my ex-boss pretends I still work there, HR said my size is intimidating, and more


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

1. Can HR say your size is intimidating other employees?

My son, who is mid-20s and 6’5″ and weighs about 250 pounds, recently quit his job where he was disciplined on several occasions, mostly due to harassment. Without me knowing all the particulars, HR and executive management, in nearly every interaction, indicated that his size was a cause of intimidation for other employees, particularly women. He was always instructed to read and understand the harassment policy but was never specifically told what part he violated. My son was one of the longest-term employees (at five years), so he was expected to train new hires. He was never in a supervisory role but was asked to participate in peer-to-peer training, which included constructive criticisms regarding processes or procedures being followed.

While he’s moving on with a job, I’m curious how “legal” it is to cite harassment because of one’s size. He’s not interested in pursuing anything with his former employer, even if their behavior was actionable. He’s a socially awkward young man, and I’ve encouraged him to, perhaps, seek some outside guidance with appropriate work behaviors, regardless of the validity of their complaints.

It’s hard to comment on this without knowing specifics from the people involved. It’s true that some behavior can read as more intimidating from a large man (for example, raising one’s voice, moving too far into someone else’s personal space, or blocking a doorway during certain types of conversations) and there wouldn’t be anything actionable about your son’s employer suggesting that he be aware of that in dealings that were already fraught in some way. It’s also true, unfortunately, that people being disciplined for harassment don’t always give people outside of the situation a full, objective account of what happened (out of embarrassment, defensiveness, or so forth). I’m not suggesting that’s the case with your son — I obviously have no idea — but it’s worth accounting for that possibility as well.

2. Trainer keeps calling me by the wrong name

I have an incredibly common name that is gender-neutral and often a diminutive of a longer name (think “Alex” or “Sam”), but in my case it’s just my name.

I’m in the second week of training, and my trainer has been chronically mis-naming me by calling me a longer, feminized version of my name (like “Alexandra” or “Samantha”). That isn’t my name and never has been. I’ve corrected him repeatedly, sometimes multiple times in a day, but nevertheless he has persisted.

His name, Bob, is also a diminutive, though I’m not sure if it’s his full name or not. Would it be incredibly petty and unprofessional of me to mis-name him back by calling him “Roberto” or “Bobert” or “Robespierre” until he gets it right?

This has happened to me throughout my life and it’s a huuge pet peeve of mine, so I recognize I could be overreacting from a lifetime of people giving my name more syllables that don’t exist. I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to say such a short name! (Just kidding, I know the reason is sexism.)

I’d love to tell you to do it — and you’d be justified in doing it — and I would like to see you do it — but you risk it not reflecting well on you to people witnessing it. Or who knows, maybe not — it depends on the group of people involved. Some people might applaud it. But it’s a risk, particularly if “second week of training” means you’re in your second week at this job (and thus especially not well positioned to risk making an enemy of an existing employee, justified as you’d be).

Another option, if you haven’t already tried this, is to say, “You’ve been repeatedly getting my name wrong. It’s Alex, not Alexandra. I’ve reminded you repeatedly but it doesn’t seem to have stuck. How do I get you to call me by the correct name?” The idea here is to either embarrass him into correcting himself or make him say out loud whatever his weird thought process has been. In the latter case, if it turns out that he thinks your full name is Alexandria (and what, he doesn’t approve of nicknames? even though he himself uses one? and even though that’s not his call to make regardless?) that’ll give you an opening to say, “Nope, Alex is what’s on my birth certificate.” (In full transparency, I’m pretty uncomfortable with that since you should be called what you ask to be called regardless of whether it’s on your birth certificate, but it could be a useful fact to mention in this case.) Feel free to add, “This would be like me calling you Robespierre every time. It’s not your name. Alexandra isn’t mine.”

3. Is it unprofessional to sell/donate maternity/nursing items in local Facebook groups ?

I recently had a baby and have many barely used pregnancy/nursing items. I have been selling/donating in hyperlocal facebook groups. I recently received a message from a former colleague (male) asking if that person was me. I had not considered the impact on my professional image and got curious about it. I barely use facebook and no one from my professional network is my “facebook friend.” I recently started using FB again since it’s helpful to connect with local moms and parenting resources. Is it considered unprofessional to sell/donate pregnancy/nursing items in these hyper-local groups? Would it impact my professional image in any way?

Not in the least. This is a completely normal life activity! (I’m hoping your coworker’s message was just looking to reconnect and not creepy. I’ve been writing this column too long not to wonder.)

4. Explaining why I’m leaving when I don’t have another job lined up

I am planning on leaving my job in a few months with no back-up plan. I want to take some time off to travel, and regroup on what I want to do with my life (I don’t think this career field is for me). Is there a tactful way of putting in my resignation without having to explain why I am leaving? While truthful, I feel like saying something along the lines of “I don’t have a new job lined up, I just don’t want to continue working here” wouldn’t go over well.

“I’m taking some time off to travel and think about what I want to do next.” Some people will be surprised (because a lot of people can’t afford to do that so you don’t hear it a lot), some people will assume there might be more to the story that you’re choosing not to share (which is fine), and some people will just be jealous. If you think that in your particular office it will generate a bunch of comments or questions that you don’t want to deal with, it’s also an option to go with a white lie instead, like “I have some family stuff going on that I need time to deal with.”

5. My ex-boss pretends I still work there

I left a job in a toxic start-up a few months ago and went back to academia, where I took up a post-doctoral role. I’m loving it. The start-up was based out of another university to the one I currently work in.

Yesterday, I had a few messages from former colleagues and my wider network saying, “I thought you’d left company X, and taken the postdoc position at (new university).” I said I had. But according to those who got in touch, my ex boss is pretending I still worked for her. Apparently she was doing this in one-on-one conversations, and in a talk she gave at one of the biggest academic conferences. I’m flabbergasted.

I don’t know how to proceed. One of the reasons I left was that she had no regard for the truth and my scientific integrity was being eroded while I continued to work for her. I’m considering writing to her, copying in her academic line manager (she still holds an academic post at the host institution from the spin-out) to outline the reports I received and express grave concerns, and also ask her to remove me from her website. But that might be too far.

That’s not too far at all. That’s exactly what you should do. (Caveat: I assume “remove me from her website” means remove anything that might imply you’re still there. If it means something beyond that, like remove any mention that you were ever there, you’d need to balance that against any professional benefits of keeping that there, which is something I can’t judge from here.)

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