someone is leaving their fingernail clippings in my desk

This post was originally published on April 26, 2011.

A reader writes:

I have an office dilemma that no one seems to have a solution for and figured that you may be able to offer some advice. Twice in the last month, I have come into my cubicle to find fingernail clippings in my desk drawer and on my chair. I had a personal nail kit, and it appears someone was using it and leaving the “evidence” behind.

I brought it up to HR, who told my manager. HR recommend that I leave the kit after the first incident to see if a pattern formed. I was so grossed out after the second incident that I threw the nail kit out (this was on Friday).

Neither of them know how to resolve this. They have called it “stalking” and “harassment” (not my words). My concern is, even though the nail kit is gone, that this person will keep doing inappropriate things at my desk.

Obviously this is distracting from my job. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

This falls in the category of things so weird that I cannot resist bumping you to the front of the question queue.

Someone is clipping their nails at your desk and leaving their nail clippings behind? This is gross, but I don’t think we have any reason to consider it stalking or harassment. And the fact that HR and your manager leapt to that conclusion strikes me as really weird in and of itself.

I’d be more inclined to assume that some unmannered lout in your office wanted to clip their nails, felt entitled to help themselves to your nail clipper in the same way they would your stapler, and didn’t bother to clean up after themselves … as would be characteristic of an unmannered lout.

And assuming that’s the case, I doubt that you need to worry that this person is targeting you and will search out other gross things to do at your desk now that you’re denying them the nail kit. (I wouldn’t keep anything else there that you don’t want them borrowing for their own use though — no toothbrush, IV needles, cash, etc., since we now know there are some boundary problems in your office.)

Now, if you have some specific reason to believe that someone is intentionally trying to mess with you, that would change my answer, but assuming all the info you have is in your letter above, I’d just figure that you work with at least one serious philistine and let it go. You have my blessing to speculate wantonly to yourself about who this philistine is, however, and to give all your suspects the evil eye in your head.

As a side note, don’t replace that nail kit. It’s one thing to quickly fix a chipped nail at your desk, but no one should be clipping their nails at work, even with their own nail clippers.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager Post author

    Just wanted to let people know — some of you have asked about Jamie, since she hasn’t commented here since her surgery last week. I checked in with her, and she says she’s doing fine — just in the midst of recovering. Hopefully will be back soon.

    1. LadyB

      Thanks for the update. I (and I’m sure many others) have been missing her sage advice and pithy comments and wondering how she was.

    2. fposte

      She did comment here! She popped into the open thread the next day and was telling us how her husband was going to make her pancakes :-).

    3. AMG

      Glad to hear it–thanks. If you see this Jamie, get well soon and enjoy the pancakes. Healing and cupcakes to you!

      1. Jamie

        Of course I would see this…the gross posts are my favorite and a perfect welcome back!

        I’m doing great, I won’t be wrestling alligators or cliff diving any time soon (guess I need new hobbies) and I really appreciate all the good thoughts.

        I have learned so much this last week.
        1. A hello kitty metal lunch box is the perfect medication holder – the dog doesn’t get tempted by plastic bottles and come on, what’s more adorable than cartoon narcotics?
        2. Aunt Bee seems harmless at first glance, but she had some serious boundary issues. And while for years Andy and Helen’s relationship baffled me I finally get it. They just both agreed to settle. Or she did love him I her harsh cuckolding way and he went along because she secretly had money. (I’ve been watching A lot of TV. A lot.)
        3. When post op insomnia hits at the exact same time as brain fog starts to lift it’s like a drug induced euphoria without any help from substances. Oh and probably not a good idea to fire up the VPN and work 18.5 hours straight sending out detailed and intensely work related technical emails at 3:30 am. It scares people. (And robs them of the joy of not having to deal with you while you’re out.)
        4. Being in jammies and fuzzy socks for over a week is awesome! So is being waited on. Seriously, I can totally get used to this.
        5. There are few things I can’t do just as effectively with a VPN, a powerful laptop, and a few informants just as well as if I was in the office. Maybe working remotely is worth thinking about more often once I’m better.

        I know another commenter had the same surgery coming up and another had a different surgery scheduled for the same day as mine. I hope both of you are doing as well.

        Oh and the other thing I learned is posting is really hard when pain meds are in full effect. When they weren’t I could focus enough to type, but a couple of days I tried to post several times but kept hitting cancel reply instead of submit…then I’d get confused as to where they went. I took a ridiculous amount of time to finally get it right on open thread last week – I have gained a lot of sympathy for the technologically challenged, I now know what it feels like to think a phone, iPad, and computer are actively working to thwart you.

        1. Jamie

          Sorry, couldn’t focus enough to type. I only correct my typos when they change the meaning of the sentence – otherwise it would be a full time job.

    4. ThursdaysGeek

      My 19-month granddaughter happily greets the cat with something like “hi kitty”. I keep trying to get her to say “hello kitty” and think of Jamie when I do so. It’s interesting how humans connect even when there is no physical connection.

      1. Carrie in Scotland

        I wish you well in recuperation and think of Jamie whenever I see Hello Kitty – there are Christmas ones out!

    5. Vicki

      I dearly love that AAM is a community, not “just” a blog with commenters.

      Seriously, how often do the commenters on a blog even notice that one member has had surgery, let alone check in with that member and send her electronic good wishes!

      Get better soon Jamie so you can get off the meds and put something else in that Hello Kitty lunch box.

      (One time that I spent a few weeks recuperating, my daytime tv reruns were all The Patty Duke Show. :-)

  2. MR

    I hope the OP (and everyone reading) took the advice of the last line. Nail clippers do not have a place at all in the workplace. Seriously. People can go more than 8-9 hours without working on their nails.

    I once worked with a guy who carried nail clippers around, and would break them out in the middle of meetings. It was quite possibly the most annoying thing I’ve ever experienced in the work place.

    If you are doing this, for the sanity of your coworkers, please stop!

    1. Anonymous

      Agreed… this is the worst! It’s an epidemic around my office. A nail file is one thing – you can be quick and discreet with it for a quick fix – but who needs to clip their nails at work? Ugh!

    2. Kelly L.

      I don’t mind the clippers existing–last week I painfully broke a nail at work and wished I did have them there to tidy it up. But you do that stuff in the bathroom!

      1. ExceptionToTheRule

        I admit to clipping my nails in my office.

        With the door closed & over the trash can. In emergencies only.

      2. Sascha

        I keep a set in my drawer for emergencies, and if I really need to use it, I go into the bathroom…or I’ll use them super early in the morning when no one else is here. But during meetings???

      3. Ellie H.

        Yeah, sometimes you really NEED a clippers. I keep one in my purse. I would never do the full clip at work but would definitely fix a nail in my office if nobody were looking, or in the bathroom.

    3. Rebecca

      It made me wonder if the person doing this was doing it in retaliation? Like, the OP clips their nails at their desk and a neighbor was so annoyed by it that they did this as a passive aggressive way of saying, “See? See how gross this is?”

      I’m ok with a nail file in case of emergency. Undecided on clippers.

    4. Allison

      I dunno dude, I have a broken nail right now I would LOVE to fix so it stops snagging on stuff, and I wish I had some clippers in my bag for these kinds of nail issues.

    5. Claire MKE

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wrangled a painful broken nail with a giant pair of scissors and wished for clippers! I would keep them in my purse, though, for serious emergencies, not in my desk.

      1. Elle D

        I keep a pair in my purse for just this reason! I’m not clipping away all day, but on the off chance I break a nail I can discretely fix it at my desk or run to the bathroom.

    6. Vicki

      I always kept a pair of small clippers, as well as a file, in a drawer. I tend to break nails or get hangnails. I would carefully clip off the broken edge over the trash can. (I had a cubicle; no one could see).

      Personally, nail clipping doesn’t bother me (the act, not the residual clippings, because you just don’t leave those on someone’s desk!) But I understand that this is One Of Those Things that squicks other people out.

  3. Chocolate Teapot

    I keep an emery board in my bag, because sometimes a nail can snag at work and it helps to file it down so it doesn’t catch on anything.

  4. Yup

    I remember this post. The ick lives on in my memory. Did the OP ever give an update? I totally agreed with Alison that this was probably a case of a coworker who saw there was a nail kit and decided to avail themselves of it. Like the anonymous person in nearly every workplace who takes other people’s food or drink in the communal fridge.

    (My solution would have been to leave the nail kit, unused, for a month or so with a note on it. “Dear Whoever Is Using My Personal Stuff Without Permission: You are rude for doing this, and gross for leaving nail clippings all over my work area. Don’t do it again. And please stay out of my desk.”)

      1. AdAgencyChick

        I missed this, too. OMG, the offender actually broke a new nail clipper out of its packaging to do that? I think the word “boor” has a new definition.

      2. Vicki

        I just read that and thought this last sentence was the most telling:

        “In fact, the nail clipper was still wrapped in plastic before the offender used it.”

        Now, that’s Chutzpah!

  5. ChristineSW

    Ahhh the infamous nail clippings post!! My nails bug me all the time, but I could *never* imagine dealing with them at work, even in the restroom! I just wait till I get home.

  6. Diet Coke Addict

    I had a terrible roommate once who clipped his toenails and left them all over the bathroom sink like little treats for me. But at least it wasn’t on my DESK, which somehow is awful and wayyyy grosser. And really, at work, if someone sees nothing wrong with “hey I’ll borrow that nail clipper!” I can see them going to “hey I’ll borrow that toothbrush!” and next thing you know, you’re the equivalent of mouth kissing your coworker that you hate the most.

    (Also once this roommate injured himself at work, then came home and was dressing his wound and left bloody tissue and bandages all over the bathroom.)

    1. EvilQueenRegina

      Someone I used to know at university once left her toenail clippings in the kitchen for her flatmates to find.

  7. Lillie Lane

    *small voice* I have clipped my nails at work. With our lab scissors no less. However, in my defense, it was a ripped nail (we have to use our hands all day, occasionally for heavy duty type work) and I asked all of my coworkers if it was OK because I knew it grosses out some people. But I did NOT leave the clippings! Someone left clippings on the work table once and it took us a while to figure out who it was.

    1. fposte

      For me it’s not so much the clipping at work there as wondering if they’re your personal lab scissors or the lab’s scissors. Because in general I’d say shared and non-disposable office supplies shouldn’t be repurposed for personal hygiene unless you (and the bosses) are prepared to accept people cutting their hair with the paper cutter and cleaning their teeth with the tape measure.

  8. PPK

    This is interesting to me. I do keep a nail clipper at work. I use it when I break or rip off a chunk of my nail and it’s all ragged. Or I have a big hang nail snagging on everything and ripping up my nail bed. I never use it to give my nails a casual trim — just for 1 or 2 clips to fix something. And when no one is in my office. I just checked and the clipper itself makes no noise. Do I use it a lot? No. Do I love it when I rip off half my thumb nail when I clumsy bump my hand into something at 9AM? Yes.

    1. PPK

      I do think it’s gross if someone’s clipping a bunch of nails at work which is why I consider it for “emergency use” only. But maybe I’m grossing out my coworkers thinking I’m special?

      1. Jen in RO

        I think you’re OK. There’s a big difference between someone fixing a nail and someone clipping *all* their nails and *leaving* the clippings on someone else’s desk. Ew.

        1. Sascha

          Yes, there’s also a difference between what PPK is doing and the receptionist at my office, who will whip out the nail kit during the day and spend about an hour touching up her nails at her desk.

    2. Arbynka

      I carry nail clipper and file with me always. I have a thyroid issue and sometimes my nails grow super fast and at the same time are super brittle. But it is for the purpose of emergency snip, I would not consider doing my manicure anywhere besides my own home.

  9. Rebecca

    I have rather long nails and they’re pretty tough, although if I hit them against something just right, they’ll crack part of the way across just past where they clear the end of my finger. If that happens at work, I go to the ladies room and clip off just that one, file the edges, and go back to work.

    This whole thing is weird. I’d be tempted to put up a trail cam or web cam to see who it is so I could confront them directly.

    1. Windchime

      My nails snap off like this too, and I’m usually left with a terrible, jagged mess. In that situation, if I had nail clippers then I would quickly and discreetly clip the offending nail. I usually don’t have clippers, so I use my desk scissors and then file what’s left with an emery board.

  10. Allison

    If it happened once, I’d assume someone had a weird emergency where an important meeting came up at the last minute, and someone needed to trim her nails ASAP to make a good first impression. poor judgment of course, and not okay, but could be a plausible explanation. But twice? Dude. No.

  11. Lily in NYC

    I rented a beach house for a week with a group of coworker friends. The girl I was closest to asked to borrow my pumice stone so she could scrape her feet! I was so caught off guard that I showed my disgust and she thought I was nuts for being squeamish about it. That was always a WTF moment for me. A year later I had such bad blisters when we were hiking that she took off her sweaty socks and let me wear them. I told her she could use my pumice stone whenever she wanted from now on.

    1. Ellie H.

      That would definitely have struck me as gross too, and to my mind it’s not just an “ew” issue but not recommended for the same reason that nail technicians are supposed to sterilize everything? I

      However, I love the denouement with her lending you socks :) Great story.

  12. ThatGuy

    My boss is a very well known person in his field. He literally writes the standards on how people in my role do their job. I’m not just talking about my organization; I’m saying world wide, he’s kind of a big deal in the profession. That being said, we work in a very open environment cube farm: short walls, if any, and he’s in a cube rather than an office.

    One day at around 3:30, so close to the end but not so close that the office was emptying, I started hearing the sounds of someone clipping their nails. I could tell by where the sound was coming from that it was him. Nail clipping isn’t a horrible sound by itself, but knowing what’s going on makes it a little ugh and it tends to be repetitive for a while. I tried to wait it out, but I had a time sensitive question to ask and I figured he was just clipping his fingernails; that’s nothing that can’t be interrupted. So, imagine my shock when I turned around to talk to him and saw him with his shoe and sock off, foot crossed over his knee clipping his toenails!

    I turned back to my screen and decided to just figure out an answer to my question myself. I think I was both grossed out by and embarrassed for him doing such an unhygienic thing in the cube farm. I wasn’t the only one that saw it because the instant messages asking if he was doing what they thought he was doing started flying among the team pretty soon after.

  13. josh

    From what I can remember, I believe there is a superstition regarding possessing someone else’s nail clippings and being able to place a hex or curse on them. When all else fails, try that.

    1. Lillie Lane

      Or you’re supposed to put your nail clippings into the drink of someone you want to fall in love with you. Yuck.

      1. AMG

        You must really Love someone to do that. I mean, I super-duper love the hubs but I don’t know if I’d drink his nail clippings.

        1. fposte

          Yeah, I think once you find somebody willing to drink your nail clippings you don’t really need a spell.

      2. Elizabeth West

        My aunt’s ex-husband used to clip his toenails all over the house. One day, my aunt had had enough. She gathered up a bunch of them and put them in his tea.

        He quit doing it.

  14. Seal

    Several jobs ago, I worked in an office that had a large recycle bin near the door; several departments besides ours used it. Occasionally, someone would toss something in the bin they didn’t intend to recycle, so they’d have to rummage through a couple of layers to find it. However, the secretary for one of the other departments, who was very odd and not too bright, started coming in on a daily basis and spending a good ten minutes or more digging through the recycle bin. Very distracting. After a few days of this, we asked her what she was looking for and she said “oh, nothing – I’m just looking.” Finally, after several polite and not-so-polite attempts to get her to stop, one of me coworkers wrote a memo to a colleague saying something to the effect of “I caught the secretary going through the recycle bin again – should we tell her boss?” and stuck it a few layers down in the bin. The secretary stopped her bin-diving shortly thereafter, but we were subjected to her evil eye for weeks. Totally worth it, though.

    Long story short – leave a note for the phantom nail clipper in your desk next to your manicure kit. Something like “get your own nail clipper!” or “stay out of my desk!” Whatever it takes to let them know you know they’re messing with your desk.

  15. Elle-em-en-oh-pee

    While what I am presenting is likely the exception and not the rule…

    (“As a side note, don’t replace that nail kit. It’s one thing to quickly fix a chipped nail at your desk, but no one should be clipping their nails at work, even with their own nail clippers.”)

    I also had a manicure kit at work along with a nail brush and personal hand soap in my desk. I suppose I could have just had a file and clippers laying in the drawer, but the kit packaged everything so discreetly.

    In my defense this job was in agriculture, and as a supervising type I had to go outside and do dirty things and then switch into indoor mode where filthy hands and ragged nails made me the unmannered lout (and prevented me from eating). I couldn’t always count on soap when I needed it (everybody else had to wash too), nor that my nails would stay smooth and pristine, even in gloves.

    I am not talking about doing anything elaborate and obvious, but darned if I was going to suffer with filthy hands, and worse shredded nails, to catch on everything the rest of the day.

    No kidding, I made sure my subordinates got their own manicure sets for company Xmas…

  16. JenTheNiceHRGirl

    I like the ideas above about leaving a note. We had an office supply thief in my last position. This person was stealing massive amounts of everything like whole cases of paper and 10 packs of post it notes etc… and the receptionist finally got so fed up that she just posted a note in the supply closet that said something like “please stop stealing the office supplies”. What do you know, the thief stopped!! We never did figure out who it was though. So perhaps the same note will work for your gross co-worker, something like “please do not use the personal items in my desk” or “please stop using my nail clippers” might do the trick if this person is just naturally gross and doesn’t see anything wrong with what they are doing. However if they are doing it on purpose just to mess with you, that’s another story… if you remove the clippers, they may start doing something else nasty. Good luck!! I am really interested to see how this one pans out.

    1. Not So NewReader

      (LOL) “These nail clippers are not YOURS”
      I talk to my dog this way. As in “This food is not YOURS.”

      Although I am not entirely grossed out by this, I do wonder where the nail clipper borrower draws the line. Does this person also borrow hairbrushes and tooth brushes?

      I cannot imagine just going into someone’s desk and taking whatever out of it for my own use. UGH.

  17. Tara

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned locking your personal items in a drawer. I think that would be a more effective deterrent than a note.

  18. Jake

    My manager regularly clips his nails while holding informal meetings in his office. It doesn’t bother me, but I could see why some wouldn’t like it.

    This is the same guy that pulls a block of cheese out of his desk, cuts it with his pocket knife, drowns it in salt from the shaker on his desk and then slowly savors each bite in mid conversation.

    That would bother me if he wasn’t so awesome in every other way.

    1. theotherjennifer

      that made me laugh out loud and after a long and arduous day at the office, a vision of a boss with cheese and salt just cracked me up. If he only had a glass of vino with it he’d be perfect.

      1. Windchime

        It makes me think of George Constanza, sitting on his sofa in his underwear and gnawing on a block of cheese.

  19. Vicki

    Speaking of taking personal stuff –

    At one job, I had a jar of M&Ms. I had no problem with people who stopped by and asked if they could have some. They’d pour out a few and say thank you.

    Then one morning the jar was more than half empty. Apparently the night security guard didn’t understand the meaning of “moderation”.

    After that I locked the drawer at night.

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