someone is leaving their fingernail clippings in my desk

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.

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 53 comments… read them below }

  1. Meredith*

    Oh my. This is just too weird for words. I may be taking a huge leap here, but if HR and your manager automatically jumped to the “stalking” and “harrassment” words, maybe they have run into this, or something eerily similar before, with other coworkers. Those words just don’t strike me as “This is the first time I am hearing about this.”

    1. Long Time Admin*

      Meredith, I think you’re right. There’s probably a very creepy person in this office who has done inappropriate things before. To me, it sounds like HR knows who it is, and either doesn’t want to deal with this creep or can’t (perhaps the creep is being protected by a higher-up).

      The OP should either lock the desk every evening, or take everthing personal home. And I would wipe the whole thing down with Clorox wipes. Ewwwww!

  2. Marie*

    Although this doesn’t sound like stalking, it *could* be a passive-aggressive form of harassment. Perhaps the OP of this thread had a confrontation with a co-worker, so the co-worker is doing this repulsive, boorish thing as a form of revenge.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sure, it could be. But my thinking in any situation like this is that it could be all kinds of crazy explanations, so why not go with the one most likely, until/unless we have evidence that leads us to a different one?

      1. Jamie*

        Occam’s razor is probably right, and very logical…but you have to admit the crazy explanations are probably infinitely funnier :).

        I have found some truly bizarre things left behind from previous occupants when I’ve moved into a new desk…it can really make you wonder about people.

          1. Jamie*

            Second grossest thing was a used tongue scraper. Apparently the previous occupant wasn’t much for tooth brushing, but did scrape his tongue at his desk and store the scraper in the drawer with a bunch of old RAM sticks.

            I am grateful that prior to my taking over the desk the powers that be did replace the phone receiver. Apparently no matter what they did they couldn’t get rid of the smell of stale garlic and salami – it permeated inside the receiver.

            Neither of those could top the worst thing ever: a bottle of sexual lubricant behind the hanging files of the big desk drawer…per the label the kind that warms when you rub it and tastes like pina colada.

            For those of you thinking perhaps she bought it on her lunch break and forgot to bring it home, and that I shouldn’t be such a prude…it was only about 1/3 full and almost, but not quite, fully sealed. Meaning there was little sticky mess where a little bit had oozed out of the cap and onto the drawer bottom.

            Someone else had to have found something even worse…I’d be fascinated to hear.

          2. Talyssa*

            I would totally read that but I don’t know who would be able to top Jamie’s. Even if she HAD bought it at lunch ..NO. EW. Inappropriate lunch time purchase. Buy it on the weekend if you don’t have a car to leave it in. I am not a prude, but there are things that belong very much NOT in the office.

            We did have a coworker here who used to clip her toe nails at her desk while she was on conference calls. It really grossed out the person who sat across from her. since the cubicles were open that way, but even though I could hear the noise it didn’t bother me as much (because I couldn’t see her and didn’t know it was her TOENAILS).

  3. Laura*

    EWWWW. Nail clippings at your desk. That’s just gross. I agree that you probably should not replace the nail kit though. I mean its more than likely just a crime of opportunity and will stop without any clippers but a solitary nail file can be kept in your purse, or the cup at your desk that most likely holds a few pens and pencils. I’m shocked anyone would do that ever. like gross.

  4. Jamie*

    Yuck. For what it’s worth if you also had any lip balm in your drawer I’d toss that, too.

    Boundary issues, indeed.

  5. SME*

    I once upset someone at work, who let me know by leaving a tidy little pile of dead flies on my chair. LOL. People are so strange.

      1. SME*

        The visual of whoever it was tippytoeing around and carefully plucking up fly carcasses still cracks me up.

        1. Suz*

          That’s awesome only because it’s funny and sickly fascinating to hear, but didn’t actually happen to us! If it had, I would be pretty creeped out, not to mention wondering what I might find left on or around my car or coat at some point.

          To the OP, don’t keep your personal mug or coffee cup there, I’m sure that’s been used also – GAK! I worked with a toenail clipper person too and it was pretty hurl inducing. Speaking of, I worked with someone who hurled into their trash can at their desk, then left it when they went home. That was a special day in our department!

    1. Jamie*

      This is so much worse than fingernails.

      I’m dying to know, did you know who did it? Do you still work with them?

      I’m trying to imagine having a civil work related conversation with someone who would do that – and I’m drawing a blank. How do you move on from that?

      1. Anonymous J*

        Haha! I’m wondering if they turned up wanted in a string of murders.

        Just sayin…

        That’s seriously creepy.

      2. SME*

        I never figured out who it was or what I had done! So gross, but so funny. Like, really? What could I have done to send you down THAT route to express your rage? Hahahahaha…

  6. MillenniMedia*

    Oh wow, that is super nasty. I definitely am inclined to think it’s a case of stupidity and not stalking/harassment. That said, nail clipping at work might be one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s gross and the sound cuts through everything and makes me want to poke out my eardrums. Please, for everyone’s sanity, take care of your grooming at home.

    Does your desk drawer have a key? I’d recommend keeping anything personal locked up if you don’t want this weirdo helping themselves when you’re not around.

    1. Jamie*

      Your IT department should totally thank you for cleaning off your own keyboard!

      I wish more people took responsibility for their own equipment.

  7. mouse*

    There is a segment of the population who don’t understand that for some people, fingernail clippings are kind of gross. In my experience, these folks have to flat out be told to throw out their clippings. They don’t mean any harm, it just never occurs to them. When I worked the cash register at a dry clean a few years ago, I had a regular to always left a fistful of nail clippings (actually he was a nail tearer not a clipper) in the inner pocket of his suit jackets. He was the nicest customer I’ve ever had; always very personable and patient if our computers were down, polite words if he witnessed us dealing with a rude customer, etc. But those fingernails in his pocket… shudder.

    1. ckf82*

      This is a frame of mind I will never understand. I live in NYC and ride the subway to work, and I frequently see people clipping their fingernails (and once even a guy clipping his toenails) in public on the train – sometimes even in really crowded cars! It always makes me a little be nauseous to think about those nail clippings flying around, but clearly the people doing the clipping think nothing of it!!

  8. What the?*

    What are the legalities if the OP set up a hidden nanny cam at her desk? Quite honestly, that’s what I would do, regardless if it was legal or not.

  9. Really?*

    While looking professional is a requirement for most jobs, its more of a pre-requisite than what they are actually paying you for. Take care of your grooming on your own time. That goes for those that wait to do their hair, makeup or brush their teeth until they get to work also (yes, ok brushing teeth after eating or touch-ups, fine whatever, i mean the ones that go brush their teeth right after they clock in).

  10. Anne*

    Some people have quite obviously been raised by wolves. I’ve definitely worked with a colleague that left fingernail clippings all over his chair and the surrounding common area. What on earth is going through these peoples’ heads?

    I mean, if you have an office where you can shut the door and no one can hear your “clip………clip……….clip,” and you throw away the clippings immediately, fine. Anything outside those parameters is just unacceptable.

    1. KellyK*

      Totally agree. In the bathroom would be okay if you have a cube/shared office, but in that case you shouldn’t be clipping/cleaning all your fingernails routinely, more like touching up if one breaks or your nails get dirty. (Okay, in theory, your nails should stay pretty clean in an office environment, but if you have some sort of catastrophic mishap with a potted plant, better to clean your nails in the bathroom than go around with them gross all day.)

  11. JC*

    This may be completely out there, but if weird things keep happening, is there any way you can put a hidden camera in your office? There may be legal issues with this, but I figured that if the camera only captured your office then it may not be a problem? I may be totally off base about this so please weigh in if this is terribly unsound advice! But I was just thinking that a camera would capture the person who is messing with your stuff.

  12. fposte*

    I had a co-worker–actually, at that point a boss–who would file and clip her nails in front of me.

    While she was riding in the passenger seat of my car. She seemed genuinely puzzled by my recoil and request she stop.

  13. jersey mama*

    yes i am from jersey. wanna hear something that grosses me out?

    there is this lady at work – a very nice lady i might add – who cleans her ears out with bobby pins allllllll the time and she sits out in the open and is one of the top administrative assistants in the organization. and she does it while she is chatting with you and everything. aaaaaand she really digs in there. eeeeeew! and so dangerous! im surprised she can still hear!

  14. Deedee*

    My immediate thought was that since the OP kept a nail kit in their desk drawer that perhaps s/he was in the habit of clipping/filing nails while at work and it was really bugging somebody so they did this as revenge. (I see that Anonymous at 4:24 already had this thought as well.)

    I have also been grossed out/irritated by a nail clipper at the office, but wouldn’t go as far as using their clippers for revenge. Just eww.

    1. steve*

      If it is clipping, I could completely see this being intentionally done as a deterrent. It is quite irritating sitting next to somebody who makes that weird metal clipping/clicking sound.

  15. Deedee*

    And double eww on the bobby pins in the ears. :{

    And tongue scrapers in the drawer. :/

    And used bottles of sexual lubricant in the drawer?


  16. Monica*

    Am I the only one who would HAVE to confront this? I would leave the empty nail kit at my desk with a note inside. I would be very blunt and to the point.

    1. Anonymous*

      That’s a good idea. Which made me think of the following…

      Or even purchase them a cheap nail kit and leave a note with it: “Here’s your very own nail kit so you don’t have to go through the trouble of ‘borrowing’ mine.” Make it noticeable nail kit so if someone does take it, you might be able to recognize it around the office. Take a photo of it at your place and the card in your handwriting. Then, it’s up to you to confront the co-worker. Note though you’re not calling that person a thief since it would be a gift, but you knew you violated your personal space at your desk.

  17. Anonymous*

    A co-worker of mine was moved into a new cubicle. She opened the cabinet part to discover the remains of a bowl of soup. That had been there long enough to have spawned Cousin It’s younger brother…his green, smelly younger brother. And she ended up cleaning it up herself. Yuck!

  18. Anonymous*

    In my company, rarely do people clean out their desks properly or at all, if they move. I know, ick..
    Anyway, I came across an old open pack of Gilette razors in the drawer when I was assigned my first desk here, which I thought was quite gross, but pales into insignifance compared to what other people have reported :-)

  19. Anonymous*

    Long ago I had a coworker who used to trim his nose hairs with a pair of scissors that were provided to cut paper from a printer/plotter. These were the “community” scissors used by dozens of other coworkers. I would not have believed it if I had not witnessed it first hand. I don’t think he had any malice toward his coworkers, just a different set of boundaries compared to “normal” people.

  20. Phyr*

    Little late to the party but…

    That is really freaky in a creepy way. I would not keep anything important or personal in my desk if I were you.

  21. Anonymous*

    I’ve heard of someone that was on a conference call – in a closed office, and needed to relieve himself…….so found an empty Starbucks cup…….then left it in his office for awhile!

  22. Anonymous*

    On the commuter train into Toronto my husband and I were sitting across from a fingernail clipper. We just raised our newspapers and used them as a shield from the flying clippings. Gross!

    I little off topic, but an office that was part of my territory had unusual goings-on. Someone was taking all of the pictures out of the picture frames on people’s desks and making doodles on them. Curly mustaches, glasses, funny hair. They would put the altered photos back into the frames.
    I left the company before they got to the bottom of the mystery.

    1. T*

      LMFAO. Just the mental image of little Sam and Sally with curly mustaches, glasses and funny hair has me rolling. Even more so, some immature guy or girl walking around everyone’s desks and taking the time to carefully take the picture out, write on them, then carefully put them back in the frames. OMG I can’t. Thank you. I needed that.

  23. Aniau Jade*

    I worked for a dean in a girl’s dorm. At the end of the year I was employed to help her go around and check all the rooms. Go through closets, drawers, etc…before the students were allowed to check out of their rooms. Going through one of the rooms I came across this young lady’s desk. Going through it I found a used tampon taped to the bottom of her desk. I seriously grabbed a trash can and became friends with this can rather quickly…..
    and yes I cleaned it out afterwards..YEEEEUCK!!!!

  24. Elle*

    I seriously work with a nail clipper and it bugs the hell out of me.
    She has her own office however its close enough to me and it is loud. She does not shut the door so I can just hear the noise and it is so annoying. She is a manager also who gets paid lots of money yet uses company time to do this. I mean, come on!

    How do I go about saying something to her? Ughh

  25. Wes*

    I once had a boss that stated the bathroom was for paying customers and that there was a sink in the back for every need but # 2 (if one needed to “make a poo”, then and only then could you use the potty)

    the sink was the same one the boss had us employee’s pour the used antifreeze down.

    too this day I think the mentality was you needed to walk past the boss’s office to use the “customers” facilitys, that or someone did not like to clean the restroom.

    Mechanic in WA.

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