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I was asked to take down a family photo, coworker is working a second job during her hours for us, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. I was asked to take down a family photo

I was called into a one on one with my manager today. Someone anonymous has complained about a photo of my son i have at my desk and has asked management to have me take it down. The photo is a very cute black and white photo of my son at one year old. He has no clothes on but there is no butt or genitalia showing. To me, it’s an adorable photo of my son as a baby. Some anonymous person sees it as pornography.

I agreed to take it down, but i increasingly feel angry and attacked. I am the only gay man in our department, and I feel that a woman having a photo of her naked baby with no genitalia showing would not be asked to take the photo down because it was offensive to someone. I feel like i want to defend myself and not just meekly censor my own family photos out of fear for my job. I want to make a statement to my co-workers of some kind to defend myself from accusations of inappropriate photos of my child. I am a very popular and productive newish hire (2+ years). Do i have any recourse?

Ugh, I’m sorry. I don’t think you do have any practical recourse, largely because it’s not outrageous for your company’s stance to be, essentially, “We don’t want to get into debates about what photos of unclothed subjects are and aren’t okay, so now that there’s been a complaint we’re just asking people not to display them at all.” (Which is what you’re likely to hear if you do push back.)

But I hope you will replace the photo with at least three more super cute photos.

2. My coworker is working a second job during her hours for us — should I send HR proof?

My coworker has been using company time by lying about her activities and going to a second job while being paid by our employer for 1 hour a day a couple times a week. I recently verified this as she left her desk calendar (paid for by our employer) on her desk in plain view. I did report this to HR. Is it unethical or a violation of privacy to take a picture of the calendar with her other work schedule to show that this is indeed happening? Thus sending only to HR as proof and no one else?

I don’t think it’s unethical per se — as long as it’s being left in plain view — but you will probably look overly invested. The exception to that is if her absences are affecting you (because you need to cover her work while she’s gone, for example). However, if HR wants to investigate this, they won’t need a photo of her calendar to do it; they could simply pay attention to when she’s actually at work and not at work.

how can managers spot people who are working two full-time jobs at once?

3. Can I intervene on a coworker’s horrible, hacking cough?

I work in a large org as an EA. Due to the way the building is structured, I share an office with around six other people but am not on their team. My boss has their own office next door to ours so I can greet their visitors, etc.

One of the office colleagues, Jim, is a cigarette smoker and has a very unhealthy, phlegmy-sounding cough that goes off multiple times a day, at length. This was the case before Covid lockdown and after we returned to the office. I find the noise incredibly intrusive and distracting, and my boss has picked up on it herself and also picked up on my discomfort with it.

I’m autistic so find noise intrusion very difficult; my boss is supportive and I can wear noise-cancelling headphones in the office when I’m getting on with work (although I can still hear the coughing!). But I recently appointed an assistant who sits behind me so I can’t hunker down under headphones anymore as I want to be present for them and open to being asked queries without them having to get my attention or feel like they’re being ignored.

With my headphones off again, I’m finding the coughing absolutely unbearable and have occasions when I have to exit the office because I can’t keep listening to it. I’m worried I’m not hiding my reaction to it well and that I’m going to snap at Jim in the end or cause an ongoing issue with him.

Do I have any scope to speak to his manager about how difficult it is being around the noise and whether Jim is looking after his health? I’m aware it’s absolutely not my place to intervene and I do acknowledge that Jim is the one really going through it, I’m just sitting by and having to listen, but it’s proving to be a real struggle at this point trying to ignore it, and both the cough and my patience are getting a lot worse.

You really don’t, I’m sorry. You could have standing to ask about being moved if that’s practical, and if that’s not an option you have standing to talk to your boss about the problems the noise is posing for you and whether there might be other solutions. But you don’t really have standing to complain to Jim’s manager about the cough (there’s likely nothing that can be done about it, at least not something that an employer could direct), and you definitely don’t have standing to ask whether Jim is looking after his health.

However, if the headphones were making it more bearable, can you return to using those? You could explain to your assistant that they help you focus and encourage her to IM you or use some other system for alerting you when she needs you. Headphones don’t have to be an inherent block to being interrupted if you stress that you want the interruptions and agree on a system for doing it.

4. Can I ask my boss for feedback on my speaking in meetings?

I recently joined a nonprofit organization in a comms role fresh out of college. My manager often wants me to be a part of some cross-department meetings and contribute my thoughts. The problem is that I’m not a confident speaker and I struggle with phrasing ideas especially since English is not my first language and I’m new to the corporate world. Would it be a bad idea to ask my manager for feedback on my performance in meetings?

Not a bad idea at all! It’s great when employees ask for feedback; managers should give it anyway, but you’ll usually get more of it if you make it clear you’re eager for it, and it’s especially helpful to flag it when there’s a specific area you want to grow in. Say to your manager exactly what you said here!

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