Do I Have to Smell My Co-Worker?

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Scent Matters

Spending time around people who wear too much perfume or cologne can be absolutely unbearable. I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with this. You’re not necessarily going behind your colleague’s back to bring this up to your boss. It is your boss’s job, in part, to help the team resolve conflicts. But if you think this colleague is approachable, first try to have a conversation with them.

Being junior does not negate your right to a safe workplace. It doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence. It can be a delicate matter to tell someone there’s an issue with their appearance or hygiene, but how this affects you is also a delicate matter. Try the tactful approach. Take your colleague aside and share that the quantity of their perfume is triggering chemical sensitivities beyond your control.

If you find taking that approach untenable, you should absolutely speak to your boss. Regardless, there is nothing unreasonable about your request.

Nepo Spouses

The spouse in question is attending the retreat for a stated professional reason. She will be leading an activity, and then she will leave after dinner. It doesn’t seem that she will be attending any events where clients are being discussed. She happens to be someone’s spouse, but she is attending, as you note, in a professional capacity. Perhaps you should think of her in that professional capacity, instead of considering her only through her marital status.

Nepo Babies

In your letter … you said that your own daughter benefited from nepotism and that the children of your colleagues were welcome at the company. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why you would have a problem working with the child of another colleague when your colleagues have worked with your own child and when this is a common organizational practice. Your reaction is truly out of pocket. What, really, are you puzzling about?

I refuse to get riled up about nepotism. Meritocracy is a myth, and the more transparent we are about how and why people get jobs or otherwise achieve success, the better off we will all be. The problem with nepotism is how often it goes unacknowledged. People with the right connections achieve success and act like they did it without any help, as if they just worked hard enough and were excellent enough. That makes the rest of us try to work harder and be better in the hopes that if we, too, work hard enough, we will achieve our goals. When we don’t, we assume we are the problem. It’s a vicious cycle.

When we eventually learn that successful people had a unique advantage enabling them to make the most of hard work and some measure of talent (or not), it is infuriating because we are reminded of how unfair life can be. At the same time, there are times when people place way too much stock in nepotism, as if it were the only barrier between them and that which they want. But back to your concern — I’d ask yourself why you’re so concerned about company-sanctioned nepotism when a beneficiary of it has to work on your team, but otherwise you’re fine with it.

Another Case of Bait and Switch

Permanence is relative, I’m afraid. You are definitely the victim of a bait and switch, and this is unfortunately happening to a lot of people who were promised remote work but are now being forced to return to the office.

I’m afraid you aren’t in a good position to request severance, because you don’t want to continue working for this company now that the terms of employment have changed. Legally, your employer has the right to change those terms. If you don’t have a contract (an offer letter is not a legally binding contract) explicitly stating the job will be remote only, your options are quite limited. It’s definitely time to start looking for new work.

Theoretically, you can ask for severance, but that sort of thing generally works when you have seniority and have been with an organization for a significant amount of time. If you want to try, you want to make a strong case for severance, outlining what you’ve brought to the organization over the past five months and why it’s in their best interest to agree to your request.

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at [email protected].

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