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Workplace Baby Showers

I have a question for e-hell. I have a co-worker who I manage (she reports to me). She is currently pregnant and going on maternity leave soon. She is a very sweet girl from a personality perspective (to other people) but is a NIGHTMARE as someone to work with. She is exceptionally lazy, doesn’t get work done (which I have to then do to avoid missing important deadlines), she comes in to work late and leaves early, spends all her time talking on the phone or surfing the ‘net, she has even fallen asleep at her desk before. She doesn’t have a medical condition, aside for being pregnant, but she milks it where she can. She takes time off for every tiny reason, including tummy aches and headaches and is pretty much the worst worker I have ever known.

The problem is she is generally popular in the office because no one but me experiences her bad behavior. I am always doing her work, because as her manager I am the one who will get into trouble if it isn’t done. She has also lied to me on a few occasions. Recently, a close friend of mine passed away and I couldn’t be at the funeral because she had let me down for a deadline. I therefore don’t personally like her very much and don’t feel hugely generous towards her. I remain civil with her, but I am not taken in by her “bubbliness”.

My problem is that, because she reports to me, people expect ME to throw her a baby shower. This would have to be done at my personal expense (to buy decorations, food and a present) and I unfortunately am having financial issues. I might be inclined to borrow money if it was someone I really loved and wanted to throw a shower for – but how should I handle this when I don’t want to reward her bad treatment of me in the first place??? I am getting nasty comments from people about how mean I am being by not setting a date for the shower and organizing one.
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It’s been my opinion for years that work-related wedding and baby showers should either be an employer provided benefit that is done on company time and company expense or it is a private affair planned and paid for by individual employees interested in hosting a shower off the clock and off property. If your company protocol for years has been that management hosts a shower at the manager’s expense and on company time, you are screwed. You cannot now play “non-favorites” and decline to benefit one particular employee. If the protocol in your company is that individuals can plan showers for fellow co-workers off the clock, by all means encourage one of the employees to own that hosting duty. Ignore people who want all the fun of someone else working their backside off to host a party they are not willing to host themselves.

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  • Marie November 15, 2018, 3:19 am

    No, no, no, no. Do NOT host a baby shower. You have a professional relationship, not a personal one.
    If the company has a protocol you follow it, but the company is paying. They cannot force you to spend private money on a company related event. Make it clear to people asking that you – as a manager – have to remain at a professional distance, and will not host baby showers or bridal showers or any other party that revolves around a private event for her, or any other employee.

    Something important to remember is that since you are the boss, people will have opinions on how you should do your job and question you all the time. Don’t take this personal. At work, your job is to do your job – not making friends with everyone. This is tough and I am personally working on this, but you have to protect yourself. If this is your decision, stick with it.
    Disclaimer: don’t be a dictator, allow people to discuss things with you. Just don’t let them guilt trip you into doing something that is not a part of your job.

    • Marno November 16, 2018, 12:24 am

      Seconded! Especially for the phrase, “You have a professional relationship, not a personal one.” That right there should be the OPs response. Say it with fake regret, but say it! This idea that the boss is expected to throw a party for the employee (regardless of quality) but with the boss’s own money…. Well, that is a bizarre and dangerous blurring of relationships, boundaries, and power structures. (Of course, it sounds like this employee has taken advantage of these confused relationships.) Here’s the thing: if a boss is expected to throw a party, because she’s a boss, she should do it on the company’s dime, with clear policies about how all are entitled to this perk, and the company’s dime includes not soliciting anything from the co-workers. Otherwise, the message is: “We can’t afford to pay this employee properly so that she can prepare for her baby, so we are suggesting that you, her co-workers, should subsidize our failure.” Trying to get around that message by having the boss pay for it herself to make it quasi-personal doesn’t work. This is similar to the rationale as to why family members are not supposed to host showers for each other: it smacks of begging for charity from others because you failed to do your duty to provide for those within your sphere. Showers are a friend thing.

      • Marozia November 16, 2018, 1:20 pm

        Totally agree with you.

  • E.D. November 15, 2018, 6:58 am

    Agree that if it’s traditional that the manager throws the shower, you’re basically stuck.

    But why is she still working there if she’s such a bad employee? There has to be a mechanism to get rid of bad employees and you should be using it! At a minimum, if you can start delegating her missed work to other people at her level, you should start doing that so that others can see the nightmare for themselves.

    • Wild Irish Rose November 15, 2018, 11:52 am

      I agree with E.D., but you need to be very careful about cutting loose a pregnant employee. You need to be able to document every single reason you’re letting her go, and that means keeping track of the hours she keeps, documenting each time you have to do her work, etc. Proof proof proof!

  • Gena November 15, 2018, 7:02 am

    If she is this bad, why is she still working? As her manager it is your job to correct this behavior or manage her out the door. Don’t ignore it, do all her work for her, then resent it.

    On the other hand, I do not see why you have to throw a baby shower at personal expense just because it has always been done that way. Tell a few of her closest friends that you are unable to do it and they can take over if they want.

  • Ergala November 15, 2018, 7:23 am

    This happened at my old job. My ex (we were married at the time) and I were working together at a business that was large. I worked directly with customers in the business building and he went to their homes. We had a 2nd trimester loss the year before and were expecting again. The pregnancy was extremely high risk and I was incredibly sick for almost all of it. One of my coworkers who worked in the same department I did was due 2 weeks before me. So we talked about our pregnancies a lot during breaks and kicked our feet up when we could together. I was really well liked but she had been there longer. My ex had been there longer than me as well. One day I walked into the break room because nobody was around all of a sudden….like no coworkers and I got swamped. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the break room to a baby shower for my coworker that management had thrown. I wasn’t invited, I was left to handle customers on my own, and no they did not give me a shower. They knew about the complications I was having, hospitalized twice during the 2nd trimester. I was incredibly hurt and I just said “whoops sorry….” And walked back out. It sucked and I wondered what I had done wrong.

    • Jewel November 15, 2018, 1:03 pm

      That’s REALLY awful!! Did you ever get an explanation or apology for being excluded?

      • Ergala November 15, 2018, 3:31 pm

        They said she had a smaller shower that flopped thrown by her mom so they wanted to make it up to her. It still hurt….she had two showers besides the work one. Her father in law paid their rent and furnished the nursery. We couldn’t even get WIC because we made $10 too much a month but she got it and didn’t tell them that she didn’t pay any bills or rent. I was pretty irked. We were scraping by because I had lost my prior job due to pregnancy complications. My old job paid all the bills and then some so when I lost it at 4 months pregnant it really did a number on our finances. She would tell me all about her new washer and dryer and tv and car…we were selling stuff at a pawn shop just to get gas money. Then she asked us to watch her new baby so we agreed because I was still on maternity leave. She paid us $10 a day for all day and we had to transport her baby to work 45 minutes away both ways. When we asked for more money just to cover gas she got mad and said we were scamming her that she could find a sitter for $5 a day. We didn’t watch her baby anymore.

    • lakey November 15, 2018, 3:29 pm

      This is why Administrator is right. There needs to be a policy regarding birthday celebrations and showers. They are done for everyone, or they are done for no one on company time and on company property. If there is a company policy that they are held, then the cost can be covered by the company, or through a collection from employees. If employees don’t like having to donate to a “social committee fund”, that’s fine and there shouldn’t be showers on company time.

      If I were you, Ergala, I wouldn’t just be hurt, I’d be angry.

      • Ergala November 15, 2018, 3:35 pm

        I was. I didn’t go back after my son was born. I was going to but I couldn’t work with them anymore.

    • kingsrings November 15, 2018, 3:35 pm

      That is so not right. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced the same thing, with a birthday. The place I worked at then just had one worker doing birthday celebrations, and she was distracted by other things at the time of my birthday, so I didn’t get one.
      Organization and planning is key to workplace event celebrations. Then nobody is left out.

      • Ergala November 19, 2018, 1:00 pm

        This past year I was finding out if I had cancer on my birthday. I worked a half day at my job and left around 1pm for my appointment 2 hours away. Not one person said happy birthday to me. It wasn’t until I was leaving for my appointment that a coworker said “oh yeah happy birthday!” And that was it. Other coworkers had a card passed around and a cake and department email reminding everyone to say happy birthday. I’m glad it was a half day for me. And the news it wasn’t cancer at that point was the best gift.

  • Anne November 15, 2018, 7:27 am

    Think of it as a Good Bye/Good Luck party (in your head, of course!). If you think she is lazy now, add a baby to the mix, I’ll doubt she can make it in on a regular basis. So, maybe she won’t want to come back after the baby and you can consider the cost of this party worth every penny.

  • Lenore November 15, 2018, 8:07 am

    You’re her manager – how has she not been into a disciplinary meeting yet due to her actions? You can document, document, document (get IT to pull browsing history and phone records) and take it to HR for further action. Currently she’s stealing from your employer by not working for her pay, and abusing company property in the form of using it primarily for personal things instead of professional.

    Instead, you’re acting like her doormat and covering for her at every single step. You’re the one who has allowed her to get away with this, judging from what you’ve shared with us.

    I myself have been a manager and been in similar situations, and I learned that I could either complain about my situation and do nothing about it, which means nothing changes; or I earn the right to bear the manager badge (and increased salary and perks) and do something about it in conjunction with HR/Labour laws.

  • Kamatari November 15, 2018, 9:11 am

    OP, I hate to say this, but you aren’t acting like her manager. You are treating her like a lateral coworker when she is in fact your report. Being her manager means you correct inappropriate behaviors, not cover her. Every time she is late, you need to document it and document that you spoke to her about it. Keep track of her PTO (if you guys have any) and let her know how much she has left. Every deadline she nearly misses, document that you assigned it to her and everything you had to do to get it done. If the behaviors continue, then you can loop in your manager. She should know not to be doing the things she is doing, but she thinks it’s ok to do them because she isn’t being told not to do then.

    I implore you to read askamanager.com. It’s a great website and many situations like the one you are in have been emailed about and answered. You need to learn some ground rules to lay out for her to follow when she gets back and stick hard to them.

    I agree with Dame, but when she comes back from maternity leave, then kid gloves come off.

    • Devin November 15, 2018, 1:58 pm

      When I first opened the site today I thought I had mixed up this tab with askamanger (my two main workplace break time websites!).
      I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been said. If you’ve hosted special occasion parties at work for others you manage then you’ll have to suck it up and treat her equally. Moving forward, nip this in the bud by either going up your chain or to HR and star that this format of celebrating on employees dime should be stopped as it can cause hurt feelings if the dollars contributed becomes a popularity contest and you’d like a formal memo/policy in place. I’d also reach out to another person down chain, and ask them to coordinate the event. Say you will contribute X amount to cover cake and balloons, whatever is left over can go towards a group gift, if that’s how it’s normally handled. You still have to come out of pocket but you’ve handed of the planning to someone else then it’s up to them to make the event occur.
      If this is a practice in other departments but you’ve never hosted one of these events. Tell the coworkers question you that hosting events in the way they think is the norm in the office can lead to poor moral if not everyone is celebrated equally. Let them know you’d be happy to chip in if they decide to host something off site and after hours.
      Also, talk to HR and start this person on a PIP prior to her maternity leave, this way, if she does come back, any change in her employment status is verified by HR. Why you’ve let this go on so long is beyond me!

  • Michelel November 15, 2018, 9:23 am

    I very much agree with the Admin on this subject. If workplace showers are a must, the company should foot the bill and it needs to be a “cookie-cutter” deal, as in the same thing for every person*.
    At this point, I think you could go with cake, punch and a group present. If anyone has any comments, thank them for agreeing to organize and host it and I bet you that will have them backpedaling quick.

    Since you are her manager, you have standing to address her work issues. You can set reasonable guidelines and if she doesn’t follow them, put her on a PIP (performance improvement plan). I think the key is you have to talk to her about her issues and leave her personality and pregnancy out of it. She needs to know that if she doesn’t improve her job is on the line and then if she DOESN’T improve, you need to follow through and terminate her. That is going to be harder to do now since the issues are apparently an ongoing and she may claim you dismissed her because of her pregnancy. You need to really clear, focus on her work issues (falling asleep on the job??) and keep documentation that you discussed the issues with her, so the pregnancy discrimination can be proved false.

    One year we had 2 ladies get married. One was more popular and the favorite of a director and got a huge, over-the-top shower. The other lady was quieter and shy, so she got a finger sandwiches, a cake and only a small handful of presents. She tried to hide it, but she was crushed that she was obviously treated different and “less than”. Several coworkers and I went to the executive director and told him that this kind of thing could damage morale and such obvious differential treatment needed to stop. He listened to our concerns (and privately told us he agreed) and several days later sent out a memo that governed how workplace showers would be handled from now on. Cake, punch and presents in the break room or banquet rooms, 1 hour tops. Company provided cake, punch and gift card and employees could give additional presents if they wanted.

    • admin November 15, 2018, 9:58 am

      You were very wise to go to the executive director with the observation that unequal showers can damage employee morale.

    • Bea November 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

      Thank you for standing up for others and pointing out the issue to a person with authority to change it. Often it happens because it’s let slide and others are too afraid to rock the boat. I admire that quality in you and your coworkers!

    • AJ November 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

      Had a similar situation with my birthday . A small department party (about 8-10 people) was held for the boss’s favorite (not on the actual day though) with cake and champagne. It was mentioned who he shared a birthday with and I knew I shared my birthday with the same people – and obviously him. In a uncharacteristically brave move on my part I said: “Oh you also share a birthday with [famous name] and I know that because I share the same birthday.” With that I put down the plate of cake and walked out of the room. Everyone knew colleague was “teacher’s pet” but for the boss to do that so blatantly – no! But the boss was a totally inept buffoon, which was found out when he got promoted to HQ and, with no one covering his useless ass, was fired.

    • staceyizme November 15, 2018, 10:58 pm

      This kind of drama doesn’t belong in the work place. Managers should be focused on professional accomplishments and the value that can be added to the company by their reports. So too, should the employees. If a director went “all out” for a shower for one employee and some other director didn’t do the same for another, it’s just a vagary of employment that shouldn’t be taken much notice of. Perks at work tend to be a bit uneven with some teams having more privileges than others and trying to regulate it so that it’s “fair” is hard to do comprehensively. By sending out a memo a few days later, all the executive director did was to add a layer of rules to the daily round and draw (perhaps unwanted) attention to an already sensitive situation. The lady who had a disappointing shower may be remembered as the one who precipitated the change and be unjustly resented for having done so. Sometimes things are best left alone, especially at work. Your attempt to prevent a recurrence of unequal treatment won’t prevent directors from finding other ways to indulge those whom they favor. One can only hope that the reason for such positive regard is absolutely stellar performance that adds real value to the department and the company.

      • Michelel November 16, 2018, 9:05 am

        Actually @staceyizme, lady #2 was not blamed for anything and is actually still employed here, while the one with the big shower, and the dept. director who threw it, is gone. The Executive Director sent out the memo and that is how it’s done now. Every single shower now has cake, punch, gift card and it allotted 1 hour in the break or banquet room. He didn’t mention names and didn’t call anyone out, it was a simple, to the point memo to all directors. If people do something separately outside of work, they don’t talk about it here. So I think my coworkers and I did the right thing. Other than that 1 incident, things around here have much less drama than you are attributing to us.

  • DGS November 15, 2018, 9:42 am

    I own my bias, as I work in a very formal environment (healthcare, hospital), but I really like our system. Our HR is pretty rigid about no workplace showers or parties of any kind other than the following, department-sponsored events: 1) Resident and Fellow Graduation Dinner (June), 2) Welcome New Residents/Fellows Brunch (July), 3) Generic Holiday Dinner (December). That’s it. That’s all. Conference room or in case of graduation, a restaurant, is booked, the lead admin in the department (our Chair’s admin) books approved vendors to provide food and decorations, no presents are exchanged but holiday merriment is had by all. There is a great deal of hierarchy and financial disparities in the department – e.g. physicians vs. other providers (e.g. nurse practitioners) vs. fellows and residents vs. administrative staff, RN’s, techs, etc., so to avoid resentment (e.g. Dr. So and So always pays, Ms. So and so never brings anything), the hospital gives us a set budget, and that is what is done. As the docs, we all chip in for gift cards for our admins, nurses, etc. at holiday times. However, if anyone wants to celebrate any private, personal milestone, it’s done by separate groups of friends, off the clock, organized privately. There is a standard floral arrangement or fruit basket sent to everyone when he or she has a new baby or has a death in the family, and marriages and engagements get a congratulatory email. That’s it. It sounds very mechanistic and heartless but it avoids resentment, confusion, disorganization or anyone feeling left-out or treated poorly. Also, some people and some cultures are more private than others, and some do not celebrate the same as others (e.g. Jews traditionally do not have baby showers, etc.) so it avoids inadvertent hurt feelings or disrespect or cultural incompetency. Surely, most folks have a social network of their own of some sort so can celebrate privately with people close to them the way that they see fit to celebrate whatever occasion. OP, you are under no obligation to spend on a shower for this woman.

    That being said, if this employee is lazy, disrespectful and incompetent, WHY is she still employed???? Stop covering for her. She is not being paid to sit around, nap, surf the web and chat on the phone at work, particularly if her work is not getting done (if it is, I’d cut her some slack on all but the naps).

  • Emma November 15, 2018, 9:44 am

    I’m sensing a larger theme from this letter which is that this seems to be a dysfunctional work environment overall. If the letter writer is managing her employee properly, reporting to the correct people that the employee is not performing her job duties, and she’s still working there due to poor management– there are bigger issues at play than tradition in baby shower hosting. I’m inclined to think that letter writer should be just fine firmly stating she doesn’t have the time to plan the shower and suggest someone else handle the organizing, even if it does break from tradition.

    Of course, if this person has hosted a shower for a subordinate before it would look bad now, but if this is the first time it seems reasonable to push back. Normally I’d say letter writer is screwed but terrible work traditions carry on sometimes simply because no one has the guts to stop and say it’s ridiculous. Letter writer isn’t advocating for NO shower, simply one that she doesn’t host.

  • Annon November 15, 2018, 9:48 am

    Two things:
    I’m not sure why she is still employed if she isn’t doing her job. You need to set forth expectations for her, and document her lack of ability to complete projects. You covering for her only enables her. you need to have a review with her, put in place what she needs to do, and get everything in writing, and you should include HR in this meeting. If she doesn’t fulfill her work obligations, you can let her go.

    On the workplace “shower”. What we do at my company is some sends an email that a collection is happening for X person. Give if you want, however much you want, or don’t give. Then a cake is bought and that is it. Since we have had a few celebrations, we have “leftover” decorations for baby and wedding. They get recycled.
    YOU should not have to “foot the bill” for a shower for anyone in a company……direct report or not. People give it they want to and don’t if they don’t. One card and that is it. You can make your contribution the cost of the cake……and water is fine, no punch needed. Just my opinion…..and I have three kids, and have been blessed enough to have been given a “shower” for 2….

  • Livvy17 November 15, 2018, 10:03 am

    Agree with the Admin on the etiquette side of things. As an HR person, though, I beg you to start documenting and disciplining this employee for her work-related failings. If she’s not meeting deadlines, that’s a performance issue. Set clear and reasonable goals, and hold her accountable for meeting them. Just like Michael said above, you need to be clear in your documentation to show why she’s a problem employee. In an ideal world, if you are clear and firm in your expectations, the employee will improve. Otherwise, if she opts not to improve, and you’ve shown where you’ve given her every chance to do so, it will be clear to both of you (and your manager) why employment had to end. I always tell my managers – no one should ever be surprised to be fired. They should definitely see it coming (and be able to correct course or bail) before it happens.

    • Kitty November 29, 2018, 3:56 pm

      May I take your comment and show it to previous employers of mine? Because they all fired me without my knowing ahead of time it was happening. I was never taken aside and said, “Hey, you’ve made a few mistakes here. This is how you do it right; try to not make these mistakes again.” or even told that I had to improve anything about my interactions with people. Just called into the office, informed I was getting fired, and I needed to sign this paper acknowledging it.

  • JD November 15, 2018, 10:17 am

    OP, I have to agree with the others, but if this is a situation where you MUST give a shower — and that’s a situation that needs to change, if so, because no, your employer cannot force you to spend personal money for a work event — then a solution is to tell co-workers that you would be happy to assist, but at this time, can’t host the shower yourself, as you have other issues going on. You don’t have to say that the issue is that this girl is a nightmare to work with, or that you are financially tight — that’s not their business to know. Suggest a collection of funds for the shower and ask if a few people can take charge. And then, start documenting this girl’s work, and for heaven’s sake, call her out on what she’s doing, in a professional manner of course. I worked with someone like this, and I was the only one who suffered, because she and I worked alone in a department. She spent her time chatting with the others, bringing little gifts, offering to take on some of their small tasks (while ignoring her own), etc., so that others just LOVED her. I was not her supervisor, and my comments about the problems to our supervisor fell on deaf ears, as he was snowed like everyone else. But you ARE this woman’s manager, so step up. And don’t host the shower by yourself.

  • Barbarian November 15, 2018, 12:01 pm

    If this employee is so popular in the company, the LW can say that she needs her coworkers’ help to form a committee to host a modest shower with cake and a gift. Hopefully, the employee’s friends would contribute to this effort. Then you succeed in saving face with the rest of the company even if the employee’s bad performance is causing problems for you. LW should focus on the big picture of her future with the company.

    Hopefully, the employee will not return after maternity leave. If she does, follow through with documenting and reporting poor performance that does not meet the company’s standards.

  • rindlrad November 15, 2018, 2:31 pm

    OP, why, why, why have you not gone to HR and started a performance improvement plan (that’s what it’s called in my Company) for this employee? The performance improvement plan lays out in clear language what duties are required of the employee to be successful at her job and sets clear expectations of the employee. It sets milestones for improvement that the employee agrees to and ensures management and employee are on the same page. It also starts the process of documenting where the employee is not meeting expectations and requirements of job performance. This documentation will be necessary for the Company to have in the event the employee chooses not to take advantage of the opportunity to improve and is let go from her job for cause (i.e., fired). Right now, all you’re doing is your job and the employee’s job and blaming the employee for your poor management of the situation. Go to HR. Get them involved. Because the employee is pregnant, your options may be somewhat limited; however, you do have options that don’t involve you allowing one of your employees to walk all over you.

    As to your actual etiquette question about the shower. Do you usually host baby showers for the employees you manage? If so, you should not treat this employee any differently. If you have never thrown a shower for another employee of yours on Company time and Company premises, don’t worry about doing it now. As Admin says, other may expect you to provide them with a party – it doesn’t mean you need to meet their expectations.

  • Kitty November 15, 2018, 3:17 pm

    I would never consider a shower or anything like that to be something that should be thrown by work-related people. Now, if you happen to be very good, personal *friends* with a coworker, I can see them planning/throwing such a party… but as a friend. And inviting the special honoree’s other personal friends as guests. Coworkers should not be expected to throw or having to participate in non-work-related parties. But that may be me, as I like to keep my personal and professional life separate.

  • kingsrings November 15, 2018, 3:44 pm

    OP, you’ve allowed your work situation to be very toxic and unprofessional. You should have taken action against your employee’s behavior a long time ago. But because she’s pregnant now, any action you take is going to be looked at as discrimination because she’s pregnant, and you never took action against her in the past. I’d advise getting another job elsewhere where you can start anew, and never put up with a worker like that again.
    For workplace celebrations, they all need to be a group effort. Nobody should ever have to foot the bill on their own. That is too much of a financial burden on one person. Designate a planner who organizes and tracks events and collects money for them.

  • staceyizme November 15, 2018, 10:18 pm

    I don’t understand why you have gotten yourself into the position of allowing her lack of professionalism to create so much difficulty for you. If she reports to you but you are doing her work because she is well liked (?!) and you’ll get in trouble if you miss deadlines (?!) that her work is supposed to contribute to materially… you aren’t managing her. Either you have the needed authority and haven’t exercised it (are you conflict averse?) or you have the responsibility but not the authority (in which case loop in her boss/ person who can bring some authority and consequences to bear). A baby shower is the least of your worries.

  • Catherine St Clair November 18, 2018, 6:45 pm

    I see no problem with dealing with this in a forthright and simple way-tell the complainers that a baby shower for an employee is not in your budget. If anyone would like to take up a collection for a cake and some punch, you will be happy to order whatever they can afford. It is only your problem if you allow it to become yours.

  • FunkyMunky November 18, 2018, 10:37 pm

    If throwing a shower isn’t an expected managerial duty, I would say to anyone questioning you about it ” To the best of my knowledge, no-one has volunteered to host a shower for [Worker]. If you would like to do so, I’m happy to help you book a meeting room to hold it in once you set a date”.

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