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‘Should I Ask an Employee to Dress Better for Video Calls?’

Photo-Illustration: The Cut

Work: still stressful, still weird. Here, some questions I’ve received recently about the new conditions we’re working with now:

‘Should I ask an employee to dress more professionally on video calls?’

I am lucky to be able to work remotely during this crisis, which means multiple Zoom or Teams calls each day. I lead a team at a fairly conservative employer, and one of my employees shows up in a baseball hat and hoodie for every team meeting. He and I have discussed his attire in the office in the past, specifically the need to dress more professionally, but during this time I’m reluctant to ask him to dress more professionally on these calls. Is my instinct correct?

Yes. Working from home isn’t a perk for most people right now; it’s something we’re doing because we have to, often without the right equipment or support to do it well. Your team may be working out of cramped studio apartments, sharing space with family members, caring for young kids, stressing about loved ones, trying to manage their mental health … it’s not a cushy situation. Focusing on what people are wearing during this risks coming across as out of touch and like your priorities are in the wrong place. Let people be as comfortable as they can be while they’re stuck at home.

And, really, does it matter? I’m not convinced it ever mattered, but truly who cares if he’s in a hoodie at a team meeting given all that’s going on? It doesn’t affect his work. If he were videoconferencing with clients, it might be more of a concern — although, even then, most people realize whomever they’re talking to probably isn’t working in optimal conditions. If we’re okay with kid noise in the background and cats suddenly showing up onscreen — and we need to be at the moment — it doesn’t make sense to take issue with a baseball cap or a hoodie.

‘When and how do I tell my boss I’m pregnant when we’re working remotely?’

Next week, I’ll be 12 weeks pregnant, the typical time to announce your pregnancy to those around you. But how do I tell my boss I’m pregnant while I’m working remotely with no end in sight? By the time I return to the office, I will likely be visibly pregnant, and it will be noticeable to everyone. Do I have to call my boss and tell him over Zoom? Do I wait until we return to the office? How do I handle this?

It’s up to you! If you want to share the news now, it’s fine to do it over email, or by phone or Zoom the next time you’re talking to him about something else. Or you can set up a special call with him just for this. You should use whatever method feels right to you; they’re all fine!

If you’d prefer to wait, that’s okay too. But if you’re not back at work by the time your boss would need to start factoring your maternity leave into project planning, you might end up needing to use one of the methods above anyway. (If your boss is a decent person, though, he’ll be happy for you and glad to hear the news.)


‘I’m stuck on lengthy Zoom meetings when I need to be working’

Now that we’re all remote, my team has been having frequent two- or three-hour meetings with the boss and others (on Zoom, but without cameras), and this has been causing me a lot of stress. Any contribution I have to make will be in the first hour and then the meetings usually degenerate in the second hour to just a dialogue between the boss and another person. Meanwhile, my inbox fills and work goes undone. 

I am an introverted, technical person who needs my full focus for most tasks. I find these meetings mentally and emotionally exhausting and of little use. Is there a diplomatic way to exit these types of meetings after the first hour?

If your boss is reasonable, you should be able to duck out when the meeting has clearly moved on from the topics you’re involved with. The next time you’re talking to your boss, say this: “Is it okay if I jump off of calls like X and Y when we’re done with the parts of the agenda that involve me? We’ve been having pretty long meetings where the last half ends up being about topics like (examples), and I don’t feel right staying on for another hour or more when I have so much work waiting for me.”

Alternately, you can try speaking up in the moment when you can tell you’re no longer needed: “I think we’ve moved on from the topics you need me for, and I could use the time for (project). Okay if I jump off?”

‘Can I be laid off while I’m on maternity leave?’

I’m six months pregnant and work at a nonprofit. We’re still open and working from home, but I know that a lot of donors are giving less and some are even trying to back out of previously promised funds. Additionally, we had to cancel a big annual event that gains a sizable amount of our yearly donations. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, and my workload has increased a lot, and I have been thinking of my maternity leave as the light at the end of the tunnel. But now, with everything going on, I was wondering, Could I be laid off during my maternity leave if things continue to go south for the org?

And if I were to be laid off, what would happen? How suddenly would I lose access to FMLA/pay? I’m really hoping that it does not happen, but with things changing rapidly every day, I want to prepare.

I wish I had a different answer for you, but you can indeed be laid off while you’re on maternity leave. The reason you’re laid off can’t be because you’re on maternity leave, but if the organization decides to eliminate your position, they can move forward with that even when you’re on leave.

How soon you’d lose access to your benefits and pay depends on how your employer chooses to do things. Some employers have layoffs take effect immediately and others give more notice. Some cover people’s health insurance for a period of time, and others don’t. Most employers offer severance when they’re laying people off (as opposed to firing them, when they might not), although the reality is that some genuinely don’t have the money to offer it right now.

One thing to know is that you can always try negotiating things like more severance or longer health-insurance coverage. Your employer might not be able to provide them given the circumstances, but it’s reasonable to ask.

Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.

‘Should I Ask an Employee to Dress Better for Video Calls?’