updates: the coworker pajama party, lying about layoffs, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. How do I shut down coworkers who demand an explanation for my occasional wheelchair?

I think by now people have gotten sort of used to seeing me in my wheelchair; those people who still make (often SHOCKINGLY) rude comments, I just glare at or ignore. After being brushed off by HR in regards to reasonable accommodations, I went to my supervisor, who went straight to my department head, and once she spoke to HR, I magically got everything I needed very quickly! Asphalt was added to the doors to my building to lower the thresholds, the time for the elevator doors to close was lengthened, and the auto-closing arm was removed from my apartment and office doors. Unfortunately, I’ve run into other issues in that I’ve used up all my sick time due to disability-related illness, but that’s sort of a moot point right now because we’re working from home. I did use this opportunity to make a presentation to my department about disability accommodations and what we can learn from this shelter in place time to keep making things more accessible for employees and students. I don’t hope to be at this job for terribly long, but I’m glad I advocated for myself. It was so great reading everyone’s comments and thoughts and made me feel very supported!

2. What do I wear to spend the night with 49 random colleagues? (#2 at the link)

While your advice and that of your readers was great (and gave me good ideas that I planned to use), the event in question was meant to happen late Feb-early March and was cancelled due to the outbreak. Perhaps it will be reinstated in the next year or so and I will have a more interesting update for you all then.

If you don’t mind printing such a boring update, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who offered advice, especially to commenter Zircon who correctly guessed that I would be attending a Noho Marae (common in NZ, although not something I had ever encountered in a professional context), and gave me some extra advice from a shared cultural perspective. I understood when I wrote in that I would be receiving a U.S. based workforce perspective, but as my main concern was just clothing choices and my colleagues had been remarkably unhelpful in that regard, I thought it was worth a write in (and it was!).

3. My boss wants me to lie about being laid off (#4 at the link)

As a piece of context for this update, we got working notice in lieu of severance so I was with the company for a while after officially getting laid off. (This was not a pleasant experience, watching the team slowly and quietly shrink each week was upsetting and demoralizing)

It was thankfully not a bid to contest unemployment, my boss was just very concerned about the company’s reputation.

After our initial conversation where she asked me to say I was leaving of my own accord, I took some time to think about how I wanted to handle it and set up another meeting to talk with her, it’s a small company and I had been a part of it since some pretty early days so I wanted to help my boss through the process as best I could. I explained that I would prefer to use some sort of “restructuring” “agility improving” etc. language with my current clients and that we could put a positive spin on the changes, get ahead of any bad PR. She didn’t really want to budge and asked if we could put off making an “official” communication about it to my active clients until my second last day because maybe I’d have another job by then – I wasn’t thrilled about that as the whole benefit of working notice is being able to smoothly transition clients to other team members, but I agreed and decided to just go forth setting up my own meetings with former clients and industry contacts in the meantime. Many of them were shocked and offered to try and find me a space at their organizations which was honestly an incredible feeling. As the date to tell my active clients drew near she asked if she could be the one to send the message – at that point both my feet were basically out the door and I had a plate full of opportunities so I just didn’t care much anymore. Predictably, she used ambiguous language about my leaving that implied it was my choice to “move on” from the company. I was able to connect with my active clients (many reached out to me directly) after that point to explain that I was looking for opportunities and open to freelancing and to keep me in mind. (Don’t worry, I checked, it’s not a violation of any agreements I signed to freelance for them).

I had a follow up battle getting my, and other former team members, photo/bio/info removed from the website (many moved into freelancing so they didn’t want to be professionally associated with the company). They eventually removed my info after lots of bugging, but left every other former staff member up – a current employee verified for me that it wasn’t a matter of not having the time or resources to execute the task, they just didn’t want remove everyone from the page. They eventually just took the “team” page down altogether.

Looking back on that letter you can really see how angry I was, and it wasn’t just at being asked to lie about being laid off, but that workplace had gotten so toxic and unstable. I was crying almost every weekend because I was dreading Monday. I was frustrated because it used to be a job I loved and this situation really just felt like a final slap in the face.

One thing I didn’t mention in my original letter was that I had been planning on quitting anyway, A few months before being laid off I got in touch with another company and I happily started there not too long after I was laid off. I’m so much happier with wonderful, smart, business savvy bosses who are committed to helping me grow and succeed. PSA – if you’re crying on weekends because you’re dreading Monday, quitting is long overdue – you deserve to not hate your job.

updates: the coworker pajama party, lying about layoffs, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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