my coworkers keep praising my work bully, emergency bathroom use during interviews, and more

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

1. Can I ask my coworkers to stop praising the person who bullied me?

How reasonable is it to ask my teammates to stop praising another employee from a different department who was a bully? I am okay with speaking about this person in a working manner (“Petra suggested this on the budget issue, so let’s go with it.”), but there are two people on my own team (one is my manager) who will lavish praise on them (“Petra is a genius! She is so great at her job! This company is so much better with her around!”).

I spent a better portion of a year working with Petra, an internal client who behaved terribly to me and others assigned to her project. It was firmly bullying behavior that affected project outcomes, relationships within the project team, and my health. I’ve heard many stories of her doing interpersonal damage around the company, though I can’t deny she is strong in her realm of work.

My teammates and especially my manager know about my experiences, though it doesn’t seem like they have caught on to the extent. I feel somewhat disrespected when they speak so lavishly about Petra. They’ll add a quick acknowledgement after they’ve started because they suddenly remember whom they’re talking to: “I know you wouldn’t say this about her, but she is so amazing!” or “I know you had a bad experience, but I just love how smart she is.” That tells me they remember my experience, but choose to continue saying these things to me. It’s disheartening that her bad behavior is minimized and my experience is dismissed, especially by my manager. They can say it to others, I just don’t want to hear it myself.

Is it reasonable to say “Hey, given my history with Petra, and you may not realize the extent of the damage she did, but can I ask that we keep our talk about her to strictly business?” Or is it asking too much and I should just ignore it? I don’t expect this special consideration for any other of our clients, many of whom are difficult to work with but not bullying. Plus, I’m in the camp we shouldn’t keep jerks around just because they are good at their job.

Yeah, it’s probably asking too much. You can’t really tell people not to say positive things around you about a colleague who still works there; you’ll come across as overly precious or prima donna-ish.

At most, the next time she’s lavishly praised, you could say something like, “My experience with her was truly very different. I’d be glad to share it privately with you sometime if you think it would be useful to hear another perspective.”

But I think you’ve got to mark this down to them having legitimately positive experiences with Petra and not realizing the extent of how harmful your interactions with her were or writing it off to a personality conflict rather than something more serious. That might sound dismissive, but it’s so much more common for two people to just not get along than it is for someone to be truly monstrous that it’s understandable that people might assume that. And they might assume that even if they did hear more details, because people tend to assume there are two sides to every story, or that each person is bringing their own baggage to the situation — especially when they know and like both people involved. You don’t have to like that, but I think looking at it that way might make it feel less personal. (And to be clear, I don’t think it’s great that they’re lavishly praising her around you, but you can only control your side of it.)

2. Emergency bathroom use during interviews

About a year ago, I had a medical procedure done involving my intestines. As a result, I sometimes very suddenly have to use the restroom; waiting even a few minutes could spell disaster. I have been able to accommodate this fine in my current job, as my office is close to a restroom, but I am in the process of applying for new jobs and have had a few interviews, some lasting close to an hour.

So far it has not been an issue during the interviews — I’ve done my best to prevent it by making sure I arrive early enough that I can use the restroom either at the interview location or at a nearby gas station/coffee shop/whatever right before the interview. That said, I’m (reasonably, I think) worried that despite my best efforts, one of these days I’m going to be in the middle of an interview and experience that all-too-familiar rumbling that indicates impending doom.

On one hand, I feel like interviewers might be understanding of a bathroom emergency (we’re all human, after all), but I also feel like it could look bad for me to have to put an interview on hold for 5-10 minutes while I run to the toilet.

Anyone can have a sudden, unanticipated need for a bathroom, even without a medical condition! It might not be as urgent as your need is, but it can be urgent enough to require excusing oneself from a meeting. Because of that, you don’t need to worry too much about giving any context for it or warning your interviewer in advance. If the need strikes, you can simply say, “I’m so sorry — I need to very briefly excuse myself to use your restroom.”

That said, if you’ll feel more comfortable, you could say at the start, “I had a recent medical procedure that means I might need to pop out to the bathroom at some point while we’re talking — I’ll speak up if that happens.”

3. Our company won’t let managers suggest sick employees work from home

We have several employees who report to work ill. When I suggest letting ill people work from home, I am told our division head says no. Her exact words were “I’d like to work from home,” which makes no sense. Also, a manager states they spoke to an HR rep and the statement was along the lines of “You are not a doctor and cannot state factually that their illness is causing another worker to become ill and therefore cannot send an employee home.”

What results is other employees become ill, go to the doctor, use their PTO, their workload piles up, and when they return the germ carriers are still repeatedly deep coughing, sneezing, etc., causing relapses. Focusing on one’s work is proving difficult. Would working in our remote site be a legal alternative if one presents as a risk to another’s health and well-being?

Your division head is a bit of a jerk; just because she’d like to work from home but for some reason can’t doesn’t mean that it’s not a viable option for anyone, and she’s really behind the curve on this.

But more importantly, your HR rep is ridiculous. Letting sick people work from home isn’t about factually proving they’re definitely getting others sick; it’s about taking sensible precautions that any sixth grader could understand. Your HR rep sounds overly rigid and lacking in critical thinking skills — which is a really bad combination. Is your whole HR team like this, or is it just this one person? If the latter, try going over her head. (Although, frankly, managers shouldn’t need HR’s permission on this, and ideally could just leave HR out of it.)

To answer your question: Working from a remote site for whatever reason is perfectly legal. The law cares not one bit. The issue is an internal one with your company.

4. My partner’s last-minute work changes are wreaking havoc on my schedule

I work from a home office. My schedule has made it so that my SO can be as flexible as possible for his employer, given sufficient notice; his job involves travel and working from home at irregular intervals. I have a schedule that allows me the space and time to run my business and do elder care for his family and mine.

My SO’s employer (a large firm) has a reputation for being at least somewhat family-friendly, despite the nature of this job he does. My SO’s previous supervisor took family friendly policies seriously. My SO and I never once experienced a conflict under his leadership due to his behavior, and few things cropped up last moment.

The problem is his new supervisor, who has a management style best described as chaotic; everything is conflict-filled, urgent, and last moment and it’s causing interpersonal and scheduling difficulties between my SO and me. I did the best I could to work with this new management style and maintain my policy of never saying “no” to his professional obligations, no matter how they might impact my schedule. However, when I had to reschedule my own professional and personal obligations 10 times in the space of a month in order to support his career, I had a change of heart.

I’ve had as much as I will take of the near constant schedule changes, and my SO’s newly developed short temper, and I’m at a loss as to how to address this with him and his supervisor. How do I discuss this and bring matters about to a peaceful resolution?

You talk to him, and he talks to his manager. You shouldn’t be talking to the manager yourself, since it’s between him and your SO.

The subject line of your email to me was, “How much flexibility is too much to expect from an employee’s family?” But they’re not expecting anything from you; they deal with him, and they assume he will work out family issues himself (including speaking up if he’s being asked to do things he can’t do).

It sounds like you and he need to sit down and figure out how many last minute changes you’re willing and able to accommodate, and what kind of new boundaries you each need to draw (you with him, and him with his boss). Then he’ll need to have a conversation with his boss where he explains that because of elder care obligations, he can’t accommodate this much schedule chaos. Ideally he’d talk about how he and his former manager made it work, and see if the new manager is open to a similar set-up. But before that can happen, hash out how this will work between the two of you.

5. Client wants to make my freelance contract permanent — and I don’t want it

Recently, my long-term freelance contract came to an end. In order to make ends meet, I took up another freelance contract at a much lower rate, thinking I’ll look for something else in the interim. But it actually worked out well. The studio deals with a lot of confidential work that I’m not privy to, so I mostly help out on the overflow. My schedule is light, leaving me with time and energy to work on other contracts, as well as my long-running creative project.

They apparently liked my work, because now they’re offering a permanent position. I considered it initially, as I enjoy the work and the culture, but then I actually saw the offer. This role pays less than my freelance contract (though with benefits and leave), and I will be barred from working on outside projects. I know they don’t have much room in their budget for negotiation. As I’ll be involved in the confidential dealings, my workload will also increase significantly.

I’m definitely not going to accept this position, as it sounds like more stress at less pay. I just don’t know if there’s a way to let them down and go back to the way things were before. They presented it as a huge honor for a freelancer to be offered a permanent role, and I was also excited initially. They specifically asked me if I am dead-set on freelancing at the beginning and I said no, meaning I can’t use that excuse.

I realize I’ve been enjoying a very cushy position, but I do repeatedly hear how much my overflow work helps everyone stay on schedule with the important stuff. And of course, having this kind of steady income as a freelancer is a godsend. Can I still freelance with them without it being awkward? I feel like my friend-with-benefits suddenly wants to get married!

Absolutely, it’s really normal to consider an offer like this, decide it’s not for you, but stay on good terms and continue freelancing for the client. You can say something like, “I really appreciate you making this offer! I’ve run the numbers and it makes more financial sense for me to remain a freelancer, especially because of the bar on outside projects. But I really like working with you, and I’d love to just continue on with my freelance work for you if that still makes sense on your side.”

One thing to make sure you’re factoring in: It’s really normal for the position to pay less than you were earning as a freelancer, because as a freelancer you’re not getting benefits and you’re responsible for all your own payroll taxes. It sounds like there are other reasons this position wouldn’t be right for you, but I did want to flag that this piece of it is normal and expected.

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