Q: I work in a small office in a hip West Coast city. I have a small team of four women who work under me, and my boss largely stays out of issues that are not strictly work-related. Recently, one of my team members broke up with her partner, and she began bringing her dog to the office. The dog is relatively well-behaved, if a little rambunctious. I let it go for several weeks because she likely doesn’t have money to pay a dog sitter/walker. On Friday, another of our team brought her dog, too: a large, poorly behaved pit bull. I should have said something months ago, before the reception area turned into a doggy day care with pet beds, water bowls and two large dogs roaming in and out of everyone’s office. What should I do? I lack authority to unilaterally say, “No dogs in the office.” My boss has stayed silent on the issue when I’ve asked. Am I being a jerk? — Anonymous
A: I am afraid of dogs. When I was 5, a German shepherd bit me, and that was that for me and dogs. Over the years, I never cared for them, though I certainly never begrudged anyone who loved them. Last year, I got my wife a puppy, which is to say I got us a puppy, and now I love our dog. He is perfect. I love hanging out with him — he is sweet and smart and funny. But I would never bring him into a professional situation unless it was necessary and I had explicit permission from anyone who would be affected.
Dog lovers are an intense, passionate breed. And some dog lovers want to believe it is appropriate to bring dogs everywhere. I am not here to debate that. In a workplace that isn’t explicitly dog-friendly, there are some boundary issues that need to be clarified. It sounds like you have been really tolerant and fair up until now. These things can be such a slippery slope. What starts out as a generous accommodation for one person can quickly become an out-of-control situation. Even though your colleagues won’t like it, you should either compel your boss to establish a dog policy or you should do it yourself, because it sounds like he has implicitly granted you the authority to do so.
Think about what a workable solution could look like — only allowing dogs in cases of emergency, for example, or two dog-friendly days a week. This is a sticky situation, but I firmly believe you can find a way forward that will improve upon what you’re presently dealing with.
Q: This summer, I became very ill with COVID-19. I was two months into a new dream job at a global company that constantly emphasizes its progressive company culture, and everything was going well. When I was diagnosed, I continued to work from home until I became unable to carry out my duties. I was hospitalized for three weeks, including a week in a medically-induced coma.
Less than two weeks out of the hospital, I received the doctor’s approval to return to work. I hoped my concerned colleagues would welcome me back with open arms. Instead, on my first day back in the office, my manager explained my absence was “very bad timing,” said my leadership role within the team “has come to an end” and told me that my room for advancement within the company was “off the table.”
I have more than 15 years of leadership experience and an MBA. There had not been one hint that I wasn’t excelling in my new role before my illness. Hoping to regain the trust of my manager, I’ve continued to keep my head down and execute my work with precision. It’s now been three months and my manager constantly insults me and criticizes me at every turn.
At this point, I love my job but loathe going to work. Is there any advice on how to deal with the situation or is it time to meet with HR and move on? I hesitate to simply quit and lose my insurance. — Jeffrey, Los Angeles
A: It is well past time to meet with human resources. Illness is not indicative of weakness or professional incompetence. I’m pretty sure ending up in a coma was far worse timing for you than your manager, who is shockingly callous.
The animosity seems intensely personal and wildly inappropriate. Unfortunately, the federal government enacted few workplace protections for people who contracted COVID. Common sense and decency dictate you shouldn’t be punished for getting so sick. And it’s disgraceful that you have little recourse.
In California, though, it is against the law for an employer to retaliate for someone using sick leave. If you haven’t already, document every instance of your manager using your illness against you. Talk to human resources to see how they plan to address this, and if they don’t rise to the occasion then it may be time to seek an employment lawyer.
I’m sorry you’ve had such a rough go of it and hope your situation improves, and quickly. We are in a pandemic. Nothing is normal, and employers have to recognize that their employees are human beings in human bodies.
Keeping up appearances
Q: The proliferation of Zoom since the start of the pandemic seems to have also ushered in unwelcome comments about my appearance. I was told by one male colleague that I should try to bring more “energy” when I’m on video calls — despite feeling completely exhausted, in the middle of a global pandemic, and trying my best to remain sane while I attempt to help my school-age kids tackle the challenges of remote learning. A year later, I’m on another call, at a different company, and the first thing another male colleague says is that I look too “serious” when I’m on video calls. In both of these cases, I did not know either man well, nor had I worked with either of them for very long. In both instances, I felt too startled to respond in the moment. However, I did write a follow-up email to the first man to explain that I felt like his comments were unwarranted and unfair given the state of the world. In the unfortunate event that this happens again, what should I say to indicate that appearance-related comments are not OK? — Anonymous, Washington
A: The polite response: “I invite you to stop commenting on my appearance immediately. It’s none of your concern and has nothing to do with our work together.”
The less polite response is to repeat what they said right back to them but turned up a notch. For example, if they remark that you look tired, tell them they look haggard. They’ll get the message, eventually.