behavior is completely inappropriate.

        2. Friendo*

          Yeah, it’s a little wild to me how many people are theorizing about an affair, as if that would make any of what Fiona is doing more rational.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Doesn’t really matter if there is an affair or not. Flora needs to keep her trap shut. It is seriously None of Flora’s Business. Even if she really left because she believes there was an affair going on, she left. She’s out of there. Not her problem anymore.

      OP seriously needs to consult a lawyer. When Flora went to the ex-wife, the defamatory statement was distributed. Doesn’t have to be public. Although HR seems to be not taking it serously this has the potential to harm OP’s reputation both at work and in the community.

      Why Flora is doing this is irrelevant. It needs to stop. Now. Today.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        And Flora better not work at any large company after this. Because I guarantee you that if there are enough people, statistically, someone is probably having an affair.

        I find the thought of policing my coworkers’ private lives so exhausting. Flora has some unhinged energy going on.

    3. Ess Ess*

      Reminds me of a loud verbal fight I overheard between 2 female coworkers, regarding a male coworker that had been having serial affairs with women in the department for years. From the previous affair partner to the current affair partner — “Don’t you know he’s married??!!” “Well, YOU knew and it didn’t stop YOU.”

        1. AnonForThis*

          Man: “My wife is completely paranoid about me going to business conferences. She’s convinced I’m going to meet someone there, start an affair, and leave her for the new woman.”

          Relationship counselor: “Hmm. Is there something in her past that might be the root her anxiety about this situation?”

          Man: “Well, that’s how I met her when I was married to my ex-wife.”

          Relationship counselor: “…”

  8. Leslie Santiago*

    I gotta say, unless you work for a gun company, a gun-themed office seems absolutely crazy and wildly inappropriate. I know many Americans love guns, but even so?!

    1. Quantum Possum*

      You see it a lot in the military and military-adjacent industries, too. I personally hate guns, but I’m used to it now.

      1. Not your typical admin*

        This! I live in a military town, where a ton of retired military live and where hunting is a popular activity. I’m used to seeing people conceal/open carry, so gun themed decor wouldn’t throw me at all. However, I can totally see where it would be very jarring if you’re not used to that environment.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Remember the letter from the guy who asked if he should have a James Bond movie poster in his new manager position office?
      We all said no, don’t be “the movie guy” bout if you are, don’t be the “Bond holding the gun guy.”

      And the “can I hang gun range targets showing my skills in my office?”
      We all said no.

      But some people don’t think there is a question to be asked.

      1. Katyusha*

        The headline is misleading. It’s not his office; it’s his home. That makes a big difference. He’s entitled to decorate his home as he sees fit, and guns are legal.

        1. amoeba*

          All of the above examples would have been legal as well, what people didn’t like about them was that they’re potentially upsetting (or even triggering in the psychologically correct sense of the word!) to coworkers. Which still holds in a home office regularly visible on video calls. There’s no difference!

          (I mean, if it was actual live guns, yeah, it would obviously be worse in an office than on video. Because, well, they’re dangerous. But gun-themed decorations are visible either way.)

        2. aqua*

          Well sure, I’m also entitled to paint a giant pornographic mural on the wall of my home office, but it wouldn’t be a great idea to have it as the background in a zoom call.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            We’ve had questions about doing Zoom calls with a background of squishmallows. If people should reconsider the squishmallows in their bedroom as Zoom background, they can also reconsider the piles of ammunition in their home office.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              I have some meetings later today. I plan to blur my background, so that people don’t see the dirty dishes in my kitchen. I don’t think anyone would judge me for that (especially not the people who partook of homemade baked goods I bought in yesterday), but it feels unprofessional to let coworkers see it.

        3. Allonge*

          Nobody thinks the decoration should be or is illegal.

          There are limits imposed by the circumstances though: my collection of hundreds of elephant figurines / statuettes / plushies is also very much legal, but in my on-call background there are no more than five visible (for given values of visible, they are quite small).

          If I want to work from home and be considered professional, that corner of my apartment needs to look more like an office than my ‘everything goes’ home.

        4. Also-ADHD*

          It’s a home office space clearly used as his office background though, and (unless this is an old letter and I’m missing that?) we’re well past the point where people are scrambling and surprised by WFH. I think it’s basically the same as having it as an office (though covering with a virtual background would likely work without changing his home).

          1. Clisby*

            Yeah, it’s perfectly legal (where I live, at least) to hunt deer, and get photos of the hunter(s) with their kills. And maybe have the head mounted on the wall.

            It should not take much imagination to realize that there are people who don’t want to see those things displayed in a Zoom meeting.

        5. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          But it goes to professionalism. Again, I am all for responsible gun ownership.

          However, having a gun themed background is as unprofessional as having a display of squashmallows in the background. We’ve advised people to use blurred backgrounds, fake backgrounds, etc. Same here. You want to convey competent professional, not gun nut, or whatever hobby you might over display.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes I think it’s a professionalism question. Legally he can have whatever background he likes but it’s arguably unprofessional to have something divisive or which might be negatively perceived. That’s why I blur my background or make sure I’ve got something anodyne behind me.

            1. Jackalope*

              Legally (at least in the US outside of Montana) his employer can have whatever requirements for his work Zoom background that they want and take action up to and including firing for him refusing to comply. (Not that there’s any indication in this story that he would refuse, but if he did.) The legality of owning guns and ammunition are totally separate from the legality of employers choosing what they consider professional behavior, including what Zoom backgrounds they allow their employees to use while on the clock.

        6. Kara*

          It’s a corner of his home, yes, but it’s one that he’s bringing coworkers into. His coworkers are free to not enter his home on a social call. They cannot refuse to ‘enter’ his home for work without causing disruption to the jobs they are all being paid for. For me that consent is the difference.

        7. Ess Ess*

          Yes, he is. However, it is not appropriate as a work background which is a big reason why all the virtual meeting softwares have virtual background and blurs. He can decorate as he wants, but he needs to use a professional background.

          1. ThatOtherClare*

            Begin public notice:

            This is your friendly public service reminder that two books can have the same title, and that authors of books you really don’t care about can go viral saying all sorts of obnoxious things you utterly disagree with. You may wish to consider blurring any bookshelves you are using as a Zoom background in order to avoid conveying unintended messages. Blurring is professional. Thank you for your attention to this message and have a nice day.

            End public notice.

        8. Aquamarine*

          It is his office while he’s working from home. During the pandemic when people were unexpectedly working from home, we saw all kinds of things in people’s backgrounds, and that was fine. But at this point, I think it’s reasonable to expect more.

          I work from home, and I feel an obligation to make sure I have a work-appropriate background or at least a blurred background.

          1. Katie A*

            I agree!

            I think a reasonable assumption about what happened (if his WFH started during Covid) is that he used a quiet and private room for work when it was supposed to be temporary. Then, over time, it just became his office space. He didn’t think about changing the background because it was a gradual process without a single “this is now my office” decision point that would lead to the “so it needs to be professional” thought.

        9. Observer*

          It’s not his office; it’s his home.

          It’s his home office, which is regularly visible on work meetings. That does change things somewhat.

          I mean if the office is requiring WFH the having requirements about his office decor is not on. And if it’s also not providing a computer, then imposing requirements on backgrounds is also a non-starter. But otherwise, a company absolutely can say “this is a workspace and needs to be decorated accordingly” / “use a professional background”.

      2. Kit*

        Yeah, when I was young, I was in charge of redecorating an old office space and making it a “place for innovation” with couches, whiteboards, etc. We wanted a cool nickname for it and came up with MI-6. No managers stopped it. People did NOT get the Bond reference to intelligence and Q’s lab (there were no posters or anything – just a paper sign on the door), but one person thought it was M-16 (why would it be M-16???). As I get more experienced, I see why people keep work in a professional box. It makes it boring sometimes, but there are reasons it isn’t worth doing more.

        1. RandomNameAllocated*

          Because the M16 is an interesting footnote to the M25 / London orbital road development?

        2. Tiger Snake*

          Because the eagle nebula is super pretty, the pillars of creation are also appropriate for brainstorming at work, and and everybody loves stars?

    3. AcademiaNut*

      A gun themed home office I can definitely believe. It could have started out as his gun room / man-cave and been repurposed as a home office during the pandemic.

    4. LadyJ*

      In the early days of video conference calling we had a conference with an agency in London. In this guys office was all this very old taxidermy. Ads for Fortnum & Mason Expedition Hall sales. Harrods exotic animal sales and safari gear. A full set of safari kit. An elephant gun hanging on the wall. Not working. I found that whole room disturbing for a whole host of reasons.

    5. AnotherLibrarian*

      It’s a home office. People get to have their hobbies on display in their home offices. I know a lot of people react oddly to guns, but really, its a home office. If it was in an office building, that would be a different conversation.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        There’s a line though, isn’t there? Reasonable people can disagree on where that line is, but I’d think we’d all agree that there are some backgrounds that aren’t appropriate for work calls, even if it’s just part of your home. I mean, if he was taking work calls from his home dungeon with an iron maiden and a stretching rack behind him, I think everyone would agree that would be inappropriate and his employer would rightly tell him not to. Same thing if he were a painter and had a really grisly work-in-progress displayed behind him.

        I’m not saying guns = dungeon (and I realize that’s a completely ridiculous example) but my point is that I don’t agree he can display whatever he wants on a work call just because it’s a hobby and he’s at home. These are work calls. Guns make a lot of people uneasy and distracted. It’s reasonable to ask him to blur his background.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          There’s a reason that people online often use “PG-13” as a synonym for “SFW”. I think it’s a reasonable shorthand for the kind of decoration we should consider acceptable to be visible in a workspace. Someone with a more grownup hobby can choose their placement and camera angle accordingly.

          1. Oh, just me again!*

            Um. . . people did get killed in dungeons. And I sure it happens occasionally now! Not to say all dungeon owners are killer or potential killers, but isn’t the idea that looks like a place where that MIGHT happen part of the thrill? At least for some people? (Asking, humbly. I don’t know anything about this.)

        2. Frieda*

          A colleague of mine teaches criminal justice. Just this week we were talking about online meetings and she said she’d rearranged her home office so that her wall decor doesn’t show on calls.

          Her wall decor is (legally and ethically acquired) crime scene photos. The phrase “bloated body” came up. I wasn’t ruffled by the conversation at all, but I’d be very sorry to see crime scene photos – however academically or otherwise relevant – in someone’s Zoom background.

        3. getaway_grrl*

          Heck, my home office doubles as a totally safe for work craft room and even I have a virtual background. No one I work with needs to know about my craft supply collecting hobby…

          1. Laura*

            Same, my home office is also a craft/sewing room and occasional guest room. I always have a virtual background on.

        4. Prismatic Garnet*

          Yes and there’s really no reason he can’t blur or just use a virtual background. Declining to do so feels like an attitude of “Ya gotta PROBLEM with my guns??”

          1. ThatOtherClare*

            This! A rule of thumb: if it wouldn’t look right photoshopped in behind your head on your LinkedIn profile, blur it on Zoom. That takes care of variations by industry and by hobby. If in doubt, blur it out.

        5. SnackAttack*

          I agree. Working from home is a great privilege, but it does mean that to some extent, you need to maintain the professionalism of an office within your house (at least in one room). Not saying that you need to strip your walls and not show any sign of it being a home, but you might have to take a few extra steps to clean up wayward clothes or move posters that wouldn’t be acceptable in an office environment.

        6. Elitist Semicolon*

          Even aside from guns themselves making people uneasy, there’s an ideological association here that could make people anywhere from uneasy to feeling outright threatened. This association is not always accurate (there’s the disclaimer), but think of the Christmas card photos of some politicians with their entire family holding automatic weapons, for example. It’s typically the politicians whose stances on social topics have caused harm – or could cause harm – to people who are already marginalized in some way. If a colleague showed up in a Zoom call with a lot of gun paraphernalia/guns that were clearly modern weapons in the background, I’d be concerned that he might be affiliated with those stances in a way that could affect how he perceives/treats co-workers. That wouldn’t be an evidence-based assumption on my part, but “lots of guns” is often a visual shorthand that U.S. media (and the public) use for “right-wing”, and based on that alone I’d be worried about whether my trans coworkers (for example) felt safe working with him. Regardless of this person’s actual politics, blurring the background seems like an easy step to take so people don’t feel uncomfortable and also don’t make assumptions about him, either.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Ehhh… I could go along with this if it was never on view to outsiders, but it’s on the same ball park as what you wear to converse with clients and colleagues. I don’t wear my Oodie on a zoom call, even though that’s the real me when I’m at home. Also, I’m not sure the word “odd” is the most helpful when so many people have suffered trauma at the point of a gun. Even if your own experiences with guns are sporting and fun, you really can’t expect everyone to have the same reaction.

        1. AnotherLibrarian*

          You are correct, “odd” was a poor choice of word. Perhaps “heightened” would be closer to what I was trying to express. People tend to have strong reactions to firearms and firearm related things in a way that they don’t around other activities. I think it’s telling that this person doesn’t have actual guns on display, just tools and art associated with them. Despite that, people are still clearly disturbed by it. I can’t think of another object around which we have such intense cultural divisions/responses.

          I don’t know how to respond to your trauma comment. Trauma reactions are, by their nature, individualized, and specific. I don’t know that we’d consider it reasonable to ask someone to take down photos of dogs from the walls, just because someone might have dog related trauma. My thoughts on that are not well-formed however… and I’m not sure that analogy holds up. I would never suggest that people don’t have gun related trauma (and as it happens, gun violence has impacted my own family.)

          If a workplace feels that the background (or any background) is inappropriate, they should ask the individual to blur it. I’m just not convinced that this is fundamentally inappropriate.

          1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

            I think it’s a question of degree. Do some people have trauma around dogs? Yes.

            But given that guns are a weapon — something whose primary purpose is killing people/animals, even if you personally just use them for target shooting — and that the USA has a HUGE problem with gun violence, and thus many more people can be expected to have a very strong trauma reaction (or even just significant discomfort) to guns than to dogs, I feel like “no guns/gun paraphernalia in an office work environment, even if it’s your zoom background at home” is a very reasonable line to draw for most offices, and a very different situation than banning pictures of dogs.

            1. No clever name yet*

              To put it another way, if disgruntled men bringing dogs into the office to maul people to death was a legitimate thing we had to do drills for in the US, maybe that analogy would work, but….

            2. SnackAttack*

              Yeah, I feel like it echoes that argument you hear from gun advocates that’s like “well, people die in car accidents all the time – are you gonna ban cars?” which completely disregards the fact that cars (or dogs, or swimming pools, or whatever else could cause trauma) are part of our daily lives and have purposes that aren’t explicitly related to killing people.

              1. whingedrinking*

                There’s also the intentionality behind the object. There is zero chance someone is going to conceal a swimming pool on their person, bring it to my home or workplace, and kill me with it. (Of course, as a cyclist, I have been afraid that some drivers would be happy to kill me with their cars, but at least I have to get onto the road first.)

          2. metadata minion*

            Trauma reactions are individual, but guns are something many, *many* people have trauma around. Guns are by their nature weapons. That’s their entire purpose. Plenty of people use them to shoot targets, or game animals, rather than people, but it doesn’t change the fact that their primary purpose is to kill. I feel uncomfortable seeing tools of violence on someone’s wall and I don’t think that’s particularly maladaptive.

            I would look much less askance at someone with a display of swords on their wall because it’s nearly unheard of for someone to actually use a sword to attack someone these days, but I would also think it was completely reasonable for someone to ask that the person use a different background.

            1. metadata minion*

              And to go to to your dog example, I would think it was totally reasonable to ask someone to take down dog pictures if you had a phobia of dogs. I love spiders, and left to my own devices my cube would be covered in pictures of jumping spiders with water droplets on their heads. But I don’t do that, because I know they’re a very common phobia despite being entirely harmless.

              1. Phryne*

                As someone with a spider phobia, I’ve seen pictures of jumping spiders with water drops on their heads and I thought they were really cute and I’d still thank you for not having them up at work as my phobia is not reasonable and will simply not respond to ‘but these are cute’ even if it comes from the other half of my own brain… let alone an outside source.

              2. Lenora Rose*

                Also true; the difference between asking someone to blur out their guns or use a virtual background and asking them to do it regarding dogs to me is that the first should be self evident outside of some very specific trades, and the second would require a polite ask.

              3. Quantum Possum*

                I love spiders, too!!! (Sorry, I know that added nothing to the conversation, but I get so excited when I find a fellow arachnophile.)

              4. MPerera*

                This is possibly the first time in my life that I googled pictures of spiders and admired them without the slightest twinge of dread. Thanks for mentioning these!

                1. Elitist Semicolon*

                  Photos like that actually helped me get over my automatic recoil at all things spidery. Still not gonna cuddle up with a bucket of tarantulas, but I no longer have a visceral reaction when one scuttles across my living room floor.

            2. anonny*

              I would be a bit weirded out to see an extensive collection of any weapon hanging on someone’s wall during a zoom call. Guns, swords, daggers, bows, maces and flails, defused grenades… like, unless they specifically worked in a weapons shop or museum I guess.

              It’s more likely that a person in the US would have a wall of guns rather than a wall of zweihanders, but it’s weird either way.

            3. Freya*

              All the people I personally know with a sword displayed on their wall have that sword peace-tied or otherwise rendered unable to be used without effort. Bokken and shinai won’t be, but they’re as sharp as a baseball bat (and we’d still put them away by default, because Humans Don’t Always Think).

              Mind you, it’s also illegal here in Australia to have ammunition stored anywhere but a locked container where kids can’t easily get at it, so having usable ammunition visible on the Zoom call would be evidence of illegal activity and thus a potentially fireable offence IF you were in Australia (which the OP is not).

          3. Jackalope*

            There’s a huge difference between seeing pictures of an animal and weapons though. Most people have pets to have companionship, and their pictures reflect that; they’re intended to be cute or heartwarming, and while it still might be kind to blur your background if someone is afraid of dogs it’s likely to be fine. Guns are a weapon with the specific purpose of killing. While I know that many people just like them for hunting or target practice (I grew up in hunting country), there are so many people who have been through mass shootings, or lost someone to gun violence, or what have you, that there’s a much higher chance of causing someone significant discomfort or trauma with gun-related items than there is with almost any other hobby.

            1. Beth**

              My husband has a spider phobia that regularly results in waking up in the middle of night screaming, particularly if he has been subjected to photos/videos/live spiders during his waking hours.

              I grateful that none of his colleagues have a display of spider photos/memorabilia/pets on display in their Zoom backdrops.

              1. betsyohs*

                My phobia causes me to leap out of bed while still asleep because I’ve dreamt a spider is in the bed with me. I (and my husband) am also glad that none of my colleagues have spiders displayed in their zoom backgrounds.

                1. Freya*

                  I was recently rendered unable to drink water from my bedside water bottle, because my brain felt like being annoying about it in connection with spiders. I don’t even have a phobia of spiders!

          4. Phryne*

            The trauma response is a red herring. The bar is not ‘does this trigger trauma’, it is ‘is displaying my (controversial!) hobby in the background professional’. And as the answer to that is no, there is no reason to delve into it further.

            As Falling Diphthong already noted, not long ago there was agreement on this site that a collection of squishmallows in the background was not professional. Of course guns or gun paraphernalia are not. Why is this even under discussion?

            1. Ace in the Hole*


              I don’t think it’s inherently unprofessional to ever display any gun-related imagery in the background of a zoom call. For example, an office that included a framed Frederick Remington print or a small statuette replica of a battlefield cross wouldn’t be unprofessional even if it’s possible someone might find those things upsetting/uncomfortable.

              But decorating the whole room in prominent gun imagery is way too much, regardless of trauma triggers! Imagine if his home office was plastered in furry-themed art, or marijuana related stuff, or life-size cardboard cutouts of his favorite pop stars. None of those are particularly traumatic, but they’re still inappropriate.

          5. Lenora Rose*

            A lot of “You can’t give content notes/trigger warnings” logic goes just like this, and it’s all nonsense. We know that uncommon things can be triggers; I had a friend who had to ask my kids to stop playing Fisher Price records in front of her. Nobody would expect that, and once she was settled she was understanding that it was a harmless thing.

            But that doesn’t invalidate trying to avoid *common* triggers, ones we know encompass the majority of traumas. Guns definitely qualify.

          6. ThatOtherClare*

            But also, guns are used for killing. Either killing animals or humans or pretending to kill animals or humans (target shooting). I think we’d probably say it was reasonable to ask someone to take down a painting of hounds at a fox hunt because that’s a situation where the dogs are being used for killing, even if it is just a pretend scenario (a painting). People have a right to feel uncomfortable around the glorification of violence, even just pretend violence.

            “I don’t wanna have to think about violence right now if I can avoid it, real or not” is a very reasonable line to draw, and I’d be wary of anyone who tried to argue with me that it wasn’t (after I put it in those terms).

      3. Brain the Brian*

        My webcam’s background at home would include a toilet if I didn’t close the door to my bathroom. But I have enough sense to realize that’s not really an appropriate background for a work call. The same applies to guns, weapons, and related paraphernalia — obviously, in my view. If you don’t want to redecorate or use a virtual background, just come into the office and take your calls from there.

        1. Aquamarine*

          Exactly. I don’t get the idea that “well, he’s at home, so you’re gonna see what you see.”

      4. Keymaster in absentia*

        Eh, there does have to come a line between what you’d have on display at work and at home. I went to a lot of trouble to blur out my background on calls because I could only sit on my bed and it’s not professional to see an unmade bed behind you.

        Some of my wall hangings are technically safe for work but would offend some people too.

        Kind of liken it to a phobia – if you’ve got a massive collection of framed arachnids on your wall and I’ve got severe arachnophobia I really don’t wanna see that. I can appreciate your interest but I’d rather you a) move or b) go audio only.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yup, I have a space behind me I don’t want to show on calls. (It’s because it’s messy rather than likely to upset anyone but me, but still.) I’ve hung a curtain in front of it so I have a bland background (without using blur, because blur likes to mess with me, so I found another solution).

        2. ThatOtherClare*

          CW: racism.

          On my book shelf I have an early edition of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’, printed with the original title. Said title contains a racial slur starting with the letter ‘n’. I keep it to show young people that this sort of thing was being widely and enthusiastically printed not that long ago. In my experience, physically holding the book and flicking through the pages helps the reality of the recent past sink in, in a way that just reading or hearing about it doesn’t – which is why the book isn’t a pile of ash.

          I’ll happily show and explain the book to anyone. We need to understand and teach the prior state of society in order to understand its current state, and I’m proud to be one of the bearers of that burden. I have nothing to hide.

          I blur my bookshelf.

          Sometimes you just have to blur your background and there’s nothing wrong with that.

      5. Name changed for this*

        I’m related to an ATF agent who is a gun collector. Some of his artifacts are on display in his home office, as far back as 18th c.

        He does not show that wall on work calls.

      6. NerdyKris*

        That’s absurd. So if my office is also in my sex dungeon, that should be okay? Framed nude photos of me and my spouse getting it on?

      7. Irish Teacher.*

        While I agree that he has the right to have whatever he wants in his own home so long as it’s legal and isn’t harming anybody, I think it would be better to use a zoom background or blur his background or use another room, because quite frankly, a lot of people have trauma related to guns. Imagine if somebody working with him was from a warzone or had been in combat or had been in an active shooter situation or a terrorist attack. In any of those cases, it is possible that somebody might have PTSD which could be triggered by seeing weapons.

        And I know anything can be a PTSD trigger, but I do think it is reasonable to be careful about showing things that one can reasonably guess will be a trauma trigger for at least some people. Yeah, trauma reactions are highly individual, but this is likely to be a very common one and if there is a high chance a particular thing is triggering for somebody you work with, it’s probably better to blur it.

        I know not everybody necessarily thinks of doing that or even knows how to do it, but it does seem like it might be wise.

      8. Jenna Webster*

        He absolutely can, as long as he’s fine with the fact that his coworkers will now think of him as the gun guy. I know my interactions with him would change. Still professional, of course, but definitely avoidant whenever possible.

        1. I AM a Lawyer*

          Yes, this is what I keep thinking. I would imagine there’s some fear of asking him to change his background because of how strongly some people feel about gun rights, but I actually think this is detrimental to his professional reputation and relationships. It would certainly affect my view of him.

      9. I edit everything*

        A work Zoom meeting = the workplace. So if something isn’t appropriate for an onsite office, it’s not appropriate for a work video call.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Seconding. I know it’s your house, but you’re working and representing your workplace. I wouldn’t do a zoom call with my wall of model horses in the background because, even though they’re not controversial they’re a bit eccentric and distracting.

      10. Flor*

        Sure, it’s a home office, but it’s also a video call. Blurring and virtual backgrounds exist for a reason.

        My home office is also my sewing room. That’s a pretty normal, uncontroversial hobby, so in theory it’s fine for people to see that this is my sewing room as well as my office, right?

        But also it’d be kinda weird if my colleagues saw the corsets spread across the sewing table. So I blur my background.

      11. myfanwy*

        I collect Asian ball-jointed dolls. People have a lot of reactions to those, ranging from the uncanny valley shivers to thinking I’m wildly immature to wondering if they’re some kind of sex doll thing (they’re not). Therefore I don’t have meetings with them all lined up behind me, staring at my coworkers and giving them the heeby-jeebies. And there’s a lot more collective trauma and emotion around guns than there is around dolls.

    6. Dust Bunny*

      You can buy gun-company themed home accessories but even in the gun-iest states a whole house decorated that way would be a bit noteworthy (I’m in Texas).

      I mean, decorate as you please, but, yeah, this isn’t a good look on a Zoom call.

      1. Orv*

        This reminds me of when Dr. Phil’s house in Beverley Hills went up for sale. There were, broadly speaking, two themes: “guns” and “antlers”.

    7. The Starsong Princess*

      A guy I work with has a dead animal themed room. Like the entire wall behind him in zooms is covered with mounted deer heads, mounted fish etc. If you express the slightest bit of interest (foolish me), he’ll give you a shot by shot description of how he killed each one. It’s definitely on the quirkier side. Maybe Alison should do a call out for weird zoom backgrounds?

      1. Observer*

        Maybe Alison should do a call out for weird zoom backgrounds?

        She actually posted a request for ideas for “Ask the readers”. You might want to post this there.

      2. Church Basement Lady*

        An interesting effect of the increase in remote work is exposure to people who live in different cultures, even within a larger culture. Where I live, taxidermied game is a very standard part of decor, and some high schools even teach it after deer season.

        My brother is an avid sportsman and works from home. His office is also where he stores his gear, so bows, rifles, and fishing rods are on display. He uses a virtual background in most meetings because some people may be bothered by his hobby equipment, and also because it’s quite valuable and is the equivalent of displaying expensive jewelry when you don’t know your audience.

    8. nm*

      I was surprised by this. My supervisor asks *everyone* who reports to her to blur their backgrounds by default, even me with my blank white wall. XD

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I would hate that! I get so distracted by people’s hair appearing/disappearing whenever they move their heads.

        1. Observer*

          I get so distracted by people’s hair appearing/disappearing whenever they move their heads.

          That may be why she asks EVERYONE to do it. This way, that weirdness starts fading into the background because it’s everyone.

      2. I AM a Lawyer*

        I like using a blanket rule like this because it takes away the arguments around whether something is appropriate or not. Everyone is treated the same.

    9. not nice, don't care*

      I know some folks enjoy ‘offending’ others and would absolutely go extreme with gun decor just for kicks.

    10. Drago Cucina*

      Since this is WFH, it may also be a den where momentos of hunting or target practice are kept.

      I thinking of my first remote days where I was in the room where my wine caves are. Special empty bottles. If someone’s perspective/culture is one of abstaining it could seem that I was flaunting my constant drinking.

  9. Quantum Possum*

    OP #1

    I’m so sorry that you, your husband, and your coworker are having to deal with this crap.

    It’s good that Flora no longer works there – at least you don’t have to interact with her directly anymore. And it makes HR’s job easier, since that kind of harassment and slander are fireable offenses.

    Even though Flora is no longer an employee, DEFINITELY let your HR know what is going on. Rogue ex-employees are a threat to the company as a whole – even if they move on from their initial target(s), they can find another former coworker to be the subject of their anger.

    For you and your husband, I recommend contacting a lawyer to find out your legal options. Consultations don’t have to result in any action…it’s just good to know what’s available.

    Good luck!

    Side note: For the record, it wouldn’t even matter if two employees were having an affair – Flora’s actions would still be harassment. Unless there’s a power differential or potential favoritism/prejudice in play, there’s no reason whatsoever to “call out” an office affair, especially not to the general public. MYOB, y’all.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      #1 Talk to HR immediately, because they have the resources to deal with her via lawyers. They should want to take action if they are being trashed online too.

      As an individual, it is often a financial black hole to sue another ordinary individual because even when you eventually win she probably won’t have the kind of money to repay your costs.

      Flora sounds totally unhinged and obsessed with “getting even” about something.
      Maybe she was jealous of possible career advantages with your greater access to your manager with these lunches. However, totally batshit reaction rather than asking for similar access.
      Or maybe she is one of those, usually religious nutters, who assume when men and women have lunch together then the sex course follows automatically after the dessert course.

      1. Quantum Possum*

        Talk to HR immediately, because they have the resources to deal with her via lawyers.

        The company lawyers are there to protect the company. Individuals should secure their own attorneys if they want the best legal protection/advice.

        As an individual, it is often a financial black hole to sue another ordinary individual

        No one advised the LW to sue. They advised seeking professional legal advice. There are many other options besides suing someone.

        1. Boof*

          Specifically the thought was an official sounding cease and desist letter might make Flora decide to move on

        2. HonorBox*

          It may be that the company wants their lawyers involved just because she’s posting reviews of the company referencing this “affair.” But that’s for the company to tackle. You’re absolutely right that the company’s lawyers wouldn’t likely be able to provide the help the LW needs.

          But a C&D from the company’s lawyers AND the LW’s personal lawyer would be a nice strong deterrent.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I have been seeing someone in another situation recently pooh-poohing advice (*from* lawyers!) to consult a lawyer before making further statements, and his reasoning was “We don’t have the funds to deal with a court case”. And universal reaction was “…okay? But court cases aren’t the only thing they can do. They might even have some suggestions of things you can do that you, right now, are saying are not possible at all.”

        I think this remains applicable.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        Seems to me this falls under the doctrine of slander per se due to the allegation of sexual misconduct. Which means a plaintiff doesn’t have to prove actual damages.

  10. Working Class Lady*

    #2….Unfortunately, parts of the US have a of the gun-collector types, but generally it’s not normal or acceptable to bring it into the workplace.
    A lot of us would find this uncomfortable or disturbing, but considering that there are a LOT of people here in the United States who are survivors or have lost loved ones to gun violence, this absolutely isn’t okay. I’d talk to your manager or supervisor about it.

    1. Quantum Possum*

      My understanding from the letter is that the coworker is in a home office with gun-themed paraphernalia, not actual firearms.

      I work with a lot of current and former military personnel, and quite a few of them have gun-related office decor. A lot of it depends on the office culture.

      But in LW’s case, I think it would be reasonable to request that people use neutral backdrops on Zoom or Teams or whatever. That would alleviate the problem without calling out one specific person.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        It also sounds like there is gun related equipment in the room, so it’s probably a home office/hobby workshop combo. Which is a totally logical use of space and nobody would blink an eye if it was home office/sewing studio. I do think that sewing is way less likely to bother people than guns, but on the other hand it’s the man’s own home.

        1. John Smith*

          It is his own home and he can do as he likes in it. What he cannot, or should not do is foister it on other people at work. It’s not appropriate for a work environment and if he insists on using that particular space/position, the least he could do is to use a blank or blurred background setting.

          Just an aside, I have an ex military friend (UK) who also has bullets on his wall. Two are from his own body, the remainder etched with the names of his colleagues who were killed in action. He is also a campaigner against gun violence.

          But back to LW, this colleagues setting is just an ostentatious display and, for work, should be covered up. Noone in their right mind can say it’s not OK to have a James Bond poster or cute baby pics on display but gun paraphernalia are fine.

          1. Over my head in bananas*

            @Magdalena — He doesn’t want to blur his background. He wants to make people uncomfortable enough that they comment on his gun room so he can call them snowflakes and bleat about the second amendment, ‘Mericuh! and his cold dead hands. The visible gun paraphernalia is a feature, not a bug.

            Sorry, I’m probably projecting, but I live in an area where I’m surrounded by these types and I am tired of it. So very, very tired.

            1. Katie A*

              It’s not useful to tell LWs that their coworkers are malicious weirdos trying to start fights, especially without any evidence except one’s own biases.

              He probably just likes it and doesn’t think it’s bad and doesn’t know other people will find it alarming because it’s normal to him and the people he knows and because nobody has let him know that his totally mundane (to him) hobby related art bothers them.

              Honestly even many people who aren’t gun people and don’t like guns would go “oh, he’s a gun guy, yuck” at most and wouldn’t be actively upset by it, so it’s reasonable for him to assume it isn’t upsetting people.

              1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

                I have not had any unpleasant personal interactions with guns, and at the time had not known anyone who had died of gun violence, and in a previous job I was still uncomfortable when my department head and one of my coworkers chatted about their gun collections in our open office. The discussions weren’t particularly graphic and I never saw the guns, but I think that it’s reasonable to assume that people who aren’t gun people and don’t like guns may be upset by gun stuff on a zoom background.

                1. Katie A*

                  It’s definitely reasonable to assume people who aren’t gun people or don’t like guns might be upset by gun stuff in the background. It’s just that it’s also reasonable not to assume that.

                  That’s why it’s not useful to decide things about this guy’s motivations just because he has the gun paraphernalia.

                  The LW didn’t ask for any actionable advice, just validation that it’s reasonable to be uncomfortable. It is reasonable, and Alison’s answer plus the comments are providing plenty of validation for that. We don’t need to also give the LW reasons they should be more uncomfortable than they are, though, which is what the comment I relied to was doing.

              2. Over my head in bananas*

                Why are you minimizing OP’s coworker’s gun paraphernalia? OP describes an ammunition building station, reloading tool, and active ammunition of various types. This is not “art.” You make it sound like he has a couple of watercolors of antique pistols on the wall when there’s way more going on here than that. Perhaps your own biases or agenda are coloring your characterization of the letter?

            2. Quantum Possum*

              That’s quite a reach.

              We all have different experiences. I know gun hobbyists who vote straight-ticket Democrat, hate the National Rifle Association, and respect people who are opposed to guns.

                1. VintageLydia*

                  Honestly? I know some who fit Quantum Possum’s description that wouldn’t immediately think about those optics. If it’s pointed out to them, they will pivot and blur their background or whatever but I know a lot of hobbyists who spend a lot of time with hobbyists ad kind of…forget? About how polarizing this issue is for others. They’re in a bit of a bubble.

              1. Quantum Possum*

                @ VintageLydia – That’s been my experience with folks of this nature. It’s just background noise to them, but if someone points it out, they’ll do what they can to make the person more comfortable.

            3. I edit everything*

              I understand this conclusion–I admit to having similar thoughts about how the LW could address it with their coworker, and the possibility that they would be laughed at, mocked, or otherwise belittled, which seems more likely since the LW is from Europe.

              While Over my head’s conclusions and judgment are dramatic, it’s worth considering when deciding how to approach the coworker. Perhaps using language like “Hey, could you blur your background? I find people’s home offices distracting on Zoom calls,” would be a neutral approach that doesn’t risk the “snowflake” reaction. But LW is more likely to know how various requests would be received by this particular coworker and how to approach him.

            4. Lenora Rose*

              This is probably projecting. he could also just be the sort of person who had stopped really noticing what’s there until someone else brings it up, because it’s normal to him, and his entire reaction will be “Oh, yeah.”

              I haven’t blurred my home background, but I do try to make sure I can see how the background ends up framed, and set it appropriately (It’s the board game cupboard.)

            5. Deb*

              I totally agree. So many of these folks are itching for a fight. They secretly hope one day they will get to use those guns to snuff out the bad guys.

          2. RVA Cat*

            This. Blurring the background also helps keep a boundary between work and personal life (for me it’s to hide clutter, lol).

            It’s like how there is nothing wrong with him having nude artwork in his home, but it’s obviously inappropriate for a work video to have bewbs floating above his head.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          But it would be totally normal to reorganize your sewing/llama illustrating room so that the Zoom background was a quilt, or neatly organized shelves, and not the pile of wadded up fabric or uncompleted projects that might be a more genuine reflection of the real you.

          I want to note that we have had past letters about Zoom backgrounds of squishmallows, a naked passing spouse, and knitted genitalia. Only the first got a pass, as not ideal but perhaps hard to avoid as a young person working from a small bedroom.

        3. Phryne*

          Literally every letter that has been on this site concerning backgrounds when working at home has the advice that you should really just either have a neutral background or use a virtual background or blur. The majority of people seem to think this quite reasonable and not too much to ask.
          But when it is guns, suddenly out of the woodwork crawl the old straw men: ‘his own home’ ‘çan do what he likes’ ‘free country’ ‘just a hobby’ ‘legal innit’.
          That alone says so much about the gun culture in the US and how deeply dysfunctional it is.

          1. Katie A*

            People have pushed back on the blurring of other backgrounds, as well, and a lot (most?) of the comments today are people agreeing it’s weird/it’s bad/it should be blurred or changed.

            US gun culture is dysfunctional, but I don’t think you can learn anything about that from the AAM comments section. It’s not exactly a hotbed of firearms enthusiasts lol

            1. Phryne*

              I’ve seen at least 3 comment stating that he can do what he likes in his own home as long as it is legal. An argument that would be obviously ridiculous when the discussion was about squishmallows, childrens pictures and laundry, and should be equally ridiculous here, but suddenly it is not.

              1. Katie A*

                I only see two comments from people that seem somewhat in favor of the guy that mention legality. Both are about the fact that guns are legal (not him doing what he likes as long as it’s legal), and both comments got a bunch of pushback, including one that got plenty of pushback about how it doesn’t matter if it’s legal and how that’s not a good argument.

                So, on balance, it is considered a ridiculous or bad argument by people here.

                Focusing on a couple of comments and concluding that this site has any sort of pro-gun slant or represents anything about US gun culture is just incorrect. The LW should know that they’re getting responses largely from people who have similar feelings about guns as they do, so they can take that into account when evaluating those responses.

              2. RVA Cat*

                There’s a whole range of activities that are legal at his home but not appropriate to be visible in a work context. It’s perfectly legal for him to have a fully stocked liquor cabinet in his home but I think we’d all feel weird about seeing a wall of booze as his background.

              3. Lenora Rose*

                Except a number of people in the squishmallow question *did* indicate it wouldn’t bother them at all, even though the overall consensus was “blur or virtual background”. And I don’t think the proportions are significantly different for this topic.

            2. sparkle emoji*

              Typically the pushback on blurring backgrounds is related to the technology’s limitations, not an opposition to blurred backgrounds as a concept. It doesn’t work well with some older computers, but it’s still often a good option for hiding unprofessional backgrounds.

  11. there are chickens in the trees*

    Back in the days when we were all in the office 5 days a week, one of my (also female) coworkers and I used to handle getting balloons and a card (and getting everyone in our team to sign it) for all birthdays. Since Covid and going to hybrid on site/WFH, we just do a round of wishing happy birthday on the team Slack channel and everyone is happy.

    1. Procedure Publisher*

      I think we stopped cards signing for birthdays and work anniversaries before COVID becaus people were forgetting to do it for their buddy. Then it got moved to our team meetings during our non-work section of our meeetings.

  12. Witch of Oz*

    LW3 go with C! Cards are a pain for the recipient because then they face the dilemma of deciding what to do with it – keep it or chuck it?
    + Cards for every birthday every year? No.
    Maybe do a card for departures/retirements but ditch the birthday cards. My workplace does 1 morning tea/birthday cake once a month for all the birthdays that month (and you can opt out if you’re not into celebrating your birthday at work/at all).

    1. Artemesia*

      Retirement definitely. But the pleasure I would get from a card is nowhere near great enough to justify someone having to organize it. I doubt I am unusual in this.

      1. Deb*

        Totally! Under the two groups rule, there are two types of people: Those who love and cherish cards and those who don’t. Every birthday card I get except for the one from my husband and one from my best friend get tossed into recycling the moment after I read them. DH’s card goes into his sock drawer to be dated next year because we regive our cards every year. My Sister-in-law will probably have ten giant storage containers of cards for their kids to throw away when they die. They send cards on every holiday, which are promptly recycled and a thank you text is sent to them.

        1. Freya*

          Re: recycling cards
          I’ve had a lot of success with slicing up the pretty front and reusing it as gift tags. As long as no one wrote on the inside, you can get lots of gift tags this way.

      1. Deedee*

        Strong disagree
        You don’t get to decide if 50 is more or less of a milestone to someone than 35.
        An employee spends a lot of money to look NOT their age – maybe they even lie about their age socially- and then you hand them a milestone card in front of everyone?!
        Do not do this

        Cards or no cards, that’s it

        1. Seashell*

          I would be uncomfortable with the idea that a co-worker is lying about their age. What else are they lying about?

          Maybe that sort of thing is common in appearance-focused industries, but I am not in one of those.

          1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

            I don’t outright lie, but I am very careful not to disclose my age at work. I’m a woman in tech, where ageism kicks in at about 35, so this is common sense, just like the standard resume advice to omit years of graduation.

            1. WellRed*

              Yes I certainly didn’t correct people who assumed I was younger than late 30s at the time. Doesn’t mean I’m embezzling from the coffee fund.

          2. metadata minion*

            Lying about one’s age is so common as as social white lie that I don’t see it as evidence of any particular untrustworthiness.

          3. desdemona*

            Personally, I don’t ask my coworkers their ages or volunteer mine.
            If someone has a birthday, I say “happy birthday” and maybe ask if they have plans – I don’t ask how old they’re turning.

            Like others, I’m in an industry with a lot of the fun blend of sexism-ageism. My experience with it thus far has been younger-looking folks being treated like they have no experience – so it’s been my policy to not disclose my age since I was 22.

          4. Lenora Rose*

            I’m NOT in an appearance focused industry, and in my office, more people talk about their grandkids than their kids, and their spouses than their boyfriends/girlfriends/fiancees. Nobody who has grey hair is treated differently for it. And yet, while I can make an educated guess who is older than me, or younger, I have no idea of the exact age of anyone.

        2. sparkle emoji*

          If a non-milestone birthday has personal meaning for someone and they feel strongly it needs a card they can communicate that. That will likely be an exception to the rule though and it sounds like the current system of every birthday gets a card is too much for LW. Milestones only is an appropriate compromise.

        3. Allonge*

          I agree – plus, it takes more time/effort to do the background administration: OP would need to track not just when someon’s birthday is but also their specific age. I am not sure it would save that much time overall.

  13. Awkwardness*

    LW3 – I vote for option A. One Email that the card is there, another reminder shortly before the deadline, maybe – only maybe – a second reminder. It worked well for our team of 15.
    It should be the want and responsibilities of your coworker to be on the cards, too.
    If they do not care enough, that’s on them.

    1. amoeba*

      Yup, that’s how we’ve always done it, works well. Best, if possible, to just put the card somewhere on a shelf or whatever where people can come and sign it without finding you/asking you for it! Then, the day before, one additional “last chance” e-mail (which you could also just schedule in advance when you write the first one?), done.

      And I’d also add, as a first step: Please stop worrying about not getting everybody’s signatures! I mean, even in the teams where I was walking around with the card, I’d do it once, get whoever’s around, and then tell the rest of the team to come to my desk if they still want to sign. LW sounds a bit like it was somehow a huge failing not to get all the signatures, when in reality that’s just super normal, don’t think I ever had a card that actually everybody managed to sign…

  14. PJ*

    LW2 We moved to online cards during the pandemic and they work well for us. The website we use collects optional payments, lets the recipient download the virtual card and emails them at the date and time you’ve set. We’ve found that an initial email to announce the card and a final reminder a few days before the deadline works well.

    But otherwise, as others have said, you can’t go wrong with option C for cake.

    1. Orv*

      Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but as an IT person I’m not a fan of online cards. “Mysterious email link to somewhere you’ve never heard of that you’re supposed to click” is one of the easiest ways to spread computer viruses. If someone sends me an online card I won’t open it.

      1. Bruce*

        Good point. These sound like some of the anti-phishing tests our IT dept sends us to make sure we are not clicking on malicious links

  15. The Prettiest Curse*

    #4 is bringing back bad memories of the time I sent an incorrect Zoom link to the only speaker at one of our online seminars. (Luckily, I got the right link to them quickly.) I was mortified and very apologetic for stressing out the speaker unnecessarily.

    I really can’t imagine not apologising in a situation like that, especially since they asked you to spend time preparing a talk! OP 4, you are absolutely justified in being annoyed.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      You handled it fine. Mistakes happen. Technology glitches. You apologize and fix it.

      What this guy did was unacceptable. Not my problem, bye. Dude, you invited someone to speak to your class, making it accessible to the speaker was your responsibility.

    2. Ali*

      Yes, this letter makes me so mad! How dare the professor act like it was not his fault! Anyone who runs a Zoom meeting in an academic setting has no excuse for not knowing about this setting. LW I would be hopping mad.

      1. BatManDan*

        Well, the LW says that the professor assumed it was as problem on the LW’s end, so of course he’s not being polite or apologetic about it.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          That assumption, after LW already explained what the actual problem was, would be what really pissed me off.

          (Then again, I’m a woman in tech, so I’m very used to people ignoring me when I explain technical issues.)

      2. Elitist Semicolon*

        I would be hopping mad enough that the next time I got an invitation from that professor (and maybe also from the department), I’d specifically mention it as the reason I was declining the invitation. The dude could at least have pretended to be apologetic.

  16. Brain the Brian*

    I used to be the card coordinator for my department. To keep track of everyone’s birthdays, I saved them all as yearly-recurring events in my work calendar. Now, after most of the department has turned over and Covid-inspired WFH has killed the card tradition, I still have the birthdays of everyone who was working in our department as of March 2020 marked on my work calendar. It’s a nice little memento of pre-pandemic work life — and a reminder of exactly why I don’t want to go back to it. :D

  17. Caz*

    OP3, the way we handle this at our office is:
    – A dedicated person collects birthdays from people who are interested in receiving an emailed birthday with from “everyone”. “Everyone” is a lot of people, I will be receiving a message on behalf of people who couldn’t pick me out of a lineup.
    – Within my immediate team (a dozen or so people, and – this is key – minimal turnover), the last person who had a birthday is responsible for sourcing and circulating a card for the next person. Each of us shares the burden and only has to make a significant effort once a year.

    It works well for us – would it work for you?

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      We did that the same way with the last person buying for the next person in my old job and mostly it worked well. We did have one pair of birthday twins, but the way we handled that was, the person before them bought for the “twin” who was the first alphabetically, he then bought for the second alphabetically, and then the second bought for the next person.

      The one time we did have confusion was over what to do with a team member who had been seconded into a different team in a different building. The person who would ordinarily have got her had initially thought that she would be skipping over to the next person on the list, but then about two days before the seconded employee’s birthday, her particular friend in the team suddenly panicked because no one had bought a card for her so that one ended up being a rush job (and another one the following week for the next guy, because seconded employee didn’t think she was still part of the rota and didn’t get one).

    2. Former call centre worker*

      I worked on a team that did this too. Everyone made a calendar entry for their birthday and invited the other 11 team members, then everyone was responsible for the card and cake for the birthday after their own. It wasn’t foolproof though because some people are more diligent than others and because the presence of any new starters could cause confusion.

  18. Mmm.*

    The gun thing is pretty inappropriate. It’s not a violation of anyone’s rights to blur your background. It is a violation of people’s right to feel safe — even if you’re not in the same space — to *not* blur it. I would absolutely be uncomfortable if I had to meet this coworker in person! Is he packing? Does he have an itchy trigger finger?

    I’ve dealt with too many legitimate lockdowns and known people who survived true, large-scale mass shootings. Someone needs to tell him it’s not okay to show this stuff at work.

    1. Katyusha*

      There is zero reason why an objective observer should feel unsafe merely because someone on a conference call collects guns. (It’s not even clear to me that he’s collecting guns so much as gun-related paraphernalia, e.g., ammo, but set that aside.) Most guns are legal. These appear to be hunting rifles, not semi-automatics or what not. Gun collecting is a legitimate hobby, even if you dislike it.

      I get that some people who have had bad experiences with guns may not be objective observers, but he’s not under any obligation to cater to subjective observers. Suppose you know someone who died at an airshow accident (which aren’t *that* unheard of). Would you object to an airplane-themed room?

      1. amoeba*

        Chances of an aeroplane enthusiast killing me – a a bystander – with his plane are slim to none though. The same cannot be said for guns.
        Also, planes have a different purpose from killing. Guns don’t.

        1. Zarniwoop*

          A fairly large fraction of the guns in private American hands have the purpose of killing deer rather than people.

          1. Silver Robin*

            that literally is still killing? guns exist to bring about the death of another living being and do nothing else. Lots of people are uncomfortable with death generally, so even if guns and gun culture were not so strongly associated with the murder of other humans, it would still make complete sense for people to be uncomfortable around instruments of death.

            1. amoeba*

              Yup. Like, you know, lots of people still find that disturbing, and hunting trophies wouldn’t be a great office background either, tbh!

              1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

                Agreed. I’d be disturbed if a colleague had their office background full of taxidermy, too.

          2. Sacred Ground*

            The top selling rifle in the US is the AR-15. There are around 24,000,000 of them in the US.

            I guarantee that absolutely zero AR-15s are used for hunting.

            1. Church Basement Lady*

              Wildly incorrect. It’s a common hunting rifle.

              But this does demonstrate why virtual backgrounds are a good idea – you never know what item in your home will be used by a colleague to invent and spread a harmful rumor.

        2. Dog momma*

          Chances are that THIS GUY,who collects guns, will not kill you either. Most people with guns are responsible. The few that aren’t ruin it for the rest.
          However its not professional to display them in a work setting.

      2. Stay-at-Homesteader*

        There are many legitimate hobbies that are still not appropriate for work. I admit, I had a much stronger reaction to this when the first time I read it because I missed that it was a home office, but that’s still…just…a lot. Especially for a hobby that people statistically have a lot of negative experiences with.

        I’d also really like to push back on the idea that you can only have an objective or legitimate opinion about something if you haven’t had a negative experience. That kind of thinking means that the only people whose opinions are valid are those who are less likely to have personal experience. It also excludes marginalized/affected people from all kinds of conversations that affect them the most. Especially in the US, where an increasing number of people are increasingly affected in some way by gun violence, that would take away their voice and invalidate their opinions.

        1. Daisy*

          I agree. I like to read cheesy romance novels and the covers on many would not be appropriate for work. There is no way I would have that bookshelf in the background of a work call even though it isn’t p@#n and most can be found at the local library or bookstore. There is a huge difference between something being legal, or even popular (romance novels have been the highest-grossing genera for decades), and a GOOD IDEA in a work setting.

          1. Daisy*

            Hit send too soon.

            I also live in a state with a very high proportion of gun owners. Most of the people I know socially have guns, family members own guns, and several have businesses that revolve around gun-related activities. I am not impressed with people who make a big deal about their guns outside of their hobby groups and have a low opinion of those who feel it necessary to advertise to the world they are carrying.

      3. Temp name for this*

        “It’s not even clear to me that he’s collecting guns so much as gun-related paraphernalia, e.g., ammo, but set that aside.”

        Oh come now, the number of people who have reloading equipment and ammunition but do not have guns is exactly zero. And I have no idea what it might mean for a hobby to be “legitimate” (Respectable? Common? Not unlawful?) but the issue here is the display of items which one could easily predict – and every gun owner knows – will make some observers uncomfortable, and which are connected in the US to some highly charged political disagreements. So not work appropriate, and he should blur his background. And I say all this as a gun owner.

      4. N C Kiddle*

        “You don’t have an objective reason for your discomfort so you should just suck it up” is a really unpleasant attitude to have. A small dose of consideration for those around you (make the Zoom background more neutral) makes the world a much better place.

      5. HonorBox*

        Even if the guns are legal, there are appropriate and inappropriate things to have visible on your work calls. The company can ask that people blur backgrounds as a blanket statement. It helps with a variety of things… privacy, any potentially objectionable things on display, etc. Guns are something that people can react strongly to, and given the potential for strong reactions, it is better to err on the side of caution and not have that on display. Same would go for someone whose background is full of religious information. Not objectionable in and of itself, but someone could react strongly and negatively to seeing a whole bunch of crucifixes and pictures of Jesus in the background of someone’s screen, too.

      6. Silver Robin*

        If an airplane themed room is upsetting because someone close to you died in a plane related event, I would absolutely encourage you to ask the coworker with an airplane hobby background to blur it. And I would encourage the coworker to take the 5 seconds to change their settings (permanently, so they do not have to remember who to blur for). Because showing off your hobby *at work* is less important than you and your coworkers being able to work together smoothly.

        Seriously it is such an easy adjustment to make for the sake of easing someone’s distress.

      7. Sacred Ground*

        If people died in plane crashes at the same rate they die from gun violence in the US, we’d shut down the airlines until the problem was solved.

        We regulate the HELL out of airlines precisely because we don’t want people to die by the tens of thousands every year. And airplanes aren’t weapons. Every aviation-related death is an ACCIDENT, not a HOMICIDE. There is difference.

        This guy knows full well that many people will react negatively to this. These types all know, they talk about it all the time. I don’t know anyone who was this public about showing off their gun hobby who wasn’t also a Second Amendment absolutist and aggressive about it. They enjoy provoking this response so they can point and smirk at the snowflakes and whine about their rights being restricted.

        At this point I’m ready to confiscate all guns from all private hands, not for reasons of public safety, but just to spite these jerks.

        1. Pescadero*

          “If people died in plane crashes at the same rate they die from gun violence in the US, we’d shut down the airlines until the problem was solved.”

          That definitely isn’t true, or we would have banned automobiles years ago.

          1. Katie A*

            Absolutely. Cars killed more people each year than guns for a long time, so it’s not just about the danger element. It’s also the fact that cars (and planes) serve more functions than guns do and more people want them. We made cars safer for pedestrians as well as drivers (although not safe enough) instead of banning them because they’re useful and desirable.

          2. metadata minion*

            This is getting seriously off-topic, but I don’t think we take the lethality of cars nearly seriously enough either.

          3. Emily of New Moon*

            We have, however, heavily regulated automobiles to minimize the possibility of people dying or getting injured in care crashes.

            1. whingedrinking*

              Exactly. It astounds me how many people who see no problem with requiring licenses, registration and insurance for drivers and cars lose their minds when you suggest the same for guns.

      8. Lenora Rose*

        But we respect a lot of other subjective experiences, and even consider ourselves obliged to respect them, and navigate everyone’s comfort levels.

        “Are squishmallows professional?” is a 100% subjective measurement yet we still think about it.

        “What music, if any, is appropriate in a professional setting?” is subjective, yet the person who is inconsiderate enough to pump heavy metal or Christian music into their secular office is still asked to cater to the subjective observers. And with guns, it’s not even as awkward (or close to a protected class) as “Look, I respect your religion but I don’t want to hear songs about it.”

        It can be a flat out “I have/know people who have suffered from gun violence, and seeing this is making me think about that event, and I can’t concentrate on work.”

      9. Prismatic Garnet*

        There’s a difference between items designed exclusively for and often actually used for killing, vs an item that can go wrong and result in death by accident. And it’s not just a hypothetical offense/fear – knowing that this guy has guns actually does mean he’s much more likely to be the kind of freak who goes around killing his coworkers at some point. Which is something that actually happens pretty often in the US!

      10. DameB*

        Guns are, inherently, violent and therefore threatening objects. They are also wildly unprofessional. Try to think about other objects who have one purpose: killing. Electric chairs, for instance, or landmines.

        Planes have other uses.

      11. Orv*

        Whether it’s reasonable for it to make people feel unsafe or not, it’s still a needlessly distracting background for a work call. If squishmallow plushes are an edge case (as was discussed in a previous episode) then guns seem like an obvious case for blurring it out.

      12. Dark Macadamia*

        The idea that humans aren’t obligated to care about their impact on other humans is really sad, but even if that’s how you see the world it’s reasonable to expect employees to care about how they present themselves at work.

    2. Quantum Possum*

      It is a violation of people’s right to feel safe — even if you’re not in the same space — to *not* blur it.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a violation of someone else’s rights.

      It’s perfectly reasonable for the LW (or anyone else in a similar situation) to request that neutral backgrounds be used on video calls. But it’s not really a “rights” issue.

      1. Katie A*

        +1, this is a “being good to people” issue or a “workplace responsibility to provide a safe environment” issue, not a “rights” issue

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        +2 This is not actually a right in the legal/constitutional sense, and the context (the person is quite distant from you) makes the argument shaky from a common civility point.

        Note that I believe he should move the decor of his office around and present something more neutral as the background for video calls. I just don’t think rights enter into it at any point.

        1. Angstrom*

          Right. If something wouldn’t be appropriateto have on the walls of your office or cubicle, don’t have it clearly visible on Zoom calls from home.
          Could be erotic art, religious iconography, weapons, underwear, whatever. Just don’t.

    1. Quantum Possum*

      I love all the cards I get from my coworkers and employees! But that’s just me, I guess, lol.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        Same. We only do cards for “big” birthdays – 30ths, 40ths, that sort of thing – and also for stuff like illness, weddings, babies, etc.

        My 40th fell about 6 months after covid began and I was honestly really hoping we wouldn’t lock down for it (cases were rising) because I didn’t want to miss out on the card, cake and gift. I didn’t even care about the gift; it’s just nice to be acknowledged.

      2. Good Enough For Government Work*

        Me too!

        I remain mildly upset/put out that I didn’t get so much as a card from my office for my 30th birthday – I’d been there for 6+ years at that point, and the accepted process for a birthday ending in 0 was a collection for a gift and a card. Unfortunately that was normally organised by your manager, and mine SUCKED.

        1. JustaTech*

          We do e-cards that are organized by your manager (birthdays and work anniversaries) and it’s taken me years to realize that the reason I never get a birthday card is that my boss hates acknowledging his birthday, and my previous coworker who shared a birthday with me *also* hated celebrating her birthday, so if I want a birthday card this year I’m going to have to ask for it, which seems a bit, I don’t know, much?

    2. Allonge*

      Can I live without it? Sure.

      Does it feel good when I get in in any case? Yep, it does. It’s nice, it’s a nice thing my colleagues did for me.

      Would I want someone to be working additional hours on top of a busy schedule to get everyone to sign it? No way.

    3. English Teacher*

      I’d much prefer a heartfelt “happy birthday” when I get into the office from those who actually know the date–rather than a card that it’s clear everyone is obligated to sign, whether they like me or not.

      1. Straight Laced Sue*

        I’m the same. And I’m aware of how busy my colleagues are, and I’d want any arrangement that made their lives easier.

      2. Ex-prof*

        Yeah, and then it’s what to do with the card? It feels bad to toss something everyone’s gone and signed…

    4. cnoocy*

      I don’t care about birthday cards, but I treasured the condolence e-card I got from my company and coworkers after my father’s passing.

    5. Myrin*

      I don’t know that I “want” them in the sense that I actively hope I’ll be getting them but yeah, I’m always happy to receive them.

    6. metadata minion*

      I do! I don’t feel bereft or anything that this is something my workplace doesn’t do, but it would be a nice little bright spot to my day.

    7. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Another no vote here.

      I read them and promptly throw in the trash. A waste of money (they’re so d*mn expensive anymore!) and creates more waste.

    8. Jackalope*

      Yup! Many years I don’t get one from work and that’s fine, but I always love it when I do.

    9. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

      From people at work, absolutely not. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, people scribbling their name on a piece of card paper doesn’t mean anything. Adult birthdays shouldn’t really be a thing IMO, they’re more meant for kids & teens and sure if you reach 100 that’s a big deal. Cards for sympathy, retirement, sure. But birthday cards for adults should be a relic of the past.

    10. Lenora Rose*

      I think I have one especially clever one I still own. All the others eventually got filtered into the trash or recycling. (This about equal with my reactions to cards from almost every holiday or life event I have received cards for; a tiny fraction were kept.)

      1. Lenora Rose*

        That being said, I have three on my desk; one was the thank you/good luck card from a department I left, one is a mother’s day card from my daughter with one of her buses drawn on it, one was from my current boss and was related to a very specific kindness he did me. None are birthday cards.

        1. i like hound dogs*

          I LOVE and treasure the cards my son has made me, and I also keep some cards from other family members and friends.

          A work card I could probably go without. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually received one?!

    11. The OG Sleepless*

      I like them. I’m all about words of affirmation, and our team at work genuinely likes each other. I got a very heartfelt “we’ll miss you” card signed by everyone when I left a job in 2017, and I’ll probably keep it for the rest of my life.

    12. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I don’t expect them, but I was very touched the year I went remote (way before the pandemic) and our “card person” did her usual rounds and then mailed me the physical card. It was very sweet.

    13. Prismatic Garnet*

      Yes, cards are nice and ppl can write nice things in them. It’s a small, tangible gesture of goodwill.

      Also when they’re from close friends rather than coworkers, cards can be really great because you can write effusive/funny/long, sincere things in them, and can choose the design on the card as a reference to an inside joke or something that reminds you of them. If you don’t like cards because it’s just a signature on a pre-printed statement, that’s a choice to underutilize them, not the way that cards just are.

      But anyways, at the workplace, yes, it’s important to be acknowledged.

    14. Head sheep counter*

      I didn’t until the admin made sure everyone who had a birthday after me got a card… the day after my birthday… including doing electronic cards for those not onsite. Pfffft

  19. BirthdayIdea*

    LW3: Absolutely, you have permission to change whatever you like about birthdays! Could you scrap the cards and just send round an email on the day the cake is there to say ‘Happy Birthday Jane, cake is in the kitchen for everyone’ and then people can reply with their individual wishes?
    I know it creates a reply all situation, but since your office is only 12-14 people, it’s around one birthday a month!

    1. desdemona*

      I like this idea!
      Re: one birthday a month – I’ve gone down a rabbit hole now of birthday distribution, because your comment made me curious. Weirdly, in an office of 12-14 people, it’s unlikely that there will be 1 birthday a month. Apparently in a group of 20 people, there’s a 50% chance 2 people will have the same birthday (according to Readers Digest, at least)

      1. i like hound dogs*

        I think I’ve heard something like that before and I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the math!

      2. new old friend*

        In my team of less than 10 people, there’s nobody with the *same* birthday, but there’s several people who are within the same week!

  20. Yellow sports car*

    LW4 I’m sorry the tech didn’t work – but the professor was probably right that they couldn’t fix it in the middle of class (they likely didn’t have another staff member around to sort that out). They are running the class, not sitting monitoring email looking for messages!

    They also probably didn’t expect you to put more than 5 minutes prep into the meeting, which being online likely meant limited additional impact (unlike travelling for hours). I do these sorts of things all the time and it’s near to no prep. If you do this quite a bit, I’d expect you to be recycling from last time.

    Tech issues happen, she’s said thanks for making yourself available. I really don’t get the apologies profusely expectation. In my world thanks anyway would be taken as short hand for “thank you for effort of participating in our event. I am sorry the tech didn’t work well today, but I do appreciate you trying”.

    Also, if she had 2 other participants that joined no issue, it would be reasonable to assume the issue was on your end, even if it wasn’t.

    1. Overnight Oats*

      I agree with Yellow Sports Car. As a faculty member who has alumni who very kindly volunteer for such meetings and I appreciate it, I also note that if I were going to do a true test run with a speaker for my class I would need to invite them to a meeting in my class “Team” and tell 40 students in the class not to come to the meeting and filed 10 emails from students who were confused and was there a meeting.

      1. Billy Preston*

        But couldn’t you create another test meeting in zoom and just invite the speaker to test? Then you at least know if they can access the zoom rooms at your school. That is what I’ve encountered in the past, just to make sure tech works beforehand.

      2. Candace*

        I’m also a professor and I think the response here was quite rude. The time investment of prepping for something like that can be substantial, and such a dismissive response is a good way to ensure that people won’t be volunteering to be a guest speak again.

      3. Observer*

        As others noted, you can do test runs without inviting all of the class. Also, you can make sure that you settings are correct. And if you do mess that up, the least you can do is to acknowledge it apologize for the error.

        Yeah, there won’t be a next time, nor should there be.

    2. Ex-prof*

      “Thanks anyway” is problematic.

      It carries connotations of “well, you effed up, but I appreciate you were trying to help.”

      Whereas in fact it was the professor who effed up.

      When I’ve invited alumni to my class to give what seemed to me a simple talk, I’ve learned to expect that they will in fact put a lot of work into it. Maybe it would be 5 minutes prep for me but I know perfectly well it isn’t five minutes for them.

      Had I been in that professor’s shoes I would have apologized profusely.

    3. ProfE*

      100% agree.

      And +1 related to responding in the middle of class. At that point it wasn’t going to be a carefully considered message; it was a quick – “ok no worries” message when they’re trying to focus. I think it’s very reasonable to be annoyed they didn’t write you afterwards, but I would let this one go if you can. (And maybe just decline future invites from this person)

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      A few things here:
      “They probably didn’t expect you to put more than 5 minutes prep into the meeting.” Why on Earth would they think that? Unless you do this stuff so often that you can just pull up the existing template, you would spend more hours on it. (I have done this type of panel, back in the in-person days, and I did not just wander in and wing my presentation with no prep.)

      Also OP has blocked out 2-3 hours for this in their day, moving other things to accommodate it. Cancelling at the very last minute is not respectful of that side of the time commitment and should warrant profuse apologies, not a shrug. It is not always the case that everyone has a handy list of tasks of varying length which can be effortlessly slotted into any unexpected last minute open spots in their planned schedule.

      “I appreciate you for trying” is only appropriate if the issues are all on the other person’s end. And if they tell you what the issue is–because they can see it in the settings–then telling them they must be wrong and all tech issues must originate with people other than the professor is going to be irritating. And, again, warrant an apology. I could believe that the professor couldn’t figure out how to rework the meeting settings, but in that case they need to do the profuse apology for wasting hours of OP’s time.

      1. HonorBox*

        Agree with the amount of prep. Maybe some would put in a few minutes to prep, but others will likely spend much more time, and saying that about 5 minutes of prep is very dismissive unfortunately.

        I agree with others who said that “I appreciate you for trying” or something similar in the moment is probably the best that one can expect, since the prof is in the middle of class. But that should have been followed with a personal apology. Even if it was OP’s fault that the tech didn’t work, the prof owes some sort of apology for not outlining tech needs earlier. But in this case, it wasn’t OP’s fault… and that definitely warrants more than what they got.

        As for what to say? Nothing. I’d perhaps say something to someone else in the department since this prof is newer. If you’re asking for alumni to help at any point, it makes sense to treat them well and this prof needs to have someone show them how to set things up for success.

      2. i like hound dogs*

        I agree with Falling Diphthong. I’ve been in this position and I certainly did more than five minutes of prep. A tossed-off non-apology/implication that the problem was on my end would certainly piss me off.

        On a related note about how long things should take … my boss has a habit of telling me to do a “ten-minute review” of things that will actually twice as long or more (I am a proofreader and I check EVERYTHING), and it irritates me to no end. It’s like he’s minimizing the work I’m putting in. The issue is not that I’m slow — I know from a decade of work that I’m faster than average. Don’t make assumptions about how quickly someone can churn out work! He makes me feel like I’m in the position of either doing a subpar job or taking much longer than he thinks I need to take.

        Rant over, lol.

    5. Ali*

      I disagree. As a professor, I have had this exact problem that the LW describes in Zoom. It is not the fault of the guest. It is a setting you should be 100% aware of if you invite a guest to your Zoom class; and it can be easily fixed by telling everyone you are going to restart the meeting, and asking them to log back in (you can then change this setting before you restart the meeting.) This is complicated but it’s absolutely the best choice, rather than blowing someone off when you asked them to donate their time.

      1. Engineery*

        Thank you for understanding this.

        With the talk and prep time for even a 20 minute talk to students, I’m effectively donating hundreds of dollars of my professional labor to the school. I’m glad to do so, and I feel it’s my professional responsibility to help guide people interested in my field.

        Screwing up the tech is frustrating, but mistakes happen. In this case, it would not have been a big deal if the instructor apologized for being unprepared and made clear they identified and fixed the issue for the next time.

        But if an instructor invites me to their classroom, locks the door before I arrive, refuses to unlock it because they’re too busy (doing what? the agenda was to let me in and listen to me talk, wasn’t it?), and then acts as if it was (even partially) my fault the door was locked …

        Yeah, that’s the point where I’m unlikely to ever extend the instructor (and possibly their entire department) another professional courtesy.

        1. KatieP*

          Agreed with everything Engineery has said. In addition, my department invites a lot of people to speak to students during class. Most of them are distinguished in their fields, and many are also alumni. The department may be courting them as potential faculty hires, or as donors, or both. We might also be courting them as collaborators or project sponsors.

          I doubt many DHs/Chairs would appreciate faculty burning those bridges.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            I organize events similar to what you’re describing and if I treated a guest anywhere close to how that prof treated the OP, our development/fundraising manager would ream me out.

      2. Impending Heat Dome*

        Absolutely agreed. I am in private industry, but we have guests from outside the company occasionally attend our Teams meetings, and we damn well make sure to test the functionality before the actual meeting, and start the call a few minutes early to make sure the guest can connect.

        Asking someone to prepare and present at a meeting, and then when they show up and can’t get in, just shrugging and saying “Oh well,” is just monumentally disrespectful of their time and effort. Tech issues happen in virtual calls all the time, and sometimes we have to log out and log back in, or whatever. It takes a few minutes but really is not that disruptive. Not as disruptive as being left hanging after you were asked specifically to contribute.

        1. Impending Heat Dome*

          Never mind the audacity of, “I asked YOU to take the time to prepare and present material for MY class, but you can’t expect me to use MY time to get this figured out! I’m doing important things here!” I think I would quietly assign this professor’s subsequent communications to the spam filter.

    6. Kuleta*

      This is why a presenter needs a second person to monitor emails/chat/whatever, to be alerted to and handle any problems that come up during the presentation.

      Even more so if a presentation is hybrid. I’ve seen remote participants miss out on parts because no one saw their multiple chat messages reporting a problem.

      I once set up a Zoom meeting for my boss incorrectly, because I didn’t know that Outlook delegate access and Zoom delegate access were two separate things. Along the way I did realize something didn’t look right, but when I called our IT dept I got a techie who didn’t know either.

      I figured out the difference on a later occasion. My boss was able to handle the glitch on the spot, but I wish he’d told me then so I’d have known sooner.

      OP 4 does deserve a sincere apology. And Dr. Smith needs to do whatever is needed to prevent a repeat of this experience.

    7. samwise*

      “They are running the class, not sitting monitoring email looking for messages”

      If I have invited someone to my class and they don’t show up, I absolutely check my text and voicemail and email to see what’s up, and I contact them too to see if they are able to come or not. I let the students know that’s what I’m doing, too, 1) so that they don’t think I’m just fooling around on my phone and 2) to model courtesy and professional behavior for them.

      And if there’s a tech problem, I do NOT blame it on the visitor, I try to fix it or get someone in who can fix it (I guarantee that professor has an IT help desk number or email available), and I apologize in the moment and then again after class is over.

      Classes are interruptible; there are very few reasons why an instructor cannot stop a class for a few minutes.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Former faculty here–this is absolutely correct. Classes are 100% interruptible. There exists a subset of faculty who collectively need to get over themselves and how important their classes are. (Yes. In-class time is important, but I’ve seen some incredibly rude, tone-deaf, and stubborn faculty who think that their classes are more important than icy sidewalks making students 10 minutes late or staying home to prevent illness. Thank all that I hold sacred faculty were forced to go online during early COVID)

        If I’m invited to give a talk, it takes more than 5 minutes to throw together. When I was faculty, as long as I wasn’t scheduled to teach a class, my time was very flexible, I could take on acts of service as I saw fit (this is something I’d consider service if I went to my alma mater and guested at a colleague’s class). As a cog in the capitalist machine, my time is very much not my own, and to schedule something like this means that I may have to work late/early/over the weekend. I may have moved a client meeting or waited to interview a job candidate until the next day, etc. And, as someone mentioned upthread, my time is worth hundreds of dollars to the company.

        If this happened to me, I’d not accept an invitation from this faculty member again and I might consider dropping a note to the chair.

    8. Observer*

      They also probably didn’t expect you to put more than 5 minutes prep into the meeting

      For a 20 minute discussion? Doesn’t sound likely. Even with “recycled” material. And also, it means clearing the time.

      Tech issues happen, she’s said thanks for making yourself available.

      That’s a pretty tepid thanks to someone who put some effort in to do you a favor. It’s rude and disrespectful.

      In my world thanks anyway would be taken as short hand

      That’s nice. But it’s not reasonable to expect people to know that you have to use “shorthand” for actually responding politely to people. Especially since it sounds like the professor (or whoever sets up their tech) messed up in the way the meeting was set up.

      Also, if she had 2 other participants that joined no issue, it would be reasonable to assume the issue was on your end, even if it wasn’t.

      Nope. Not when the OP explained the problem.

  21. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #1 Talk to HR immediately, because they have the resources to deal with her via lawyers. They should want to take action if they are being trashed online too.

    As an individual, it is often a financial black hole to sue another ordinary individual because even when you eventually win she probably won’t have the kind of money to repay your costs.

    Flora sounds totally unhinged and obsessed with “getting even” about something.
    Maybe she was jealous of possible career advantages with your greater access to your manager with these lunches. However, totally batshit reaction rather than asking for similar access.
    Or maybe she is one of those, usually religious nutters, who assume when men and women have lunch together then the sex course follows automatically after the dessert course.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      To be clear, only a small % of religious people believe this, but they cause problems to the rest of us out of all proportion to their numbers.

  22. Former call centre worker*

    Birthday card option D – on 2 January bring in 12-14 birthday cards, write a name in each of them, the first time you see each of your colleagues get them to sign all of the ones that aren’t for them. Or send an email out saying “come and sign 11-13 birthday cards”.

    1. Straight Laced Sue*

      Genuinely, is this a joke? This would take all the joy out of it but I love it. It’s almost a piece of performance art, illustrating just how much the organiser sees this as a task rather than a celebration. It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Work cards are already inherently a performative task. I’m sorry but almost none of your coworkers genuinely care about your birthday. Someone puts a card in front of them and they sign it and then they move on with their day.

        1. Jackalope*

          Really? They might not care about your birthday per se but they quite possibly care about you if it’s an office where everyone gets along reasonably well.

    2. Anon This Time*

      Or you could do even worse birthday card option E – send generic birthday email signed “from your Acme family”, cc’d to the whole company. Completely impersonal AND embarrassing to the birthday boy/girl, but hey! At least no one needs to care enough to route a card (or personalize an email, for that matter)

  23. Ex-prof*

    LW 1, this sounds frankly a little scary. Definitely talk to HR; sounds like they’re on your side already. The woman sounds obsessed with your for some reason and she quite possibly believes what she’s saying.

    1. HR Friend*

      Agree. I’m not one to jump to conclusions or involving authorities, but the extent to which Flora is going to spread this rumor and try to harm LW1 is alarming! I’d agree to go to HR and document everyyyything. And if I’m LW, I’d be on the lookout for Flora escalating contact at home. If she begins showing up or even harassing with phone calls, that’s a police matter.

  24. John*

    Work birthday stuff is annoying to many people.

    There is often a palpable difference in enthusiasm toward those being celebrated (sometimes understandably, as some colleagues have been there longer).

    I found many of the celebrations awkward and painful.

    And I have a holiday birthday. So mine was never celebrated, though for me that was great.

    1. B*

      I agree, someone will get skipped, forgotten, have notably fewer signatures or attendees at the celebration, etc. Maybe I am a grump, but this is squarely in “the only winning move is not to play” territory.

      I have worked in an office where there was a semi-observed tradition (maybe 1/3 of the staff participated) of bringing in a small shared treat (donuts from the local place near your house, etc.) on your own birthday. I thought that was a surprisingly elegant solution… it let people who want to celebrate at work do so, but doesn’t call attention to everyone else.

      1. i like hound dogs*

        I agree. It can be so awkward. I love the idea of bringing in your own birthday treats to share!

  25. melissa*

    Is the cake out in some communal area? You could leave a blank card with the birthday-person’s name and a big sign that says “Everyone, please share your well wishes!” Then people will go to get a piece of cake and go “Oh how nice let me sign this right now”. Then at the end of the day, the recipient takes it, plus whatever is left of the cake, home.

    1. Silver Robin*

      I like this idea! Especially if the cards are popular at LWs workplace. No chasing people down and an obvious prompt. Whoever signs, signs, and that is it.

    2. thelettermegan*

      +1 I think this is a great suggestion – the only thing is making sure the birthday-er gets the card at the end and isn’t standing there awkwardly watching people sign their card.

  26. HWM*

    OP #1 – please contact a lawyer. Something similar happened to me at my first job out of college – I was maybe 23/24. One of my managers got fired (for cause) and came back saying I was sleeping with her 45-year old married with two kids male boss, who while friendly, I had very little interaction with. I notified HR (who was robust given I was working for a major hospital system) and got a “that’s too bad, good luck”. I informed my other boss, who used to be lawyer and within in 30 minutes, her lovely lawyer friend had a strongly worded cease & desist letter to send over, pro-bono. In hindsight, I’m glad I did it rather than my boss, who (unrightfully so) may have been perceived as defensive or trying to cover his ass.

    1. Bigger-the-hair…closer-to-god*

      I worked retail in college. There was a run going around that I was having an affair with the assistant store manager. Could not have been further from the truth. I wasn’t into married men with a bad comb-over. The reality was that the manager was having an affair with a 17 year old part timer worker. She started the rumor to redirect the gossip away from her. Still annoys me 30 years later.

  27. YourFriendlyNeighborhoodCatLady*


    I promise not everyone is like the gun office person, lol. And not every Southerner (usually the stereotype) is obsessed with guns. It definitely depends on where you are, but I would argue that even in more rural areas it would be at least a little strange to have a gun-themed office unless you were a gun store.

    I also think it would be strange to have a super themed office for a place that didn’t have to do with that theme. Like if I have a 1999 The Mummy themed office with posters and cardboard cutouts of Brendan Fraser in it. As cool as that may be.

    And for the birthday card person, I would also want to say that if I got a card at work and someone’s signature isn’t on it, I would just assume that they weren’t there at the time it was passed around, not that they hated me and refused to sign. If someone puts that much emphasis on it and gets upset then that’s on them.

    1. Billy Preston*

      haha thank you! Another southerner here who is actually anti-gun. And seeing the gun related decor would upset me. There is someone in one particular meeting that has taxidermied animal trophies all over his wall and I’m so grateful for the “hide incoming video” feature.

      I’m just in favor of blurring/virtual backgrounds no matter what.

    2. Glazed Donut*

      Another Southerner here! Agree – even with the gung-ho gun lovers, this is a weird background for a home office!
      To me, it’s akin to having a wall full of whisky bottles or some other alcohol. While it’s legal, it’s just a weird “flex” of a hobby. Not work appropriate and should be saved for other people.

  28. HalJordan*

    #2 — birthday cards — we’re about the same size, and we put the card in a manilla folder with a checklist on a sticky note of who needs to sign. The folder gets passed around from person to person, and we check our names off as it goes.

  29. too many dogs*

    LW #3 (card/cake). You could have Option D: have the card, but just sign it something like “from all of us”. But who has time for shopping for cards and ordering cake? This might be a good time to stop. Anyone who feels strongly about it can assume the card/cake duties.

  30. Rondeaux*

    The gun thing is weird to me, but lots of people are safe and responsbile gun enthusiasts and collectors, so I don’t necessarily think it means this guy is dangerous or anything.

    Still, you never know who you’ll be speaking with, so you’d think he’d have some awareness. But in the end i don’t think there’s really anything you can do about it

    1. Dulcinea47*

      Nah. Anyone who is that obsessed with guns and ammo that they want to use it for decor…. I’m scared of them, they love guns way too much.

      1. Angstrom*

        If there’s a reloading press in the room, it’s probably also his workshop space. Those aren’t used as decorations.
        As for the wall art — people put up stuff that reflects their sporting and hobby interests: soccer, skiing, golf, whatever. People who enjoy shooting sports are no different.
        That said, he should use a different background. Virtual office space is still office space.

    2. Jackalope*

      There is 100% something his employers can do about it. They can ask him to blur his background or use a virtual background. “It is legal in this country” does not equal “it is something your employer is required to let you do on work time with no consequences”. As many other people have pointed out, blurred backgrounds for work virtual meetings is a common requirement for MANY issues with home offices. There’s no reason that it being gun-related suddenly means all that goes out the window.

      1. Rondeaux*

        Yes but from what I can tell the LW is a colleague, not the gun guy’s boss. They can suggest it of course, or run it up the chain to management if they want to take it that far.

    3. Lenora Rose*

      I don’t assume he’s dangerous, any more than I assume that my animal-hunting uncles are dangerous (My uncle R of blessed memory and his family ate far far more venison than beef, including some lovely sausages), but I do assume he can be politely asked to blur the background by coworkers. *More* so if I assume that not everyone who uses guns is dangerous.

    4. Frankie*

      It’s less about the actual danger posed and more about what’s appropriate to display for work meetings in a business context. I would say that display is not professional (and many hobbies would fall under that category for very different reasons).

  31. HonorBox*

    OP1- This situation sucks, and I’m very sorry. I think I speak for all when I ask for an update when you have opportunity to do so.

    Meantime, talk to HR. They should want to take some sort of action since there are references to the company in the reviews she is leaving.

    And I’ll strongly second every suggestion of consulting a lawyer. You may have options. IANAL but it seems like the easiest is a cease and desist letter. That would at least (probably) stop things in their tracks. And the lawyer would be able to tell you what next steps would be if the harassment continues.

    I’m glad she’s no longer in your workplace, but the threat of ongoing harassment is something you deserve to get stopped.

  32. RagingADHD*

    LW2, try to mentally reframe your colleague’s office as “hunting themed” rather than “gun themed.” If he’s using shotguns and loading his own ammo, he’s a hunter rather than a paramilitary style enthusiast / collector. I’ve seen plenty of both, and you’d be describing a very different setup if it were the latter.

    People also have various reactions to hunting, but it is a very popular pastime in a lot of places (including parts of Europe). And thinking of it as hunting equipment may help you feel less bothered about it.

    I don’t hunt or have guns, but my friends and neighbors who do (including the ones who load their own ammo) are some of the kindest, most helpful folks I know — as well as being very invested in conservation of natural resources, ecological balance, and preservation of wild lands.

    Of course, feel free to mention something to him or HR if it disturbing to you. Blurring it isn’t unreasonable. It probably just never occurred to anyone to ask. If you’re in an area where hunting is popular, I really wouldn’t find it surprising if this has never been raised as an issue before.

    Folks where I live would find it a little unusual, just because it’s a bit unusual to have a home office heavily themed around any hobby. But it would be considered the same as if the room was full of fishing rods and a fly-tying station.

    1. new old friend*

      Yeah, I am deeply freaked out by guns but there’s a huge difference between how I feel about hunters– who are, as you rightfully point out, usually outdoorsmen in many ways, and who I have quite a bit of common ground with– and people whose hobby is just Gun.
      (I did have a friend once who suggested I should come along hunting, because he was fine with the hunting part, but the dressing of the animals wasn’t his favorite– meanwhile I’d be happy to handle the second part but not the first!)

  33. LCH*

    Birthday cards: if you go with option no-cards and anyone gives you guff, that is the person who can take over this task.

  34. Ellen*

    For #3, what about:

    D) Get a birthday card; sign it “From all of us at the office.” Or, get a flat birthday card (instead of one that opens) and don’t sign it.

  35. AXG*

    Re LW#1: I just write a birthday card and sign it “From the Llama Groomers Team.” Works a lot better!

  36. Sleepiest Girl Out Here*

    OP#3 we just recently switched to a e-card system and it’s still not perfect, but it’s been a big weight off my shoulders. We use and it works pretty well! That way when I set it up I also set up a few reminder emails at the same time and am mostly done with it.

  37. MagicEyes*

    We had a good system for doing cards. The person who starts the card puts a post-it on it with everyone’s initials and the person to return the card to after it’s signed. People sign the card, check off their initials, and pass it on to someone else.

    1. Antilles*

      That’s how my last small office did it too. This divides up the work a lot more, because each person is responsible for passing it off to one other person.

  38. Dulcinea47*

    I had forgotten about the time a supervisee accused me of having an affair with another supervisee! The guy who accused me got in trouble for being late almost every day, or he would call in sick to the HR line, so nobody would know where he was b/c that wasn’t the line for calling in sick. He’d been told this multiple times. When HR talked to him about it his response was to accuse me of having an affair. I think I went on a walk at break time with my alleged paramour once or twice… if he’d accused me of favoritism it might have made sense, but IDK how or why he jumped straight to affair.

    Anyway, it was a temp job, so nothing much came of it. I was pretty young at the time and would have handled it differently if it happened now.

  39. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #1 – I’m not disputing LW’s side as the truth, that Flora is bonkers, and LW should go to HR, but I feel like there is more that’s been omitted. This is a small, gossipy office; is this the first time LW is hearing of the affair rumors? Its a huge escalation for Flora to go from “discovering an affair” to being “so disgusted with how it has been handled” that she quits and contacts the affair partner’s spouse without having first even shared her beliefs with anyone else. Flora must have believed that HR knew about the affair if she was disgusted about how it’s being handled? If I were LW, I would want to know if HR or other employees had been “notified” by Flora previously and what action was taken to investigate/shut down false rumors.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      I think the sequence is that Flora got this idea, and then flounced over it and it’s only after her decision to flounce and spread the incorrect rumor everywhere that others, including LW found out about it. Not that everyone’s been sharing this all along. Like Flora went out with a bang and this all blew up since.

      1. Lime green Pacer*

        Might Flora be using this supposed affair to cover the *real* reason she quit? Or maybe she was really fired?

  40. Aquamarine*

    If people really want to continue the card tradition, how about just a “from all of us” card?

    I was in an office once that switched to that when the person organizing the cards got tired of it. It was fine, and personally, I liked not having to think of something to write other than “Happy Birthday” every time.

  41. Gretta Swathmore*

    I would consider not just threatening to sue for defamation, but actually suing her. She contacted your husband and work!

  42. kiki*

    For LW, I think Alison’s advice is great! I’m also wondering if it might be worthwhile to check in with a work friend and ask them if people are really believing what Flora is saying.

    I think there’s a chance Flora is bonkers in multiple ways and people don’t really buy what she’s saying in the first place. Especially if Flora’s evidence is just, “They get lunch! He is courteous to her! Sometimes they travel for work and are booked in the same hotel!” And for her to quit over an affair that doesn’t involve her or create any real work issues is a wild overreaction. And now she’s posting about it everywhere. To me at least, that would make me supsicious of Flora.

  43. Brunelleschi*

    The large number of wrongheaded people commenting here saying there’s got to be more to LW1’s story is exactly why that letter writer needs to talk to a lawyer and then talk to hr with that lawyer’s recommendations. I mean, good grief people. Unhinged people spread untrue gossip – this is a known phenomenon.

    1. Sneaky Squirrel*

      I don’t think anyone is refuting that unhinged people spread untrue gossip/doubting LW’s side of the story or even that LW should seek a lawyer. I personally am questioning whether there were omissions because it seems unlikely that there were no signs of Flora being unhinged previously and if there were signs then LW should want to know what HR’s role was in this previously. Flora’s behavior escalated to a harassment/safety concern and if HR knew about the rumors and did nothing, they could be held liable.

    2. Roland*

      I haven’t read every single comment, but I don’t think there is a herd of people here accusing OP of anything. Most people I see with “there must be more” type comments mean “she’s been jealous of you this whole time for a dumb reason” or “you look like someone she hates” or other things that don’t reflect sadly on OP at all. It doesn’t at all mean “you must have done something to deserve it” it means “I wonder what Flora’s weird internal logic is”

      1. Oh, just me again!*

        Or, the rumor, originated with someone else, and that source needs to be tracked down and stopped. I speculated elsewhere it could have started with Newly Single Colleague, either as a deliberate lie, or as something more innocent that got exaggerated or misunderstood (maybe a confidence about an actual affair or fling that didn’t mention OP or anyone’s name).
        Even if it wasn’t Newly Single who started the rumor, there very well could be a source – other than Flora z who is still at the company. It needs to be tracked down, in order to quash the rumor effectively

  44. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    As office manager, I don’t have time to go around getting signatures, but everyone expects me to get the card… So, I do option A, “Card’s in my office come by and sign it.” “Oh, you mean I have to come to YOU?”
    No. No you don’t.

  45. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    At our agency, we leave birthday/sympathy cards on the table in the break room, with a sticky note saying who they’re for. Everyone has the chance to sign them (and if the recipient sees them, it’s no big deal), no one is stuck coordinating the signing, and the cards are much appreciated by the recipients.

    Also, although they didn’t identify themselves as male or female, I would not be at all surprised if the OP in the “card coordinator” letter is a woman. It’s 2024, not 1924, but women are still disproportionately stuck with the emotional labor both at home AND at work…sigh! But whoever the OP is, they shouldn’t have to do all the work of card coordination for the whole office.

  46. i like hound dogs*

    #4, that would irritate me to no end. I had something similar happen to me. I was asked to give an informal talk to a class over Zoom and hired a sitter to watch my very young baby while I did it. I don’t remember what exactly went wrong, but I got a similar “oops, guess it didn’t work out” message from the instructor after the tech went wrong. I was left with a very sour taste in my mouth.

    1. Your Mate in Oz*

      They’re asking someone to reminisce vaguely about their university days with no clear agenda. Easy as.

      The task is very likely going to be received as providing a short, directed discussion of useful things to know before emarking a career like the speaker’s.

      Two very different things, but I’ve definitely had university lecturers who would assume the former (based on their lectures too often seeming to follow that pattern). I’m not defending it, just trying to come up with an assumption of charity that would permit it.

  47. Glazed Donut*

    LW1 – this isn’t okay. You should tell your workplace. If they shrug it off, that should give you additional information on your work place and cause for you to consider your longevity there.

    LW3 – Cards are well-intentioned but shouldn’t be a big deal. I like the card-less cake birthday celebration idea of Alison’s. At best, cards are a little momento from a slice of time. At worse, they turn into a “who likes me and who doesn’t” that some people can read way too far into (ex: my old workplace, eyeroll). Ditch them and your responsibility so you can focus on the work that will get you a good performance review. A while ago I saw a saying about stopping work that you can’t put on your own brag sheet at performance review time. This is a fine thing to drop or offer to someone else.

  48. BecauseHigherEd*

    LW 2 – US born and raised. That’s unusual to have visible as a Zoom background, but knowing the person’s background, what you do for work, and who your coworker regularly interacts with affects this as well. I would absolutely not think that was okay for client or customer facing work in the US. If the person lives in the woods of Alaska, is a big game hunter, and primarily does independent-type work and only has internal calls with a very informal office, I’d say this is less weird. Same if, say, they do Civil War reenactments as a hobby and their office is where they keep their collection of historic muskets that no longer work. As a woman, I don’t think I’d be *happy* to see that a male colleague displayed on their wall behind them (is this a threat? political statement?) but it would also depend on the person and how they behave.

  49. fhqwhgads*

    #3 Option D: continue to get a card. No one else signs it. You sign “The NameOfCompany Team”. The end.

    That said, I’ve never gotten a birthday card from any company I worked for, large or small. Even the card I got when I had a major medical issue was signed by one person on behalf of “the team”. If cards are a thing people expect, then you give ’em a card while eliminating the signatures.

  50. Your Social Work Friend*

    LW#2: yeah, even in the US, that’s weird and over the top. I was going “not that weird” at caliber related decor (but I’m skewed because I grew up in a military family–we’re a little weird). The reloader? Yeah, not appropriate for a work meeting unless your job is, like, a ballistics expert or firearms manufacturing. And I say this as someone who’s house is full of displays that other people could find very off putting for the same reasons so I don’t work in spaces where they can be seen on camera.

    He may not realize how this comes off because we get accustomed to our environments, but it’s not out of line to talk to someone (him, a supervisor, whoever) and say “Jim’s a nice guy, but the reloader is freaking me out because of some experiences I’ve had. Can someone ask him to either move it out of frame or blur his background?” In fact it’s perfectly acceptable and someone should have told him already. It’s not flattering in a business setting to be “the gun guy” unless your job is to be “the gun guy.”

  51. MapleHill*

    LW#2- No this is not a reasonable thing in a US office (and I live in Texas). The exception could be if you work for the military or a gun-related industry. Otherwise, it’s unprofessional and a reasonable person should have the foresight to know that it could be uncomfortable or alarming to people, particularly in our political climate. Aside from controversy, he has no idea if he’s on a meeting with people who may have been victims of gun violence or military veterans with trauma who would rather not stare at guns and ammunition on a work call.

    Assuming your video conferencing tech has the ability to blur or change backgrounds, it’s not a great look (and would certainly make me question his judgment about other things in his career), but only his manager or someone higher up really has standing to make him change it. You can try to broach it in a friendly way…like “wow that collection is impressive, but a little distracting from our conversation, would you mind blurring it?” Again, a reasonable person would, but not all people are reasonable.

    LW#3- another option that my team uses-we have about the same # of people in the office. Whoever starts the card, puts the card in a manila folder with a post it on top. The post it has the initials of each person in the office to sign it (except the card’s recipient of course) and an underscore line next to it. Once you sign the card, you put a check next to your initials and take it to the desk of the next person who has not yet signed; ideally someone you know is in the office that day or at their desk; if they aren’t there, put it on their chair so they see it as soon as they return. It gets passed around until all are signed, then returned to the person who handles the cards.
    Since we all WFH at least some days now, we try to circulate it at least about a week before it’s needed, but YMMV. Of course, if you start this, let your team know the expectations and that it needs to be passed around in a timely manner. But we’ve done this 10 years without problem.

  52. SometimesMaybe*

    I am surprised by the number of people who are upset at seeing mounted inactive ammunition. I am not judging, but I am curious what peoples’ reaction to other weaponry art is, mainly tattoos. I have worked with a lot of active and former miliary and tattoos with rifles, knives, swords are ubiquitous. Do the commentators who feel fearful of mounted guns, taxidermy, ammunition art, also unable to work with people with body art of the same? This is an honest question, not a snarky remark. I am not unsettled by non-active weaponry, but I would be unsettled by offense words or gang signs.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      So a couple of things:

      First, tattoos do not have the possibility of killing someone. Guns and ammo do. Even if they are only being displayed, there is a chance of them being used for killing.

      Second, tattoos are not a living creature that have now been killed and are having their body (or part of it) on display. You want to hunt to food and/or clothing materials? Fine. But there is no need to display the animal as a trophy. Let it die in peace.

      Third, actually, yes, I would be unsettled by someone who decided to have guns and weaponry tattooed on them, at least in very visible spots. This isn’t someone who has a weapon just in case they need it for self defense, or someone who used it in combat due to need; this is someone who thinks so highly of it they feel it should be displayed permanently on their body.

      Fourth, people can be unsettled by both weaponry adoration AND offensive words and gang signs at the same time.

    2. Ferret*

      I don’t know that I’d automatically find artwork depicting weapons off-putting, it would very much depend on the artwork. But if someone has a lot of gun tattoos I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assume that person is really into guns, there might be some discomfort depending on the context but tbh if I knew they had a military background I probably wouldn’t blink. E.g I’ve worked with active military (although in a civilian context) where they were wearing camo uniforms all day and no-one cared, if someone showed up out of the blue on a regular project it would be quite odd although I am awkward enough that I probably wouldn’t mention anything

      I think “unable to work with” is a pretty unfair strawman for what for the vast majority of people commenting here would be at most some mild discomfort or possibly just a note to self that the co-worker is coming from a very different culture and political background.

    3. Your Social Work Friend*

      I think it’s very context dependent. Ammunition, taxidermy, etc, don’t bother me in most contexts but if you have firearms displayed in your home that aren’t obviously a display piece (as in mounted somehow) or an antique, if I don’t know you well I’m not going to be comfortable if I’m there in person.

      There’s a big difference in my opinion of, say, a tattoo with a sword or one of a knife with blood on it. The intent very much matters. Is the image of a gun part of, say, some sort of seal or symbol? Is it depicted lying down or pointed at something/someone? I think that’s really where the line is.

    4. metadata minion*

      It would depend a lot on the art and the taxidermy. I am disturbed at seeing actual objects that could be used to kill people, and which are primarily intended as weapons.

      I think taxidermy is a fascinating art form, but it ranges from “preserving the beauty and scientific value of the natural world” to “showing off how much of a Manly Man I am because I shot a deer”.

  53. BusterBean*

    LW 1, go see a lawyer immediately. I dealt with a similar situation and I am so glad I consulted a lawyer. I put it off for a long time hoping the situation would blow over, but it never did. As soon as I spoke with a lawyer I felt loads better. The lawyer was not phased by the situation, knew exactly what to do, and best of all, I had someone in my corner who could advise me and help me forge an effective path out of the crazy situation. I had a misperception that bringing in a lawyer would be a big deal and might escalate things or might make me look bad. I also worried that my case wasn’t “bad enough” to consult a lawyer. I learned that consulting with a lawyer is simply an avenue to get good information and discover your options. It’s not an escalation or an irreversible decision. It’s a really prudent step to protect yourself when something this crazy is going on. Also second the advice to go to HR. Document everything, save screenshots of everything, and start keeping a log of incidents. In my situation, HR appreciated having the info and being looped in so that they had all the context in case the harasser tried to contact people in my organization. HR was able to help protect me. They also connected me with resources in my organization, and my company was able to set up an email filter so that any emails the harasser sent to our domain would be filtered into a monitoring inbox rather than going to the intended recipient. Your company’s resources and response might be different, but I encourage you to bring this to them and ask for their help in firewalling this person’s access to your work life. Solidarity! You deserve all the resources available to help you quash this and if you reach out for assistance it’s likely there will be support for you.

    1. Oh, just me again!*

      If a lie, he might have selected you because you are known to be flirty, friendly, or approachable/sympathetic and it made the story easier to believe. Or might have selected you because you are known for being modest, demure, quiet, or aloof, which makes the story more dramatic and the conquest more. . . something. (They get you coming or going!)

  54. Nancy*

    LW3: Just put the card somewhere and email people to ask them to stop by and sign by X date. If someone doesn’t because they were sick/on vacation/forgot/don’t care, so be it. It’s not a big deal. This is how it’s been done at all my jobs, except my current one, where no one bothers with cards.

  55. Oh, just me again!*

    OP 1, I think you really need to involve HR because there is at least an even change that the story originated with someone who IS still at the organization – if so, it’s most likely you alleged affair partner, Mr. Newly Single Colleague.

    It’s possible Newly Single lied, as a boast, like high-school boys ashamed of being virgins have been known to do (He’s Newly Single, so supposed to be having a wild sex-life!)

    But, more insidious, he may have confided in someone about an affair/fling or even just a flirtation that got exaggerated, without naming any name, and Mr. Confidant was not as discreet as he should have been. The story spread, and speculation landed on you, and as it spread further, it was accepted as settled fact. (The actual partner in crime might not even work for your organization. Maybe someone Newly Single met in the city you both traveled to, possibly on a different trip.)

    1. Oh, just me again!*

      If a lie, he might have selected you because you are known to be flirty, friendly, or approachable/sympathetic and it made the story easier to believe. Or might have selected you because you are known for being modest, demure, quiet, or aloof, which makes the story more dramatic and the conquest more. . . something. (They get you coming or going!)

  56. Carole from Accounts*

    Our office struggled with this for ages until we switched to digital cards, such a time saver.

  57. A person*

    This is maybe unpopular opinion, but if there isn’t like a general administrative role in the office, then birthday stuff either shouldn’t happen or it should fall to someone higher up that has overall authority in the business. Now… that person could choose to institute like a rotating schedule of who helps with it, but short of that, just assigning it to a person instead of a role is asking for trouble.

    My workplace does have an admin role that handles stuff like that (although in the last couple years we stopped doing birthday stuff altogether and, well, it was fine, no one cared), but even with that, they have a lot to do so whatever can be done to simple the process up is good… we used to have a running list of birthdays that the admin kept (part of onboarding was updating the list) and any month that had at least one birthday on it had icecream. Not even like formal, she’d just get ice cream, put it in the freezer, then send an email to the team that said “ice cream in the freezer for Joe and Sally’s birthdays this month, help yourself and wish them a happy birthday”. That worked just fine for our team for years. Haha.

  58. Deb*

    My ex-husband shot and killed the husband of one of his subordinates. This was over 40 years ago. It was self defense. I was informed by a college classmate that another college classmate had said that I had been having an affair with the dead man. I found the phone number of the gossipper, called her up and told her that not only had I not been having an affair with this man, I had, as far as I knew, never been in this man’s presence, had never met him, and had never even seen him as far as I knew. She refused to tell me who told her but I asked her to call the person and set them straight. I think that stopped it. A lawyer’s warning letter would have been my next step if I could have found out the initial gossip creator.
    So, that experience would make me extremely uncomfortable seeing guns as a backdrop on a zoom meeting. For all the folks proclaiming that gus are legal so show them proudly, let me just remind you how foolish it is to advertise your gun ownership. Stolen guns are highly fungible. Advertising your gun ownership might make you think it would deter thefts, but it would not deter smart criminals who could rob you while you are not at home or could plan a successful home invasion. If those guns are used by your kid to murder someone, then you could be liable for not securing them properly. Rational gun owners lock them in a safe until they are needed and they don’t brag about how weaponed up they are. It would, however, make me never allow my kids to go to your house and I would not go to your house either. I would also be very wary in my interactions with you. It’s easy to trigger gun violence in individuals who long to prove how tough they are.

    1. New Mom of (1 5/9)*

      How horrible, I’m so sorry for your husband.

      (I admit I thought that was going to tie back to the affair letter and not the gun letter.)

      1. Deb*

        It was a horrible experience. I had to take leave myself and got years of therapy. My ex escalated his drinking after that. Violence affects the whole family, not just the participants. I felt a lot of sympathy for the dead man’s wife and family. The shooting would never had happened if my ex and the dead man not been so macho and hell bent on proving how tough they were.

    2. Daisy*

      What a horrible experience. So sorry you went through that.

      I absolutely agree with you about how foolish it is to advertise gun ownership. Rational gun owners don’t brag and use appropriate safety measures.

  59. Affair Experienced.....*

    OP1 I will be super honest here and admit that I had an affair with a married man in grad school. People at grad school heard part of the story, so they speculated about who I was seeing and rumored it was another employee in our department who I worked with, instead of the real person. I couldn’t set the record straight personally and it was very distressing to think they thought it was this other, innocent person who was happily married, etc. I just feel terrible for what you’re going through… I was already making a mess of things for many other people, but the fact that folks speculated was so gross and stupid I couldn’t believe it. How could they do that? Making that up was worse than the two of us making our own bad decisions for our own lives.

    For anyone who cares, he got divorced and is now my husband and everyone has mostly forgotten about it. He did a lot of therapy.

    1. anon for this*

      I wonder if your now-husband’s ex would agree that “everyone has mostly forgotten about it”

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Or the married person she allowed rumors to be spread about to protect the married man she was actually sleeping with. I’m sorry, but wouldn’t “people at grad school heard part of the story” mean that you TOLD people you were sleeping with a married man? This didn’t just passively happen and all you could do was stare on and ask “How could they do that?” to the poor innocent person who you were perfectly happy to let take the rap for your married boyfriend’s choice to betray his spouse.

        1. Affair Experienced.....*

          We were seen together by some people. I am not proud of it, but we’re happy now and his family knows what happened and we all worked through it. He should have gotten divorced before we got together, and that was definitely going to happen. I don’t if its that much worse that he got with me before he ended it with her. Some people would say yes, but if you’re betrayed by someone and they weren’t going to stay your partner anyway? IDK. We definitely made mistakes and I honestly don’t care that much about his ex-wife since their relationship was so bad.

          Still argue defaming the innocent people is worse, and that is my support of OP1.

    2. biobotb*

      Wait, why couldn’t you set the record straight about not having an affair with the person you weren’t having an affair with?

    3. Roland*

      > Making that up was worse than the two of us making our own bad decisions for our own lives.

      Disagree, because it wasn’t just your own lives, it was also his spouse’s life. I’m not saying you’re an irredeemable person, people are complex – but no, making up rumors is not worse than cheating on your spouse.

  60. jm*

    For the professor who blew you off, I’d send him an invoice and let the alumni association know for future reference that you would like to attend events and need notice if he’s going to be there.

  61. cz*

    OK the men organizing birthdays reminds me of Jim and Dwight on the Office LOL.

    The gun collectible wall decor is in HIS OWN HOME for goodness’ sake. If someone was that sensitive to it maybe he can just blur his background.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      As others have pointed out, being in his own home is different when he’s using it for a WORK background. He should absolutely blur it.

    2. Observer*

      The gun collectible wall decor is in HIS OWN HOME for goodness’ sake.

      It’s also HIS OFFICE where he is having work meetings. That means that it needs to be work appropriate.

      maybe he can just blur his background.

      Yes, he should do something like that. Without waiting for someone to ask him.

  62. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    The part that fascinates me is how Flora is so allegedly offended by this alleged affair, that she *quit her job* over it. Never mind the gossip and the slander, that’s a terrible person being terrible, and that is definitely damaging to both the OO and the innocent also-slandered coworker and the workplace involved—-but what is the rationale behind *quitting*, which presumably affects her *own* income and livelihood?? How does that hurt the OP or really anyone else? Like what, hold your breath until you turn blue? WTF

  63. Michelle MyBell*

    Re 4 – professor who blew off an alum. You should contact the school’s alumni office. I oversee an alumni office and I would definitely want to know if an alumnus had been treated so poorly. If the school’s alumni office is a good one (and most are!) they will want to be aware that a new professor is treating an alum’s time and effort so cavalierly and potentially damaging your relationship with the school.

    1. Deb*

      Great idea. Also, the LW could contact the Department Head or Dean with an email explaining the situation. If I was a Department Head, I would want to know this.

  64. MMS*

    I was forced into being the birthday card signature collector for a job I had years ago. It was a giant pain and of course no one ever got me a birthday card. I brought it up to my boss and he said I was welcome to get a birthday card for myself and ask people to sign it.

    1. Magdalena*

      Oh no. So sorry.

      I was in a similar boat – nobody was officially in charge of getting people cards and gifts for huge milestone accomplishments (think getting an advanced degree or certification – which was a huge part of our professional development) but the last few times I volunteered to get the gift and it was a professionally themed one each time. When it was my turn to be the recipient, I got a bottle of wine even though literally everyone on my team knew I did not drink, to the point people regularly ribbed me about it.
      It stung, and I stopped volunteering.

  65. Kristin*

    OP #1 – Oh, good grief, “lora is now leaving reviews on sites referencing the affair”? It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t reference you – go to HR and shut this down immediately. And this sounds retaliatory, not sincere. Don’t twist yourself in pretzels asking why she believes this, because it sounds pretty cynical to me.

  66. Ash*

    Why does everyone need to sign the birthday card? Why can’t the office manager just write “happy birthday from all of us”?

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