should my employer cover vet bills caused by my job, my terrible coworker listed me as a reference, and more

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

1. Can I ask my employer to cover the costs of vet bills caused by my job?

I work in a job that requires going to other people’s houses, and a few months ago when I went in to visit a client, their pet had a pretty bad flea infestation. I followed the correct health and safety protocols and went straight home after this client to get changed and immediately put everything I had been wearing in the wash.

Apparently it wasn’t enough because a few hours later I discovered insect bites on my arms and face, and found a few insect bites on my own pet. Over the next few days, my pet quickly became unwell and started displaying the exact same symptoms as the client’s had. It’s been a few months and several trips to the vet and my pet is still having ongoing issues that the vet has said are most likely caused by an allergy to fleas.

I mentioned this to my boss at the time, but I didn’t say anything about the money as I didn’t realize the issue would be ongoing and cost so much. However, while I can technically cover the costs of the vet bills, it’s starting to add up and is eating into savings I was putting aside with the hope of buying my first home.

Can I explain to my boss how much this has cost and ask if the company will cover even some of the vet bills, or will I need to just write this off as an occupational hazard of working with other people? My pet stays completely indoors and very rarely has health issues so, while possible, I think it’s unlikely they could have caught fleas elsewhere and I find it too much of a coincidence that it happened the next day. I guess I’m feeling resentful that, working in such a low-paid industry to start with, I’m now having to carry the cost of issues that were absolutely no fault of my own. My boss is very reasonable and pragmatic and has been very supportive towards me on other issues.

Well … you can ask. If the fleas had caused your own medical bills, you might have a stronger case. A pet might be one level too removed for them to act on, but you can still raise it. They may or may not agree, but it’s not an inherently unreasonable thing to ask about.

Frame it as, “My work brought me into contact with a client with fleas, which then came home with me, and I’ve had $X in vet bills over the last few months because of the issues it caused. Is that a cost the company would consider helping me cover, since it directly resulted from that client visit?”

There’s a good chance they’ll say no because you could come into contact with fleas in so many places, just going about daily life … but it’s not an outrageous thing to raise, as long as you’re prepared for that.

2. Coworkers want to ask about my weight loss

In the past year, I’ve lost a pretty significant amount of weight. Fortunately it’s been intentional and healthy, and I’m quite proud of finally taking better care of myself.

My coworkers have been extremely complimentary, especially as the weather has gotten warmer and the changes more visible. However, I am struggling with how to (1) take the compliments gracefully and (2) end the discussion quickly. Several have asked what I’ve done to lose the weight, and a simple “diet and exercise” response is often followed up with more pressing questions about my specific program. I would rather not answer that for several reasons — mostly I think it veers into pretty personal territory, and I don’t want to seem preachy. I also am keenly aware that weight is a sensitive subject for a lot of people, and I think open office discussions about weight loss/fitness/diet could create a really unwelcoming atmosphere that I do not want to contribute to.

Some coworkers also follow up with comments denigrating themselves, which I also hate, and am not quite sure how to respond to.

Any scripts/tips? Everyone has been very kind and no one means any harm, so while I want to be clear in my boundary, I don’t want to seem cold.

Some options:

“Oh, I hate talking about bodies and diet. But I wanted to ask you about (subject change).”
“I’d actually be so grateful not to have to think about it at work! But I wanted to tell you about (subject change).”
“Oh, I’m trying to keep a resolution to avoid diet talk, but I wanted to ask you about (subject change).”

If you follow it up with a warm (subject change), you’re not going to seem cold.

3. Can I ask management if they have plans to improve?

I’ve been working part-time at a small business for about a year and a half. I noticed issues right away — the facility was disorganized, internal communication was inconsistent, equipment was dirty or broken — but our industry was hit hard by the pandemic, and the manager gave me the impression that certain aspects of the business had been scaled back accordingly, so I assumed the chaos was temporary. Plus, it was still a big improvement from my previous situation.

Fast forward a year, and it’s exactly as chaotic as it was when I started. I’ve come to suspect that the standards and procedures which I assumed fell by the wayside during the height of Covid likely never existed at all. Basic elements of the work are simply not being done, and what is being done is not being done well. There is a pervasive attitude of “eh, someone else will fix it.”

Well, that someone is usually me, and it’s starting to wear me down. I do what I can in the time I have, but it feels like trying to move a mountain one pebble at a time. Most of my coworkers spend their shifts watching TV or browsing social media while doing as little work as they can. The manager knows, but I can’t tell if he’s given up, doesn’t care, or just doesn’t view assigning work and overseeing its quality as within the scope of his responsibilities.

I’m about to take six weeks of unpaid medical leave and they’ve agreed to hold my job (not a legal obligation, as we’re too small for FMLA), but I’m trying to figure out if I want to come back, or if my time might be better spent looking for other opportunities.

I enjoy the work, I like the hours and the commute, and I get along with my coworkers and manager, despite their slacker tendencies. Both the manager and the owner have been very complimentary about my performance, including acknowledging my above average effort with a 5% raise. I could see this place as a solid starting point for the career I want to build … but not without some changes to the way things are being run. Is there a courteous and professional way to ask the manager if he and the owner are genuinely content with the state of things? Should I be clear with them that if the answer is yes, I’ll be moving on? Is it even a conversation worth having?

It’s not a conversation you should put much stock in. They are content with the state of things — or at least they’re content enough not to do anything about it. That’s not going to change because an employee complains. The changes you want to see are major, fundamental ones that would take real buy-in from the top (like an entirely different philosophy about managing and a completely different bar for performance). They’re satisfied with how things are and/or aren’t capable of/likely to change things. Assume what you see is what you will continue to get, and make your own decisions accordingly.

In fact, I’d argue it’s a bad idea to even try to have the conversation because the best case scenario is that they sound interested in changing things, which then strings you along and you stay longer even though nothing meaningful will actually change.

can bad employees and bad managers change?

4. My terrible coworker listed me as a reference

I have received a phone call from a woman in my office. She “forgot” that she put me down as a reference on her resume, and now she is applying to jobs. She wanted to give me a heads-up that she had already told the places she had applied to (and had first round interviews with) that I would be expecting their phone calls.

I agreed in the moment, because I didn’t know how to tell her no and was a little blindsided. Obviously this is poor manners on her part, but that’s not the reason I am writing.

She is a terrible employee. She has been on a PIP for a long time. She has been with us for nearly two years and doesn’t manage any of her own projects while everyone else had their own project caseload within three months of being hired. She regularly misses work without notice, and recently took over a month of leave without telling anyone she would be doing so. This resulted in a welfare check by the police, which is how we discovered she had left the country. She is scheduled for 8 am – 2 pm, and today she showed up at 9 and left at 1:30. Frankly, if I had it my way, she would have been fired eight months ago when these issues started to appear.

Because we are in a small office, the owner of the business is the only “senior” who could provide a reliable reference but I can understand why she doesn’t want to use the owner! I am a little conflicted on how I can proceed. My gut instinct is to tell any reference calls, “I am not her manager so I can’t tell you about the quality of her work. However I can tell you that she has worked for this company since [X date] and was a friendly coworker.” Is this the best course of action? We don’t have an HR department to refer back to because of the size of the company. My partner told me to tell the owner but I am reluctant to do that.

Don’t say that! That’s a mildly good reference — not a very useful one because it’s so mild and contains almost no information — but it’s certainly closer to “good” than “bad” so it would be misleading. There’s no point in relying on references if people are going to omit major problems like that. Just be honest, like you’d have wanted her references to do for your organization before they hired her: “If she had told me she was offering me as a reference, I would have suggested that she not list me. I’m not her manager, but what I’ve seen of her work hasn’t been good. I don’t feel well positioned to say more, but I’d suggest you talk with her manager if you want a reference for her work here.” If you don’t feel comfortable being that direct, the next best thing would be to just say, “I’m not her manager, and I don’t feel equipped to comment.”

Ideally you’d also go back to your coworker and say, “Now that I’ve had a chance to think about this, I don’t feel comfortable being a reference; please don’t offer my name. I’d suggest using (owner).”

5. How do I network with former clients?

I was recently laid off from my role within an agency where I was a well-regarded and high performing member of a creative team. The layoffs (mine and the rest of the small creative team I was a part of) were sudden and very surprising. Because of some savings and being able to collect unemployment, I was able to take a little time off to recoup and reset, but I’m now to the point of needing to find my next role. From my work at the agency I had very good relationships with some of our clients. These are people who know my work and who I collaborated with closely. As I started my job search, I wasn’t exactly sure if or how I could use this network of former clients.

For example, I don’t think the layoffs and restructuring of the agency are common knowledge and I think will be fairly shocking to these former clients and I’m not sure how appropriate it is to reveal that information in a networking request. Outside of the layoff issue, I don’t even know what the specific email/request could be — “hello, I am now unemployed — do you or anyone you know have a job for me?” I’ve never leveraged my network to find a job before and for some reason I just can’t quite figure out the best way to start those conversations.

You don’t need to open with the layoff, but you also don’t need to hide it if asked. You can open with some short pleasantries and then say something like, “I wanted to let you know that I’ve left Agency and I’m figuring out my next move. I’m looking for (describe what you’re looking for). If anything like that comes to mind, I’d love to hear about it.”

If they ask why you left, it’s fine to say they laid off your team; don’t get into lots of big emotions about it, but factually relaying it is fine. It’s what happened, and you’re not obligated to your former company to hide that on their behalf.

{ 289 comments… read them below }

  1. Garblesnark*

    LW4, you can also simply not answer the reference calls.

    For sure also let your coworker know you’re not comfortable with it.

    But as someone who has checked many, many references, simply failing to answer the phone and also failing to return the call is a tried and true, highly reliable method for getting out of providing a reference. (And yes, if you do answer, you can say, “I can’t speak to her work. Have a nice day, bye!”)

    1. Jamie Starr*

      Or, since she’s a terrible co-worker, give her a glowing recommendation and maybe they’ll hire her and she’ll no longer be your problem! This comes with it’s own risks though — knowingly lying, running the risk of damaging your reputation if it’s a small industry, and possibly bad karma.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        As tempting as the idea may be, this is a bad idea for the reasons you mention, and it rarely works. When one person gives a glowing recommendation for a candidate, and the rest give mild ones – or confirmation of employment at best – that’s going to stand out in a bad way. And people like the OP’s co-workers rarely have more than one glowing recommendation, if that.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Best case scenario for everyone involved I think would be for coworker to apply for more jobs that don’t require references and to do a better job wherever she lands next so that she doesn’t have this problem in the future.

      2. Bruce*

        Don’t give a good reference to a bad person. I gave a good reference to someone I thought I knew well, but when he was at the new job he misbehaved very badly and was fired for cause. Even though I had no clue he would do this, my name was mud with the hiring manager forever after. It made me much more careful about references in general, I turned down one person I sort of worked with decades ago because I could not really vouch for him, even though we’d been on good terms.

      3. L Miller*

        I worked for an up and coming clothier back in that day. Our star salesperson turned out to be a theif.
        They let him go but gave a good reference that got him a job at a National retailer.
        And he even came back to visit our store to tell us all about it and get kudos and hugs from his friends.
        It was disturbing.
        Unleashing a thief may get rid of the immediate problem that’s true, but it then just becomes everyone else’s problem.
        And it causes morale problems at the workplace. People who are emboldened think, well he got away with it maybe I can too and the honest employees feel there’s no reward to being honest.
        Happened again at another small mom and pop business I worked at. The thief was a teen whose mom also worked there, so they did nothing.

      4. umami*

        Please don’t do this! I have been the victim of that, and it didn’t go well for the employee or the reference (a colleague at a different location). Very unusual situation, but the reference’s boss unexpectedly ended up becoming my boss and was not at all surprised when one of the first things I brought to him was performance issues with the employee. Even worse, I had access to the employee’s performance evaluations, which also were glowing. Unfortunately, the employee was placed on a PIP, could not show improvement, and had his contract terminated.

      5. Sweet Fancy Pancakes*

        Oh, please don’t do that! Several years ago I was hiring and got a pretty good reference for a candidate that looked great on paper- the reference said he was a great guy who did good work and he had enjoyed working with him- and within days of hiring him we ran into problems. Then I heard through the grapevine that he had been super flakey at his old job and they were happy to stick another department with him (county government, but different agencies).

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          My husband’s school got a principal whose last school lauded him to the skies. They should have asked the school *before* that one–the principal was not well organized and did a Crash Landing thing that got in the paper. Apparently the former school was practicing Greyhound Therapy to get rid of the principal.

          1. Sleeve McQueen*

            Haha maybe it’s because my greyhound is lying behind my chair as I typed but I was very confused about what this term meant until I searched it. The bus company, not the dog :)

            1. Sleeve McQueen*

              Licking their face until the leave? Wagging their tail so hard it gives you bruises?

      6. Ellie*

        If OP is considering this route, I’d suggest she use the words she suggested in the letter, ‘Can’t speak for her work but she was a friendly co-worker’. It is much better than lying and will have the same effect.

        Frankly though, my go-to is, ‘I’m afraid that person didn’t ask me if I would be a reference and I’d rather not provide one’. That will tell them everything they need to know. Or, just screen your calls and don’t pick up.

        1. No Lizards Allowed*

          In a similar situation, I once told the caller that I wasn’t comfortable speaking to his work but that “I was very surprised to hear that he listed me as a reference.”

    2. Bee Eye Ill*

      I was recently put into the same position of someone listing me as a reference even though they have never been a direct report. The requester had also been recently terminated after a series of issues. I would definitely not take that call.

      1. Garblesnark*

        I’m not personally of the opinion that the only one ever qualified to give a reference is the immediate supervisor. In matrix organizations, for example, there’s often multiple people overseeing the work, but only one considered to have the employee as a “direct report.” When I’m hiring a people manager, I try to hear from people they’ve managed about how they do at that. Freelancers often don’t exactly have an immediate supervisor, but I don’t believe that has to mean they live in a referenceless wasteland. And I’m not opposed at all to peer references as part of a set of references that also includes non-peer references; peers have a helpful perspective, especially when I’m hiring for roles where someone needs to get along well with a team of peers.

        But yeah, you don’t need to take the call. Phone calls are generally not hostage situations, reference checks included.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          The owner is best qualified to give the reference here because he’s the one who was sufficiently satisfied with her work not to fire her.

        2. Magpie*

          I’m surprised to hear people saying references should only be managers. In my industry (tech), peer references are very common. Managers are often not very technical so can’t speak to a tech worker’s technical abilities as well as a peer can. Outside of that, though, what about people who have only had one job or been at their job for so long that previous managers might no longer be able to offer a current reference? They might not want to offer their current manager as a reference for fear of letting on that they’re looking so they’d need to look outside managers to find references.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I don’t think anyone is saying references should always be managers, just in this case. Peer references are, indeed, common in many industries and can be great if the peer is willing to provide one. OP’s situation is different.

          2. Michelle Smith*

            I agree, I have mainly worked in government and nonprofit legal offices and I’ve successfully used a peer reference. It was helpful specifically because this person shared an office with me (as in we had a small group of four of us in a room inside of the larger government office) for three straight years. He knew exactly what I was like to work with and share a small space with (common here in NYC) and how I interacted with clients, coworkers, seniors, supervisors, judges, etc. I also used my direct supervisor and a previous supervisor that had moved on to another job, but there wouldn’t have been anyone else that made sense to use. It had been my first job out of law school and it would have been weird for me to go back to an internship supervisor or a supervisor from before law school to comment on how I practiced as an attorney – they would have no idea!

          3. WantonSeedStitch*

            It really depends on your role and on how you interact with your peers–and also, what you want them to be able to speak to. If I were applying for a new job at a different place and didn’t want to list my manager as a reference, I might ask a peer to provide a reference, and let the employer I want to work with know that this person can speak to my skills at collaboration and process co-creation, for example, though they might not be the best judge of my specific, say, teapot-painting skills. But when I’m the director of teapot painting and all the other teapot painters report to me, it’s better to get a reference from the director of lid design with whom I collaborate significantly.

      2. Sloanicota*

        I mean, to be fair, from her perspective, I get it. She’s not doing well in her current job, probably doesn’t like it, and wants to get out. But she needs a reference and can’t provide her boss. Using a peer is a pretty classic move in this situation and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it recommended here. This person’s mistake was using a peer who doesn’t like them either, and not even giving them the heads up! She is definitely hoping OP will just cave to the awkward pressure. Up to OP how she wants to respond to that.

        1. Lydia*

          Yes, to this. I’ve both been a peer reference and had my peers be references in situations where they could speak to my work, or my work was good, but my relationship with my manager wasn’t great and that’s why I was leaving. I’ve also usually only used people I knew well, or with whom I was already friends. And I always ask first. OP’s coworker has none of those things going for her, so OP should proceed in the least awkward way.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Quite honestly, the mere fact that she “forgot” to ask would make me bristle even if I was fairly neutral towards her before that.
          The sister of a friend did that to me. I had met the sister precisely once, and since she only spoke one language that I didn’t speak, I couldn’t really say anything about her. Next thing I know, a young mother is calling me, apparently she put my name down as a reference for a babysitting job.
          I wasn’t even a mother at that point. I just told the young mother that I didn’t have children. She started asking whether I thought the woman might make a good babysitter and I just said “I only met her once, and this phone call has proved to you that she’s dishonest, I really don’t know why you’d want her to look after your baby.

        3. Cat Tree*

          It’s not really a matter of “doesn’t like” though. I like plenty of people who I wouldn’t be a good reference for because their poor performance.

          I understand that she’s in a difficult spot because it’s likely that nobody could give her a good reference. But she’s not the one who wrote in. She put LW in a difficult position and that’s who we’re advising here.

      3. Kara*

        To the LW, I am probably borrowing trouble here, but I would be especially careful in this case because I think there’s a chance that your coworker put you down as their manager. They know they can’t use their actual manager, and they were willing to attempt to strong-arm you into providing a reference in the first place. It doesn’t seem like that much of a leap to go further and tell the new company that you were their manager and rely on you being hesitant to be ‘rude’ when that gets sprung on you during the call.

        1. Garblesnark*

          If you’re going to have someone lie about being your manager, maybe make sure it’s someone who likes you enough to lie for you or someone who benefits from you having money. Maybe your best friend, or the person who sells you Yu-Gi-Oh cards behind the former Walgreens.

      4. Bruce*

        One time a problematic coworker left, and then several of us got reference check calls… I was not very positive, same for a couple of the others. It turned out the guy had not given our names, the reference checker was cold calling and pretending we’d been listed as references. His offer got cancelled and he threatened to sue the company. This was my second bad experience with giving references, lesson learned is to only give references if someone has asked me to first, and generally only respond if I can give a good reference. If the person who is doing the reference check is a long standing connection I know well I might bend this rule, but it has not come up in a while.

    3. Formerly Ella Vader*

      Yeah, LW4, I was also going to encourage you to call her back and say, “Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I realize that I’m not a good person for this because I can’t really give you a very good reference. You’d probably want to choose someone else, after this – and do check with them before giving out their name and contact info.”

      Then when/if the prospective employers call, Alison’s script is great. Flag that she didn’t ask you and wouldn’t have accepted, and suggest they talk to her manager.

      1. HonorBox*

        I think this is a great suggestion. Coworker needs to know that you’re not in a position to not give a great reference. Perhaps suggest they make an adjustment to their reference list right away so you can potentially dodge some of the calls.

    4. HonorBox*

      While I think this could be a possible solution, if the LW is in a situation like mine, not answering calls might be more difficult. I have a position where my phone often rings and I’m not sure who is calling. I can’t just not answer the phone. Letting it go to VM and returning calls can be a pain in the butt, so I’ll usually just answer. I’d answer and give an honest assessment.

      That said, I think LW could definitely go back to this coworker and let her know that you’re unable to provide a good reference and suggest she use someone else. And if someone calls, let her know you’re going to provide an honest reference that won’t be glowing.

    5. BW*

      There’s such a thing as “damning with faint praise.” Don’t say she was bad. That could get you sued if it got back to her. Just say you’re not in a position to discuss her work, and that they should talk to her manager, and then hangup. It will make the hiring manager wonder why you were put down as a reference. But agree that the best thing is to ask the person to not use you as a reference.

      1. MassMatt*

        Far too many people are afraid of giving a bad reference (even though it’s deserved) because they are afraid of not being nice or of being sued.

        There is no law that says you cannot tell the truth when giving a reference. As long as the things you say are true and from your direct knowledge, the truth is a perfect defense.

        This person is a terrible employee and deserves to have that reputation follow her, and new employers that take the time to check references deserve to get honest feedback and not a bunch of polite non-committal euphemisms that dance around the issue.

        The fear of lawsuits here is unfounded. I doubt this part time worker could afford an attorney, or that any attorney would take her case, but if it ever went to court she would lose.

        1. Bruce*

          My company was threatened with a lawsuit after some of us gave a guy poor references, we were told no more references after that.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Same with my old job. The policy was that we could confirm a person’s dates of employment, PERIOD. I thought it was ridiculous and still do,

      2. fhqwhgads*

        There’s no need to say she was bad OR give faint praise. Tell the truth. The thing LW included that she’s been there two years and still can’t manager her own projects when most people in that role do so within 3 months. If anything else OP might say is more subjective, then say nothing else. But if that one thing is objectively true, sure, say it and then say you can’t speak to more than that.

    6. Office Lobster DJ*

      If LW4 must take the call, I actually think their instinct was mostly spot on. “I’m not in a position to comment on her work, but I can confirm she worked here. I really can’t say anything more, bye.” is probably what I’d say if I found myself in this situation. If the coworker were a terrible or unsafe human, that’s certainly reason to say more, but this sounds more like a really lousy coworker in a poorly-managed setting. (Maybe this calculation is different for a manager vs a peer reference)

      I don’t know if I’d point out they should be talking to her manager, because the next question is apt to be asking LW for the manager’s contact information, dragging LW even further into this quagmire.

      And yes, absolutely tell the coworker that this cannot happen in the future. The exact approach is up to LW and what they can live with, since they’re still stuck working with her at the moment. I think the script in the answer does an excellent job of making that point while not getting into the blunt WHY they are uncomfortable being a reference. LW should probably be prepared with an answer — or a dodge — if they are pressed further, but starting by listing her shortcomings while they still need to work together for the indefinite future is probably not a great idea.

      1. Not Alison*

        Maybe just say the co-worker was “employed” there as it sounds like co-worker doesn’t do much “work”.

        1. A Significant Tree*

          Reminds me of the old joke reference, “You’d be lucky to get Coworker to work for you”

    7. JSPA*

      I think you can pause, for several beats, then say, “in fairness to all concerned, I think I should only confirm that she has been employed here since [date], and that her demeanor is upbeat.”

      ” Someone who has managed her might be able to comment on her work product, independence, and reliability, but I can’t vouch for those.”

      If they mention the role, there is, “I would not have envisioned her in that role, but I suppose people do sometimes rise to the occasion.”

      If they can’t read between those lines… that’s on them.

    8. Lisa Simpson*

      Yes, I had a job where I employed a lot of young people (16-23) and I’d get reference checks for them as they grew up and moved further out into the world.

      Some of them were not good workers and fully deserved a bad reference, but I always felt that giving someone a bad reference for who they were as a teenager wasn’t fair, so I would just not return the call. If they grew up, great! I’m sure they’re getting a whole bunch of new references to vouch for them. If they haven’t? Well, then I’m sure they’ve got someone who knew them more recently to speak to how awful they are.

    9. Just Another Cog*

      I did this! Had a manager I knew in a competitor’s office call me to ask about a report at my former employer. Since that former employee never asked me to vouch for her, I was caught off guard. I hadn’t communicated with her for at least ten years as we had both moved on from our old company. She was horrid when I was her boss! I just stated that since it had been so long since we worked together and I didn’t have access to the old company personnel files, I couldn’t remember much about her work. I suggested they call the HR person at the old company for better information. I was pissed that she used me as a reference, though!

  2. Jessica*

    on the vet question, I am thinking the employer should at least be on the hook for treating the house. once a house has fleas it’s HARD to get rid of them. that may help the pet overcome the fleas as well.

    1. Nebula*

      Yes, the fact this has continued for a few months suggests they are pretty embedded in the home. I’m guessing the LW has tried the usual treatments for the house (if not, then give it a go LW!), and that puts them in a stronger position to ask the employer as well. Then it’s I got fleas from this client, they’re in my home, I’ve tried sorting it myself and it hasn’t worked, I need professional help to make sure they don’t come back. As Alison says, the worst they can do is say no.

    2. TooTiredToThink*

      Literally not something I’ve ever thought of; but I do wonder (and hope) that home health companies have policies on what to do if the employee encounters fleas, bedbugs, etc… Those have got to be common risks associated with home visits.

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        Yeah, I’d hope there are policies for this. I know Alison says it’s easy to encounter fleas, but in a lifetime of having indoor cats we’ve only had fleas once, when a visitor who had a dog brought them in.

      2. Artemesia*

        A friend’s condo building was infested when a social worker brought them home from her job and they spread to several apartments before being controlled. They are insidious and can spread before it is terribly obvious. It was incredibly expensive to deal with.

      3. Be Gneiss*

        LW says they followed health and safety protocols and immediately went home to shower and wash their clothes, so it sounds like the do have policies on what to do.

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

          Does anyone else think if this happens again that the OP should go to the office to change?

          1. JustaTech*

            I was thinking that, but then I think “but what about their car?” – if the car is upholstered then the fleas could get into all of that as well, so you’d still have an infestation risk.
            So really you’d have to try and change out of your clothes before you get into the car and double bag the clothes in trash bags until they can be washed.

      4. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, my mom got bedbugs from a home health worker. She can’t afford to pay what it costs to get rid of them.

      5. Yoyoyo*

        The policy is that you could have gotten bedbugs anywhere so the organization will not pay for remediation. This has been true everywhere I’ve worked doing home visits. We did have trainings on how to reduce the risk of bringing them home, but I have known people who unfortunately ended up with infestations of their own.

      6. Yikes Stripes*

        I’ve been working as a home health aide for the last three years as I go through school and LOLOLOLOL no, no they do not have policies on those subjects. At no point in training has it ever come up, not once.

        I have four cats, two of which are violently allergic to fleas, and while they’re on meds year round, I do have a policy of not taking on any clients with pets.

    3. Dawnshadow*

      I’ve had to get rid of fleas a couple times when I took in strays, and I’ve had to get rid of lice back when my kids were in elementary. Lice were more difficult because my kid kept getting re-exposed.

      With both, what I found worked well and with the least amount of hassle, was the insecticidal drops to put between the cats’ shoulders, and the insecticidal shampoo for the kids. I am normally a very crunchy granola mom, but I bit the bullet. You need to apply the stuff as often as they recommend, for one more time after the bugs are gone. About a month as I recall. That was two applications for the fleas. Expensive $$$ – but that was the biggest issue other than not liking to put poison on my fellow family members.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        Yeah my dog got fleas once and they were much MUCH easier to eradicate than lice. (We usually use a combination flea/intestinal parasites/heartworm pill but due to supply chain issues had to use a plain heartworm pill for awhile and didn’t add a regular flea treatment… after that we added a monthly flea treatment until we could get our regular pill again). Once you take away the flea food source (i.e. treat your pet… they can bite people but can’t really live on them) they go away pretty fast. Lice nits on the other hand, can lie dormant for up to 2 weeks then hatch and re-infest everything again!

        I now keep a supply of that Ivermectin hair cream– its the nuclear option, but its the only thing that gets the lice out right away.

      2. Clorinda*

        The thing about fleas is that most treatments don’t kill the eggs. The one time our dog brought fleas home and infected the indoor cats, I treated all of them for three months after the last flea sighting, just to catch any late-hatching eggs that might have been hanging out in upholstery.

    4. Nuke*

      I had a terrible flea infestation last year when humidity exploded in my basement, and dealt with having a dog with a severe flea allergy. What worked for me was (obviously) giving preventative to all the cats and dogs in the house, and then treating with a carpet spray from (i believe the PetArmor Plus brand). It took several re-applications to every carpeted area in the house (which luckily wasn’t a ton, but my whole basement is carpeted… yuck!). After a couple weeks of diligent application, we were finally free.

      But it’s ALWAYS a process, and having a pet with a bad allergy can definitely lead to vet bills. Luckily the spray is much cheaper than a vet bill at about $15 a can, sold at most pet stores.

      Figured I’d put this here for anyone else struggling! The biggest problem for me was removing all the animals from the sprayed location for at least an hour.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      For the record: I live on the US Gulf Coast where insects are a perpetual battle. I once treated an entire 2,700-square-foot house with boric acid powder by myself, after a rescued cat brought in fleas and we didn’t catch them soon enough.

      I am skeptical, though, that one visit caused an entrenched flea infestation. Fleas can come in on your clothes and if they’re coming after you they’ve probably been festering in your house for awhile.

      I mean, you can ask, but I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as “one client visit caused the whole thing”.

      1. TryingToAdultHere*

        Yes, this was my thought. I used to be a vet tech and the doctors always told clients that fleas much prefer animals so if a person is getting bitten the infestation is very bad, which doesn’t happen overnight.

        Also, flea treatments are very effective now. If you bring fleas home on your clothes it should be easy to wipe them out. It’s only bad infestations that take a lot of environmental treatment to deal with. Capstar will start to kill live fleas in 30 minutes and it gets them all. The catch is it only lasts 24 hours. Then you follow up with a long-acting medication like Revolution to prevent more from jumping on or to prevent eggs hatching. Some meds will kill the eggs. Comfortis (spinosad) is the best of both worlds, it starts killing fleas in 30 minutes, is 100% effective on the first day of application, and lasts for a month, both are available for dogs and cats.

        PSA: do not use cheap grocery-store flea medications like Hartz, especially on cats. They don’t work as well and can be very dangerous. Go get prescription products from your vet, they’re much safer and more effective. Never use dog flea meds on cats, some products safe for dogs are dangerous for cats.

        1. Yikes Stripes*

          I’ve used both Revolution and Bravecto with my cats, and I really really really like the latter so much. One vial every three months! It’s great!

  3. KTBob*

    LW#5 – when I was suddenly without a job, I contacted everyone I’d worked with over the years right away. It was short and to the point – “my position has been eliminated, and I’m looking for XYZ; if you know of any openings, could you let me know?”

    Activating my network may not have ultimately led to the position I ended up taking, but it was so helpful (and affirming!) to have their introductions, recommendations, and support as I navigated the job hunt. I definitely recommend reaching out, and I wish you all the best as you look for your next opportunity.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Also, LW5 should be very aware that “the company laid off my whole team” is one of the *least* awkward things to share when job searching without a current job!

      It neatly explains why you’re searching, and it’s clear that it’s not your fault.

      You weren’t fired, you didn’t leave before being fired, you didn’t have to flee a terrible situation (which makes you badmouth your past company), you didn’t hate the place, it wasn’t a bad fit, you didn’t have health or family drama to explain … et cetera.

      I’m currently job searching after … let’s just say, a couple of the issues mentioned above. I almost wish I could say the company just neatly lopped off my whole department.

      1. AnonORama*

        Yes! And, if you can point to anything else positive — personally, when my team was laid off we were ahead of goal and were told specifically that it was not a performance issue. No potential employer has had any issue after that. Whole team laid off = not fired, and it’s unlikely to be a major red flag. At least not at any employer who wouldn’t display some red flag themselves.

    2. anon in uk*

      Seconding. I was in this position some time ago, and spontaneously heard from several of my former colleagues who were disappointed that I’d ‘left’ all of a sudden! It really helped me to be in touch with them, especially as it turned out that the organisation had said nothing at all, and my former boss was essentially acting as if I’d never been there.

    3. Artemesia*

      I’d think one would want to mention that ‘my team was laid off’ so as not to appear to have been fired. You don’t want to whine about it but making it clear that is why you don’t have a job seems prudent.

      1. Seashell*

        I would think so too. In the absence of that information, my first thought would be that the person was fired.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          “My position was eliminated” refers to a layoff clearly enough, even in the event it wasn’t an entire team’s positions.

          1. Seashell*

            I would think “My position was eliminated” is somewhat vague, as maybe they eliminated the position because the person in it wasn’t doing that great or making the position necessary to keep around. Or maybe the person is using it as a euphemism to avoid saying they were fired. That said, I think it’s better than saying nothing.

            1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

              When I hear “my position was eliminated,” I think layoff. Yes, it’s possible that performance was a factor in that decision, but I don’t have any reason to think so. I don’t see it as a euphemism, just a factual statement. “I no longer work there because my position no longer exists.”

              (Though I’ll agree with the folks who say that “My whole team was laid off” even more clearly emphasizes that it’s not your fault.)

              1. Happy*

                It depends on industry and country, but sometimes layoffs are used to get rid of low performers, so I definitely agree that “my team was laid off” is preferable.

            2. Venus*

              I don’t think it’s vague at all, and refers only to a layoff in my workplace. I prefer that wording as a way of avoiding any further questions, whereas Alison’s original wording is too vague for me.

            3. Lydia*

              I don’t know of any company that would get rid of an entire position because they had a bad hire. That would be kind of strange. Everyone I know who has been laid off, including myself, has used “my position was eliminated” and “I was laid off” interchangeably. It’s not a euphemism. It’s exactly what happened.

              1. Kyrielle*

                This. When layoffs were done at a previous job, those people had their position eliminated. When someone was fired for not doing the job, they hired someone else into that position.

      2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        Exactly what I was going to comment – without that detail, it 100% seems like you were fired. Any time someone leaves a job without having another one lined up that is almost always the assumption.

        I’d argue that is the MOST importantthing to say when you start these conversations.

      3. Generic Name*

        I agree. I think it’s strange advice to tell someone to say “I’ve left Company X” when they were laid off. I get not bashing former employers, but why be cagey about being laid off?

      4. Rosemary*

        Exactly. Not sure why the advice was essentially be vague about it unless asked directly; I’d want to make it clear that I was laid off so people did not think I was fired or just quit out of the blue. If it is awkward for the company, that is on them. LW is not responsible for protecting them.

      5. Deanna Troi*

        Agree with Artemisia. I would write: “Due to company restructuring, my entire team was eliminated and we were all laid off.”

        That eliminates any speculation that they let you go for poor performance but called it a lay-off, which is something that my old company did all the time.

    4. ThatGirl*

      I’m gonna note that as an in-house creative it does NOT seem weird to me that an agency (or any business that uses creatives) would randomly re-org and lay people off. I feel like that’s very common at agencies, and I’ve seen it at plenty of big companies too. It may have been shocking to you, LW5, but I doubt it would be shocking to any of the clients you worked with.

      And that said, that also means you’re likely to find people willing to help you find your next job!

    5. LW5*

      LW5 here. Thanks all! I think the shock of being so suddenly laid off (and in the very fun way that I think some creatives have experienced where it was presented as an *opportunity* to become a freelancer for my former agency where my salary would be translated to an hourly rate without taking into account taxes, guaranteed hours of work, or any other benefits…) left me feeling unsure of how I could move forward and what was appropriate. So far I have been able to leverage some connections into freelance work, but I’m definitely feeling more validated and confident in reaching out to my former clients to expand my search for a more full-time role

      1. Bob-White of the Glen*

        Oh, how special of them. I hope your other laid off colleagues do not fall for this “deal” and give away their labor far too cheaply.

        I am so sorry you are going through this LW5. I hope there’s a “reason” and soon you find yourself in a much better position.

  4. ThatOtherClare*

    LW#2, another stock phrase (if it’s true) is: “Oh I’ve been following personalised professional advice, so unfortunately I can’t help you there. Anyway, did you see that [subject change] the other day?”

  5. Fikly*


    They’re a terrible employee, in multiple ways. If they’ve been on a PIP for that long, it has been explained to them that they are failing at their job, even if they are failing to hear it.

    They then listed you as a reference without checking with you ahead of time. So why exactly do you feel the need to protect them from the consequences of their actions?

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      That seems unnecessarily hostile. She’s uncomfortable about it, that’s good enough. She doesn’t owe it to anyone to be the work karma police.

      1. KitKat*

        Hostile toward the letter writer? It didn’t seem hostile to me at all, more like releasing the LW from guilt over giving a negative reference. The negative reference reflects the basic facts of the situation, and the bad coworker had no guilt over putting you in this position — so there’s no reason to feel guilty over it.

        1. Rosemary*

          My guess is the coworker intentionally did not ask LW if she could put them as a reference because she knew they were likely to decline; by giving LW the heads up after the fact she may be hoping that LW would in fact feel bad and not say anything bad.

        2. Happy*

          I agree. It can be liberating to realize you don’t need to feel guilty or protect others from the consequences of their bad behavior.

    2. Rose*

      It’s possible OP just doesn’t want to get involved, in any way, including taking the time to give an accurate reference, and then potentially dealing with “why didn’t I get the job” follow up questions.

  6. Viette*

    LW 4 – while I recognize that it seems harsh to tell reference checkers the truth about her actual work quality, you just cannot conscience essentially lying to the reference checkers about this person who is frankly awful to work with. You can ‘do unto others etc’ without being dishonest.

    I think you have two options:
    1) tell the coworker you will not be a reference for her
    2) tell the reference checkers the truth about working with her

    You either treat her how you hope you’d be treated if you asked someone who hates working with you to be a reference, or you treat the reference checker how you’d like to be treated if you called for a reference about a terrible worker.

    1. nodramalama*

      There are so many employers who do exactly that- give a fine/good reference for an under-performing employee. in my experience its a very common way to get rid of an under-performer to avoid having to continue/start performer managing someone

      1. Viette*

        It’s not great though! It’s not a great action to take, I think. Integrity is achievable here.

        1. ecnaseener*

          And it’s not even warranted in this case — she’s on a PIP already. If she doesn’t improve, she’ll be gone soon either way.

    2. linger*

      Two things stand out about coworker’s PIP.
      One is that it is “long-term”. Is coworker now job-hunting because the PIP has reached terminal phase? If so, there is no benefit to any Machiavellian scheme of airbrushing the truth to allow coworker to vanish. So, OP4 may as well share what they do know about the quality of coworker’s work.
      The other is that OP4 knows this coworker is on a PIP, even though OP4 is not their manager. That shouldn’t normally happen, unless coworker has volunteered that information to their colleagues. If OP4 also knows the details of why / what coworker is supposed to be improving on, that would be relevant information for references; but I am less certain that information should be shared.

    3. Lexi Vipond*

      There’s an Agatha Christie story, I think, where someone gaves a maid they believe stole from them a reference saying that she’s willing and able – the point being that 99% of references will say ‘honest, willing and able’, so if you get a variation you know that something’s wrong.

      Even without these set forms of language I’m genuinely surprised that people are taking ‘a friendly coworker’ as positive overall or dishonest rather than ‘this is the only good thing I can possibly say’, which I think is how the LW intended it.

    4. tg33*

      There is always the classic, “You will be lucky if you can get this person to work for you.”

      An aunt of mine wasw working in a job where they got rid of an under performing employee, by promoting them to another section.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      2-B. Tell them if you saw management problems create her bad behavior. You’re not the job hunter so you can afford to be a little more explicit about that.

      “Jane was hired by someone new to the role, and I could see that she did not get the same training and feedback I did when I started in that position. Jane would benefit from a seasoned manager who gives clear instructions and immediate, consistent and direct feedback.”

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Why? there is literally nothing in the letter that leads anyone to believe this is the case. Someone who took a month’s leave without notice is someone who just needed a better manager and more training. This is someone who fundamentally misunderstands how the working world works.

    6. yeep*

      I was in this situation with a student employee once. I told them, “You can certainly put me as a reference, but I AM going to have to be truthful about the information I give them.” It’s the employee’s prerogative if they want to shoot themselves in the foot that way.

    7. SpaceySteph*

      I doubt #1 will accomplish what they want to accomplish. Its likely this coworker knew what they were doing when they “forgot” they gave OP’s name, and that they won’t reach back out to this prospective employer to withdraw OP’s name either.

  7. The Valeyard*

    #2: I was in this exact situation- and I lost the weight during quarantine, which meant it looked really sudden when we all came back. The key for me is a quick one-sentence type response that focuses on health or how I feel, not weight. (Also, it almost always happened in the office kitchen.)

    As far as “How?” I developed a few brief stock responses like “allllll the vegetables and protein!” that mostly amounted to the weight loss being a lot of work (true) and that usually ended conversations quickly. And since this was often happening mid-kitchen, they saw me salad-prepping and could see it was true.

    As far as taking compliments, I’m still kinda working on that, but usually it was something like “thanks. I’m proud of myself, it was a lot of work.”

    As far as the self-denigrating, this was the part I hated most, but I’d usually respond by pointing out something healthy I saw them doing and complimenting that and sometimes turning it all back on them. (“Your lunch looks awesome, is that chicken or turkey?/ I love that you found time to grab a walk break this afternoon, think my boss would be cool with me grabbing 15 min to do that?”)

    If someone really pushed on it from what felt like a genuinely good/curious place I’d be like, hey, I’m glad to talk to you about this, grab me on the way out since it feels a little odd to talk about it at work OR because I’m slammed right now, no time to talk, ha ha! (YMMV. I am actually really always glad to talk about it because I love the idea I might help someone else who wants that help, even a little bit.)

    Awesome job, by the way. :) I’m about 3 years past that now, maintaining, and I STILL get comments, but it’s worth it because I really do feel good.

    1. gsa*

      Removed. Please don’t give diet advice here (particularly in response to a letter from someone asking how to avoid discussing it). – Alison

    2. Sloanicota*

      Honestly it is tough. Also, having just gone through this with someone in my friend group, people are probably fishing to see if OP used some of those new weight-loss drugs; if they did, people are wondering if they should try to go on them too. So it’s not just interest in whether protein is good or whatever (but your suspected response does maybe answer that question, if it is indeed what OP’s coworkers are trying to suss out – up to OP how she feels about that).

      1. Rosemary*

        This could be true. I am currently on one of the weight loss drugs and I am finding myself wondering if everyone I know who has recently lost a significant amount of weight is/was on one. Not that it is any of my business, and not that I would ever ask, but people could definitely be wondering. I have not yet lost enough weight for it to be very noticeable – the only people who have noticed are those who know I am on the medication – but I do anticipate getting more questions as the weight loss (hopefully!) progresses. I have been pretty open about it so far, but only with people who I would discuss weight/diet etc with anyway. Haven’t decided how I will handle the questions/compliments (because I am sure there will be compliments) when they start to come.

  8. TheBunny*


    This is the worst, but I agree with Alison that you can’t give anything close to a good reference.

    I would warn her (again) that you won’t be able to provide a reference.

    I suppose there are scenarios in which an older application with your info on it surfaces, but it seems odd to me that there will be that many. Maybe she’s handing references out like candy, but that in itself is odd.

    And I think it’s also possible no one may ever call you. Even when I’ve said I would be a good reference for someone, I don’t always get a call. So while I understand the concern…there’s a good chance you won’t ever have to deal with it. Especially if she stops using you.

    But I’d definitely flat out tell her to stop and if you get a reference call you will tell them that you aren’t able to provide one as you didn’t agree to be a reference.

  9. Keymaster of Gozer (She/Her)*

    2: I lost a colossal amount of weight last year and it wasn’t intentional but I did get some good tips here about redirecting the comments (since being asked about it or given compliments is actually triggering) and I think some of them would work for you.

    ‘You wouldn’t know this but talking about body size is really boring for me, but want to see a picture of what my daft cat did this morning?’ If I’m lucky they have cute pet pics too and we both start the day feeling happy!

    Redirects do work, 90% of the time people quickly grasp that you don’t find the topic interesting and generally don’t take offense. There will always be outliers though, the ones that keep going after a soft No have effectively given permission for a harder No to be thrown back. ‘I’m not going to talk about weight loss here’.

    Remember your conversational boundaries are absolutely valid and you have as much right to them as anyone else. Good luck :)

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Such an important message: Your conversational boundaries are absolutely valid.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        When you have cats (or are owned by them) it’s more a matter of having enough storage space on your phone to fit all the ‘daft cat’ photos! I do have the favourite of when he was washing himself, blew off up his own nose and fell off the bed.

        1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          Ha! My all time favorite was when one of my cats was investigating behind some furniture and got trapped between that and the wall with his back legs sticking straight in the air flailing around. Got down, couldn’t get up. It was hard to stop laughing long enough to fish him out.

        2. Kyrielle*

          Some of them – that sounds like one – call for video. I have a cat who flops down and rolls about when petted, luxuriating in it. She does not stop to make sure she is in a good space for that, and has fallen off the edge of beds, chairs, couches, and once rolled down a stair…and then rolled down another when belly rubbed on her new stair. My husband told me about that one and I am sad to not have video of it, but I think if he’d known it was going to happen he might not have petted her there!

          Her sister fell down between the back of the dryer and the wall when exploring once, and as I’m not the world’s best housekeeper, when we fished her out she’d help pick up a bunch of loose dust and lint that had accumulated. She’s an all-black cat, so it was extra hilarious.

          1. TheOtherLaura*

            My daft cat fell into the bath tub (with four inches of water in it) two times in as many minutes. Second time he looked at me with his “Human, why do you let this happen?” face.

      2. Hush42*

        My daft, indoor, cat managed to get out of the house for the first time shortly after we poured my new garage floor last weekend. She left tiny cat prints all over the concrete. Thankfully it was dry enough that it didn’t really stick to her paws and she came right back. Unfortunately, my brother (who was installing the floor) was in the middle of smoothing the concrete still and smoothed out all the cat prints. I wanted him to leave one but the wasn’t a good way to accomplish that and still properly finish the floor around it :(

  10. gsa*

    Letter #1:

    “…come into contact with fleas in so many places, just going about daily life…”

    Who catches fleas just walking around?

    1. Nebula*

      I think what they meant is they can’t definitively prove it came from this one client and the employer might push back on that, not that this is a particularly common occurrence.

      1. Snow Globe*

        This. You could get fleas from visiting friends or family members, or riding in someone’s car if they have animals, or taking your pet to the vet. Which the LW may know is not possible, but the employer could argue that they don’t really know for sure where the fleas came from.

    2. bamcheeks*

      My immediate thought was that someone who fosters kittens might have a lower bar for “how easy it is to catch fleas” than the average person. :D

      (I am sure all the cats Alison fosters have already been de-flea’d, de-wormed etc, but I also think the Venn diagram of people who foster cats and people who instinctively go OOOH KITTY when they’re out and about is a circle.)

    3. gsa*

      I lost a deposit on an apartment due to fleas.

      The landlord said they had to fumigate.

      I blamed my cat. She never complained, and I never knew that either of us had them.

      1. Mouse named Anon*

        Every apartment I lived in my dog got fleas. Then we bought a house she stopped getting them. I am convinced they traveled through the hvac systems or something. Or maybe just coming across other dogs, when they went outside to potty.

    4. Artemesia*

      teachers have the same problem as it is profession where you get sick a lot because kids are little vectors of disease; any attempt to get extra help when you exceed your sick leave gets ‘well you don’t know where you caught that cold, flu, RSV etc — it could have been anywhere.”

    5. Peanut Hamper*

      Wildlife (squirrels, raccoons, possums, skunks, etc) can have fleas and can theoretically spread them.

      That said, I spend a lot of time outdoors and there is a lot of wildlife around here, and I have never had this issue.

      So yeah, possible, but not probable.

      1. Ineffable Bastard*

        My child rescued an orphaned baby squirrel full of fleas recently. I later found one flea on my arm, but no bites (I am allergic and it would be very easy to spot). My cat did not get any. The wildlife centre told me that their fleas cannot survive on humans and pets.

      1. Cat and dog fosterer*

        We’re really careful about fleas when trapping feral cats because they are a known issue. In my experience you’re much more likely to have problems with an owner surrender where they let their cat out occasionally and say that they treated the cat with a preventative when they didn’t. The latter happens rarely, but I’ve had to help others with it a few times (I provided them with treatments for the pets and furniture, it’s pretty easy to resolve).

        I treat my own animals and contain feral cats in a quarantine area, and haven’t had any flea or other health problems with my own pets in 25 years. If a feral cat has fleas then we treat them when they get fixed, when they are anaesthetized for their neuter, but that is only for their own benefit and health.

        Not that every feral carer is perfect, but it’s not hard to deal with fleas if one is careful about it (not a criticism of OP at all, because they had the perfect and best solution by keeping their pet indoors! I’m incredibly sorry this happened to them and if they were a friend I’d have given them some treatment on that first day because I know how stressful it was for those few people that I helped).

    6. Sloanicota*

      Ugh having dealt with this last year, they can apparently live in the lawns, particularly if it’s grass visited by feral cats or possibly even mice. I could not figure out how my indoor cat could have possibly contracted them. I heard the same story a lot that summer, which was very wet, so it might have been an epidemic in my region. So unfortunately it is possible, although I agree it’s unlikely, which hurts OP’s ability to say she definitely got it from them. FWIW OP, in summer, a good trip is to use a hot car parked in the sun to kill them on hard-to-wash-on-hot materials. Works for bedbugs too.

      1. PSA*

        Great idea about the car! I’ve heard of putting things in a hot clothes dryer, but I feel like that would damage a lot of materials.

        Please note, neither of these solutions is going to work on a dog!

    7. Gray Lady*

      Visiting people with infested pets for non-job related reasons. That’s not “just walking around” but it is “daily life.”

    8. LizW*

      Catching fleas is easy:
      -Contact with any untreated animal (just being near, touching not required) or their bedding/living space
      -Contact with a previously treated space where live eggs have recently hatched. Flea removal is a multi-step process.
      -Walking through infested grass (on a trip to Texas, my grandmother couldn’t figure out why her chihuahua-mix would not go in the grass to do his business and stayed on the sidewalk , finally realized he was being hit by waves of fleas. Cue a mid-1980’s small town afterhours search for medicated shampoo; this was before preventatives)

    9. Catwhisperer*

      Fleas naturally live in most grassy or wooded areas with wildlife, you can end up with them just by sitting on grass. But since they can’t survive off human blood they typically don’t become an infestation unless you have pets.

    10. Nuke*

      Unfortunately yeah that’s how you get them! Most of the time they come from outside, jumping onto your closed and hitching a ride into your house. Not to mention if you visit someone else’s house if they have fleas. I’ve dealt with infestations in my life more than once, so now I’m borderline rude about making sure people I visit use preventatives on their pets. I have three cats and a dog, and I’m pretty sick of having my ankles chewed up! Luckily my reptiles and chinchillas can’t (usually!) get them.

    11. lazycatlady*

      but in fairness, her dogs uses the bathroom in the house? Surely she takes the dog outside to go to the bathroom in the grass? That’s where you can catch fleas. And who doesn’t take basic precautions like heartowrm/flea preventatives? They are ususally 2 in one.

      1. Nuke*

        I make sure to keep my grass mowed and my dog came in with a TICK on him the other night! :( Luckily hadn’t been attached yet, and his fur is light so I could see it, but it was horrible. They’re just everywhere and even if you do all you can, sometimes it still happens.

        1. JustaTech*

          When I was a kid, back when the only thing we had for dogs were flea and tick collars, every summer evening my mom would check my brother and I for ticks, and then we’d go through our dogs, a wire-haired something-or-other and an Australian shepherd mix. I think our max number of ticks off the shepherd mix was 17 in one evening.
          Thankfully it was before Lyme disease migrated south so it was merely gross and not dangerous.

        1. Bear in the Sky*

          They also said their pet is indoor only. It’s probably a cat. Dogs have to go out, they don’t use litter boxes.

      2. Bunny Girl*

        They just said a pet, not a dog. But if it is a dog, I used to work at a vet clinic and a pretty good percentage of dog owners don’t use a preventative on their pet.

      3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        According to the grouch who shouted at me because my dog pooed in the weeds near his garage door, no dogs should not do their stuff outdoors but in the Water Closet, like the grouch himself.

    12. MissDashwood*

      My annoying neighbor who stands in his front yard each evening banging on a cat food tin with a big spoon, to bring all the feral cats in the area running to his house. Pretty sure his yard and house (he lets some of the tamer ones inside if they want) are completely infested, yuck.

    13. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      my ex-husband had a friend who came over and infested my pets with his fleas a couple of times before I said that dude wasn’t allowed back in the house anymore. I’d never had flea issues before or after.

    14. M2RB*

      Echoing previous commenters – anyone who walks through grass. Per our veterinarian, it’s completely possible to pick up a flea or two simply walking through grass; flea finds its preferred meal on you or on your pet (or both; it depends on the specific type of flea*); and that’s all she wrote.

      *we had an infestation a few years ago and I read up on fleas. My spouse and I were never bitten by them but our two cats were miserable. Turns out, there are fleas that don’t ever bite humans! They prefer animals! I was simultaneously intrigued and grossed out, and we immediately went into treatment mode. I don’t skip the flea/tick/heartworm medications anymore.

    15. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      When our cat got fleas, the vet said we’d most likely brought the insects, or eggs, into the apartment on our shoes or other clothing, most likely from the park across the street. People walked there with dogs, and a variety of small wild mammals live there.

      That only happened once, in twenty-odd years of living there, but the vet sounded like yes, this is a thing that happens sometimes, it’s good that you noticed quickly that the cat wasn’t quite well.

      1. Blueprint blues*

        yep, that’s how the vet said our indoor cat gets fleas. but we’ve had it happen more than once.

    16. Medium Sized Manager*

      Former veterinary staff: you can easily track in fleas without ever realizing it – it’s why we strongly recommend flea care even for your indoor kiddos. I often think about the man who was adamant that his indoor cat could not possibly have fleas – we saved them all on a white paper towel in a baggy for him to see because he couldn’t fathom the fleas being the cause of the cat’s itchiness.

    17. HBJ*

      Right? I think Alison’s advice might be influenced by her having 8 or 9 cats and taking in fosters.

      We had pets the entire time I was growing up, and they were outside a lot and chased around small animals. Never once had fleas.

      1. Alcott*

        When I was a kid, our guinea pig got fleas. The poor thing never went outside and we didn’t have other animals to bring fleas inside; we figured a one hitched a ride in on a shoe or something.

      2. Shiny Penny*

        The range of experiences cited here may reflect the fact that the “vermin situation” can be very location-dependent, and tends to get worse over the long term.
        How cold it freezes in the winter can make a huge difference, as can average humidity, and type of soil. Not to mention differences in the local human population, and differences in local animal populations (pet, feral, wild).
        I, too, live in an area that was virtually flea and tick free 40 and 50 years ago (PNW). Sure not true anymore! The vermin-reduction power of a really cold winter just doesn’t happen now.

  11. LW #3*

    LW #3 here. Well, phooey. I was hoping there were magic words I could use that would make them want to change, but I have a sad feeling you’re spot on in your assessment. I’m tempted to try to just recalibrate my work ethic and coast for a while, but hopefully this will be the push I need to figure out what my next steps are. Thank you!

    1. linger*

      I guess the obvious follow-up question is how you explain leaving in job interviews.
      “Seeking opportunities for career development”, I suppose, since that’s what’s lacking.

    2. TLC Squeak*

      I absolutely don’t mean this to be insulting, but maybe it will help push you in the right direction… A 5% raise is not recognizing above average effort. That’s not even keeping up with inflation. You likely could get much better elsewhere, and it sounds like you deserve it. It’s at least worth a look.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        This caught my eye as well. 5% is not great, especially for the amount of work LW is putting in. I would think 20% would be more appropriate.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Hi LW3– Do you think the business could improve if they hired a person to do the missing oversight and tasks?

      If yes you COULD propose they change your job and job title to do that role. I’m thinking something like a small repair service getting its first office manager. Or a small manufacturer starting a quality control program.

      But there are risks.

      If nothing else it would change your job and your relationship with co-workers. (They might resent someone who makes them stop watching t v on the job.)

      Owners might not like the reality of being corrected – if they stay lackadaisical it would undermine the proposed changes.

      The third risk is personal: would you even LIKE the proposed new role? It Can really suck trying to learn how to do something new when no one else in the group even sees the need.

      If you do go this way make sure to get the title, the authority, and the money as well as the responsibility.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        But it still takes buy in from the top. If the owner and supervisor wanted to changed things they already would have. Often bringing in someone to fix things or in this case, promoting someone to do it, fails because the people with the actual power to effect change — don’t.

        LW – your company sucks and is not going to change. They are choosing to run the business this way, no conversation with you is going to alter that.

    4. RandomName*

      I wouldn’t “recalibrate your work ethic” (unless you’re already job searching).
      In a similar situation, all it did was make me very unhappy with my work and my job.

      Your letter and Alison’s answer really reminded me of a previous experience, where institutional dysfunction was rampant.
      I definitely agree that you can’t change culture without buy-in from the top (and even then it’s complicated).
      I did try to have conversations about how inefficient and disorganized we were and how it could be changed. At first I’d get empty promises. Then it changed to “well it is what it is and we can’t change it”.

      It looks like you’re very unhappy with this, and if I didn’t misunderstand you’re concerned about how it might affect your career : find something that fits you better.

      1. Venus*

        Recalibrating a work ethic can vary quite a bit in meaning. If I were in this situation then it would mean that I would continue doing my own job well but stop spending extra time fixing all the other problems, and I think that’s fair.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          yes, “quiet quitting” prior to actual quitting. Freeing up some time and energy for job hunting.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I honestly think you’re lucky they aren’t holding your competence against you. In a lot of slacker cultures they get really miffed about someone coming in and actually working. My partner had a job like this once and his colleague actually told him he was doing work “too quickly” and efficiently even though other departments who were suffering for lack of turnaround were almost crying in gratitude. When he queried what his colleague meant, he ummed and ahhed said “Well, it’s just too quick” and then going forward he tried to hide work from him so it could sit undone and he could continue making excuses about his own turnaround. I think they seem content to let you do more work if you leave them be, but I don’t think it’s going to go so well if you try and reform them like a work ethic missionary. They’re happy.

    6. Debby*

      LW #3: I have been in your same situation (or at least similar) more times than I care to. I am optimistic by nature, and have a tendency to believe what people say. Alison is right, if you do speak with them they will probably promise things will get better (sort of what they did when you first started there). And they’ll string you along, more raises perhaps. But, the situation will not improve. The choice you are left with is to put up with it knowing it won’t likely change, or find something else now. But just one more thing-how long can the business continue if your co-workers really aren’t working? Something to think about.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        OP needs to apply to a job where they want someone enthusiastic!

    7. M2RB*

      Hi LW #3 – I’m going to use one of Alison’s lines: you can’t care more than they do. If the owner/upper management doesn’t care to deal with this stuff, please don’t care more than they do. If it mattered to them, they would deal with it. It’s so hard to let go in situations like this when we see things being done half-way (or not at all) but… spend your time and effort looking for a position where you can flourish.

    8. Generic Name*

      Yeah, once you disagree about how a company is run, it’s time to move on. In my experience, some small companies give the impression that a single employee can really make a difference in the culture, how things are done, etc, but it’s rarely the case in reality. Companies are run the way they are because the people at the top prefer it that way.

    9. Just Thinkin' Here*

      I saw your note about whether you choose to return to work after unpaid leave. Just a note on the benefit side – some places (and states) if you don’t return after leave the employer could consider you having left employment at the beginning of your medical leave – leaving you off the books while you were on leave and potentially without health insurance coverage for part of that period. I’ve always been instructed to return for at least 2 weeks after a leave of absence to ensure you keep all the benefits while you were gone.

  12. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #1 Ugh, how horrible for you and your poor pet. Very unfair to lose any of your hard-earned savings.

    I’d first ask your employer to cover the full costs of eradicating fleas from your home, which would also avoid your pet being reinfected. If they agree, then segue into your vet costs.

    1. Petty_Boop*

      I don’t know that I agree, TBH. What if the LW had caught a cold/flu from the in home person? Going into peoples’ homes to do work involves a certain amount of risk like that. I was a social worker many years ago and had to do home welfare checks in some very sketchy areas. The risk was always there of fleas, bedbugs, and anything else that might hitch a ride home with me. I learned very early on to wear long pants, long sleeves, and nothing loose fitting, etc.. As a teller in a bank, I kept getting bites on my ankles. Turned out there were fleas in the carpeting at THE BANK. Presumably brought in by another teller or a customer. My dogs ended up with fleas at one point, (did I bring them home? did my son’s dog bring them over on a visit? did they pick up a hitchhiker on a walk? Who knows?) and we had them flea dipped, and bought a couple of flea bombs, and never had another issue. It’s a bit unpleasant and we had to leave the house for 24 hours, but it’s odd to me that the LW has had this going on for so long and so much expense. Sounds like they’re not being very proactive about taking care of the fleas in the house, which is why the dog is having ongoing issues and will continue to do so. Maybe focus on getting rid of the fleas, and then *maybe* ask for some form of partial reimbursement, but if it were me, unless there was more proof than “coincidental timing” I wouldn’t ask.

      1. Bagpuss*

        It may not be a dog – and she mentions that it suffered an allergic reaction, which may also have limited what other flea treatments they could use in the house (especially if it wasn’t clear at first whether it was the felas or the treatment causing the additional reactions.)
        I don’t know how it changes with other types of animal, I think possibly with smaller animals the differnece between an effecctive and a dangerous dose can be a lot narrower!

        Also, depending on the type of pet the animal may not ever leave the appartment . You can’t be 10-0% sure but I think you can be fiarly certain.

        1. Nuke*

          Flea allergies are unfortunately really common, but don’t usually correlate to reactions to flea medications. But reactions to medications are always possible (my cat had a bad reaction to the one called Revolution!). It’s pretty easy to tell whether it’s a flea allergy or an allergy to the medication actually.

          The problem is that you can’t JUST treat with medication on the animal. You’ll need to treat the whole house too, and that usually requires removing all animals from the treated space for at least an hour.

        2. Alex the Alchemist*

          Yeah, and in my experience a flea allergy can be a real pain in the butt. My childhood dog had a flea allergy, and it took almost a year of trying new medications, shots, house cleanings, etc. to get it in check, and that was with being proactive. That kind of thing doesn’t always have to do with how much you’re doing or how up to date on cleanings you are; sometimes it’s just going to be a pain until you find the right treatment since there’s so many options out there.

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

        1. to compare fleas to the flue is completely different. There are things you can do, like wear masks, to avoid the catching the flu. There is very little you can do, besides changing outside the clients house, to not bring in bugs, especially fleas or bedbugs.
        2. It’s not a dog. OP says the animal never leaves the house, so therefore its most likely a cat, rabbit, etc.
        3. We don’t know what the OP has done. They may have done all of the flea treatments, etc All we know is the pet is still getting sick.

        1. Petty_Boop*

          I’m not equating fleas to flu. You’re missing the point which was: If you take a job which requires you to go into other peoples’ homes which may not have the same hygiene standards or whatever as you, you have to accept that there is a level of risk of bringing home bugs of whatever variety–be they viral or legged. My paramedic son brought home bedbugs from a call. He certainly didn’t (nor could he have) asked the county/fire station to pay for the remediation (which was lengthy and annoying AF!). Pets occasionally get fleas, or mites, or skin conditions, etc.. and the OP knows s/he has to do home visits. What if a friend brought over a flea from a pet? What if it didn’t actually come from that house call and it’s just an assumption/coincidence? What if it happens again on another home visit to a completely different person? What if it happens over and over because a LOT of people have fleas or whatever in their homes? Will the employer have to pay each and every time? At some point, it isn’t reasonable to ask an employer to pay for everything that happens during the course of work.

    2. PleaseNo*

      #1 – is your client having their pet treated for the fleas? if not, the pet must be in misery. could you talk with Animal Control and see if this rises to the level of negligence? it’s not good for anyone to have all the ills that fleas bring.

  13. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #2 Another ugh about weight talk at work. In my entire career, no workplace was rude enough to even mention work or diet, any more than to discuss bowel movements or one’s sexlife. (I wonder if this is this is a cultural difference or just working in engineering in a 95% male field)
    “Thanks, but weight talk is so boring. Did you watch the game at the weekend? / Your earrings are lovely”

    #3 You shouldn’t care more or invest more effort in the business than the owner does – which is clearly not much in this case. No conversation will genuinely change their entire mode d’être.

    I suggest you use your 6 weeks to see if there’s anything better out there.

    If you are still job-hunting after your leave, then make sure you don’t work more than your set hours.

    However, also assess whether you are gaining skills and accomplishments for your resume and also whether the pay * benefits are market level. They are holding your job, which is another consideration if your medical issue returns, as another empkoyer may not.

    #4 You should never give a dishonest reference, especially as this could come back to damage you.
    Her lack of another reference is the consequence of her poor work ethic and her problem to deal with.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      I suspect it may be related to your working in a mostly male field. While I don’t like to gender stereotype, I have found that most weight related discussion tends to be started by women. Though of course, that may just be the case in my workplace.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (She/Her)*

        I’ve spent most of my career in male dominated environments and the weight thing does come up from men just as much in my experience but it’s worded differently. Instead of ‘what’s your secret!’ you get more comments about how your attractiveness has gone up.

        1. MissMaple*

          Yep, and I hate it! I’ve never felt more like the odd one out at work in engineering then when I’ve lost weight and dudes seem to suddenly notice I’m a woman.

          1. Rosemary*

            Many moons ago, after I had taken up running and had been training for a marathon for months, one of my male coworkers stopped in his tracks one day and said something along the lines of “WOW! Your body has TOTALLY changed shape! You look GREAT! WOW all that running has paid off!!” I knew him well, and knew he meant well, but yeah…felt ick! Even though I WAS proud, and had the compliment come from someone outside of work, it probably would have landed differently.

      2. Lady Lessa*

        I agree, it tends to be woman driven. At church, when I came back after having my jaw wired shut for 5 endless weeks (due to breaking it in 3 places) one woman’s first questions “How much weight did you lose?” “I wish that I could do something like that”

        At the time I was either under weight or close to that.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I had it after my first pregnancy– I didn’t put much weight on, and my baby was juuuust on the cusp of being underweight. I also had a pretty brutal birth and a long recovery. I got lots of, “You’re looking SO WELL! You’ve obviously recovered so quickly!” and it was like, no, you are saying you think I look slim, this is not the same thing. Obviously it was meant well but it was such a disconnect with how I was feeling that it quite upset me, and it’s not something I ever say to anyone now.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I got the most comments on my weight (I was in my 20s and slim to start with) when I was brutally ill and couldn’t keep any food down for two weeks. The comments were compliments on how good I looked.

            1. Lily Rowan*

              Yeah, I called my mother out on this recently. She was commenting that someone looked good, and I just said, “She just got out of the hospital! She looks like hell. She does look thinner, but not in a good way, jeez.”

      3. Hlao-roo*

        I think it’s individual-workplace-dependent more than gender-ratio-dependent. I also work in engineering (very male dominated) and I’ve been in a few workplaces like Retired Vulcan’s, where no one would mention weight, and a few workplaces where men would discuss other people’s weights in a catty and rude way.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          Similarly – work in A/E/C, its very much a male dominated space, and all of the above topics (weight, sex lives, and bowel movements) are unfortunately on-brand.

      4. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

        I obviously can’t say whether the men in my field are doing it more or less often than women, but I work in a 95% male engineering field, and there’s plenty of diet and exercise talk! Just last Thursday a man who reports to me was offering unsolicited weight loss advice to other men in a group meeting, and I’m trying to decide if I should wait until our 1:1 next week to gently point out the reasons why he should avoid phrasing it the way he did in future, or if it’s worth trying to meet this week so I can bring it up closer to when it happened.

        1. Kara*

          I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry. I can hardly speak for all workplaces in my industry, but i will say that I’ve been around plenty of diet talk among the guys at every shop I’ve been at.

      5. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        However, weight has also never been discussed at my gym here (DE) or the previous 2 gyms and I’ve been a gym rat for nearly 30 years.
        All shapes, sizes and genders at the gyms I chose – I’ve never tried the posh places with perfectly groomed & sculpted people (and skyhigh prices)

      6. Emmy Noether*

        Eh, I’ve heard diet talk from men (in my very male dominated field). The women, in my experience, when they’re very much in the minority, tend to avoid talking about their bodies in front of the men.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      At all my workplaces we did talk a lot about sport, particularly any good runs or lifts we’d made, boxing, volleyball, skiiing, hiking etc or our training program. Some good training tips shared, great places to hike, wonderful views etc
      I’d mention e.g. how my weightlifting had solved the backaches I had in my early career days from sitting so long in front of screens.

      Fortunately noone had the bad manners to drift from sporting accomplishments and training into weight or shape.

  14. Yellow sports car*

    LW2 I don’t think you need to avoid discussing your weight loss / what you did to achieve it because someone *might* be triggered or upset by it. Weight is a challenge that many people battle with – and there are significant health and life impacts (and career!) of being significantly under or over weight. It shouldn’t be a taboo topic.

    Would you consider it inappropriate for someone to talk openly (when asked) about their strategies for quitting smoking? Or managing ADHD?

    People can be upset by almost anything. I’m not saying that flippantly – but mentioning children when there’s someone battling infertility, mentioning family around someone whose family is violent or absent or estranged or deceased, mentioning a holiday when your colleague is homeless etc can all be upsetting.

    You absolutely should be sensitive – what worked for me was it’s different to all you have to do is, read the room, and not make it the focus of all your interactions (or let others do that to you) but if you want to share that’s a reasonable thing.

    Now if it is more that you don’t want to talk about it that’s ok. But if it is more that you feel you shouldn’t – I think you should feel comfortable with some level of sharing so long as it stays workplace appropriate.

    1. bamcheeks*

      This feels like a bit of a mis-read of the letter. LW isn’t bursting to talk about and feeling stifled by being sensitive to other people– being sensitive is only one of the reasons they give, alongside feeling it’s too personal and not enjoying the way it leads other people into denigrating themselves. It’s pretty normal to find the whole topic of weight and diet uncomfortable for work social chat and not want to participate in it, and being successful at losing weight doesn’t necessarily change that!

      1. LW2*

        Exactly bamcheeks :)
        The core of it (beyond what I mentioned in the letter) for me is that it’s been a pretty major emotional journey/shift in attitude. Operationally, the answer to how I did it was eat less, move more, the real thing that changed is that I worked on my self-loathing + thought patterns.

        So when people really press, it’s hard to not bring that up, but that to me is deeply personal and not something I want to discuss at work (or really, with anyone bar a couple people very close to me, and behind the anonymous safety of a screen :))

        Thanks to everyone here + above for the scripts and advice! I really appreciate it

        1. sb51*

          In that case, “it’s a result of solving an underlying health problem that I’d rather not get into/wouldn’t be a useful strategy for other people/etc” (without saying the underlying issue was mental health rather than a thyroid imbalance or something) would also be an option.

          1. Lady_Blerd*

            I wouldn’t even mention the underlying health issue because some people may decide to focus on said health issue.

        2. Yellow sports car*

          LW I’m not trying to push you to talk about it if you don’t want to – but is there an honest answer (partial answer) you could have ready so you can respond without it being so personal (only if you want to). Half truths can be helpful when the full response is TMI (for you or them).

          I’m thinking something like:

          Well diet and exercise but for me it was really about figuring out why things weren’t going to plan and finding workarounds that were practical. I always hated the gym but found line dancing and now the exercise part is fun rather than a chore / I took some cooking lessons and learnt to make healthier food I actually love / I started ordering my groceries online and I find it much easier to stick to my plans.

          The first part is completely true (you recognised that your thought problems were problematic and dealt with those). The second part is a distraction example (you’d need a true example obviously) but on theme.

          People might still push – but it would allow you to have a specific response. And it would also allow you to deflect while continuing the conversation if you wanted to.

          I feel really pushy suggesting this, as it’s completely reasonable to just not want to talk about it. But it is a technique I’ve found useful when I want to share with people experiencing similar things to me but limit my sharing cause some stuff I don’t like people knowing.

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

            see I don’t think that would work. The OP doesn’t want to talk about it and giving that sort of explanation people might still want to talk. I think the OP should just shut it down. After a bit people will take the hint.
            If I were OP i would say something like “I actually don’t find diet talk and body talk helpful for my journey. Lets talk about (subject change).

          2. Laura*

            I don’t think this is helpful because it really just sounds like the LW doesn’t want to talk about it. and that’s fine!

          3. Happy*

            That’s way too much detail to recommend for someone who doesn’t want to talk about it at work at all.

        3. Allegra*

          I wonder if a neutral-pleasant “oh, lifestyle changes – the boring way” might be a decent non-answer if people ask how you did it? I agree with another comment I saw that when people talk about it they might be fishing for a magic bullet kind of thing and making it a non-topic would head off followups. And then if they push, an easy topic change like “like I said, it’s boring, but I’m [listening to a new podcast/reading a book/watching that new show/insert other hobby] that I could tell you all about” would be my approach. Not to say that it truly *is* boring, or that people can’t find that kind of talk interesting! But I think to shut down conversation, cheerfully acting like it’s not interesting would be my approach.

        4. TheOtherLaura*

          For me the moment that changed everything was understanding (as in “something like a brightly shining football of enlightenment hit me straight in the face”) that there was enough food and there would be enough food and no one would be taking it away.

          Not a can of conversational worms I want to open at work.

      2. Yellow sports car*

        I agree that they shouldn’t have to and I realised that wasn’t the main point from the LW. But given the mention of feeling they shouldn’t I wanted to push back on that.

        Weight is a medical issue that impacts people’s careers and it is ok to talk about weight challenges and success (to a point – as with all medical things in the workplace)

        People read these letters and look beyond the specifics of each person – so I thought it worth commenting for the more general audience beyond just this LW.

        1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

          The problem with giving more information, especially getting into details is that it prolongs the discussion and likely gets other people talking more about weight and diets too – which I gather is exactly what LW2 does NOT want.

          In general, there’s rarely a positive outcome to sharing information about one’s own body and health.
          imo best to keep such info private and just present a pleasant, superficially social workplace persona.

              1. Anon for this one please*

                As someone dealing with health issues that have required me to do the same kind of significant weight loss/reframing of mind, I do not want to discuss it.

                Especially when I just had the damn *head of HR* yell across a room at me in front of both a newly hired co-worker and multiple managers, “LOOK at you! You’re DISAPPEARING!”

                Let us please normalize keeping mum on the topic.

        2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          You seem weirdly invested in “pushing back” on the LW being thoughtful. We do not need more talk about weight/diet/bodies at work. It’s true that bias against fat people impacts careers – but talking about how the person who lost weight is a “success” is not how we dismantle that bias.

          You also rather grossly compare being fat to addiction. You seem ignorant of the facts on weight and health, so you should not be talking about it at work or encouraging others. Especially since you’re riding the line of “you people are too sensitive” – nope, you’re not sensitive enough.

          1. smirkette*


            especially because even most health care professionals aren’t trained in weight management, and there’s actually a lot of incorrect information out there due to both personal bias and the business/profit opportunities of fat = bad (business-funded white papers citing studies using bad data, shoddy study design, drawing incorrect conclusions, etc.).

            It’s amazing how many people feel entitled to policing other people’s bodies for whatever reason—race, gender presentation, size, shape, disability, clothing—when all these things boil down to “I’m having to deal with a difference that makes me feel uncomfortable.”

    2. Ellis Bell*

      There are lots of ADHD people who wouldn’t feel great getting into the weeds of their medical journey either. This is very much a YMMV situation. Also, I don’t know how sensible diet talk is in OP’s workplace. If I ever try to have a straight forward discussion about nutrition or exercise in general spaces, the amount of misinformation that crops up is alarming. I don’t know about OP, but I don’t have the spoons to tell a co-worker that no, I didn’t ban carbs for being evil or fasted using sunlight or what ever people have read online lately.

    3. theletter*

      I can remember back in the day (not that long ago!) where diet talk could pervade all conversation. It wasn’t difficult to fall into diatribe of the day’s weight watcher wins and loses. It’s a lot less like talking about quitting smoking, and more like actually smoking with its addictive nature.

      If it’s not a sign of disordered eating, it can certain lead to it, and My God, it can sound so boring to anyone who’s not counting calories.

      I think our current efforts to shut it down in the office space is just a necessary prevention now, lest Diet Talk reappears like fleas in the carpet.

    4. Space Needlepoint*

      Speaking as someone with ADHD, one person at work knows I have it and I do not talk about it very much with even them. I’m lucky enough not to need any accommodations, but there is still stigma around neurodivergence and/or people don’t believe the diagnosis is real or joke they have it or “everyone’s a little ADHD.” It’s better for me to keep my mouth shut.

      If the Employee Wellness team started a group focused on ADHD, that would probably help because it would acknowledge it as a real thing that has challenges and we could find support.

    5. Modesty Poncho*

      It’s actually very kind of the LW to keep in mind that diet talk can be very triggering for those with eating disorders and/or dealing with fat stigma. You can’t “read the room” and know who’s been dealing with this since high school, who is in a tentative remission, or who is just quietly seething at yet another reminder. I specifically wanted to thank LW2 for remembering and keeping a good perspective.

    6. Irish Teacher.*

      I think in any largish workplace, you can assume somebody will be upset or triggered by it. Body image issues are so common that it would be unusual to have a workplace of say 20 people in which nobody feels self-conscious about their weight or has a history of eating disorder or a family member of close friend who does or who has gained or lost weight as a result of a health condition like cancer. A workplace in which weight is just a casual topic of conversation to everybody would be a fairly rare place.

      That’s not to say people should be terrified of every mentioning they don’t want to be offered a slice of that cake because they are trying to lose weight, but I do think it is a topic it’s worth being careful about and recognising it is a sensitive one for a very significant group of people.

    7. Anonymous Engineer*

      As a person with an eating disorder, I’m always here for reducing/eliminating body and diet talk in the workplace. You likely work with someone with an eating disorder and don’t know it. It is exhausting to encounter people talking about calories, weight, and restricting food all the time and work is the most common place that happens (for me). I appreciate the LW trying not to contribute to that culture any more than necessary.

  15. TheOtherLaura*

    LW#2, ugh, diet talk.
    The worst thing for me about losing a lot of weight (worse than having to buy a new wardrobe twice, moodiness, and fear of a hidden health issue) was that everyone felt they should diet talk with me. Fortunately, I could truthfully say, “I took up weightlifting” and then enthusiastically talk about weightlifting, changing the topic to “my new hobby”.
    Though “I gave up diet talk for lent and it’s done me a world of good, so I’m keeping it up” was very satisfying to say, and effective if followed by a quick change of topic.

    I hated most being asked for advice, because all “advice” had failed me for 25 years, and I found that I did not hate anyone enough to tell them, “eat less and move more”, even if they were the ones initiating diet talk.

    1. LW2*

      “I found that I did not hate anyone enough to tell them, “eat less and move more”, even if they were the ones initiating diet talk.”

      This made me laugh out loud–I share those sentiments exactly

    2. Hyaline*

      I think you’re really onto something here, though, with shifting the focus to your newfound hobby. It shifts the focus from “weight, bodies, diet” to “finding joy in life” which shuts down a lot of the junk associated with diet talk. It also, I think, shuts down some forms of the “nosy Nellie” who disrespect boundaries. There are the sort of people around whose interest is obnoxiously piqued by clear boundaries (they think ooooh! there must be something interesting here! and keep poking) and veering toward “honest (about the limited things I feel like being honest about) but boring” talk shuts them down. So if they press after clear boundary setting (which they shouldn’t, but) and you feel you can’t just say “I said no, shove off” (which is also a fair response, but I am not someone who can say that, personally) letting yourself go into detail about something you are willing to talk about but that is straightforward and probably boring if what they were going for were “secrets” or “diets” deters them. That is–“Tell me your secrets!” “Oh, I got really into learning to cook for myself, do you like broccoli? I sure do,” and wax poetic about how you discovered five great ways to prepare broccoli (or that cycling is so much fun, or whatever you actually do enjoy but that is, again, boring unless you enjoy it, too) will give those kind of people a clear “nothing to see here” signal and they’ll move on. It also reinforces the “I don’t want to focus on weight and bodies, I am doing this for my own personal satisfaction and enjoyment of life” angle. (And if by some miracle they love the broccoli talk, well, you found someone who shares your love of broccoli or cycling or whatever, and that’s a rare thing in this world.)

      1. Aine Riordan*

        I have lost a lot of weight recently, and this type of approach works very well to deflect comments.
        “What’s your secret?”
        “I’ve been making an effort to walk more, and I’ve been listening to audiobooks. I listened to a great one last week” and go on to talk about the narration or the plot.

        If I describe your real exercise or diet plan, people express Opinions and want to bring me round to their way of thinking (even though my approach clearly is working for me), but I’ve found that they express fewer Opinions about walking.

        1. Rosemary*

          Off topic, but I just recently discovered audiobooks – downloaded one to listen on a car trip that was much shorter than the book…I am not one to just sit and listen to an audiobook – I have to be moving or doing something – so I have found I have been taking a lot more walks, and doing a lot more cleaning, so I can listen to the book!

    3. Pizza Rat*

      Diets and weight are such personal things that your ways to eat less and move more might not work for others. Wise not to give it.

      When I’ve navigated weight loss, I’ve tried to keep it vague: “Oh, you know, a little of this, a little of that,” or “Eating my vegetables,” followed with, “Let’s talk about something else.”

      I know people think they’re being supportive, but it’s really best not to navigate the mine field. I remember a male friend of mine seeing an acquaintance after a while and asking, “Alexa! Have you lost weight?” Alexa had recently had a breast reduction. The conversation that followed was…awkward

      1. smirkette*

        This! Weight is a lot more complicated and individual than many health care professionals and other folks care to acknowledge. Genetics, other health conditions, living situation, etc. all interact. What works for one person may not actually for for another.

  16. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #4: Has surprising someone with “Hey, I put you down as a reference!” ever turned out well for anyone, ever?

    1. Jason*

      Since OP was considering giving an innocuous reference, it makes sense that the colleague thought this might work as a least bad reference from the job. Too bad they asked Ask a Manager.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      I think if one picks a really conflict avoidant person, and/or a person who has a pathological need to be perceived as nice, it will probably work. They won’t say no (conflict!) and won’t give a bad reference (uncomfortable, also feels like conflict). At worst they’ll dodge the calls and won’t be reachable.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s interesting that they hit on OP (who would have fired her long ago) rather than the actual manager (who clearly wouldn’t have fired her). I suspect this is an ode to LW’s quiet professionalism.

        1. AnonORama*

          And an ode to not wanting to alert your boss you’ve got one foot out the door!

    3. Artsygurl*

      It didn’t for the former acquaintance who did it to me. She had been in the same undergraduate program as I but our areas did not overlap so we never took a class together nor worked together. About a decade later she blithely announced though social media that she had listed me as a reference because she was applying for a job at my work and expected me to go to bat for her. I had not liked this person – she was extremely entitled, enjoyed stirring drama, and had bullied other people in the program to the extent a mediator had to be called in. Needless to say she was not called in for an interview.

    4. metadata minion*

      If it was someone I actually liked, I would be mildly annoyed that they hadn’t told me but would still give a good reference.

  17. Adultier adult*

    I find it so odd that people are so hesitant to tell the truth in references. One of my best employees was hired after his former manager said (summarized). “He is a hard worker, very passionate, has trouble with keeping up with calendar/details”. It was all true but by knowing this at the start, I knew exactly how to support him.

    1. Jimmy Allston*

      I don’t find it odd – it’s people’s jobs and livelihoods at stake. If me mentioning someone has trouble with details might cost them a job, I’ll keep it to myself. Personally it would take alot for me to give a negative reference

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        On the flip side, if someone is not good with X–awful in fact–and you leave that out of your reference, and it turns out that X is 80% of their new job, then you’re setting them up for failure by giving them a good, but incomplete reference.

        If you’re not comfortable giving someone a fair and complete reference, it’s better to just not give one at all.

      2. Glad I'm Retired*

        There was one time in my 45 year career where I performed poorly due to severe stress (2 deaths in the family and a toxic marriage). I quit because I knew I’d get fired. I couldn’t leave the company name off my resume because it was 2 years of my life, and I needed a job as I was getting a divorce. Don’t know if the former employer bad mouthed me. Nonetheless I got a job and where I was successful.

    2. Seashell*

      If you agree to be a reference for someone, that’s doing something nice for them. To proceed to be negative after that seems odd, even if it’s the truth.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        A reference is not a recommendation though. Saying that they are good at X, Y, Z but need help with A is a reference, not a recommendation.

        As someone who has checked references, I’ve always asked about things that the person has struggled with. If you can’t/won’t come up with anything, that always makes me wonder. Nobody is perfect at their job.

        1. Jimmy Allston*

          I don’t think that distinction is universal or even common though. If I agree to be a reference for someone, in my mind I’m recommending that person not just reciting some facts about them.

          Backdoor references are probably better for a full unvarnished picture of a candidate

        2. Not my coffee*

          You and reference may not have the same metric system. What you think is significant, they don’t and vice versa. Since I don’t know your metric system, I won’t provide any information. I always convey this to anyone who asks me the be reference.

          If it means, you won’t consider the candidate at all, there is nothing I can do about that.

      2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        You may be asked by the prospective employers to give a reference, even if your employee never gave your name.

      3. AnonORama*

        Whether it’s a reference or a recommendation, it’s better to tell someone up-front if you can only give a negative or mixed review. It doesn’t have to be “you SUCK!” “I can do it, but I will be providing an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses from my perspective” is the way I’ve said it. (In both cases it was a request for peer reference — one person said go for it, the other backed off. No one called in either case.)

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      It’s fine to emphasise the positive points when someone has done a good job for you and was pleasant to work with.

      However, if a reference veers over into being untruthful, or omits serious issues, then their network soon learns their references are not to be trusted.
      That not only removes your usefulness to those who genuinely deserve a good reference but likely will also damage your own network and make them less likely to invest time in helping you when you need them e.g. to get a new job yourself.

      1. Jimmy Allston*

        That’s fair, for me personally I don’t feel there’s an obligation to be 100% honest to some stranger on a call.

        If I’ve agreed to be a reference for someone it means I’m endorsing them overall and so am rooting for them to get the job if they want it. If someone lets me know I may get a call, I’ll ask them specifically if there’s anything they want to me to highlight, or to avoid mentioning.

  18. Bagpuss*

    for #4 the ther consideration is whether you are even allowed to give a reference. Most places I have worked have had specifc policies about who can and can’t do so (on beahlf of the company – obviously you can provide a person/ character refernce but you have to ensure that you are specifying you don’t speak for the company )

    While I suspect that most of the formal policies were put in place officially once the law where I am explicitly provided that people could be hed legally accountable if they knowingly provided a false / misleading refernece and either the applicant or new employer suffered loss as a result, but in LW4’s position, I’d definately want to check that my giving a reference wouldn’t mean I was breaking any internal policies.

    On a practical level, I would tell the co-woker that I didn’t think I was well placed to provide a reference and suggest that she provide them with HR / her own manager’s details, and make clear that f she still wanted to use me I would be honest in whahow I answerred their questions.

    1. Pizza Rat*

      This indeed. I’ve worked for companies that said all checks for references had to go to HR and they would verify dates of employment, position title, and yes/no whether they were eligible for rehire (and no explanation if that was a no).

    2. Elsewise*

      I know of several places that explicitly forbid employees from being even personal references for each other! Some will even insist on making that a permanent rule- so if you and your friend get a job together at this place, you can’t be a reference for them elsewhere even if you don’t mention the company. Theoretically, if your coworker is hired elsewhere and then you follow them and they become your manager, they’re not “allowed” (by a company neither of you work for anymore) to be your reference. (Obviously that’s completely unenforceable, and even disallowing personal references is too, but hey, nothing stops bad companies from trying!)

  19. I should really pick a name*

    There is a pervasive attitude of “eh, someone else will fix it.” Well, that someone is usually me

    I think it’s worth asking yourself why that person is you.
    I get that you want things to improve, but is that actually your job?
    It sounds like you’ve spent a lot of energy trying to fix things, but the payoff really isn’t there because everything else is still broken.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      This. OP please stop trying to fix things. If the owners wanted to change how they did things they would. All you are doing is frustrating yourself and heading down the road to burnout.

    2. not like a regular teacher*

      Two of the best pieces of advice I ever picked up from this site are “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” and “you can’t care about your company more than your boss does.” I think both apply here.

      1. Pizza Rat*

        I would say the number of bosses who suck and the bosses who aren’t going to change would make an almost perfect circle out of a Venn diagram.

    3. WantonSeedStitch*

      This was absolutely my thought. You can’t care about your company and the work more than your management does. There’s just no point.

  20. ijustworkhere*

    You can ask about the vet bills. I doubt you will get anywhere.

    It’s akin to you having a client with the flu, you get the flu, and then your child gets the flu.. Most businesses would not cover the child getting the flu as a result of a workplace exposure. In fact, most would not even cover you getting the flu as a workplace exposure, since it’s hard to verify that the exposure occurred only there and nowhere else.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I think it’s different becauser airbourne infections are everywhere and near impossible to backtrace, whereas flea infestations are much rarer – e.g. I’ve never come across one and I’m in my late 60s, lived in a variety of countries and rural areas, in old buildings.

      So if you get fleas shortly after work visits to one or more places with fleas, imo it is highly likely that they came from one of them, not your normal everyday life.

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

        exactly! And being the animal never goes outside, was fine before the visit AND the OP had bites too, its a reasonable conclusion that they came from that place.

    2. DramaQ*

      I disagree on this one. Things like fleas and bed bugs are usually not something you just “pick up” to the level of severity that the LW is dealing with. That level of infestation almost immediately means you picked it up from somewhere that already has a severe infestation and it’s not going to be hard to prove who it was. If the employer knows this person has a flea problem, or is at least now aware of it, then they should at least offer something in regards to cost be it vet bills or reimburse the LW for getting the fleas out of her house.

  21. MollyGodiva*

    LW 3: Bad management is bad management not because they don’t know how to be good, it is because they don’t care. The only think you can do is your job, if bad management messes things up that hurts the business, then that is on them.

  22. blupuck*

    #5- Go ahead and tell folks you were laid off (RIF’d).
    I was RIF’d in 2008. It was economics, not my performance.
    Just be matter of fact about it.

    After resting a bit, I reached out to my network and was able to land a position quickly.
    The new role put me on a better, more recession proof job track. Reach out early and often. Senior colleagues especially.

    Several people were let go at the same time as me. Those that stayed positive, viewed it as a business decision it was, and activated their networks all landed in better places. Others were resentful and carried unwarranted bitterness. They have some nice MLM products available now…

    I later returned to the company that RIF’d me. My former manager seemed nervous and sheepish around me. I finally told him how THANKFUL I was for the opportunities it gave me and how kind he was during the process. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Agreed, reorganizations and layoffs are really common and nothing to be embarrassed about (and as a copywriter I have seen SO many both in my own orgs and at agencies). Don’t be afraid to tell people.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I was going to say this. Every now and then I see a really downbeat message on LinkedIn about being made redundant and looking for work, and like obviously, that is a *normal* way to feel and nobody should feel bad for feeling like that! But on LinkedIn, when you’re asking for people’s help, disappointed-but-looking-towards-the-future is about as negative as you can get. You have to put that positive spin on things: when you’re reaching out to colleagues and professional contacts, that’s a marketing job and you don’t want pity-shares. The message has got to be about being proud of the work you’ve done and excited for the next chapter.

    3. I Have RBF*

      I work in tech, and have off and on for my entire working life. Layoffs are very, very, very common in Silicon Valley. My first layoff was in 1982. For a while there I had a layoff a year, because of economic malaise. I’ve been laid off from both contract and permanent jobs.

      I have lost count of how many times I’ve been laid off. I’ve learned not to take it personally. It’s the way businesses run these days.

      Some upper level folks are worse about it than others. I knew one director level person who would hire people solely for skill A, very cheaply. If his team needed to switch to something that instead needed skill B, he would lay off all of the skill A people and hire people with just skill B, instead of retraining his existing workers, or even caring about the other stuff they did that required institutional knowledge. It was like if you were hired because you knew WordPerfect, you would get laid off when the department switched to MS Word, even if you knew MS Word, you were pigeon-holed as a WordPerfect person and would be laid off. This meant that his people were never cross trained, and they all were low paid with very narrow job descriptions. He sucked as a director, IMO, but that type of upper level manager is all too common.

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

    Where/what are people doing that they can pick up fleas from their daily life??? I could maybe see traveling as a possible way. Are fleas so prevalent in some areas that just walking can cause you to bring them home? I live in the north USA, so its typically cold at least 6 months of the year here I’ve never heard of someone bringing fleas home unless it was like what happened with the OP. They visited someplace or someone visited them that had them so bad, an animal go out and brought them in, or they got furniture that had them.

    Really, an employer should cover any problems like this. I’ve never been a home aid, or worked anywhere that I would go to clients homes. But you would think that there would be some sort of policy.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Fleas that infest humans, and fleas that infest cats and dogs (and ferrets and guinea pigs and etc) are different species. Bring home a pet with a small flea infestation and they can really take root. (When this happened to us we figured out the population had really got going on our elderly cat who mostly lived in the basement, but had likely come in on a different pet.) The cat/dog fleas can also infest animals like raccoons and field mice, so if your furry pet goes outside and encounters a wild mammal with fleas, some fleas can jump ship to the new territory.

    2. Not your typical admin*

      Where I live (southeast us) it’s common enough that I; and most people I know, have to keep pets on flea prevention. I keep mine on it all year. It’s much easier and cheaper than dealing with an infestation.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes, I have to treat my pet who leaves the house. It’s a three-monthly spot-on that also protects against internal parasites.

        I have once had to treat the house for fleas, when we missed a treatment. Never, ever, ever again.

    3. RagingADHD*

      Yes, fleas are a naturally occurring pest and live outside in nature. I’m in the Southeast US and we have to keep our fully indoor pets on flea prevention from at least March – October if not year round, because fleas can hitchhike in on your clothes or shoes. Not only do neighbors on 3 sides have dogs, there are plenty of furry woodland creatures to serve as hosts.

    4. JustEm*

      Fleas can come in on pants/shoes just from walking in the grass. My indoor-only cats got fleas that way before I had them on prevention

  24. Pizza Rat*

    My experience is most employers want managerial references, though some will ask specifically for co-workers. I’ve even had one request for a reference from a direct report.

    So leading with, “I wasn’t Alexa’s supervisor,” might get LW off the hook completely before even getting into, “I’m not positioned to give a full reference, but what I saw of her work wasn’t up to expectations I would have set.”

  25. WantonSeedStitch*

    LW #2 – I would probably say something like “to be honest, I really don’t think talking about weight loss at work is a good thing. It’s just such a fraught subject for so many people! But when I had to get new clothes, I found the most AWESOME thrift shop over on Pine Street. Have you been there? They have a vintage section!”

  26. HannahS*

    OP1, you can ask, but be prepared for them to say no. I work in healthcare, and while our workplace does take more of a responsibility for some workplace exposures, they don’t for pests. As an example, my workplace will provide post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV if you get a needlestick, but when the nursing station and documenting room had bedbugs, we were on our own. We were given tips on what to do to limit spread, but that’s it.

    I think your case is stronger if your organization didn’t provide you with the appropriate PPE (e.g. disposable coveralls, gloves, shoe covers, hair net, etc.)

  27. Mary Ellen*

    I have lost a substantial amount of weight over the last couple of years, intentionally, but I am not even remotely comfortable talking about it with people outside of my immediate circle of friends and family. My coworkers have been very good about it, but I’m a librarian, and a few patrons have made comments. My usually response is a smile and a “thank you, but I would prefer not to talk about it,” followed by asking if there’s anything I can help them with, or answering whatever question they were asking. A couple of times people have pushed further, and I have repeated the “I would rather not discuss it” but dropping the smile and in a firmer tone. Only one person has gotten snotty with my about it, and I just ignored her comments after that, and focused on helping her with the printing issue she was having. (My “favorite” was the very friendly regular who said “You’ve lost so much weight! You look fantastic! Was it intentional?” Ma’am. If you MUST comment — which really, you don’t need to — maybe put that last question first, because what if it wasn’t intentional??)

  28. HailRobonia*

    “X has sometimes shown poor judgment”

    “Can you elaborate?”

    “Yeah, they used me as a reference.”

  29. Dr. Doll*

    The most effective reference call I ever made consisted of one word.

    Me: “Hi, I’m calling about Cressida Pumbles, who listed you as a reference for my department’s Rat Cage Enrichment design position.”

    Reference: Long pause. “Ooooh….”

    We did follow up from there, but uh, that was enough.

  30. Person from the Resume*

    LW4, the obvious solution to me (which you to seem to have not considered) is to give an honest reference.

    You are a peer, not a manager, but she is a terrible coworker. You can honestly say that she arrives late, leaves early, doesn’t always inform the business when she is taking PTO, and is not managing projects on her own after two years when most can learn after 6 months.

    You are not wronging her in any way! She made the choice to be a terrible employee. And then she chose to put you down as a reference without asking you. She only told you after the fact. She did this specifically to manipulate you so you could not decline. She picked you specifically because she thinks you will lie and not tell the reference caller the truth about her poor performance.

    Be a good, decent person and give the reference check caller an honest answer. Focus on facts of her performance and not feeling. All you’re doing is allowing your coworker to suffer the consequences of her own choices. I mean, she did not have to give your name to multiple companies as a reference, but she did. That was a calculated choice on her part.

  31. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    #2 they want to know of you used ozempic.

    People are getting judgy about it too.

  32. spcepickle*

    I have been a reference for people I have fired.
    Your co-worker sounds terrible and you might have nothing productive to say about her and that is fair. But take a moment and think about if there is something she does well. This is not to sugar coat a reference, but to understand that failing in one job does not make someone a terrible employee in all jobs.
    I had an employee who was dreadful at the day to day work we did, but shone when I gave him special projects where he could do in-depth research and come up with creative solutions. I ended up having to fire him because I needed someone who could do the day to day work. When I got a reference call I was clear that when he was bored he was terrible, but it they could keep him busy and engaged he might work. He got the new job and has succeeded there.

    Long story short – always be honest in refence calls, but also know that a change might be just what someone needs.

    1. Bear in the Sky*

      But someone who regularly misses work without notice won’t be good in any job. All jobs require being there when you’re scheduled to be and telling your employer when you can’t be there, as far in advance as possible. The coworker might do the work part better if she has a different kind of work, but if she continues to be unreliable about showing up and unreliable about communicating when she’s taking time off, that won’t do.

      I’m surprised her current employer didn’t fire her long ago, just for that.

  33. Immortal for a limited time*

    For LW #2 – in addition to the suggestions offered by Alison, you could say (and I’ll bet it’s accurate!) that you decided to eliminate unhealthy food from your diet and weight loss is a nice side effect of better nutrition. If people keep asking what you did, you could say, “Well, everyone is different and all it takes is some self-experimentation to see what works best for you.” That’s what I say when I’m not interested in sharing details, because it’s true.

  34. Jenzee*

    LW5: Absolutely no shame in openly stating your position was eliminated and now you’re on the market. Layoffs are so normal in the creative world I sometimes think they should just schedule them in.

  35. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    Several years ago, we terminated a Team Lead for cause, and I was involved in the termination as HR Manager. A few days later, this Team Lead contacted me on my personal cell phone and asked me to be their reference. I had advised the company not to promote this person in the first place, and things had went out exactly how I said they would when I advised them not to promote this individual. I was astonished when this person reached out to me to be a reference for them. I told them politely this would be a conflict of interest, and I could not be a reference for them. They were quite upset, but I stood my ground. The only person in the company who would have been willing to be a reference for them (and who recommended this person for promotion) was also terminated for cause about the same time. This former Team Lead was scrambling to get someone at the company to give them a good reference, but it wasn’t going to be me.

  36. CheckAgreements*

    OP5, also check your employment paperwork and make sure trying to get work from former clients is kosher and won’t result in your getting sued. Most employers don’t follow up even if they clearly have the right but some will.

  37. Dorothy Zpornak*

    If you want a subtle way to redirect, and this doesn’t feel too personal, you could consider shifting the conversation to activities. Since exercise contributes to weight loss it feels like a natural segue to respond to a question about weight loss with, “Oh I’ve started hiking a lot recently,” and then tell the person about a place you’ve gone hiking, or “Oh I’ve started walking while I listen to this podcast I’m obsessed with,” and then tell them all about the podcast. So you pivot the question away from focusing on the weight loss and onto the innocuous activity, but the person still gets the impression that you’re answering them — which might head off them pressuring you to respond.

  38. Anonymous Today*

    #4: “She regularly misses work without notice, and recently took over a month of leave without telling anyone she would be doing so.”

    Why is she still employed there? This is what is called “job abandonment”. Once the management determined that the worker wasn’t coming in of her own free will, why didn’t whoever is in charge simply cut her final check, pack up her stuff, and advise her in writing that she had effectively quit?

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