employee never eats at work, office is angry I didn’t pay for a plane ticket after I resigned, and more

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

1. My employee never eats at work

I added a new (and wonderful) person to the team I lead about six months ago. We share an open work space. Most folks eat lunch communally, but sometimes people pop out to buy something or go for a walk. I have noticed that this new employee does not seem to eat the whole time she is at work (about 9-5). She declines snacks/fruit/pastries that we have during team meetings, will sit with folks at lunch and chat but does not eat, etc.

I can’t decide whether I should say something or not. On the one hand, I feel like whether she eats or not is for her and her circle of loved ones/clinical providers. On the other hand, I’m worried that maybe something about the way food is structured in our office (communally) might be a stressor? I work in a high-stress nonprofit job and I don’t want my staff going all day without eating — that doesn’t help anyone’s stress. If there’s something I can change about her environment to make this easier, I want to know and I want to do it. But as her manager, I’m worried asking about this is prying into her life in a way that would make her uncomfortable.

Leave it alone. She’s an adult and can manage her own food intake. There could be all kinds of reasons for what she’s doing — intermittent fasting, preferring to eat later in the day, not liking to eat around others, who knows.

If the facts in your letter were different — like if most people ate hurriedly at their desks and there was pressure not to take much time for lunch— I might advise making sure she felt she could take enough time away to eat. But that doesn’t sound like an issue here, so you can safely leave it alone!

2. My office is angry I didn’t pay for a plane ticket for a business trip after I resigned

This happened about a year ago, but I am not sure if I was in the wrong. After nearly nine years at the same organization at a job I really enjoyed, an opportunity fell into my lap for a new job with more responsibilities and a pay jump. However, at the time, I had pre-booked travel for a conference I attended annually, including paying for the flight. The trip was about a month after I would start my new job. When I resigned, my boss told me I had to pay for the flight, since it was nonrefundable. It was around $650.

My husband and I both thought that was ridiculous and he consulted with a friend who does employment law who said I was under no obligation to repay this. I told my job I wasn’t paying for the flight, I didn’t plan to use the ticket, they could have it, etc.

The way I was treated for my last two weeks was terrible. My boss, who I had formerly been on fantastic terms with (think buying birthday and holiday gifts for my kid), stopped speaking to me. My department (five others) took me to a goodbye lunch. When I said at the lunch that I enjoyed working with everyone, it was dead silence until someone said, “Well, glad we got to leave the office for a free lunch!” This was an organization of less than 50 people, and the CEO didn’t even say goodbye to me. The HR person reminded me repeatedly to return my key before I left. I recently ran into several old coworkers at an event and some of them were still salty about the whole thing. Think not saying hello even though I worked with them for nearly a decade! So … What do you think?

I think that entire office was bonkers. It’s ridiculous to think you should pay for a business trip just because you leave before it happens; if that were the norm, no one could ever safely book business travel since they couldn’t guarantee they’d be there when the trip rolled around. That’s part of the cost of doing business for your company. But far more bonkers than their stance on that is the level of vitriol they directed toward you afterwards — particularly your non-management coworkers, who shouldn’t give one tiny fig about an issue like this. (Not saying hello to you an event?!)

I resigned, and my employer asked me to write them a check

3. Returning to an office where an estranged friend works

In 2022, I had been close friends with two coworkers, Ashley and Stephanie, for about five years. We were all on the same team working remotely but we would get together once or twice per week for TV nights, dinners out, road trips, exchanging gifts, etc. That spring, I found out I would be working in our office overseas for two years. We were all super excited and we discussed visits to my location and trips back home.

That summer, about two months before I was to leave, Ashley and I had a falling-out that was completely my fault. She, rightly and understandably, cut off all contact with me. Ashley and Stephanie remained friends and, while my friendship with Stephanie was strained, we also remained friends.

Now my assignment overseas is coming to an end. They have both returned to in-office work, although on different teams. I will be returning to the office as well and have been assigned to the team Ashley is on. Through Stephanie, I know that Ashley is aware of this.

I have not had any contact with Ashley since I left. At this point, I know we will not be friends and just don’t want to make any problems for her. I don’t know how to approach this. Do I reach out to Ashley? Wait to see if she reaches out? Do I ask about switching to another team?

I would do … nothing! Don’t reach out to Ashley, and definitely don’t ask to switch to another team. Just show up and be pleasant and professional and show through your actions that you respect whatever boundaries she has in regard to you. Treat her the way you’d treat someone you don’t know well but have respect and good will towards.

Depending on the nature of the falling-out, it’s possible she’ll be ready to move past it, or perhaps she won’t. Follow her cues and don’t force any big conversations about it.

Alternately, if you really wanted to, I suppose you could send a note in advance saying something like, “I don’t want you to feel awkward about me returning to the office, so I want you to know that I take full responsibility for our falling-out two years ago, understand your decision to cut ties, and will of course respect the boundaries you’ve put up since then.” But I don’t know, it’s almost reopening the drama. I think you’re better off just showing up and being pleasant and professional, but not familiar.

4. Using a custom email domain when job searching

A nice, low-stakes question about email addresses — as you can see, I’m using a basic firstinital.lastname@gmail.com address, which I’ve had since some time during grad school when I took my husband’s name for the sake of the alliterative initials. (Kidding. Mostly.) But I’ve been considering using firstname@lastname.com instead for job searches. I feel like it’s more impressive somehow, I guess? On the other hand, the reason that we own lastname.com in the first place is the fact that my spouse is an independent contractor and hosts his portfolio and query form there.

Is anyone likely to check out the URL and be confused by that? His business isn’t controversial or anything, but also wildly unrelated to my line of work (think carpentry vs. banking). Does it matter? Am I overthinking this?

Stick with the gmail. The custom domain for your last name won’t strengthen your candidacy in any way; most people won’t even notice it, and those that do are unlikely to think anything of it. But if anyone does bother to go to lastname.com, it could be mildly odd to see your husband’s stuff there. Not a big deal, by any means — but not a plus either. So there are really no advantages to using the custom domain, and one potential small weirdness. Stick with the gmail address; it’s absolutely fine.

5. Should I put being on my condo board of trustees on my resume?

Does being a member of the board of trustees of a largeish condominium belong on your resume if you can point to specific accomplishments? Not in the employment section, of course, but elsewhere?

I wouldn’t unless the specific accomplishments are relevant to the position you’re applying for — like if you’re applying for bookkeeping jobs and you can mention the bookkeeping mess you cleaned up as the condo association treasurer or similar. If it’s specific and relevant, include it.

That said, you can define “relevant” pretty broadly! For example, I’d also include that bookkeeping example if you were applying for an admin job where you wouldn’t be working with finances but want to show organization and resourcefulness as strengths.

{ 422 comments… read them below }

  1. Mina*

    I’ve been curious about the condo board situation too. I’ve done an immense amount of conflict resolution, bookkeeping, babysitting (kidding, but am I?), general managing projects I don’t fully understand, as co-op board president and at this point if someone asked me about a recent challenge, or time I’ve navigated challenging personalities, or had to change course on a project due to outside factors in an interview, I’d have far more recent and relevant examples from my presidency rather than my professional job.

    1. Nodramalama*

      I might be hesitant including it just because of associations people have. I don’t know if it’s the same kind of thing in the U.S but in Australia people do not generally like their strata board/owners Corp board, and id be concerned people would get annoyed seeing it on a resume.

      1. Artemesia*

        I agree. If one is the treasurer or does a lot of financial work for the condo board, then that works for a resume — but HOAs have such a bad reputation of empowering jerks and petty busy bodies, that it might have a bit of a negative tinge for some people.

        1. Mina*

          Yes, and I’ve done a lot of reform work on a board that has done nothing since 2019 but still has busybody tendencies and elected me against my will (literally my campaign speech was “I don’t feel ready or prepared to be on the board.”), named me president and immediately handed me a to-do list going back to 2017.

          I’ve rebuilt a relationship with our management company, I’ve mediated conflicts with our super, I’ve facilitated conversations across 2 languages and 4 dialects (only one of which I speak), I’ve communicated with contractors and fixed budgeting errors, I’ve pushed for our bylaws and house rules to be translated for accessibility, I’ve coached other board members on presentations. Now I am preparing messaging for an unpopular but sorely needed maintenance increase.

          I’m good at my job, for sure, and I use most of the skills there, but I haven’t been challenged professionally to 1/10th of the degree with stupid board presidency has challenged me and forced me outside of my comfort zone. To be fair, I would quit any job that made me deal with this BS, but it’s tied to my relationships with my neighbors, my housing security, and my life savings. So here I am. But in an interview, talking about my professional challenges would feel laughable compared to the board challenges, because they are worlds apart in the problem solving skills required.

      2. ferrina*

        Yeah, HOAs are a really mixed bag in the U.S. Some are great, but some are absolutely horrible. A lot of people have opinions about HOAs- I’ve met people who love HOAs, and I’ve met people that abhor HOAs. It would be a roll of the dice for LW

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          I view a co-op or condo board as something different from an HOA. An HOA is purely voluntary, but I don’t think you can have a condo/co-op without someone running it. I think using it as an example of, eg, a time you handled conflict, in an interview is fine. As long as it’s not how you handled it when Mr. Whoever painted their door a different shade of blue.

          1. Selina Luna*

            This is what I was about to say. My in-laws had a condo board when they lived in condos a few years ago. It was necessary for the maintenance of the grounds of the condo, including the parking lot (Tucson, so no snow, but things need to be swept and repaved every once in a while), courtyards, the communal laundry, and things like that. They didn’t police people’s door colors or decorations as long as the decorations stayed on their property; they did hold monthly meetings (including a video recording for those who worked during the times when the meetings happened, which was pretty progressive for the time) to discuss how much money they had and what the money should be spent on (there was a pool, the courtyards, the parking, and a few other communal locations that all needed maintenance).
            Honestly, if this was all HOAs did (take care of communal spaces), and they left homeowners alone about nonsense like decorations and didn’t get all Stepford-dictatorial about everyone’s house looking the same, I think people would be more okay with them.

      3. Melody Powers*

        I was wondering if it was just me thinking this. I had an utterly terrible experience with my previous condo board and was thinking of all the others who would be bringing bad experiences with them when reading resumes.

    2. CityMouse*

      I’ve been on a couple school parents boards and I wouldn’t list it on my resume because the reality that it’s not assessable. No one rates me on this position or oversees what I do and I could just quit with no real consequences.

      1. T.*

        Condo board in a cover letter/interview but not the resume. As another commenter said, a time you managed conflict would be a great interview answer. In a letter, it would highlight a skill that makes you a great candidate.

    3. Yellow rainbow*

      I think it depends heavily on the type of job you are applying for. If you are applying for a general entry position I think it’s entirely appropriate as it points to skills you’ve used. If you are applying for senior manager at a large company – it’s odd that you don’t have career relevant examples to draw on.

      If you’re applying for a role that has something to do with property management it’s likely relevant, if you are applying to a water park not so much.

      It also depends what else you have. If you have no other recent employment then volunteer roles can point to recent experience (even if unpaid) – if you have a full career history then I’d leave it off or as a footnote.

      Unless volunteering is super relevant to the role you’re applying to I’d avoid it becoming the focus of interview responses. Fine to bring up in the good old tell us about a time – but problematic if it dominates.

      1. As You Wish*

        Just to second this, I took a couple years off work to be home w family and on my resume I put a “career break” section and listed volunteering, parent-teacher and local board responsibilities because they were meaningful and showed I wasn’t just sitting around during this resume gap. I landed my dream job, so it worked out ok!

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      My version is my time as president of my church. I have never put it on my resume, if only because how churches work varies so wildly that no one outside my denomination would even know what it means.

      1. Jay (no, the other one)*

        My board service and synagogue presidency is in the “community service” section of my CV (and I know CVs are not the same as resumes). If I had to convert to a true resume I’d drop it. I’d leave the work on the board and presidency of a professional organization, though.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          I was on the Board of Directors for my HOA for 10 years. I still wouldn’t put it on. I was mostly Secretary, though one year I was President.

          The only real feedback is winning or not winning elections, and it turns out to be a massive popularity contest.

          1. NerdyKris*

            Exactly. Much like why you don’t put household management on your resume, the accountability is much different than in a job. Also it’s pretty rare that a condo board or HOA is going to be more than a few hours a month or require more than really basic bookkeeping and planning.

            (My coworker in accounting is now going to hit me for saying that, she’s the president of hers and it’s been a nightmare.)

    5. JC*

      I worked on an animal charity board for a while and 100% used that on my resume – although under other interests not the main body of job experience. All of your points are directly relevant to a job and add to your candidacy!

      1. Pummeled by PowerPoint*

        A charity board is a different animal (sorry) from a condo board or an HOA, though. If you’re working for a charity, you’re not expecting anything in return. An HOA or condo board’s work directly affects you, ideally in a positive manner.

        Add that to the bad reputation landlords, building management, and HOAs often deservedly have, nobody does themselves any good by including that on a resume.

    6. Antilles*

      I think you’re perfectly fine to use it in an interview if you have a great recent example from your condo board. The point of those sorts of questions is to see how you react to situations, how you handle things, and how you think. If your best example happens to be your condo board rather than Teapot Design, that still works perfectly well for the interviewer.

      Also, this still applies even if you don’t list it on your resume. It’s understood that you won’t have absolutely everything listed on your resume, so you can still use that example even if it’s not listed. The only caveat is that you might want to preface your answer with a bit more intro/background about it so the interviewer knows about it “Outside of work, I’m on the board of directors for my condo, responsible for making large-scale funding decisions, which can lead to some really challenging conversations such as”.

    7. Michelle Smith*

      You can mention these examples in an interview even if you don’t have the condo board membership on your resume. You’re not limited to only talking about what’s on that document.

      If you’re not sure, I’d be inclined to leave it off. There are some reasons it could work against you (assumptions about what kind of person works for an HOA board, assumptions about how dedicated you’ll be to the job if you have a lot of outside responsibilities, etc.).

    8. serenity*

      When I was working, I did a lot of hiring. I’m sort of neutral about putting it on the resume but lean toward not.

      However, as I read the OP’s question, I was thinking that all those interpersonal conflicts and project management tasks are great for the interview stage when you are answering those “tell us about a time when” questions.

      Your experience as President is often quite a bit more challenging than the other roles, and I would love for you to discuss how you handled some of those challenges to assess your problem solving, team work, etc. Definitely use any appropriate openings in the interview to mention them.

  2. LateRiser*

    In addition to the point for LW4 – a truly infuriating number of job-hunt-related websites restrict what domains they will accept for creating/managing accounts. I use a custom domain as my primary email address(es), and before that a lesser known email provider, but still always needed a gmail/outlook/big provider backup to get around those kinds of restrictions.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I can also see someone that has to manually enter the email address somewhere (like when emailing LW) automatically typing in gmail.com without thinking about it. My husband has an email address that’s not a gmail domain and not well known, and I find even I accidentally write it wrong sometimes before catching myself. Make getting a hold of you easier, not harder.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Gmail can get tagged as junk in my office–I’d still use it over custom domain, but I never assume something can’t go to junk. All depends if someone else clicks to block the domain – even a misclick.

        1. Orv*

          It also depends on how your custom domain is set up. It can be really hard to get everything set up so that you have an IP address that isn’t automatically tagged as spam, and all the right SPF and DKIM records to indicate your email is legit.

    2. anon24*

      It also may be difficult to communicate with people who are trying to contact you. I use a non-custom email domain, but not gmail (protonmail) and a surprising amount of places mark my emails as spam at random times. I can get emailed by someone and my perfectly normal response will go to the spam folder, or I can email back and forth several times and then the 4th or whatever random number response will get sent to spam because suddenly my email address is flagged as risky. It’s not an odd email either, it’s my first initial, last name, and the domain. When I get a delay in email response I never know if it’s because the other person is busy or if they just didn’t get my email, so it’s easier sometimes to just use gmail.

      1. Good Lord Ratty*

        I’m not clear on why, but Proton seems to get flagged as suspicious more often than some other providers. It’s an entirely normal email service, so it beats me why (also a Proton Mail email address haver).

        1. anon24*

          I think it’s because it has the ability to encrypt messages, is touted as very privacy centered, and so is used for sketchy or outright criminal purposes. But it’s a fantastic email provider and I love it! I hate having to keep a gmail just because some systems won’t play nice with proton.

      2. Filosofickle*

        In the past few years I’ve had a lot of trouble with emails from my custom domain (myname dot com) getting filtered or black-holed. And, like you, it is sporadic and sometimes in the middle of conversations! I can’t exactly figure out why but it seems like the big systems are punishing the oddballs. Not intentionally, I assume, just whitelisting primary traffic and the small hosts get the short end of the stick.

        But since we’re so far into the gmail era, I had a VERY hard time finding a reasonably normal, professional address. But I did find one and any future searches I’ll use it because I just can’t trust my email anymore after 20 years of it being rock solid.

      1. Knope Knope Knope*

        As a hiring manager I hate custom domains and just missed an interview yesterday because I typed it wrong and my invite got bounced back. Gmail all the way.

    3. English Rose*

      I’m one of those weirdos who checks it out if I see a custom domain, and if it leads to nothing, or something irrelevant, it always raises a question mark in my mind. Stick with a big provider for job applications.

        1. Good Lord Ratty*

          Yeah, this. Lots of people have them solely for email. It’s not inherently suspicious or something.

    4. Carmina*

      They are much more likely to end up in a variety of spam filters – my family owns our @lastname.com domain (it’s a rare last name) and it’s a recurring issue for all of us. Some family members have sworn off gmail for privacy reasons, but I kept mine after being burned a few times by my emails not arriving where they should with our custom domain.

      1. I Have RBF*

        I have my own domain. I host my resume on it. My job search email is [initials][year]@[lastname].net

        I loathe gmail, especially for job searching. My gmail is whimsical, not professional. I do not want yet another freebie account full of ads and spam. It is not private, not secure, and I don’t want to give Google that much information on my life.

        I own several domains. I can make custom email addresses all day. Why should I use gmail? It reads to me as “Gee, here’s a sysadmin too lazy to get their own domain for email.”

        If people can’t type my last name on an email, how are they going to handle hiring me? Yes, it’s an idiot filter.

        1. Garblesnark*

          I’ll note that this makes more sense for someone who is a sysadmin than most other types of person.

          I certainly don’t share this perspective when hiring, for example, a plumber, a chef, a data analytics intern, a graphic designer, or an accountant, because none of those people need to know what a CNAME is on their first day.

      2. Agnes Grey*

        This is off topic, but I’m curious about which email providers they use and how well they like them. I’ve been looking at some of the gmail alternatives and having trouble deciding on one. I had just made a mental note to ask this in the weekend open forum when I saw your comment, so thank you!

    5. Azalea Bertrand*

      This. Plus I have multiple custom domains because no matter how simple/obvious firstname @ lastname . tld is to you and I, I can’t tell you how confused people get when I’m trying to relay it. They think the @ should be a . and I really mean Gmail. Or they get a letter wrong. Or they don’t understand that TLDs can be anything other than .com. Or or or… I’ve made so many custom domains for my way too common name trying to get a foolproof one and it’s nigh impossible! Oddly enough the most luck I’ve had is my most recent which uses mine and my husband’s last names (we made the domain for our children). It’s not my actual name but somehow that makes it easier for people to understand?! All of which to say, stick with Gmail LW4

    6. NothingIsLittle*

      I’m beyond shocked to hear so many people have this issue because my whole family has firstname@lastname.com and have never had problems signing up for websites or receiving emails. In fact, if I get a reaction to my email it’s confused delight! People, including hiring managers and potential bosses, have noticed and it’s never been negative.

      Granted, I do marketing/graphic design/writing/similar creative etc, so people are probably both more likely to notice and more likely to take it as a positive if they do. And there are other people with my name out there (firstname.lastname@gmail.com is already taken as are a few variants).

      1. Nina*

        And there are other people with my name out there (firstname.lastname@gmail.com is already taken as are a few variants).

        I do not have this problem – I am the only person in the world with my name (Nina Surname), and I know all the other N. Surnames in my country. My cousin got big mad at me when she came to get her first email address because I’d already taken n.surname@outlook.com.

    7. NerdyKris*

      There’s also the problem of the domain going away. You want to make sure you’re using something that will be around a while. If LW’s husband has to close up business, they might no longer have that domain. It’s also why you shouldn’t use your school’s address, or an internet service provider. Definitely never use an ISP email for anything other than a throwaway. They’re usually not backed up or supported at all, and you lose access if you change service providers.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Ugh! I’m going through this now, trying to transition everything I do with my ISP’s email to my Gmail account. I have Cox Cable, and they just outsourced all their email to Yahoo. Time to abandon my cox.net addresses as soon as I can.

        Of course, once I do that, I will tell Cox to pound sand in favor of Verizon FIOS. Tired of paying $250+ per month for cable and internet

      2. cheap rolls*

        “There’s also the problem of the domain going away. ”

        And this is not true of gmail or another commercial domain how? You know gmail, a free ad-based service, is going to be around for another decade? I’m don’t think I’m that prescient myself.

        I can move my custom domains to different tech providers. I have had two email addresses off one of them for longer than gmail has existed.

        1. 2e asteroid*

          If you have a gmail address, gmail going away would be a problem in the “it is harder for people to get in touch with you” sense, but not in the “you look flaky” sense — if it happens, it will be a massive internet cataclysm that your hiring managers will be aware of and will not specifically blame you for.

          If you have a custom domain, the custom domain going away would be a problem in both of these senses.

          1. metadata minion*

            Agree. Even if it was just “oh, this smallish ISP shut down” there would be at least a few tech news stories out there about it if I went to see what exampleisp dot net was. Whereas if it’s a custom email address that bounces, that starts looking at best flaky and at worst like it’s some kind of scam.

        2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          There are still aol.com addresses out there. There are still hotmail.com addresses out there. I think that, major apocalypse aside, gmail is not going anywhere.

          1. Orv*

            That’s probably true, but it’s hard to be sure — Google has launched and then killed off some 295 products to date, as chronicled by Google Graveyard. Some of them were quite popular and well-liked, like Google Reader.

          2. Filosofickle*

            Ha, I still own an AOL address I got in 1992. I don’t use it but it’s still there :)

      3. I Have RBF*

        LOL. That’s another reason I don’t use Gmail. My domain won’t go away unless I stop paying for it. Gmail can get EOL’ed at any time, by someone else’s decision.

        My hosting provider lets me back stuff up. Yes, changing hosting is a BIG pain in the ass. I’ve done it three times in the last 25 years.

        But it beats having all my stuff dependent on a company that I’m not even paying for the service.

        Having you own domain is not for everyone. But in my profession, it’s nearly table stakes.

    8. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      I have a gmail account that I use as a backup. Some websites either have a list of domains they’ve heard of, or rules about what can be a username, and reject anything else. They won’t let me use either gollux@mycustomdomain.org, or the email address I’ve been using since the 1990s, either because the username is too short, or because they’ve never heard of my ISP.

    9. lilsheba*

      I had no idea those kinds of domain restrictions were in place. I haven’t had to job hunt for about 9 years but still…damn. That’s just ridiculous.

    10. Anon Again... Naturally*

      As a contrasting point, I’ve used a custom domain for my email since 1995 without issues. I’m hosted by one of the big providers, which I think accounts for it. I have a hobby website attached to the domain and it has led to some fun ‘getting to know you’ conversations in interviews.

  3. Chidi Anna Kendrick*

    For a variety of personal reasons, I don’t feel comfortable eating around other people. So I don’t eat at work. While those reasons have nothing to do with my office’s culture, they’re also not my boss’s business. If my boss ever discussed my workplace eating habits with me, I would be both embarassed, pissed off, and even less likely to eat at work. Leave your employee alone.

    1. Zweisatz*

      Yeah I think that’s the crux. In the vast majority of cases, the conversation would backfire. Also, LW, if there is an issue, they know and if they truly didn’t, someone from work would be ill-positioned to point it out (as opposed to close friends or family).

    2. kalli*

      I don’t eat around other people because I have severe GI issues and it’s easier to go ‘nope, not eating, that’s it’ than play fifty thousand and twenty questions every single time there’s food. I’ve tried it, the outcomes are not fun compared to just eating at home where I know it’s food I want, can eat, generally isn’t contaminated (for that I basically have to live alone, thanks dad) and I’m not being monitored for how much I eat/when I eat/how it ends up in the toilet/etc.

      If I had even an inkling people were like ‘omg you didn’t eat the food’ and paying attention I’d just double down, because no way are they going to be *less* nosy if I try to eat and I’m not gutsing whatever like they are.

      1. Accounting Gal*

        100%. I have a variety of GI chronic issues and they’re frustrating and boring to talk about and semi-embarrassing, and often in a work context the easiest way to manage is to not eat. I hate when people ask me about it and push food, although I’m good at sidestepping it I just find these conversations tedious and stressful.

      2. JP*

        Ditto, I have sensitive GI issues and at my former job the one day I had to work in a gross germy coworking space with not enough fridge space anyway and not wanting to waste money on take-out, I’d just snack on ‘safe’ treats and my boss brought it up one day which added one more con of having to do a pointless commute to a pointless coworking space because at least at home I had a clean bathroom whenever I needed to use it and no one commenting on my eating habits. It made me even more self-conscious but I’m so glad to have a fully remote job now and no one judging me for how much food I eat or don’t eat. Lay off me!

    3. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

      Ultimately, it’s none of your employer’s business. I’d feel rather violated if someone asked me about my eating habits and I do eat in front of people.

    4. Rebecca*

      I’m not uncomfortable eating around other people, but I very rarely eat at work. I rarely eat at that time of day when I’m home either.

      I’d be offended if someone brought this up. I’d feel attacked, when I’d done nothing wrong. It simply isn’t anyone else’s business what and when I choose to eat, in any context.

      It’s rude, in the same way that it would be rude to tell someone you’ve noticed they’re eatinf a lot at work and gained a lot of weight. You wouldn’t do that, for obvious reasons, and it’s just plain rude to comment on someone’s else eating habits at work.

      1. DannyG*

        I have a good friend who is a carpenter, works outside 10-12 hours a day. Only eats one, very large meal in the evening. Plenty of Gatorade and other fluids during the day. It’s just the way his body works.

      2. Yawnley*

        This level of hostility feels like a bit of an overreaction. You’d really feel “attacked” if someone asked you a well-meaning and gentle query in private about whether or not you had any issues with the dining culture at work? Really?

        1. kalli*

          Well-meaning and gentle have nothing to do with it – it’s inappropriate and ‘meaning well’ or ‘being gentle’ doesn’t change that. Here you are, acting normal, like you did every day before you started working there and every day you’re not working there, and someone makes an effort to get you alone and question you about why you’re not behaving like everyone else, because they can’t comprehend that you can not be like them and still get your work done. What about that does NOT convey ‘you’re not like us and you should be’? Nothing. There is nothing about ‘well-meaning’ or ‘gentle’ that means someone has to feel grateful or pleasantly neutral about ‘you’re not like us why not’, which is by its nature, an attack – ‘we noticed you’re not like us and we want you to be like us!!!’ is not neutral, it’s evincing a ‘you must be like us’ and someone is within their rights to feel attacked, pressured, uncomfortable, embarrassed, even angry for being on the end of it.

          The worker in question joins people on their break and engages in conversation, simply choosing not to eat at the same time. This is normal. They’re “wonderful”, their work is fine, that’s it, nothing to see here.

        2. Rebecca*

          Yes. I’ve had so many iterations of “you’re so skinny” thrown at me in a professional context that I’m at the point of being offended. You wouldn’t question it if I said I was offended that my boss/coworker asked a “gentle query” about how I drank too much soda and ate a giant bag of chocolate at my desk every day. This is no different. It’s offensive ro comment on other people’s bodies, and especially so in a professional context.

    5. JSPA*

      If they have a beverage fridge and snacks bowl, they can certainly say, “If there’s a favorite snack or drink you’d like us to stock, please let me know.”

      (But no comments on how you don’t seem to like or eat what’s there.)

    6. ED Aware*

      I’m in an Eating Disorder program right now, and have learned there are many people who are incredibly stressed by eating in public. LW, please don’t engage with your employee about this.

      1. Ghee Buttersnaps*

        Came here to say this. Just reading this made me anxious. I absolutely abhor when anyone makes any kind of comment about what I’m eating or not eating, and anything about my body AT ALL. Why is everyone so invested in what other people are eating, and what their bodies look like?? I just don’t get it.

        1. JSPA*

          Some of it is intentionally judgemental, but some is based on how the offering / sharing of food is one if the deepest cultural touchstones for being “friend not foe” or “civilized human not barbarian.”

          Even non-human primates do it, so a) it’s not really intellectually defensible,

          but at the same time,

          b) it’s not something people easily remove completely from their reflex reactions.

          Leaning in on “you’re so kind to offer, but I’m good, thanks” tends to close the loop on the good impulse… and thus distinguish between that and the nebby busybodies.

    7. Sara without an H*

      This is really not a management issue, and the Letter Writer risks coming off as overly curious about the employee’s personal life. Better to leave it alone.

      And, btw, I’ve run into a few people over the years who just don’t eat lunch, for a variety of reasons — diet, custom, sleepiness after eating, whatever. As long as the employee is doing good work, her meals are not really a manager’s business.

    8. JustaTech*

      Thank you for sharing this!
      I would have thought it would be OK to say something like “Please let me know if there is anything about lunch breaks or the break room that isn’t working for you”, so it’s good to know that’s too intrusive.

  4. Cam*

    Spectrum person for 1, it could be an eating disorder or it could be food sensitivities (I avoid eating at work because I’m really particular about how hot/cold/fresh my food is and if I eat at work it ends up only being desserts which end up making feel really jittery). Don’t saying anything it’s none of your business…unless they’re having health symptoms at work (diabetic reactions/fainting) which isn’t happening.

    1. NotBatman*

      LW1, I was coming to say the same thing! I have a different disability that makes my eating awkward and weird (I’m under doctors’ orders to not eat meals, but rather to graze slowly throughout my day) and I have disproportionate fear that someone will say something to me about it. Hopefully your employee is just comfortably coping with some kind of annoying condition, and doing just fine.

    2. Frinntastic*

      Came to say that the person in #1 could have strict dietary restrictions (e.g. celiac disease, serious allergy, etc) and doesn’t feel like they can speak up about it given the communal nature of food in that particular workplace.

      I say this having just come home from a conference where NONE of the food at the venue had allergen labeling. I had to track down a food service person every time there was a meal to ask what I could eat safely (if anything). It made things stressful for me, and when I found one day that I could only eat the salad and plain grilled chicken for lunch……I felt like I should just go eat my lunch in a bathroom stall like a bullied middle schooler.

      All of that is to say, I hope LW1’s workplace is accommodating of people’s dietary needs. Communal food/eating can be a nightmare for many, and it can make people feel VERY excluded if there is nothing available for them to eat with the group.

    3. I'd Rather be Eating Dumplings*

      It could also be someone whose internal clock skews a bit to the late side or early side — three meals a day is a cultural convention, not a biological necessity.

      I have always eaten small but relatively frequent meals, whereas my partner, who is a night owl, tends to not be hungry until about 2pm, and eats the majority of his daily calories after 6. This works for his schedule and his appetite.

      On the other hand, my grandmother (an early riser) used to have a big meal around 6 AM and then not be hungry again till dinner — there are lots of different internal rhythms to how/when people get hungry.

      1. ijustworkhere*

        I eat very small amounts at nontraditional times because I had extensive GI surgery which removed a lot of my digestive system. It also means that occasionally I am on a liquid diet for a few days. Broth in the coffee cup is my go to. I’m glad no one has commented on it, I would be extremely embarrassed if they did. I don’t really want to talk about how half my intestines are missing because of a serious medical condition.

    4. RavCS*

      I’m on a diabetes medication which has been great for my blood sugar, however it also causes decreased appetite and weight loss (not necessarily a bad thing.) I am often not hungry and/or my meals are very small. When eating out or at a party / celebration I rarely finish more than 1/2 a meal. I would not be happy if coworkers or others commented on the size of my meal, my food choices (a tablespoon of hummus with some celery sticks fills me up,) or my not eating.

    5. Mom2ASD*

      Could also be an aversion to listening to people chew – my husband doesn’t eat with the rest of the family because the sound of chewing drives him around the bend.

      1. Helen Waite*

        There’s a gene for that. I have that gene. Mild misophonia around chewing bothers me less than subsonic sounds I can’t identify or locate the source of.

        1. Ghee Buttersnaps*

          Same!! Once I know the cause/location of the noise, I calm down. And the chewing, what can I say?? I told my husband the other day his almond chewing sounded like he was eating a handful of gravel.

          1. Snoodence Pruter*

            Mine eats raw celery like an actual giant crunching bones. I can’t be on the same floor of the house.

        2. AnReAr*

          I wonder if that gene is especially prevalent in the Utah pioneer descendents? We’re a pretty inbred genetically homogenous subgroup. Growing up at different points several of my classmates (who were mostly distant cousins) always talked about how annoying chewing noises are. I couldn’t hear it and was never a target of the complaints but it gave me anxiety about eating in front of people I’m not super close with. If I’m in an environment where everyone’s eating, like a restaurant, I’m okay. But if I’m at work it’s only light and quiet snacks for me.

        1. JSPA*

          I knew someone who couldn’t stand his own chewing, and ate privately so he could play loud music to down himself out, but was OK with others eating.

          And another friend whose misophonia-type problem left them with no appetite, but didn’t give them the enraged / fingernails on a chalkboard reaction that some people have.

          But also, a coworker who would have wanted to participate in group meals, but assumed they had to wait to be asked (and not once, but multiple times).

          Basically, continue to offer shared treats by an “everyone” announcement, and don’t single individuals out for anything food-related.

    6. ferrina*

      Or it could just be a quirk. My mom is a notorious workaholic and can go for hours without food. For her, food is a thing for relaxation. She doesn’t seem to need food for sustenance…..I think she operates by photosynthesis? I really don’t know. It’s not related to any health conditions, she just gets focused and doesn’t require food.

    7. br_612*

      There could also be a medical reason she doesn’t eat. Some kind of condition that means she mainly gets her nutrition through a J-tube or TPN or something (gastroparesis comes to mind).

      Just trust that she is handling her nutrition and that if she isn’t, someone in her personal life or a medical professional will address it with her.

    8. Pinto*

      She may also follow intermittent fasting and work hours are during her fasting schedule. Just another reason of the many already stated why this should not be a conversation.

    9. Nina*

      Spectrumy also – I got out of the habit of eating during the day in grad school (early morning? eating makes me nauseated. Lunchtime? I’d have to pack something in my limited bike carry space that is already full of books and papers and that I can safely both store and eat at room temperature and that I want to eat and and and…) so I ate when I got home at night and that worked so well for my general wellbeing I kind of never stopped.

      1. Cam*

        Yes! The point is it isn’t their business and there’s no need to bring it up unless there were very clear medical problems happening or they have food and drinks and check in to see if there’s something they’re missing that people would like (very casually) as mentioned in another comment.

    10. Keep it Simple*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that lunch letter is completely inappropriate. MYOB when it comes to food, any kind of food, even coffee or tea. Just do not comment. It is akin to asking someone who coughs, Have you been tested for tuberculosis?!

    11. Kathy*

      adding to the list of reasons someone might not eat at work:

      I take Adderall daily and the way the “appetite suppressant” side effects manifest for me are not just that I’m not hungry for most of the day – if I try to eat, my body won’t let me swallow, I’ll actually gag.

      So I hang out at work lunches for the break time and socialization, but only eat in the evenings (and a bit in the mornings if I can manage it before the meds kick in).

  5. Frances*

    OP3. Is apologizing in person not an option? I guess it depends on what you did, but you sound truly sorry, and 2 years seems like a reasonable amount of time for both sides to cool down. I doubt it would restore the friendship but might help in making it possible to work together?

    1. Nia*

      I do not think forcing contact to apologize is a good idea. An in person apology is just going to heavily pressure Ashley to offer forgiveness. It’s been two years the only purpose an apology is serving at this point is to make the OP feel better.

      1. Seashell*

        I don’t think an apology should only make OP feel better. If Ashley thinks OP did something horrible and never owned up to it, it might help the work relationship if she knows OP has realized her mistake or matured or whatever. I would rather go to work with someone who mistreated me and apologized for it instead of someone who mistreated and did nothing.

        1. KateM*

          Yes, but apologizing in person is forcing the victim to be physically there and listen to your apologies and react to them face to face in real time that was chosen by you, instead of reading it when they are mentally ready for it.

          1. Seashell*

            Yeah, I wouldn’t making apologizing in person my top pick, but that doesn’t mean that all apologizing is only for OP’s benefit in this situation.

        2. Nia*

          Ashley cut contact, the best way to show remorse is to respect her wishes. If someone I had cut contact with forced an apology on me, in person or on paper, it would just make me angrier about the whole thing. I would rather go to work with the person respecting my wishes than the person trying to guilt me into forgiving them.

          1. ScruffyInternHerder*

            Granted, its because in my case, its exactly because “they were completely in the wrong, got caught, took it out on me, spent two years showing the world their whole @$$ about the situation, and have been forced to listen to corrections from TPTB to the group as a whole about the specific situation and how to avoid it”. Of note, there’s enough turnover in the group that yeah, its necessary. I sit off camera during this annual discussion sipping my tea, knowing full well what its about.

            Considering the actions taken by the offending party, nope. I don’t give two rat’s derrieres about an apology because he’s not really sorry. Spoken or written, I simply don’t give a rip about him as a human being and I am coolly professional during any interaction with him.

          2. ferrina*

            This. When someone cuts contact, generally the best course of action is to respect that. The best way to say “I respect you” is to respect the boundaries. If Ashley doesn’t want to talk to you, make it easy for her not to talk to you.

            Guilt is only helpful for the person who did wrong- guilt is the emotion that says “hey, you need to change so you don’t do that thing again” (healthy guilt, not problematic guilt). Guilt is not helpful for the person who was wronged. Don’t pour your guilt onto them unless they’ve shown that they are interested (and Ashley has not shown any interest; most people aren’t interested, so if you aren’t sure, don’t do it).

            If LW sees Ashley, looking moderately embarrassed is probably a good course of action. If they are forced to interact, just a quick “Sorry for being a jerk, er, you want to keep this totally work focused? Great, me too.”

        3. Greta*

          LW would only be apologizing because they are going to be working with Ashley. If that wasn’t the case, LW likely would be going on as they have since Ashley cut off communications. LW may truly be sorry, but Ashley would likely be skeptical as it could look like LW is doing so to help LW’s situation rather than being fully remorseful.

          I’d follow Ashley’s lead. If I’m Ashley, LW isn’t going to have a lot of trust and actions are going to be most of the way to repair this relationship. Words can come after some of the trust has been built back. Otherwise, the words are not going to have much impact.

          1. JustaTech*

            OK, I’m confused (really and deeply).
            If I mess up and the other person cuts off contact, then obviously I respect that by not even attempting to contact them – in any way, including through mutual friends.

            But then if I am forced back into contact with that person, how can I convey that I know I was wrong and they were right and I am sorry and that I won’t do (whatever it was) ever again and that they are not expected to forgive me if I’m not supposed to contact them?

            Do people genuinely not want to hear that they were right?
            Does everyone think that apologies are all fake?

      2. Hyaline*

        I agree that an in person apology is not a good call here, but their contact is going to be “forced” regardless—this isn’t like two years in OP deciding she wants to reinstate contact, it’s that she knows she has to return to work with Ashley. And if OP is feeling nervous about this, it stands to reason that Ashley does, too. I think a polite, non pushy email saying basically I am sorry I screwed up, I want to respect your space, I will be professional going forward makes sense to alleviate the already-present discomfort that both parties certainly feel.

      3. Coffee Protein Drink*

        Agreed. Especially now, as it is going to look like it’s only being done because they’ll be working together. It looks selfish, regardless of motive.

        1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

          Sincerity is overrated. If OP sends one message to claim responsibility and reset the tone of their intersections, and then follows through by being scrupulously professional, what difference does it matter if the actions were self serving? Plus the actions benefit Ashley almost as much.

    2. Nodramalama*

      I think she needs to take her cues from her coworker rather than force an apology Ashley may not be ready to accept

      1. allathian*

        Yes, I feel that in this case less is more. That said, some people would appreciate a sincere apology in the sense that the other person acknowledges their wrongdoing. But only if the LW can lead with the idea that they don’t expect Ashley to forgive them immediately, or ever, and all they want is for them to have a professional relationship so they can work together effectively without being friends.

        1. kalli*

          and working professionally and politely will do far more than crossing the set boundary to go ‘hey we can work professionally’.

        2. I Would Prefer Not To*

          Tbh I’d feel a bit weird if I were Ashley and OP didn’t contact me before (by email – I agree that in-person forces an intimacy neither may want). Maybe that’s a personality thing and we don’t know what they fell out over but if we assume it’s in the realm of “ordinary” friendship fails and not decidedly traumatic, I think an email acknowledging awkwardness and taking responsibility without any strings attached would be a courtesy. And then of course follow suit with acting respectfully, not seeking any more proximity than professionally required, etc.

          1. Doc McCracken*

            This is where I land too. A simple email saying I screwed up, I take responsibility for it, Corrective Action is I will be polite, professional, only engage in contact that is work project related and respect your boundaries would keep me from feeling paranoid and wierd.

            1. Space Needlepoint*

              That’s well phrased and an email is much better than in person because it puts addressing it under Ashley’s control. It’s up to Ashley to offer forgiveness at this point.

          2. Malarkey01*

            I actually like the idea of a note before hand that Alison mentioned. It takes all the guesswork out of wondering how LW will act. There’s most likely already drama for Ashley in the anticipation. The email would nip that in the bud.

          3. M2RB*

            I agree – if I were Ashley, knowing that a former friend who wronged me was coming back to work on my team where I would potentially see/interact with them every single day… yikes. I would be so anxious about how things would go even knowing that I was in the right and former friend was in the wrong. Receiving an apology email that says something like this would help a bit, and then over time, seeing the professional boundaries being respected and professional levels of behavior being maintained would really help.

          4. Smithy*

            I fall into this camp too.

            In the grand scheme of “I was wrong and as a result this person cut me off, and I’m respecting that” works provided you can truly not engage with one another. But while the friendship doesn’t need to come back, they are still working together. In another space it reminds me of a romantic couple splitting when they do or don’t have kids. One kind of relationship can end where people never speak to one another again….but to do that when kids are involved is a whole other thing.

            I have one friendship that ended where if we were to ever be working together, I’d want to find a means of laying it out there while I’d desire a productive and pleasant working relationship – that I wouldn’t want one outside of work. So finding a way to kindly lay out that that any friendliness at work wasn’t an opening to build back towards friendship, but also to make it clear that I wasn’t seeking a firewall between us. Practically, I wouldn’t want to get coffee or lunch once a week – but if we were on a work trip together, I wouldn’t insist on all meals/down time to be taken apart from one another either.

            1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

              Yeah, I feel like there are situations where you might very reasonably never want to hear from someone ever again, but life gets in the way and this is one of those times. Showing up and treating someone who was not only a friend, but an incredibly close friend with whom you had an emotional falling-out, as just another colleague feels a lot stranger to me than just dropping a note to clear the air: “hey, before we start working together again I just wanted to say I’m sorry about how things went down and I know it was my fault, I’m committed to being professional and not making problems for you” (not necessarily in so many words).

              It’s going to be the elephant in the room otherwise, and you’ll both be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Get it out of the way up front and be courteous and professional going forward.

    3. OP3*

      I worry that apologizing in person would put her on the spot and make things even more awkward for her. Which is why I had considered reaching out beforehand. Based on what Alison and the commenter have said so far, it seems like it might be best to let things be and let her take the lead and decide how she wants to proceed.

      1. Petty_Boop*

        I agree that it’s best to either address it ahead of time to give her time to process (and if necessary, to cool off) OR to wait and follow her lead. But I think apologizing in person that first day puts HER in a touch spot of awkward “do I accept for the sake of appearances?” etc.. especially if she has NOT in fact, forgiven or forgotten. So, I’d either go with advance “Sorry; I suck. Let’s be professionals and get the job done though” (clearly paraphrasing) or just showing up and doing the job with your head down and following her lead in how she treats you AND talks to you and ABOUT you with other team members. You do need to consider the fact that based on your history with her, you may well be starting off with a poisoned well of co-workers, too…

        1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

          I would not consider the possibility that there’s a poisoned well of coworkers until and unless there’s any evidence to the contrary. That’s borrowing trouble. But in the event that Ashley has been talking negatively to other coworkers about LW, LW definitely does not need to “follow her lead” in setting the tone for her other working relationships, nor do I particularly think she needs to do her job with her head down. Most people really don’t care about their coworkers’ past interpersonal issues in any meaningful way.

    4. I Would Prefer Not To*

      Alison’s take is interesting to me. We don’t know what went down between the two of course but if I were Ashley, I think I’d be more baffled by the lack of recognition that things might be a bit awkward – I might even read it as though the OP themselves thought nothing of it. In person on the other hand might also feel a bit much and sort of force Ashley to engage with the OP. If I were OP, I’d lean toward sending her a courteous email to say they apologise for any awkwardness and acknowledge it is their responsibility. And then of course let their actions be professional, respectful etc.

      1. I Would Prefer Not To*

        My first comment only appeared well after I posted it, hence the double posting this time around :)

    5. Not on board*

      Alternatively, the LW could mention to Stephanie how she feels really awful about their falling out and knows it’s completely her fault. She could mention that she plans to keep things professional and wants to respect Ashley’s boundaries. Said in a casual conversation while catching up. Guaranteed that Stephanie will repeat those things to Ashley and then the ball is in Ashley’s court if she ever wants to address anything.

      1. Sean*

        Something like this might just strike the right balance.

        Assuming Stephanie does indeed repeat LW’s acknowledgment back to Ashley, that would give Ashley the time and space to process LW’s position from one step removed. That is much better than putting Ashley on the spot when their inevitable first face-to-face encounter happens.

        Having said that, given Stephanie has maintained contact with both LW and Ashley for the past couple of years, maybe Stephanie has already made Ashley aware of how sorry LW is?

        1. Veruca Salt*

          I’ve maintained relationships with friends that have fallen out with each other. I’m able to do so because I just never talk about one to the other. I don’t carry messages or supply any info.
          It significantly cuts drama out of my life and reduces any risk of me making a false step and alienating one or both people. I also hope that each friend understands that just as I don’t discuss the other person with them, I also am not discussing them with the other person.

          1. Space Needlepoint*

            That’s the best way to approach it, in my experience. I had a situation where one friend didn’t grasp why the other wasn’t talking to her and kept trying to get me to tell her. It was hard to draw that boundary because she was genuinely hurt and bewildered, but it wasn’t my job to kick her self-awareness into action.

        2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

          When people “casually” mention things they hope you’ll pass along, they’re never as slick as they think they are. Stephanie is already in the awkward position of maintaining separate friendships with both parties of a broken friend group; she may quite reasonably prefer not to get in the middle of those two parties’ new coworking relationship.

      2. Kit*

        No, please, don’t act as though you expect Stephanie to triangulate for you, LW! That is not behavior that will make you come off as recognizing what you did wrong and respecting Ashley’s boundaries.

        If you say something to Stephanie at this point, let it be that you don’t want to use her as an intermediary/go-between. I’d suggest a polite and bland email to Ashley to say that you’re aware complete no-contact will be impossible with the team assignments as they are, but that you plan to remain politely professional at the office and attempt to respect her boundaries as much as possible, and apologize briefly that your own poor behavior has resulted in this awkwardness; addressing the elephant in the room is going to be necessary, and doing it via email lets her address it on her own terms, in whatever way she feels appropriate, rather than putting her on the spot.

    6. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I think it’s worth it to give Ashley the benefit of the doubt that she can separate professional relationships from personal ones, especially after two years. If that proves untrue, the LW can figure out how to address it then.

    7. fhqwhgads*

      Why would you jump to “apologize in person” to a person who appears to want no contact? That’s a major jump over several easier safer routes.

  6. Emily*

    LW #2-I don’t want to extrapolate too much, but I am wondering if this was a “we’re all a family here” type workplace. What strikes me is that it seems like there was almost a friendship type relationship with the boss (boss buying presents for employee’s children’s birthdays and Christmas sticks out to me as unusual), and I wonder if that influenced boss’s reaction (but does not in any way justify it). I’ve just noticed a trend of “we’re all family here” workplaces turning on an employee when the employee doesn’t behave in a way you would expect a family member or friend to act (such as reimbursing you for a plane ticket you bought, but they now can’t use), but is a completely appropriate way for an employee to behave (as Alison said, the company eating the cost of the plane ticket is the price of doing business).

    None of this excuses the boss or co-workers’ weird behavior of course, but could possibly shed some light on it.

    1. Msd*

      This makes more sense to me than anger over a plane ticket. Why would coworkers even know about it or care? Maybe the OP was looking for a reason for the anger and could only come up with the ticket to justify it.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I also wondered if anyone but the boss was actually mad about the plane ticket, as it’s not clear from the letter that anyone else knew or cared about that specific thing. LW said they were still salty at an event but that was inferred by them not even saying hello, so there’s no way to know if it was about the plane ticket or something else.

        It feels like the coworkers may have been angry about something else entirely, and HR was just doing their job by making sure they got the key before LW left. Too much missing information here to know what really happened.

        1. KateM*

          Maybe management took it out on OP’s coworkers. “None of you will ever be able to fly to a conference now, thank OP for that! We will book only tickets that can be refunded but those are more expensive so no more staying in conference centre hotels but rather, we will book a cheaper far away! Less daily money for you!” etc.

          1. Green great dragon*

            This was the only thing I could think of. Or that they’ll have to cut bonuses to pay for it or something.

            1. EvilQueenRegina*

              If they have to cut bonuses because of that ticket, that company has bigger things to worry about.

              1. Zelda*

                Among other things, the ticket would not have somehow cost less if the LW *did* use it. If anything, the organization is now saving on LW’s salary, at least for the period until a replacement is hired.

            2. Wilbur*

              “We’re cutting everyones bonus by $1000 because OP won’t pay us for a $650 plane ticket!”

              Wild that this is the deal breaker after so many years.

          2. CommanderBanana*

            Yeah, or a policy change. The firm I work for makes employees buy airline tickets but won’t reimburse under after you return from the trip. I forced the issue because I wasn’t going to have nearly $2k on my credit card for over a month for airline tickets and then wait another 3+ weeks to get reimbursed.

          3. Smithy*

            This is what I thought.

            I have one friend who’s worked for her employer for nearly 20 years – and for her there’s very clearly a more personal/emotional relationship to her employer and it impacts what she will and won’t expense. She’s in an industry where she recently learned that some of her colleagues were expensing experiences related to their industry. So someone in Teapot design expensing all tea that they buy to use at home. At first my friend didn’t know that was allowed for people at her current seniority level and felt guilty expensing any tea at all feeling like it was taking advantage. Now she’ll expense some, but essentially only teas that she could find in the grocery store and even then not the most expensive ones. And she views other coworkers who are expensing their pricier, hard to get teas as “doing it wrong”.

            No amount of explaining to her as a friend that it’s clearly a perk for employees at her seniority level and she in fact should be expensing her own expensive teas has significantly moved her feelings on this topic. So I can easily see how bringing in these kinds of business norms around expensing where if someone is taking a more personal view….that’s a really hard mindset to change and also one that can be manipulated into scenarios like the OP’s.

          4. Spero*

            I had a CEO do this once. They also created a policy that if you resigned within 2 months of an agency-paid conference you had to pay the agency back your cost – which was insane as our travel was all grant funded anyway. It was dramatically announced at a staff meeting right after someone resigned a few weeks after a conference; there was much discussion of how ‘exploitative’ it is of employees to use conferences for CEUs/personal educational benefit when the purpose is to improve your work for employer, you shouldn’t go if you know you’re leaving soon enough to not be able to apply what you learn from the conference at your job, etc

            1. Jiminy Cricket*

              At my last job, if you resigned within a YEAR of a conference the company funded, you had to pay it back.

              It’s an industry with a lot of turnover, where 2-year tenures are not at all unusual. Turning down a conference opportunity was seen as a sign that you were “looking,” but everyone was always looking.

          5. MigraineMonth*

            Yeah, I was wondering that as well. That classic bully move: “It looks like we’re going to have to take away this great perk that everyone loved because someone is a party pooper. Not to name names or anything.”

          6. Ms. Murchison*

            Or maybe they have a highly competitive process for conference attendance and very limited funds, so everyone who didn’t get awarded conference funds is mad that the opportunity is going to waste.

          7. JustaTech*

            I have absolutely had a boss who was so pissed that someone quit right after getting back from a fancy conference that everyone was too afraid to ask for permission to go to a conference for years afterwards, and when they did it was the cheapest conferences in the least-desirable locations.

            But I knew that it was all the boss’s fault/choice and not the former coworker’s fault.

      2. Msd*

        I wanted to add to my comment that plane ticket or no plane ticket the OP’s coworkers are bonkers.

      3. Sloanicota*

        I was assuming the boss trashed OP to the coworkers somehow, maybe saying something awful like “I wanted to give you a raise this year / send you to the conference but OP is refusing to pay back the company now she’s leaving us for a competitor” or something.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          I can see him saying something like that which is even more bonkers. If coworkers knew their bonuses depended on repayment of a $650 plane ticket, they should be worried about company finances overall, not mad at OP.

          1. bamcheeks*

            “I would have given you a $130 bonus this year, but LW used it all up with her plane fare.”

          2. ferrina*

            Also- if OP had stayed and used that ticket, there still wouldn’t have been money for bonuses. Because that money was still spent on a plane ticket.

    2. Nodramalama*

      Yes I was thinking the same thing. Surely most of the hurt feelings from the wider team stem from LW having the audacity to leave rather than the specific trip issue.

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I was thinking more that someone has been spreading nasty rumours about OP. Who would care about a measly plane ticket beyond the person whose job it is to keep track of side orders of guacamole on expense sheets?
      I mean, my former boss used to buy us birthday presents and invited us to their kids’ christening, but then when they fell out with me, my colleagues were all on my side, not theirs.

      1. SansSerif*

        Exactly what I thought. I think there’s some false rumor floating around out of retaliation.

      2. Ama*

        That’s what I thought too, that whatever story is floating around is vague enough that people assumed OP must have handled their departing really poorly for the boss to be that mad and so took his side.

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        This was my assumption too. Even if the boss badmouthed the LW for not paying for the ticket, most rational coworkers would not blame the LW for it! And especially not with this much public hostility. It just doesn’t make sense. The boss has got to be spreading other rumors about the LW.

        Or the LW was less well-liked than they realized, and the boss and coworkers gave up any pretenses when the LW was on the way out.

      4. Statler von Waldorf*

        I had the exact same thought myself.

        Either OP left out some very relevant details about their time there, the boss is doing some serious badmouthing of OP, or both. I can see the boss being salty about this, but I have a very hard time believing that other employees would care this much if they were told the same story I read in OP’s letter.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah. I worked for enough “we’re like a family here” places to know that if my loved ones are getting gifts from my boss, it means they don’t think I should be allowed to ever leave.

    5. Hyaline*

      I wondered if her real crime was leaving the org, period, and coworkers were just looking for something to be mad about.

      1. Meg*

        I worked at a small business like that. Leaving was considered treason and quitting employees were treated like they had the plague to avoid the boss redirecting his ire on you. I was literally called a traitor by an assistant after I walked into a room that instantly went quiet. I heard from a client I was friendly with that the other staff members were VERY openly complaining about having to pick up the work of those who quit (after being able to avoid doing their own after hours work and laying it on us). The business owner had created such a nasty culture of back-biting and competition through coercive control that everyone freaked out a little when someone quit.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Me for seven years: “Yes, everyone makes jokes about people at my workplace ‘drinking the Kool-aid’, but it’s really not that bad!”

        Me a year after leaving: “Okay, yeah, that was a cult.”

    6. Artemesia*

      I just can’t believe that a bunch of co-workers would give a rats patoot about whether you paid for an airline ticket. There has got to be some other reason for their coldness. It could be as stupid as ‘it is disloyal to quite the family, Fredo.’ But ‘airline ticket’ — don’t believe that. The boss sure but not the co-workers.

    7. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Having worked for an employer that was both “we’re a family” AND underpaid employees with the attitude of “count yourself lucky that you even work with the marvelous wonderful us”, this fits all of the possible explanations above. In other words, I suspect Boss told OP coworkers that they couldn’t go to conferences because SOMEONE didn’t reimburse their plane ticket, AND started a nasty false rumor about OP, and all the coworkers believed everything, because OP was turning her back on the marvelous wonderful us.

  7. juicylucy*

    at my old job half my coworkers did intermittent fasting. it sucked because a) they talked about it and the “benefits” of it to each other a lot which I found triggering as IMO it’s just a “wellness” set dressing over the same behaviors I did when I had disordered eating, but they’re adults so that’s their business I guess, just wish I didn’t have to be told breathlessly about how great it is to not eat, like my actual mental illness is manifesting as a real person in the cubicle next door

    but more importantly b) it made taking lunch awkward when you’re the only one who wants one. Feels so wrong to be the sole reason a productive work session gets broken up because you’re the sole weirdo with this pesky need to eat during the day

    but anyways, OP1, don’t bother her about it, she’s an adult. She honestly might just be intermittent fasting, like my coworkers, and if so you should appreciate that she HASN’T talked to you at length about it. Or she may have other things going om that are also 100% her business. Eating can be fraught, don’t add to that by inserting yourself into it.

    1. The Dullard*

      Like LW1’s boss, you need to stop concerning yourself with others’ eating habits. They’re entitled to fast, and they’re entitled to talk to one another about it.

      1. Nodramalama*

        There was a person who wrote in wanting to know how to curb conversations about scorpions because it was triggering in the office. I think it is actually very fair to not want diet culture or food fads be discussed in the open in the office either. It is triggering for MANY people

        1. Testing*

          I would disagree with intermittent fasting being “diet culture or food fads” (there’s a lot of research behind it and it’s also how many Indigenous peoples eat), but I wholeheartedly agree that continued conversations about it at work are unnecessary and should be stopped.

            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              LOL @ the idea of intermittent fasting not having anything to do with diet culture!

          1. Jellybeans*

            If that’s true (it seems very vague), the fact Western diet-pushers are appropriating “non-specific Indigenous people” to push weight loss plans doesn’t exactly make it better.

          2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            any conversation that is constant on any topic whether it is diet, scorpions or knitting needs to be curbed. Because it gets old real fast. Pick. A. New. Topic.

            1. The Dullard*

              Maybe opt out of participation in conversations that don’t interest you, instead of trying to censor others?

              1. juicylucy*

                in what way am I trying to censor others? I said here, amongst strangers, under a pseudonym, that I find *coworkers* talking to *me* about why I should not eat during the day to be annoying. How is that censoring them?

        2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          I agree. There have been multiple letters at AAM in the past about issues like diet culture being triggering for people recovering from eating disorders, among other things. Reading those (and the accompanying comments) really raised my awareness about how serious of an issuecthis kind of thing can be.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            That is why I love this site. Reading over the years has really opened my eyes to a lot of struggles I never knew existed.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Me too! There are lots of terrible things on the interwebz, of course, but one of the really good things that I appreciate is how much I’ve learned about other people’s struggles (and successes) and hopefully be more compassionate towards everyone with struggles.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                Yes! This is so important to remember. The internet has allowed a lot of us with rare identities or conditions to find community/support online.

                Also cat videos and WFH. It’s not all bad.

          1. Expelliarmus*

            Why is it so surprising that scorpions trigger people? They can be poisonous, and it’s not like bugs in general have a very favorable reputation, especially when they are indoors.

          2. Irish Teacher.*

            Yeah, anything has the risk of triggering somebody, but…there are some things that are much higher risk than others and given how prevalent issues related to eating and body image are, I sort of feel that if you work with more than 10 or 20 other people, it’s almost certain that somebody will either be struggling with one of those or will have a friend or family member who has, so there is a greater risk to compulsively discussing your dieting habits at work than there is to say compulsively discussing your favourite sport or band or your crocheting hobby.

            I don’t agree with the idea that anything could cause harm to somebody so therefore there is no point in taking any care at all. It’s like I could get knocked down by a car any time I leave the house, but I still take care to avoid things that make it particularly likely, like crossing the road without looking or crossing at particularly dangerous points.

            In any medium sized office, the odds are very high, I suspect to the point of being near certain that there is somebody who reaction to those discussions would be “yikes, that sounds like what my friend/family member used to do when they were covering up an eating disorder. I wonder if coworker has an eating disorder too. Should I say something?” or “I’m so much heavier than x who is talking constantly about their need to lose weight. I bet they think I am really fat and they probably think I have no self-control because I am not doing intermittant fasting too” or absolute worst case scenario, if somebody was in the grip of an eating disorder, they could decide it a good way of continuing with disordered eating.

            This isn’t to crticise anybody for doing intermittant fasting, just to say that it’s the sort of thing that people should be wary of discussing in detail in front of people whose histories they don’t know. “Oh, I don’t eat at this time. I’m doing intermittant fasting,” is fine, but talking on and on about how beneficial it is probably isn’t the most sensitive.

            Scorpions, on the other hand, I think are fine to discuss unless/until somebody says “hey, would you mind cutting down the discussions about scorpions? I’d prefer not to hear about them,” at which point, it’s probably not that hard to comply (unless you work in a zoo or some situation where discussions of scorpions are necessary).

          3. ferrina*

            Nah, it’s not that slippery of a slope.

            Basic practice: If you don’t need to talk about stuff that causes serious physical or mental harm, don’t.

            Yes, that can include stuff that doesn’t cause you harm, like if you’ve never had an ED. And yes, it means that you can’t just say whatever you want. There may be certain people at work who are comfortable about talking about it- in which case, you can have those conversations with those people away from others who might be impacted (for example, in a meeting room instead of the hallway, or grab coffee or lunch off premise together).

            It’s not that limiting- sports, travel, music (except for a certain recent disagreement between prominent performers), knitting…. there’s a long list of topics that are pretty safe.

            1. Reebee*

              This is just absurd.

              How are the rest of us to know what someone doesn’t want to hear about? If the discussion isn’t sexist, racist, or anything else obviously harmful, then figure it out in terms of not listening or not engaging. People’s triggers are their own to manage.

          4. metadata minion*

            Do you live in an area where they’re common? I like scorpions but I’m used to getting side-eye from non-bug-loving people if I say that, and would check with someone first before going into detailed stories about them.

            Even if we’re limiting “trigger” to its strict clinical meaning, insects and arachnids are some of the most common phobias.

          5. Orv*

            Lots of people are triggered by spiders, and most spiders are a lot less dangerous than scorpions!

        3. The Dullard*

          I think it is actually very fair to not want diet culture or food fads be discussed in the open in the office either.

          Alternatively, if discussion of food or diet or intermittent fasting ain’t your cup of tea, maybe…just don’t participate in conversations about those subjects? Just like you wouldn’t participate in office discussions about the Super Bowl if those words conjure up Waterford crystal rather than Patrick Mahomes?

      2. Roland*

        That’s a weird response to someone saying “I wish I didn’t have to listen to ED triggers at work, anyway let your employee be”.

      3. Spero*

        They may be entitled to fast, but they are not required to pressure other employees to skip normal lunch breaks during work sessions because of their preference to fast.

      4. AngryOctopus*

        People evangelizing their particular eating habits to everyone is not at all equivalent to what LW wants to do. Seems that in juicylucy’s case, the coworkers were all talking about how great it was not to eat, and side-eying her for saying things like “we need to end this meeting so I can take my lunch”. That’s not the same as quietly not eating and not talking about it, which is what LW’s colleague is doing. Thus, LW needs to stay out of it and juicylucy’s coworkers need to keep it amongst themselves and not deride others for eating.

      5. juicylucy*

        a) They talk to me about it, I don’t broach the subject with them, in fact I avoid it.
        b) I never said they weren’t entitled to do what they want, in fact I said exactly that, they’re adults.
        c) That’s literally what I said, don’t get involved with other people’s eating habits.

        I didn’t know having a private opinion on the things my coworkers directly tell me was unacceptable, what a world.

    2. Zarniwoop*

      “Feels so wrong to be the sole reason a productive work session gets broken up because you’re the sole weirdo with this pesky need to eat during the day”
      Where I am state law says whether you eat or not you have to be given a minimum half our break in a full day.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        yes! I remember my boss offering to order in pizza so I could keep working at my desk, and I insisted I needed to go out. I actually had a few errands to run, but the idea of getting out of the office for a change of air was also very important for me.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          … and I always rather envied smokers who just get up and walk out for a smoke when they feel like it. I don’t envy the state of their lungs of course, but they get to stretch their legs and go outside, and non-smokers just keep on plugging away at work. Now that I’m a freelancer working at home, I’ll just go out and do a bit of weeding in the garden if I’m stuck and need a break. In the winter I tend more to raid the fridge, weeding is much better for my figure and bank account and mental health.

          1. LaurCha*

            Honestly this is the thing I miss most about smoking. You have an excuse to do absolutely nothing for like 10 minutes, outside, and you can either go talk to other smokers or just stare into space and no one thinks you’re a weirdo for it. The smoke break really met a need for me as an introvert who occasionally needs to get away from other people.

            1. E*

              same. that was why i started smoking and why i smoked on and off for 2 decades. i don’t miss coughing or spending way too much money on cigarettes or the lingering smell, but i miss going outside for little breaks where no one raised an eyebrow. “taking a little break,” even said innocuously was something that people took note of whereas smoking was not.

      2. ariel*

        I guess that’s my question / lingering concern. No need for the employee to eat but she should be taking breaks!

        1. Cheetah*

          LW mentions the employee sits with the others at lunch, though she doesn’t eat. So she does seem to be taking her break.

      3. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

        “Feels so wrong to be the sole reason a productive work session gets broken up because you’re the sole weirdo with this pesky need to eat during the day”

        OMG right? For me, my lunch break is SO MUCH MORE than food. An office culture where everyone eats together would stress me the hell out. I run errands on my lunch break, and I’m also an introvert who, when I was in an in-person office, used my lunch break to recharge from being ‘on’ and around people. I knew so many people who ate at their desks or would eat with other people in the break room, and I’d be like that Homer Simpson backing into the bushes gif.

        There’s a lot of reasons that remote work has been a much better fit for me.

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      The only diet/WOE that is tiresome is the one where people keep talking about it to a captive audience. It’s boring at best and inconsiderate.

      Breaks should be automatically built into each day, long enough for a meal, so noone has to ask.
      Most people are more efficient with a longish dailt break of 20-60 minutes, even if they use it to go for a walk or chill on their phone.

    4. aubrey*

      that sounds awful, I’m more than 15 years recovered from my eating disorder and I still find in-depth intermittent fasting talk upsetting, especially the kind of ‘how great it is not to eat’ stuff you mention. it’s somehow worse than people doing a short term diet and complaining about calories in donuts because they’re so evangelical about it.

      1. M2RB*

        Yes, I have a friend who does intermittent fasting, and I have had to tell her to please keep that topic far away from me, even though it’s been 20+ years since I was actively anorexic. My brain will still latch on to the disordered thinking so quickly that I have to be proactive and draw strict boundaries for myself.

    5. SansSerif*

      Most of the time intermittent fasting starts after an early dinner, goes overnight, and ends at a late breakfast or lunch. So the fast is 16 or 18 hours (maybe 5 pm to 9 am, for example). It’s interesting that a bunch of people seem to be doing it where – what? They’re not eating till dinner? I know some do one meal a day, but not many.

      1. LaurCha*

        Do you… not get that this thread is FULL of people who are upset or triggered by diet talk, and you just dropped in to share details of a restrictive diet? Read the room, sir.

        1. Nina*

          There is a question up top that is practically designed to cause people to share reasons they know of that someone might have that kind of eating pattern. Someone who is badly triggered by diet talk should care for their mental health by not entering the thread full of diet talk.

  8. Robin*

    I don’t eat at work. We constantly have food brought in, but I’m the busiest during the 11-1 spots so it’s usually gone anyway. I eat a good meal in the breakfast hour, then dinner. It’s my way of intermittent fasting. On the weekends I eat whenever and whatever I want. I don’t worry about it because I know come Monday, it’s will be back to 2 meals a day.
    I do go through way too many Coke zeros!
    And I don’t have any issues around food, disorganized eating or eating with people. It’s just a preference that works for me at work.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I have a small breakfast and a huge lunch. If I have more than a protein snack in the evening, then I sleep poorly.
      Skipping supper works for my body.

    2. allathian*

      I eat a hearty breakfast, but I’m so early (5.30-6.30) that I generally have a small sandwich during my morning coffee break at 8.30. I generally eat lunch between 11 and 12. At home, I generally eat soup or salad, because otherwise I risk falling asleep in the afternoon, even if it means that I need a light snack with my afternoon coffee as well. We eat early dinner by 6, not necessarily together on weekdays, depending on when we’re at home. Another snack at least 30 minutes before bed, and I’m done.

      I’ve found that I need to eat every 3-4 hours, or else I’ll get hangry and eat far too much far too quickly when I do eat. If I don’t eat enough during the day, I’ll browse all evening and make unhealthy-for-me choices.

      This works for me, and thankfully I work in an environment where people’s food choices are generally not commented on.

      1. metadata minion*

        Yeah, I’m similar. I’m on a medication that suppresses appetite, and I get very cranky and lightheaded when hungry, so it works best for me to always have some trail mix or something to snack on throughout the day. Bodies are weird and different!

    3. MigraineMonth*

      My version of “intermittent fasting” is unpredictable bouts of severe nausea. Probably the side effect of one of my migraine medications that I take to avoid getting a migraine with–you guessed it–severe nausea. Until my body adjusts or we figure out which medication it is, some days all I can manage is a smoothie or protein shake.

      So yeah, LW, leave your employee be.

    4. Yawnley*

      But do you sit at tables with colleagues who ARE eating during that time, though? That’s the difference for OP. (To be clear, I don’t think OP should say anything to the staffer! But what you’re describing is not the same situation.)

  9. Nodramalama*

    LW1 definitely do not say anything. The reason you haven’t seen her eat may be for completely mundane reasons and you’ll just make her feel weird and self concious.

    And if its for more serious reasons she’s STILL feel weird and self concious, and I’m not sure what you’d do for her anyway.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      This. What exactly is the plan here? Because if you say “I’ve noticed you don’t eat during the day, [some reason/justification here]”, what she hears is “I’m watching you and see you don’t eat, and you need to tell me why, so I feel reassured about whatever is in my head”. She’s not obligated to share anything with you if you do ask her, so it’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable all around. Just leave it alone and let her do her thing that works for her.

  10. bripops*

    lw1 PLEASE don’t say anything! I only really need to go into the office for large staff meetings where lunch is provided, but the last remnants of an eating disorder I have fortunately otherwise overcome mean I have a very hard time eating in front of people, especially if it’s “unfamiliar” food (like from a restaurant I’ve never been to or a type of dish I’ve never tried). I don’t even like going to new restaurants with my fiancée, so the thought of eating with 20+ people and zero control over the food is a nightmare. After the first meeting I attended, my boss very apologetically asked if they had overlooked a dietary restriction, and I told her that wasn’t the issue and made a generic excuse. She has fortunately left it alone since then but other people do comment on how I don’t eat at the office and try to encourage me to eat. They mean well, but it’s MORTIFYING and I have to do things like nibble on a bagel (safe) throughout the morning (while attention is on the meeting, not centered around eating) to make it easier to brush them off. If your employee needs something (like an allergen-free space) she’ll tell you, otherwise it’s a kindness to leave it alone.

  11. Allonge*

    LW1 – if this is a legit high-stress job, you have standing (and I would argue obligation) as a manager to address that in general, especially with a new team member.

    Don’t mention the eating thing. But you can and I think should have a check-in on how they are doing half a year in, how they are coping with [specific stressors], what could be helpful. I would hope you have some kind of professional support available, mention that again even if it was explained in the induction etc.

    Give your employee an opportunity to bring up anything. Limiting this to food serves nobody: their eating habits are their own and may not be how the stress hits this specific person anyway.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      This is actually a good point. There could be stressors in the office that are affecting her that have nothing to do with eating.

      The not eating could be for a variety of reasons. But she is doing the communal part where she joins in the chat. So its not really a problem. If she were leaving at lunch every day and not participating in the communal part at all, then you might have a quiet word about how participating in the lunch chat is part of the office culture. But emphasis on the chat not the food.

      1. Analyst*

        employers should NOT be dictating or pressuring employees to do anything specific on breaks. Especially as this is unpaid time for many. It’s completely reasonable to leave for your break every day and not socialize, some people NEED that as a break. If it’s important for work to do this, make a non-break (paid) work event.

        Doing what we want for your break is not a good office culture.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      Seconding what Allonge said, you could also bring up to the group that you encourage them to ask for changes/accommodations, such as ergonomic keyboards, flexible time to run errands on lunch break, individual snack packages to reduce allergen cross-contamination, etc.

      1. metadata minion*

        Oh, I like that idea! Lumping it in with other small adjustments makes it less an interrogation about food and more “hey, please let us know if there’s something that would make your job easier”.

  12. Jane*

    OP1 (and everyone else!) – there are also a large number of medical reasons why someone might not be able to eat solid food – damage to their oesophagus needing a soft food diet; being fed via a PEG tube directly into their stomach, which can be required eg post-stroke or post-cancer; or getting their nutrition directly into their bloodstream (TPN) if their digestive system has failed. For people living with these medical conditions, comments like “go on, just have a slice of cake” can be very distressing.

    There could also be religious reasons, eating disorder recovery, or other dietary restrictions that they find difficult to manage at work and have decided to eat at home instead.

    Please don’t draw attention to this by making comments, even if the intention is kind.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Yes, let them manage their own eating and body.

      Also, if any coworkers start commenting or pushing food on her more than to everyone else, then shut that down and have a quiet word to anyone persistent that they should knock it off.

    2. Spring*

      I learned a couple of very helpful phrases: “Not right now, thanks.” Or “maybe later.” It helps to shut down the pressure that otherwise tends to keep coming, especially when I want to eat out drink the thing they’re pushing on me, but for various reasons have decided it’s not a good idea for me. Because I’m tempted, I need them to stop asking/pushing, and giving them “hope” that I might change my mind later has, do far, accomplished that.

  13. Lisa*

    LW2, it’s entirely possible that the coldness was not related to the plane ticket at all, but was because you were “disloyal” or “betrayed them” by leaving. Especially at small companies that have a “we’re family” vibe. This is of course ridiculous, but we’ve all seen the letters from bosses that took it personally that someone was leaving.

    1. Michigander*

      That makes sense, or they were mad about her leaving and clung to the ticket as a “justified” reason to be mad. The fact that her coworkers even knew about it in the first place is a good example of how the office was probably too small and in each other’s business. Why would you know the details of a coworker’s expense claims? In a normal workplace that’s the business of Finance and the coworker’s boss, and no one else in the office would have any reason to know the details.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This. It makes more sense that the ticket is an excuse for rather than the cause of their behavior.

      2. HonorBox*

        Great points. The fact that everyone is upset over a $650 ticket is ridiculous, and makes me believe that the boss likely shared more than needed, and probably added some color to the retelling that left people feeling like there was some sort of larger betrayal with the LW leaving.

    2. Ashley*

      I had this thought as well. I know someone who worked for company A, then moved to B (a company founded by leaving a competitor to the point of lawsuits), and then returned to company A. People from company B refused to talk to them at industry events. It said more about that company then anything else.
      Also, this is why airlines have a business class tickets so there is more flexibility with cancellations. When you try to save money not recognizing there could be any number of changes then that is on the company. (Also for travel a month out I still feel like you might have been able to change the name on the ticket if you booked with an airline and asked nicely. )

      1. Lily Potter*

        Also for travel a month out I still feel like you might have been able to change the name on the ticket if you booked with an airline and asked nicely.

        Unfortunately, that’s not the way US airlines work. Name changes don’t happen. I’ve even read stories about how people mis-type their own name when buying their ticket online, and have to fight the airlines to get that corrected so that they can use the ticket.
        You might get an airline to refund you in the form of a fare credit for a future flight, but it would also be in the name originally issued. If you bought a fully refundable ticket (not typical) you could get your money back or if you bought a super-restrictive ticket, you might just be out the money.

        1. Birdie*

          The name! My now-husband goes by his middle name. When we were young and broke grad students, recently engaged, my mother bought us tickets for a long weekend away as a surprise. But of course, she lists entered his name as Michael Smith because that’s all she knows him as, not John Smith, his legal name.

          It took an absolutely ridiculous amount of haggling with the airline to change it. Even though his ID read John Michael Smith, they didn’t want to change it without forfeiting the original cost and buying a whole new ticket. We spent weeks going back and forth. It was fall 2002, so if I’m remember correctly, IDs were checked at the counter when you presented your paper ticket(!) to get a boarding pass, again by TSA to get through security, and finally a third time by the gate agent before boarding. SO many opportunities to be denied because of a name error.

        2. Lisa*

          “You might get an airline to refund you in the form of a fare credit for a future flight, but it would also be in the name originally issued.”

          It depends on how the ticket was purchased. The one time I had to cancel a work trip the credit went back to the company and could be used towards a ticket for someone else. It’s a pretty big employer though so it’s likely they have special arrangements for this.

          1. Orv*

            Most workplaces buy tickets that are refundable for exactly this kind of reason. I actually think it’s somewhat unprofessional for a company to buy nonrefundable tickets, especially if they’re then going to complain about the consequences.

  14. Decidedly Me*

    LW4 – I’m a person that would be more likely to notice a custom domain, as I own several domains myself, and would likely check it. If the domain was about someone else, I’d definitely find it odd. It wouldn’t hurt your chances, but having it wouldn’t help either.

    1. I Have RBF*

      I own several as well. Some are quite whimsical, others are for various people’s side hustles.

      If the domain has your last name, but is about a different business than the applicant, I would just figure that was a spouse or relative.

  15. Bagels*

    I’m a two meal a day person – breakfast, dinner. I rarely eat anything at work and if I do it’s a little snack at most. If I have to eat lunch for social or networking reasons, I’m miserable, full, and exhausted for the rest of the day. I know this isn’t super common but it works great for me.

    1. Empress Ki*

      I know someone who eat only once/day, a very large meal, at dinner. Not everyone follows a regular pattern of 3 meals/day.

  16. Elarra Harper*

    LW #1, please don’t say anything to your employee. As others have said, there are innumerable reasons she might not be eating (that you can see). I have been on the receiving end of conversations from co-workers and bosses about my food intake, and they were uncomfortable and invasive. No, I’m not a vegan/rawfood/intermittent faster or dieting. I’m a healthy grown woman who eats when I’m hungry.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      At my last Old Job we had a co-worker who regular picked through communal food with their bare hands, ignoring tongs and then offering their selection to other people. I already had food issues and as a result I can’t eat communal food unless it is individually wrapped or I can see that no one has already touched all the donuts searching for the perfect one.

  17. talos*

    LW 4 – it’s also worth noting that if your custom domain is remotely, in any way, weird
    (nonstandard name spellings, uncommon TLD, you name it), you’re going to have a hard time giving it over the phone. That might add some unwanted friction to your job search.

    (signed, a person whose email uses a weird TLD and always has to give the entire domain in phonetic alphabet)

    1. Susan Calvin (LW4)*

      Also a good point, although in my case, the tricky to spell bit (my last name) doesn’t get any more straightforward by keeping it before the @ haha

      1. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

        Right? I have two emails addresses: zaphod.beeblebrox @ gmail.com and zaphod @ beeblebrox.com. Either way, you have to spell it out.

    2. Azalea Bertrand*

      I commented upthread – I have exactly this issue with uncommon TLDs. I can’t get a common TLD because every variation of my name is either taken or outrageously expensive. My first one ever was .LT and when written in lower case everyone assumes lt is actually it… That was a wasted batch of business cards!

      1. Lady Lessa*

        I can understand the challenges with odd combinations of letters. I had to share a password with our IT manager, who is mostly remote. I tend to use Roman Numerals often in them, and trying to get across 3 in them was quite a challenge, because capital i’s, lower case L’s and 1(ones) all look almost alike.

        1. Jay (no, the other one)*

          Yes. My gmail address has a lowercase L followed by a 1. This is fine if I’m typing it and someone can copy it or reply electronically. It never occurred to me that I might have to write it out by hand and I’m always worried people will get it wrong (especially since my handwriting is notoriously terrible). My husband’s uses part of a chemical formula with an O before a number and no matter how he explains it people always think it’s a zero instead.

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            Capitalization doesn’t matter for gmail addresses – no matter how it’s capitalized, or not, it’ll still go through. (You can also add periods if you want, and it’ll still work.)

            1. Happily Retired*

              Not if the person reading it can’t tell if it’s lower-case l or numeral 1, or the letter o or numeral 0.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Preach it! My work email has a custom domain that is an abbreviation of the firm name. I can totally see how it made sense when it was set up, but it is brutal for spelling out over the phone.

    4. Albatross*

      Same. Mine is my dad’s domain, and it’s derived from the dwarf barbarian character from his high school D&D game. It looks nothing like any common English name. I also give it phonetically when needed. And yes, I’ve had someone look it up and comment on the contents during an interview – at the time, it had some old vacation photos, although after I mentioned that to Dad he changed it so it just links to some of his writing.

      I can’t get a firstname-lastname at gmail address, though. Both names are super common, so I’d need to add numbers, and I know a lot of people think the numbers look unprofessional too. So the custom domain is probably the best option.

    1. Throwaway Account*

      I swear when I got mine, firstname.lastname9@gmail worked while firstnamelastname9@gmail did not!

    2. AngryOctopus*

      Yep, I get lots of emails intended for some dude in the Midwest, because he thinks k.lastname@gmail is his ‘throwaway’ email. Son, I’ve gotten your dicks sporting goods receipts, your bowling team registrations, and a confirmation for some thing you did in Vegas. Do you not wonder why you don’t get them???

  18. Alice*

    I imagine the LW would have noticed if the person who doesn’t eat lunch at work also wears a mask…. But FWIW, I wear a mask in indoor public spaces (including work) and I don’t make exceptions. So, if I am indoors for a working lunch, I will not eat. Now, I usually make a point of eating outside before or afterward. I would love it if my employer facilitated that – some buildings on our property have tents outside for protection from sun and rain, but not the site where I work, unfortunately.

    1. mlem*

      Same! A former employee (now retired) visited my workplace for lunch last week, and I spent an hour socializing with folks at the cafeteria table, masked … and then took food outside for my own lunch.

      (I don’t think it’s the case *here*, but … there *are* folks who would’ve omitted masking as a detail in a letter, whether because they think eating is somehow a safe exception, or because they’re manipulating the narrative to try to get an “of course she should eat with you!” response they can wave around. I probably read too much Reddit, though. This LW seems rightly to care only about whether the workplace is too stressful.)

    2. Lela Dax*

      I did something similar at a work lunch recently too. We arranged with the restaurant for me to take my lunch outside, but we hadn’t been told that our admin pre-ordered a bunch of appetizers. It was kind of awkward for me to sit around while everyone else was snacking, waiting to be able to order my entree. Glad to hear I’m not the only one still doing this, because it felt very uncomfortable to be the only one there in a mask.

      1. Margaret*

        Whenever we feel uncomfortable because we are the only one, we can remember, “Lela Dax, mlem, Zelda, and Alice are somewhere in the world wearing their masks too!” :)

    3. Not that Jane*

      This is me too. Fortunately my work setting makes it very easy to eat outdoors most of the time, but I also do not make exceptions even for sips of water, etc.

  19. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW1 – the only context in which I think it would be appropriate for you to speak to your non-eater is if you think she isn’t taking a break. You wouldn’t mention food at all, but only screen break, fresh air, statutory requirements (if applicable), company policy etc.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I would never expect a team member to repay a ticket but if I asked for something and their first response was , “I spoke with a lawyer” instead of talking to me like an adult it would put me way off

      You’re describing a very different situation here: per LW’s letter, the boss “told her she had to pay for the ticket”. If the boss presented it as mandatory, then speaking to a lawyer to confirm that it wasn’t was a logical next step. It’s the boss who turned this into a hostile conversation, not LW.

    2. Wings*

      I never applied nor interviewed for the role I have now. They approached me first and then structured the job around my unique skillset when we had reached an initial agreement. If I had not been interested, they would have had to organize the team differently and train someone junior starting from the basics (that someone wouldn’t have been able to take my combination of responsibilities from day 1). It’s a thing that happens but then again I’m the only one who does what I do in this whole country and an internationally recognized expert at that (even if I say it myself).

      1. Michigander*

        I think the LW probably meant something along the lines of “I wasn’t actively looking for a job and had no plans to leave when the travel was booked, but then I was approached with a great opportunity”. Sometimes, like for you, a job could literally fall into your lap, but other times it could just mean “I was approached by a recruiter unexpectedly”.

        1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          A recruiter or someone in their professional network. I was contacted a few months ago by a former boss who was hiring (she started her own company) and wanted to know if I was open to a new position. I wasn’t, but I’m pretty sure that an interview would have been a formality after “I worked with you for five years”.

      2. Cat Tree*

        Yep. Sometimes there’s this turning point in your career where suddenly jobs are reaching out to you instead of the other way around. It can feel weird at first, but it happens.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Yes, this is where I am. Current role is comfortable and fulfilling, but if someone approaches me with something irresistible I’ll at least have a conversation with them.

          It’s much less like cheating on a partner and more like finding out that a new gym has a conveniently timed llama yoga class.

        2. Orv*

          I’ve never had that happen successfully. There was a time when Google was reaching out to me, but I flunked my interview with them because the way it was structured was like one of my nightmares. But they kept reaching out anyway because no one tells their recruiters that a candidate isn’t a good fit. So finally I told them to leave me alone.

      3. HonorBox*

        Similar experience here. I had someone approach me, I agreed to a conversation, and while there was an “interview” of sorts, it wasn’t structured like a typical application and interview. I wouldn’t say it “fell into my lap” because I had been chatting over the course of a few months with the person who approached me, but not about this specific role. It came together quite quickly. Things like this do happen.

    3. Michigander*

      This is all A LOT of unfounded speculation. Why would the boss and coworkers suddenly turn cold on her when she announced she was leaving if she’d been doing her job terribly for years? Surely that wouldn’t be the trigger to start treating her badly. If anything, they’d be happy that a horrible coworker was leaving. How could they have discovered she had left projects unfinished when they started treating her badly before she even left?

      Not to mention the fact that the LW says she asked a lawyer for advice, but never says that she told the boss she had consulted a lawyer or was taking legal action. It’s speculation again to assume that she made it into a legal issue instead of just getting confirmation for her own piece of mind that she wasn’t required to pay anything back.

      1. Rain*

        This. I’m always baffled by how some people will trust themselves into knots trying to find a way to blame the LW, but this one is so contorted I couldn’t even follow it.

      2. Not on board*

        yeah, this level of speculation is wild. It’s assuming the LW was a bad employee in some way and that they don’t have any soft skills with regards to communicating. The speculation completely disregards the idea of a recruiter or someone in their professional network approaching them for a job. Also, as you said, the bad treatment started immediately after they gave notice. This is very victim-blaming mentality.

      3. Godrid the Well Traveled*

        I think also many people paraphrase what they actually said in these letters instead of repeating it verbatim. It’s best to assume the OP was professional and non-confrontational when it happened.

    4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Sometimes jobs do fall into a person’s lap. But even if OP went through a usual application process and it just happened to go smoothly and quickly to the point that it felt like it just fell in her lap, it’s a very minor point and has nothing to do with her question.

      As for mentioning the lawyer, OP said her boss told her to pay for the ticket, then “My husband and I both thought that was ridiculous and he consulted with a friend who does employment law who said I was under no obligation to repay this. I told my job I wasn’t paying for the flight, I didn’t plan to use the ticket, they could have it”. The lawyer was just a friend, they had a chat while catching up over coffee, it’s not OP lawyering up at the slightest hint of a problem. And OP doesn’t mention mentioning the lawyer to her job. So you are being rather aggressive telling OP to adult up.

      Then you start accusing OP of not being the best of employees and leaving the company in the lurch. That may well be the case, but then how do they manage to have jobs falling in their lap? That’s the sort of thing that happens to experts in niche areas, or people who are known to be rock stars at what they do, or who are very obviously underemployed (I’d go for that since OP has more responsibility in her new job). So I reckon she must have some kind of talent. As for leaving the company in the lurch, that happens. The company wouldn’t hesitate to get rid of employees if they needed to downsize, so OP can’t risk not taking the new job by promising to stick around until after this or that. Alison has often advised OPs not to worry about this kind of thing.

      As for asking OP whether her former colleagues discovered that she had left a mess behind after she’d left, that wouldn’t explain why everyone went quiet at the point when she said at her good-bye lunch that it was a pleasure working with everyone.

      There is a chance that everyone was already glad to see OP go, but it’s more likely that it’s a place full of bees, than OP being a nightmare to work with.
      People who write in to advice columns are usually in good faith, it’s the good workers who write in because they’re worried they did something wrong. People who don’t care about doing their job properly don’t bother to write in, precisely because they don’t care.

    5. Annie*

      I’ll defend the “a job just fell in my lap” phrase: Successful job searches rely on luck to a great extent whether you intentionally applied, or a friend tapped you individually for the role, and the phrase is commonly used to smooth over hard feelings about leaving.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah it’s a common phrase and my resolution in 2024 is to stop caring when people decide to hate anodyne office phrases.

    6. Magpie*

      You can actually transfer tickets to other people, it just depends on the airline and which kind of ticket you purchase. I just booked a flight using the airline’s lowest fare category and if I had spent just $20 more the fare would be transferrable to another person if I cancel.

      1. Sloanicota*

        If companies were really concerned about it, they would tell employees to only book refundable/transferable tickets – but of course they don’t want to do that, as it’s more expensive for them. Much cheaper to try and squeeze the refund out of departing employees amirite?

    7. Ellis Bell*

      ” I’m sorry I can’t repay that” would be a completely under reactive and weird thing to say to someone asking you to cover the finances of their business; it also implies that you would if you could! Speaking to a lawyer, saying you’ve checked what your responsibilities are, and merely repeating the basic remit of the law, is a lot more professional and polite than my own response, which would be: “No, you are completely unhinged – pay your own bills.” It’s not lawyering up to have access to a lawyer and knowledge of the law. There was never any legal action being threatened here in the slightest. Everyone at this office is banana crackers.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Well, I think there’s some room for nuance here. Of course it’s ridiculous they’re asking and it shouldn’t have to be OP’s job to smooth it over, but if “I’m so sorry, I just can’t pay that” allowed OP to leave without damaging the relationship (which is what happened with the more-legal route) I could live with saying it. None of which puts the blame on OP in any way, of course; I just think it’s easy for us in the comments to be black and white versus the reality of being a low-powered employee in a world where references and collegial relationships do actually matter.

    8. HonorBox*

      I think this is a very ungenerous way of reading the situation. The job may not have appeared out of the clear blue sky, but recruiting for positions comes in a variety of ways, and it is completely possible that the LW did not pursue something directly. It could have come together very quickly.

      The fact that a company requested that they pay the ticket back is abnormal. And the LW doesn’t say that they told the boss that they’d consulted a lawyer. That they did talk to a friend gave them some standing to push back. You’re assuming that they told the boss that they’d consulted a lawyer, which the LW never says.

    9. Nancy*

      None of this is useful. They were told it was mandatory, so they checked with a lawyer. Nothing in the letter says they told the company they asked a lawyer. And LW already has a new job, so doesn’t need any references and doesn’t have to use them in the future if she doesn’t want.

    10. Ms. Norbury*

      I feel this is a lot of creative interpretation of what LW2 wrote in order to make her look like the bad guy.

      But honestly, even if every possibility mentioned is true and LW2 was a terrible coworker who was disproportionately defensive when asked about the plane ticket… it doesn’t at all change the fact that she had no obligation to pay it back, that this expense should be the company’s responsibility even if the budget was tight, and that being nasty to her during her notice period was horribly rude and uncalled for. Not to mention that if she were really that terrible, they could have simply waived the notice period and got rid of her faster instead of going all mean girls on her in order to punish her for whatever perceived wrong.

    11. Claire*

      I have had 3 different jobs that were offered to me without applying or interviewing. Sometimes they really do fall in your lap.

  20. Sunny Day*

    There is someone at my office with multiple food allergies, and they don’t eat any food at potlucks, office parties, etc. They attend and socialize, but don’t eat or drink. My impression is that it’s easier for them to skip the food altogether than to ensure it’s safe.

    1. Jill Swinburne*

      This is my husband. His allergies are weird and often hard to avoid – citrus and chocolate are the main culprits – and often it’s just easier to say no thanks.

      1. ClaireW*

        I have a citrus allergy (not chocolate, thankfully) and yeah a lot of the time this is me too. My company love to put on catered lunches when we have in-office days and unless I know the place that’s catering, it’s far safer for me to avoid and if I’m hungry just have a sandwich at my desk afterwards.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Oooh yeah you’re so right, people put lemon on really weird things sometimes. I’m surprised how often its the secret ingredient when I’m cooking.

    2. Seashell*

      I don’t think this is a situation with just communal food, but rather people having their own lunches.

      1. Annie*

        Even with individual lunches, people with dietary restrictions may avoid eating at work to avoid even more awkward conversations about what they can or can’t have, especially if restaurant food during lunch is common at that office.

    3. Juicebox Hero*

      I’m allergic to tomatoes. Even minute quantities of tomato will bring me out in hives and make me wheeze and itch all over. My only option at that point is to take Benadryl and the last time I took it I slept for 15 hours straight; luckily it was on a weekend.

      There’s tomato, a natural, vegan flavor enhancer, in so many packaged foods where you wouldn’t expect it – dry chicken soup mix and certain types of cheese crackers for example – that I won’t eat anything I can’t see the entire ingredient list of. It’s a real buzzkill at restaurants because even things that seem safe, like French onion soup, will set me off if the broth was made with tomato. They’re included by default in sandwiches and salads and sometimes wind up in them even if you ask for no tomato.

      That’s a long way of saying that I too won’t eat most communal/potluck food unless I brought it myself or it’s something I know is totally tomato-less. No one wants to see me dissecting a chicken salad wrap looking for bits of red, or to have me interrogate them about their ingredient list. Why do I care if you used Brand X vegetable broth vs. Brand Y? Because X doesn’t have tomato and Y does.

      That doesn’t even get into people who don’t believe you/ think food allergies aren’t real/ think you can’t be allergic to tomatoes/ you’re just being picky or difficult/ remember when I was a kid and would eat a pint of cherry tomatoes in one sitting/ refuse to believe that food allergies can develop later in life.

      Stealth tomato sucks. Self-appointed skeptics suck worse. I feel for people who have to navigate a possibly deadly allergy to Big Ten allergens. I really do.

      1. JustaTech*

        Ugh “skeptics”. If I’m making food for someone and they say that they don’t eat something I’ll ask “allergy or aversion, I just want to know how thoroughly I need to prevent cross-contamination”. And even that is mostly to let them know I’m taking them seriously – if they say they don’t eat tomatoes, no tomatoes (not even “oh you can pick them out”). If they say “I’m allergic” then everything gets an extra wash before I start making whatever it is that doesn’t have tomatoes in it. I’m not going to ask for proof!

  21. English Rose*

    #2 on a practical note, I’ve never worked for a company that does non-refundable travel. That’s on them. You never know what’s going to happen – people get sick, priorities change. We’ll normally book travel and hotels changeable up to two or three days before.
    As others have said, looks like this is one of those ‘family’ companies that thinks you’ve betrayed them. You’re well out.

  22. Despachito*

    OP1 – I have several friends – all of them work manually so different from the office work in your case – who prefer not eat while working. They have breakfast and then dinner, and they skip lunch. They have been doing it for years, and they absolutely do not have any disorder related to food. It is just the way they prefer.

    For this reason, I’d leave the coworker completely alone. It is very likely it is just her own preference, but even if it isn’t, it is absolutely not her work’s business to pry into it (unless it visibly affects her which it does not appear to be the case).

    Kudos to OP though for being careful.

  23. Harper the Other One*

    OP#1, I agree mostly with the folks saying don’t mention your employee’s eating habits. However, if there is company provided food I would probably remind everyone at regular intervals that if there’s ever something people want that’s different from what’s being provided, let you know. My current workplace is EXCELLENT about this, and a couple of folks with pretty complex restrictions have mentioned that this is their first time always having something to eat in company provided food.

    Don’t assume that this will result in the employee choosing something – she may still not want to eat for all sorts of reasons! But if there is something she would enjoy this opens the floor for her to let you know.

  24. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    LW2 I wonder if your boss or someone mis-interpreted the unpaid ticket story in a way that reflected poorly on you. Maybe the organization ate the cost of the ticket, and no one else was able to attend?

  25. Yellow rainbow*

    LW1 don’t say anything cause you’ve no reason to believe there’s anything that needs fixed.

    It is definitely possible that your work environment makes your employee uncomfortable and reluctant to eat. But it is clear that plenty of other staff feel comfortable eating – and so if that is the case it is up to your employee to either handle it themselves or say something. Don’t go borrowing trouble.

    The only time it would make sense to do something was if there was a risk /safety issue. But in an office doing basic shifts that’s unlikely. I have had to exclude fasting people from activities because of safety with some of the field work – but for the most part my colleagues self excluded during fasts.

  26. Hiddenjumprope*

    Re: #1

    I have a similar issue but I’m the employee. My coworkers kept commenting on my lack of lunch (and my coworker lectured me on how I NEED to eat and better eat) so I gave up and now try to eat lunch even if I don’t have the appetite. Which I usually don’t, my meds take it away and it can be really hard to eat sometimes and I don’t like forcing it. But I have to, or deal with comments.

    I usually don’t feel hungry till around 2-3 so if I’m really hungry I eat a granola bar or just wait till dinner. But ugh, it’s not worth the fight so I just try to force myself to eat a salad or something.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I am a big fan of greywalling people who take in interest in my actions that in no way concern them. Come up with anodyne and uninformative response such as “Thanks, but I’m not hungry.” Then use it over and over, with no variance in the wording or even the intonation. Eventually even the slowest person will get bored and wander off.

    2. KateM*

      And your coworkers just… don’t accept “I am not hungry yet – I am used to having lunch a bit later”??

    3. BookishMiss*

      Similar situation here, and one of my coworkers had the audacity to tell me that “if [he] had the self control [I] do, [he] would have a body like [mine].”

      First off, I can guarantee that he does NOT want a body like mine, for various reasons, including that this body requires the medication that kills my appetite. Which we had already discussed.

      Second, DO NOT comment on my body, thank you VERY much.

      I already was unhappy with this person’s lack of respect for boundaries, and this interaction just sealed it for me.

      TL;DR Don’t worry about it, LW1. Leave it be.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        My best friend has had a lot of her bowel removed due to chrons (probably spelt that wrong) and has had many a person at work comment in jealousy of her svelte figure. She’s well sick of telling people that she wishes she *could* eat anything.

        Part of how we became best friends – we met at work! – was that I didn’t say anything about food or weight and we bonded over everything that was wrong with our bodies. By not saying anything about what each other didn’t eat we’ve been friends (and basically sisters) for over 25 years :)

        So a moral for all the judgemental types out there? Be quiet and you may end up with the best friend in the world :)

        (And I seriously hope your coworker eventually learnt to shut his goshdarned trap)

        1. BookishMiss*

          Oh he sure didn’t! And when I escalated too my boss she just didn’t understand why I was uncomfortable with a colleague commenting on my diet and my body – and sending me pictures of the recycling bin at my desk to talk about a snack box I had in it.

          I’m not on that team anymore, but from what I’ve heard… change comes slowly, if it comes at all.

          Your poor BF! I’m glad you discovered the Super Secret Work Friend Hack =D

      2. Hiddenjumprope*

        Funny enough I thought the fact I’m very overweight would help me but nope. I’m not used to being told to eat more.

    4. PhyllisB*

      I understand!! I had two grandsons living with me who took ADD meds and they never wanted lunch. At first I was concerned, but I soon learned to give them a big breakfast and a substantial dinner and everything was fine. EXCEPT I would get calls from the school about them not eating lunch and that is was A REQUIREMENT for them to eat. I explained numerous times how they functioned and after a while they finally left it alone. My first thought was this employee was food insecure (remember the lady surviving on cupcakes?) But then I read where company is providing food that she declined, so…leave it alone.

      1. Hiddenjumprope*

        Yeah, I’m on adhd meds too! I compensate by eating a big breakfast usually, and just skip lunch. And have snacks in case I get hungry before I get home. But my coworkers wouldn’t accept this. I guess they must think I have an eating disorder and they’re being “helpful”. My roommate is shocked this is even a thing as it’s very against Finnish culture (I’m originally from the USA). I don’t feel comfortable pushing back as I’m just a maternity leave replacement (actually it was the coworker I’m covering who gave me the heated lecture on how I need to eat).

    5. Orv*

      The only person who’s allowed to tell me “you need to eat” is my wife, and she only gets to do it when I get hangry because I’ve forgotten to eat and I’ve gone hypoglycemic. ;)

      1. JustaTech*

        I’ve had coworkers I’ve said that too, but only after they explicitly told me that they have a hard time remembering to eat until they’re past hangry (or the coworker who’d lost her hunger/fullness cues to a head injury), and asked me to remind them. Even then it would be “Hey, Betty, you want to step out for lunch and then swap with me?” “Oh, gosh, eating! Yes, I’ll be back in 15!”
        Not “Betty, are you eating properly?” or anything like that.

  27. Still*

    #3 (estranged friend) – if I were Ashley, I’d probably be stressed and worried about the LW coming back. I’d rather receive a note like the one Alison suggested, than spend my time wondering how the LW was going to act when she shows up.

  28. Garth*

    The strangest part to me about #2 is that a year later their old coworkers were still upset.. Why on earth would they care about something so minor in the first place, let alone a year later?!

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Sounds like the boss badmouthed the OP about a lot more than a ticket.
      One of those bosses who demonise anyone “disloyal” enough to get another job?

  29. Not like a regular teacher*

    For lw3, since you’re both still in touch with Stephanie, why not tell her that you intend to be professional and respectful of Ashley’s boundaries? Clearly Stephanie and Ashley have discussed the issue since you know that Ashley knows you’re coming back.

    Also, I’m sorry. I know how hard friend breakups can be. It sounds like you have a good plan for navigating this situation and I hope it goes smoothly and painlessly for all involved!

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I don’t think it is necessarily fair to Stephanie to put her in the middle.

      Since the OP & Ashley are going to be on the same team, and WILL have contact, and since the OP has presumably apologized (genuinely & sincerely) to Ashley, I would leave it at addressing the situation with her with a statement to acknowledge the awkwardness, reiterate the apology, and tell her that you will respect her boundaries.

      If they weren’t going to be in contact any more, I would say just leave it and don’t engage at all. But since they are going to be working together, it’s probably better for the OP to address the issue, rather than to let tension build up.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        It’s not fair to put her in the middle. Putting her in the middle would be “Stephanie, please tell Ashley…”. This is not the recommendation. The recommendation is “Stephanie, I don’t want to make things harder for her and I am going to respect Ashley’s clear boundaries to minimize contact and only talk about work and only as necessary.” The point isn’t to make Stephanie an unwilling go-between, it’s so that in the off-chance *Ashley* says to Stephanie “I am really nervous about LW3 coming back and trying to reignite the drama,” Stephanie can say “Actually, LW3 told me she wants to make sure that doesn’t happen and she’s going to respect your boundaries.” It’s more of a contingency plan to help ease Ashley’s fears without making anyone bring up anything preemptively.

        1. MCMonkeybean*

          That seems like a distinction without a difference to me. If you’re telling Stephanie something with the express hope that she relays the information to Ashley then you’re putting her in the middle.

          I’m sure she has been in the middle plenty of times already, but if OP is going to be on the same team as Ashley then while they can remain “estranged” in their friendship, they are going to have to be able to communicate with each other politely and professionally at work–and without using go-betweens.

    2. Not on board*

      I thought this too! Casually mentioning that the breakup was entirely your own fault, you feel bad, and you plan to be professional and respect Ashley’s boundaries will most definitely get back to Ashley. It’s kind of an apology through a third party and will probably make Ashley feel a lot better about the situation. Still kind of wonder what happened tho….

    3. Nancy*

      I think both should leave Stephanie out of it. They can tell each other this when they are working together.

    4. Pizza Rat*

      This isn’t Stephanie’s problem and I don’t think she should be involved. It’s not her job to play peacemaker. It’s up to Ashley to change the nature of the relationship and re-initiate contact.

  30. Yes And*

    I work in finance for nonprofit arts. There’s a brief “Community involvement” section of my resume that’s relevant to two letters today.

    LW4: I have a website devoted to my artistic work, which is in the same sphere as my day job. The “community involvement” section of my resume makes reference to this work, but I always use my gmail address instead of my website address for job applications. The message I’m trying to convey is, “Hey look, I’m invested in and dedicated to this art form, but I’m also a real professional who won’t try to conflate my job tasks with my artistic work.”

    LW5: I’m the treasurer of my co-op, which is a nonprofit. So I consider that position relevant to my work in nonprofit finance. I include it in the “community involvement” section of my resume, but only as a single line – I don’t delve into it any further.

    I’ve seldom been asked about either of those things in an interview. My record of finding jobs once I start searching in earnest is pretty good. So I don’t know if either of those things has ever helped me get a job, but I don’t think either has ever hurt.

  31. Ms. Jupiter*

    For Letter writer #1,
    Please say nothing. Think about a situation in which an employee answers honestly with, ” I have digestive issues. Eating often gives me terrible gas and/or diarrhea.” How would you respond to this? How, do you think, your employee will feel about that conversation?
    Leave it alone.

  32. I should really pick a name*

    I think there’s something going on other than the plane ticket.
    That might explain your manager’s reaction, but not everyone else’s.
    Even if they know about the plane ticket (which isn’t a guarantee), I can’t image that that many people would care.

    1. KateM*

      I can imagine everyone else caring only if it has changed how they get their plane tickets now, and how much the manager has blamed it on OP.

  33. Hyaline*

    LW1, the only thing I could see saying is reinforcing for this employee (and everyone!) that they are supported in taking a daily break for any reason—it doesn’t have to be to troop to the break room and eat. If you can make sure this employee knows that “taking lunch break” doesn’t mean “eating lunch” I think that would be a positive thing—that they know they are able and encouraged to take a walk, grab a coffee, go stare at nothing for a half hour, whatever. Don’t make it weird (“I noticed you didn’t eat lunch!”) but if it works organically into conversation especially as they’re getting adjusted to the new environment, neat.

    1. kalli*

      There’s nothing in the letter that says the employee isn’t having breaks, just that they’re not eating in front of coworkers. This is obvious because they all take their break together and the employee is not eating!

    2. Nancy*

      LW already says the employee sits with everyone during lunch. No need to say anything. Not everyone needs or wants to eat at noon.

  34. Llama Phalanx*

    I have embarrassing digestive issues that generally prevent me from eating before or during a work day, because eating triggers pain/nausea/frequent bathroom dashes. I would hate to have to explain that to people I work with/for.

    1. Pita Chips*

      Oh dear. That must be awful to have to manage at work. I wouldn’t want to explain it either.

  35. HonorBox*

    OP2 – The fact that non-management former coworkers are being this weird should tell you a lot about your former workplace. I can’t imagine giving a single thought to someone leaving and not using a ticket they’d booked. That they are is super weird, and is a perfect reminder that people’s reactions to you are more about them than they are about you.

    Management insisting that you pay back that travel is also super odd. It was $650. You’d booked your trip in good faith at the time it was booked. You weren’t planning to leave when you booked it. The fact that another great opportunity fell into your lap isn’t something you could have planned for, and expecting that an employee pay back any sort of trip is petty and, in my experience, not the norm.

    Honestly, if I were an employee of your former company and things got this weird would give me pause about this workplace. Is cashflow bad? Are there other things that are outside of normal business practices? Am I to wait until the day before travel to book a flight, just in case I get another opportunity, fall ill, or something? I’d be really curious if you look back, whether there were other things that were off kilter about this workplace?

    1. SansSerif*

      Here’s what I’m wondering – did the boss spread some kind of false rumor about her, out of retaliation for not paying back the ticket? It’s easier to believe that there’s one kook – the ex-manager — and a bunch of ex-colleagues who have been led to believe some loathsome and untrue thing about the person who left.

      1. HonorBox*

        I did wonder that as well. As others have noted upthread, maybe the boss used this particular situation to change policy. Perhaps now people have to book tickets with their personal card and get reimbursed following. Or maybe the boss didn’t pay bonuses and used LW as an excuse to not do so.

        1. Keep it Simple*

          Wow, I would never ever pay something as expensive as a flight or a hotel or a car rental on my personal card. It’s a company expense; they’re paying for it and it’s up to them to choose 100% cancelable fares.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Yes, I’d think that firm was very dodgy if the price of an air ticket was so important to them.
      Perfectly normal not to subsidise your employee if they choose to cheap out and buy non-refundable /non-transferable tickets.

  36. Former Teacher #589254672*

    RE: #5 People in Mensa regularly have this debate as well. Many of us don’t put our membership in Mensa down on a resume unless we also do volunteer work for the organization in some way, for the somewhat obvious reason that people often look…if not “down,” then “askance”…at people who will label themselves as really, really smart (at least on an IQ test). I often apply for writing jobs, and my many (newsletter and other) editor positions over the years do appear on my resume, but in a small section at the end, labeled “Relevant Volunteer Positions.” I figure that if someone is interested enough in what they read on the first page and a half of my resume, this might help, and if they didn’t get through the first page and a half, meh.

    1. Nina*

      You are not a person I have met, so this doesn’t apply to you, you may well be lovely, but – literally every person meeting the criteria of a) I have met them and b) I know they are a member of Mensa – has been a raging glassbowl and has thought their IQ makes up for literally every personality flaw they have (whereas my position is that thinking your IQ is relevant is a personality flaw in itself). I have zero positive associations with Mensa. Mensa, to me, is a terrible-people club, and someone who put Mensa on their resume would read to me as ‘probably terrible person who also somehow thinks it’s a good idea to advertise to potential employers that they are a member of the terrible-people club’.

      1. Bitte Meddler*

        I am a non-dues-paying member of Mensa. I was so excited when I first joined because I was looking forward to making friends with other nerdy, introverted people like me. I even ran for, and was elected to, a board position in my local group.

        It was great for a couple of years, until I started to truly get to know a lot of the people and see how very many there were who were fine IRL but hateful bitgots online.

        I’ll say that the membership is probably 70/30, decent people-to-glassbowls, but the glassbowls take up SO MUCH SPACE.

        And the org refuses to kick them out. “They paid their membership fee. There’s nothing we can do about Johnny who doxxed a FB admin of a Mensa group and who pasted her face onto a bunch of x-rated photos and sent them all over the internet. We’re an inclusive group; we can’t just boot people we don’t like.”

        The decent people usually only mention being in Mensa if it is tangential to something else they’re saying, like describing a group outing or going to a costume ball that happened to be a Mensa activity. It’s similar to someone talking about church-related activities. They’re not bragging or proselytizing, they’re just giving context.

        And the decent people also form their own, smaller groups and police them tightly. The glassbowls might not get kicked out of Mensa, but they will get kicked out of small groups.

  37. Conference Anon*

    Oh gosh, just a few weeks ago I posted in the open thread to make sure I wasn’t out of line for objecting to my employer asking me to pay them back for a mandatory conference if I happen to leave within two years of attending. The conference is annual, in addition to being an absurd policy they would be forcing me to announce my planned departure 2 years in advance.

    They offered to “waive” the requirement this year when I offered to simply not attend, but I’m sure they’re going to bring it up again next year. I’m waiting to see if I’ll deal with any fallout for continuing to refuse to attend if I have to pay them back.

    1. LaurCha*

      That policy is absolutely bonkers. Two years? Pay back your employer for a work conference you might have attended two years ago? I would have to just refuse to go under those conditions. Conferences are expensive.

      1. Conference Anon*

        I agree. They included conferences in their new education assistance policy and didn’t tell me until everything was booked. By all means expect me to stay if you’re going to pay for my masters! But a conference? Absolutely not happening. I will stay home, and not subject myself to spending a week in a state that will allow me to die in case of certain medical emergencies.

        1. kayakwriter*

          So on that subject – and I’m sure Alison will let me know if this is more appropriately addressed in a weekend open thread – have conference-attending folks noticed any pushback on holding or attending conferences in those states that won’t provide health care for certain conditions that half the population may potentially have? To me (CIS male), it seems as bonkers as expecting your employees to travel to places that didn’t “do” blood transfusions or insulin because of religious taboos.

          1. Conference Anon*

            Probably a bit off topic for this post, but I would be interested in seeing it during the open thread or the Thursday ask the readers thread.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      Wait, so their policy is “You MUST attend this conference. Should you leave in 2 years, you will have to pay us back for them”? That’s bonkers. You’d be on the hook for up to 2 then, depending on the timing of your leaving!
      Mandatory conference = 100% employer covered event until the heat death of the universe, no takebacks.

      1. Conference Anon*

        That’s correct :) It took nearly three weeks of back and forth to get them to change their mind, and they only agreed to waive the requirement for me because I said, “If this isn’t mandatory I will stay home. If this is mandatory it should be excluded from the education agreement.” It was an ordeal.

  38. Spicy Tuna*

    #1 – don’t say anything. I don’t “do” intermittent fasting or anything, I just…. don’t eat lunch. I don’t need to. My brain functions better when I am a little hungry.

    Especially when I was working in an office (I am self employed now), I much preferred to work through lunch and get personal tasks done, or catch up on stuff while everyone else was out to lunch.

    #5 – this isn’t answering your question directly, but years ago , I was president of my condo association during the mortgage meltdown crisis. Our management company was completely useless. I worked extensively with various law firms hired by the banks to manage foreclosures, and unit owner’s bankruptcy attorneys. I managed to divert a lot of money from foreclosure sales towards unpaid maintenance and assessments . One of the attorneys was so impressed, he offered me a job and was shocked when I told him I wasn’t an attorney.

    So, I do think that skills acquired and services provided to your HOA or condo board could go on a resume!

    1. Jo*

      I agree. When I was on the HOA board, it was like a JOB (and with a steep learning curve) where we board members worked 5-20 hours a week, depending what was going on.

      Community relations, contract management, PR, legal and financial, non-profit law, budgeting, vendor negotiation, conflict resolution, writing, research were just some of the skills I further developed.

      Maybe if there’s an “other” area where you can list miscellaneous experience., you can put it there. Or at least work it in to the conversation.

    2. blue rose*

      #1 Similar to you in that I eat lightly during the workday if at all, not because I function better with a little hunger, but I find that having a normal sized (neither particularly large nor small, just “complete” as it were) meal then returning to sit at my desk puts me right to sleep. Standing “helps” in that it forces me to stay awake, but I’d still be struggling to stay awake the rest of the afternoon. I think it would be different if my job wasn’t so sedentary, but it is, so.

  39. Nancy*

    LW1: Stop monitoring your employees’ food intake. People can pick up on things like that and no one wants to be around someone making them uncomfortable or stressed. Focus on your own lunch.

  40. Dandylions*

    FWIW I just hired someone yesterday so I’m in the thick of resumes and hiring.

    Seeing anything related to a condominium board, HOA, etc. would give me real pause. HOA’s have a reputation of being filled with authority seeking busy bodies who like to punish non conformers. Many HOAs flaunt the law (EV vehicles most recently made the news with many HOAs trying to enforce bans that States specifically carved out as not being HOA enforceable) and often the whole system is tied up in a neat bow of racism and bigotry.

    Even if your HOA isn’t one of the bad ones, I’d wonder why you weren’t self aware enough to know what HOAs are controversial.

    I may not pass up your resume, although if I had at least 4 other similarly strong resumes I would set an HOA resume on the no pile.

    If I interviewed you and didn’t get a strong sense that you are a friendly team player who doesn’t try to grab undue authority, I’d pass on you. And fair or not unfortunately interviewing is not an exact science and sometimes you aren’t able to get rid of all your concerns despite your best efforts to really dig into them with concrete questions.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep. Every time I think of an HOA, I think of that insane woman from Over the Hedge immediately. Seeing that would really make my spidey senses tingle.

      1. Dandylions*

        They are the same thing in every practical sense. The only difference is the type of property managed, homes vs condos.

        So much so that most condo association fees are listed under the header of HOA fees when purchasing property.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          But so much that HOAs like to have rules about is outside appearance. The nice thing about condos is not having a yard to maintain. I suspect that the busy-body quotient is much lower on condo boards than on HOA boards.

          1. KateM*

            And if the condo board says that every condo has to have the same kind and color of window, it is IMO rather a different from HOA saying every house has to have the same kind and color.

        2. AngryOctopus*

          But condo buildings tend to be more apartment building, while HOAs are in neighborhoods where everyone has their own yard/driveway, etc (not always true, but close enough). The upshot of this is that condo associations tend to deal with maintenance, hiring of professionals to do things like recarpet the hallways or fix the elevators, or discuss how they’re going to pay for resealing the garage or replacing the roof. HOAs, by dint of being a neighborhood, are more “you can’t have visible garbage cans/you can’t park 2 cars in your driveway because it doesn’t look nice/you must have a certain kind of fence” nonsense. Condo associations may have nonsense happening on them, but you can’t abolish them because someone has to be in charge of common areas. HOAs often don’t serve a real purpose (anymore, I suppose they might have at some point) besides “making things look nice”.

  41. MistOrMister*

    Re OP1 – I once had a coworker that I never saw eat. It was right around when Twilight was really popular and I will admit I did amuse myself wondering if he might be a vampire! I agree that there is nothing to say to the coworker in OPs case. My first thought would be possible food insecurity, but given that there are snack options sometimes and the coworker chooses not to partake, that seems to not be likely. So then I would think intermittent fasting. Some people happily only eat one meal a day and if I never saw someone eat that is what I would assume they were doing. Could be an eating disorder, but that is not OP’s job to handle. Really, if the person seems to be healthy, there is no need to pay attention to what they do or don’t eat.

  42. RagingADHD*

    LW2, if your former workplace doesn’t know better than to purchase nonrefundable / nontransferrable tickets for business trips, or won’t spring for all-cause travel insurance, that’s on them. Even if you were booking travel for yourself, it should be policy.

    The difference in fare is usually less than $100. That is the epitome of penny wise and pound foolish.

    I suppose if you went against a written policy and bought nonrefundable tickets when you were told not to, they might have a reason to expect you to pay it back. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case, and the whole reaction is irrational. I wonder if the coworkers were told some other reason why the CEO was upset?

  43. Lunch*

    OP 1: Leave it alone. I have a food allergy that I can generally avoid and I’m comfortable talking about it (3 days out of work and a possible trip to ER for my body to calm down). On the other hand, my friend has a deadly allergy to a common ingredient that cannot be avoided but is not open to sharing his struggles. An amount of a grain of rice of this ingredient can kill him so he doesn’t take any chances.

  44. Meleys Mom*

    LW1 my ND family member doesn’t feel comfortable eating when others are in the room. If they were your employee and you brought it up they would be so embarrassed and likely quit on the spot. I can see that your question is coming from a place of care but it’s possible you could cause more harm than good.

  45. OP3*

    I discovered through a different coworker that Ashley and I would be working on the same team. I then sent the list of team members to Stephanie and she asked me how I thought it would go working with Ashley.

    I said that I thought it would be ok and I would concentrate on work and be professional.

    My initial thought was the same as what a lot of people are saying here. Just leave it alone and if Ashley wants to reach out, she can.

    I think that if I were in Ashley’s shoes, I would feel less awkward about the whole situation if the person who wronged me reached out before we saw each other again in person. But maybe I’m projecting what I think I would want on to her.

    One comment that resonated was that if we were not working together, we would not be resuming communication. So I dont want it to seem like Im using this as an excuse to get back in touch with her. At this point, I think I’ll take the advice of the majority and let it be. If she contacts me or demonstrates in some way that she is open to some type of communication, then I’ll go with that and we will see what happens.

    I will be returning to the office in August and will definitely have an update.

    The first time we run into each other in
    the hallway or elevator is going to be super awkward.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Good luck. It’s a tough situation but it’s good that you are taking it seriously and working hard to figure out what the respectful and appropriate way to treat Ashley is. I hope it goes well!

    2. BikeWalkBarb*

      A while back I read the book “On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World” by Danya Ruttenberg and I’ve been recommending it to people ever since. She’s a rabbi and the book is grounded in Jewish law but you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate her very clear discussion of the way to approach a genuine apology (which is the last step in a process that involves you being clear about what you did, committing not to repeat it, and asking permission before trying to apologize, among other things). Her use of everything from international disputes to the #MeToo movement as examples really clarifies what’s wrong with so many apologies: They don’t have any indication that the transgression won’t happen again.

      There are similar writings available on the web. You might read some of those or the book and think about whether you’ve gone through the self-reflection (sounds as if you have since you say it was totally your fault; the additional step is recognizing why it happened and taking specific actions so it won’t recur) and other steps. That conversation with Ashley, however and whenever it happens, will likely be better if you’ve done that kind of preparation and are ready to share it if she’s ready to receive it.

      The bottom line in the book is that no one is obligated to accept an apology. There are circumstances under which even trying to apologize does additional harm. The person who caused the original harm has to accept it if that’s the case.

    3. starsaphire*

      You’ve got this. Just be polite and professional, but not cold, and follow her lead. Once the first encounter is over, it’ll all be a lot easier from there.

      Sending virtual hugs!

    4. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      For whatever it’s worth, waiting and seeing is a perfectly valid approach, but to note: I don’t think you’re projecting by asking yourself what you’d want in Ashley’s shoes. It’s also projection to be so ashamed of what you did that you assume she couldn’t take it in stride if she were to hear from you. You can’t know one way or the other what she wants or how she feels about reestablishing contact at this point in time – it’s all guesswork, which is why it’s so hard.

      I also don’t think that reaching out to her would be using it your transfer as an “excuse” to get in touch. There are situations where the impulse to smooth things over is a self-serving one, but you’ve been respectful of Ashley’s distance, and you’ve only considered reaching out because of circumstance. Go easy on yourself.

      1. I Would Prefer Not To*

        Yeah that’s how I see it as well. OP you know Ashley the best after all, if she’s the type to address the elephant in the room then she might appreciate the note; conversely if she’s a little more shy of addressing things head on, probably a safer strategy to keep quiet for now. You sound like you’re intent on addressing it professionally and respectfully so here’s hoping it’ll turn out well and that the initial awkwardness will soon wear off.

    5. Savor The Peelies*

      I agree with you that I would personally feel a lot better if I was Ashley and someone reached out to say “hey, I messed up, I won’t do it again, and I will continue to be a consummate professional”, but you know her and the situation best. You seem like a mature person and I’m sure the general advice to just be polite and professional and respect her boundaries will work out fine. Rooting for you!

    6. Throwaway Account*

      I was wondering if those first (and continued) awkward moments were really the stressor here.
      Like, where do you even look or stand?

      In a meeting, fine, there is no need to look at her or look away. But it is those random hallway situations that feel so strange. Do you catch eyes and smile, do you look away, do you say hi as you pass? Which action will make Ashley feel more or less awkward? The problem is not your own feelings of awkwardness, those are things you have to feel – it is the way that what you do or do not do contributes to the feelings Ashely will have.

    7. Petty_Boop*

      The phrase “the person who wronged me” jumped out at me. I think a lot of this boils down to the reason for your fall out. Just a personality clash? Sleep w/ her boyfriend? Steal her work and claim credit? Only you know how “forgiveable” your offense (and kudos to you for owning it) was and whether or not it’s likely to be seen as water under the bridge now, vs “we are and forever will be mortal enemies.” If someone reached out to me who’d say…had hurt my feelings with a comment and said, “I take responsibility for hurting your feelings and I want you to know that I intend to be completely civil and pleasant and professional when I return to the office,” I’d be okay with that and I’d probably respond, “Thanks. That’s all I ask” or something. But, it depends on the depths of your wronging” and how badly she took it and whether or not she’s a grudge holder. The only one who knows how you reaching out is likely to be taken…is you.

  46. KK*

    LW #1
    Leave it alone. For a couple of reasons….

    1) I try my best not to eat around other ppl. I am overweight and feel very judged for everything I put in my mouth. I don’t need side-eye from ppl who I feel are silently thinking “Does she really need to be eating that?”

    2) I have a friend who lost a great deal of weight doing the OMAD method (One Meal A Day). So your colleague could be saving their appetite for dinner.

  47. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#3, I would advise against putting anything in writing saying it was your fault. That might be used against you in the future. Especially if it’s a vague blanket apology.

  48. SwampWitch*

    LW1: Or it could be meds. I just started a new medication that makes me nauseated all day and based on the timing of things, I need to take it in the morning. The nausea doesn’t wear off until evening, which is when I actually feel a hunger cue. I’ve tried eating around the nausea and ended up with a few technicolor yawns.

  49. Irish Teacher.*

    LW1, just to add to what everybody else is saying, I’d be careful about making assumptions about what will and will not help with others’ stress. It may be that, for whatever reason, eating during the day would add to her stress and she has found that doing things this way does help with her stress. Or maybe she isn’t even feeling any stress. Even if you work in a high-stress job, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody will find it stressful.

    Or she may feel that being asked about her eating habits adds to her stress.

    I don’t mean any of this as a criticism. It sounds like you are genuinely concerned about your employee and I understand wanting to know if there is anything you can do to make the environment more comfortable for her but I really wouldn’t assume that her not eating means that she is finding the situation stressful or that not eating adds to her stress levels.

    If you did want to approach her, I’d leave the eating out of it and just say something like, “I know this is a high stress job for many people, so if there is anything about the environment that makes things difficult for you, please let me know and I’ll see if we can change anything.”

  50. Garth*

    I think for #1, in addition to not discussing food, weight, diet, body, etc at work, there’s nothing to even be concerned about in the first place. Not eating lunch isn’t that unusual that it signifies something deeper

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      and declining communal pastries, cakes etc could be because she suspects coworkers don’t wash their hands after the toilet or blowing their nose.

  51. fhqwhgads*

    #2: if $650 were THAT big a deal, then that employer would be about to go under anyway. Since this much time has passed and they have not, the reactions were completely ridiculous.
    But also, interestingly, the company’s own fault. Everywhere I’ve worked insists on buying refundable travel or exchangeable travel for this reason: people leave. They suck.

    1. RagingADHD*

      And not just leaving. People get sick or have family emergencies. People have work emergencies that require them to be elsewhere (and the more senior the person is, the more likely this is to happen). If the conference is booked far enough out, people may get promoted or transferred and the trip is no longer within their purview.

      Not being able to go on a business trip is such a common and forseeable circumstance, that not providing for it is like thinking you’d never have to upgrade your software or change a light bulb. This is not a freak one-off.

  52. Rebecca*

    LW1 – Flip this around for a minute. Let’s day that you noticed one employee was eatinf 2 king size candy bars at their desk every morning, or another brings 2 cases of coke to drink every week, or another gets 3 big macs for lunch everyday.

    You certainly wouldn’t comment on their eating habits, so why in the world would it be ok to comment on the eating habits of someone that isn’t eating? Obviously, it isn’t.

    I don’t think you’re coming from a bad place, but as the recipient of so many “you’re so skinny” comments, we really need to step back and realize that neither type of comment is ok. I never know how to react when this happens. Are you giving me a compliment? Is that a low key insult? Are you being passive aggressive? It’s quite frustrating, and a lot of people don’t seem to get that.

    1. BikeWalkBarb*

      Yep. Better to maintain and protect a culture in which it *isn’t* okay to comment on someone else’s food, body, personal differences as long as they’re not affecting the workplace (I’m remembering a letter about having to talk to someone with a strong body odor). Shut it down if it happens.

      I have a friend who gets the “you’re so skinny” comments and “You look so nice! I couldn’t wear that but it looks great on you” from someone who also comments often on other people’s bodies and clothing choices. This is such a pattern with so much body-size bias built in that it has now risen to an HR issue after my friend tried to deal with it directly and got pushback, deflection, denial, and the whole bag of tricks along with a doubling down on the behavior. This is in an academic setting where the person making the comments has tenure and is commenting on the bodies of adjuncts and others so there’s a power/status differential that makes it worse. I’m proud of my skinny friend for recognizing the ways this harms others who don’t have their thin privilege and taking action.

      I didn’t used to be as conscious of these issues; reading Virginia Sole-Smith’s Burnt Toast newsletter has been a whole education on food commentary, diet culture, and more. Highly recommend.

  53. RCB*

    Due to various reasons I don’t eat like “normal” people do (I don’t know why there is a normal when it comes to food consumption but here we are) and the comments get so annoying and make me want to scream. When it gets particularly bad I have to say forcefully “I am 43-years-old, I know when I’m hungry!” and that usually shuts them down finally.

    So no, #1, DO NOT say anything, your opinion of when someone should eat does not matter.

  54. HailRobonia*

    #1: If we were living in a movie that would be sure sign your coworker is a robot, vampire, or robot vampire.

    1. BikeWalkBarb*

      Alien robot vampire.

      Too bad some people treat others as if that’s an actual possibility they need to investigate. (Not that LW is doing that)

  55. kiki*

    For #1, I think it would be fine to try to make extra clear to this employee that they can and should step away from work and the rest of the group to take care of anything they need. Check in on their workload and make sure they’re feeling okay with it. That’s stuff you can (and should!) really do with any employee in a high stress job even if you hadn’t noticed anything specific about their behavior.

    But I think mentioning that you’ve noticed they never eat at work is an overstep. It would make me feel surveilled and wonder what other personal habits/quirks are being catalogued by my boss and coworkers. I know LW isn’t meaning to pry and really just wants to make sure their employee is comfortable and happy, there are just things you can’t talk to your employees about and eating habtits are one.

  56. Anon Government Employee*

    On #2, I wonder if the other employees have been ordered to treat the LW this way. I know of one case where an agency’s management so hated a former employee, that when they retired from their new agency, they had two people stand outside and make note of any current employees of the old agency who showed up to the party. Presumably, these employees would be transferred or something.

  57. Jules the 3rd*

    a business.com domain name is neutral for personal emails, but some other variations may drive interesting conversations if you are in some area that is tech-adjacent. Someone who owns their own .com can use the same process to register domains that are .name, .info, .site, or .me , instead of .com .

    I use an email address with a .name domain, and it has gotten comment from almost every person who sees it, and sparked a two minute diversion with a recruiter yesterday. I work in tech adjacent business analysis, so being able to casually talk about our family domain gave one indication that I am broadly comfortable with a range of technology.

    1. oranges*

      I agree with all of that, but I take issue with it being LW’s *HUSBAND’S* business domain.

      I’d honestly think it was a mistake if a candidate’s email sent me to a totally unrelated portfolio and inquiry form. Much like you wouldn’t bring up your husband in the cover letter or interview, leave him out of the communication.

      1. I Have RBF*

        If she and her spouse have the last name, but it’s her spouse’s business on the website, it would be extremely unremarkable. Something like jane@smithjones.com when the person is Jane Smithjones would be very unremarkable, even if smithjones.com has a construction company web site. That would just tell me that someone in her family has a construction business. It would not be odd, or a red flag. If, however, she used imalittleteapot@gmail.com when she had a perfectly good jane@smithjones.com email would be… odd, unless she worked with teapots.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I sort of disagree. If they see @smithjones.com and that it’s that her last name and stop there, yeah unremarkable. If they google the domain and see it’s a construction business, and her resume has no mention of a job at a construction business, it’s gonna open up some weird questions like “do you work for the family business? what’s up with this?” The latter happening isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s completely unnecessary.

  58. oranges*

    Question #1 makes my chest tighten.

    As someone who spends a lot of mental energy on food, the thought of my co-workers ALSO thinking about my eating, how much, when, and where makes me want to crawl in a hole.

    Please don’t bring it up to her. Whatever reason she has, she already knows she’s outside the norm and is thinking about it plenty.

  59. merida*

    OP #2 – this happened to me too! Except I did pay for the plane ticket because I was naive then plus too burned out to fight back… The funny thing was I’d asked when I booked the ticket if we could pay the fee to get a refundable ticket, because this was during a pandemic spike and I wanted to be covered in case the event was canceled. My boss scoffed and said that I worry too much, we can’t afford to pay for a refundable ticket, etc. Months later I ended up securing a new job, putting in my notice, and then paying them $500 for the ticket… sigh. I wish I’d had the wherewithal to push back, so good for you for pushing, even though your team sounds bonkers!!

  60. solipsistnation*

    Regarding a custom domain: I work in tech, and my primary email address has been the same since about 1996. It’s a custom domain my friends and I set up back then for our own purposes, back when that was actually fairly difficult for private citizens to do.

    I have used this as a conversation starter, as well as for establishing old-school internet cred in interviews. At this point it turns into showing my age a bit, but for the most part it’s a nice sort of informal way to start an interview or to talk about experience running online services and stuff over time.

    I don’t know how that would translate to using a custom firstname@lastname.com domain, but in the tech industry, custom domains are pretty common and can lead to some interesting interviews.

    1. I Have RBF*

      I’ve been working in tech for over 25 years. I’ve had longlastname.net for at least 20 years. I am a sysadmin. For me to use i.have.rbf@gmail.com for job hunting would look weird, IMO, like I was ashamed of my (multiple) domains.

      Sure, for people not in tech, especially the operations side, using gmail is more the expected level of sophistication. But I don’t know many sysadmins that don’t have at least one personal domain.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah but your domains are yours, not your spouse’s business’s. If LW has name@lastname.com just because they had it, ain’t no thang. It’s specifically the “this is the spouse’s business, which one does not work for” aspect of this particular custom domain that makes no sense to start using just for interviews.

  61. Petty_Boop*

    LW1: You seem like you have a good heart and good intentions but do NOT talk to someone about their food intake. First, if someone mentioned to me, “I never see you eat at work; you need to eat!” I’d be weirded out wondering WHY ARE THEY WATCHING TO SEE IF I EAT? Second, I and about a million other people I know have a variety of gastrointestinal issues that often make eating anywhere but home quite a minefield. I can drink coffee at home because I’m close to the restroom. But I avoid it like the plague anywhere else. I never know what food is going to trigger my sensitive tummy, etc… Regardless, nobody wants to feel like a colleague or boss is paying THAT much attention to something unrelated to the actual job.

  62. Yes Travel Agents Still Exist*

    Regarding #2, where the company wanted to be reimbursed for a plane ticket. A good travel agent would probably be able to get a waiver to do a name change. It costs money (maybe $100), but larger agencies usually have access to waivers and favors with airlines. Another reason to always book with a reputable travel agency!

  63. Dawn*

    LW4: While almost everyone just hits reply nowadays or copies an email verbatim, you’re really just creating one more place a typo could occur (I worked in retail customer service for many years; ask me how many people manage to typo their own emails on a form, never mind someone else’s.)

    It doesn’t matter a huge lot but in general my advice to people is to always use the simplest email address available. Gmail is simple; people only very rarely miskey that one.

  64. Pam Poovey*

    There are a lot of days when I skip lunch at work. Sometimes I had a big breakfast and simply am not hungry. Sometimes I have a big dinner planned and I know if I eat lunch I won’t want it. Sometimes I have gnarly period cramps. It’s not a big deal unless she starts preaching about her intermittent fasting regimen or acting weird about others eating in front of her.

  65. Kate*

    Holy overstepping, LW1. Let the woman eat (or not) as she pleases. Why do people think everything is their business?!?

    1. Manic Sunday*

      To be fair, LW1 hasn’t actually done anything to overstep at this point and wrote in to ensure they don’t overstep.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      I get the impression the LW believes, or at least is afraid, that the employee actually wants to eat and is possibly stressed or physically uncomfortable due to not doing so but for some reason they feel unable to do so and the LW wants to support them and ensure the environment is safe for them to eat in.

      It’s not a good idea, not least because there is no reason to assume that the employee is unhappy with the current situation, but I can see how the LW is thinking and I do think they mean well (and that they absolutely did the right thing by writing to an advice column to get an outside opinion before saying anything).

  66. Manic Sunday*

    LW1, the only thing there *might* be for you to do in this situation is keep your ears open for other employees bugging your non-eating employee about her non-eating. If you hear others saying stuff like, “How come you never eat with us?” or pressuring her to partake of some food item that she has already declined, then you should pull those folks aside and ask them to stop doing that. It’s good that you care, and promoting a culture of respect for boundaries is the best way to show you care about all your employees.

    1. My Cat's Human*

      I would second this and add: Please don’t discuss *your* observations/concerns re the non-eating employee with other staff (ie, don’t talk behind the employee’s back).

      Only 2 days after new employee “Jim” started, our manager told two of us how weird it was that Jim ate bits throughout the day, instead of eating only at lunchtime. (Trying to survive this manager is how I found AAM!)

  67. Addison DeWitt*

    One of my big bosses never, so far as I could tell in 4 years, ate lunch, or any visible food. She was the type who I could believe any oddball habit about. Maybe she ran to the gym at lunch and ate carrots, I dunno.

    Anyway– on the whole office turning on you after your quit: I had a job like that. A few friends there (and I still see some of them), but there were definitely people who cut me dead and, I heard, spoke poorly of me after. It was just their weirdness, not mine, but there was a bit of a family/cult feel there.

  68. Light Dancer*

    LW1: Do not, Not, NOT say anything to your colleague who doesn’t eat with you! Alison gave a number of perfectly plausible reasons for her decision, and all of them have one thing in common; they’re your colleague’s business, not yours!

    Many years ago, my otherwise excellent supervisor realized that I wore a smaller size than she did. From then on, she paid MUCH too much attention to what I was eating; she even asked my co-workers to report back to her on what I ate for lunch every day and hinted that I might have anorexia (I didn’t)! My coworkers were quite annoyed by this – they knew it wasn’t my manager’s business but didn’t feel they could tell her so. I, in turn, was annoyed that she’d put them in that position. Lose-lose all the way around!

    Any number of AAM columns describe the problems that come up when employees (well-meaning or otherwise) poke their noses into their colleague’s dietary choices, commenting critically on them or trying to oversee them. Your co-worker is an adult; give her the respect due to one and concentrate on enjoying your own lunch.

  69. Non-work Eater*

    I started using Invisalign earlier this year. I’ve found the easiest way to get my 22-hours-a-day wear time is to just have two meals a day. I have breakfast before leaving for work, then dinner after getting home. I have an hour for each meal before I need to get my trays back on. As a result, I don’t eat at work anymore.

    I have a friend at work trying to lose weight through the OMAD method (one-meal-a-day). He just has one large dinner each day, and does not eat at work anymore.

    I wouldn’t pry too hard why you never see someone eating at work. The reason is probably something mundane, and nothing to do with stress.

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