coworker keeps sending out questionable Covid advice, a director’s out-of-tune guitar, and more — Ask a Manager


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

1. My coworker keeps sending out questionable Covid advice

I work for a completely remote team but we have our annual all-staff retreat coming up next month, and with Covid cases rising again, it’s been coming up in conversation. For context, we are not in the medical field and no one I work with has any medical training. I’m also fully vaxxed and boosted and completely support Covid safety measures, including masking when needed and frequent testing.

But a coworker of mine, Lee, has taken it upon themself to be the Covid advice person, sending recommendations and reminders in both our team and all-staff Teams chats in advance of the retreat. They’ve recommended folks get their bivalent booster if they haven’t gotten one recently, getting their flu shot in August, using nasal sprays and taking zinc to prevent Covid spread. I have a few issues with this!

1. They’re recommending folks who haven’t gotten another bivalent vax in the last six months get one now, without acknowledging it is less effective than the monvalient vax that could be made available as soon as this week! And that may limit people from getting a more effective vax this season. (Note from Alison so this doesn’t confuse anyone: The CDC did announce a new booster shot on Tuesday; this letter was received before that happened.)
2. The largely accepted medical guidance recommends getting your flu shot at the end of September/October to be most effective.
3. Nasal sprays and zinc have been found effective at preventing Covid in a few small studies, but neither the FDA nor the CDC have officially recommended these because there is simply not enough evidence.

What really threw me off was that today, the head of my department said, “Listen to Lee on all things Covid prevention and health guidance!” It came off as a joke but just like — no! I think Lee might be high-risk or live with high-risk family, so I completely understand taking as many precautions as possible. But that is a personal decision and I don’t think I should be encouraged to take measures that aren’t currently FDA- or CDC-approved. How can I bring this up and with who, without sounding like I’m resistant to safety measures? FWIW, we are required to test before arriving at the retreat, and every day before activities. Masks are optional but I plan on masking!

Two options: The first, and best, is to talk to whoever’s in a position to intervene (and who you trust to have the judgment to do it well). That might be your boss, Lee’s boss, or an HR type, depending on your workplace. Say something like, “I strongly support Covid safety measures, but some of the recommendations Lee has been sending out contradict the advice from the FDA and CDC, and some could even make people less safe, like recommending they get vaxxed last week, which could have made them ineligible for the more effective vax that’s about to be released. I think we’d be better off limiting all-staff medical advice to what’s being put out by official sources, rather than letting one person send out their own medical advice to the whole staff. It’s starting to feel like what Lee sends is semi-sanctioned by the company and I don’t think the company would actually stand behind some of it.”

If that doesn’t work or doesn’t feel like an option, the other option is to say something similar to Lee themself. In theory you could also reply to some of the most egregious messages (“getting boosted right now may make people ineligible for the updated vax that’s coming out this month”) … but it shouldn’t be your job to do that and it risks getting into a war of facts, which isn’t what you want.

2. I play in a church band and the director’s guitar is always out of tune

I have a problem that has never ceased to perplex and torment me. I volunteer as an instrumentalist in a relatively small church band. I love playing in it, but I am defeated by one issue: The band’s director (my boss — he gets paid, I volunteer) has an electric guitar that is ALWAYS out of tune. And not in an ordinary way. It’s so noticeable that I sometimes glance at the congregation as he hits a chord, only to see looks of barely stifled horror on some faces. I don’t really know what to do. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes. Everyone knows how bad the guitar sounds, but nobody says anything. It’s not my place to tell him that his guitar regularly tortures people (including myself), but we simply cannot go on like this. Any ideas?

I don’t know, I think this is awesome and would leave it alone just to watch people’s faces and to see how long it would take someone in the congregation to speak up.

But if you do want to address it, just being really straightforward is the way to go: “Hey, I think your guitar needs to be tuned.”

I suspect you’re making it more complicated than that in your head, because you know how ridiculously bad the guitar sounds and so it feels like you can’t bring it up without including “the congregation is literally in physical pain from your instrument” and implying “it’s astonishing that you yourself don’t hear this” … but really, you can just keep it quick and matter-of-fact, similar to the way you could say “there’s something on your shoe” without adding “and the smell is making everyone hate you.”

Updated to add: Musicians on Twitter suggest, “Something sounds off” or “Do you have a tuning app on your phone?” or “Can we check our tuning?”

3. How to describe mostly remote work in job postings

You’ve answered several questions about remote jobs that aren’t really remote. I am struggling with how to describe the opposite situation in my job postings — jobs that are in-substance fully remote, but where we want candidates to live within 1-2 hours of our headquarters and reserve the right to ask people to come in occasionally.

Most of our experienced staff members on our team of 12 only come to the office once every few months. We have some folks who haven’t been to anything in-person in over a year! At the same time, there are some tasks that require in-office work such as checking the mail each week, but we have always had several employees who prefer a hybrid format who handle that when they are in the office. Also, when we hire new staff, in-person training for the first few weeks is often more effective than remote training over screenshare, so the team will usually rotate who comes in each day to work with the new staff, with each experienced staff member spending 1-2 days with the new hire.

It seems misleading and harmful to our recruiting efforts to describe the position as “hybrid” in the job posting when most of the team is in-person less than five business days a year. Candidates would read the posting, assume the in person requirement is closer to a specific days per week requirement, and pass on applying. In my mind, the job is accurately described as remote, in the same way that I wouldn’t feel the need to disclose in a job posting that a job required visiting a nearby warehouse every December for year-end inventory. At the same time, I don’t want to have candidates apply from out of the area or have them feel misled when we do ask for a few in-person days per year.

What is the best way to describe a job that is in-substance remote, where the term hybrid would be misleading?

“Mostly remote” — and then explain what you mean. “While this position is mostly remote, we’re seeking candidates based within two hours of our headquarters in Souptown because of occasional in-office work (including your initial training and occasionally training others — generally about five days per year).” If you’re advertising somewhere that only offers remote/hybrid/on-site as options for categorizing the job, pick “remote” and then include the explanatory text in the posting itself.

4. When does “this fell in my lap” not work?

I know you’ve frequently recommended using the “this fell in my lap and was too good of an opportunity to pass up” phrasing when you are resigning for a new job at a time that’s inconvenient for your employer or soon after accepting a promotion/raise/big new project/etc. at work. I’ve always assumed that the unspoken subtext is that “this fell in my lap [since I accepted that promotion/raise/project].”

Does this work, or is there another formula you’d suggest, in cases when, for whatever reason, people will know that you must have been in the hiring process for the new position for longer than that? I’m thinking small industries where everyone knows what jobs are posted when, or something like higher ed where everyone knows that a hiring process will have taken months.

It still works! You’re not really saying, “I was just minding my own business, not interviewing at all, when a stranger on the street walked up to me and offered me a job.” The implication is more, “I wasn’t actively looking but an opportunity came across my path and it made sense for me to talk with them, and they ended up offering it to me.” The idea is, “I wasn’t actively doing everything in my power to leave, but this specific job was too compelling for me to pass up” and a bit of “and I didn’t know they’d offer it to me when I accepted the promotion with you” (which might be especially plausible in fields with long hiring processes).

5. How much do I need to suffer before an accommodation is considered ineffective?

I have a disability that cannot be objectively measured. At what point can I tell my employer that the accommodation they’ve offered me is ineffective? I’ve lived most of my life with pain and fatigue, so I am used to pushing myself to the point of making me miserable, but I would much rather not.

Related to that, is it my responsibility to come up with an accommodation they like? What happens if we can’t come up with one that is both effective and that they approve of? Can they fire me or refuse to let me come back to work until I and/or a doctor says that it’s fine?

Ideally, employers would want to work together to find the most effective one, but we all know that often doesn’t happen in real life. For this question, please assume a hostile HR and upper management, because that’s what many of us people with disabilities deal with.

The law says your employer needs to engage in an “interactive dialogue” with you, meaning that they can propose an accommodation and you can say “that won’t work because of X, but what about Y” (and vice versa) and they need to engage in that process in good faith. The law also says they can’t simply reject all the accommodations that would work (or fire you over it or refuse you let you return to work) unless they can show accepting would cause them “undue hardship” (the bar for which is pretty high and the burden of proof for which is on the employer).

Now, obviously in real life things don’t always work the way the law says they need to — and if they’re not working that way, that’s a good time to talk to a lawyer, who can do anything from advising you behind-the-scenes to negotiating with the company on your behalf to pursuing legal action if that becomes necessary.

There’s no clearly defined answer to “how much do I need to suffer before an accommodation is considered ineffective?” but in general the law doesn’t say you need to suffer at all. You might need to tolerate a little inconvenience (for example, a shift that isn’t your ideal but doesn’t aggravate your condition) but that’s a different thing than pain and suffering.



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