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bringing a heating pad to work, telling my boss I can’t take work trips, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Can I bring a heating pad to work for cramps?

I go into the office once a week. Today I’m on my period and having menstrual cramps — not debilitating by any means, but uncomfortable. On WFH days I heat up a microwaveable heating pad, which makes it much more pleasant. There is a microwave in the office kitchen — would it appropriate to bring in my heat pack and use it at my desk? Or would that be weird?

Nope, you’re fine. Do it. If anyone asks about it: “It’s helpful with a health condition” or “It’s helping with some pain.”

2. Job application wants my date of birth and Social Security number

I am a medical professional who is regularly sought after and I get a lot of messages from recruiters. I recently started looking for a second source of income and responded to one. The recruiter sent me an application (which made me fill out all the stuff that is already on my Indeed profile and CV, but okay, fine, I will do it). On the application form there were questions about my date of birth, Social Security number, marital status and place of birth. I have seen the date of birth and Social Security number questions many times and just put that I will supply them once we are moving forward with hiring. I also note I can legally work in the USA on the application. But I have never, ever, seen questions about marital status and place of birth. I think it is inappropriate and irrelevant and could set applicants up for discrimination. My gender, age, etc. does not matter in this role, either. Is this the new normal? I have not applied for any jobs in the past five years so am I out of the loop?

No, this isn’t normal and it’s hugely problematic for the reasons you say — plus giving out your Social Security number when you don’t actually need to puts you at risk of identity theft.

Are the fields required? If not, just skip them. But if they are, email the recruiter back and say, “Can you explain why you’re asking for info like my date of birth and Social Security number at this early stage? I’m happy to supply them if we reach the background check stage but supplying them now seems like a security risk to me and I wouldn’t typically do that.”

3. How to discuss my job at an abortion provider when interviewing

I am looking for a new job and I currently work for an abortion provider. The company I work for is not necessarily well known colloquially but it is the largest provider of abortions in my country (not the U.S.), and a simple search will tell people that.

I have encountered several awkward moments when interviewing for new jobs because of this. I will often be faced with “I don’t recognize the name of your employer, what do they do?” questions and I am stumped on the best way to answer them. Should I be up-front? I did that once and the tone in the room completely soured and the interview was quickly ended and. Is it better to talk about my company in general terms if someone asks?

I worry if I am not up-front and they google the company then they will know anyway (which has happened) and then I might look evasive. Once I said “we provide reproductive health services,” but when I was called back for a second interview, they told me that they looked up the company and I should have been more up-front, I should allow prospective employers to make a decision on what is acceptable or not, and my original answer came across like I was being deliberately deceptive. It felt like I was being lectured.

“We provide reproductive health services” or even just “we provide health care services” are both completely fine answers to this question. Accusing you of being deceptive was a ridiculous response from your interviewer and indicative of an issue on their end, not yours. Don’t let a weird interviewer throw you off and make you doubt the reasonableness of that answer in general.

You provide reproductive health services and it’s fine to say that.

4. How do I gracefully tell my manager I cannot take work trips?

I am a young professional in IT, who came into the profession in a way that’s a little unusual. I worked retail at my parents’ store for six years, then went to coding bootcamp and managed to land a job at a large corporation. I have fairly severe anxiety that is thankfully being managed at the moment, but large crowds and unfamiliar situations are a huge trigger for me. I mention this because I have very little experience with office etiquette and norms in a company of this size. Normally, I think people learn these social norms during college or internships, but I had to drop out of college multiple times due to mental health issues. I’m grateful for the job I have now, but there are some points at which I am very out of my depth.

My manager is asking if I’m interested in going to a professional conference out of town, with the implication that the only way to decline would be a scheduling conflict. I have never traveled without a family member before, and I’m worried that I will be trapped far from home with strangers. I’ve already had a bad experience when my department attended a large baseball game as a team-building activity — I managed to avoid having a panic attack, but it was slow torture for four hours and I felt extremely unsafe. Is there a way to decline the invitation without mentioning my anxiety?

Yes! If your sense is that you’re expected to go unless there’s a specific reason you can’t, you could say, “I’m dealing with a health issue that means I can’t travel right now — nothing to worry about, just something I need to take care of — but I appreciate you thinking of me for this!” This has the benefit of being true, and you don’t need to — and shouldn’t — elaborate beyond that.


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