receiving calls from a coworker’s stalker

Since we recently had a letter about stalking issues at work, I thought this one, describing a different side of the situation, was timely. A reader writes:

I am one of two receptionists at a small company. About a month ago, I received a call from a woman, asking for one of my coworkers. When I asked for her name, she said that she was this gentleman’s wife. Come to find out, my coworker is not married and refers to this woman as his “stalker.” He did not seem overly concerned that he was getting calls from her but would not take them and instructed me to always send them to his voicemail. She called back several times in the following days but the calls tapered off and I had not heard from her for a few weeks. The other receptionist has not received calls from her either. However, yesterday this woman called twice. The first call was early in the day and I was able to give a truthful answer when I said he was not in the office. She called back later saying that she had not heard back from him and that it was “unlike him” to not respond. I told her he hadn’t come into work that day.

My dilemma is that the situation makes me uncomfortable and I want to do something about it, but I’m not sure it’s any of my business. I don’t like lying to people on the phone (i.e., saying “he’s in a meeting” when he’s really not) and although telling her that this gentleman is unavailable is generally truthful, she often presses for more information. A small part of me wants to tell her to stop calling because he does not want to speak to her, but I hesitate because I’m not sure it’s my place to do so. In any event, I want to be prepared in case she continues to call. My coworker has told me to send the calls to his voicemail, but I don’t really want to deal with this woman or be the mediator in a situation that is generally uncomfortable. My question is this – should I bring the matter up with someone (HR or the coworker) or should I ignore it until it becomes a continual problem?

Don’t tell her that he doesn’t want to speak to her without clearing that with him first. As we talked about a lot in the last office stalker-related post, there are very specific ways that people are recommended to handle stalkers, not all of which are intuitive. For instance, in some situations experts recommend specifically not delivering a message like that to the stalker, but simply continuing to have their calls go into voicemail, so that things don’t escalate. I have no idea if that’s what your coworker is doing or not, but it’s a very good reason for you not to take things into your own hands.

You should simply continue transfering these calls to your coworker’s voicemail, as he’s requested. You don’t need to lie and say he’s out if you don’t want to, but then you should simply say, “One moment, I’ll transfer you” — and then transfer her to his voicemail. No lying, still following his request, done.

You should also probably tell your coworker that you’re worried about the frequency of the calls and ask if it would be helpful to bring HR into the loop to develop a plan for handling this … after all, if there’s an unstable woman harassing him at work, it has the potential to affect the rest of you. (Will she show up there one day, etc.?)  But it’s really important to handle this in a way that’s sympathetic to the situation he’s in, doesn’t make him feel like he’s the problem, and doesn’t discourage him from being open about any help that he may need from you and other coworkers, safety-wise, because if he’s in a dangerous situation, driving him to hide it is a really bad idea.

I will also note that some readers will probably wonder if this isn’t really a stalker situation, but instead is actually a spouse trying to track him down for child support, etc. And that’s perfectly possible (just as it would be if the genders were reversed). But until you know otherwise, take him at his word — because it can be extremely damaging for someone who is trying to escape an abusive or harassing situation to be suspected of being the cause of it (particularly for men, who already have a higher barrier to being taken seriously on these issues).

{ 64 comments… read them below }

  1. Esra*

    I don’t like lying to people on the phone (i.e., saying “he’s in a meeting” when he’s really not)

    Isn’t that part of a receptionist’s job though? A relative of mine was a receptionist at a big corporate HQ, and part of her job was to make sure say, random toner salespeople, didn’t get through to higher ups. Also, she would never give out personal details like comings and goings, and the most anyone would hear was “So and so is unable to return calls today” not that they were home sick etc.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is a good point. As a general rule, I’d say that receptionists shouldn’t be giving out details about someone’s comings and goings, whether there are issues like this or not.

      1. Esra*

        Even though they’re a small company, this seems like a good opportunity to draw up a policy on this sort of thing, so the receptionists and other employees aren’t left wondering what to do and have a script (of sorts) to rely on.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, as a former receptionist, I agree with this. My exjob had a policy about personal calls and I also had to deal with a stalker situation. I received specific instructions on what to do with those calls, which relieved some of my stress about them.

          If they are really disruptive, I would totally say something to HR. And if there is the slightest possibility that the person may show up, or especially if they make threats, you need to report it. That way HR can deal with it privately with the person who is being stalked and implement workplace violence policies if needed.

          As far as toner calls, those are a scam and it’s best to simply hang up on them. I wrote a blog post about work scams (see below if you’re interested). The Yellow Pages, toner pirates, aggressive salespeople–I’ve had them all.

          1. Marie*

            My favorite trick with all people I suspected were scammers (but wasn’t fully sure): telling them I was pretty busy and had a meeting to get to, but I would like to call them back, and asking for their name and number.

            Scammers hang up, sometimes cussing you out first. Just regular old sleazy solicitors are SUPER EXCITED to have you call them back.

            Occasionally newbie scammers would actually give me their info, and I’d say, “Thank you, I’ll be reporting you to the FTC,” and hang up.

            With toner phoners, I’d ask for specific information.

            “Hi, we’re from your toner supply company.”
            “Oh, what company is that?”
            “Well, actually we work with your copier company.”
            “Oh, great, what company is that?”
            “Well, it’s the one you get your copier supplies from.”
            “Oh, so you know our rep?”
            “What’s their name?”

            I will admit that on a bad day, I have told a toner phoner that I was about to transfer them to the office supply person, Jennifer Lee, and could they just hold for a moment. Then I geared up “Never Gonna Give You Up,” dropped the receiver by the speaker, and left it there until they hung up.

            Whatever kind of scammer it is, I always tell them the person they want to talk to is Jennifer Lee. That way, no matter who picks up the phone in the office, if they ask for Jennifer Lee, you know you can hang up on them. And newbie mail sorters know that any magazines or junk mail coming for “Jennifer Lee” goes in the trash.

            1. Natalie*

              I’m amazed you were able to keep the toner phoners going so long. Every time I asked them the company name, they would just hang up.

      2. jmkenrick*

        When I worked a reception desk, I also got aggressive calls. One thing I’ll grant the OP is that it’s remarkably difficult to bring yourself to be firm about those things when you’re not used to aggressive or nosy callers.

        The pressure to be polite and accomodating is really hard one to let go of. (Which is, of course, what those random toner salespeole are going for.)

        1. jmkenrick*

          Disclaimer: Not that it’s rude to simply answer “So & So isn’t available right now” and refuse to give more info. But it can *feel* rude if the caller follows up with “Why?” and you’re declining to answer.

          1. fposte*

            And some of them are “old friends of Bob’s” (who apparently don’t know he’s always called Rob). They’re often very good at using leverage to wedge an opening.

          2. Elizabeth*

            I’d play the side-step game there, and just say, “Shall I put you through to his voicemail?” If anyone got really pushy (and then they’re definitely the one being rude) I would just lie and say, “I’m only the receptionist; I don’t have that information. Shall I put you through to his voicemail?”

          3. Charles*

            jmkenrick – I think we can all agree that the real rudeness is the caller asking “why.”

            Now, what would be a real rude response to that would be “Why? ’cause I said so!”

      3. M-C*

        I totally agree with a receptionist not giving out details (yes, I have lots of early experience in that job..). You don’t know who you’re talking to most of the time, and you don’t want to be giving out potentially damaging information to anyone, on any level.
        It sounds to me like most of the problem here is that the receptionist is allowing herself to be drawn into long conversations with callers. That is just inappropriate, and possibly with more people than this potential stalker. The ‘good morning. yes, I’ll transfer you’ and transfer to voice mail advice is absolutely what she ought to be doing. This is not her business, especially if it’s personal. If she’s feeling an urgent need to chat, at least do it with the coworkers, and not their callers.

    2. Rachel - Former HR Blogger*

      This exactly what I was going to say. If you’re a receptionist that doesn’t want to lie then you’re in the wrong job.

      1. Charles*

        For a receptionist (or anyone else in an office for that matter) to say “he/she’s in a meeting” is not really lying.

        “She’s in a meeting . . . (with her boss, with her Word document, with her Excel spreadsheet, with her cup of joe, with her copy of the NY Times crossword puzzle down the hall in the restroom, etc.)”

        See, it really isn’t lying.

        1. Rana*

          Yup. That’s how I rationalized it to myself when I was a receptionist for a bankruptcy law office one summer. The attorneys there were always getting calls from clients’ creditors (who were not supposed to be contacting us outside of scheduled meetings) and I got very good at cheerily saying “I’m sorry, ____ is in a meeting right now. Can I take a message or have her call you back later?”

          “In a meeting” is vague enough that it could mean nearly anything, with no lying necessary. (Not telling the whole truth, yes, but outright lying, no.)

  2. Mary Sue*

    I spent about a decade as a receptionist for various companies. One thing I noticed that harrassers (whether for personal reasons like this seems to be, or sales persons attempting the hard sell) will frequently call back to the reception desk and complain they got voicemail.

    I’ve found the response, “I’m sorry, [person] must be busy at the moment. I suggest leaving a voicemail and [person] will return your call at [person]’s convenience. May I transfer you?”

    Sometimes the caller would insist I go ‘check’ on the employee, and my response was, “Unfortunately I cannot leave my desk unattended as I cover the main phone line and we have a high call volume. I suggest leaving a voicemail and [person] will return your call at [person]’s convenience. May I transfer you?”

    The key I’ve found to keeping this type of conversation from escalating is using my most bland, professional tone, no matter how frustrating it is to me that this person won’t get the hint, and no matter how belligerent the caller gets.

    I would also start logging when this person calls. Just a little note with date and time, just in case.

    1. Natalie*

      Oy, I’ve gotten that too and I don’t get it. If it went to voicemail, that means their not available!

      The only thing I’ve done differently is I usually don’t give a reason when I refuse to go get them. Giving a reason, IME, gives the caller something to start arguing about. “I’m sorry, that won’t be possible” is the extent of an explanation an overly-aggressive caller gets.

      1. Elizabeth*

        It’s the Miss Manners approach, which I love – don’t give a reason, and they don’t have anything to argue against.

        “Thank you to the invitation to your stepson’s girlfriend’s brother’s piano recital, but I’m unable to attend.”

        “Why not?”

        “I’m not available that day. I hope it’s lovely!”

        “What are you doing?”

        “It’s so kind of you to ask me, but I’m busy that day.”

        (Of course, with telemarketers, I stop even sooner with a “Thank you, have a nice day” and hang up.)

  3. HR Gorilla*

    The point regarding unsolicited phone calls is a good one–but the difference between that and the OP’s situation is that calls trying to sell something to the business are inherently business-related, and therefore fall more logically under the directives of how management wants the receptionist to handle those calls. In the case of a non-business related call, I don’t think a receptionist should be expected to make up little half-truths at all–just keep putting through to voicemail, and if the personal caller asks the receptionist where so-and-so is, the answer should be “I’m not certain of his availability, but I’m happy to take a message or put you back into his voicemail.”

    1. fposte*

      But I do think it’s close enough for the OP to call on her emotional pattern for handling other unwanted calls, and not to consider herself being a “mediator” for merely sending calls to voicemail any more than she would for a toner salesperson.

  4. Diane*

    This is a hot button for me for a few reasons. I’ve been stalked at work. The worst response from someone taking calls or meeting visitors is to give out any information, however innocent you perceive it to be–whether I’m at the dentist or out on vacation. OP, you don’t know how this woman will react. Any information invites new strategies to get close or make trouble.

    Please don’t volunteer information–it’s fine to say he’s unavailable and repeat, blandly and professionally.

    BTW, that should be true regardless of who’s calling. I’m stunned by the number of times total strangers have told me far more than I have any business knowing.

  5. Anonymous*

    If there is a IT department, I wonder if they can block that phone number. Or create a dummy voice mail account you can send her VM’s.

  6. Natalie*

    OP, I totally get the discomfort with lying. When I started in reception I used to always tell salespeople that such-and-such was unavailable. After a year or two, I just started saying they don’t take sales calls and leaving it at that.

    This is definitely a different situation, though, and in general you should defer to the stalked co-worker as to how to handle. If the caller presses you, just play dumb – “I’m sorry, I don’t know.” “I’m sorry, I can’t leave the reception desk.” “I don’t have that information.” Lather, rinse, repeat.

    1. Natalie*

      Or if playing dumb feels too much like lying, you could always just repeat, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you” no matter what the woman asks. It’s a technical truth.

    2. Marie*

      Playing dumb is for sure your friend! I developed a few standard “dumb” lines and used those — easier than trying to come up with something on the fly, when I’m nervous, irritated, and feeling uncomfortable.

      I have used, with great success:

      “Oh, gosh, I just don’t know where he got off to. Need to put a bell on him!”

      “Oh, you know what it is, he’s probably just on lunch/at a meeting/run upstairs for a minute, but you know, they don’t tell *me* anything.”

      “You know, I bet he told me where he was going, and I just completely didn’t listen. It’s been that kind of day!”

      I say this stuff in as friendly a tone as possible, like, “Ha ha, you and me, old friends, joking around” kind of tone. If pushy people can perceive me as a friend instead of an antagonist, they’re more likely to not want to piss me off, because they perceive me as somebody who could help them if they played along with my friendly game, instead of somebody actively barring them from what they want, and who must be overcome.

      Of course all this only applies to people who purposefully refuse to take no for an answer. Normal business calls can be answered with a normal, “They’re not available at the moment,” and everybody walks away like adults.

      That being said, being asked to be the front-line person to deal with a stalker is awful. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on you — if a toner phoner gets through you, okay, no harm, no foul, but if you screw up one of these calls, you’re going to be so nervous that you’ve really caused some damage, and you’re dealing with somebody who is actively working to get you to screw up. That SUCKS.

      I really do recommend talking with the coworker being stalked, and I think it’s fair to ask that he sit down with you and help you come up with some standard lines of your own. Like, you can tell him how these calls usually go — what she asks for, what she says when you say no in various ways — and ask him for how he would like you to respond. As in, “If I say you’re not available, and she says why not, should I say you’re in a meeting? Should I say you’re not in the office, even if you are?”

      Also, random suggestion, but if the coworker feels comfortable speaking to HR about this, you could request a separate voicemail inbox just for this woman. It must suck for him to have to hear her weirdness mixed in with legitimate voicemails he needs to check, and it’s probably nerve-wracking to have to hear her voice during the times she calls frequently. A separate voicemail could leave you sort of psychologically assured that her stalking is being shunted off into a dead-end, and he could more easily keep all her messages recorded separately, and listen to them only when he feels prepared to hear her voice.

      1. Megan*

        These seem like great ideas. I would say try to make sure you have that conversation with your coworker at a time that he’s prepared for it, but that should give you both a lot more peace of mind. That way, if he really does just want you to say, “unavailable, sorry, voicemail,” etc., then you can be sure you’re doing the best thing.

        A separate voicemail would probably help in a number of ways, too.

      2. Liz in a Library*

        This is brilliant. A separate voicemail box could also help him to save the messages in case this is truly a stalking a case and he needs them down the road as evidence of the stalking behavior.

      3. Joanna Reichert*

        “I say this stuff in as friendly a tone as possible, like, “Ha ha, you and me, old friends, joking around” kind of tone. If pushy people can perceive me as a friend instead of an antagonist, they’re more likely to not want to piss me off, because they perceive me as somebody who could help them if they played along with my friendly game, instead of somebody actively barring them from what they want, and who must be overcome.”

        This is excellent! ALWAYS put on a front of nice and helpful, no matter what. Nice and helpful takes the sting out of a roadblock.

      4. M-C*

        Great idea on the separate voice mail box! I’d also add that it should keep the default robot-voice message and not be customized with his, so that a real stalker doesn’t get even the satisfaction of hearing his voice.

  7. Sydney*

    Don’t give out any information about where he is or what he’s doing. In fact, you should never give out info about your coworkers unless they specifically said you should.

    I act as receptionist sometimes at work and since we don’t have voicemail, I just take the message. I’ve taken 10+ messages in 1 day from my boss’s ex-wife. She just doesn’t get the hint.

    You don’t have to lie, you don’t have to tell the truth. Don’t divulge anything.

  8. NDR*

    (In this specific case) I’d be so tempted to say “one moment please,” and then send the caller directly into his voicemail without necessarily warning her that that’s what you’re doing.

    1. Lils*

      I like this idea… I don’t even think it’s all that rude. Many legitimate callers would rather leave a voicemail than a message anyway.

  9. OP*

    Wow! Thanks for all of your responses! For the record, I rarely give callers anything more than “So-and-so is unavailable. Can I forward you to their voicemail?”. However, it felt like this situation called for more deception than others (especially with the caller pressing the issue) and I’m just generally uncomfortable with that.

    I’m new(ish) to the business world so I certainly have a lot of things to learn/room to grow and I appreciate all of your advice!

  10. EngineerGirl*

    It isn’t lying to tell the caller that he is unavailable. If she says “why?” simply state that you don’t have all the details (which you don’t). Then take control of the phone call and politely state that you will be sending them to voicemail.

    One of the thing boundary abusers do is try to steal control of the situation. Then you are put on the defensive, and then you get lizard brained, and then you don’t respond appropriately. At that point they are very good at claiming that **they** were the victim of your inapproprate actions. To prevent this from happening you need to take back control of the conversation (or never lose it in the first place). Be firmly polite and then take action. Don’t argue with them. Simply state that you will be sending them to voice mail and then do exactly what you said you would do. Give them no information to argue with. If they scream that they will phone your boss, simply ignore it. Then go to your boss, let him know about the conversation as a “heads up”. Involve HR, because these things can escalate.

    In a sense you can consider this to be a “growth opportunity” or “stretch assignment”.

    1. Marie*

      Being a secretary and dealing with solicitors taught me a lot of assertiveness skills I’d been lacking.

      The broken record is the best. Just because they’re asking for details doesn’t mean you have to provide them. Just repeating, “He’s not available. I don’t know where he is. I don’t know when he’ll be back,” to every inquiry will work eventually, and assures you that if they *do* escalate things to your boss, you will have done nothing but say a perfectly reasonable, professional line over and over.

      If it’s a pushy phone solicitor whose business we do not want (ARE ANY WINDSHIELDS IN YOUR PARKING LOT CRACKED? I HAVE A BOX OF STEAKS), I feel like it’s okay to be more rude about it, so after repeating myself three times, I usually say something like, “He’s not available, I don’t know when he’ll be back, and I’m not interested in repeating myself again.” Usually this backs them up into fake apologies, but whatever happens next, your next line is, “You can leave a message if you like. I’m very busy.” And that is your line over and over and over again until they finally quit.

      I’ve only had to just actually hang up on somebody once, but they had started screaming and calling me a bitch (they seemed to have some serious mental problems, from other things they were saying, so I was assured this wasn’t due to my phone manner). Even the pushiest, crankiest, most aggressive of solicitors would eventually sigh woefully and wish me a good day after a minute of, “Would you like to leave a voicemail? I’m quite busy. Yes, I’m still quite busy, but you can leave a voicemail. No, I do not have just a moment, because I am very busy, but you can leave a voicemail. I am rather busy and I don’t want to repeat myself again.”

  11. Shares the office*

    I shared an office with a guy who was being stalked by an ex girlfriend. She called the receptionist about a hundred times, then, since she only got sent to voice mail, she visited the office. From the receptionist’s posted list of employees and phone numbers she peeked at, she found my extension and started phoning me about a hundred times a day. (sadly, “a hundred” is not an exaggeration). Eventually, she figured out where our office was, and started showing up and standing outside the window. One day, someone let her in the locked entrance. She always seemed pretty nice. Lucky me, I was at the copier and another employee warned me to stay there while security was called.

    1. Anonymous*


      Be polite, but firm about not being able to help. Do not become the enemy. If the stalker decides you’re stonewalling and shows up at the office, she’ll have a bone to pick with you and him both.

  12. Kelly O*

    You know, at first it bothered me when I started answering phones, but now I’ve gotten used to simply saying “I’m sorry, Mr. Jones is not available right now, may I put you through to his voice mail?”

    You can be polite but firm and not give any information about where a person is. When our new receptionist is away from her desk, I often hear others answering the phone, and it kills me every time I hear someone give out information about where exactly someone is, or worse. It makes the company as a whole look fairly unprofessional.

    One of the things I would do if a person was particularly persistent was ask if I could take a message. I take the message and then when I see Mr. Jones, I just hand it to him. Nine times out of ten, you get the eye roll and “oh, great” as the note is tossed in the trash.

    However it is perfectly acceptable to just put them in voice mail. Like someone mentioned previously, you can play dumb; I’ve done that myself.

    Thing is, and this is more than a work lesson – you cannot fix everything for everyone. Trust me, I try sometimes. I see an injustice (or what seems to be an injustice to me) and I want to make it right. It’s not up to me, it doesn’t always involve me, and if the involved parties are okay with the current setup, intervention from me might make it worse.

    For all you know, this “stalker” thing might be something he has well in hand, and this is just a phase that’s dealt with from time to time. Annoying? Yes. But if he’s okay with the voice mails (and he may delete them as soon as he hears her voice, or he may be saving them for other purposes) then it basically means you have to be okay with it too.

    But good luck, especially early on in your career. Sometimes the reception desk is a great way to learn how a company really operates, meet lots of people, and get your foothold for something more down the line.

  13. Charles*

    “Don’t tell her that she doesn’t want to speak to him without clearing that with him first.”

    Shouldn’t that read: “Don’t tell her that HE doesn’t want to speak to HER . . “?

    1. Anonymous*

      Yeah, I had to read that sentence multiple times before I realized what it meant. It made me laugh :-)

  14. Chinook*

    As a receptionist, I have seen this escalate to the individual come to the office (of course a time when no one else was around). As a result, we put in a plan where the Receptionist could deal politely with the individual while sending an email balst to everyone above the manager level to come to casually come to the reception area to get coffee, check for mail, etc. (i.e. populate the area with witnesses in a non-threatening manner). We have also been given permission to leave the area and go behind our secure doors if we feel threatened. This may seem obvious, but since we are suppose to be answering phones and assiting clients during business hours (and need to have coverage even for a bathroom break) having this written down as official policy makes it clear that our safety is more important than customer service.

    As for dealing with clients who refuse to be put to voice mail, you always “accidentally” hang up on them. Or, if you are lucky and ave someone higher up overhear the conversation, you may have the owner offer to take the call next time (it helps if he has a tough sounding scottish accent!)

    1. Shares the office*

      Great policy, so glad you have a written one!

      I hang up on myself. No one ever thinks you would hang up on yourself. It is completely non threatening. Just, in the middle of one of your own sentences, hang u….

  15. Joey*

    Okay don’t jump on me for this but I wonder ifusing the term stalker might be an exaggeration. Otherwise why would the guy not be overly concerned about the calls. Stalking is not something most people take lightly. I’d get some clarification from the guy and let that guide my direction. If it truly is a stalker inform HR and they can get with the co worker to take protective measures. Otherwise, as I suspect, there might be more to the story and the op might just have to deal with the calls as an annoyance.

    1. Anonymous*

      I see two sides to this…

      1. This girl is someone that this guy has a relationship with (of some kind) but he’s not really into her, so he jokingly calls her his stalker and talks badly about her to other people, but still keeps her on the hook. (I have many guy friends who do stupid things like this with women)

      2. He is actually being stalked but doesn’t take it seriously or want others to take it seriously. Most cases of a man being assaulted or harrassed by a woman go unreported because men are uncomfortable reporting it or feel they just need to “man up” and deal with it. (Or, in some cases, until violence actually happens they don’t think that a woman would be strong enough or capable of causing them harm)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m surprised it’s taken this long for someone to suggest that, because I do think it’s absolutely a possibility! The OP still needs to treat it as if it’s quite literally a stalker situation (for the reasons I talked about in the last paragraph of the post), but it’s certainly possible that after talking to him further, she’ll find it’s something less serious.

      1. A Bug!*

        Do you agree that if it is a stalker situation that the OP should go to HR about it, and not the coworker himself? I’m not sure I’m okay with that notion but I’m interested in your take on it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I would talk to the coworker first and encourage him to be the one to talk to HR. It seems like it would be important for him to feel that he had control in the situation and that people weren’t meeting about it behind his back.

          1. Long Time Admin*

            Actually, I would talk to my manager first, since it sounds like a training issue. If they don’t have a decent written policy to cover situations like this, they need to create one.

    3. OMG*

      I actually didnt’ get the vibe that this was a stalking situation either. The woman doesn’t call many times a day, only a few times. I think this is some kind of an overreaction from the OP?
      And I agree with commenters, she shouldn’t give any info at all to the caller. This includes not to tell her that he hadn’t come in to work that day.
      In fact, in most companies, receptionists job is not to screen calls, just to transfer. And the guy was clear about transfering to his vm, so do just that, and you should be fine. If the caller starts threatening etc., that would be a different case.

    4. Anonymous*

      Female office worker here, and I agree that could be a possibility. There is a guy who used to work in my department, but now works in another area, who I jokingly call my stalker. I call him this because one day he sent me a text saying ‘I can see you eating with XXX on the level 3 kitchen” Our building has a chasm in the middle, so if you are on level 10 you can see people sitting at level 1 etc. Luckily I didn’t have my phone or he would have seen my reaction, I thought it was a step too far. He also sends me lots of emails. In reality he is not stalking me, but is not very socially adept and is stunted at a pre pubescent emotional level. I am more than happy to be one of his work friends, but I like to control how frequently the interactions are, because he can be quite monotonous, and doesn’t understand that not all work buddies are your real life friends. I consider him a work buddy , he considers me a really good close friend.

  16. Charles*

    a little off topic; but I wanted share this story.

    Many years ago (back in the day before VM was commonplace) I answered a co-workers phone who was out to lunch. I asked if I could give him a message and the woman said, in a rather cold manner, “tell him the mother of HIS child called.” Funny thing, when I relayed the message he wasn’t exactly sure who it was that called since she didn’t leave a name!

  17. Joe Schmoe*

    I had the same thing happen with a toner person once. He said he was with our “copy machine company” (which was a local firm and wouldn’t call to solicit us) and I simply said “I don’t think so” and he said “Well why don’t you suck my d***” and I said “WHAT?” and he said “Suck my big d***!” and I hung up. I was stunned that someone would do that. I realize they get crapped on all day long but they chose that job.

    Secondly, my boss’s name was Philip. People would always call asking for Phil, making it seem like they were his friend. They had no clue he detested being called Phil and that was a sure fire way to get them dismissed.

    As far as the OP – I can totally sympathize with the receptionist. When you answer phones for a lot of people and you are asked to lie to their spouses or bill collectors or stalkers it truly makes you feel uneasy.

    I don’t believe she should be put in that position and that the employee that is being stalked needs to take action and put an end to it. There is no need to involve other people in the situation. File a restraining order and then file charges when the person calls. Done.

  18. Chris*

    Debt collector/asset tracer. People block the phone numbers of junk debt buyers when they call the cell so the agents are increasingly stuck calling work.

    It doesn’t take a lot to reverse engineer extension patterns in an office. These people will start calling around to a bunch of co-workers. If they can get you on the phone they can usually reset the statute of limitations (most people don’t like to lie and say ‘its not my debt.’) Speak to her in monotone and send her to the voicemail before she can say anything else. I’ve know a lot of nutty girls who could really get caught on a players hook…but even really emotionally unbalanced people don’t say “this is his wife” when its not true. Usually anyway.

    As an aside its kind of funny how manipulative the skip tracers can be nowadays, particularly on commission. I had a debt that was technically in my name but ethically belonged to a loser ex. Right before the 7 year statute I started getting calls from a tracer working for a junk debt buyer. And my co workers started getting calls. And my neighbors. Her back story was we were old friends from college and she actually really sold it till she told my grandparents that we were in a sorority together. The cease and desist letter didn’t stop it I think because the tracer was a subcontractor of the debt buyer.

  19. Damien*

    “…it can be extremely damaging for someone who is trying to escape an abusive or harassing situation to be suspected of being the cause of it (particularly for men, who already have a higher barrier to being taken seriously on these issues).”

    It’s nice to know that there are people aware of the challenges male victims of intimate partner violence face in our society. Thanks for being awesome.

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