I don’t know if I’m still invited to my customer’s wedding, my husband is borderline rude at work, and more

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

1. I don’t know if I’m still invited to my customer’s wedding after I came out of the closet

I’m a woman working in agriculture, which is an incredibly male-dominated and conservative industry. One of my customers is a woman who’s right around my age (mid 20s) and we really hit it off! My team also does a lot of business with her and her team.

She’s currently engaged, and we chat about wedding planning pretty often during our work lunches. I wasn’t expecting it, but I was thrilled back in February when she sent me a Save the Date for her summer wedding! I was the only member of my company invited. I texted her to thank her and tell her I was so excited, and she responded that I’m welcome to bring a date.

Well as it turns out, my wonderful girlfriend proposed to me in April and now we’re engaged! I used my engagement as the way of me coming out at work — I wear my ring, and I posted an announcement of our engagement on my Facebook, where I am friends with my customer. She texted me a very sincere congratulations and made a comment that we would have to talk wedding planning together. I was very relieved.

Obviously with the pandemic, I haven’t been able to see my customer in months. It’s busy season, and we aren’t talking much because of that. I also haven’t received the invitation to her wedding, which I think I should have gotten by now. It’s incredibly tacky to ask if I’m still invited, but I’m also in the process of moving, so I’m worried it could get lost in the mail since she doesn’t have my new address. Should I give her my new address? Should I speak to her about the wedding and mention I won’t bring my fiancé if she doesn’t want, because I don’t want to “steal the spotlight”? (While my fiancé and I are both feminine and don’t “look gay,” fiancé’s preferred formalwear is a suit and two women together would definitely be something to talk about here.) How do I go about handling this situation tactfully? I’m at a total loss.

Please don’t offer not to bring your fiancé when you were specifically offered a plus-one! You’d be assuming your customer is a bigot or someone who caters to bigotry when it doesn’t sound like she’s given you reason to think that. (And if she is a bigot or catering to bigotry, it’s not on you to facilitate that.)

A lot of people with summer weddings have their planning on hold right now because they can’t confidently move forward while COVID-19 cases are still increasing. It’s very possible that’s your customer’s situation too. But it would be fine to email her with your new address; that’s not presumptuous, since you received a Save the Date. And it might prompt her to tell you more about what’s be going on.

2. I’ve discovered my husband is borderline rude at work

I’m writing to ask about my husband’s work style and whether you think I should address it with him. He works in a different industry than I do and has been with the same company for over a decade. He’s done quite well for himself and by all measures seems to be great at his job.

Now that we’re home all the time (we both WFH full-time currently), I’ve heard him on his calls and he can be extremely terse and short with his colleagues and manager, to the point of being rude. Sentences like, “let me stop you there,” “that’s not what I said,” “no, you’re not listening to me,” “let me finish speaking,” etc. but in a tone of voice that I wouldn’t appreciate being addressed in. I recognize his tone/attitude because he has used it with me occasionally when we’re having an argument. He’s truly a great person and husband but if he spoke to me like he sometimes speaks to his colleagues I would have a major problem with it.

This is complicated by the fact that he had a stroke last year which did affect some parts of his personality, although he’s recovered well otherwise. Being a woman at work is so different than being a man so I’m not sure if for a man, this type of workplace behavior is okay, or if I should gently mention something to him?

It’s possible he works in an office where that kind of combativeness is more acceptable, but in most places that would mark him as difficult to work with, and possibly worse. It’s worth bringing up with him, framing it as, “This seems out of character for you and I didn’t know if you realized how it’s coming across.”

I also wouldn’t discount the possibility that the stroke is playing a role here — and in fact you could frame your concern around that if it makes it easier to raise.

3. My coworker emailed the staff list to say COVID-19 is a hoax

I am wondering if I am overreacting or if this is really as bad as I think it is. I have a coworker (she’s an admin assistant) who has frequently sent what I feel to be politically charged emails to the entire staff. Yesterday, we all got one saying that COVID-19 is a hoax, and that if we’re smart, we’ll abandon our state’s continuing stay-at-home order and start going about our lives as normal. This seems highly inappropriate to me, and like a liability to my employer. She also wears t-shirts with political slogans to work, shirts which are clearly against our dress code. Should I speak up, or just hope management is dealing with this behind the scenes?

Speak up. You’re not overreacting; her message is offensive and a wildly inappropriate use of your staff email list. I’m surprised that your management hasn’t already shut this down — if nothing else, because they presumably don’t want others to start flooding your staff email list with their own political messages.

If you have a fair amount of seniority and capital, one option is to reply directly to the coworker and cc her manager saying, “Please do not use the staff list for this kind of message. It’s for work communications, not political agendas, and I doubt we want the list to be flooded with political debates.” Otherwise — or if you think that will just inflame this loon — go straight to either her boss or whoever in your company has the authority to shut this down and ask them to do so. (And really, why hasn’t her boss already done that? Any chance your boss share the same whackjob views?)

4. Is it unethical to start a business competing with a former employer?

A colleague and I are having a debate about the ethics of starting a business that would be a direct competitor of a former employer.

Colleague and I worked for the same small business, which was bought out by a slightly larger company several years into our employment. The transition did not go smoothly, and we, along with several other coworkers, half-jokingly entertained dreams of breaking off to do our own thing – we all loved the work, but all felt that the new management was a problem. Colleague and I both stuck it out for a few years after the merger, but things never appreciably improved, and we’ve both since moved on to other opportunities.

Since then, though, we still occasionally get asked about whether we’ve considered going into business for ourselves. Obviously starting a business comes with a plethora of issues and considerations, but one of the big ones for me is about ethics. Our hypothetical new business would take on some work that our former company doesn’t do, but much of the work would be in the same niche as former company, such that we’d become direct competitors of our former employer. Colleague doesn’t see this as an issue at all; his viewpoint is something to the effect of, competition is a fact of life in the business world, and if we can do the work better, why shouldn’t we?

For me, however, using skills I learned from former employer to directly compete with them feels a little shady. There are certainly other companies in this industry, all competing for the same work, and I tend to have a somewhat overblown sense of loyalty, so that probably factors in … but the idea still just feels a little icky.

So, I’m curious to hear what you think. Is this a case where one could go forth and prosper guilt-free? Or are there ethical issues to consider?

This is a very normal thing that happens all the time, and it’s not generally considered unethical or icky. It can become that if you’re using proprietary information about your former employer’s products or strategy or you’ve taken client lists with you or that sort of thing — but you’ve usually signed something agreeing not to do that anyway. The fact that you’d be using skills that you learned while working for them doesn’t complicate this — they don’t own those skills for the rest of your life. They paid you to use them while you worked there, and you get to keep (and use) your skills once you move on, whether it’s for someone else’s company or your own.

This is your line of work! It makes sense that you might want to start a business in the area you specialize in. Assuming you’re not violating a legitimate non-compete or other legal agreement, you should be fine.

5. Should I reply to an email updating me on a hiring timeline?

I recently applied to a job that could be the first step to a dream career! I received an automatic acknowledgement when I submitted the application, but received another one nine days later. The second acknowledgement was sent from an employee, thanked me for my interest, and explained the communication timeline regarding next steps. I was wondering if it’s wise to send a short acknowledgement of my own or risk appearing over-eager. Just something short like, “Thank you for providing this information. I look forward to hearing from (organization) over the next couple of months.” Too much or just enough?

Neither — just unnecessary. It just won’t make an impression either way. It’s sort of the equivalent of the “thanks!” emails you sometimes get back when you send out routine info; just as you delete those and don’t pay attention to them, it’s the same thing here. It’s fine to send a thanks if you want to, but it’s not something you need to think much about either way.

I don’t know if I’m still invited to my customer’s wedding, my husband is borderline rude at work, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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